Saturday, June 26, 2010

World Cup

I saw both of today's World Cup matches and there were empty seats in the first one. This is astounding. The World Cup is the biggest athletic competition in the world - the confident, hetero brother of the Olympics. And there are empty seats in the knockout stage! Even the crazy, beer-loving, hooliganism-prone international soccer fanbase was too scared to travel to that hellhole to support their teams.

I once bought a little book called "101 Things To Do Before You Die". "Be present when your country wins the World Cup" is in that book next to things like "save someone's life", "write a best-seller" and "make the front page of a national newspaper". Well, this year if you're Argentinian or German, all you may need to do to check off that item on the list is conquer your fear of big black crowds - there seem to be lots of empty seats at these games. For the record, so far I've done 7 of the "101 things", most of them easy ones.

More stereotypes confirmed: like every black African team I've ever seen play, Ghana had a white coach. Before this match every commentator gushed about Ghaneans' sprinting ability, and once the game started, what do you know, the Ghaneans turned out to be great sprinters. The condition of the pitch in the Uruguay - South Korea game was not up to high school, let alone World Cup standards.

Not a stereotype, actually a mystery: in 3 out of its 4 games in this tournament the US team allowed a goal in the first few minutes. I've watched thousands of soccer games in my life and I have never seen any team habitually experience this particular problem before.

The networks were trying really hard to sell America on soccer this year, but one of the commentators assigned by them to the US - Ghana game was named Ian and talked with a British accent. For millions of Americans who never watch soccer, but tuned in today because they heard that the US team had been doing well lately, this would have been just another reminder of how foreign soccer is.

On the one hand I was disappointed that the US lost, on the other I was relieved that the game wasn't decided by penalty kicks. People who know nothing about soccer often complain about its low scoring and boredom. People who do know something about it are more likely to complain about diving and the random unfairness of penalty shootouts. Skipping extra time and deciding tied games by a series of corner kicks would be fairer, since scoring off a corner normally requires great skill.