& Annoying Gestures
The World Cup in Brazil starts in little over a month and, while been plagued by protests, construction delays, worker fatalities and unsurprising fears that the only winner will be Fifa, the world soccer federation, no one doubts that it’ll succeed in the final.
How well, though, both to its host and to lovers of the game, is not nearly as sure. The world’s most popular sport has changed, not always for the best and, again unsurprisingly, money is now a major destabilizing factor.
We’ll dedicate part of our coverage (what do you mean we shouldn’t? we’re crazy too, you know?) to these and other factors, and try to keep up the level of interest in the game with our own take on its beauty and its ugliness. It also helps that we’ve been there before.
Even if the tournament’s last edition, four years ago in Nelson Mandela’s South Africa, was arguably almost uneventful, there were plenty of thrilling stories, drama and, of course, goals to lift our spirits (and ultimately, break our hearts) to write about, before, during and after.
Thus, just as record five-time winner, and second-time host, Brazil announced its squad for the month-long competition that starts June 12, along with most of the other 31 teams, we kick off our own coverage with a little intro, to set the tone and themes for the weeks ahead. Enjoy.
CLICHÉS & CLUTCHES
One of the most painful, unimaginative and plain dumb clichés applied to soccer is to call it a religion, the Church of Maradona in Buenos Aires not withstanding. Or a passion. Or, for that matter, to use war metaphors to characterize it, by comparing teams to armies, and players to warriors.
But as once a young musician compared rock and roll to religion, to dire consequences, I’m about to go on a limb here and express what’s already in most people’s minds: soccer is more popular than religion. There, I said it.
All it takes is to count the number of people who’ll be watching the opening ceremony for the games to, for example, any given Christmas Midnight Mass at the Vatican, the exquisitely dressed Cardinals all around and the full regalia of the Michelangelo-designed guard uniforms, regardless that the new Pope is not expected to wear the former’s gender-bending red shoes.
Or let’s forget all about pomp and ceremony. What about the opening game between the host and Croatia? Or Friday the 13th’s rematch of the 2010 final, between current champion Spain and the Netherlands? Or any other game
of this global quadrennial tournament, perfectly capable of beating any worldwide event any institutionalized religion could possibly put up on display.
So, now that that matter is settled, let’s go about setting straight other myths surrounding the sport (not religion).
American football lovers, for example, like to point out that some games may take 90 minutes plus and still not produce any score. Whoever had to endure such an arid experience, feel free to jump in the complaint. Which is another reason to value the unpredictability of high scoring games, as they are even more often known to happen.
There are hockey fans who think soccer, as the game is known only in the U.S., is too slow. I wonder what it’d be like to have a leather ball replacing the puck and what that’d do to the boxing matches that erupt regularly during hockey games, to the absolute delight of fans who, surely, like their sport to be of the two-fold kind: when all else falls, let’s get into a fistfight and see what happens.
Most basketball players are, arguably, soccer fans. I offer that this may be because, more than the ability to score with your feet and head as opposed to scoring with your hands, the player doesn’t need to be as impossibly tall as even the shortest basketball player is these days. I imagine how easier it’d be to pick a point guard based solely on his athletic ability and not on his talent to impersonate a wall.
Finally, for those who enjoy America’s former favorite pastime, baseball, and can’t understand how come a game lasts only 90 minutes, one could argue that, at least, the advantages of being in a reasonable position to watch the game increases proportionally to the design of the field. The rectangle adopted by world football has an obvious edge over the diamond pitch that, on top of everything, has some areas not recommended for public viewing of the game, lest widespread audience injury caused by a heavy, small and speeding ball be as less frequent as possible.
Going back to the religious-tinged issue of ‘having faith,’ ‘praying to god for a victory,’ or the ominous, increasingly common gesture of born-again soccer players to point to the sky as if thanking for the good luck of having scored a goal, all that can be said is, get a life. Or you mean to tell me that the almighty himself dropped everything just to grant you the opportunity to do what you’ve been training all your life to do? Please.
Originally published in June, 2010.