Thursday, July 29, 2010

Random thoughts on the 2K10 World Cup

I'll always remember South Africa 2K10 as the "Finally! A Uruguayan side that played up to its considerable potential, made me immensely proud, and didn't make me want to gouge my eyes out!" World Cup. For a team with such a glorious soccer history, La Celeste had, in my soccer-watching lifetime, been mediocre and unremarkable at best, and sluggish, ultra-defensive, and occasionally flat-out dirty at worst. Their last noteworthy World Cup run was exactly 40 years ago, when I wasn't yet two years old. Well, it was well worth the wait.

After a coma-inducing draw in their first match, this glorious edition of La Celeste found their rhythm in the second match, where they trashed the host nation, and then went on to defeat an obnoxious Mexican side to win their group, all while playing a polished, disciplined, and, shock of all shocks, extremely crowd-pleasing brand of soccer. That success carried over to the round of sixteen, where they defeated a game South Korean side, and to the quarterfinals, where, in an all-time nailbiter, they once again crushed the hopes of the host continent by knocking out Ghana. In the semifinals, some unfortunate defensive lapses cost them dearly against an effective but surprisingly dirty, whiny, flopping Netherlands, and an unbelievable slew of missed goals against Germany consigned them to fourth place. Still, La Celeste were awesome, and striker Diego Forlán was awarded the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament.

There were many other things to remember about this edition of the World Cup. To wit:
  • The first match took place during the last day of school. I had programmed my DVR and was wrapping up all of my loose ends and getting my end-of-year checklist completed when my Russian math pal, AK-47, came over and suggested we watch the game at school. Nothing says "teachers are more than ready for the summer break" like having two grown men sitting in a darkened classroom watching soccer on the projector.
  • Those vuvuzelas... man, they're beyond annoying. I hope that crap doesn't catch on here. It's bad enough having to put up with idiots banging thundersticks and ringing cowbells.
  • Since none of the Spanish channels broadcast in HD, I watched the tournament on ESPN, and was very pleased with the network's excellent coverage. I just wish those limey announcers would stop adding r's to every word that ends in the letter a. To this day, I don't understand why someone would say Argentinahr, Nigeriahr, Algeriahr, ideahr, etc.
  • The American broadcasters were excellent, but the Beckham saga must have really damaged Alexi Lalas' psyche. He was a super laid-back player, famous for his surfer dude attitude and good humor, but as a commentator, he's vicious, judgmental, and unforgiving. Yes, he was right to trash goalies for blowing routine saves, referees for carding sissy fouls, and Cristiano Ronaldo for being a foppish fag. But characterizing every mistake or questionable tactic as "a disgrace," "a catastrophe," or "an absolute joke" seems excessive.
  • The geniuses at FIFA decided to try out a new ball for this tournament in the hopes of increasing scoring. Well, it worked. The addition of panels to the ball's exterior pattern resulted in a knuckleball swerve for just about every shot, cross, and corner kick, as well as several bizarre bounces. It's no surprise, then, that the goalkeeping in this tournament was awful. The US goal against England was the most notorious example. I watched that game with my pal Greg, a fervent supporter of the English squad, and when goalkeeper Robert Green fumbled an innocuous long-range shot into his own goal, Greg's shocked reaction went something like this: "What? OH MY GOD!!! Gaaahhh!!! Whu... GOD! Why... England! Come on!!!! What the... I need a cigarette!" British journalists were equally aghast, coming up with some outstanding descriptors, including "Stars and Tripe," "Red, White, and Green," and my personal fave, "Hand of Clod."
  • One of the many things to like about ESPN's coverage was their courtesy in broadcasting the pre-game national anthem ceremonies. Some anthems are musically gorgeous (France, Germany), some are exhilarating in their operatic splendor (Italy, Uruguay, Paraguay), some are awful (Mexico, Brazil)... but only one nation is glum enough to have an anthem written in a minor key: Slovakia's lovely, haunting, "Lightning Over The Tatras."
  • Germany's soccer team consisted of a few Germans, three Poles, two sodomy-loving Turks, a Ghanian, a Brazilian, a Croatian, an Iranian, and a Spaniard. As if that collection of soccer mercenaries wasn't despicable enough, the German coach eats his own boogers, and isn't the least bit shy about it. Is there a more repulsive team?
  • Maybe not a team, but there's definitely a more repulsive moniker: New Zealand's "The All-Whites." I guess "The Klan" would have been to obvious, and "The Aryan Blunder from Down Under" too clumsy.
  • The most bizarre storyline in the World Cup: since North Korea did not have a contingent of supporters, FIFA reportedly hired Chinese actors to pose as North Korean fans. You couldn't make that stuff up.
  • You also couldn't make up some of the great player names, from the clunky weirdness of a Greek player named Sokratis Papastathopoulo, to the sophomoric joys of Serbian goalkeeper Stankovic and Nigerian forward Shittu, and to the great irony of Japanese forward Honda and, my personal fave, a South Korean midfielder named Gook.
And now, the long wait until Brazil 2K14 begins.