World Cup Fever
When the World Cup began a month ago, my main interest in the event was how well Brazil could host an international sporting event. Whether Brazil could successfully put on the World Cup safely for the spectators would go a long ways towards Malinda and me deciding to go to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Over the last four weeks, however, my interest in soccer (futbol) has grown tremendously. I’ve loved following the games and reading up on the nuances and intricacies of this “beautiful” game.
Being just four time zones from Brazil made viewing games very easy – one game at 9:00 A.M. and a second one at 1:00 P.M. Our maintenance staff had all the games on the plasma screen in the school dining hall. I even met friends at a sports bar to watch a game and watched another in a hotel lobby with family. The convenience and social aspect of following the World Cup were winning me over.
Of course I was cheering for the USA team but all the pre-World Cup hype of being in the “group of death” made me think it was going to be a short lived run at this year’s World Cup for the Americans. That all changed after watching the Portugal game. It was an exciting game and as a soccer rube, I have to admit, the increased scoring at this year’s World Cup (thanks to the new ball, the Brazuca) has helped keep me interested. The agony of Portugal’s tying goal in the fourth minute of injury time only increased my passion.
Soon I was downloading the IAAF and Watch ESPN apps. I was studying up on the Group Play tie-breaking rules (goal differential BEFORE head-to-head). I watched more “I Believe That We Will Win” videos than I care to admit. I participated in social media, using the hashtag #USMNT and posting things in anticipation of the Germany game.
Even the loss to Germany did not dampen my excitement. The USA was on to the knockout stage! I started reading futbol websites in between my visits to LetsRun and the USATF Rewards page. The Five Thirty Eight website is chalk full of statistical analysis. Stats and numbers? Like track? I believe that you should sign me up! I was not and still am not an expert on the sport, but I was enjoying pretending to be one.
The USA-Belgium game was such a rollercoaster. The drama reminded me of the Olympic Trials 5000 meter race when Kim Conley came from behind to grab the last qualifying spot to London. And that Tim Howard guy?! Sixteen saves! I didn’t need a website to tell me it was a performance for the ages. Then reading more about Tim Howard and how he’s battled Tourette’s syndrome made me respect him and his performance even more.
Although the USA was eliminated, my interest did not wane. With each passing game bringing us closer to crowning the champion, the tension for the teams grew as did my excitement for the drama that was about to unfold.
The quarterfinal game between the Netherlands and Costa Rica was a great battle between two teams that didn’t want to lose. In the final minute of extra time, the Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal replaced his goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul. It seemed like a strange substitution to me. The announcers said that Krul was two inches taller than Cillessen and thus had a larger arm span to block penalty kicks. This fascinated me. What a great idea…if it works. And it did!
I have grown up following baseball, where the “closer” is the relief pitcher specialist used only to protect a lead in the ninth inning. World, meet Tim Krul, the first penalty kick goalie specialist. Maybe in a few years, every team will have a goalie specialist for penalty kicks. I can see how it is a slightly different skill set to defend the goal in the course of the game when you have to track multiple players (including your own team) and the ball; versus defending the goal against a single player taking a penalty kick from a known location. The fact that Krul “talked a little trash” to get in the heads of his opponents only made this more interesting. Yes, my Google searches for Tim Krul approached my Google searches for “I Believe That We Will Win” videos.
The semi-final games were certainly a contrast. One history making blowout and one scoreless draw that came down to penalty kicks. All I can say about the Germany-Brazil game is this graphic sums it up pretty well (and humorously, too).
As for the Argentina-Netherlands game, I don’t understand why van Gaal didn’t save a substitution so he could put in Krul. I’ve been looking for the message board on WhoScored so I can post a critical comment about this (anonymously, of course).
But now it’s all over (congratulations, Germany!). And I am left wondering, what to do with myself? What will I do with the this extra time now that I’m not watching games in the middle of the day? Not listening to podcasts and reading blogs about the World Cup? Fortunately, cross country season is right around the corner and there’s a Diamond League meet in Monaco on Friday.