Thursday, July 10, 2014

2014 World Cup

The World Cup is my second favorite once-every-four-years sporting event, behind only the World Cup of Curling (a.k.a. the Winter Olympics). But, I haven't really been able to immerse myself in the last two World Cups. I moved to North Carolina during the 2006 World Cup, and we drove to Alaska during the 2010 World Cup. But this summer, we're basically just sitting around in the air conditioning waiting for the baby to be born. (Well, not completely, but we're not taking any long road trips this summer either. Or in the early part of fall, either, but at least we'll have our hands full then.)

All this means it's the perfect year to completely indulge myself in the World Cup! Especially given that I've been watching more international soccer outside of just the World Cup and can appreciate what I'm watching at another level (in theory). So much so, I don't even watch the games on Univision anymore like I used to, because I'm actually interested in the English language commentary!

Before the World Cup, I thought it might be fun to start a spreadsheet and track how much of the World Cup I watch, match by match, minute by minute. Out of 5,810 minutes so far, I've watched 3,187, or 54.9%:

(Disclaimer: This is all kind of subjective, because I watch most of my sports via DVR and skip through stoppages, and I count stoppages skipped towards my numbers. Soccer doesn't have as many stoppages as many other sports, but there are injuries, "injuries", and it usually takes at least 30 seconds for the teams and referee to set up a free kick in the attacking third, for example. So, I have not actually spent 3,187 minutes of my live watching soccer over the past month. I can watch a 90 minute game in 70 to 75 minutes, so the actual amount of elapsed time I've spent watching the World Cup is probably closer to 2,500 minutes. That works out to an average of 1.5 hours per day over a period of four weeks. Really, that's not that bad, is it?)

After the World Cup was about a week in, the prevailing narrative on social media etc. was, "This is great!" Goals were being scored, underdogs were winning games, the United States team won its first game in exciting fashion, and this was all proof that soccer had finally made it in the United States, of course. (Which, I think our collective interest in professional soccer leagues such as Major League Soccer and the Premier League is a better gauge of our nation's collective soccer fandom than interest in the World Cup is, but that's just me.)

So, things were great, and then...the knockout round started. Teams stopped scoring goals; 5 of the last 9 games have been scoreless after 90 minutes. Favorites kept winning and winning; group winners went 8-0 in the Round of 16, and betting line favorites went 4-0 in the Quarterfinals. And, well, I started getting bored, although I've kept watching. Yesterday's Argentina-Netherlands game was probably the dud of the tournament.

It always seems like the World Cup leaves a sour aftertaste in my mouth, and this what's kept me from becoming a real soccer fan in the past, and perhaps other "casual fans" as well. These tournaments always seem to end with a whimper, once the only teams that are left are the ones that can play really, really good defense*, and neither side is willing to attack. That gives us the kind of low scoring, action-lacking soccer that only true soccer fans can appreciate. Apparently, I'm not there yet, because didn't think Argentina-Netherlands was interesting to watch.

(* - Brazil being a notable exception, and we all know what happened to them.)

Soccer is the only sport I can think of where the games become less exciting when everything is at stake. Perhaps this is why European soccer leagues don't have playoffs? And hopefully, they never will! ... Wait, does having that opinion make me a true soccer fan, or do I still need to buy a Fulham scarf or something like that first?

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