World Cup Soccer 2006

The 2006 Football World Cup is upon us. Football, or soccer as it is known to most Americans, dates all the way back to the 1800s. It is the only game that is truly enjoyed and one that actually involves the whole world. There are many other sports that some people might call “universal,” but none that can compete with football. Basketball is played by everyone on their driveways, parks, or wherever you can dribble and shoot a ball, but professionally and commercially the world of basketball is dominated by the NBA, which is an American association. American football, which is aptly named since it uses a player’s foot about 1% of the whole game, is played only by, well, Americans. Rugby is somewhat popular in Europe and . Hockey is dominated mostly by Americans and Canadians. Tennis players come from every corner of the world, but it is not a team sport, which is probably why it doesn’t have so much flair, and that reason can also be applied to golf. Badminton is played in Asia and that’s about it.

That leaves football (hereafter referred to as “soccer” to avoid confusion with American football) as the one and only true international sport, the one that is enjoyed by the whole world. Or is it? I’ve lived in Asia for 15 years and in the States for 9, and never have I felt a soccer culture in Sam’s country, even though the is ranked 5th in the world by the International Federation of Football (FIFA), and why is that?

There is a physical, and commercial reason to this. First of all, Americans like contact sports, ones that have a certain macho-ness to them, and also sports that move fast. In football, players crash into each other and the only need for skill falls onto the quarterback, the running back, and the receiver. The game of hockey has its fights, and they are real fights where players beat each other up. Basketball has its slam dunks, and a fair share of fancy tricks, be it on the floor or in mid-air. This combination of speed and power is what grabs the average American’s attention.

Soccer is a whole other game. It’s hard enough to dribble the ball with your feet, let alone running with it for the whole length of 100 meters (110 yards). It takes eleven players to effectively get the ball across the field, and that’s just half the fight. Creating a chance to make a goal, and making the goal itself, is a whole other battle unto itself. Some would argue that soccer is an artistic game, and I would agree. I’m not much of a soccer fan, I myself prefer basketball, but watching a soccer player handles a ball with his feet, head, and chest is something amazing altogether. Then there is the moment when a team approaches its opponent’s goal, when a player gets so close and everyone holds their breath thinking “Is there a chance? Is he gonna make it?” A typical soccer game ends with scores such as 0-0, 1-0, 2-1, 1-3. Goals are so rare in the game that every time, and literally EVERY time, a ball crosses the goal line, the team and its supporters wildly explode in jubilation. This rarity of goals contributes to why only a handful of Americans watch soccer. In 90 minutes there could be only one goal, or even no goals, and that’s just too slow.

Second of all, commercially, specifically on TV, soccer isn’t a good venue for advertisements. This is because the rules of soccer do not allow any timeouts.. Furthermore, the game clock never stops. When a foul happens and players fall down, argue with the refs, the game clock continues. If a ball isn’t in play for 60 seconds, then 60 seconds will be added to the “stoppage time” or the “injury” time. This is a segment of time added to the end of the game. For example, if 90 minutes have passed, but someone was injured and it took 5 minutes to take care of him, then the game will run for 5 minutes more. Thus there are no breaks in a game of soccer, and no breaks means no time for commercials.

The 2006 World Cup in Germany has so far seen far more American fans than anyone expected, but the numbers are still relatively low. I hope someday will come to embrace soccer even more than it already has so it can truly be a game that brings the whole world together. Here’s a fact you could ponder upon: the country of has been torn by civil war since 2002. This West African country is participating in the 2006 World Cup, and it is its first ever appearance in the world stage of soccer. This event created a team known as the Elephants, which is made of a mix of players from different ethnic and religious groups. Miraculously, this myriad of a team has united the nation, and the opposing sides agreed to a cease-fire. Can you name any other game that brought peace in a time of war?

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