I have spent the last two weeks gazing at my TV trying to understand and appreciate the game we call soccer and the world calls football. Why not? Brazil has almost broken itself spending a gazillion, billion dollars building eight magnificent stadiums to present to the world the 2014 FIFA World Cup series.
I watch the matches in awe, marveling that the game has not produced more crippled, brain dead players. Eleven grown, strong young men hurl their bodies at one another at breakneck speeds, viciously banging heads, kicking one another and sometimes a multi-colored ball. They are not allowed to use their hands or arms to touch the ball, but they can bang the hell out of it with their heads. Talk about concussions. I cannot imagine this practice is good for the brain. As the players run around with hands at their sides, kicking the ball, they remind me of giant penguins waddling around in Antarctica.
I am still trying to learn the rules, if there are any, and what the markings on the field signify. I am now informed that the game is played on a pitch, not a field. Time of the match is another mystery. I understand that teams play for forty-five minutes then go out of the hot sun and, I guess go inside for a shower, rubdown and lecture. They return to the field and pay for another forty-five minutes. But wait, at the end of forty-five minutes, some official decides to add on a few more minutes to the game. The exact number of additional minutes remains a secret until the end of what I would call “regular time.” I suppose this time is to make up for time spent attending to injured players or players doing masterful acting jobs of faking injuries. It appears to me that some players should get some sort of award for their acting abilities.
If things are not settled at the end of ninety minutes, plus injury and acting extra time, an additional thirty minutes is tacked on to the match. If things are still not settled, then the match goes into a penalty kick situation, where five payers from each team try to make a short kick past the opposing team’s goal keeper. Whoever gets the most points wins. I don’t know what happens if there is a tie here, but I am sure I will learn.
Of course, players get serious injuries. When this occurs, brawny men rush out on the pitch carrying a man-sized, orange plastic basket that looks like something one would find in a morgue. They lay the injured player in the odd contraption and carry him off the pitch like a half of beef. Sometime, as soon as the player is deposited out of the fray, he jumps up out of the orange basket and gleefully greets his fellow players on the sidelines.
The game does seem to have some rules, but I have not yet figured them all out. I do know that the referee does call fouls. There seems to be several classes of fouls. Some seem to be more like misdemeanors and others like felonies. I have discerned that things are serious when the yellow card comes out of the referee’s pocket. I don’t know what constitutes such a grievous breech of conduct to get one thrown out of the game. I do notice that players from opposing teams console their opponents just after they have knocked billy hell out of him. Their apologies seem less than sincere, and seem only to be given to avoid a foul call on themselves. However I was fortunate enough to see my beloved Ticos, Costa Rica, with only ten men on the pitch, out do Greece in a 5-3 penalty shootout.
Sometimes when there is a foul, the referee spots the ball on the field where the foul occurred and marks the spot with what looks like foam shaving cream. This allows the aggrieved player an opportunity to get a free kick at the opposing goal. It seems that if there is a grievous foul near the goal, The fouled player gets to go one on one with the goal keeper to try to make a point.
I have learned that soccer is a game of anticipation. Very few goals are actually scored, but players run up and down the field like antelope without stopping. Unlike our football, soccer is nonstop. The clock keeps running and there are no timeouts for forty-five minutes at a time. The teams transition from offense to defense continually in seconds. Incidentally, if a team does not get a score, that is not recorded as a zero, it is referred to as, nil. When one team does score there is much jubilation and the teammates of the payer scoring the goal pile on him several players deep. It is a wonder the hero is not smothered by his happy brethren.
Yesterday, I heard a sportscaster say that some techie folks had tracked some players at the ongoing World Cup and found that it was not uncommon to find that some of these well fit, young men run in excess of ten miles during a match. That is while getting kicked by opponents and bouncing the ball off their heads all along. I conclude this a young, tough person’s sport.
I have not yet learned the names of positions the players play, but I can figure out the position of goalkeeper. I have also heard the terms striker and fullback, but I still can not spot them on the field. The goalkeeper has to be a quick, large person because the ball comes to him a supersonic speeds. The goal he must protect seems to be about ten feet tall and twenty feet wide. A lot of space for a man to cover.
Soccer coaches fascinate me. Most come to the game looking much like our American basket ball coaches. They prance up and down the sidelines attired in designer suits and expensive shirts and ties. They wring their hands and rub their heads vigorously when things go wrong for their teams, but engage in manly, enthusiastic embraces with fellow coaches when their team scores that rare goal. They also seem to shout a lot at their players.
Soccer fans rival, or even exceed, our football fans’ energy with their zany exhibitions of bizarre costumes and body decorations to support their teams. All this energy seems to be fueled by great quantities of alcoholic beverages.
Alas, just yesterday, I was sad to see the USA team lose to the bullies from Belgium – 2 to 1. I am still counting on my friends the Ticos from Costa Rica to come through for me.
My friend and renowned tennis coach Fernando and I spent last Saturday afternoon watching our beloved Ticos get beat by the Dutch in penalty kickoffs after playing extra time. In the last two minutes, the Dutchmen used one of the three substitutions they are allowed to bring in a giant to defend their goal. This Godzilla like man must have been eight feet tall and had an arm span of an orangutang. He successfully defend their goal.
Fernando, a former soccer player from Chile had the patience to solve for me some of the mysteries of soccer. I now know how to spot an off sides, but according to Fernando, these calls, and fouls called by the officials are very “subjective.” In fact, Fernando suggested that the officials should have worn the Dutch colors in their match with our dear Costa Rica team.
Poor Brazil, the host country. I have just watched the crazed Germans humiliate the Brazilians by making an unprecedented five scores in less than thirty minutes. Seems like the Germans could have been good visitors and shown a little mercy. The final score turned out to be a humiliating 7 to 1 in favor of the Germans.
I look forward to this coming Sunday when the Germans and Argentina have the final shoot out in Rio. The dismayed Brazilians don’t know who to pull for. They detest Argentina and don’t care to seem them win on Brazilian soil, but they can not convince themselves to pull for the Germans, who skunked them in their own country. In Latin America, this kind of humiliation is referred to as “Falta Respecta.”
Well it is over. Germany just bested Argentina by one goal in the last eight minutes of extra time. I am worn out and now must take a siesta.
In any event I have a new appreciation for the game we call soccer and the world calls football.