The World Cup is close. So close, it’s not even just around the corner anymore. It’s turned the corner, accelerated recklessly, and about to smash you in the face with a Mack truck’s worth of soccer-worshiping awesome. So for my last contribution before the World Cup starts, I’m letting the optimism flow, and giving you my reasons why this World Cup will be unforgettable.
5. The Underdogs
There’s always a few minnows who manage to sneak into the World Cup, but the 2010 vintage has some excellently unfashionable teams to root for. New Zealand, the Wales to Australia’s England, is one I’ll be looking out for. The gracious hosts themselves, South Africa, are largely unfancied to escape their group, but it will be interesting to see what home-field advantage and repeated viewings of Invictus can do for their chances. And regardless of your political leanings, seeing a team like North Korea, made up largely of players from the secretive (and ostensibly amateur) North Korean League, is something special. Last time they were in the World Cup, they were similarly unfancied and made the quarters after beating Italy, one of the great upsets in World Cup history.
4. The Ball
Every tournament, Adidas comes out with a new ball that is somehow rounder than every previous ball ever. And at every tournament, the goalkeepers absolutely hate it, like the little stutter-step that jackleg Cristiano Ronaldo does that the refs always ignore. And South Africa 2010 is no different. Jabulani (which means something cheesy in one of South Africa’s 50 languages that isn’t English or that fake Dutch thingy) has been criticized by just about every goalkeeper, which is expected, but surprisingly, some of the strikers have blasted it, too. And the players hating the ball is spectacularly great news for fans. A lively ball means more swerve in the free kicks, and more mistakes made when handling long, weighted balls. And more mistakes and uncertainty means more opportunities to score, always a positive when watching as a neutral. I mean if you’re going to bother to watch Paraguay/Slovakia, you might as well hope for a 6-5 scoreline, right?
3. The Month-long orgy of soccer
Prepare to be spoiled. During league seasons, we get two or three, maybe four matchdays in a week, and even then, it’s often a mid-table fixture or some minor cup competition. But for the opening weeks of the World Cup, we get World Class soccer every day for nineteen days in a row. No matter what time it is, another huge, meaningful game is just hours away. It reminds me of an old Mitchell and Webb gag, except with even more football, and less English middle-class satire. Creative scheduling is a must to deal with the annoyances of everyday life, as nobody wants to miss a match that will go down in history. Do you watch the replay of that thrilling Netherlands game, or listen to the love of your life who had a difficult day at work? (Obviously the match, but you have to make it seem like you considered the alternative, for his or her sake)
2. New Media v. Mainstream Media
During the last World Cup, if you wanted to know what was going on, you had to check one of the big sites covering the tournament, or worse, talk to other people to find out what they thought. But in the intervening years, every two-bit hack that can pony up server costs now has his own blog from which to abuse Jonathan Bornstein. And even the real cheap jerkfaces can get a Twitter account and pontificate in 140 characters or less. But some kidding aside, the internet has opened up new avenues of communication between fans all over the globe. Intelligent, opinionated writers who don’t have the support of traditional media platforms can make themselves heard and build a following. And the old, or “dying” media has been making huge strides to keep up. The well-known efforts of the four-letter network and the sports media juggernaut behind it are just the tip of the iceberg. Sports Illustrated is working its backside off to keep up, and even traditionally non-sports publications like Time and Vanity Fair are devoting their cover stories to the World Cup. Everybody wants a piece of the pie, and soccer fans are being rewarded for their loyalty with exceptional coverage.
1. Our Boys
“Spread the word, spread the word over there.” Like the name of this wonderful site suggests, the Yanks are indeed coming, and bringing one of the most talented American squads ever assembled to bear against one of the most exciting draws we’ve ever seen. We’ve got the big, hype-friendly match-up with England, and two very winnable games against teams with enough football cred to not be dismissed as easy wins. Should we come second in the group, we could end up playing Germany (without key players like Rene Adler and Michael Ballack), Ghana (missing talisman Michael Essien), Serbia (defensively strong, but somewhat toothless in attack, and coming off of a loss to New Zealand and a draw against Poland) and Australia (Who we just beat 3-1, and anyway, Australia aren’t making it out of the group, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?). It’s an exciting prospect for American fans, and if I may be allowed to take a nice, healthy swig of the kool-aid, a chance to equal our best result of the modern era. Come on you Yanks!
Keith Hickey is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at USArsnl@gmail.com.