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Sprechen Sie Fußball?

As I mentioned in a post last week, I’m a sucker for the World Cup. I don’t watch much college soccer or MLS games. I’ll occasionally peep at a first-tier European game if I get a chance. But in the last couple of days, I’ve been anchored on the couch, watching the world’s best attempt to win what appears to be the world’s ugliest trophy.

(Seriously, what is that? A melted chocolate coin? A prop from a high school sci-fi production? Two Oscar awards fused together with a bowling ball on top? You would think that the most important international trophy wouldn’t look like something that I’d be ashamed to hoist for winning a midget league basketball game. Granted, that doesn’t diminish the honor of winning one, but jeez… it’s hideous.)

The action on the field has been pretty nice thus far. You’ve had everything… Germany vs. Costa Rica was a veritable shoot-out, with the krauts winning 4-2. For you American fans, that’s the equivalent of a 120-100 NBA game or a 15-11 MLB game. Or, it’s as rare as a hockey game watched by more than a million US fans (hiiiooooo!).

Yesterday was my favorite, though. Trinidad and Tobago – the smallest country ever to make the World Cup – played Sweden, aka the blondest country ever to make the World Cup. Sweden, while not a threat to win every Cup, is a large, European land, best known for their Socialized healthcare, Volvos and, somehow, a popular bikini team.

On paper, it looked like a blowout, or as you would say in Swedish… oh hell, babelfish doesn’t have a translator for Swedish. OK, in French, “blowout” is “éruption.” Let the record show that’s the first accent in Sweet Monkey Pie history. Olé!

But, as the trite saying goes, they don’t play games on paper. They play them on a pitch… in Germany… at least for now. And T&T decided, in the immortal words of Cypress Hill, “we ain’t going out like that!” More specifically, it was my new hero, former Howard University goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, who decided that a few blond guys weren’t going to get a ball past him.

Time after time, he stopped some really great chances. Oh, and he’s 37. And didn’t know that he would be playing until warmups. No biggie. This was the best comeback from a Shaka since Chakha Khan released “Through the Fire.” Thank you! I’ll be here all week! Please tip your waitresses… and now welcome to the stage, Three Dog Night!

And the game ended in a 0-0 tie. I’m sure most of my countrymen would look at the final score and say, “Man, wasn’t that boring?” In a word, no. In two words, HELL no. It was engrossing. Since you get a point in the standings for a tie, the result wasn’t without reward. T&T was expected to lose all three round-robin matches. Instead, they took on a contender and came out ok.

The thing that infuriates me a bit with the US attitude with soccer is this whole “they don’t score enough” complaint. Two of our major sports — hockey and baseball — can have a 1-0 game that is considered a classic. A nil-nil futbol game is like a pitchers duel… or watching two untouchable goalies. They’re not scoring, but the play itself, is incredible.

And in T&T’s case, the backstory is even better. The American commentator mentioned that it was the equivalent of a #1 and #16 first-round matchup in the NCAA basketball tournament. Say that Oral Roberts loses by one point to UConn (the closest it could come to a tie). Would that be a boring game? Hardly.

Just as I’ve been typing this, Iran and Mexico are playing the second half. While I typed the preceding paragraph, Mexico scored twice. I think the second one was by a former member of Menudo. Gooooooooooooooooooooooooaaaaaal! North America, 1. Axis of Evil, 0.

So, if you’re an American who’s skeptical of the power of soccer, just give the World Cup a chance. Trust me, I was just as cynical and isolationist as anyone. In fact, I went to the University of North Carolina and refused to see women’s soccer games — during one of the best dynasties in sports history — because I “hated” soccer.

Turns out, I didn’t hate it. I just didn’t understand it. It took the US-hosted World Cup in 1998 to turn me around. If the other 200-odd countries cared so much, why shouldn’t I? So I watched. I learned. And I now get it.

For billions of people worldwide, this is their World Series… their Super Bowl. Businesses close. Schools grind to a halt. Freakin’ wars stop. This isn’t just a “funny game played by far’ners” as my old P.E. teacher said. This is the world’s game. And as much as we don’t want to admit it, we are a part of the world… not above it.

Gotta get back to the game. The Mexican fans are starting the “Olé, olé, olé, olé, olé” cheer. Gotta join in.

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