Since it began a two weeks ago, Valarie and I have been watching World Cup matches virtually every day. Each night I program the VCR, and then we watch them the following evening – or at least part of them. Here is a game diary from the first week:
June 9: Germany looks dominating even without captain/star Michael Ballack, who’s headed to English Premiere League champs Chelsea this fall. Part of me wants to root for Germany because many of my ancestors came from there. But I don’t like it how the home team has already won the World Cup numerous times before—including Germany in 1974. Although to be fair, that’s how my favorite team, England, got their title in 1966.
In the other opening-night game, Ecuador surprises Poland, which turns out not to be so much of a surprise when I find out that Ecuador has previously beaten Brazil and Argentina this year. It’s also cool to see because my aunt Barbara lived in Ecuador in the Peace Corps in the early 1970s. (She actually returned there this month with my mom to visit my Barb’s daughter Christa, who was studying there for a semester.) Plus, the Central and South American teams particularly seem to play a pretty kind of soccer, with great passing and dribbling.
June 10: England beats Paraguay, but only 1-0. And the goal was actually scored by Paraguay! England has got to play better if they’re to have any chance of winning the cup. I just don’t get it. This is probably the most talented side England has had since its Cup win 40 years ago, but they just don’t ever seem to play that well. Is it the coach, or is it that there are too many chefs and not enough cooks?
Also, after sleeping late, I wake up and come into the living room where Valarie is watching Trinidad & Tobago and Sweden in the 80th minute of what would remain a scoreless draw. T&T is the smallest nation ever to play in the World Cup. This is awesome! After time runs out they’re celebrating the draw like they’d won the whole thing. But why not? Watching this team also makes me think countless times of Elaine Benis on Seinfeld saying of the marathoner from T&T staying at her place, ‘He’s Trinidadian…and Tobagan.’
The Argentina-Ivory Coast matchup was of great interest, because the former team is one of the favorites to win it all, and the latter has the excellent striker Didier Drogba, whom Valarie and I know from Chelsea, where he plays. Actually, on the Argentine side is one of Chelsea’s other best goal scorers, Hernan Crespo, who opens scoring with a first-half goal. La Cote D’Ivoire loses this one, but they look capable of beating another team on another day.
It’s also interesting seeing the different countries’ uniforms, most of which seem to be designed by Nike, Adidas or Puma. I love how Puma has outfitted lots of the African countries making their World Cup debuts. But putting the logo on each of the shoulders in addition to the chest looks crass. What is this, Nascar?
June 11: The day starts well with Holland, another country I’m rooting for (more family ancestry, plus I love their liberalism and great design), defeating Serbia & Montenegro. Incidentally, I’d like to see Serbia & Montenegro play Trinidad and Tobago in a dual-country-team showdown. Unfortunately I screw up taping this morning's 6AM Holland match. I set the VCR for 6PM!
Instead, we watch Mexico defeat Iran. It makes me think of our friend Rosie, whose family came from Mexico and whom I remember saying she was nervous about this game. Luckily Omar Bravo and company win, although they lose a key player to injury. Later, I also catch a little bit of Portugal’s defeat of Angola. Angola’s symbol is a hammer and sickle. Are they really still Communist? How cute!
June 12: I watch the US versus the Czech Republic, which the US loses pretty definitively. Pavl Nedved seems to be running circles around us even in his late 30s. Good striker? Czech! But I’m not too bummed about the US losing. I don’t wish them any ill will, but I much prefer rooting for England. I actually feel uncomfortable rooting for my own country because then it becomes an extension of patriotism. And since September 11, all the most overtly patriotic people here end up being the ones I disagree with politically. Besides, the US dominates in a lot of other sports. The world would really hate us if we became the best at soccer.
June 13: I’m excited to see France versus Switzerland because my favorite soccer player, Thierry Henry of Arsenal, is French and starts for the team. But France, despite having a ton of great players, plays too cautiously. And the team seems to suffer from its commitment to still starting the aging Zinedine Zidane, who won the World Cup for France (another home team) in 1998. But Switzerland also has an excellent defense and great organization—like a Swiss watch! How appropriate that the 0-0 score is essentially neutral.
I also watch some of Brazil and Croatia, which Brazil wins but not so impressively at 1-0. Are they really the overwhelming favorite? Maybe England’s opening victory isn’t so bad after all.
June 14: An avalanche of writing deadlines means I’m not able to watch much of the games, but in the evening on tape I watch a little of Spain’s decisive victory over Ukraine. Spain has long been a disappointing team in the World Cup given their breadth of talent, but maybe this year they’ll finally put it together to at least make it to a late round. Certainly the ability seems there in this impressive win.
June 15: England plays another disappointing game, albeit getting another win, against Trinidad & Tobago. The score is 0-0 into the 70th minute or so when England gets one and then another goal in quick succession. But the good news is that one of their best players, Wayne Rooney, is back from a broken leg. He’s a superb scorer and passer at just 19, although not a handsome guy. A co-worker of Valarie’s was dead-on in describing him as “part mongrel”. But if England wins it all, I think the mongrel will need to be knighted.