From True/Slant on July 12, 2010:
Vuvuzelas, Penalty Kicks and Landon Donovan.
This year, I set myself to the ridiculous task of watching all the World Cup soccer I could fit into my schedule. The idea was to, once and for all, settle the matter of whether or not I could tolerate soccer, and maybe, hopefully, even like it. I admit, I didn’t see every match. Sadly, I did have other obligations that tore me away from my television from time to time, the kinds of obligations that required I actually changed out of my jammies for the day, which is annoying no matter how you cut it. Turns out, I liked the soccer. I didn’t love it, but at the end of the day, the more I watched, I had to admit I kind of enjoyed it. I liked it enough that I expect I’ll remember this World Cup for a long time. These are the things I’ll remember most.
1. Rhapsody of the Vuvuzelas. These sounded like a swarm of killer bees, hopped up on angel dust, attempting a dissonant Mahler composition. It was so bad that even antidiluvian old FIFA considered banning them. (They wisely did not.) The strangest part of the Vuvuzelas (aside from the strident buzzing noise) was that they were blown continuously throughout, with no discernible relationship to the action on the field. They didn’t get louder or softer, didn’t change with a scoring opportunity or amazing defensive play. They just were. Like it or not, nobody will ever forget the Vuvuzelas.
2. FIFA Idiocy. There is something to be said for tradition, for learning the old ways, so that we can understand where we come from and how we got here. That said, the tradition, the acceptance and the bizarre near pride in horror show officiating is not tradition or venerating those who came before. It is stupid.
I accept that officials make mistakes. They do. And you know what? That’s fine by me, because players make mistakes and coaches make mistakes. It happens. But any player as bad as the officials we watched would be benched immediately. Any coach that bad would be fired via a Twitter feed. So what would be wrong with weeding out the worst officials or holding all of them to a high standard of performance? FIFA operates in extremes: either we have to suffer the inadequate, primeval buffoonery we saw in South Africa, or we will be beset by a horrible dystopian technological future, with malevolent computers running the game. I have seen hundreds of high school games – basketball, football, baseball and softball – all of which were officiated better then the World Cup, none of which had the benefit of instant replay. Competence is not technology dependent. If the officials at a Division III women’s college basketball game in East Bejeebers, Western Pennsylvania are better then the FIFA officials at the World Freaking Cup, then FIFA needs better officials. Period.
3. USA! USA! USA! Yeah, they bowed out in the first game of the elimination round, but Landon Donovan’s rebound goal in extra time is the kind of sports moment that those who were watching will always, always remember. I’ll remember for a long time where I was, who I was with and what it felt like. That may not be enough to turn soccer into a big time sport in America (I have a buddy who says that soccer is the sport of the future -- and it always will be), but it doesn’t matter. I don’t care what happens in the future. This was one of those great moments, like Carlton Fisk’s homer, or The Catch, or Jordan’s Shot.
4. Down goes Ghana. Even when they beat the USA, I enjoyed watching Ghana. I admired their speed. They were fast and they were fun. And their uniforms were snazzy. And did I mention how freaking fast these guys were? Now, I have nothing against Uruguay (and their uniforms are snazzy, too), but there was something very endearing about team Ghana. I like underdogs and I did want to see an African team advance just because. Because South American teams are always around in the semi-finals, to say nothing of the ubiquitous Eurotrash. Then Ghana’s normally deadly penalty kicker, Asamoah Gyan booted the penalty kick off the crossbar, giving the Uruguayans new life. Remember that old “Wide World of Sports” opener, with the agony of defeat? If they ever resurect that show, they can use the footage of Gyan after the loss to Uruguay. It was painful to watch, no matter who you had been rooting for.
5. Hamtastic. What I’ll remember most about Spain’s run was the beatdown they put on Germany. Before this World Cup, had you told me that a game with a 1-0 final score was a blow out, I would have laughed in your face. And then probably said something both rude and crass. And maybe a little bit funny. Maybe. But certainly rude. No way around it though, Spain’s semi-final victory was nothing short of an epic smackdown. And it was a beautiful sight. My sincerest congrats to the fans of the Ham Capital of the World.
All of that said, as much as I enjoyed this World Cup for reals, I don’t expect I’ll be going off in search of a soccer bar to watch the English Premiere League any time soon (although Wayne Rooney was in my dream last night, he really was). So, for now, I’ll say goodbye to my new buddy (or at least casual acquaintance) soccer. So long, and thanks for all the Vuvuzela Etudes. I expect that buzzing sound will leave my head by the time the NFL season kicks off.