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Gimme Cup

And they [I] call this the Dead Zone. While the grim months of July and August still lie ahead with its promise of a steady diet of cooking shows, mostly unsuccessful attempts to find something on History worth watching and [gasp] reading books, June has turned into about the busiest sports-viewing month ever.

This is due to the annual College World Series and that every four-year extravaganza considered the single biggest sporting event everywhere but the US, the World Cup. I have long been a fan of the CWS and this year it is the South Carolina Gamecocks that have captured the imagination of me and a lot of other people as they have turned an improbable run into, as of this writing, one win away from a National Championship. Considering they had to blow through a more-rested Clemson squad to get there, it can be assumed that there is some fairly-decent baseball being played in that state. Hopefully, if the Cocks win it all, a USC buddy in the overall celebration will invite me back to his Columbia gameday condo.

ESPN’s timing of baseball playoff games has dovetailed nicely with the time difference between here and South Africa causing the cable sports giant to present World Cup games in the morning and afternoon. By the time the late soccer game ended college baseball was just getting started. Given that for a couple of weeks World Cup games were kicking off at 7 am around these parts, it ain’t every Dead Zone that has me watching live sporting events from early-morning to often past midnight.

The end of the 1st set of round-robin games and their 0730 starts has enabled me to attempt to conduct the day’s business in the early morning and that noon-2:30 window between games. It has caused me to at least keep somewhat of an eye on the renovation of a rental house that has been going on amid all of the soccer. Thankfully, the contractor [s] involved are more interested in concluding their labors and getting paid than they are in watching as much of the 2010 World Cup as humanly possible.

I must admit that when it comes to soccer, I have gotten hooked, at least as far as the absolute highest level of competition is concerned. A sport that seems tailor-made for observation on four feet of Bravia HDTV certainly hasn’t hurt. That still seems to be the minority view among a majority of North Americans and I certainly respect the ‘to each his own’ mindset that having so many available sports gives us. But, the more of the beautiful game I watch the more I am figuring out the strategies and even the nuances of that sport where the primary appendage used is the foot that has the temerity to refer to itself in the rest of the world as ‘football.’ While I very likely don’t have the several decades to immerse myself in the sport as I have spent a lifetime doing with the more traditional ones around here of basketball, baseball and what we consider real football, I have come to see the excitement the rest of the world finds in the game.

As usual, the World Cup’s money rounds will not involve participation by the US squad. While they were able to stagger out of what turned out to be a very weak group, the MAC of the World Cup, they were quickly dispatched by Ghana, of all people and turned in their usual finish of never quite living up to the ESPN-generated hype that accompanied them. Since the American best finish managed in a World Cup was in the first back in 1930, this is not exactly a new phenomena.

With the US demonstrating, again, that soccer is just not our game was greeted with a collective yawn and turning of attention to the exploits of the current major league baseball phenom local cable provider Comcast has determined Danville will not see and the prospects for the football season still 2/3 of a Dead Zone away, this ‘ho-hum’ attitude is not shared in a lot of other places around the world. In particular, Western Europe. It has been amusing to observe the reactions by the so-called soccer powers to the lack of success that in many cases did not even match that of the US.

The French team team slinked home to a reaction that made the return of that country’s army from the RUTS on the Sedan in 1871 a triumphal march down the Champs- Elysees in comparison. The Italian team was run out of Africa in inglorious defeat even faster than the forces of Graziani. And then there was England. The English quickly demonstrated that the bumbling goal-tending against the US was no fluke in  a 4-1 pounding by Germany that made Dunkirk seem a resounding victory. We haven’t seen the amount of scorn and derision heaped upon the results of an English expedition in South Africa since the Boer War. Yep, soccer is taken a bit more seriously in other parts of the world than it is here.

Even with the major powers of Western Europe going down at a rate of speed in which Wehrmacht generals with their blitzkrieg tactics could only dream, an overriding story of this World Cup has been the officiating. It has been uniformly-bad. I generally consign officiating whines to the ‘bleats of losers’ category, but it has been hard to overlook exactly how bad the refs have been. One really has to ponder that if it is so miserable at  the sport’s highest level, how lousy must it be at the lower ones? These are the best the world’s top soccer executives can come up with?

Unlike the shrillest of claims by the looniest of the Duke-haters, there seems to be no rhyme and reason or organized conspiracies to the multiple bad calls, only what looks to be a single-minded determination to getting wrong as many calls as possible. If that is indeed the case, this World Cup is succeeding beyond its wildest dreams.

I could go on for a few hundred more words on aspects of the World Cup, such as how the Dutch,  showing up by the thousands with their bright orange garb and faces with each and every one sucking down Budweisers, look to be the best tailgaters in attendance, but Japan and Paraguay are going at it.  Back to soccer!

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