07 July 2014

An Attempt to Assist Soccer-Challenged Americans

To all the sports lovers in the United States: I know many of you are trying real hard to follow the soccer World Cup and to understand the rules and regulations, the ins and outs, the passion, the emotion, the celebration, the spontaneity, the sheer brilliance of what the athletes are doing. I know it’s a hard game to get behind for a country that didn’t grow up playing it, watching it or idolizing its players. I came to Brazil a complete soccer know-nothing. I was an inveterate Yankees fan, a Knicks fan (the 1973 team, when the Knicks were the Knicks), a lover of volleyball (which I played in high school) and an avid tennis fan. It took a long time for me to absorb even a part of what there is to know and love about futebol — soccer to you. (And I’ll continue to refer to it as soccer, too, so as not to confuse you.) Anyway, if you think the game is boring, or is otherwise just not to your taste, try to look at it my way.

For example, try focusing on the players’ hairdos! They’re stunning! They’re creative! And very varied. Count the number of shaved heads, the ones with beards and the ones without. That’ll keep you busy, at least until a goal is scored . . .

I, of course, have come to really love the players who have hair just like mine —

Ochoa (Mexico)

David Luiz (Brazil)

I can’t help but love the dreads —

Jones & Beckerman (USA)

Then there are all those mohawk styles —

Neymar (Brazil)

Mario Balotelli (Italy)

And the long hair done up the way I do mine when I’m doing housework —

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

Ricardo Rodriquez (Switzerland)

Gotta love all the Yul Brynner clones —

Tim Howard (USA)

Rais M’Bolhi (Algeria)
Bradley (USA)

Robben (Netherlands)

Even the coaches get into the act —

A Beatle? A Monkee? No, just Joaquim Loew, coach of the German team

Van Gaal, Dutch coach, sporting something between a mohawk and a really bad piece

And then, there’s this eye-catching coiffure . . .

Palacio (Argentina)

Have we exhausted hairstyles? Why not see how many national anthems you can sing along to. During the World Cup games, patriotism is in full throttle, which is one of the things that makes it so much fun to follow. And speaking of patriotism, an incredible thing happened in this World Cup. First consider this: would Americans stand up to sing their national anthem and stop in the middle, at about the "Were so gallantly streaming" part, just because some sports organization thinks it's time to play ball? I seriously doubt it. Would the French sing their anthem up to "Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes" just because the music stopped? Tu blagues! Well, those two countries didn’t have this problem because FIFA played their anthems in full before their games. But for some reason, when it came to host-country Brazil, FIFA played a ridiculously truncated version of their national anthem. This infuriated the Brazilians. So, led by their team, the Brazilians kept singing their anthem after the music ended, a cappella and full-throated, everyone arm-in-arm. It was rousing. It was spectacular. It gave me goose bumps.

American baseball may call its final tournament the World Series, but give me a break. What world are they talking about? The World Cup of soccer, now that brings people from all over the planet together in a way that the United Nations never has and never will. This is an extremely diverting side of a soccer tournament. The interaction between players, fans, people from the host country — at least as it’s been playing out in Brazil — has been the high point of the 2014 World Cup. Unfortunately, it’s the one thing the USA team lost out on. Of all the teams here, the USA is the only one that kept to its own. They hid in their hotels, and went out only under heavy police escort (which included two helicopters). They never went out to "mingle." In the mingling department, the Dutch won hands-down. Here’s a great video showing how people from very different cultures can bridge differences:

I will admit that sports — and in this case soccer — are best enjoyed if you have a dog in the fight. It’s especially exciting if an international tournament is being played in your own backyard. But take heart, my compatriots. The U.S. soccer team may have lost in its round of eight, but it won respect and admiration from soccer fans around the world. And it was well on its way to becoming the second favorite team for people from other countries, including host country Brazil. That ought to boost soccer’s importance in the United States. Maybe you’ll all see it more clearly by the next World Cup. Or maybe not.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice read, Barbara. Hope to see you on your next visit to Rio!