- The coverage. Almost as enjoyable as listening to the announcing crew has been reading the analysis from the sport's experts. Georgina Turner at SI.com has provided wonderful live blogging of the big games, and her droll commentary, mixed in with emails from readers, give her the quality that most writers would kill for - the sense that we, as readers, know her.
- The drama. Yes, many of the players out there act like drama queens, complete with fainting spells, agonizing any time an elbow comes within two inches of their face as if they'd had their eyes gouged out. We're not talking about that kind of drama. The chaotic scene at the end of extra time in the Uruguay-Ghana match - that was drama. The last minute goal by the U.S. to put them into the second round - that was drama. The buildup to last Saturday's Germany-Argentina match - that was drama. True, soccer can be about as exciting as watching paint dry - but it can be fun as well.
- The big-game atmosphere. No, I don't mean that we should think of this as the ultimate event simply because the rest of the world does. What I mean is that these games really matter. Face it, no matter what sport we're talking about, there are just too many meaningless games. But in the World Cup, from the voices of the announcers to the electricity of the crowd, you get the sense that you're seeing and hearing something important. Particularly during the first two games of the round-robin part of the tournament, every game mattered.
- The game's the thing. I could be completely wrong about this, but what strikes me most in looking at the crowds during the World Cup is that most of them appear to be - fans. Unlike American sports, which tend to be dominated by Corporate Suits and Big Shots, it's kinda refreshing to see real people in the stands actually rooting for their favorite teams - and even paying attention to what's going on down on the pitch. What a concept!
- Bashing the French. The French were, hands-down, the worst team in this year's World Cup. The announcers let them know, the press let them know, their countrymen let them know. And not only were they a bad team, they were tempermental, dysfunctional, lazy, arrogant - well, that only scratches the surface. I ask you - does bashing the French ever really get old?
- Early morning games. During the first two weeks, the action started at 6:30 a.m. CT - early enough for me to catch the first half before heading to work. What a change from the usual dreck on morning TV - the soul-crushing darkness of infomercials, the blather of happy-talk morning news, the lefties on CNN and the blithering idiots on Fox & Friends. Not to mention workout shows, movies on Lifetime, light-in-the-loafer decorators on HGTV... maybe it wasn't a reason to live, but it was reason enough to turn on the television.
- The history. I don't know how many times I heard reference to the 1966 England-West Germany match, the 1950 Uruguay victory over Brazil in Rio, America's historic victory over England in that same tournament, or the epic comeback by Portugal against North Korea in 1966. Never mind that none of the players in those games are part of this tournament, or that today's players weren't even born yet - the history of the World Cup lives on in these games, a part of the heritage of each nation's team.
- The U.S. as Underdog. Don't get me wrong - I wanted the U.S. to win as much as anyone. And some day we will win the World Cup. But until then, there's nothing better than listening to the rest of the world ridicule us, scoff at our efforts, and take us lightly. Don't they know by now that you always take the U.S. lightly at your own peril? It may be hard to see us lose today, but it'll make that eventual victory all the sweeter. ◙
Friday, July 9, 2010
The 10 things we'll miss about the World Cup
With Sunday's Spain-Netherlands World Cup final set,the realization hits home that this year's tournament, which has been the dominant sports event for nearly a month, is almost over. Seems almost as if it's become a way of life, like the Olympics or the State Fair, and in a way it's hard to imagine the sporting life without it. Here, in no particular order, are the ten things we'll miss most when the World Cup ends on Sunday: