There are no World Cup games on today, so today I will talk about the World Cup. I've known about the World Cup for longer than most non-sporty Americans my age because Andy has always been into it. I can remember watching it as far back as 1990, with our former brother-in-law, who was from Italy and thus grew up playing and watching "football." Nowadays, of course, every American kid starts soccer at age 4 or so; I tell my kids that in my day, there wasn't any organized youth soccer available until middle school—or was it high school? It was a new (to us) sport as we got older, like lacrosse or field hockey. Andy played goalie in high school.
Steph never went beyond kindergarten soccer; it wasn't her thing. Pete has always loved it and continues to play now that he's in high school. He's got the perfect body for soccer—tall but not basketball-tall, thin, strong, and fast. Julie still plays too, although she has no interest in watching.
So although I never really watched too many World Cup matches, every four years I would be somewhat aware of what was going on. I remember Zidane's head butt in 2006, and the flopping Netherlanders in 2010, and via Pete I know all about Messi (his favorite) and Renaldo and Neymar. But this year I've really been watching. And enjoying! (A professional sport other than baseball, imagine that!)
I figured out how to work our DVR (who says you can't teach an old editor new tricks?), so for the first round of 32, I recorded the most important match (or two...) of the day and then watched with Andy when he got home. I still cannot ever spot an offsides call to save my life (same in all of Pete's and Julie's games, I just don't get it), but otherwise I follow along just fine. (I haven't done too poorly on the NYT's "spot the ball" quizzes so far either.) Andy was crushed when Spain was eliminated, so he no longer has a favorite team, although of course he'd like to see the US advance.
I can't stand the flopping. The WSJ did a piece on the first 32 games, noting which players are most likely to fall to the ground, clutching a limb and writhing as if they've been shot, and then leap to their feet 15 seconds later when they see that no yellow card is forthcoming, at which time they summon the strength and energy to argue with the ref. In round 1, Brazil had the most "injuries" (17) and spent 3 minutes, 18 seconds writhing; Bosnia had only 2 and thus spent only 24 seconds on the ground. The US wasn't so impressive, with 12 spurious injuries and a whopping 6 minutes, 24 seconds writhing time. There have been any number of articles suggesting that perhaps the US needs to flop more in order to be competitive in this international sport that we are so new to, that we don't get that that's how the game is played at that level. Bah!
But what I hate worse than the flopping is the fact that the clock keeps ticking away (upward, which I've gotten used to) while it's all going on. Then the ref decides to add 3 minutes, or 4, or maybe 5—however many he wants—at the end of the 90-minute game to account for all such stoppages. I think they should stop the clock whenever play stops because of an injury (real or faked) or because the ref and the players are "discussing" a particular call or whatever—just like in basketball. If, for instance, the number of minutes arbitrarily added on to the US-Portugal game on Sunday had been 4 instead of 5, we would have won! That makes me crazy.
I've been fascinated by thoughts of how the players and the refs communicate. Let's say you have a Turkish ref and two players, one from Cameroon and one from Japan, involved in a dispute. What the hell language are they communicating in? At first I thought maybe everyone knows English, but apparently that's not the case. I'm sure most refs and players know at least some English and/or some Spanish, so maybe they get by that way. Sometimes it appears that they're having rather animated three-way conversations, though, and I would love to know how that works.
Finally, the uniforms. I love soccer bodies, so I prefer the skin-tight shirts that show them off in all their glory. (I would also think that it would be preferable to have less fabric for another player to grab.) I can't stand the US's stupid little polo collars. I like when the goalies wear long shorts and tall socks and long sleeves all in one color—it looks very cool. Pete is all about the cleats; he can instantly identify any pair even at a distance, so he told me that the one-pink, one-blue pair I've been noticing is from Puma, and he's eager for me to see Neymar's new gold Nikes. (We've told Pete that once his feet stop growing, he can get any cleats he wants, but for now it is galling enough to spend $120+ on cleats that will fit him for just one short season.) Oh, and the hair: I get a kick out of the mohawks, dreads, shaved designs, and dye jobs. Only the German players, with their boring hairstyles, look like they just stepped out of an office.