The Biggest of the Little Guys
Gets Bounced Off the World Cup
The World Cup has always been a lot of things to a lot of people. In fact, for millions of Americans, there could hardly be anything more important happening this Tuesday than the game that Team USA was playing against Belgium in the Brazilian city of Salvador.
But the cup is a brutal place for underdogs. Despite its cathartic explosion of goals, already exceeding previous editions, it also has a predatory taste for heartbreak. Thus when Lukaku scored and kicked out the U.S. from the tournament, millions of dreams were crushed.
The unprecedented crowds that overwhelmed bars, clubs and eateries throughout the States were absolutely sure that this was not going to be Belgium, even if it was Tuesday, and cheered and screamed and dared to imagine victory until what felt like a sucker punch in the gut.
The deafening silence that followed the referee’s final whistle would moved to tears even the hardest Neocon, or those known for despising beggars and Greenpeace activists. The 2X1 score was even more disappointing because, as it’s often the case, the U.S. was so close to tying it, so close to overwhelming it.
It wasn’t to be. Not that this is unfamiliar territory for the only major nation on the planet that calls football soccer, where the great majority still prefers to follow its insulated brand of league sports, and whose notion of a global ball competition involves exclusively its Northern neighbor.
There’s no need to act so sourly about Jürgen Klinsmann’s choices. After all, the current cycle of sunspots is also not what it’d been cracked up to be, scientists say. So if even the billions-old shiner can afford an off cycle or two, so can Clint Dempsey and his mates. And so can we all.
Which doesn’t mean that Team USA’s ride wasn’t thrilling, as it’s been for at least three consecutive World Cups, and that they haven’t given their very best, which it’s also been the case for the longest while. Then again, you can say the same about pretty much every ‘little’ team that never makes it to the final.
EVERY BIT A FLAMING TRAIL
For there hasn’t been a single case of a fragile team winning it all in this almost century old tournament, including the big guys, when they play a notch below their historical best. This time around, former champions Italy, England, and Uruguay are already home, to be heard of again heaven knows when.
Halfway through the games, the prospects for other barely alive big names haven’t granted any jubilation either: just ask a group of Brazilians about their date against Colombia on Friday, and you’re bound to hear someone refer to the game as the Funeral in Fortaleza.
Heartbreak happens, and at this point, it’s as predictable as complains about the spotty refereeing, specially when it falls for the particularly bad theatrics performed by players on the pitch. Some (Mexicans?) may even argue that the Netherlands wouldn’t still be a contender if it weren’t for just such a ploy.
But who’s to argue about a team that’s trashed former champions Spain? And once one avoids the tasteless hyperbole about Germany’s supposedly single-mindness, or perceived sameness of its style, there’s no denying of its formidable will to deliver just what this game is all about, jogo bonito notwithstanding: an exuberant show.
BLOOD AT THE FRONT GATES
Despite all initial enthusiasm, however, there’s a devilish certainty about football’s most glaring showcase: the champion almost always comes from within that limited cast of former and would be winners; to everyone else, the final stages are as unwelcome as an undiscovered country. That kind of glory simply won’t wear their jerseys.
Teams from Africa and Asia and Australia can often provide some of the most rewarding copy, infused with heroic tales of self sacrifice and beating the odds. But as soon as the first elimination round starts, they become as sparse as a Pacific island, and by the time the group of eight is defined, as it is now, they’re usually gone.
So why bother? one (baseball aficionado?) may ask. Because it’s there, would reply the Himalayan climber. There’s never a shortage of great plays, amazing goals, and incredible moments shared by billions, when that etched-on-stone logic seems on the verge of being debunked. And none of these flashing points is a monopoly of either the top billed or the cast of extras.
In that way, the cup’s ever worth a try. And every once in a while, when tiny David kicks humongous Goliath’s ass, we all partake that moment piling on top of each other – the little guy hitting the bullseye is a thing of beauty. But like life, fulfillment is elusive, and it amounts to way more than an arrow. Or a game. This game.
SEE YOU IN YOUR DREAMS
Team USA fell to the best. Our boys showed the world their true colors. They lost the battle, but won the war, etc. Maybe the worst part is the avalanche of war-related, sodden clichés that certainly will soil the coverage of what ultimately is just a sport. Not a campaign or an epic. Only a game. They’ll be back.
The angst and the sorrow, the cursing and feeling of betrayal too shall pass. Football will go on to renew itself, and new protagonists may take center stage the next time around. What to do in the meantime, when so much emotional investment seems to have been wasted, and we’re left with little more than memories? what about getting a life?
Some will pick another team to vicariously navigate them all the way to the final, only that now there may be a touch of detachment added to their slightly colder blood. But the hearts will grow fonder again, and the passion will come back, and maybe some of us will fall in love one more time.
Paraphrasing that Warren song, there will be other nights (or days) like these. No need to be sour pussies about it. Let them have their fun, bragging a bit about beating us up. We’ll come back. Just like there will be another day and a thousand Tuesdays. Just for the love of the almighty, though, it’d better not be Belgium.