All the countries I love + Belgium

The Match: South Korea v. Belgium

The Date: Thursday, June 26

The Venue: BXL East, East Midtown, Manhattan

BXL East in midtown Manhattan, where Belgians root for the Red Devils
BXL East in midtown Manhattan, where Belgians root for their Red Devils

I recently realized that I have a strong and seemingly irrational affinity for pretty much half the countries in the world. I was aware that I feel a connection to various nations, but I never reflected on my feelings nor analyzed their origins. Here’s a list of countries in the World Cup that I support (except when they play the USA of course): Spain, Colombia, Mexico,  South Korea, Costa Rica, Honduras, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria.

I lived in Spain for a year so that one’s easy to understand, but I used to think I liked the others on a random, instinctual level. I combed my pysche and I now understand that I only like those countries because I have known cool people from those countries.

I used to live in Madrid with a  Senegalese man named Mamadou who is one of my most generous and talented friends. Our apartment was like a West African hostel for Mamadou’s pals who had spread out across Europe. Because of that, I got pretty interested in Pan-Africanism. I love how people from all over the continent unite and support each African nation in the World Cup. Two weeks ago, I wrote about growing up among many Bosnians. I also played on a soccer team mostly comprised of Colombian kids in Morristown, NJ. Their parents would set up tents and shout Eso sî! and Ole! after good plays. It made me feel like pro.

I have never really known any Belgians, however. Never visited Belgium. Never really thought about it. I know a few stereotypes. Belgians make good beer and French fries. They’re tall and handsome and they all speak at least three languages fluently. BXL East seemed to confirm these notions.

One wall near the door was filled with tin ads for Belgian beer companies. A string of Belgian flag pennants with Palm logos lined the ceiling behind the bar. A Jupiler ad celebrating the Red Devils stretched across the base of a TV. It seemed like the only non-alcoholic decorations were a few illustrated posters of Eden Hazard and a signed Vincent Kompany jersey.

There were about a dozen Belgian beers on tap and scores of specialized glasses lined a mirrored wall behind the bar. Each group of glasses corresponded to a different beer. I’m a fan of the stout Delirium Tremens cup adorned with small pink elephants. I even stole one from a bar once.

To my left, a bearded guy snacked on a plate of cured meat and cheese and a guy with a skullet ate a plate of fries. To my right, a group of women shared a 1.5 Liter fishbowl of Palm. Apparently, you get to keep the glass as a souvenir, though I think the women took about 30 Instagram photos with it anyway.  BXL also had a batch of wines chilling in a squat wine fridge with an inflatable pitchfork sticking out of the top.

When I ordered a Palm (baseball-sized, not soccer-ball sized) the bartender decapitated it with a foam scraper. I have only seen that in Stella commercials. I stepped away from the bar and watched the game next to a mailman named Gustavo. Gustavo was sipping water and told me he was watching the game on his break. He wasn’t Belgian. After Gustavo left to deliver your cable bill (you should pay your bills online and save some stamps), I slid backward and met a young guy in a Kompany jersey named Ruben.

Ruben was from Belgium and said he is about to move to Crown Heights. He was tall and handsome. I asked how many languages he spoke. Four, he said. French, Dutch, German and English. He didn’t even have an accent.

Most people in the bar were speaking French or Dutch so I asked Ruben about the issues between the Flemish and Walloon people in Belgium. He said that there are indeed problems between the ethnic groups, but they don’t matter here in the United States. Good, I thought. I hate that kind of stupid ethnic squabbling. Plus Belgium has one of the most diverse, multicultural squads in the tournament. Deadspin had a good, brief piece about it earlier this month. A few examples: Marouane Fellaini is of Moroccan descent, Romelu Lukaku’s father is from Congo and Axel Witsel’s dad is from Martinique.

I scanned the room and noticed a group of women painting Belgian flags on their faces. A few other tall, handsome guys wore Belgian shirts and jerseys. Diners in business suits sat in a back room and watched the game on a projector screen. There was a shiny replica World Cup trophy on one table.

BXL was the most upper-crust spot I’ve been to so far. I picked it so I could scout the USA’s next opponent in the Round of 16. I asked Ruben how he felt about the upcoming match between the USA and Belgium and he said he was confident that Belgium would win.

Yet, despite all the incredible individual talent on Belgium, I don’t think the team has quite meshed. The USA can take them. Belgium won all three group matches by scores of 2-1, 1-0 and 1-0, but each of their goals came in the 70′ or later. They escaped the Russia match with a goal in the 88′. When they scored against South Korea in the 78′, the BXL crowd cheered, but the celebration was somewhat subdued. I got the impression that the Belgian supporters club of NYC coasted through this match because they had already locked up their spot in the next round. Now bring on the USA.

BXL East

OVERALL ATMOSPHERE: 7/10 for a solid beer spot with cool decor. BXL was a little subdued for the match, but I’m sure the New York Belgians will bring the energy for their knockout match against their adopted country. 

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