For those of you who don’t have ESPN or are dedicated American myopics, the biggest and coolest international event (overall, not just in sports) kicked off this morning at 9 A.M. Chicago Time. The World Cup is unrivaled as the biggest sporting/television/patriotic event in the world, causing 32 countries to stop in rapt attention every four years. It’s one of the few events in our overhyped, overconnected world that continues to exceed all of the bluster associated with it.
At the same time, it may be at the tipping point in the U.S. where its popularity has outgrown its annoying but cool hipster cache, much like Macs and The Economist. Watching the breathless and irritating ESPN run-up, I’ve started to wonder whether even an event as inherently cool as the World Cup will be able to withstand the corrupting influence of too many American eyes, which bring with them the American corporate capitalism that has destroyed the Olympics. I wonder whether the rest of the world misses the days when the U.S. left them alone, if only for a month every four years.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience two World Cups in person. In 1994, I was able to watch several matches here in Chicago. They had a fun, novel quality. In 2006, I got to see a match in Germany. The atmosphere was amazing. Sitting among English yabbos, it was a non-stop concert of douchebag anthems that somehow managed to be more charming than irritating. Even better though was traveling through Europe from country to country, catching matches of the home teams. The energy in the streets, the bars, the town squares (they still have those in Europe) was reminiscent of watching a Super Bowl in one of the participating teams home towns… for every single match… if drinking and urinating in the streets were allowed.
Because of the time difference, and the cacophony of leagues, and the year-round schedule, and the lameness of the MLS, I have given up trying to follow soccer regularly from the U.S. But the World Cup is a must-see for me. Here are twelve reasons why:
1.) No Commercials – Sure there might be ads on the jerseys and all around the side of the field. But, once the half starts, it keeps going until the whistle blows. One of the benefits is this ensures that a non-OT game is done in a predictable two hours.
2.) No Replay – Thus far, the World Cup has resisted the inane drumbeat for instant replay. Maybe the rest of the world understands that no call decides a game… just because it comes at the end, it doesn’t negate all the missed opportunities that made the game close. Even when a call helps to decide the winner, the sky doesn’t fall and life goes on.
3.) No Inane Measurements – When a foul is called, a player just throws the ball down in the general area and play continues. No spending five minutes measuring between two arbitrary spots to give the game a false aura of precision (I’m looking at you football).
4.) The U.S. Is Just Another Participant – Thus far the U.S. hasn’t been able to completely hijack the World Cup. While it is nice to have the American team not be an afterthought, the worst thing would be for the U.S. to someday win it. In the rest of the world, it’s a week-long celebration… in the U.S., it would be pseudo-big news until the next day. And thus far, American corporations are still sponsors, not commissioners… although given that the Finals Man of the Match will be given out by a participant in Budweiser’s inane webcast reality show, that may change.
5.) Real Racial Hatred – In U.S. sports, the shit talk comes down to “Your city sucks… unless I’m on vacation or my company transfers me” or “Our pizza is better.” In international soccer, sometimes it comes down to “I wish we’d killed you off in the war” or “Your race smells.” While this is obviously not great, it does add an extra dimension of passion. The last Finals was even partly decided by an incident with an allegedly racial tinge.
6.) Red Cards – A great mix of basketball (two techs and you’re gone) and hockey (the penalty box). Two yellows or one red, and your team plays short-handed for the rest of the match.
7.) Ties – In soccer, they understand that it’s completely illogical that every game has to have a winner and a loser. So, if it isn’t a single elimination match, they deal with the fact that often teams are equal, instead of making the games interminable in an immature quest for closure (I’m looking at you baseball).
8.) The Simplicity – In the U.S., even simple sports get complicated by rules like the three-second violation (I’m looking at you basketball). Soccer’s rules are so classic that even if it’s your first match, you can pick it up in ten minutes.
9.) It’s All About Sports – Unlike other events, the World Cup is all about the games themselves, not medal and opening ceremonies (I’m looking at you Olympics). Although this year, they added an opening ceremony concert, so that may change.
10.) The Wall – There’s nothing quite like watching a team form a wall in front of a free kick, holding their nuts as they brace for the ball to come screaming toward them.
11.) Limited Substitutions – You get two subs a half, not that they’re ever all used, which gives the game a great sense of continuity (I’m looking at you hockey).
12.) Trading Jerseys – After each match, players switch their jerseys with a player from the other team. The only gesture of sportsmanship cooler than the post-hockey game handshake.
Of course, nothing is without flaws. Even the World Cup has a few.
1.) Whining – Every time a player is brushed up against, he falls down on the ground and acts like he’s been shot… only to run around without a problem a minute later. Every time a player is called for a foul, he complains like he’s just been wrongly convicted of murder. Even worse, this behavior has infected the NBA as foreign players who emulate these bitches become more prevalent.
2.) Shootouts – Thankfully, they don’t go to shootouts until the single-elimination rounds. Maybe I can understand them in most of the games… eventually you have to move on, and you don’t want to wear a team out when there are still other matches to play. But twice in the past four Cups, the Final has been decided by a shootout. Do the players have somewhere to be the next day? It’s a ridiculous way to decide the biggest trophy in sports.
3.) The Bandwagon – Whenever a team makes a run, “fans” come out of the woodwork… see: Chicago Blackhawks. Usually this doesn’t bother me too much… there are different levels of fandom, and there’s is nothing wrong with celebrating your city’s victory. But when it comes to U.S. national teams, it drives me crazy. When the U.S. makes the second round, everyone will pretend they’re living and dying with their performance, only to forget about them three days after they’re eliminated.