Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What an Amazing World Cup!

With Sunday's final match between the Netherlands and Spain, the month-long world class soccer tournament came to a close, with much kudos to South Africa for pulling off its first major international sporting competition (well, second, if you count 1995's World Cup Rugby tournament in which the South African team beat New Zealand for the prize). There were doubts that South Africa would pull this off. Violent crime was a particular concern. Since domestic crime doesn't normally get international coverage, its hard to say if the crime rate dropped or increased in South Africa. The media seemed more focused on the controversy surrounding the "vuvuzelas", those horn-like noisemakers that drove some spectators CRAZY!

Due to the 9 hour time difference, I was not able to see most of the games. I really wanted to watch all of the games played by the USA, France, and South Africa. However, with the choices of 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. each day, I had to work. The first game I managed to see was the exciting USA -- Ghana game, which went into regulation overtime. I wanted to see the France -- South Africa game (hard for me to choose between those two countries) game, and even took off from work that day. I thought it was at 11 a.m., so when I went to a nearby sports bar, I was dismayed that the game was already over. I took the day off of work to miss the game I was most excited to see? Oh well, that left me a day to relax and read a new book I had bought the night before (The 7 Secrets of Synchronicity).

On Sunday, I was not missing this final match. I went to the sports bar kind of late (11:30) and did not see any available tables or chairs. It wasn't as crowded as the USA -- Ghana game, but it was still pretty packed. I decided to head downtown to Pioneer Courthouse Square (best known as "Portland's Livingroom"). I didn't think it would be crowded. Boy was I wrong! I have never seen that many people packed into that city block-sized square. I got my lunch at Starbucks and stood where I could see the top part of the large screen (and the McDonald's ad above it!). I also had a good view of a Golden Retriever puppy (the breed of dog I have wanted since elementary school. Some day, I will have such a dog!). Man, every time I see a Golden Retriever, I just can't take my eyes off of them. They are the best looking dogs around. They never seem to outgrow the cuteness of puppyhood. Its no surprise that its considered to be the most popular breed in America. Everyone loves a Golden Retriever!

The above photo was swiped from The Oregonian, which shows the enthusiastic crowd at Pioneer Courthouse Square. I'm nowhere in the frame of this photo. It was taken just as Spain finally scored a point in regulation overtime. The game was pretty boring and I was getting worried as the time ticked down towards the worst part of soccer rules: if a match is scoreless or tied after the 90 minute game, a 30 minute overtime goes into effect. If the game is still scoreless or tied, it goes down to penalty kicks. One player versus the opponents goalie. Until a point is made. This is no way to end a game, particularly one as intense as the final World Cup match! I remember this happening at the 1994 World Cup final between Italy and Brazil. Brazil won because of penalty kicks. Since I was living in Italy at the time, I saw how much the Italians hated that the most important game boiled down to penalty kicks. Winning the World Cup this way is also not a sign of a "clear victory" as the losing team has reason to gripe that "they only won because..."

I'm sure both teams were feeling the pressure to make a score. It was nervewracking. Thus, when Spain made that winning shot, it came as a huge relief. Though it appeared that most of the people at Pioneer Courthouse Square were wearing "Dutch orange" shirts, when Spain scored a goal, the audience erupted in great cheer. I'm not the only one who was rooting for Spain to win. However, it would have made a historically satisfying victory for the Netherlands to win the World Cup in a country they have ties with (Jan van Riebeck of Holland had set up a colony at Cape Town in 1652 and today's Afrikaners trace their ancestry to the Netherlands, France, and / or Germany; and the language of Afrikaans is considered a derivative of the Dutch language, with some French, German, and even Malay words mixed in).

I honestly could have gone either way in my support for the final game. Both countries have never won the World Cup and it was great to see them each have a chance at sporting glory. What threw my support behind Spain was actually a creepy looking sea creature!

That's right...Paul the Psychic Cephalopod (or the Oracle Octopus, as some headlines refer to him) has officially become my "favourite newstory of the year"! I did not think it was possible for anything to make me view these creepy creatures in a favourable light. Since childhood, I've always been afraid to even look at pictures of them in books and magazines. When that sushi plate which features Octopus comes around the conveyor belt, I always turn my eyes elsewhere. I don't eat anything with tentacles! Cartoon Octopi, though? Yeah, I can deal with them. I even love the amusement park ride. Just not the real deal. There's something creepy about them.

No more, thanks to Paul! He has done for his species what no other critter has managed to do before him. For those of you who have been in an Octopi ink cloud the past month, Paul accurately predicted the outcome of 8 of 8 World Cup matches (one correct prediction for each arm!). Since Paul lives in an aquarium in Germany, he was tasked with predicting the outcome of each game that Germany played. His handlers presented the Psychic Cephalopod with two glass containers of mussels for him to eat. Whichever container Paul ate from first was considered his "prediction." The glass containers featured the flags of the nations playing in the game. Paul selected Germany each time...EXCEPT when Germany played Serbia. That game turned out to be a major upset for Germany, which was expected to win. When Paul went for Spain instead of Germany for the play-offs, and the game followed his prediction, German fans became irate and threatened to kill or eat him.

However, Paul selected Germany to beat Uruguay for the third place finish. After he predicted Spain to win the final match, the news reported that restaurants in Spain stopped serving Octopus! Thus, after he made his prediction that Spain would win, I decided to support Spain over the Netherlands simply because I wanted Paul to be 8 for 8 in his predictions. Paul made me a fan (he's in the running for my annual "Nonconformist of the Year," as a matter of fact!). In fact, I may have to learn more about this fascinating sea creature. They are supposedly one of the more intelligent species on our planet. Perhaps they do have some sort of "psychic ability." Or perhaps it was all a fluke. I'd love to see him move out of sports prediction and maybe see what the outcome of the 2012 U.S. presidential election might be. But after these World Cup games, he's officially "retired" (at two years old!).

Pictured above front and center is Carlos Bocanegra (he has an awesome name), the star of Team USA (he even got to party with Bill Clinton after one match). Of course, it would have been awesome to see the U.S. make it to the final game (a USA versus the Netherlands game would have been interesting). Most of the American team members play for European teams because that's the only place where you really learn the game. America still struggles to have a profitable major league soccer franchise system.

Every time the World Cup rolls around, the news pundits always say the same thing: "Maybe this time, America's interest in soccer will spill over from the World Cup to supporting major league teams in their cities." Yeah, and as Wayne and Garth used to say on Saturday Night Live in the 90s: "And monkeys might fly out of my butt!"

One of the biggest ongoing controversies regarding Portland city government is its obsessive support for a Major League Soccer team. There's a belief that such a league will benefit the city, provide a nice cash flow, and bring out the fans to every game. However, its a gamble, because I've seen it throughout the 1990s when Atlanta tried to have various professional soccer teams. They would start up and quickly die out. Soccer, like the metric system, is a "no go" for our country. Don't the politicians and pundits get it?

I played soccer for a year or two in the early 1980s. I loved it. Soccer is a popular sport for children and even through high school. By college, though, there's not a whole lot of support for it. The big three are always going to be football, baseball, and basketball and these sports have a huge advantage over soccer. The biggest being that those three established sports are perfectly compatable with our capitalist economic scheme. One of the biggest reasons why I've never been able to get into football is because the game has too many interruptions. Soccer is called "the most beautiful game" because it has flow and grace to it. Its two 45 minute periods of pure game, with minimal interruptions. This is bad for commercial breaks. If anything, sports in America exists to sell products. Thus why the constant interruptions in a football game or basketball game are perfect for a commercial break. Baseball has the convenient "inning" breaks for commercials. No such thing for soccer. That's why corporations have to put their logos up on the wall for viewers to see while watching the game. However, we're all familiar with the corporate logos for Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Visa, Kodak, and the rest. A logo is not as effective as an actual commercial.

So, forget about Major League Soccer, pundits and politicos! It'll never reach the fanbase of the "Big Three" sports in America. Yes, millions of Americans can get World Cup fever every four years, but this fever is like the Olympics. When do most people watch televised individual sporting events without the Olympic logo? I say very rarely, if at all. Like the Olympics, the World Cup satisfies our urges for four years to take in the spectacle of sports that we don't normally watch. Then when its over, we go back to the Big Three. Nothing wrong with that. Besides, Americans already watch too many sports. We need to be watching less. In the rest of the world, soccer (or "football") is their premier sport. They don't have American style football, baseball (save for Japan and Cuba), or basketball teams like we do. Soccer is the rest of the world's version of "the Big Three" (of course, Canada's big sport is hockey, which is essentially "soccer on ice").

Great job, South Africa! I really hope this puts your country in the running for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Cape Town. Now that the World Cup is over, we have four years to get excited for Brazil's debut on the international stage (they have the two-fer: World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro). I wish I could've seen more games this time, but since Brazil is closer to our time zone, I'm really excited about the potential to see more games when they host. As a non-sports watcher, I've filled my "quota" of sports spectator-dom for the year (with the Winter Olympics in Vancouver BC and the World Cup in South Africa). Wake me up when its time for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London!

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