‘Sports | World Cup’ Posts
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fortunately, it didn’t seem to phase her. she cheered when the u.s. took the lead in the 69th minute, and cheered when japan answered ten minutes later. she cheered when the u.s. took the lead again at the mid-point of extra time, and cheered even harder when japan equalized minutes before the end of the match.
(we didn’t let her watch the penalty kicks, for obvious reasons…)
but maybe she is the one who has the right approach here — if you root for everyone, you’ll never be disappointed. that’s sage advice, especially when the Americans are playing.
that was way more exciting than it needed to be.
unlike most years past, the U.S. men’s national team is legitimately good. the team is easily in the top half of the countries participating in the Cup this year, and they have a class of players that (while not the super-elite) they are certainly regularly competing in the top tier of football/soccer.
so, while the U.S. advancing to the round of 16 is great … it’s also the bare minimum of what they should do this competition.
a united states draw against england would normally be a good result, but considering it was (at the time) the worst game england had played in the last two years, a draw just isn’t good enough for the talent that is on the U.S. squad.
they should have won, and won outright.
during the next match (against slovakia) they again fought for a draw against likely the 6th worst team in the competition. commentators can say all they want about the (wrongly) disallowed goal that would have give then U.S. the win, but that misses the point — they should never have been in the position to need that winner in the first place.
the coverage of the final match especially drove me crazy, the now “legendary” 1-0 win over Algeria (the 8th worst team in the competition). commentators referred to it as the U.S. “superbowl” of the Americans’ world cup, and landon donovan’s winner as the “greatest goal in the history of U.S. soccer.”
our “superbowl” at a minimum is the upcoming match with Ghana — even though our opponents’ are ranked worse than Algeria, they should have a strong home continent advantage being the last African team in the Cup.
our “greatest goal in the history of U.S. soccer” will be the goal donovan scores to win a (still hypothetical) next match with Uruguay or South Korea to send the U.S. to the semi-finals.
one of the things that drives me the most batty about U.S. Soccer, is that we always play down to our competition. we fight, we work hard, we run everybody else to the ground. but, in the end, we don’t think we’re good enough, and everybody else is all too happy to help make that come true.
don’t get me wrong — it’s good that the boys advanced through the group stage, and even better that they finished at the top of the group. but “top of the group” should have been with two (or even three) wins, and “advancing” is what we knew we should do way back in early June.
for the U.S., the “real” world cup starts now.
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:
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.
in the interest of full disclosure, while i sucked every last drop of enjoyment out of the celtic’s championship run in 2008, i didn’t give them much chance to win *any* of their playoffs series this year (vs. miami, cleveland and orlando) and am still not sure they’ve got an advantage in the finals (even though they only need to win one of their next two in L.A. to claim their 18th championship banner).
And so, I’ve tacked on 6 hours of daily world cup coverage to my after hours NBA responsibillities, not to mention I’ve still got tape of the winter olympics left on my tivo from February.
somebody’s gotta win something, because i need my life back.
teams start by playing each of three teams, with the two best teams from each group advancing into a simple bracket tourney, not unlike the ncaa’s march madness.
all you need is a team to follow, and here is a quick primer:
who to follow
if you are new to the non-american brand of football, you want to pick one that you can watch deep into the world cup. as much fun as it would be to root for some of these tiny up-start countries (new zealand springs to mind), you’ll be pretty bored once they get eliminated in the second week. so, you probably want to pick from the main contenders.
Spain — currently the best team in europe, spain balances a beautiful brand of football with some physicality that is missing from other “pretty” teams. this team has a fanatical fan base, and some of the best attacking players in the game. they are also the bookie’s best bet to win the whole enchilada, so (hopefully) you’ll have a team to follow in weeks three and four.
Argentina — has the best player on the planet (lionel messi), plan on starting three attacking forwards (most teams use two, some only one) and a coach who is desperately trying to translate his own brilliance as a player (see his goal of the century) into brilliance as a coach (and failing pretty miserably). but who knows … they could just as easily flame out in the group stages (they barely qualified) as they could win the whole thing, but either way the fireworks should be pretty spectacular.
Brazil — normally, you’d never catch me pushing brazil (it’s the equivalent a new immigrant to the U.S. announcing they’re going to root for either the yankees or the patriots) but this team isn’t the same purvayors of “the beautiful game” that’s won the world cup five times. this brazil is much more blue collar, physical, jump-in-the-trenches then their predecessors, while still keeping the incredible individual skill for which they’re known. should be fun to watch.
honorable mentions — everybody wants an african team to do well this world cup, but all six of them are facing a pretty steep up-hill battle. while hosts south africa will have ridiculously fun, pro-bafana bafana (their team’s nickname) crowds, they are the lowest ranked team ever to host the world cup and aren’t figured to make it out of the first round. côte d’ivoire had a great shot, but lost their star goal-scorer to injury. i have no idea which, if any, of the african nations will advance, but many people (myself included) will be rooting for the whole lot of them.
teams you may think you want to follow, but really probably don’t
United States — sure, there are dozens of reason to root for them. civic pride. names that you (might) have heard of. dozens of blogs saying “this is their year.” it’s not. i’m not sure it ever will be. expect one good game out of them, one mediocre game (where the result is closer than it should have been), and one shameful game (where they vomit on themselves). they’ll likely get to the sweet sixteen, but it almost certainly won’t be pretty, and they’ll break your heart eventually … they always do.
England — see above, “united states”.
Italy — while a fun, attacking team when they have to be, italy regularly lapses into putting all 11 men behind the ball when they are ahead (“parking a bus in front of goal” as it’s called) which makes them prone to stunningly dull results. that, coupled with the fact that the current coach seems to be infatuated with coupling “old” with “slow” and calling it a day, means italy isn’t a great team for newbies.
Germany — about as fun to watch as a team of german accountants competing in the actuarial olympics. see also, “holland”.
France — where to begin. they (a) cheated their way into the world cup with a dirty, dirty goal from a blatant hand ball, without which they would be back home underachieving, (b) the team they cheated out of the tournament was Ireland — who are much more fun to drink with — and (c) because of the way the group stage works out, rooting for france means rooting against south africa. oh, and if that’s not enough, remember that they’re french.
kickoff on friday
it all starts tomorrow morning at 9:30 am EST on ESPN. if you want to do some light reading before then, steven goff’s soccer insider blog is surprisingly readable for the lay people, and ESPN is desperately trying to hook the generic american sport fan on the Cup with their coverage at ESPN.com.
as for me? i’ve followed the england national team for the last couple of decades, and am not going to stop just because that the united states is finally fielding teams that might actually win a game or two. it also doesn’t hurt that my club team (tottenham hotspur) has five players in the england squad, and it’s more fun to root for people you know.
appalling, i know, but i’m okay with it … i have a feeling my ancestors were on the wrong side of the revolutionary way, anyway.