Last Friday I was in a conversation with some friends, just talking about stuff in general, when I paused to think about what had just happened. “Hey guys,” I said, “do you realize that we have just spent the last ten minutes talking about soccer?” We all laughed and agreed that collectively we had not spent ten minutes talking about soccer in our lifetime.
Though I had no idea who would win the World Cup tournament I did, way back before it started, successfully predict the score of the championship game—1-0. By soccer standards, that score, which seems to be the norm, suggests a thriller.
There is a lot about soccer that I do not understand though it is a basic “knock the ball into a protected goal” sport common to hockey and polo and at the roots of American football. Because I know neither the players nor the rules I was more entertained by the meshing of countries. Sorry, but I could not resist the World War II metaphors so that at a party on the Fourth of July I announced with mock solemnity that Germany had just defeated France. Someone described the championship match between Germany and Argentina as “Where the Nazis came from” versus “Where they went to.” Much kinder is to think of the Pope (Francis the Argentine) and his predecessor (Benedict the Bavarian) watching the match together. The frugal Francis probably would not have allowed for it, but I like the thought of them splitting a bottle of Christian Brothers wine or maybe sipping Benedictine, the liqueur sharing the same patron saint name with Benedict.
Then there were the little guys. A Ghana win would have made a great story and, for the moment at least, united a continent. A finals between Ghana and Costa Rica would have been good for the soul.
(Here I digress to say that it was probably best that the United States did NOT win. We have dominated the Olympics so much that there is good will in allowing the other countries to win their sport, especially when the game means more to them than to us. But, not to be boastful or anything, let it be noted that the Untied States got to the Quarterfinals, and Russia was nowhere around.)
Imagine if the Saints were one game away from getting into the Superbowl and they were playing Atlanta in the Superdome where they were the favorites. Imagine, however, that the Saints lost 50-2. That might be what the Brazilians felt when their team got whacked by Germany, 7-1. To lose big is embarrassing enough. To lose big on the world stage when that stage is in your back yard is humiliating. At least the TV coverage was good for tourism.
Though I followed the scores I did not actually watch the competition until the second half of the championship game. The match was entertaining in the same way that watching rival pitchers throw shutouts is exciting. Just ignore the lack of scoring. The two TV announcers who sounded like they had just gotten off the boat form Dublin added a global touch, but I just wish ABC could have added one American in the press box to explain things in our language.
I will respect the World Cup for having established a template for peaceful competition, at least for a couple of weeks. The real world got ugly again in the week after the World Cup, this time in the Ukraine and in Gaza. Sadly, there are places where there is no one to blow a final whistle.
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