An American’s guide to the World Cup Pt 3

This is a continuation of a multi-part series of blog posts about the excitement of the World Cup. For the previous posts, click here:

Part 1

Part 2

If you're American and just can't see what all the fuss is about regarding the World Cup, here are three more points to consider.

3: (Mostly) Non-violent Patriotic competition.

In human history there have been few times when Patriotic competition didn't come to some sort of blows.

But the World Cup is all about watching the very best of the best take part in a sporting competition and for the most part, fans come together and enjoy the camaraderie and competition that it brings. At no other time in your life can you go into a bar or restaurant and sit across the table from someone of a different nationality and each of you have different teams you're cheering for, but not be aggravated with one another. Last World Cup when the US played England, I was working with a British man at the time and we enjoyed friendly smack talking, and joking back and forth, watching our teams compete.

In it's own way, for the majority of people, the World Cup is a time when the world sets aside its differences for the sake of a game.

If only we did that more often, perhaps everyone would stop killing each other.

4: Grasp what "WORLD CUP" really means.

The only thing comparable to the World Cup is probably the Olympics, but there is one vital difference. The Olympics (for all of its impressive feats of athleticism) is still made up mostly of amateurs. Even the pros that are allowed to compete usually have age limits associated with them.

But the World Cup is the very best of professional players from each country, playing against the very best from the other countries. It is literally the cream of the crop competing against one another.

Consider what that means for a moment. In all of England where there are literally THOUSANDS of professional teams, they pick 23 players to represent their country on the world's stage. Spain, Germany, The Netherlands, USA, Mexico, Uruguay, Brazil, all these countries take the very best players at the peak of their performance to enter the tournament.

And then you play a GRUELING schedule of a series of games, one after another in the oppressive heat and humidity of the jungle day after day until one final champion is crowned the very best in the world.

No other sporting competition compares, nor can it bring the talent to bear like the World Cup.

For reference I would point the casual observer to Robin Van Persie's goal against Spain as an example of a player at the peak of his performance on the world stage delivering an awe inspiring display.
5: Try to understand the value of a tie (or draw).

I've already explained that Soccer is much like Chess. While the latter stages of the tournament are knockout in nature (winner advances, loser leaves, no ties), the group stages often confound American fans who are used to all games (football, baseball, hockey) ending in a winner and a loser. There seems to be something about us Americans that is wired to require a victor.

But there are two reasons why a draw has value.

A: Giant Killers.
Consider American baseball for a moment. What do teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, and other bottom tier teams do in the league? While they might have a decent season every now and then, by and large they are there to provide a win for teams with higher payrolls, and therefore higher expectations.

But in the World Cup, those bottom tier teams can fight for a draw, and to them, it's nearly as good as a win.

Let's be honest. Consider group B in the World Cup made up of Spain, The Netherlands, Chile and Australia. At the beginning of the tournament if a person said Chile would get out of their group and advance to the knockout stages, you would have been laughed at. Spain and the Netherlands were the Yankees, and Red Sox of that group.

But now that the Netherlands beat Spain, Chile and the Netherlands both have 3 points. If Chile can get a draw against Spain, they could likely advance in the tournament. Suddenly this tournament has some serious excitement if you are a Chilean fan!

While Chile are still long odds to actually win the tournament, who is to say they cannot advance to the semi or quarter finals? Now a draw fits into the game plan of the Giant Killer.

B: The long vision.

If you put a Chess champion into a tournament and told him to win every match without sacrificing a single pawn, he would laugh at you. Impossible he would say, just as he adjust his beret and pipe!

As a National Team Manager, you have to maintain a long view of getting out of your group into the knockout stages, then evaluate each game you play in the context of what strategy will give you the best chances of winning.

Take Jurgen Klinsmann for example, the USA's men's National Team coach. He is smack dab in the middle of the Group of Death with German, Portugal and Ghana.
You can bet he is planning on at LEAST one draw to give him a point because the likelihood of his boys beating Ghana, Portgal and Germany is a long shot at best.

I would guess his strategy is simple. Win against Ghana, Draw against Portugal, fight for a draw (but likely lose) to Germany. In the end 4 points might get you out of the group. Especially with Germany demolishing Portugal on Monday.

Along with the long vision required for the group stages of the tournament, the group stages provide something that is unique to Soccer tournaments, the fact that nearly all the games mean something.

Consider England. Today they play Costa Rica, and by all accounts it should be a consolation match. However Costa Rica want to win their group, and Uruguay and Italy have to fight it out to advance. Suddenly every single match in this group has meaning. Can football or baseball boast the same? Most teams by the midway point in the season have nothing to play for. Not here.

JSS

 

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