MORE WORLD CUP BITCHIN'
Ah, more World Cup action! I’m a sports fan, and I’m pretty engrossed by this tournament… but fairly underwhelmed by the sport’s idiosyncrasies. I’m not the first to point out why the game is deeply flawed from an American perspective, but damned if it doesn’t produce some spectacularly exciting moments. (That US goal against Algeria in the 91st minute was just thrilling.)
But I will maintain that the excitement stems more from the stakes represented than the sport itself. If there were a worldwide checkers championship where national pride were at stake, then people all over the world would gather in their pubs and salivate over every jump, every king, every capture.
But what’s wrong with this as a sport is perfectly illustrated by the Ghana game on Saturday. Ghana, ahead by 2-1 in the last 15 minutes of overtime, went on an infuriating stalling run. Not just by playing keep-away, which seems perfectly within the spirit of the game, but also by time-wasting flopping, injury-feigning, and languid substitutions. Because FIFA, perversely, NEVER STOPS THE DAMN CLOCK, it is in the leading team’s interest to go through all manner of extra-field nonsense to burn the clock… including a Ghana player going down spectacularly, laying motionless to bring out the stretcher crew, getting hauled off the field, then hopping up, ready to go back in. Not to mention the Oscar-worthy faking & grimacing as, barely touched, a player goes down trying to draw the foul.
(In American football, sure, there is clock-burning, but it is done ON THE FIELD, and WITHIN THE RULES. And there are strategies for counteracting a team’s stalling.)
Then there is the referee’s arbitrary addition of time to the clock (“Hmm… let’s tack on an extra, oh, three minutes to the end”). So much is put in the ref’s hands; so much is open to abuse.
Soccer could be a fantastic sport, but is ultimately too frustrating for an American fan. Every four years, pundits wonder if this is finally the time when the US will embrace it as a big-time sport. Based on US v. Ghana, let the rest of the world have it. Seeya in four years.
(The US team does have the best athlete name: "Hercules Gomez." Just fantastic.)