Perhaps the most poignant T-shirt slogan I’ve ever seen said simply “One life, one goal.”
“Okay,” you say, “so what’s so poignant about that?”
It’s because of what was on the back of the T-shirt. It was sponsored by a soccer association. Yup – one life, one goal (if you’re lucky).
Though a survey of Canadians showed that 60-something percent of Canadians would pay no attention the FIFA World Cup, I dare to write some thoughts about it. (Hey, you’ve put up with my occasional references to my love of curling and the CFL, so please indulge me once more.)
Now, to be clear, I’m not much of a soccer/football fan either–too few goals, strange rules, strange terminology, and penalty kicks from a spot that makes them almost automatic, etc. But, a World Cup spectacle–did I mention I also like pomp and circumstances, and spectacle events?—has me paying attention. I watched the three Canadian games and have, generally, followed along the results of other matches.
On the eve of the Grand Finale, I offer the following comments:
We had elevated hopes for Canada following a first-place finish in the CONCACAF division, beating out the likes of Mexico, the U.S. and Costa Rica. Yet, the record shows, going into the World Cup that we were still ranked #41 in the world (to Mexico’s #13, the U.S.’s #16 and Costa Rica’s #31).
Our goals were, I think, 1. to score a goal; 2. to get a “result” (a tie or win); and 3. to get a win. If we were extremely lucky, maybe even advance to the round of 16.
We achieved #1, and should probably have achieved #2, given how well we played against both Belgium (#2) and Morocco (#22). But we didn’t and came away disappointed. Meanwhile, Morocco and Croatia (#12) advanced from our group F (or Group “Eff,” as The Guardian called it after our coach’s ill-conceived comments.)
Both Croatia and Morocco have excelled, Croatia knocking off #24 Japan and then #1 Brazil on their way to the semi-finals (so, along the way, beating out both #1 and #2). Morocco, meanwhile, knocked off #7 Spain, then #9 Portugal, to become the first African nation ever to advance to the semi-final.
The over-the-top announcers suggested Morocco was achieving on behalf of “all of Africa” and “all of the Arabic world.” Yeah, right! They were playing for themselves, their teammates, and their country. And, by the way, if Morocco is such a poor country, how is it that an estimated 50,000 Moroccans were in the stadium for the semi-final game?
Too many of the games were decided by penalty kicks or one great scoring chance that went contrary to the flow of play. How could Brazil so dominate Croatia, for example, and still come away with a loss but for the silly way of deciding tied games. No one had gotten their “one life, one goal” in regulation or overtime.
It wasn’t the only game that was a head-scratcher. Morocco’s run was also beyond comprehension, as were many games in the opening round.
So, two members of the group that we were in survived to the final four! I’m forced to conclude that:
- Group F must actually have been the so-called “Group of Death.” We should be a lot prouder of what our team accomplished, pushing #2 Belgium to what should have been at least a tie, and acquitting ourselves well against the two teams that made the final four.
Or . . .
- All the top teams are so evenly matched (witness Italy, ranked #6 not even making it to the World Cup), that the rankings don’t really mean much. There’s probably only a sliver of difference between #1 and #6 (or #22, or even #41)—and maybe those who do the ranking (I have no idea how that is determined) simply don’t judge well, or the algorithm, if such exists, needs tweaking. At any rate, an upset should hardly be considered that, and should not really surprise us, given the virtual parity among all the teams.
Or . . .
- The failure of the game and its rules to evolve in concert with the growing skill of the players, has left it an antiquated sport that has become basically a crap shoot. Anyone can beat anyone when it becomes so much a game of chance. Canada simply fared worse than some other teams in that lottery. (And, by the way, lotteries are as popular worldwide as is soccer/football, so that’s not a slight on its popularity or the skill of its players.)
I think all three played a role in influencing the way this spectacle evolved, but I place the greatest weight on the third one.
Now the final has been set. At least it pits the #3 and #4 teams against each other. (Unfortunately, that may dissuade the powers-that-be from tweaking the sport to be fairer to the skill of its players.)
But I’ll likely not get up early enough to watch it.