Tuesday, April 12, 2005

13. Magic - Part 2

World Cup Mania Hits the US, Sorta

That year the World Cup was held in the US of all places. This was a nation where people knew football as a game where oversized men in body armour and tights (a lethal combination if any) ran around trying to dismember one another, where the foot is used only sparingly in relation to the ball (which, coincidently, is not round at all), and where games can drag on for three hours. Talk about overkill eh?

To most Americans, footba-err, sorry, soccer, was a game played by women and kids from Planet Surburbia. Grown men were supposed to only play sports where the aim was to maim and kill their opponents (though not necessarily in that order). Americans love their games fast and furious, high scoring with plenty of drama. They love their overpaid superstars, lap up all the nasty off-field activities that their heroes indulge in (and in some cases, way too nasty, see Shaq's turn as a budding actor), join in all that endless trash-talking and chest thumping going about (is it just me, or is there something homo-erotic going on when tall, muscular men in shorts scream "Who's your daddy???" at one another?). They also hate their blind refs who always making dodgy decisions against their teams, hate even more those dodgier owners and their motives. But most of all, they love the concept about winning ugly. All you have to do is watch any American sports movie ever made to catch my point. It's always the underdog who triumphs over infinitely gifted opponents, it's always the small team who rises up and beats the big team. Heart rules over all.

Shaq expresses his delight in getting nominated for the Razzies.

Now surely, soccer can't ever match any of that? It's more of a sissy's sport right? None of that trash talking and violent contact that Americans so crave. Right. To be fair, Cantona had yet to show the world his kung fu prowess via his infamous No Shadow Kick move on a Crystal Palace supporter. And we were then not yet enlightened with the sight of the angelic and innocence-personified figure of Wayne Rooney having a gentlemenly discussion with the ref. No Martin Keowns doing his best baboon impressions yet either. And definitely no Paolo di Canio helping the ref out in perfecting his fluttering swan dive ballet routine. But if the Americans wanted winning ugly, all they had to do was to watch how Argentina went about their business to get to the finals of Italia '90 (they duly did their part by losing to the Germans in what must be the worst finals seen in World Cup history). Or more recently, look at how Greece won the European Cup. Blind refs? Heck, just watch any other EPL game over the weekend and you'd get plenty of those. Dodgy owners? Don't even get me started on that.

Anyway, the indifference of the American public was just another interesting element to add to the pre-tournament drama. Sure their interests were perked (thanks to the marketing overdrive), but it was more because they were curious about why the whole affair was such a big deal. How could a sport that existed outside the Big Three (baseball, American football and basketball) generate so much interest and excitement? There were also serious apprehensions from the participating teams concerning the humid and sweltering conditions. And of course, those ever over-rated moppets (otherwise known as England) didn't even qualify this time. If it was any consolation to them, a Gerrard Houlier managed France didn't do no better.

England pose for their team photo.

Enroute to the tournament, every football fan's favourite Brazil were having problems of their own. A mischievous little forward named Romario threatened to disrupt his team’s preparations all because he couldn't get the window seat on the plane. They did however have a skinny little 18 year old called Ronaldo waiting in the wings. But Brazil's problems were nothing compared to the talented Dutch, who just about argued with everyone over everything. The Germans came as the defending champions and pre-tournament favourites, the midfield dynamo Matthaus still powering them. The previous competition’s defeated finalists Argentina was still being captained by one Diego Maradona (and what a competition he would have, for all the wrong reasons). They also had the great Gabriel Batistuta leading the line for them. And finally, Italy, the Azurri, came with a big reputation but with typically stuttering results. Their beleagured manager Arrigo Sacchi seemed as confused as the fans themselves over Italy's tactics. But if there was one player that Italy could turn to to lead them to victory, then it would have to be a diminutive pony-tailed Buddhist who had just been recently crowned World Player of the Year. He wore the infamous number 10 shirt, and his name was Roberto Baggio.

Next: The Group Stages

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

1994.... hummmm. i remember it like it was yesterday.... waking up in the early hours of the morning to catch the worldcup on tele. No ASTRO back then so had to rely on our friends from RTM & TV3 to bring us the games. Still remember that announcer Hasbollah Awang..... was a joker.... cracks me up everytime he's on tv. dont know if he is still working with RTM???
1994... that was also the year Kurt Cobain imortalised himself by sucking on a M16 and pulling the trigger...bang! bang!