Friday, June 25, 2010
Thank God It Only Happens Every 4 Years!
Not that I don't like the World Cup - quite the contrary. I love it. Perhaps too much. But, as we saw with the Germans 4 years ago when they hosted, it is great to look around this City and seeing people wearing the red, white, and blue - boldly and proudly - for once.
France is out. Italy is out (and good riddance to both of them). England was very nearly out. The USA has made two thrilling comebacks - even with horrible calls going against them. The football world has been turned on its head in this cup, and it's been quite entertaining.
The big story lines this time around are the collapse of the European powers, the no-show on the part of the African teams, and the dominance of the South (and North) Americans.
In the USA, I have been very encouraged by the turnouts and support of the people here, even in America-hating San Francisco. In previous Cups, you sometimes had to work to find a place to watch the games. Not so this time; it seems that every single bar in the City that can open at 7 am is open, and they are packed.
I was sick with a stomach flu for the England game, which put a damper on my plans to watch it on the Jumbotron at AT&T Park. Several thousand non-puking SFers did make it there and had a good time. I'll put a video up when I can.
For the Slovenia match I braved the Lower Haight's famous Mad Dog - which was a soccer bar long before it was cool to be one - to hang out with crazy American soccer fans packed in a standing room only space to watch a great comeback. The place went absolutely nuts when the USA won the game (okay... should have won the game, but the goal was disallowed by the lame-ass referee).
Evil has a name, and it is Koman Coulibaly.
Wednesday was another early day... at the bar at 6:30. This time it was Yancy's in the Inner Sunset - the huge space, lots of screens, and chairs to sit in came as a welcome contrast to the Mad Dog, though they're both good in their own way. It might have been a more sedate atmosphere, but the place still erupted when Landon Donovan finally exorcised the demons of the awful American performance of 2006 in the 91st minute.
The first match showed that sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. The Algeria match proved that - much more often - it's better to be good than lucky.
This World Cup comes at a critical point in a lot of ways for international football. Playing for ones country is still a great honor, if you play for, say, North Korea, or some of the smaller, newer European countries, or some of the powerhouse South American teams. But more and more you see some teams (France... I'm looking at you) where the players really don't seem to care.
The way it used to be was that international football was a big step up from club football, because you would take the best members of your country's clubs, who were mostly - if not totally - made up of your fellow countrymen. Nowadays, with the pro leagues being opened up, when Manchester United and Arsenal can field a team with virtually no English players, when Athletico Madrid or Barcelona can field a team with virtually no Spanish players, then what does an international match mean? For many players, it represents a step down from what they are used to. And they play like it.
But then, this is the theme of the great coming war, isn't it? World War III - if and when it does come - will be a war about identity. It will be a culture war - a war of preservation of culture in the face of those who would murder it - for the sake of profit or for the sake of (anti-) humanism. And this war will be international - it will be global. A war between those who value culture, who value identity, who value humanity and the differences which make it so interesting and lively, and those who don't.
I am really looking forward to the rest of the tournament. The French were terrible and they will not be missed. The Italians, too, played about 15 good minutes of football in this entire tournament, and their 15 minutes are up. Both of them deserved to go home, and it's nice for a change to see these two not given an automatic berth to the second round.
Saturday's game against Ghana will be awesome! 11:30 am PST on ABC, or in my case, at Yancy's. It's not going to be easy, but it is doable. Ghana has been the only African team out of 6 that didn't fail to get out of the group stage, and the South African crowd will be solidly behind them. We'll be the hated underdogs once again. But then we are the USA; we've played in hostile matches against some of the worst anti-American fans in the world... from Guatemala City, to Mexico City, to the most hostile place of all for American soccer - Los Angeles.
So here's my cheer for the USA (with apologies to Millwall FC...)
"No one likes us
No one likes us
No one likes us
We don't care!
We're the Yankees
We're the Yankees