Originally written for eVent! [ep] magazine on 06/15/06.
While Canadians haave been glued to their televisions hoping against hope that the Edmonton Oilers can hold on for another game, and America is debating the results of Shaq's elbow, the rest of the world watched the kick off of the World Cup. The beautiful game. That's right, soccer. And it's war.
Well it's not literally war, it's soccer or football as everyone else in the world calls it. However since it is being held in Germany this year so the war gets mentioned a lot. As I write this I'm watching the match between Germany and Poland and the commentators have mentioned the Second World War at least three times. A song the English fans visiting Germany for the tournament, which gets used anytime the teams meet, is centred around the chant "One World Cup and Two World Wars" referencing the fact that while Germany have won more World Cups, England apparently make up for that by having won two World Wars.
Fan violence has been relatively non-existent at this tournament, and reports seem to be that the Germans have been incredibly tolerant about constant references to Hitler and National Socialism, and so the focus has been on the soccer. I mean football. And boy what football it has been.
Okay some of the games have been disappointments. Brazil, widely considered to be the favorites, a typically high scoring team fought to a 1-0 win against Croatia, and showed none of the high scoring skills that made them the centre of Nike's summer shoe sales campaign. England are missing star striker Wayne Rooney through injury and after taking a 1-0 lead against a weaker Paraguay, sat back and defended the lead with their lives. France, formerly considered the best team in the world and boasting such talents as Zidane, Henry, Vieira and the young star Ribéry only managed to tie Switzerland in a goalless affair. (France hasn't scored in a World Cup since they won in 1998). In fact only Australia, in their first ever World Cup, and Spain have managed to be particularly exciting.
Which is not to excuse you if you have not been watching the games. The World Cup is the world's premier sporting tournament and draws fans from all continents. Very few make the trek from Antarctica, however after watching those penguins make their way across the snow I wouldn't put it against a few of them reaching Germany to watch the final.
Of course being told that everyone else is doing something is how kids are convinced to smoke and do drugs, so the argument that all the cool countries are watching the World Cup never seems to carry much weight. However this time, unlike when we were tricked into using the metric system, the rest of the world might be onto something. Derided as a boring low scoring affair, soccer might lack the high-speed tempo of hockey, however there are moments of sublime brilliance to which no other sport can compare.
Not convinced that soccer can offer the sort of thrills that make getting up early in the morning to watch a bunch of non-Canadians beat another bunch of non-Canadians? My advice, go to YouTube (www.youtube.com) and search with the terms "Bergkamp" and "Newcastle" to see a sublime example of how incredible soccer can be. Having done that and still at YouTube search for the phrase "BBC best goals World Cup" and now you'll be salivating at the chance to watch some soccer.
Of course directing you to watch video clips on the internet is an entirely unsatisfactory way to end an article. The sheer force of my words, my logic and the little photo of me up at the start of the article, should be able to convince you to put off housework and focus on watching the beautiful game but it's a hard thing to translate into words.
The fact is with the possible exception of hockey players, soccer plays are the finest athletes in the world. They have speed, endurance and amazing reflexes. To watch England's David Beckham bend a free kick into the goal or France's Thierry Henry waltz past four defenders before tapping the ball home is to watch the finest examples of human physical achievement.
Football isn't war, no matter how many references the commentators or fans might want to make. If anything soccer is a sport that unites the world in a way that nothing else does. In this tournament you have neutral Switzerland and belligerent Iran. To be able to watch the best in the world play it, as we are lucky enough to do every for years, is a treat. If we're lucky the 2006 World Cup will truly be a demonstration of football as the world's one true beautiful game.