Got World Cup fever yet? If you haven’t yet contracted this strange malady that seems to sweep the rest of the world every four years while barely registering a blip in the United States, you are not alone. But, there are some of us who have at least experienced World Cup sniffles.
I must confess to watching quite a bit of the spectacle. I tend to do that every four years, getting somewhat interested in the sport before the thing ends and the MLS quickly reminds me why I have no interest whatsoever in the beautiful game unless it is played by the best in the world. I don’t let watching soccer interfere with the more popular sports, such as the College World Series or women’s beach volleyball, but it has been interesting kicking off mornings with a sporting event. It’s not every sport that conducts its starting times at 7 am, although, depending on the ratings, we can look forward this fall to ESPN presenting us with early-morning Li’l E or CUSA football.
There has been humor to be gleaned from all of the corners of South Africa that are hosting matches. As of this typing, Portugal is laying some serious RUTS on North Korea, to the tune of 4-0 and shooting for more. Those from that thriving people’s republic on the Koren peninsula have been an interesting sort since the festivities began with the North Korean coach exclaiming that he was taking strategic cues from supreme leader Kim Jong-il through a ‘top secret’ method of communication. This from a people who were astonished to discover in these games that something as ubiquitous as the cell phone existed. Since North Korea’s participation will last only as long as the 15 minutes it will take to finish losing to Portugal, the North Koreans will soon be back to their usual activities of threatening the rest of the world, sinking random ships and starving.
The overriding story from the American viewpoint has been the phantom call that cost the US a win over Slovenia. Americans might not understand soccer, but complaining about the officiating is the national pastime. As ESPN dutifully chronicles and fans American ‘outrage’ over the ridiculous call, very little is said about the poor US play that enabled the game to be close enough to be decided by an official. That the US team has been as over-hyped as usual doesn’t get mentioned too much.
Exactly what is a Slovenia and who do they think they are playing the mighty US to a tie? Don’t they realize we have cruise missiles? Wikipedia tells us that while the Slovene have been around for quite a while, the physical location has mainly served as a way station for invading armies passing through heading for more populous areas. The most recent occupying force was that of Yugoslavia. In the general melee of the creation of obscure countries that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, Slovenia managed to parlay its location along the Adriatic into an economy based on tourism. They probably shouldn’t expect much in the way of American dollars in the near future.
Slovenia is not the only flyspeck of a country to cause trouble in this World Cup. Every time you turn around, some Slovakia or somebody is making a name for itself by knocking off some established soccer power. Most of the victims have been the major European countries. It is here that things get really amusing. ESPN is in serious danger of losing the major markets of Paris, Rome and London for the remainder of the Cup.
Among the surprises has been Serbia knocking off powerful Germany. The zany Serbs, best known for slaughtering Bosnians and kicking off world wars, again made a name for themselves at the expense of soccer royalty Germany. It is a good thing that Austria didn’t qualify or armies would be mobilizing all across Europe.
Then there is Italy. The Azzurri are the defending cupholders, having won the darn thing four years ago. As a general rule, soccer juggernauts do not 0-0-2 in their first two games, with one of the draws coming against what seems to be known as Lowly New Zealand. The All Whites shoved rugby off the sports pages of Wellington newspapers and dropped Italy down the group standings faster than most any Italian Navy ship heads to the bottom of the Mediterranean.
The Germans suffering their biggest surprise since Stalingrad and the Italians discovering that, whether it be the armies of Graziani in Libya or the soccer team in South Africa, things don’t quite seem to work out for the Italians whenever they venture into the dark continent are small stuff when compared with what is going on with the former major colonial powers. Things are not going so well on at least one part of the British Isles. The English followed up their embarrassing draw with the colonies to yet another tie, this one to Algeria. Cornwallis could have told them there would be days, wars and World Cups like this.
Of all the World Cup antics, however the funniest has befallen France. While the headline ‘France Loses’ has been used often since Waterloo, rarely have the French pulled off a surrender with the elan of this one. The pre-Cup favorite to win the whole shebang, you could tell things might not go so well for the frogs when they came out for their opening match attired in white shirts. It is not every French unit that has had such ready access to a white flag. They quickly used it to, retreating into a draw and loss in their first two matches.
The French augmented this latest surrender with displays not seen since the Revolution. Striker Nicolas Anelka unleashed a profanity-laced diatribe against coach Raymond Domenech. Like Joffre sacking a general, Domenech then threw Anelka off the team, which resulted in the remaining players re-creating the mutiny of 1917 and refusing to practice. Domenech appears to be something other than Napoleonic in his ability to inspire the troops.
Amid all of the hilarity provided by the European teams, Brazil continues making the stadiums of South Africa their playground. The colorful, trash-talking Brazilians are breezing through this World Cup like Canes football in the 80′s.
Then there are the Africans. Undeterred by any of the multiple African squads failing to take advantage of the home continent advantage, they have adopted my personal philosophy of ‘If it’s not fun, why bother?’ Aside from those annoying vuvuzelas, they have clearly been enjoying themselves while hosting the Cup. They are not letting the mounting losses keep them from having a good time. Good for them.
Portugal has put the finishing 7-nil touches to that bastion of Communism. Chile and Switzerland are now going at it. Back to the World Cup.