Friday, June 13, 2014

World Cup 2014 Opening Match Was A Flop

Fred, er, Drop Dead Fred
Leading up to any major sporting event, there is a certain amount of let's say, nonsense, you must endure until the actual games begin. Take the World Cup, for instance. For the last six to 12 months, all we've heard are tales of anguish over the fact that the stadiums won't be complete in time for the first match, the final price tag for the tournament will keep the Brazilian economy in ruin for decades, and the real-world concerns of poverty, distress and anger manifesting themselves in not-so-peaceful protests. 

And then yesterday happened.

Horrible images of protesters being pepper sprayed at point-blank range were supposed to be offset by the first touches in anger of the competition. Brazil was playing. O Jogo Bonito. Step 1 toward coronation. Wonderful, correct? All is supposed to be right again? Well, maybe if it had happened that way.

Oh Brazil won, bashing back Croatia 3-1 in the Group A opener, but the Selecao's victory served merely to introduce another distracting story line to the World Cup: Flopping--or diving if you prefer. How about simulacao, or fingimento?

Brazil's Fred is the bad guy here. What he did is nothing new, sensing a Croatian hand on his shoulder, he did what comes naturally to any big-time footballer in an intensely pressure-packed situation: He fall down, go boom. Drop Dead Fred won the game for Brazil yesterday, not with his feet or his head, but with his weak-in-the-knees drama, earning a penalty for the home team that was promptly converted by Neymar. Game. Set. Match. Let the bullshit ensue.

This is a fundamental flaw with the beautiful game that transforms it into a steaming pile of nonsense. No player is above it--hello CR7--and no stage is too big for it. It's accepted like match-fixing is in the Far East and overtime shootouts are in MLS (Do they still do those? I forget?)

And now it will be droned on about until the World Cup is done, Brazil lifts the trophy, and Ronaldo cries "injustica" because some ref forgets to follow the script and actually doesn't fall for a flop.

Is there an answer? Sadly, no. There is no solution because referees are the first line of defense here and they are human beings. And like it or not, they become consumed by their environment. Albeit whether that environment is a Sao Paulo stadium decorated in yellow-wearing humans, or a secret conversation in a back alley that leads to a clandestine deposit made to a secret account in the Caymans (shhhhh, be vewwy vewwy qwwiet), refs make bad calls. And those bad calls are magnified when the man in charge can't speak a common language to the two teams (somebody 'splain that one please).

So the TL:DR here: Flopping is here to stay, and for the moment, it's the story of the tournament. Maybe we'll be rescued by a clean game today between Spain and the Netherlands. Yeah right, me so funny.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Looking For A Soccer Evangelist? Keep Looking

Less than 24 hours before the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the discussion here in my corner of the United States is about why Americans should care about the planet's biggest sporting event. A Boston sports radio station spent four hours this morning asking callers to educate the two hosts, both of whom are former American footballers, one a college player, the other a former NFL professional.

Callers gave it the old college try talking about how the tournament and the players are the best of the best, and how the love of football and this tournament is culturally engrained in those who have a passion for it. And for the most part, the two hosts were sincere with callers, promising to give it an honest effort to watch a fair amount of games and speak intelligently of it--in between lame cracks about Brandi Chastain's sports bra and grasping at the straw that is Landon Donovan.

Here's my thing: I don't care if they watch the World Cup, or soccer--ever.

Soccer does not need America to succeed--clearly. It's a tired discussion and a boring refrain waiting for soccer take a foothold in the United States, whatever that means. It's not part of the mission of football fans to convert the great unwashed that is the vast majority of American sports fans when it comes to soccer. It's not our job to stamp our feet and hold our breath until we turn blue until Americans know the difference between the Bundesliga and LaLiga. Just don't care if you ever do.

I love hockey too, and to me, the Stanley Cup playoffs are a close second to tournament football in intensity and drama and passion. Sit inside my house during a Bruins playoff game and you'll see where I'm coming from. That said, I'm not going to go on a recruiting mission in Middle America to try to school corn-shuckers on the finer points of the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry. They don't care to learn, and I don't care to learn 'em. Hockey will survive just fine without them. It's not indignence. It's an understanding that people have tastes, varied tastes, and just because ESPN plans to show every second of the World Cup doesn't mean that everyone in America has to watch it and love it and climb aboard the bandwagon. The bandwagon is plenty full.

There are plenty of places online and in bars and among family and friends who love football where I can get my fix talking about the game. I don't need my local sports radio station management to force feed it to its hosts and they in turn try to consume 40-plus years of football passion that is engrained in me in a four-hour show.

The World Cup starts tomorrow, and like most of the planet, I will be rooted to the television for the next 30 days watching most of every match that I can. If you're aboard, awesome. If not? Well, it makes no never mind to me.