09 July 2006

Five Reasons Why the World Cup is Dumb!

I don't suppose this is the most popular opinion, but it's mine...and I kind of like soccer. I was fortunate enough to see my college soccer squad win an NCAA championship while I was a student - on our own pitch. My interest in soccer has waned over the years, as I realized that the game I saw as an undergraduate was not the same game that was being played worldwide. We had an aggressive team that scored a lot of goals - and we won a lot of games. Isn't it just like an American to like a high scoring game - and one at which we succeed. The World Cup, though, is flawed...badly.

First, there is the corruption. I don't know how anyone can explain to me how someone like Jorge Larrionda can be selected to referee even one match - let alone four, including a semifinal match. The guy was suspended in 2002 by his home federation, for what was cited as "irregularities." If this is the signature event of the world's sport, how can the referees chosen not be above reproach. Of course, Larrionda's history becomes notable because he officiated a match involving the US squad, which was roundly criticized almost universally as being one of the worst officiated games in World Cup history. His reward for this fine performance? Not one more assignment, but two, including the France/Portugal semi-final match.

Along the same lines as corruption, this World Cup will be remembered for the number of players faking injuries and taking dives. I understand that this is a part of the game, but the amount of cheating (and, really, who are we kidding by calling it anything else?) in this World Cup taints the sport on a world stage.

Extra time is another twisted reality for this sport. I don't understand in a sport where goals are nearly impossible to come by, why they wouldn't use something exciting to end a match, like a sudden death overtime period. FIFA toyed with the idea of "golden goal," using this terminology for the same result as sudden death, because it had less of a "negative connotation" (panzy Euro-freaks!). One of the reasons why Americans like hockey and football (sports where scoring is also somewhat limited) is because they know that if regulation time ends with the score tied, play will continue until someone scores - and only until someone scores. I don't see why we need to play ninety minutes to a tie, and solve that tie with a guaranteed thirty additional minutes of play. For sports like basketball, where scoring is frequent, requiring a fixed amount of time for overtime makes a lot more sense. I think a much more exciting end to the Italy-Germany semi-final match would have been a golden goal from the foot of Fabio Grosso in the 119th minute. Instead, Italy scored and then had to get back and play again. For lack of a better phrase, this is just plain dumb.

It seems like a basketball comparison would make even more sense to point out the sheer idiocy of settling the championship game of the World Cup with penatly kicks. I know this argument has been made before, likely by folks more eloquent than myself, but it is akin to settling the NBA Finals with the two teams having a free throw competition. I would be curious to see the statistics, but I suspect that teams shooting PKs have a better chance of scoring than most NBA players shooting free throws (Dwayne Wade is a notable exception). Again, the issue is the lack of scoring that teams produce over the course of the regular game. It makes it seem all the more random that you would settle a match using a technique that rewards a team whose goalie happens to guess correctly, at the right time, to which direction the ball will be kicked by his opponent. Ninety minutes of well-played soccer, plus another 30 minutes of extra time, on top of four previous weeks of competition just doesn't seem like the best way to solve the championship, does it?

Lastly, the World Cup is dumb because the Americans just can't seem to field a good team. The US is widely regarded as claiming the first victory in World Cup history back in 1930. That team reached the semi-finals, where it was promptly thumped by Argentina. More than 75 years later, it is still the best finish by a US squad. Wouldn't FIFA and soccer world-wide benefit from a strong US program? The 1994 World Cup, hosted by the United States set attendance records that still last today. The amount of money spent by Americans on sports memorabilia is enormous. Sure, calling the World Cup dumb just because America cannot field a competetive team is ridiculous, but isn't it just like Americans to blame the sport on our inability to succeed?

Fortunately, we don't have to endure this nonsense for another four years. Four more years to show the world why the best sporting event anywhere is held in Omaha, Nebraska!

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