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World Cup 2006

I’ve never been a soccer fan, nor did I ever play it in an organized setting. Soccer was always played in the spring/summer months when I was a kid, which is when the rest of us were playing baseball. America’s pastime. I never knew a kid that played both sports. With the two seasons falling on top of each other, baseball and AYSO went together like oil and water.

Perhaps unfairly, I always regarded the soccer crowd as a bunch of hyperactive kids with bad hands who needed to burn off some steam while everybody else played baseball. I do appreciate the athleticism required to run around like a chicken with your head cut off for hours on end though. They’ve got me on that.

That said, I admittedly haven’t been investing the hundreds of hours over the last billion weeks following the World Cup spectacle, so I’m by far one of the more uninformed people on the game. I did, however, turn it on to watch the last two minutes to see Italy win it.

After that whole charade, it comes down to penalty kicks? What kind of sport is that? Something tells me I didn’t miss much.

An analogy comes to mind. Consider this:

You’re a professional baseball player. You’ve played out your 162 game season, battling it out with your division rival to nab the Wild Card despite injuries, trades, and clubhouse personal dramas.

With your well-deserved playoff spot, you go to the LDS, play a best-of-five against another team who boasts a remarkable season of their own, and win three of ’em in dramatic fashion. Nice job.

Next stop:

The LCS. Here we go. Best-of-seven, against a worthy team who just crushed their own opponent in their respective LDS series. Playing for the Pennant, it arguably doesn’t get better than this.

A great series. We go to Game 7 tied 3-3, and you win in a come-from-behind victory. You’ve won the Pennant! Congratulations! Pop the champagne and soak your buddies.

But wait. There’s more!

The World Series begins a few days later. Your pitching aces are rested, and you’re now going to face the champs of the other league. The Big Event. The Whole Enchilada. Best of seven, and you start with home field advantage. What a contest. This is what dreams are made of.

You split the first two games at home, go on the road and lose two of three on the road. You come back home down, but not out. You win Game 6 with authority. Series is tied. It comes down to the deciding game.

We go to Game 7 with your ace on the mound, rested and rearing to go, at home. Looking good. The opponent gets an early lead in the second inning, but your bats come through to tie it in the ninth! We go to extra innings!

Crowd’s on their feet all across the country. Even people who hate baseball are glued to the TV set in their neighborhood sports bar. The fate of the two teams — a true microcosm of our Dualistic society — hangs in the balance.

We play another nail-biting nine innings, no score. Wow! We go to the nineteenth inning. For the World Championship! It doesn’t get better than this.

How do you suppose we decide who wins? Here’s an idea, inspired by the World Cup:

Let’s get a game of pickle going. Winner take all.

11 comments… add one
  • jonny July 10, 2006, 2:41 pm

    or an inning of homerun derby? :)
    by far my favorite rant deelt

  • pirco July 11, 2006, 1:13 pm

    ha. the ignorance… there’s an old saying in germany “what the farmer doesn’t know, he won’t eat”.
    well, obviously, you guys don’t know about soccer. but i can’t blame you. you don’t see it on TV because it’s not a sport that can be marketed in the US: THERE ARE NO TIME-OUTS.

    so here’s a question for you: do you think that ANY of the major sports in the U.S. (basket ball, football, baseball) would be as big as they are right now if there were no time-outs? (don’t even try to come up with a “yes” answer to that, puh-LEASE). in hockey, the added a specific (red-lamp-alert) time-out so that the TV networks can play their commercials. otherwise, they wouldn’t make enough money to broadcast the games and you bet there would be even less of a fan-base.

    yeah, personally, i think it’s pretty sad that american sports is only successful because it can be commercialized. but, i’ll be honest, the trend is irreversable in europe (or the rest of the world. don’t forget, there are more soccer players on this planet than any other players. actually, even in the US there are more active soccer players than baseball (.. players?) !!!). there are now huge sums being payed by teams who purchase players. but most (if not all) soccer teams are still tied to their actual home towns. let’s put it this way: you’ll never see REAL MADRID or MANCHESTER UNITED being moved to paris or something like that. of course, that may change since most of those teams now have players from other countries.

    in any event, for full disclosure, i have to admit being a huge basket ball fan. and american football fan. in both cases, it was due to my attending games (lakers and … yes.. RAMS. you remember?? haha). the point was the whole spectacle. and, at least with basket ball, the pace and the athleticism. i simply enjoy sports. but, even after watching a base ball game, i must say that baseball only works as a sedative for me. a great way to fall asleep in front of the TV!!

    now, in response to your question about the penalty kicks: soccer is a game where goals are very precious. it may take a while for you to “get” the beauty of the game but it’s a very interesting combination of individual AND team effort. yes, you have super stars but without a solid team, those superstarts are worth nothing. and teams can play 90 minutes or 120 minutes without scoring a single goal. WHO CARES. come on, in american footbal they just upped the number. so now a touchdown scores SIX points. not that that would change the acceptance of soccer. some of the most beautiful games ever plalyed ended up in a 0:0 score.

    i guess i could argue that it’s not the goal that matters but the WAY to get there (something zen about that). but when it comes to a final game, there has to be a decision. if overtime doesn’t bring that goal, then it’s penalty kicks. the truth is that after 120 minutes of running around (like a chicken with a cut-off head, if you will), you are friggin’ TIRED. as a kid, i used to play many years. our games were two times 20 minutes (regular season games just end after regulation because it’s just acceptable to let them off in a tie. they just happen to be equally strong that day. why force a win when both teams can be happy (in the rakings, they both get a point, by the way. interesting side note: goals matter only secondary. a win counts for three points, a tie counts for one point. a loss is 0. the goal count determines the ranking at the end of the season for teams with the same number of points).

    anyway, like i said, goals are very special in a soccer game, so a penalty kick is very unusual since it most always ends up as a goal. so in a way it’s the reverse in that it, out-of-a-sudden, becomes very special if the ball does NOT go into the net.

    in the end, this might just be a cultural difference. let me then say that i’m grateful for having experienced the different culture of american sports. even though i love to watch basketball, i couldn’t get the ball in if shaquile himself would hold me up right to the basket. at the same time, i had sweaty hands during all the germany games (in all the world cups dating back to 1974!!) and can assure you that it’s the most entertaining game.

    maybe you need to attend a soccer game to understand. it certainly helped me getting into football.


  • jaced.com July 11, 2006, 1:27 pm

    Um… baseball has no traditional time-outs either, as far as a clock goes. There’s no clock in baseball.

    My issue in this case doesn’t really have anything to do with whether or not there are time-outs. It’s the way the game’s decided. To see so many hours invested into a tournament like this decided on something that’s comparable to a coin flip is less than satisfying. (I have a similar gripe about hockey and their tie-breaking “shoot-outs”.)

    You’re familiar with basketball. Would it sit right with you if a basketball game were decided with a game of Horse? Or how about a free-throw contest?

    How about if a swim meet was tied at the end and they determined the winner with a cannonball contest?

    These absurd examples are fairly comparable to what I saw on Sunday IMO. It’s that bad.

    While it’s true that there are more soccer players on this planet than baseball players, I’m not sure what that fact has to do with anything. I’m an American, and most Americans are fat. That doesn’t mean I should be too.

    I appreciate the stamina required in soccer. I think I heard a stat that soccer players are in better shape than any other athlete.

    I’d go to a soccer game if you can promise me that I won’t get trampled by 400 thousand people.

    Cheers…I mean…err…cincin! (Scusi!)

  • pirco July 11, 2006, 1:59 pm

    you’re right, i think i used my comments to blast about the “inacceptance” of soccer in general, while your question was merely about the shoot-outs.
    mille scusi.

    still, just to make it clear, there are commercials during a baseball game broadcast which is a major reason for the popularity of the sport. not the commercials, of course, but the money that comes in because of them and, in turn, the infa structure and logistics that are thus created to make baseball what it is: the major leagues, the minor leagues, soft-ball… gosh, i don’t even know anything about baseball but let’s just say that there’s a way for you to get out of high-school into the base ball system. same with basket ball and (american) football. my point was just that, because of the infrastructure, the way that NBA scouts catch their next players from college teams and college scouts go to high school (when will they poach grammar schools?), you have a clean system in which players can grow. not so in soccer.

    to bring it all back to YOUR question, well… i think with a better understanding of the game and it’s culture, the penalty kick may become more clear. to me, it’s the ultimate in soccer. it’s like… well, it doesn’t exist anywhere else!! it’s so special, haha!

    seriously, i thought about it and maybe it’s true… maybe i should challenge that notion and say: why penalty shots? well, the answer is another question: what else? you can’t possibly go into more overtime. unless you are thinking of a gladiator-kind-of-game. where only the FITTEST team survives.

    to me, the penalty shoot-out is the ultimate because it’s that one-on-one soccer. it’s the psychology. you should have seen barthez, the french goalie, walking towards the italian player in the … i don’t know, second to last PK. just a few steps, with that look on his face. taunting. and the italian player, staring at the corner of the goal in which he MIGHT (or might NOT) place the ball. 80 thousand people watching the goalie… the ball… the one kicker… and then… THE GOAL. dude, i get goosebumps just thinking about it.

    you know, deciding a basket ball game with free throws may just not be a bad idea. like in soccer, it’s best of 5 or maybe best-of-10 at first and if it’s still tied, then instant death (or whatever you call that. first missed free throw and it’s over). i always hated those games where it was all tied up in the last quarter. like, lead-changes with every basked. and then overtime. and it’s always like… 99:100, then 101:100, then 101:102, then 103:102. it’s like: ALRIGHT ALREADY, you’re equally good. now it just comes down to time management. how many time-outs left? what player to put in at the last second. in most cased where the team won by 101:100 or similiar, i mean… come on! look at that score: 1 point difference… might as WELL have been decided by a free-throw shoot-out!

  • jaced.com July 11, 2006, 3:38 pm

    As I sat there watching the final moments of the World Cup, I couldn’t help but thinking to myself:

    If a penalty kick contest is such an appropriate way to determine the true winner of a soccer tournament, then what’s the point of playing the soccer game in the first place? We might as well round up all the countries of the world, meet in one city, and have a penalty kick contest.

    I don’t claim to have an answer to the problem, since I’m one of the more ignorant people on the planet when it comes to soccer. What I do know is that, in the American “big three” you’ve mentioned (baseball, football, basketball), the game will NEVER be reduced to such a lame finish, no matter how boring it seems. Mismatched baseball games happen. An occasional blow-out basketball/football game where one team’s mathematically out of it before halftime happens. But such instances have nothing to do with the METHOD of deciding the winner. It’s just that one team got its ass kicked. Fair and square.
    In baseball (an inherently perfect, engineered game), it’s never over until it’s over. In case of a tie after nine innings, we play extra innings until there’s a winner. Even if the game goes till 2AM.

    In football and basketball, we decide tie games with the overtime structure.

    The fact that hockey and soccer need to occasionally result to these deciding shoot-outs just confirms (to me) that there is something inherently less than perfect about the game itself. That flaw becomes embarrassingly obvious when we see something like this.

    It’s true that advertising rules our world and shapes the collective mind of society. Nowhere is this more apparent than in sports broadcasting. But remember, the media infiltrated baseball relatively late in the game’s history, around the sixties and seventies, when our society at large finally got television sets.

    As an aside, I remember Dave Letterman telling a great joke many World Cups ago:

    “Here’s my impression of a soccer announcer coming home from work:


  • pirco July 12, 2006, 8:17 am

    ok. i guess i understand your point (might as well just have penalty contests).
    but then i might suggest that we just play one quarter of basketball. or one inning. done. why do we need four quarters of basketball?

    my argument against playing overtime all the way till it’s over is that then you may decide the game by the CONDITION of the players, not their talent. whatever team can still run around after 120 min WINS.

    in soccer, at least to me, the shoot-out is the ultimate display of the talents of the best players. that’s why the coach picks the players that will shoot. and he picks the best first, of course (not the best conditioned player but the one that SHOOTS best). and it also shows the versatility of the game. it’s not JUST about the team or the strategy or the tactics. it’s also about the skills of putting the ball into the net. and if the game isn’t decided after 120 min, then THAT’s what it comes down to.

  • jaced.com July 12, 2006, 9:43 am

    I agree; deciding a baseball game on one inning or a basketball game on one quarter is laughable idea. It’s not something I was suggesting.

    Along with talent, baseball is a game that largely revolves around a) resource management, and b) averages. The biggest factor in any baseball game is pitching, and a man can only throw so many pitches in a week before his arm falls off. The game of baseball was engineered to have a nine inning structure, which provides the perfect framework for the contest.

    Aside of talent, basketball is a game that largely revolves around a) resource management, and b) fouls. One of the biggest factors in any basketball game is fouling out. Situational decisions in basketball often revolve around how many fouls your big guy has in the third quarter, which may cause you to sit him down so that he’s not out of the game down the final stretch. A six foul limit over the course of a sixty minute game is a carefully engineered rule, which provides a nearly perfect framework for the contest.

    No matter what happens in a baseball or basketball game, we’ll get a winner. We may go to extra innings or overtime, but we’ll still get a winner. And this winner will be decided by playing an extension of the game itself.

    The shoot-outs, to me, are not an extension of the game itself. It’s an extraneous activity comparable to free-throws in basketball or field goal kicks in football. While kicking the ball into the net past the goalie is part of the larger game of soccer, it just seems ridiculous to have an entire world tournament come down to that. I am NOT suggesting there’s no skill required (on either side) during a penalty kick.

    While I haven’t really worked out the engineering part, I propose that they just go to additional overtimes of, say, ten minutes. The problem is that, in reality, this could go on forever with nobody scoring a goal. This is one of the reasons you hear lots of Yanks in the states talk unappreciatively of soccer. They (we) find it slow; it’s a game that could conceivably go on for the rest of your life without an acceptable resolution.

    Note that, mathematically, a baseball game could “go on forever” too. But not so. Pitchers fatigue. With fatigue, the defenses fall, and the offense will eventually score easily due to the poor pitching. In soccer, by contrast, the fatigue is largely affecting the offense as well. It’d be one thing if the goalie started losing his facilities over the course of the overtime, but it’s not so.

    In baseball, when somebody’s taken out of the game, they’re out for the rest of the game. They can’t go back in. Perhaps soccer would be a faster-moving game if they employed this, particularly with the goalies. It’d create a more critical concern over resource management, forcing managers to pace themselves for the big finish. For instance, if some player needs to come out of the game, they’re out for good. Consider those implications. You’d therefore need to strategize when you want your good guys in there, speculating when they’d be most effective, and carefully setting up good match-ups by examining the other team’s team list.

    But hey, what the bleep do I know?

  • pirco July 12, 2006, 11:06 am

    well, that’s already in place: players taken out of the game cannot come back in! the coach can swap three players during the entire course of the game. that’s why some coaches put there strong penalty kickers into the game minutes before overtime ends. and if injury or a red card happens, then only 10 players remain. or less. as was the case for the US against italy, i think. they played 9 americans against 10 italians (was a rough game, 3 red cards).

    but the issue becomes clear: soccer is not a “fast” game. well, i see that VERY different. there are games that continuously move from one attack to the other. of course, player fatigue will slow down the game eventually but the excitement is undoublty there. (i must say, to me, baseball is the truly boring game…). over all, nothing beats basket ball in terms of excitement but … well, it’s a different game!

    in any event, i just see the penalty kick shoot-out as an integral part of the game, since they can and do already happen throughout the game (when the opponent is fouled in the own 18-yard box – as happened in the final game agains italy – zidane scored 1:0 that way). so, i think it’s comparable to the free-throw and exactly to my point: i think basketball games should end with a free-throw shoot-out (after over-time). since those games, too, could technically played for ever i don’t think it should come down to player fatigue.

    of course, there are games, specifically the EURO CUP and other tournaments, where they instituted the sudden-death principle. in overtime, whoever shoots the first goal, wins. but that, still, leaves the penalty shoot-out option if no goal was reached in overtime. it’s just not possible to let the game of soccer go into mulitple overtime. the extra 30 minutes already leave players physically exhausted. that’s just not an option!

    but, again, i personally think the penalty shoot-out is just a perfect ending. and i think billions agree :-)

  • jaced.com July 12, 2006, 11:18 am

    I’ve always liked sudden death.

    Regarding the billions, I was under the impression that the world at large (minus Italians) was somewhat disappointed in the outcome. No?

    I’ve always thought that soccer would be twice as exciting if the field were half the size…

  • pirco July 12, 2006, 12:34 pm

    yeah, i think lots of people thought it wasn’t the best world cup. i don’t know. i thought there were some exciting games, some controversy, some boring games… same as always!

    but people do agree that germany was an excellent host. considering the un-friendliness of germans and their lack of humor they turned out to be so very hospitable, and ready to party. i mean, a million people and more watched the games under out-door screens in public spaces. and you saw all kinds of flags and very little disturbance. sure, a few incidents here and there but nothing that would disrupt the overall atmosphere. and, of course, the new-found nationalism of the germans was noteworthy. the flags and colors… just a few years ago, when the capital was moved from bonn back to berlin, there were hardly ANY flags waving. i think they’re finally finding their place and the right measure of national pride but… that’s another topic!

  • Al Davis, Jr. December 29, 2006, 11:09 am

    No doubt soccer is fun to play when you’re 12 and don’t know better, is huge worldwide outside of the US, has hooligans binge drinking and beating each other up over nothing, blah, blah, blah…nothing new here…same as when I was 10 30 years ago…I’ve been hearing forever how soccer has more people playing it in the US than any other sport…that changes, though, if you ask the same for people over 14…but, to my German amigo, let’s get real…you’re right it’s a useful for a good nap while watching a regular season game on TV…however, tournament/playoff baseball at any level (little league to the pros) blows away any regular season or playoff soccer at any level…every pitch means more and more as the tournament/playoffs build towards its conclusion…the only time this isn’t true is if the finals are a complete lopsided blow out…but, then you also get to see plenty of dingers and opposing pitchers get shelled…that’s a lot of fun too, as long as its not your team…

    But, in the end, those who never played baseball with any level of competence will never know the excitement of hitting dingers…I did play both soccer and baseball and started at positions that meant something…scoring a goal greatly pales in comparison to the thrill of going yard, or scoring or throwing a TD in football, or busting for 25 in hoop…

    In the end, the sad truth is that the only reason why soccer is so popular outside the US, and particulary in the third world, is that you just need 1 ball and 4 garbage cans for goal post to involve the whole town and get 22 playing at 1 time for about a total cost of $15 dollars (for a ball)…it costs a lot of money to outfit a baseball team and maintain a real diamond, or a basketball club with good hoops, and for sure, a football team…thus, it’s always easy to deride the US love for baseball/basketball/football for something that’s “commercialized”…code meaning for the rest of the world, “jealous, jealous, jealous”…

    a.d., jr

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