We have cut the field of contenders in half. All of the teams playing in the next round are exceptional, but as we shall see, some more than others. About the only surprise thus far is that the Czech Republic did not advance after trouncing the USA in the first game in group play. The USA was a bitter disappointment although I think that few people thought they would advance from this tough group. It would be difficult to pick a winner among some of the great teams, but I will, just for fun.
I thought that Spain played wonderfully. They won all three games in their group in convincing fashion. In their last match against Saudi Arabia they played a completely new squad and still won 1-0 on an excellent header by Juanito. The current hero of Spanish football, Raul, played a superb second half and scored an equalizer goal against Tunisia. 22 year old Fernando Torres put Spain ahead in that game with one of the best goals that I have seen so far in the tournament.
For what it’s worth, I also like Argentina, Portugal, and, of course, Brazil.
What I really like about this World Cup is that it is finally getting a lot of attention in the USA. I’ve watched a few games at a Seattle pub. The place is standing room only. Most people in Seattle are at least aware that the World Cup is going on and many of us have become rabid fans. Over the course of my entire adult life there has been talk that this will be the year that football catches fire in America, and every year it has been just that—talk.
This year is different. You can almost feel the tectonic shift in interest in the sport. It’s as if we have all done our homework and now players like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos, Beckham, Henry, Zidane, Ballack, Figo, and Raul (among many others) have all become household names in front of televisions all across the country. We know what constitutes an off-sides. We know what should be a foul and what kind of infraction deserves a yellow card. We have come a long way.
I read an account of a group of American fans behaving rather badly before one of the games in Germany. A fan from another country said that was the way football fans are supposed to act and he had an increased respect for the Americans. Maybe we do finally have a passion for the game. I know that I do, but that is another story for another day .
I won’t get into the childish argument about whether or not football is boring, or why Americans don’t like it. It looks fairly obvious to me that we do like it and it is here to stay. I could kick myself for not being in Germany, if not to actually go to a game then at least to watch them on TV along with all the other fans drunk on German beer and a love for the game. The next World Cup will be in South Africa in 2010. Anyone interested in going?