I went out tonight to watch the German-England game and was very glad I did so. What a game! Out of all the football games I’ve watched (haha), this first half was by far the most exciting. In the space of 7 minutes, there were two German goals, an English goal, and two shots each – all alternating! Basically, the ball crossed the entire field like every 4 seconds. It was more like a basketball game than any football I’ve ever watched. Oh, and to add to the drama, one of the English shots was a goal that was not called because the referee didn’t see it go in.
I’m watching these second round games hoping to catch a glimpse of the still-elusive penalty kicks, when it comes down to sudden death by ball. Not much chance in a 4-1 game, though. I decided to watch the Argentina-Mexico game afterwards. I haven’t seen Argentina (and the fabled Messi) play yet, and in an interesting coincidence the matchup is a reprise of my very first football game ever, the 2007 Copa America semifinals that I watched in Mexico City. Mexico lost then, too (but at least they scored this time!)
As I’m watching, let me share with you some of my thoughts on soccer, organized by Likes and Dislikes:
- Extra seconds – I don’t like how the games end at random times on the clock – 90 minutes . . . and 6 seconds? What, did you just now glance at your watch? That’s just bad form. What if something happens in those 6 seconds, does it count?
- Referees – They seem like a third team out there on the field, as crucial to the final result as the other two. I think their job is incredibly hard, which seems a little silly when there are so many resources available to make it easier (this little invention called the video camera, for instance). It also sucks for them because a good referee is basically invisible, perfectly forgettable – while a bad referee will be remembered for ever. Coulibaly from Mali, I’m talking about you.
- Grudges – I swear, I hear more talk about bad calls than good goals. Yes, I’ve heard of the Goal of the Century, but before each match I hear a rundown of previous times these two countries met and what stupid thing the ref did in favor of one of them. Rivalries and grudges seem to be based more on errors of a third party instead of any hard feelings between the two teams.
- Diving – I don’t like the idea of a sport that rewards players for faking injuries. Why not just come up with a better way to differentiate real fouls from players falling to the ground of their own volition? (See, “Referees”)
- Ball design – When I saw the headlines about the official World Cup 2010 ball, and players’ complaints, I thought it was an Onion article. (Interestingly, they did later run one!) I don’t get the need for a tournament to create their own ball; I thought soccer balls were standard! If they want to make things really interesting, they should just use an improv item for each game – and not necessarily a ball. I would watch that.
- Goalie uniforms – I have a hard time figuring out which side they’re on because they don’t match. Help me out, I’m just a beginner here! Couldn’t they at least wear varying shades, complementary colors, something??
- Goalie uniforms – While I think they’re confusing, I also think they’re super fun. The English goalie looked like a banana today, long and thin and brown at one end.
- The game clock – I like knowing almost exactly how long a game will last. None of this “15 minutes left on the clock, so maybe . . . an hour?” stuff. Yeah, they throw a minute or three on the end for some reason, and there may be overtime (exactly 30 minutes) but there are no commercial breaks and even injuries don’t warrant a stop.
- The rules – I still don’t understand penalties and fouls, and I call offsides incorrectly so consistently that it’s almost amazing, but the basic rules of soccer are so much easier to understand than football. They run, they kick, he blocks, someone gets a point. Let me put it this way – I couldn’t have a conversation about any other sport in Chinese!
- Upsets – Maybe because of the low scores, there seems to be more opportunities for upsets. It makes things more exciting and gives underachieving teams a hope before each game – a hope that I don’t see in my friends who cheer for the Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions.
- Slow motion replays – So much better in soccer. You see the flesh on their cheeks flapping up and down as they run, in that super dramatic way that just demands a soundtrack of “Chariots of Fire”. You see the sweat shower of their heads as that header goes right where they wanted it. And – unlike American football – you see the emotion on their helmet-free faces. The joy of a goal, the despair of a bad call, and – my favorite – the joy of a goal followed by the despair of a bad call nullifying the goal. Priceless.
- The players – I like that I can see them as people on the field, instead of helmets and jerseys with numbers on them. It’s easier for me to remember faces than names, so I feel more of a connection with them. Also, let’s be honest here – some of them have really cool hair and a lot of them are quite good looking. It helps.