Despite the agreeably Atlanticist final tally, citizens of both countries relished the 96-minute match all the more for its historic symmetries. And while the World Cup always produces oddball pairings (North Korea, meet Brazil!), the unique legacy of post-colonialism—reparations, whitewashing, the flow of migrants, outright war—creates the highest drama in all of sport.
This year's postcolonial matchups include the U.S. versus the UK, Portugal versus Brazil, and Spain versus almost everybody else. These showdowns are not as common as you might imagine, though in recent years Senegal has defeated France, Portugal has drubbed Angola, and England has drawn Nigeria in the tournament's group stage. (France and Algeria seem destined never to meet.)
Of course, the on-pitch retread of geopolitics is not limited to colonial ties—East and West Germany were strategically kept from sparring during the Cold War, and longstanding tensions in the Middle East compel Israel to play with European teams. But the most contentious rivalries have evolved from the European scramble for blood and treasure abroad. When Honduras meets Spain on Monday, it will be in the hope of recreating its joyous 1982 World Cup debut, when striker Hector Zelaya schooled the Spanish team on its home turf. It will also be a reckoning for the exploitative silver mining that gilded the Spanish crown. Likewise, former Spanish colonies Chile and Argentina are in it for the trophy, but fans will enjoy a rematch of the 19th century wars of independence that cost thousands of lives.
The beauty of the World Cup is that it promises not reparations, but a literally level playing field. Rather predictably, Angola fell to slave-trading Portugal in its first World Cup appearance. But a battle of sweat, grit and gentle jersey-tugging is preferable to a bloody civil war. And at times, the turnabout is delicious: The 2002 World Cup began with Senegal's dashing triumph over the defending champions and former rulers from France—a revival of the pride the insurgent Cameroon brought to the continent in 1990. But on Friday, Portugal will face likely defeat against the dominant Brazilian squad whose forbears spent nearly 400 years under Lisbon's thumb.
Replaying ugly histories wasn't always possible; the Cup began in 1930, when most of sub-Saharan Africa was beholden to European grand strategy, and much of South America and Asia was independent but desperately poor. Luckily, the British, Dutch, French, Spanish and Portugese exported Christianity, western dress and the humiliations of colonial hierarchy—as well as the beautiful game. Argentina's tradition of footballing excellence began among British expatriates to the Spanish colony. By the turn of the century, football clubs served as social supports for urban migrant workers in colonial Africa. Despite mid-century injustice--the nations of Africa were allotted only half a berth in the 1966 Cup—today, free nations from South Korea to the Democratic Republic of the Congo have national teams eager and able to gain the victor's view of history.