KINGSTON, JAMAICA – That noise you hear coming from this direction is the collective snores and yawns of the island’s soccer fans. There’s a lot of sleep to catch up on after a month of early mornings/late nights watching the World Cup.
With matches broadcast live at 1, 4 and 6 in the morning, the Cup was truly an insomniac’s dream (worst nightmare?) come true. On Jamaican TV, the games were all shown live with pre- and post-game studio shows then repeated during the afternoon. And just in case you missed the live game and replay, there was the Match of the Day at night. The only thing nuttier than that is that some people watched all of them, I’m sure.
I wasn’t as hardy as some of my compadres so I only managed to stay up/get up early for a handful of matches. A pity because this turned out to be quite a tournament. Since I started watching the Cup in 1986, I’ve never seen so many teams with a legitimate chance to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy. It was great to see upstart soccer nations battle the traditional powers and come out successful so many times, although a traditional power came out on top in the end.
Yes, Brazil showed that despite almost missing out on qualifying, leaving the world’s top scorer at home and losing their captain to a freak injury right before their first game, they’re still Brazil. Put them in a tournament with anybody, and no matter what, the one-name wonders are the team to beat. They proved their mettle by scoring twice (could easily have been more) against the stingiest defense and best goalkeeper in the final, much to the chagrin of at least two of my Oracle co-workers. And to think, six months ago the talk was if they would be in the tournament at all.
In a way, Brazil made sense out of a World Cup that didn’t quite go according to form, to put it mildly. But it was great to see teams like Turkey, one of my dark horse picks, and Senegal make it so far. And although South Korea spoiled my brilliant prediction that Spain would win it all, it was good to know that the co-hosts finally entered the ‘W’ column after so many fruitless trips to the World Cup Finals. (As for the refereeing, well, that’s another column.)
Speaking of lightly regarded teams, did USA really finish 32nd out of 32 teams at the 1998 Finals? They didn’t play like it this time around. Picked by one expert as the team “most likely to stink up” the World Cup, the Red, White and Blue showed that they can compete with soccer’s elite. If it weren’t for the quarterfinal heroics of German keeper Oliver Kahn, who I’m convinced is related to Plastic Man, it could have been the USA battling it out with Brazil for the title. The Americans boasted a potent blend of experience (Cobi Jones, Eddie Pope, etc.) and youth (Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, etc.) plus the coaching talents of Bruce Arena, who I think is the best coach in America not named Phil Jackson. Now, people, embrace your team and stop watching that tractor pull on ESPN2. They reached the final eight of the World Cup. They’re good, very good.
I could go on, but, in the words of my former boss, I’ll let you go now. And please excuse me while I catch a few Zs.