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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Soccer Fans Celebrate the “Beautiful Game” Watching the World Cup

With a prime seat in front of a television in Webb University Center, Guillermo Rivera-Hernandez is rooting for Belgium in the World Cup soccer tournament. He's even sporting the jersey of Kevin De Bruyne, a midfielder for Belgium.

Rivera-Hernandez, a senior mechanical engineering technology student from Spain, is among 20 fans - many international students - clustered around the TV for the France-Belgium World Cup semifinal.

He's in the middle of explaining why communal televisions are a fun spot to follow favorite teams when dangerous French forward Kylian Mbappe streaks toward a loose ball in front of the net.

"No-no-no-no!!!!! Potato Potato POTATO!!" Rivera-Hernandez shouts as Belgium's goaltender dives on the loose ball.

The danger over for now, Rivera-Hernandez continues his explanation.

"It's just a lot more fun to watch with a crowd of knowledgeable fans," he says. "You see a lot of the same people when there's a big game."

For the past month, Old Dominion has had a mild case of World Cup fever. It's not a full-on contagion, because the United States didn't qualify for the quadrennial competition. But as the stakes have increased in the elimination rounds, crowds following the action have grown larger and more animated.

Angie Hind is one of the rare fans who thinks about soccer year-round. The fifth-year coach of the ODU Lady Monarchs soccer team said the World Cup is "infectious" for her players and program.

"Simply having the opportunity to watch so much soccer when student-athletes are preparing for our preseason is just fantastic," Hind said. "We have players from many different countries, which adds a little more interest and broadens the interpretation of the game."

Count Aaron Karp, lecturer in the Department of Political Science & Geography, as an Old Dominion faculty member not bitten by the World Cup bug.

"I pay more attention to the Eurovision Song Contest, which fills much the same niche, albeit with a wonderful tone of ridiculousness, that organized sport would benefit from," Karp said. "However, there is an important discussion about the way these international competitions affect people. They obviously do, but scholars find it impossible to agree on how much."

Even two ODU scholars with the same last name can't agree on the impact of the World Cup.

While Aaron Karp is discussing it in his office, his wife, Regina Karp, director of the Graduate Program for International Studies, is in her office around the corner, following every kick of the Belgium-France semifinal.

Ivan Militar finished his term as Old Dominion's student representative to the Board of Visitors in May, when he graduated with his education specialist graduate degree.

A former scholarship soccer player at ODU, Militar has seen soccer culture grow at the University. He's now director of coaching for Beach FC, the largest youth soccer club in the area, as well as the owner of a private training company called New Era Soccer.

Militar sees similarities between the World Cup and Old Dominion University's campus.

"Different nations play in such different ways," Militar said, "but the teams from around the world are playing the same game, with the same rules, on the same field. People at ODU are able to come together, realizing they are all part of the community. It's part of what makes our community so relatable."

The World Cup final between France and Croatia kicks off at 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 15.

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