The quick brown fox jumped over the good, but lazy Parker family.

the beautiful game? hmmm.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

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[Group A encounter, Uruguay vs. France at Cape Town Stadium.]
the most telling social media clip from the world cup so far was a friend’s status update at the end of day one:

Why is this the ‘beautiful game?’ Two ties. No score in the second. They ran around in circles for 90 minutes. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

as the dutiful, soccer-educated elite in the relationship, i jumped to the world cup’s defense.

“they only call it the beautiful game if certain teams are playing it,” I said. “And France is decidedly not on that list.”

but, then i watched the rest of the weekend, and you know what? she was right. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

i watched most or all of seven matches this weekend (missed Ghana’s 1-0 win over Serbia) and while there was some great moments, by and large the matches were all ugly babies that only their mothers would love — with the possible exception of Argentina’s 1-0 win over Nigeria, whose scoreline sounded more boring than it actually was.

the world cup. less than perfect. suddenly, my life was without meaning.

i played soccer for most of two decades (keeper for all but a couple years in central defense) and have clear recollections of watching the last 6 or 7 world cups.

if the world cup isn’t the greatest sporting event ever, how could i have invested so much effort learning the game? what am i going to talk about on monday with the rest of my over-educated urban elite friends? how am i going to demonstrate my complete personal superiority over the great unwashed masses in the fly-over-states?

and so, in a vain attempt to deal with this loss of identity, i’ve come up with a couple theories about (a) why the opening weekend wasn’t the paragon of sport it could/should have been, and (b) why we all will have forgotten this crisis even happened by the time the cup is raised in four weeks time:

  • not every team has played their first match — and the teams who haven’t played yet (spain, brazil, holland, portugal, italy) reliably give us a much better-looking brand of footy than even the best of the teams we’ve already seen (england, usa, france).
  • no one wants to lose their first game — only 8% of world cup teams advance from the group stage after losing their first game, which means teams will do pretty much anything to avoid losing. fwiw, playing not to lose isn’t much fun to watch.
  • a rash of last minute injuries — last minute changes in personnel means lots of teams are shifting players and tactics, and new people (or old people playing out of position) means crappy football until the new ‘plan’ becomes as familiar as the old one once was.
  • top-shelf goal keeping — from what i can tell the goal keeping this far has been outstanding (from the usa and nigeria, in particular) and good goal keeping can turn potentially offense-laden showcases into nasty, defensive stalemates.
  • the new ball — it seems like addidas can’t stop screwing with the ball (this one was called ‘horrible’, ‘rotten’ and ‘erratic’ by starting keepers in the run up) and while players can (and should) adapt, rewriting the rules of physics for the ball is going to take some real world, high pressure game experience to sort out.
  • vuvuzelas — those #$%@ south african fog horns have got to be driving the players nuts, and there are plenty of complaints that the players can’t hear each other on the pitch. and while i never liked talking to *my* teammates, it seems (in hindsight) it might have been a good thing to do occasionally.

hollow excuses? maybe. complete and total bunk? probably.

am i going to bury my head in my pillow and pray for better games this week? most definitely.