WILL THE 'NEXT HOCKEY' BE LACROSSE?
EVERY FOUR YEARS soccer makes a case to be a relevant sport, a great one, one that should at least surpass hockey in the minds of most Americans, with the exposure to the World Cup. This year soccer failed. More so than in any World Cup in recent memory.
This year's 64-game tournament, held in Germany, just finished with Italy's anti-climatic penalty kick win over France (and the much-talked about head-butt by French captain Zinedine Zidane), most games it seemed were one-goal games, with the goal coming off a controversial penalty kick (like Italy's iffy call over Australia in a second-round, 93rd-minute 1-0 win), or aid of player ejections that seemed extreme (like the USA's two reds against Italy), and continous dives to call fouls for free kicks (France's win over Spain in the second round came off a non-foul foul).
American TV announcers didn't help. Constantly criticizing the referees is something that works when you're going after the BCS' burps for an audience that truly understands college football. But 'analysts' this time -- like goateed, long-haired Marcelo Balboa -- pulled no punches on the refs, only confirming some budding soccer fans' beliefs that the sport is unexciting or flawed. Rarely will you see more negative coverage (though it may be justified). One announcer, during an Iran game, inappropriately politicized it, by constantly referring to Iran's politics, then even pointed out the 'chill' of seeing an event in the Nuremberg stadium where Nazi rallies had once been held. TV coverage likes to promote story lines in games, and their (convincing) adoration for three or four games straight of French captain Zidane unravelled when he head-butted an Italian player 20 minutes into overtime. He got the red card, and the rest of the game felt stained.
Doesn't the USA have a soccer league?
Most enigmatically, the American soccer league, MLS, seemed to care less that the world's favorite tournament was on during their season. They didn't suspend games, and only made ONE advertisment in 64 games to signal that 'hey, American soccer happens every year... you can watch it now.' They should have at least advertised during US, Mexican, Brazilian and English games. If the New York Red Bulls can, purportedly, afford to pay David Beckham $100 million to play in the USA, SOMEONE should have the money for a few ads. They really missed an opportunity.
Teams were not 'beautiful'
Over-hyped favorite Brazil -- they never play well in Europe -- never gelled on the field. The 'world's team' were never much to see, and they fell in the semi-finals to France 1-0. The Americans, particularly coach Bruce Arena, got bitter from their first-round exit, something TV coverage zeroed in on, like ESPN analyst Eric Wynalda -- a former player -- giving sharp critiques at Arena at every break. Only Italian fans are satisfied with Italy's play in the final. They held out for a post-overtime shoot-out, where their 6'4" goalie had a huge advantage over France's. The 'beautiful game' was a little plain this time.
Wasn't 2002 great?
Recent Word Cups have done a better job. In 2002 co-host South Korea surpassed expectations and the US team came a non-call hand ball in the penalty box from getting pass finalist Germany in the second round. In 1998, host France shocked favorite Brazil 3-0 in the final, and Mexico had some inspired last-second wins to rally around. In 1994, the USA hosted the event, only lost to the winner Brazil in the second round 1-0, and underdog Bulgaria made it to the final four.
FBO's suggestions for World Cup 2010
--> a) never let a final game be settled by penalty kicks; let teams earn a new sub per every 20 or 30 minutes played in overtime, and go until someone scores; it's better entertainment, and it provides a more satisfying victor
--> b) check replays for ANY penalty kick awarded or red card given; these game-changing plays occurred too much in 2006; the field is so big that it's hard for a ref on it, or two on the sidelines to see what was a dive and what wasn't
--> c) MLS needs to think of how to market itself AT ALL during any World Cup
--> d) TV coverage should stop talking story lines during every break and compile a World Cup overview videos to explain tournament history to people who don't know it (yes! Uruguay won it twice!!), with some of the great goals and controversies on video
--> e) never ever politicize the event
Unfortunately for those Americans who haven't seen the 'beautiful game' when it's beautiful, soccer felt like a game of cheats, dives, ugly defense, and bad refs. A pity.
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