Friday, June 11, 2010

It's World Cup Time!

The first two games of the World Cup are done, and if they have set the pattern for the rest of the tournament, it should be a great show.  South Africa, the host nation, could have beaten the much-vaunted Mexican team by a score of 3:1, but in the end they had to settle for a respectable draw at ones, and I think they're very happy with that. France and Uruguay didn't disappoint, either. Well, it didn't disappoint me, anyway: I want France to do poorly, as poorly as they did in 2002. The nil-nil draw, though, was satisfying, especially since the excitement level throughout the match was fairly high, with France pressuring and Uruguay looking for the counterattack.

The internet is surely already full of insightful analysis of the play, and some of it might even be worth reading. Like most of what's on the internet (excepting, naturally, this blog), a lot of the commentary out there will surely be short on reasoning, long on idiosyncratic prejudices masquerading as deep and careful thought, and generally wrongheaded. I don't intend to add to that.

I want, instead, to comment on two things that are vitally important to the billions of people who watch the matches on television: officiating and announcing.

The officiating at the 2006 World Cup was so phenomenally bad that I, a rabid soccer fan, could not bear to watch the tournament, and settled instead for reading post-match reports. I don't regret that decision: I've seen some highlights of the play at that tournament, and even if you put them all into a single ninety minutes, they don't overcome the aggravation that politically-motivated and muddled officiating provoked. The officials were generally capable men, but because FIFA dicked around with the rules and interpretations just before the tournament, the officials had to abandon their common sense and experience and toe the company line instead. It was an utter and compleat debacle.

Thank God someone at FIFA remembered that odious experience. The teams of officials in both of these first two matches did an outstanding job. I might not have given a yellow card to the Uruguayan substitute for the challenge on the French goalkeeper,* but he would still have been sent off after his very poor challenge on the French fullback later on. For the ref, it was a case of two yellows; for me, it would have been a straight red. And I might quibble with a few calls in the first match, but none of them were clearly wrong. More a matter for disputations over beer in the lounge after the match report has been filed.

Last World Cup, ESPN used some truly abominable announcers; the same crew, I think, who make the network's MLS broadcasts such a tiresome experience. This time, ESPN has wisely gone to the well and drawn up a bucket of knowledgable soccer announcers who actually talk about the match in front of them, albeit with British accents. Well, OK, the second announcer on the Uruguay-France game, Abby Mc-Something, had an accent that brought me close to using closed captioning at times, but generally you could tell what he was saying. The other three were all very easy to understand, and unlike their American counterparts, not one of them said anything really stupid through three whole hours of football. (I can pardon Mr. Ekoku, who seemed to forget how the offside rule works. But we all, from time to time, see without seeing, and apparently someone pointed out his error at halftime.)

Looks to be a really top notch World Cup this go-round.

(If you want to see the kind of drivel I describe in the second paragraph, above, go read whatever Paul Gardner writes about the England-USA match tomorrow. Whatever happens in the match, I just bet you his column will assume that England is Evil and the US is naive and easily duped. It's what he does.)

* I read after posting this that the first yellow card was for dissent, not for the goalkeeper challenge. I withdraw my criticism.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments are welcome, even the mean ones.