Football Follies

It was an interesting day at the World Cup, to say the least.

It always amuses me to hear idiotic American fans dismiss the world’s most popular sport with the “No one cares” line when what they really mean is, “I don’t care so fuck it.” Still, one of the valid criticisms I hear – and one that legitimately hurts football (heretofore on this blog referred to as “soccer” for simplicity’s sake) in the USA – is that the sport suffers with horrendous refereeing. Mind you, we’re used to horrendous work from officials in our sports – just ask Armando Galaragga. But soccer takes it to a new level, for three main reasons: First, there’s more diving than the summer Olympics and more acting than the Royal Shakespeare Company. Second, so much of what the referees and linesman do a matter of guesswork and interpretation, And third, scoring chances are so relatively rare (another common American knock on the game) that a blown call can have a greater impact that in any other major sport.

Make no mistake, we wuz robbed by the idiot from Mali this morning – his phantom foul call that cost us the winning goal vs. Slovenia was one of the worst I’ve seen. What makes it worse it that under yet another bizarre FIFA rule, he need offer no explanation – so even now, we really have no idea what the call even was. There was certainly no offsides, and the only obvious fouls were committed by Slovenia – there were at least two blatant holds in the area that could have resulted in penalties.

What I hate to see, though, is for that sad conclusion to overshadow the very real fact that the US may have saved their world cup with a truly inspiring comeback from a 2-0 halftime deficit. It’s maddening that we can’t seem to keep a clean sheet in WC games and continually dig ourselves a hole, but heartening that we seem to have mastered the art of climbing out. The US played with a real sense of urgency in the second half, buoyed by Benny Fieldhaber, Maurice Edu and the improved midfield possession they provided. Landon Donovan finally emerged as the dangerous playmaker he can be at his best, with a brilliant goal and gorgeous service on Bradley’s equalizer (with intermediate assistance from Jozy Altidore’s head) and Edu’s would-be winner.

As devastated as the Americans were to see their win stolen from them, they had to be relieved by England’s truly putrid effort against Algeria. That 0-0 draw allowed the US a guaranteed place in the knockout round with a win against Algeria (which, to be blunt, really should not be a problem for a good side) and a better than even chance to advance even with a tie, thanks to FIFA’s byzantine goal-differential tiebreaker rules. If the US was encouraged by their draw against an underrated Slovenian side, England had to be dismayed by theirs against a game but overmatched Algerian group. England don’t deserve to advance if they can’t muster a better effort than they did today – though I suspect they will suck it up and defeat Slovenia, forcing the Americans to take care of business Wednesday.

Soccer is indeed a frustrating, maddening and challenging sport burdened with poor officiating and an extremely corrupt and backward-thinking governing body. That’s why so many people love it. And, frankly, with the likes of David Stern and (shudder) Bud Selig reigning supreme over sports here, are we really in a position to pass judgment? If you dislike the sport, don’t watch – but I’m genuinely puzzled by the resentment some Americans seem to have towards the rest of the world for loving soccer so much. For me, I’ll be watching closely for the next three weeks, especially next Wednesday.

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