Sadly, the World Cup is no more. I really enjoyed the tournament–more than I have the Olympics over the past few decades.
Still, my interest flagged a bit, paradoxically, as the tourney progressed toward the final. Once the U.S. was booted out, scrappy squads like Ghana and Australia gave way to powerhouse teams, and I could no longer randomly call up exotic matchups like Saudi Arabia vs. Ukraine on my computer screen and TV, I found myself less interest.
Nonetheless, it was wonderful to see New Yorkers draped in soccer shirts for a month, to hear people who don’t give a hoot about the Yankees or Knicks gushing about Ghana’s performance against the Czechs, to see rickety TVs propped up on counters in bodegas. For a ginormous city where it can be hard to find common ground with your fellow man, soccer was on the tip of countless tongues.
Will soccer ever win over hearts and minds in Middle America? Probably not. Both the soccer is beautiful/soccer is boring camps have fair points.
A nil-nil draw can be exciting. It can also be more boring than a Listen Up marathon on CBS. Shootouts deciding matches—and finals, no less—are indefensible. Teams playing for a tie blows. As a friend said, in American sports, you can’t run and hide: eventually, you have to throw the pitch, put up a shot or run the ball. That teams can play keepaway for 90 minutes with hopes of a 0-0 tie is deplorable.
The dive-taking by players is even more despicable. If you took a dive in rugby, soccer’s Brit brethren, your opponent would, as your father used to say, give you something to cry about. Like a busted nose at the bottom of a ruck. Perhaps even worse, your teammates would refuse to drink with you after the match. Where’s the self-respect?
Some World Cup highlights and lowlights from my corner of the globe:
* Getting breakfast at Ashby’s Deli, near work, when a TV adorned with dusty stickers of religious icons announced, en Espanol, that Ecuador had scored against Costa Rica. Suddenly workers came streaming—and streaming…and streaming–out of the kitchen like so many clowns out of a Volkswagen Beetle. They just kept coming.
* The wife asking me, “Are you really going to watch the end of this game?” as Korea and France entered the 80th minute on a lazy Saturday. Two minutes later, Korea netted a gorgeous goal to tie it up.
* The Italian guy on the moped in front of my building (what’s with Italian guys and mopeds?), hours after the U.S./Italy draw, telling my doorman, “I’m glad Ee-taly didn’t keek the U.S. out of the tournament.”
* Those girls in the Japan jerseys and mini-skirts, grabbing breakfast on a Saturday before watching Japan versus Croatia at Nevada Smith’s in the East Village.
* The sidewalk crowd in front of Brazilian restaurant Porcoa (pronounced like “that poor cow gave his life for your porterhouse”), peering inside at the TV as Brazil took on Croatia.
* Catching highlights on Youtube.
* Learning that David Beckham has a squeaky, high-pitched voice.
* The wife, not looking at the TV screen, asking if Beckham was on, when in fact it was the Cockney-spewing gecko in the Geico commercial.
* A pasty English guy, stepping out of Park Avenue Country Club after England/Sweden, shielding his eyes from the sun and saying “bloinded boi the loight.”
* George Vecsey’s daily World Cup windbaggery in the NY Times.
* The doofus bouncer at Park Avenue Country Club trying to shake down me and Higgins for $10 apiece to watch the last 20 minutes of Brazil/Ghana.
* My newborn screaming in the Grand Saloon on 23rd Street each time the pub’s crowd reacted to a U.S. near miss against Italy. We eventually learned to take him to the quiet part of the bar whenever Americans crossed midfield with the ball.
* Leaving a friend’s house about 25 miles north of the city yesterday, looking forward to watching the final on the DVR, then encountering a parade of cars honking horns and waving the Italy flag. I guess the Azzuri won.
There it is, lots of plusses and not many minuses. Well done. See you in four years.
By Michael Malone