World Cup fever

June 9, 2010 • 7:50 am

In case you don’t know, the greatest sporting event in the world is about to begin.  And here’s a fantastic Nike commercial in which alternative universes depend on the success of a kick.  The best involves Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney.

The U.S. plays England on Saturday.

100 thoughts on “World Cup fever

  1. Soccer is not a sport. Period. A bunch of geeky foreigners run around in silly shorts for hours. A typical score is 1-0. The same could be said of hockey, of course, but at least we let them get into fistfights. The only thing that could make soccer interesting would be land mines.

    1. I think you’ve stumbled onto the wrong site, littlejohn. Delusional thinking is discouraged here.

      1. Are you crazy? Are you seriously saying land mines wouldn’ make soccer more interesting?
        I’d bet my house TV ratings would go through the roof!
        By the way, do you often have trouble identifying humor?

        1. It was clever. I’ll give you that. Obviously you weren’t serious. Funny? hmmmm. Is accusing someone of being delusional stepping over the line by comparison?

    2. And the only thing that makes American Football interesting is the cheerleaders. So there! 🙂

    3. Delusional thinking indeed. Soccer is not a sport in the same way as american football isn’t.

      Both of them is included in a putative large sets of sports that can be described by a model having Poisson statistics.

      Turns out that if you do the research, and there is a good paper that does so (which I will have to find and link to by request, no time right now), you will find that wins are not decided as much by individual players or team daily form/motivation/tactics according to statistical models. What decides the outcome is the team performance during a season.

      So you can as well sit down with that performance statistic, extract a set of weight factors and let the team captains roll a set of dice to decide who will win the next game.

      No reason to go about thinking that there are distinguishing traits between those sports considered as the games they are, or using that expensive method of rigmarole surrounding todays trivial “sports” events. 😀

  2. @littlejohn

    Dude, if you ever come to Brazil don’t ever say that out loud!

    Here everyone (christians, atheists, communists, libertarians, …) is crazy about soccer! (everyone but me)

    It’s the real national religion (instead of the official Catholicism).

    You say “soccer is not a sport” in here and the radical soccer fans might stone you to death for apostasy

    1. “Might”? Would! For it IS apostasy! Death to cricket, rugby, football(American), baseball and anything-but-soccer fans!

      1. I wish Nike would stay the fuck out of soccer and rugby. It is so disappointing seeing that Nike swoosh on a soccer jersey. It’s like Wal-Mart breaking into the wine industry…sure, they have the $$ to do it, but why?

  3. I’ve been in both South American and Europe during World Cups. There is no sporting event that captivates the world’s interest like the World Cup. The Olympics is a bore in most countries. We can get rid of religions and allow all our emotional partisan feelings to be channeled into soccer.

  4. Speaking of delusional… if we can hold you bloody limeys for 60 minutes you’re toast. Playing at altitude ain’t easy (I’ve done it) and the US team is designed to beat Mexico at altitude. That said I’m rooting for you bloody limeys to win the tournament! (My parents were bloody limeys!) I mean geez… you’ve only won it one more time than we have.

    1. Sorry! Speaking as a Limey we will be lucky to get past the groups to the knock-out.

      Delusional is the thinking that putting on an England shirt will bring success; it hasn’t in the past and it won’t in 2010, they just aint good enough. But there again neither are the Yanks.

      1. You’ll get to the knock-out stage and hopefully meet up with Germany in group D. If the Three Lions can’t get themselves worked up for that game then I don’t know what to do. Just don’t let it go to penalties.

        1. They don’t have the depth, and as somebody pointed out ;o) they’re playing at altitude, and acclimatisation takes time.

  5. It is a fact, bizarre but nevertheless true, that the United States of America are the reigning Olympic champions at Rugby!! (Last played in, I think, 1924)

    Rugby, by the way, is a game played by men with odd shaped balls.

    Now there’s a good sports trivia question.

  6. I’m amazed that the best player in the world, Lionel Messi, didn’t take part in this spot. Oh yeah, he’s sponsored by Adidas. Too bad.

      1. I was in Italy in 2006. If there was ever evidence where remote collective will could affect a result that was it. You people are obsessed!

  7. Possibly the most magnificent off-topic post I’ve ever seen.

    Commercials like that actually enhance television. Bravo.

    1. that’s strange. It wasn’t a sad video, but I had to hold back tears for some reason.

      Thanks for the link.

      The U.S. would be a much richer culture if it mustered enough guts (intelligence maybe?) to admit that a game can be at the same time brutally competitive and beautiful to watch and play.

      But it seems like most people here pride themselves in not partaking in a truly global event. But I tell you, they are missing out really bad. This whole event, the total amount of passion by the fans and players, and just the sheer numbers of people viewing the games, nations following the sport, it totally dwarfs anything that american football or even basketball has ever done in uniting people across so many lines in just for once every 4 years, dropping all the baggage, and enjoying a beautiful and dramatic World Cup Tournament unfold. It’s worth waking up at odd and terrible hours, just to be a part of it.

      1. Well said. I’ve wondered why the US shows so little interest in soccer. More young kids here play soccer than do American football and yet interest seems to evaporate for most of them upon entering high school. The only thing I’ve been able to come up with that makes sense is that high school is a time of trying to find your way and define yourself and we don’t have real American soccer heroes they can emulate. Nobody wants to be a geeky foreigner, right littlejohn? Of course, I’d rather they emulate science heroes but …

        1. It’s not structured for commercial breaks, unlike the “real” American sports. Therefore, the US commercial support for football (soccer) has been slow to come. But that seems to be changing.

          US high school sports are largely about developing the few good university players, which develops the even fewer good professional players.

          1. I think you’re right as far as its relatively modest commercial success here. It doesn’t really explain why it never caught on before the invention of TV, though. I’m not sure my explanation does either but it might. Virtually every former British colony loves cricket or soccer. Not us. We must be special!

            1. Well, by the time soccer and cricket were developing into mature games, the US was already a former colony, so the games didn’t spread from the UK. Instead, we created/played our own games, which later blossomed into sports and then into the Sports Industry, Inc.

              It’s the equivalent of founder effect, but in sports.

              (And after catching a couple of matches of Twenty20 cricket (the IPL), I think that has the elements which could appeal to Americans. It won’t happen, realistically, but the action, lots of scoring, the lively gameplay is something that, if given a chance, I can see a lot of Americans quite enjoying. More so than soccer, actually.)

          1. I didn’t say no interest but very little by comparison to other “real American” sports. Do you live somewhere in the States where soccer is more popular than American football? I haven’t been to any high school American football games other than those of my own so my exposure is limited but the crowds American football games draw far exceed those of high school soccer. At least in Orange County, CA.

        2. I can tell you that back when I was in school (a million years ago), football and baseball were seen as tough, masculine sports, while soccer was looked upon as a game for wimps and girls. Unfair, for sure, but that was the way it was.

          I think that, because of historical considerations, other games took off in the US. As a result, there has been no professional infrastructure – no local teams to see, no broad coverage of top-tier soccer talent – and a lot of competition by the other pro sports.

          So when these kids who played soccer as kids got to be high school age, they are looking for exposure to, essentially, pro-level quality play, that they can aspire to and emulate in the next few years. In the media, until the last few years, there was simply no exposure to any really good soccer to be found, at any price.

          That’s changed now. But I think if soccer is going to be a top sport in the US, the MLS has to get to the point where the skills of the players rival the top European leagues, or there has to be more media exposure to the top teams in the other leagues.

      2. I think that soccer is a fun game to play. It is great exercise, and it is a nice team sport for children and high schoolers.

        But it is a bear to watch. I think American sports revolve around the excitement of the goal, and all of them have had their rules adjusted to make scoring happen somewhat frequently (Basketball scores used to be 19-13 in the 20s). Soccer on the other hand has a ton of ball handling, but it seems like there are relatively few actual strikes on the goal. The ball goes near the goal, back out, back in back out. I can see why it would increase the tension for someone that is familiar with it, but to me, it is just boring. Loosing control of the ball seems to be so terrible that you only take a perfect shot, but seriously, you could go to the bathroom and miss the only goal in the whole 2 hour game. I’d even take a low scoring situation if it they at least made more attempts on the goal. As it is, you can sum up the important action in a game in a 2 minute clip.

        And that’s not even counting the diving. In the last world cup, I saw Italy vs the US, and a guy from the US team took an elbow to the face, was bleeding profusely. He walked off the field. I saw an Italian player get tapped in the butt and then roll around in agony while waiting for a stretcher to carry him off. Of course he was back in a few minutes right as rain.

        1. I agree that the flopping has made the game unbearable at times, and that it’s a huge deterence to an outsider American trying to like the game. I hope FIFA adopts a much stricter policy in penalizing flops in the very near future (why not start this world cup?).

          But I honestly can never understand why people are so concerned with the largeness or smallness of a number. I mean really, why not count a goal as 7 points instead of one, that way, the average 2-1 or 3-2 score, would be 14-7 or 21-14…and high scoring games like 5-1 could look like American numbers 35-7! Or maybe just count shots on target as 1 point, shots that hit the post but don’t go in as 3 points, that way people can have their huge numbers in the end.

          Yes, the final score may be 2-0…but just because it isn’t spelled out in a boxscore with big obvious numbers, a person who follows the game can decide just how exciting or just how close the teams were by noticing the amount of shots on target, shots that hit the post, awesome saves by the goalie, or clear opportunities saved by a last-resort tackle by Carles Puyol.

          I admit that flops can be a big pain and annoyance, and that they really do cheapen the sport, but it’s dumb to generalize the sport by the actions of a handful of players or teams.

          1. I think the sterotype about soccer isn’t that games end 3-2 or 2-1, but that almost every game ends in a 0-0 tie except for the rare occassion when one team wins 1-0.

            If there were more goals (and no ties) then it would no doubt be a more popular sport in the US, as scoring (and not just action) is the key for casual viewers here. (Baseball has a similar problem, as casual fans find pitchers’ duals to be boring as hell, but knowledgable fans are thrilled by them.)

            1. I’m actually staggered at FOOTBALL (it’s not soccer), being labelled boring, purely because of the possible lack of goals.

              The skill involved is far greater than most other sports and has only one break, at half time. There isn’t a time out or the clock stopped, between every play, so veryone can huddle round and discuss it first. They are on the field and have to deal with each play as and when it happens. American football is 60 mins of play, but takes 4 hours to do it. How is that entertaining?

              Surely you have to ask why it’s the most popular sport on the planet and that American sports haven’t caught on anywhere outside of North America?

        2. I can sympathise with what you’re saying. The flopping drives me crazy at times. They seriously should refer to instant replays in the case of red card offenses in my humble opinion. They are infrequent enough that it’s not likely to ruin the flow of the game.

          Oddly enough they score so often in basketball that I quickly get bored. I would guess you find that absurd, yes?

  8. People who think soccer is not a sport do not understand soccer. They probably think that there must be hundreds of points per game to qualify as a sport. If you don’t appreciate strategy and skill then you won’t like soccer(or hockey).

    1. If you don’t appreciate strategy and skill then you won’t like soccer(or hockey).

      Now you have gone done it. I must present the soccer game model.

      Besides the model and statistics confirming that it is mainly a probabilistic game (that can be decided by throwing dice, see my previous comment), there is only the factor of team fitness coming into it (as 1/10th the strength of the random Poisson process of making goals):

      “Thus, the hypothesis of a strictly constant team fitness during a season, even on a single-match level cannot be refuted even for a data set comprising more than 20 years. In disagreement with this observation soccer reports in media often stress that a team played particularly good or bad. Our results suggest that there exists a strong tendency to relate the assessment too much to the final result thereby ignoring the large amount of random aspects of a match.”

      So choosing strategy under a match isn’t part of what makes soccer, nor are the individual players’ skill set. It is the overall skill of the team that decides its fitness (relative ability of scoring).

      1. And as noted, the fitness doesn’t do much on the result.

        Abstracting it, one can as well look at guys throwing dice… not so exciting.

        Or one can embrace the theatricals, and look at individual players antics and trainers contingent strategies and enjoy that show for the tomfoolery it is.

        It is a personal choice.

        1. IMO that is a pompous way to say that the better team wins, but chance plays a role, too.

          Not exactly a shocking revelation to football fans.

          1. Fair question. 😀

            Oh, things I’m doing on for fun right now, like gym sports and dancing. Same way I used to enjoy running and orienteering once.

            [I’m mostly pulling legs. It is a favorite event in soccer, isn’t it?

            Besides eating turf, I mean.]

            1. I hope I’m not coming across poorly. I’m just trying to give as good as I get. All in good fun. So is it fair to say you generally don’t enjoy team sports? Or perhaps it’s more to do with the embarrassing amounts of attention, resources, and time spent?

            2. Yeah, me too. It’s a sport, you know…

              Hmm. I do enjoy gym training like aerobics and cycling because they are in rhythm with the music _and_ because it’s a gang. Same for dancing. And in competition (which I watch, don’t partake) it can be teams.

              That said, I think I enjoy it individually (that is, pairing off is like throwing dice :-D; but has its rewards). I know I do prefer individuals in sports, the lonesome hero and all that. (I was raised on skiing, running, orienteering and biking, so …)

              So what is soccer for you? Wouldn’t you like some cheer leading? I know I would! 😀

            3. Personal glory Viking instinct, perhaps? I can respect that. Probably serves your genes better than my Redcoat “line up so they can aim for the big white X on our chests” genes of my ancestors.

              Soccer for me? As close as I’ll ever get to a religion. Mandatory worship for a month every four years (well, two counting the Euros) with the only commandment being, “Thou shalt not use your hands.”

              As far as cheerleaders… that was a bit of a mystery, too. Why a woman would want a guy that could only last for brief violent bursts over a guy that could go for a couple of hours with a short rest in between is beyond me. Maybe because we don’t use nearly as much protection.

            4. Sure it’s not the hand thing? Similarly, because of the protection them football players can sure take a licking.

            5. Do you think it’s the no hands thing? We’re not averse to ignoring it at key moments. Besides, when it comes to getting the job done between the uprights they actually leave it to the closest thing the sport has to a soccer player albeit with a full complement of protection. The protection seems all important. Probably because it makes the players look bigger than they actually are. Surely the cheerleaders realize that if American football players went without protection they wouldn’t last a minute.

    2. Whew! Made it! Thanks for getting us hockey fans in under the wire, bigjohn. See, as far as I’m concerned, sports are finished until October, though my local University’s having a good run in baseball, and I’ll be watching some of that.

  9. Aussie rules football should be the world game. The penalty shootout rule in soccer, for one thing, is a joke.

    1. Not if I was playing central defense. That(center) forward would be on his ass wondering what happened! (back in the day…)

  10. I hope to watch a few games this time. As always the FIFA Cup is my most looked forward to sporting event. The US’s lack of interest in soccer is sort of like its lack of interest in Bollywood. Outside the US (and possibly some parts of the UK commonwealth) these soccer is the most widely watched sport and Bollywood movies by far are the most popular imported source of entertainment. Maybe it has something to do with the Not-invented-here thing.

  11. As a ex pro football player from England I can say that you nerdy Yanks have no conception on how big an event the World Cup is. Super Bowl, World Series, dont make me laugh, penuts when compared to the World Cup.
    And as for (real football)being boreing. How would you discribe American football in which a hours game that takes three hours to play (stopping for TV Ads) that involves a bunch of overweight, under talented,uneducated men running into each other. You are all a bunch of wankers

    1. I coach my daughter’s (4th grade) soccer team. Last season I had two girls do exactly that (the goal at 0:30). The ref and I were in tears.

  12. Since nobody has said it already, it is not called soccer, it is called football.

    The odd sort of rugger you play in the USA is called American football to distinguish it from the real thing.

    1. That is a weird one. American football, rugby, and football seem to have evolved from a common ancestor. American football and rugby were more similar but American football mutated to the point where foot rarely met ball. By the time the English had formalized what football was and we cared to know we already had something called football. The Brits invented the term soccer, though. We just use it. I don’t pretend to say it makes sense.

    2. It’s just an arbitrary label. In the US, the violent ground-acquisition game is called “football” and the game where the boys chase each other in their short-shorts is called “soccer.”

      1. So the steroid using meatheads, that can only play in 2 min bursts and use their hands play “football”?

        But the athletes that usually run up to 10 miles a game and use their FOOT on a BALL, play “soccer”?

        Makes sense…

  13. I wasn’t planning to add to this, but then, having just finished the third of the Stieg Larsson trilogy I happened on a neat site showing locations from the books on a map:

    And then looking down at Norr Malarstrand I remembered the view across to Långholmen, that Monica Figureola presumably took in at one point in the book, and wondered if it had changed from the island with an abandoned prison that I once knew and so Googled it. Seems that the prison is now a luxury hotel, AND that a fotball team organized itself on the island in 2002 – one which has apparently become quite good.

    And then hot on the heels of that I get an email from New Republic wanting me to subscribe and if I do I’ll get the bestseller How Soccer Explains the World (presumably the US title).

    Perhaps it explains the world, but does it explain evolution?

  14. “In case you don’t know, the greatest sporting event in the world is about to begin.”

    Noooo. The Tour de France isn’t for another 3 weeks…..

  15. May I humbly request no spoilers for 24 hours? Otherwise I’ll have to ignore this thread.

    You’ll miss me!

          1. At the risk of being labeled an accommodationist, I’ll give you a little love.

            Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!

  16. Goals/game have been on the decline for a long time, in the FIFA champ’s. Too much defence, the emergence of the more conservative variant of Latin play (typified of the likes of Scolari) an unimaginative governing body that won’t tweak the rules to make the game more scoreful etc., But in several parts of the world, the chance to see the finest players once in four years is looked forward to, even in Latin America where except Brazil, the rest have not managed to raise their game. The better defence seems to win, unless it is like the attack oriented 2002 Brazil-Germany clash, France-Brazil 1998, Argentina-Germany 1986.

    I have lived in the US for several years and from India.

  17. @Johnny O

    In North America, it’s soccer. But who cares? (If Wikipedia is to trusted the game is rightly called “association football” anyway, so neither “soccer” nor “football” is accurate and both are merely a shortened version of the name.) Besides, it’s an arbitrary label and differs as do torch/flashlight, bonnet/hood, boot/trunk, lorry/truck, lift/elevator, flat/apartment, etc., etc.

    And why would you be staggered that some people want more than athleticism in their sports, but they want a lot of scoring. I don’t necessarily agree, as I do appreciate what soccer has to offer, but I do understand it.

    The skills involved in soccer are different than those in other sports, that is true. There is more sustained running in soccer, than any other game, for example. But that doesn’t mean that those skills which are featured in the game are necessarily those that everyone aught to want to have featured in a sport.

    “There isn’t a time out or the clock stopped, between every play, so veryone can huddle round and discuss it first. They are on the field and have to deal with each play as and when it happens.”

    I don’t see where this is relevant, at all. The fact that soccer players’ play is reactive is interesting and gives the sport part of its flavor, but I don’t see it as necessarily better than sports where, for example, the players have to perform coordinated in pre-set plays.

    “American football is 60 mins of play, but takes 4 hours to do it. How is that entertaining?”

    Because there is a great deal of athleticism as well as displays of strength involved, a lot of drama from lead changes and scoring potentials, there is a great deal of action, there is a lot of strategy involved in determining whether a running attack or a passing attack will succeed and how the defense will counter that, and there is potential for individual achievement as well as for team effort. There are a lot of great things to keep it entertaining.

    “Surely you have to ask why it’s the most popular sport on the planet and that American sports haven’t caught on anywhere outside of North America?”

    I have asked that, and I think that the answer is that mostly that it is a simple game to learn, it is one that can be played from early ages on up to professional level (so the game grows with the athletes), it does not require much of anything in terms of equipment, so it can be played by a villiage full of kids for a little bit of money, and because it was popular among Europeans as they went out being imperialists in the 19th and 20th centuries.

    The fact that it is popular does not mean that it is “the best” but merely that it is “the most popular.” (Cf. “Christianity” is the world’s most popular belief system. Does that mean that it is superior than, say, agnosticism??)

    Soccer is a very good game, and one which I do enjoy, although it is not my favorite.

    And you are wrong about the second part. Basketball is played around the world and Baseball is very popular in Latin America, Japan and other parts of Asia. Further Ice Hockey (though “American” of the Canadian variety, not the USAian variety) has spread from North America to the rest of the world (at least that part that has ice during the winter months), as well.

    1. Wow!! My comments were thrown out there in keeping with the general trend of ribbing, but thanks for answering them so seriously…lol

      Let me explain a bit better…

      I understand that we are two nations separated by a common language, but you (I’m making the assumption you are From the US), have a game called Football, in which the feet are rarely used, that’s why we like to goad you by calling it REAL Football.

      I mention the clock stopping because one of the things I hear raised against REAL Football, is the lack of action. Yet American Football has far more inaction, than actual play. If I want to watch a sport where they go through every play they make before doing it, I’ll watch chess.

      I never said it was the ‘best’ sport either, merely that it is popular. But it does bring people together like no other sport. I’m Scottish, (we haven’t qualified for the World Cup since 1998), and in Scottish club football there are two main teams. Rangers and Celtic, the suport is mainly divided along Prodestant and Catholic lines. They despise each other and there is often violence between them. But when it comes to Scotland playing, they all get together as the Tartan Army and put all differences aside. Then there is the whole carnival of the World Cup itself. On my last night in France’98 there was my brother and I (Scottish), my friend Jeff (Irish), five guys from Chile and three French policemen and a couple of Japanese guys having a kick about, next to the Eiffel Tower at 5am. Cheered on by about 12 American schoolgirls who had snuck out of their hotel and didn’t have a clue what was going on…lol

      Yes Basketball is played elsewhere in the World, but not with any kind of support or interest. (I wouldn’t say Ice Hockey was solely a North American Sport though). Baseball is limited as you say. There is certainly no professional league I’m aware of in Europe. And there are no WORLD Championships fot those sports outside of North America. I have no doubt you’d win if it was to go global, but having world championships with only two countries participating is a nonsense. REAL Football is played to a professional standard in more countries than any other. Apparently it is also the most ‘played’ sport in the USA.

      The thing is, if you guys took it seriously, you could dominate the world quite easily. So maybe it’s best if you stick to your quirky colonial sports…lol

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