Columnist bitten by World Cup bug?

Saturday , June 28, 2014 - 3:00 PM

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m completely exhausted.

Attempting to feign interest in the World Cup, day after day, can really take a lot out of a guy.

And make no mistake: We are all expected to at least pretend we’re interested in this thing. Hate the NFL football playoffs? No big deal. Don’t care for the Major League Baseball post-season? Whatever. Bored with the same handful of NBA basketball teams vying to be World Champions every year? Take a number.

But mention that you have no interest in World Cup soccer, and suddenly you’re branded as some sort of ugly, provincial American.

I gave it the old college try, I swear I did. And truthfully, although it didn’t last, for one fleeting moment in this year’s action, I was — pardon the expression — bitten by the soccer bug.

Speaking of biting, how about that Uruguay striker Luis Suarez, literally BITING Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini? And it’s, like, the third time he’s bitten someone in a match. That’s certainly one way to interest more folks in the World Cup. If I’d known there was a high probability of getting to see athletes actually bite one another, I might have started watching soccer years ago. I mean, are you kidding me? Players chewing on each other, like in some sort of zombie apocalypse soccer match? Now that’s entertainment. (Indeed, the British magazine New Statesman recently calculated that your odds were much greater of being bitten by a professional soccer player than a great white shark.)

But then FIFA, soccer’s governing body, had to go and suspend the biter, and soccer went back to being just another boring non-masticating sport.

In my quest to learn to appreciate soccer, I even tried thinking of the World Cup as an every-four-years “March Madness” event. With one important distinction, of course: Number of games that ended in a tie in the last NCAA basketball tournament? Exactly zero. Number of matches that have ended in a tie in the 2014 World Cup? Nine.



Nine ties, people.

First, there was Iran and Nigeria, playing to a 0-0 draw back on June 16. Said the Iranian coach following the contest: “The fans didn’t see any goals, but sometimes intensity, togetherness, focus and team spirit can make for an interesting spectacle.”

Yeah. No they can’t.

Nobody I know watches an athletic competition for stuff like togetherness or focus. If that were the case, quilting bees would be a spectator sport.

Not to be outdone by Iran and Nigeria, the very next day the World Cup host team, Brazil, played Mexico to a scoreless tie. Oh yeah, and the Japan-Greece match ended in a 0-0 tie, as did both Ecuador-France and Costa Rica-England.

Five games — nearly eight hours of total play — without a single goal, by either team, to show for their trouble. In what other sport would that be tolerated?

In a post-match interview after the Costa Rica vs. England match ended in a zip-zip tie, sending the Brits packing and advancing C.R. into the Round of 16, the Costa Rica coach explained: “It was an even game today against an opponent who was looking for its first win. I’m delighted we’ve topped the group. We are prepared to face whoever comes and we will face them with great confidence.”

Yes, the confidence that can only come from achieving a 0-0 tie against a winless opponent.

Listen, I don’t know how much people are paying for tickets to this thing, but I’d be pretty disappointed if an athletic competition — which I paid good money to see — ended without any kind of resolution.

I need closure, people. Somebody wins, somebody loses. Without that, it’s nothing short of sports anarchy.

To be fair, they weren’t all scoreless ties. Some were ties with actual goals scored. The 2-to-2 USA-Portugal finish, for instance. Or the Germany-Ghana 2-2 thriller. Or the Algeria-Russia 1-1 deadlock.

And finally, there was the Russia vs. South Korea match, which ended in a rousing 1-1 tie. Offered the Russian coach: “We played a solid match and I’m satisfied with our performance. My players reacted well after the opening goal and it was the best possible birthday present they could have given me.”

Really? A tie was the best possible gift your team could give you? Not like — oh, I don’t know — say, a victory?

But the worst part: Apparently, even when a team loses, all it was really hoping for was a tie. When Mexico beat Camaroon 1-0, Camaroon’s coach said: “We’re very disappointed with the result; I think we deserved a draw. There’s still all to play for, though, and we’re going to head into the Croatia match with the intention of winning.”

“Deserved a draw”? Aim high, I always say.

Oh, and clearly, this new Camaroonian strategy of going into a match “with the intention of winning” backfired big time, as the team promptly went on to lose to Croatia, 4-0.

Ah, but I’m pretty sure the Camaroon coach thought they deserved to lose closer to, like, 4-2.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.

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