The World Cup A-Z

Posted: June 13, 2010 in Uncategorized
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I won’t even pretend to be the most knowledgeable soccer fan. That said, I’ll watch big matches throughout the year and I know enough about the sport to hold my own in a conversation. More importantly, I have full-blown World Cup fever right now. I’ve watched at least part of every match so far, and I have a lot of thoughts on the first three days and the tournament as a whole. I figure there’s no better way to express those thoughts than by running through the alphabet.

Announcers — Soccer has the best announcers of any sport. It’s really not even close. Instead of saying things like, “They have numbers” or “They have a 2-on-1,” they say, “Oh, they have numerical superiority here.” It’s awesome.

Brazil — Rooting for Brazil is like rooting for the Yankees. They have the most World Cup titles and they’re always one of the favorites. Hot women, sweet names and Portuguese connection aside, I just can’t bring myself to root for them.

C — As in Group C, which comprises the US, England, Slovenia and Algeria. Despite the fact that Slovenia currently sits in first, I still think the US and England are the two teams that are going to advance. I wasn’t particularly impressed with Slovenia and I can’t really see them earning more than one point total in their two remaining games against the US and England, meaning I don’t see them ending up with more than four points. Meanwhile, I see the US and England both beating Algeria (who is not very good) and at least tying Slovenia, meaning I see both of them ending up with at least five points.

Donovan, Landon — Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite sportswriters, wrote a great feature on Donovan (“Good Isn’t Good Enough”) in Sports Illustrated’s World Cup preview issue. The gist of it was how Donovan has matured from a cocky kid who took everything for granted and wasn’t always committed to the team to a true leader who has finally realized what he needs to do to succeed both individually and team-wise on the international stage. I know Donovan isn’t an elite player in the world, but he’s a very good player and this feature convinced me that he’s going to have a good tournament and that he can be depended upon.

E apoio Portugal — If the US doesn’t win it (which I don’t expect them to), I’m rooting for Portugal. And no, this isn’t random — my mom’s half-Portuguese (her maiden name Silva is one of the most common last names in Portugal). Portugal, which is ranked No. 3 in the world, has about as tough a path as you could possibly have, though. They’re in the same group as Brazil (No. 1) and if they don’t win the group, they’ll likely face Spain (No. 2) in the second round. Then if they get by that, Italy (No. 5) could be waiting for them in the quarterfinals. Yikes.

France — After North Korea, France is the country I most despise in this tournament. I’ve never particularly cared for the French anyway, but now I despise them because they knocked Ireland (who would’ve been my second-favorite team) out of qualifying on a handball. Yeah, I know the refs are more to blame than Thierry Henry himself, but I don’t really care. I’m taking it out on the French.

Germany — They’re the most impressive team I’ve seen play so far. They just absolutely manhandled Australia (who isn’t great, but isn’t exactly terrible either) to the tune of a 4-0 beatdown. That’s bad news for whoever finishes second between the US and England.

Hellenic Republic — Did you know that this is the official name of Greece? Because I didn’t until yesterday. Anyway, Greece is the worst team I’ve seen so far. They couldn’t do anything right against South Korea, a team that isn’t even ranked in the top 25 in the world.

Italy — My mom’s also half-Italian, but I’m not really rooting for Italy. First off, they won the last World Cup. I’d rather see someone win it who hasn’t won before (like, say, Portugal). Secondly, if Italy loses, I’d be able to rub it in my friend Marco’s face, which is always fun.

Jerseys — Specifically, those of the US. They’re awful. It looks like the whole team just came from a beauty pageant. For a country that has awesome hockey jerseys, you’d think we’d be able to come up with soccer jerseys that were at least decent. When in doubt, keep it simple. If the US doesn’t advance out of group play, I’m blaming the jerseys.

Keepers — The US has a really good one. England doesn’t. That was made evident in yesterday’s 1-1 tie. I’m sure Robert Green is a pretty good goalie (he wouldn’t be starting for England if he wasn’t), but that goal was softer than a furry wall. At the other end of the field, Tim Howard made a number of huge saves to keep the game tied. The US doesn’t have elite talent at most positions, but they do in net.

Lalas, Alexi — I loved Lalas when he played for the US and the New England Revolution, mostly because of his awesome hair and beard, but he’s a terrible studio analyst. Sure, he knows a lot about soccer, but he’s about as unbiased as Tommy Heinsohn or Jack Edwards. It’s like he’s getting paid to try and convince people that the US has a legitimate chance of winning it all.

Messi, Lionel — For someone who’s clearly one of the best players in the world, he sure does struggle to finish in the World Cup. He had a boatload of chances in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Nigeria, but just couldn’t seem to put the ball on net, never mind in it. I think he’s way too good to keep missing, but it was pretty astounding to watch.

No hands — It amazes me that the top players in the world still get called for handballs. I’m not talking about the ball getting deflected or taking a bad bounce and hitting their hand; I’m talking about guys just throwing their hands out to break up a pass or knock a ball down. I know it’s instinct, but I feel like pro soccer players should be able to overcome that instinct at some point. Serbia lost to Ghana solely because of  a handball. That shouldn’t happen.

Officials — Soccer might also have the best refs of any sport. I’ve seen very few missed calls so far and most games haven’t had any bad calls. Whenever it looks like they made a bad call, the replay usually shows that they were actually right. I can’t believe they get so much right at full speed when I usually need a slow-mo replay to see what happened. American pro sports leagues need to start using whatever sort of training FIFA uses.

Penalty kicks — The aforementioned Serbia handball gave Ghana what proved to be a game-winning penalty kick. I think the penalty kick might be the single most exciting play in sports. The penalty shot in hockey is very exhilarating as well, but there’s a lot more riding on a penalty kick. Even if it comes in the first five minutes of a game, you know that one play could decide the game because there’s a good chance there might not be any more goals. If there’s a penalty shot in the first five minutes of a hockey game, you expect there to be at least a couple more goals, so it’s not quite as decisive.

Quibbling — Over the ball. Shut up and play. No one cares that it’s faster or harder than a normal ball. You’ve been playing with it for several months now, and everyone’s using the same ball. Get over it.

Replays — Why every sport doesn’t use super slow-mo replays like soccer is beyond me. Everything looks awesome in super slow-mo — kicking the ball, heading the ball, screaming, falling. It doesn’t even matter. Glen Davis yelling his brains out and foaming from the mouth was fantastic in slow motion, but I guarantee it would’ve been even more epic in super slow-mo.

Spain — Spain seems to be the trendy pick to win it all. They’ve never won before. They’re incredibly talented. Spanish is a cool language. But trendy picks rarely come out on top, which is why I don’t think Spain will.

Tshabalala, Siphiwe — By far the best name in the tournament. He also scored the tournament’s first goal and became something of a South African national hero, but his name’s the most important thing here.

US defense — There were a lot of questions about the US back line coming in, but it sure looked good against England. Oguchi Onyewu seemed to be fully recovered from his knee injury and Steve Cherundolo came up with several big 1-on-1 stops. Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit also looked solid. If they can keep it up, the US could possibly win its group, which would mean avoiding Germany in the second round.

Vuvuzelas — These are those incredibly annoying horns all the South African fans have. They need to be banned pronto. Don’t they realize that a lot of people in the Americas are hungover for these morning games? I don’t want to mute the TV because I want to hear the fantastic announcers, but it’s like listening to a beehive. I don’t know how much more I can take.

Worst stadium — This honor goes to Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenberg, which played host to yesterday’s US-England game. It looked like a really old college football bowl and a lot of the seats were far away from the field (especially behind the nets). To my amazement, the stadium is only 11 years old. Maybe it’s actually really nice in person, but it looked like a dump on TV.

X — I got nothing.

Yellow cards — Either Bill Simmons or one of the readers in his mailbag (I don’t feel like looking it up) mentioned how awesome it would be if other sports used soccer’s card system. It’s really funny when you think about it — a ref just walking up to a player, not saying anything, pulling out a card, holding it in front of the player and then walking away. The announcers make it even better. “And now the ref’s calling him over. Oh, is he gonna give him a yellow card? YES HE IS! HE’S PULLED OUT THE YELLOW CARD! OH MY!” So dramatic.

Zidane, Zinedine — I couldn’t come up with anything else for Z, so I decided to just remind everyone of one of my favorite sports moments ever.

Today’s list: 10 worst jerseys in sports history

10) Cincinnati Bengals orange jerseys — Happy Halloween!

9) Florida Panthers “retro” jerseys — A 17-year-old franchise inventing a throwback jersey. ‘Nuff said.

8) San Diego Padres brown jerseys — Were they going for the mustard on poop look here?

7) Boston Bruins teddy bear jerseys — Bruins are supposed to scream, “I’m gonna rip your head off,” but this one whispered, “Let’s cuddle.”

6) Tampa Bay Buccaneers orange jerseys — Burnt orange is just… bad.

5) Vancouver Canucks V jerseys — These would’ve been acceptable if there was a hockey team in V for Vendetta, but there wasn’t.

4) Pittsburgh Pirates all-yellow uniforms — Sunglasses, please.

3) Denver Nuggets rainbow jerseys — Nothing says intimidation like a rainbow.

2) Philadelphia Flyers long pants uniforms — Most people who play in adult pick-up leagues wear something more appealing than this.

1) Chicago White Sox shorts uniforms — The only thing worse than long pants in hockey is shorts in baseball. The ridiculous collars are just icing on the cake.


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