Thursday, May 27, 2010

Welcome to the World Cup

by Ben Belcher

Like most things in America these days, the most annoying opinions about soccer are found at the extremes, and those extremes seem to be the only opinions that are voiced in the press. On the one hand, there are those who think soccer is a communist plot brought on by the Comintern to bore Americans to death. On the other hand, there are those who think ordinary Americans (unlike themselves) are too unsophisticated to look up from their watered down Miller Lites to appreciate the subtle genius of a back heel pass.

The truth lies somewhere in between.

* * *

For those of us who have been American soccer fans since the pre-internet days, these are wonderful times indeed. No longer do I have to wait until Sunday night to see a one hour highlight show on English football. No more waiting to Thursday to get my copy of the Sunday English papers to read the ink stained wretches. No more tracking down any person with an foreign accent to ask him what they thought of Barca's defense or United's midfield. No more watching soccer games in Spanish.

The internet and the satellite have changed all that. Now I can watch almost every game I want, translated into the language of my choice. I have three channels devoted solely to soccer, not to mention ESPN's new interest in the game. No more waking up at 6am to drive tjavascript:void(0)o a bar full of hungover Englishmen to watch United, now I can enjoy them from my own couch next to my hungover wife.

Suddenly soccer is everywhere. Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba are on the cover of Vanity Fair. Wayne Rooney is living in a trailer park on your tv. Hell, even Franck Ribery is getting a little play (and not the kind he has to pay for). Someone even asked me about Ronaldo the other day.

It must be World Cup time.

* * *

Yes, 2010 is finally here. Time for entire nations to stay up until 4 in the morning. Time for countries to declare national holidays during game days. Time for the streets to be empty for 90 minutes at a time.

The hype is almost over and the games are about to start. The storylines are being set all over the globe: Can Brazil win without creativity? Can Spain get the world cup monkey off its back? Can an Italian lead an English revolution? Can an African team make a run on home soil? Can an insane genius prove his critics wrong and take Argentina to the promised land? Is one stadium big enough to hold Cristiano Ronaldo's ego?

For the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be posting Group previews and predictions. During the tournament, I'll do updates and recaps and look ahead to the stories and games for the next day. Hopefully you'll find it interesting and helpful.

* * *

The world cup is not the best showcase for how to play beautiful soccer. There are too many teams of disparate quality; too many games where the only way one team will win is to play defensive and hope for a lucky break.

But what the world cup lacks in style, it makes up for in drama. The entire psyche of nations are wrapped up in 90 minutes of a game that is essentially kickball. German efficiency, Gaullic flair, Japanese honor, English stiff upper lip, Argentian hardness, Italian pragmatism, American athleticism.

As a great American once said, are you ready for some football?

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