Wednesday, November 28, 2018

COLUMN: World Cup

WHOO! Oh man. How are you guys holding up? Is anybody even still conscious enough to read a paper today? I've barely recovered from such an exciting final match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. That was intense!

Well, okay. I'm writing this in advance, so I have absolutely no idea how yesterday's final match turned out. Let's just say that [FRANCE OR CROATIA] really deserved that win after playing such a hard-fought game against [FRANCE OR CROATIA]. Even though [FRANCE OR CROATIA] didn't end up with a win, they can be proud to have even advanced far enough to play a team like [FRANCE OR CROATIA].

The World Cup is exciting stuff, folks. Every four years, top athletes from around the world gather in the spirit of competition, sportsmanship, and a united desire to kick each other in the shins as hard as they possibly can. Occasionally, one of these formidable athletes will miss a shin and instead kick a ball into a net. This is called a "goal," or "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!" for short. I've watched enough matches to know that goals are important, but not so important that a preliminary game can't end in a 0-0 tie, which shows you right there JUST how exciting of a tournament it can be.

The World Cup is a grand spectacle. There's only two problems: (1) We live in America, and (2) the sport they choose to play is soccer.

I know, I know. Shut up, footie nerds. I'm well aware that soccer has made some serious inroads in American culture over the past decade. Major League Soccer teams presumably exist because I've heard of them, and major U.S. networks are now even starting to carry British Premier League matches on the weekends. Soccer in the U.S. is probably the most popular its ever been right now, which means it's now our nation's favorite sport just behind football, basketball, baseball, hockey, NASCAR, golf, horse racing, pro wrestling, pumpkin chucking, hot-dog eating contests, and whatever American Ninja Warrior is.

YES, I'm kidding. There's a lot of people out there who love soccer. They just tend not to live in our country. Even the most ardent American fan of soccer has to admit that, while popular in the states, soccer isn't exactly a way of life over here like it is in most parts of the world. Still, I like soccer. Watching it makes me feel worldly and sophisticated. It looks like it'd be great fun to play. I'm just not entirely sold yet as to whether or not it's great fun to watch.

I'm well aware that I'm NOT remotely qualified to comment wisely on soccer pros and cons. The only sport I watch regularly is NASCAR, which is (a) a character flaw that I'm well aware of, and (b) a sport that many sportspeople don't consider a sport. Other than racing, the only sports I tend to watch are: baseball (when the Cubs are in the playoffs,) basketball (when the Bulls are in the playoffs), football (when the Bears are in the playoffs,) and yes, World Cup soccer (when England are in the tournament.)

Why do I root for England? Well, it's tough to root for the U.S. when we didn't even qualify this year. If you've got to adopt a team to root for, you can't do better than England. When it comes to droughts, Team England is basically the Bill Buckner of World Cup soccer. When they're predicted to do well, they do awful. When they're not expected to dominate (like this season,) they always come thiiiis close to glory before mucking it all up in the end.

England is a soccer crazed nation. When the World Cup rolls around, their pop charts fill with soccer anthems -- and even the ANTHEMS can be depressing as all get out. Probably the most recognized UK soccer anthem is a song called "Three Lions." You can hear thousands of fans chanting its "football's coming home" chorus every time Team England takes the pitch. But the rest of the song pretty much just bemoans their team's reputation for failure. "So many jokes, so many sneers, but all those oh-so-nears wear you down through the years... Three lions on a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming, thirty years of hurt never stopped me dreaming." It'd be like if Wrigley blared a song called "Fail Cubs Fail" after every loss.

But if you thought the party in Chicago was insane when the Cubs won, I promise you we'll be able to HEAR the Brits screaming the day that Team England eventually wins the World Cup, and it WILL happen one day. But it definitely won't be this year, after last week's heartbreaking loss in the quarterfinals. Instead, we ended up with France (a team I don't especially care about) vs. Croatia (a team whose country I couldn't even point out on a map, other than "somewhere by Russia.")

Honestly, though, I enjoyed the matches I saw this year. If you've got to pick a sport to support, you could do a lot worse than soccer. I recently read an article about other sports as old as soccer that didn't quite catch on. Let's just say it's a good thing. Many were weird variations of tennis and baseball. A truly alarming number involved the use of live roosters, often as, err, the "ball."

So if you're a fan of soccer, I hope you enjoyed this year's World Cup. Maybe next time we'll have a Team USA to continue England's disappointments. If you're NOT a soccer fan, just be happy that we weren't all tuning in to watch organized chicken homicide. I just hope you didn't miss out yesterday when history was most definitely made by [FRANCE OR CROATIA].

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