The World Cup Wakes Up

Soccer can be exhausting, watching soccer that is. If you are foolish (and lucky) enough to try to catch all the games in the World Cup, you have to stare at a television for some six hours a day, day after day, beginning in New York at 7:00 a.m. Thirty hours in, you start to get bleary-eyed and grumpy. You complain that the games are dull. You think about skipping one. Maybe Chile v Honduras? It’s on early, and it’s not exactly a marquee matchup. It is in fact the only game of the first round in which neither team is sponsored by Nike, Adidas, or Puma. Those companies represent 28 (29 if you count Nike-owned Umbro) of the 32 teams. Chile’s shirts are by Brooks (the running shoe company?). Honduras’s are by Joma (huh?). It’s like a B movie ahead of the big feature, starring Adidas, er, Spain.

But you wake up and tune in anyway – frivolous discipline is a lost art – and the soccer gods provide!

Chile is officially my new favorite team. They attacked fluidly and relentlessly, led by Alexis Sachez , the young faux-hawked Udinese winger. Sanchez pranced up and down the right side of the field in yellow shoes. (They’re Nikes by the way, and they’re all the rage.) He has a confident and clever stride, sometimes kicking his fancy shoes in front of him, cutting left or right, then switching into another gear, all with perfect ball control. His only shortcoming: finding the goal. His team scored one, but should have scored five. Their failure kept the game exciting. Honduras did its part, trying to break on the counter, but couldn’t muster enough. It was Chile’s day.

Now properly awake, I was ready for a fabulous Spanish victory. It was fabulous, but no victory. I’m used to this kind of game. I follow Arsenal and sometimes Barcelona (Spain started with 6 Barca players), teams with tiny agile men who like to pass quickly to one another in tight spaces, and at the worst of times seem to forget where the goal is. These are not teams that should be sponsored by Garmin, or any other GPS. They take the long way around. Xavi to Iniesta to David Villa to Iniesta to Xavi. Sometimes they get lost.

Switzerland was excellent. They never broke down; they never lunged foolishly where they shouldn’t lunge; they never gave space where it counted. And when they got the chance, they pounced. Spain poured it on in the second half. Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Xabi Alonso. The introduction of winger Jesus Navas helped a little bit, but Navas apparently suffers from sever anxiety attacks whenever he leaves Sevilla for an extended period. He’s not the man to navigate. Switzerland 1-0 Spain. A shocker. The World Cup is awake.

Two notes:
-Does the Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera (above) look a little like Scott Baio?
-When did Argentina get so good at set pieces? Maradona must be a coaching genius!

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