The World Cup
Yesterday at noon I was toiling away in the heat mowing my lawn just so I’d be done in time to watch the final game of the World Cup. Weeks ago, I think I caught a few minutes of the US v England game but my interest quickly waned. But with the tournament near the end, one more effort to understand why the rest of the world is so passionate about soccer seemed appropriate.
After watching most of the game, I’ve concluded that soccer is all about mistakes. If everyone does his job, the game ends in a “nil-nil” tie. Over 90 minutes plus of play, however, someone is bound to make a mistake and that is when a goal is scored. That is also what distinguishes American football from soccer. In our brand of football, most noteworthy plays are the result of skill v skill, with the stronger, more resourceful, more determined adversary usually prevailing. In Super Bowl XLII when the Giants upset the Patriots, the iconic play of the game was David Tyree’s incredible catch of the ball when he pinned it against his helmet with one hand while being blanketed by Rodney Harrison. Harrison’s coverage was superb; but Tyree’s catch was even better. Contrast that with the winning TD reception when Eli Manning lofted an easy pass to Plaxico Burress in the corner of the end zone. The defense of the Patriots faltered that time, and the Giants were handed the TD and the Super Bowl. That play was largely forgettable because it was the result of a mistake.
In soccer, the only time anything happens is when there is a mistake. Otherwise it’s just pitch and catch at midfield. Maybe that’s why Americans don’t particularly like the sport. We see man as capable of super human efforts while Europeans see him as destined to fail. Me? I enjoyed watching the game so that must put me somewhere in the middle.
3 Responses to The World Cup
Americans who are unmoved by the essence of the game often compare it to others they prefer. I would say there is little useful comparison to American football, which is a choreographed series of set plays, rewarding planning at the same time as execution, while enlivened with a liberal dose of sheer luck. (Tell me anyone could ever balance a ball on their helmet like that ever again, which, I know, is what makes the play so special, but that’s the point). That sort of improbability is appreciated in an ENTIRELY different way than the improbability of overcoming the perfect defense with the perfect combination of human imagination and skill–and that’s the soul of Iniesta’s indelible moment.
There are only 34 living men who have scored in a World Cup final match. Their success is more than the faltering of an opponent–their success is the culmination of a four year campaign to earn the right to stand there on that field on that day, and test the stamina, strength and will of those who stand opposite. It requires supreme endurance, endless preparation, and the persistence to overcome what is, in many ways, an insurmountable challenge.
Spain as a nation has something today that no American football match could ever create. I was there to see it. I consider myself lucky for that, and I dream of the day when the American flag will drape the shoulders of 22 Americans who will have done the possibly impossible.
I love sports, but especially soccer, basketball, and football, and rarely miss the Celtics or Patriots. I guess you could say that whenever a member of the other team scores for those sports, it does so because the other team failed to defend the goal, whether that is a net, a hoop, or a goal line. Right? Soccer is about enjoying the skill that players must have in order to beat their opponent: passing the ball accurately to a teamate who is surrounded by their opponent, dribbling the ball without losing it while 3 opponents try to take it from you, or accurately getting the ball into the net when you must overcome not only the opponents on the field, but the goalie, whose only job is to wait for you to strike when other defenders have failed. It requires amazing stamina, because the players only get a short rest at half time. Otherwise, it is a series on one sprint after the other.
I have been watching world class soccer since living in Brazil when they won their 4th World Cup title – and then the many years watching my son play (and still watching him play for LHS). I have learned how to simply enjoy the the athletic skill of the athletes, which is less dependent upon a strategy of planning (game plan) in which the coach takes center stage (as in football and somewhat basketball). I DO enjoy seeing what Belicheck will come up with next, and appreciate the intelligence required to determine what a player can do individually, and how to create schemes that maximizes talent. So, soccer is different in that way. It is about the intelligence of the athletes in making the plays spontaneously upon seeing where the ball goes. Not that other athletes aren’t required to be intelligent – they are, and those that are the most intelligent (at least on the field) are often the best in any sport (like Rondo). But soccer is different because fans must appreciate the beauty of the athleticism in order to truly appreciate this sport. If one enjoys watching the points rack up, then soccer will disappoint.
If you enjoyed the FIFA World Cup, I inviite you to watch a few games of the ONE Lowell World Cup. It is the most competitive amateur soccer tournament in New England, with teams coming from all around MA, NH, and CT. You can see up close some great talent. Preliminary games are Aug. 1, follwed by games on Aug, 7 & 8 at Cawley Stadium.
I love football usually played without the hands – see poor Ghana for what happens sometimes when hands are used.
World class soccer requires an amazing level of physical conditioning, something that goes well beyond the levels of fitness required of a baseball player for example or even a US football player who gets substituted for constantly.
The blending of players to move the soccer ball around the pitch is extraordinary and this is why at most levels of the game so few goals are scored. I also like that in soccer there are usually no war references like the so-called ‘long bomb’.
At the same time, with very rare exception, soccer players recognize the value of team. The primadonas of this world cup all went home early – see overpaid England, over-hyped and overpaid Ronhaldo from Portugal, the feckless French, and the over-the-hill Italians . And, the TEAM that attempted yesterday to play the beautiful game as it ought to be played won.
I almost never hear soccer players referring to themselves in the third person like the ‘new decider’ Lebron James did the other evening. And, when have you ever, ever heard the Red Sox as a team or the Patriots as a team pledge publicly to use their sport to work to end racism in the world as happened at the start of almost every World Cup game?
I’ve seen goal scored in the English Premier League and the Spanish top flight league lift their shirt after scoring a goal and reveal a slogan to ‘stamp out racism’ or anti-immigrant attitudes. Can one ever imagine David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia or Tom Brady doing the same?
Finally, soccer is a game played in virtually every poor neighborhood the world over because a rag stuffed with leaves or a badly torn ball can still be kicked. The game is truly global – professional leagues in England, Holland, France, Spain, Italy and Germany are dotted with worldclass players from many developing nations or the children of immigrants from these countries former empires.
I love this game! Ole, ole, ole, ole!!!!