Monday, July 10, 2006

La Copa

30 days, 64 games, 12 venues and 31 losing teams later -- Italy stands on a wobbly perch atop the world, trophy in hand. Wobbly not so much because of the quality of their play -- particularly their defensive play -- but because in the end their championship was won on the basis of a tiny mis-hit on a penalty kick.

After 30 days and 64 game, the championship was decided by the mere fraction of an inch (let's be worldly and call it a few centimeters) by which Frenchman David Trezeguet's penalty kick hit too far up on the crossbar. It came down a foot in front of the line, and that was all the opening that was needed when all five of the Italian tries finished in the back of the net.

And there you have the first reason why the World Cup sucks, as well as the first reason why it rocks.

WORLD CUP SUCKS! - What the hell kind of sport decides its ultimate championship in a manner thoroughly at odds with the rest of the game? It's the championship of the world, right? Do fans of the sport have something better to do? You couldn't just keep playing until sheer exhaustion results in the fatal mistake that ends it all? The NHL does it every spring in the Stanley Cup playoffs and it happens to be the most interesting happening in sports. It's as if you had a World Series Game 7 go into extra innings, but instead of playing it out to the bitter end, you play a couple of extra innings and then have a homerun derby to decide the championship. Insane? Of course, but fundamentally no different from how yesterday's game went.

WORLD CUP ROCKS! - Despite the suck-aspect of it, there is no denying that the tension involved in a penalty-kicks finish is through the roof. Given the odds against a great penalty-kick save, most misses come down to pressure-induced mis-kicks -- as was the case with Trezeguet yesterday. The fact that every Italian made their kick yesterday, and not every Frenchie made theirs, may not say much about how the two play soccer, but it does say something -- however slight -- about how they react to pressure, and that's not nothin'

WORLD CUP SUCKS! - Please, stop with the flopping and the rolling around and the grabbing your shins and the f-ing stretchers! Seriously, what is with the stretchers all the time? This is easily the most ridiculous aspect of the sport, certainly the least appealing. Maybe it's something genetic with soccer players, but really, you're soccer players, not actors. You're not fooling anyone!

WORLD CUP ROCKS! - FIFA managed to get one thing right -- well, three things right -- and that was their choices for the referees in the semifinals and the final. Most of the ridiculous flopping and acting vanished once these guys made it clear -- and it was early in all three games -- that this crap wasn't gonna work.

WORLD CUP SUCKS! - Would it kill FIFA to hire a second referee for these games? Jeez, hockey has two refs, and a rink is maybe a quarter of the size of a soccer field. Football has, what, 10 or 11 officials -- and that field isn't even as big as a soccer field. It sure seems like most bad calls are the result of refs trailing the play by 20 or 30 yards and missing things as they huff to get back in the game. Perhaps the most important play of the final was when Zinedine Zidane inexplicably took down an Italian with a bald-head ram to the solar plexus. Of course, the referee missed it. It was pointed out to him by a helpful linesman, but even he made the call only after seeing the replay on the in-stadium big screen (although FIFA denies this).

WORLD CUP ROCKS! - Watching the World Cup gives a novice the best insight into why the rest of the world enjoys soccer. At its highest level, the sport has an unparalleled combination of speed, endurance, skill and creativity. Only basketball is in the same arena combining all of these aspects, but even basketball isn't played on as large a field -- or as large a stage.

WORLD CUP SUCKS! - Perversely, though, the World Cup pretty much spoils me for the rest of the sport. The skill levels are so high, and the stakes are so high as well, that nothing else in the sport is even remotely close. Face it, after watching the WC is anyone interested in watching the MLS? Didn't think so.

WORLD CUP ROCKS! - I watched more soccer in the last month than I had in the rest of my life put together. Why would I bother if it sucked?


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