Tuesday, June 13, 2006

My Cup Runneth Over

Every four years, Americans greet the World Cup with a yawn and the pundits respond with a quadrennial chastisement of the U.S. citizenry. Seems everyone else on the planet is Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs over soccer—excuse me, futbol—while we xenophobic philistines in the U.S. of A. fail to find the sport remotely appealing. We’d rather watch a bunch of drug addicts grope their crotches and spit sunflower seeds.

This year, I vowed to strike a blow against isolationism.

My path to conversion:

Step 1: FIFA (think NFL) has enlisted no less than God, er Bono, to shill for the World Cup. The U2 frontman narrates a 60-second TV ad featuring a montage of geographically diverse World Youth from every continent, but mostly Africa because that’s Bono’s favorite. While the kids, and a few Burka-clad women, gleefully cavort, bouncing a soccer ball off their feet and heads (but not their hands, because then that would be Rugby, I think), Bono informs us that the World Cup “gives people everywhere something to hope for.” Like human rights, I take it. “Once every four years, it does the impossible: It closes the schools. It closes the shops. It closes the city. IT STOPS A WAR.” I thought this Nobel-wannabe had overshot the mark just a tad until I read elsewhere that Ivory Coast has called a truce in its three-year-old civil conflict because the country’s team qualified for its first World Cup. Heck, the World Series can’t even unite New Yorkers behind the Yankees. If Jesus, er Bono, doesn’t get a Peace Prize for this voice over, damn it, FIFA deserves one.

Step 2: Sport’s Illustrated’s 2006 FIFA World Cup insert. I don’t care that it’s basically an ad for ABC/ESPN—this is the coolest thing ever. It’s like an Advent Calendar if Chris Berman were in charge of Christmas, with each of its 32 windows hiding a team profile underneath what I gather is the corresponding nation’s official Cup coat of arms—at least that’s my interpretation of the graphics, although they could be a symbology exam proctored by Robert Langdon. (Seriously, Japan, your bird has wide-tooth combs for wings. Are you planning on detangling your opponents?) Once I unlocked the first window—hola, Costa Rica, “proud spoiler”—I was hooked and didn’t stop until I reached Tunisia.

Step 3: England vs. Paraguay. Yes, David Beckham is as pretty as advertised.

Step 4: Sweden vs. Who Cares. Yes, Sweden is a team of Beckhams (I offer captain Olof Mellberg, above, as Exhibit A).

Step 5: The U.S. vs. Czech Republic. Here, I nearly faltered. We lost our opener 3-0, an inauspicious start that doesn’t bode well for advancing past the first round. I am trying really hard to care—work with me boys.

My FIFA Advent Calendar suggested I might need a back-up favorite. Much as I would love to jump on the Trinidad and Tobago Cinderella story bandwagon (and if you’re not familiar with T&T, you haven’t watched enough Miss Universe pageants), I selected as alternates the homelands of my assorted great-grandparents: Germany, Czech Republic and Switzerland. Which horse to back into the finals?

Doc’s Sports Service (“30 Years of Handicapping”) puts Germany’s chances at 7 to 1. They’re also the host country—I don’t think they need my support.

The Czech Republic, the less spellable half of the country formerly known as Czechoslovakia, is listed at 25 to 1 and “likely to tighten.” Honestly, I’m not sure if my roots are Czech or Slovak. Should I love or hate this team? Or make like Switzerland and remain neutral?

At 100 to 1, the Swiss are more than an underdog. I prefer my dark horses just a shade lighter.

Which brings me back to Sweden (40 to 1). Which I believe I mentioned is loaded with hotties. So Sweden it is.

And therein I believe I have solved FIFA’s conundrum vis-a-vis getting Americans to give a rat’s ass about their little tournament: Sell it to women.

Hook the ladies with a little T&A:

Time. Sisters know that in NFL and NBA parlance, “But honey, there’s only two minutes left” translates as “dinner’s gonna get cold, the movie will start without us and that baby better not be in a hurry to be born.” Soccer matches last 90 minutes give or take halftime and the clock never stops ticking—no time outs, no “icing” the place kicker, no confabs between players and coaches that could be summed up as “we need to score more points.” Girls, you might not even need a bathroom break.

Abs. When it comes to the six-pack, football players drink 'em, futbol players have 'em. These guys are fit and they’re not afraid to flaunt it. The pantaloons favored by basketball players hit below the knee—I’ve seen sexier hemlines at Talbot’s. Futbol players got legs, and they know how to showcase them—their shorts fall to the middle of their muscular thighs, their socks caress their finely toned calves. Baseball players lose points for donning hats and helmets, who knows what horrors lurk beneath? Futbol players are coiffed just this side of Queer Eye.

And correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t players rip their shirts off when they win the Cup? Hey FIFA, there’s your 2010 Advent Calendar.


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