Tuesday, June 06, 2006

World Cup 2006: How Could 300 Million Americans Be Wrong?*

I can think of just three places on the world stage where the United States is an underdog: The United Nations, Iraq and soccer’s World Cup. We don’t do well as underdogs, if our collective opinion of Iraq and the U.N. are any guide. And when it begins in Germany on Friday, English-as-the-only-language fans this side of the Rio Grande will make a point of treating the World Cup as a foot fungus infesting the television universe for a month. Ridiculing the World Cup is such a point of national pride that the Wall Street Journal eight years ago felt compelled to defend the event in an editorial: “Fans of what is the world’s most popular sport tend not to walk out on it for long stretches, not when victory is defined by scores of 1-0 or 2-1. For this, soccer is routinely ridiculed by sportswriters in the U.S., who are stupid. If they weren’t stupid, they wouldn’t mock soccer.”

A game boasting a few billion fans doesn’t need defenders. Soccer thrives with or without the United States. But it’s a pity that a nation so compulsively appreciative of sports is so contemptuous of the king of sports — just because it hasn’t found a way to dominate it. A pity this year especially. The American team in Germany is the best ever assembled by the United States for a World Cup. (That semi-final finish in Uruguay in 1930 doesn’t count: It was the first World Cup, you could count the number of countries involved on two hands, and the Latin American host was probably scared that, true to form, the United States would invade if it wasn’t allowed an honorable showing.) As bad luck has it this time around, the Americans landed in the most difficult of eight groups for the initial stage of the competition, drawing Italy and the Czech Republic — both of them soccer Godzillas — along with Ghana. Still, with a little well-deserved misfortune for the dull and corruption-trailing Italian team and Ghana obliging as a sacrificial lamb, the Americans have a chance of making it out of the Group of Death and all the way to the semis again. (Nutty, sentimental prediction: they will.) Read the rest of the column...

(*) Perhaps for the same reason that 62 million Americans could be so catastrophically wrong.