World Cup diplomacy provides distraction at EU summit

British Prime Minister Theresa May, center right, holds up a Belgian National team soccer jersey presented by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, center left, during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, June 28, 2018. European Union leaders meet for a two-day summit to address the political crisis over migration and discuss how to proceed on the Brexit negotiations. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, June 28, 2018. European Union leaders meet for a two-day summit to address the political crisis over migration and discuss how to proceed on the Brexit negotiations. (Stephanie Lecocq, Pool Photo via AP)

BRUSSELS — Almost by tradition, there was some World Cup diplomacy at the European Union summit.

Every four years, the leaders of the EU are locked in meetings while one or more of their teams are playing in a World Cup match. At the start of the summit, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel gave British counterpart Theresa May a Red Devils shirt before Wednesday night's match between Belgium and England.

The jersey had No. 10 on the front, a possible reference to May's residence at Downing St. in London or Belgium forward Eden Hazard.

Later, May came back to Michel to offer the England shirt, saying it was "the equalizer," Downing St. said.

While the summit had the nations' heavy hitters on hand, both Belgium and England played their B-team at the World Cup.

When Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar was asked who he would root for, he picked Belgium.

"I am here in Brussels in Belgium so of course I am going to be cheering for the home team," he said.

England and Belgium have already qualified for the knockout rounds, so they are both playing for first place in Group G. The loser of the match might actually benefit.

"If Belgium wins, England will probably get an easier ride in the next round so perhaps it is one of those win-win scenarios," Varadkar said with diplomatic poise.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived for the summit in the same green colors the German team wore during its humiliating early exit from the tournament on Wednesday. She made no World Cup references going into the summit.

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