Tales From the Hilltop
An intelligent, yet Devil's Advocate view of the world

Episode Twenty-Six: It’s Futbol Season!

“GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAL!” time is back, ladies and gentlemen.

Today’s episode dwells on the once-every-four-year tournament of European Football mayhem called the World Cup. For those of you who only care about basketball & North American Football, let me break it down. The World Cup showcases the world best 32 nation’s soccer teams to complete to see who will be champion at the end. It starts off with eight groups, four teams in each, who play each other in the opening games. Three points are awarded for wins, one for draws or ties, and zero for losses. Then, the top two teams from each group will advance to the “knockout” round, where it’s a straight forward win-or-go-home style of play.

Now, over the years, the World Cup has become HUGE around the world – seriously. Soccer is the most played game worldwide, most in part to this tournament. I know, I know: here in the United States, soccer’s normally an afterthought, when you have the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL headlining every day, with golf & tennis also getting respective attention. However, overseas – or more appropriate, outside of the US and Canada – soccer is the biggest and most universal game that’s played, seconded by baseball. So, while we here in the States are jumping through hoops over this tournament, it’s still nice to watch, considering that most of probably were soccer nuts way back in childhood. Oh yeah: Soccer actually IS the most popular sport in the US for kids 10 and under.

What makes this World Cup tournament special is that for the first time ever, the tournament is being hosted on the dark continent of Africa, the country of South Africa to be more specific. This is an honor to Africans everywhere, considering that Africa has never hosted ANY major international sporting event: not the Olympics, not the World Baseball Classic, not even the World Basketball Championships. So now, we get a true taste of the South African culture, and they hopefully get much needed tourism, revenue, and publicity for their country and continent.

With so much good things that can happen, and has happen from mid-June to mid-July, of course there have been drawbacks. Yes, criticisms have arisen and for the most part, it’s been well-deserved, such as:

1) The refereeing. I know, this happens is pretty much EVERY sport. The one universal truth about sports is that when in doubt, blame the officials. However, we’re a technologically advanced world now. It would kill anyone to institute instant replay ever once in awhile. Even baseball, who for decades shunned this, finally started using it, albeit for home run calls only (that sport’s slow enough as it is, without EVERY call needing to be seen over and over), but for goals, I think it would help clear up any controversy that could happen, and in the US’s case against Slovenia that took away a potentially game-winning goal. It just something to look at.

2) The flopping. Yes, Europe is known, especially in the NBA for emphasis fouls and plays were players get hurt and yes, soccer can be brutal on professional footballers like getting kicked pretty much everywhere with cleats. Nevertheless, it seems like on average every five minutes someone goes down on the field in a crumpled heap which looks like they’re ready to be carted off on a stretcher, only to pop back up two minutes later like they just won the lottery. As Ed Lover would say….C’mon son.

3) The fans. Look, we’re all passionate about something, but fanatical soccer fans are almost cliché in the world. Soccer matches has brought riots, protests, even players killed for bad games. (Case in point: “The Two Escobars” piece that will run on ESPN this evening) Almost on cue, the 1st day of the games brought a stampede outside the gates of the Johannesburg Stadium, where they know it’s not enough police to fend them off. I mean, it IS Africa, right?

4) Those blasted vuvuzelas. OK, a vuvuzela is a trumpet-like plastic horn, normally used in South African culture for noise making during soccer matches (the blowing equivalent to thunder sticks at basketball games). The only problem is; the people don’t know when to STOP. And a stadium full of these things on sounds like bees swarming the field. How’s anyone supposed to get into the game with that sound…for 90 minutes…..straight??  And since the World Cup officials won’t ban them from the games, we’ll be hearing these things from now till the championship match. They , quite literally, are making is painful to watch soccer. (These things have been proven to deteriorate hearing, and yet they can’t stop blowing them…..South African culture, my ass.)

Other than that, I hope South Africa prospers greatly from the World Cup. Maybe they’ll decide in 20 years or so to bring it back. I just hope the vuvuzelas are gone, the goaltending gets better, the draws get fewer, and riots get non-existent.

Oh, and the US actually caring about this thing – outside the national team – wouldn’t hurt, either.

6/22/10

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