Today, as it happens, I was able to watch the all-important game between the United States and Germany, in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It was all-important, that is, for the United States to end the game with a draw, or with a win, in order to advance to the next stage of the contest. It was not particularly important to Germany at all (I think) as they had sufficient points to progress whatever the result. And in the end, it wasn’t important to the United States either, because even though they lost the game by a score of one goal to zero, they still advanced to the next stage, thanks to a beneficial result in another game being played simultaneously, between Portugal and Ghana.
And it was exciting, let me tell you, watching the United States team grab that glorious defeat which propelled them onwards to perhaps even greater glories in the future.
I was trying to get into the spirit of the game. I really was. Although a U.S. citizen and resident, yours truly was raised substantially on the other side of the Atlantic, so soccer is not an unfamiliar sport. I enjoyed (watching) it in my day, although these days baseball is the only sport I normally take time out to spectate. But either I failed to get into the spirit of the game, or I succeeded only too well and found it to be a flummoxing kind of spirit.
I confess it may well all be down to the commentary I was hearing. While many out there probably watched it on ESPN, we don’t pick up that channel from our CINCH REVIEW bunker deep beneath the island of Manhattan. Lacking that ordinary cable TV, we often have to resort to inventive arrangements to see what we may desire to see. Today, it was UNIVISION, via over-the-airwaves-rabbit-ear emanations, which provided the picture. Not being a Spanish speaker, I had to look elsewhere for some informative audio. ESPN radio was no good, being either way ahead of UNIVISION or way behind, but in either case way out of sync (and without doubt deliberately so). But it takes a lot more than that to frustrate this determined non-cable-TV subscriber. Eventually I got just what I needed: BBC Radio 5, online, providing live commentary perfectly in sync with UNIVISION’s pictures; it was not supposed to be available outside the UK but a VPN service provided a timely assist in that respect.
And the British commentators then helped me understand just how pointless was everything I was watching. It’s not that they were down on the Yanks; on the contrary, they mourned that England couldn’t play as well as the Americans (did you know the English side has won only one of their last eight World Cup matches?). It was just the constant talk of points needed to advance, and goal differentials, and the like, which sapped this poor sap’s attempt at enthusiasm for the boys in the red, white and blue (actually just plain white, for some reason, other than some fluorescent yellow and red shoes). Through much of the second half of the game—which should have been the most exciting part—the BBC commentating duo were focused as much on the other game being played at that time, between Portugal and Ghana, which was mostly tied at 1 – 1. For some reason, according to the commentators, if Ghana were to score another goal in that match, it would really “put the Americans on the knife’s edge.” But absent another goal from Ghana, the Americans were sitting pretty (even though losing to Germany by 1 to 0) and so there was no good reason for them to exert themselves. Both Germany and the U.S. should be happy with how things were going.
So I’m watching my UNIVISION (very nice picture by the way) and seeing the men on the field kicking the ball around, making at least occasional efforts to get it near the opposite side’s goal and then trying to launch it vaguely in the direction of the net, and I’m wondering: Is this true? If Ghana, in their game in some other Brazilian stadium versus Portugal, were to score another goal, would the way in which these guys are kicking around the ball change substantially? Is this basically desultory play that I am currently witnessing, and would it be made more urgent and meaningful by a goal scored in that other match?
On the face of it, it seemed completely absurd, but I had to concede that the gentlemen doing the commentary were far more knowledgeable than I on the subject of World Cup football. These were the experts, who presumably knew the game from the bottom up, at the local and national and international level. I was just some American dweeb without cable TV who was tuning in because it seemed like the thing to do on the afternoon of June 26th.
When Portugal then scored another goal against Ghana in that other game being played simultaneously, the commentators assured me that they’d observed this information being received on the American bench and disseminated appropriately. Now, the result of this game between the U.S. and Germany really didn’t matter (to the extent it may have potentially mattered before). The American players on the field were doubtless sighing in relief and saving their energy for future defeats.
It was something to be glad about, I guess, as a supporter of the U.S. World Cup soccer team, albeit, admittedly, a fair weather fan. There’s nothing like jumping on the bandwagon late in the day and glorying in a team’s hard-won success, without having put any effort in up to that point. As the referee blew his whistle for full-time, and the U.S. went down to their well-deserved one to nothing loss against the dominant German side, I was happy to raise and shake my fist in triumph.
It is a rather curious game.