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Sunday, July 9, 2006

A month I'll never get back

It's not possible, really, to watch all 64 games of a World Cup. Thanks to a shameful collusion between West Germany and Austria in the 1982 World Cup where the two teams basically stopped playing after Germany scored their first goal, thereby ensuring that both teams would go through, the third games in the initial group play round for each group are played simultaneously, so that the result of one game can't affect the result of the other game. So from a practical standpoint, it's really only possible to watch 56 of the 64 games.

I watched 56 games of the World Cup over the past month. (Well, okay, I caught a couple of the games on the radio thanks to XM when I had to be away from the television.)

I didn't play soccer as a kid. The sport hadn't come to the midwest yet when I was growing up there. I wasn't really even aware of it until I moved to New Jersey in high school. They played soccer here. In fact, my girlfriend in high school was a talented player in the local youth leagues. She wanted to play for our high school, but we didn't have a girl's soccer team at the time. The school administration wouldn't listen to her protests that it wasn't fair, but she really wanted to play, so she tried out for the boy's team. She worked out with them for almost the whole summer, but stopped shortly before the decisions on who would make the team were made. I was so proud of her for trying out, and I'm not really sure why she stopped; she was a very shy person in general, and I don't know if she was afraid of what would happen if she actually made the team, or if she just realized that she wouldn't make the team anyway. In any case, she worked as the scorekeeper for the team that year, and as a result I went to all the games they played, home and away. It was fun.

At Penn State, we were required to take four credits of Phys Ed in addition to the usual classes. I didn't take soccer, but for my two credits of bowling(!), my professor was Walter Bahr, who coached the Penn State soccer team. I think I was dimly aware at the time that he had played for the U.S. national team. I don't think I knew that he played in the World Cup and was a major participant in the biggest upset in World Cup history, the 1950 U.S. victory over England. He assisted on the goal that won that game. Last year, they made a movie about it.

I didn't pay much attention to soccer for years after that. But in 1994, the World Cup was played in the U.S., and it coincided with a strike in my then-favorite sport, baseball. I thought both sides were wrong in that strike, and it turned me off to baseball ever since. But the World Cup captured my imagination. I was hooked. And I've watched all of them, mens' and womens', ever since.

I wouldn't claim to be a huge soccer fan. I don't go out of my way to see games at any time other than during the Copa Mundial. But I really enjoy it every four years.

I was sorry to see Germany go out in the semifinals. I thought they were one of the more interesting and entertaining teams. Similarly, I was sorry to see Argentina go out (even though that was against Germany); I thought they played Brazilian-style futbol better than the Brazilians did. I thought Italy played disgracefully against the Americans during the group rounds, so I was really sorry to see them make it to the final. And I was very impressed by France's Zinedine Zidane, who played like a man on fire once France got out of the group round. At times, he looked like he was putting on a clinic. So, despite my Italian name and heritage, I was rooting for France in the final. I may also be part French, but I haven't gotten that far back in my genealogical research yet. :-)

Given that, I was happy to see Zidane score the penalty kick that put France ahead seven minutes into today's final. And I thought that France overall looked like much the better team.

And then, away from the run of play, Zidane head-butted Materazzi in the 110th minute, with only ten minutes to go in the last overtime, in what was billed as his last game ever, the last game for one of the best players of all time, probably the best of the past 20 years. He had played with style and elan, and then in one stupid moment, threw it all away, leaving the field for the very last time in disgrace. The Guardian reports that it was because Materazzi tweaked his nipple. Feh.

So hey, Forza Italia! I still think France played better and should have won, and I still think Italy played disgracefully for much of the tournament, particularly those portions where they made the pitch look like a swimming pool with all their diving. But ultimately, after watching as many games of the World Cup as possible, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth, and didn't want either team to win.

Hopefully the women's World Cup next year will put on a better, more sportsmanlike display.

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Posted at 6:47 PM

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Note: I’m tired of clearing the spam from my comments, so comments are no longer accepted.

It was a crappy way for the whole thing to end, alright. I had never seen Zidane before, and he was very impressive, until he lost his cool. It seems very European to head butt someone instead of clocking them with your fist.

Posted by lilbro at 4:24 PM, July 10, 2006 [Link]

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