On one hand, you have the beauty of a world-class athlete playing a sport that is elegant in it’s simplicity. There are few rules, and all you need are a pair of cleats and a ball. I had the opportunity to watch a couple of second round games in Dallas during the 1994 World Cup. Having played soccer in high school, I know what is involved. However, the game of soccer – played correctly and by skilled, world-class players – is absolutely elegant and beautiful. You witness the ability to perform magic with the ball. It truly is phenomenal.
And there are the players who oftentimes go by just one name. Kaka, for example. I think we need that in the US. I have no doubt it would improve the coolness factor, to go along with the inherent beauty of the game. It happens in big-time pro sports in the US already. Tell me, does Kobe have a last name? How about Tiger? Yeah I didn’t think so. Maybe that is what US Soccer is missing.
But on the other hand, you have the officiating. And yes, in retrospect, the 2010 World Cup had some absolutely lousy officiating. Along with the temper tantrums and political divisiveness that oftentimes follow soccer by the heels.
The officiating hit home – literally, and figuratively.
It took a win away from the United States. It took an obvious goal away from England against Germany – though for all intents and purposes, they were getting it handed to them by the Germans anyways. And then there was the Argentina versus Mexico match. Before you knew it, there were far too many matches noted for lousy officiating, botched calls, missed hand balls, and fake moaning and groaning – with more drama than the daytime soaps. And then there was the slugfest that they called the World Cup final.
But this isn’t a new problem for soccer. Actually, it happens quite a bit in international soccer. Case in point: Argentina’s Hand of God goal, in which Diego Maradona spikes the ball in a way that only a beach volleyball player could.
FIFA has had the opportunity to make some simple changes. They could use some simple goal line technology and make the game even better for players and fans alike. But to this point, they have been resistant, thinking that the game needs to stay in the dark ages. Of course, they were quite prepared to allow Adidas to create the new Jabulani ball – which virtually everyone complained about. But that isn’t about money now is it, oh title sponsor?
Soccer, football, call it what you will - really is a great sport to watch, once the teams get into a single elimination format. When you get down to the Round of 16 (or the Sweet 16 in March Madness parlance), you always have your Duke and Kentucky, your Celtics and Lakers, your Germany and Brazil. Prior to that, it’s one big political process. Nothing more, nothing less. Get a draw and a point. Don’t get too sassy and risk going for the win. And no worries, you might even get a no-call (or Hand Of God) on top of it all.
Therein lies the paradox – a beautiful game, with passionate fans and followers, that inspires the world to stop and watch it’s every move … with more politics than the United Nations, and lousy officiating to add some stink to the outcome.
And nonetheless, the world still watches. Now if only they could tweak just a few things before 2014 in Brazil ...
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