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Let’s Play | Jugemos | Giochiamo

US ties it up

It started yesterday with host South Africa scoring the first goal against Mexico. The second game was The Team I Hate The Most vs. Uruguay with no one scoring. It’s the World Cup. The entire world is watching… except for the fat spoiled Americans who need instant gratification. I had a conversation with a coworker in the lounge yesterday. He doesn’t get why football (aka soccer) gets everyone all psychotic. It’s not a sport the American temperament can handle. It requires patience. Plays open up slowly over the huge expanse of the pitch. Shots are more blocked than they are allowed to pay off. The rules haven’t changed to make it easier to score. Americans don’t get games with low scores. They don’t have patience. They can’t appreciate the rare flashes of light through a long game. They don’t understand how a final score of 0-0 can be an acceptable result. They want flash and a payoff and a winner. Soccer thwarts that. It’s the world’s game.

My coworker wanted to know why. I don’t know why, but I can imagine it’s because, at least partly, in that it’s the world’s most democratic game. You only need a ball to play. You don’t need a court or a pitch or pavement. You don’t even need shoes. You don’t need to know a lot of rules. You just need a will. That starts the love for the great game, a love that lives in every town in every country in the world except for this one. The best talent gets picked up and coached and watched and paid and emulated and funneled into the club leagues. But even then, as these highly paid athletes don their national jerseys to play as one, it’s still a democratic game. Some of the best players have come out of the worst poverty in the world’s cities. And these favelas in Rio make American inner cities look like wealthy, if violent, enclaves. Height doesn’t help you in this game (see last year’s semi match between Germany and Italy). Lifting weights will only get you so far. Shin guards help against the worst of the other players’ shoes but they won’t help you when you take a face full of grass on the pitch. The only thing that gets you is age, and its reversal is the only thing money can’t buy.

I believe the English invented the modern game. It figures, what with idiosyncratic rules like stoppage time. Today I watched England slump off the field looking embarrassed when the USA team managed to tie them on a missed save by their goalie. Thanks to Univision, I was able to watch the game live through my computer. It was better anyway. The ESPN broadcasters they’re using are British since I guess they couldn’t find enough Americans to do the job. Brits keep their heads in tense situations, most famously in scenarios like Dunkirk. But passion is adverse to their nature. The Mexican commentators were over their heads with excitement over a game that cannot possibly affect Mexico at this early stage of the tournament.

Tomorrow’s a bit of a rest with two games with people who won’t win anything and the headliner being Germany and Australia. I can hardly wait to see my winner pick of Spain and the ridiculously gorgeous Italian team and top-ranked Brazil. Any one can beat anyone else at any time. This is the only international sporting contest where countries can field teams on the fairest ground. True, cold countries may have once been at a disadvantage, but with modern indoor stadia and temperature control, that’s a thing of the past (see the competent Dutch team and 2006 third-place Germany). Teams are meeting on the most equal ground available. It doesn’t matter if you have sandy beaches or craggy cliffs or are land-locked or live half your life in the sea. It doesn’t matter much if you’re rich or not. Brazil’s players come from the favelas and they’re ranked #1. The well-funded USA team has to enter as just another humble participant.

I love this game. Let’s play.

Photo: As appeared in the NY Times. Darren Staples/ Reuters

3 Responses to “Let’s Play | Jugemos | Giochiamo”

  1. 1
    Pia:

    Everyone here can still get all misty-eyed at the mention of our completely unexpected European Championship win in 1992, where we beat Germany in the final. Talk about a national party! People celebrating on the streets everywhere! I’m not sure if we can make it all the way this time (our longest run in the World Cup got us to the quarter finals in 1998 when Brazil knocked us out), but hey, it would be great :)

  2. 2
    Ellie:

    “But passion is adverse to their nature.” Surely you know no British people in general, or British football fans in particular.

  3. 3
    U2Literary:

    I was speaking of the commentators.

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