It’s all over now. Let’s begin again.


Germany 3 – Uruguay 2.

The third place death match (tm JW, so don’t go trying to steal it), was a game in which every player on the pitch attempted to win the golden boot (the trophy for most goals scored in the tourney) single handedly. The first half was held in a downpour, with Ian Darke making Rolling Stones references (and solidifying himself as the excitable yin to Martin Tyler’s dignified yang), Germany scoring one goal in a wave of Black shirts striking at will and the Uruguayans not going home to die. It was like watching the NFL in the snow or the rain: the weather makes everything interesting. Players were getting extra chances due to the extremely patched up turf, the slippery jubalani, soaked goalkeepers gloves and their own un-enforced will. At the half it was a 1-1 struggle, with the promise of more.

And more there was. Uruguay starts off the second half firing missiles at the goal, making it 2-1 minutes in. Germany fires back with an INSANE header, tying it up as the African crowd turns pro-German and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez gets booed out of the building for the handball that broke Ghana in their previous match. Ever hear thousands of people boo a guy? It sounds EVIL; whenever Suarez touched, passed or even got near the ball the boos drowned out the vuvuzelas to the point in which Ian Darke began to get actively pissed, saying things like (and I’m paraphrasing his unique delivery) “it’s not as if Suarez ran over Ghana with his car”.

The game had a feeling of the NBA All Star rookie game: Lots of players who used it as a showcase of their skill rather than defense. EVERYONE got a shot at scoring, there were little to no fouls called and the Death Match went on until Germany pulled ahead in the 86th minute with an insane header, leaving Uruguay’s Diego Forlan to try and save the game with a last second strike that clanged off the bar (karmic justice, as Ghana were bounced on a similar situation). Germany is YOUR third place winner, Uruguay comes in the surprise 4th place, and everything appears to be everything.

Spain 1 – Netherlands 0

We start out with the VIDEO PACKAGE OF EMOTION from ABC, and someone spent some money because Don Cheadle narrated it. It’s the last game in a tournament that goes on every four years, this time in the most unique (and potentially risky) setting imaginable. South Africa was noisy, full of character, suspect, interesting, weird, great and unexpected. Who would have thought that the end would have included Holland and Spain, two teams who have never won a World Cup? Who would have thought that almost every big star would not show up? Who would have thought that FIFA would decide to create a ball that no one could reliably strike at any heightened rate of speed? ALL THIS AND MORE FOR YOUR WORLD CUP FINAL!!

The first half was some tightly called, dirty played soccer. The Dutch (who’ve always had the rumor of playing very rough and dirty) looked to spike, karate kick and sweep the Spanish into submission, with the strategy of “they can’t win if we hurt them all” coming into full effect. Spain attempted to play “Playstation football”, with paper-cut like passing and a few runs, but overall the first half consisted of two teams just feeling each other out. It was exciting in a soccer way, but not necessarily in a mass populous type of way. Sometimes when the stakes are this high the product on the field will suffer, and it somewhat did in the first half.

It was 57 minutes in when I realized that it was all gone to shit. Here is a sampling of what I wrote during the game:

“Too many yellow cards, too much flopping, rolling around, over selling, no chances to score. When we got to the point in which we learned that Puyol wears his hair in that caveman style because he is self conscious about his ears I knew it was done. In with a bang, out with a whimper. Even when Holland’s Robbins had an elusive, scarce break-away you knew it wasn’t going anywhere. It’s like watching an NBA game where the teams want to win so badly they spend the entire game getting to the line. For a storyline that the announcers pushed hard (“everyone’s waiting for someone to make one big mistake”) it was the fact that there were 5,000 small mistakes that made it un-rhythmic and less than beautiful.”

Once it got to extra time I had assumed it would go to penalties. in the 116th minute, a Holland team playing with 10 men (and gathering enough fouls to have fewer yet), they succumbed as Andres Iniesta scores, does the running, shirt taking off celebration while the fun was swallowed whole by the Dutch complaining of off sides (didn’t happen) and Iniesta getting yellow carded for the shirt removal. It was a 1-0 victory, Spain’s usual game, Holland’s unusual game and everyone went home feeling a bit underwhelmed. Sorry America, soccer will try and do better next time.

Where to go From Here:

Regardless of that game, it is entirely feasible that some of you who read this may have turned off your TV’s after the World Cup final and decided that you’re going to keep this new-found interest in soccer going. You’re going to hunt down ESPN and ESPN2’s games when their shown and if you have the good cable package you’ll come across the Fox Soccer Channel. There will be a lot of leagues, new teams, new rules, new everything and it will all fee a little overwhelming as to what to choose. Allow me to help you! Here are a few leagues to be interested in:

Champions League:

Essentially the World Cup of Europe, the Champions League is referred to as the best soccer played in the world. While the World Cup provides unmatchable drama, the Champions League provides unmatchable quality, as the top four teams of all the European leagues gather together and play in a massive tournament to decide the World Champion of the continent. Imagine if you will the Yankees winning the World Series, calling themselves world champions and having baseball teams from Mexico, Dominican Republic and say, Japan disputing that. In an effort to decide the best baseball team, the Yanks (and the next three teams down in the MLB) travel all over the world, playing the best teams everywhere else. While the World Cup is the ultimate all star game, the Champions League is the ultimate TOURNAMENT, as the teams in play not only play in their own respective leagues, but have the chemistry and set up to take on everyone else. Every big star in the WC is in it and it’s your best chance to see a player you like, especially if they don’t play in the US or England.

Barclay’s Premier League:

The main sport in England, the NBA/MLB/NFL of the country. 20 teams are in it, winner takes the championship and the top four teams get into the Champions League, which makes for very interesting matchups and makes for added excitement, as even if your team doesn’t win their league they always have that shot of winning the Champions league if they finish in the top four. For added drama; if you finish in last place, you get “relegated” or demoted to the Football League, which has become the Triple A of soccer. Conversely, the 1st place team in the Football League gets promoted to the Premier League every year. Much like baseball, those who spend (and have) the most cash win, but the interesting wrinkle is the fact that unlike baseball, there are no small market teams really; any team is one ownership change/investment decision/new corporate sponsorship away from being a player. Case in point; Manchester City are the LA Clippers to Manchester United’s LA Lakers. All that changed upon being bought out by multi-millionaire Saudi businessmen. Now “The City” are players in every free agent on the market, with the rumor mill about who they would sign next growing so insane that if Lebron decided that he was going to the City next year soccer fans wouldn’t have batted an eyelash.

Major League Soccer:

The United States’ soccer league. While the quality of play and players dips from the above two leagues, the MLS remains an extremely affordable, (where else can you get season tickets for only $200?), very very fun and a surprisingly competitive feeder system to the international leagues. Currently having 16 teams (soon to be 18 by 2011 and 20 by 2012), the MLS lets you see both players on the rise, and with their upward revenue they are experiencing, older international players cashing in on the rising popularity of the sport here. While still a work in progress, the MLS has the potential to be a major player in the world scene someday while still having the purity of sport that many wish they could have in the MLB/NFL/NBA.

And now, for some goodbyes:

Goodbye Larissa (Paraguay Girl) Requelme. You have truly risen above the hundreds of other “hot girls who get their picture taken” at the World Cup. May you turn this into a hopefully not heavily airbrushed Playboy spread in the States in the near future, even while people like me have been posting your naked pictures online for weeks now.

Farewell Diego MARADONA. The coolest man in the tournament, your World Cup campaign as coach of Argentina involved telling people to suck it, running reporters over in your car, wearing ill-fitting and expensive suits, rolling with what looked like mafia hitmen as your assistant coaches, breaking up fights, trying to fight the German fans, thinking a German player was a ball boy and in general being an outstanding source of entertainment. If you spoke English, you would surely have made a guest spot on the Jimmy Kimmel show by now, but we will settle for the hope that you would make an excellent NBA coach if you had the right team and players around you.

Goodbye 30 Hot Dutch girls, for giving hope to anyone that works as a shot girl/rep for a liquor company. YOU TOO could get your face on every website for getting paid to promote alcohol if the cards fall just right.

See you later, Ghana “BLACK STAR SEX MACHINES”, for having weirdly named rap groups and for having weird fans that bring huge banners to the games. Your USA karma is now even, as you beat the US, then suffered the most painful loss ever to Uruguay the next game.

Thanks France, for falling apart in an entertaining way.

Thanks England, for also falling apart but having amazing newspapers to document it.

And thank you to all of you, who read about a sport that you at the very least were casually interested in.