Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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World Cup fever: This too shall pass

What? We're all soccer fans now?

I don't think so. We are a steak-and-potatoes people, and soccer is still some foo-foo dish smothered in hollandaise sauce and served with a wedge of soft cheese. We dress up and order it now and then to give the impression we're continental and cultured, but we'd rather wear jeans and eat a burger.

Wrap the American flag around it, though, and soccer is a whole different story. And that's fine. We are nothing if not patriotic, and the United States' victory over Algeria on Wednesday was indeed monumental.

The United States won its World Cup group with ties against England and Slovenia and the win over Algeria. Next up is Ghana. If we sent tanks into a few of those countries at daybreak, the war would be over by tea time. (I think; I'll have to check with General McChrystal to be sure.)

But those are countries that take soccer seriously, and the World Cup is their Super Bowl, World Series, and Stanley Cup - it's their war - wrapped into one marathon tournament.

By comparison, and regardless of how many kiddies are kicking the ball around at Pacesetter Park on Saturday mornings, we don't begin to take soccer seriously. Coupled with the dramatic way it ended, Wednesday's victory by the United States was so shocking, in fact, that the story was on the front pages of newspapers, including this one, from coast to coast.

But if the Americans had lost or tied, thus failing to advance, we would have cursed a couple rotten calls, flipped over to a soap opera, and started planning dinner. Hold the hollandaise, please. In other words, we would have moved on, and rather quickly at that.

The vast majority of us are not soccer fans because a match can last 90 minutes (or something like that) and end with the score tied at 0-0. It's not a matter of inaction; the action is endless and often furious and strategic and, to some, a thing of beauty. But most of us like touchdowns and walk-off homers and 3-pointers at the buzzer, and, heck, with soccer we don't even know for sure when the buzzer is going to sound. Would it be so hard to stop the clock when a goal is scored or someone is injured? I guess it is part of the game's charm.

And, yes, there are those who find it charming. My friend Marisa is one of them. If Cameroon were playing Denmark at 4 a.m., she'd set her alarm for 3:30, dress in one of the team's colors, and pace in front of the TV, blowing on her vuvuzela and screaming until she was hoarse.

Marisa was working Wednesday and couldn't watch the United States win. But she recorded it on her TV and surreptitiously listened to it live on the radio. Soccer on the radio? Good grief.

Marisa at first opined that 60 percent of Americans are soccer fans. She thought about it for a few minutes and said, "I'm delusional; make it 10 percent."

It has been an interesting World Cup, even for the other 90 percent. The French team mutinied against its coach, who is a nut job. If France's team was bad, you should have caught the foul a French ref called against a Brazilian star, suspended for a match after being red-carded when an Ivory Coast sandbagger played dead after a love tap to the chest. It made that astounding no-goal call against the United States in its tie with Slovenia look like a minor oversight.

We learned that Algeria's team was nicknamed The Desert Foxes; that Greece is known as The Pirate Ship, and that Benin's team is called The Squirrels. More importantly, perhaps, we learned that there is a country called Benin.

We also got a sense as to what this all means in other parts of the world. When a Nigerian midfielder kicked at a Greek, drawing a red card and a match suspension, he received more than 1,000 e-mailed death threats … from his own countrymen.

Now that's serious. Troubling and serious.

And, now, we will be serious too.

Tomorrow, the United States vs. Ghana will be the Yankees-Red Sox or the Lakers-Celtics. Marisa won't be alone watching and cheering. For one more day, at least, we'll borrow the sport from the rest of the world and make it ours.

Wave the stars and stripes.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

or 419-724-6398.

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