Dispatches from a Casual World Cup Observer: June 12 – June 14, 2014

 

Courtesy of FIFA

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is here, and I have a novice’s degree of knowledge as to what’s happening, as well as a small amount of sentimentality for the event. This is me traversing through work, drunken weekends, and Spotify with the World Cup either in the fore or background. 

Thursday, June 12th 

The broadcast on my work computer showed blurry images of smiling Brazilian fans who were all wearing the bright, sun yellow jerseys associated with their home country’s national team. The din of people talking and looking for their seats emitted out of my old Apple headphones. A huge sphere sat in the center of the arena; the camera would toggle between this global metaphor of a centerpiece after a few crowd shots. There was hardly a Croatian fan in the crowd, nor one that ESPN cared to show. The focus was purely on the Brazilian people. This seemed more like a fitting opening ceremony than the nightmare fuel that followed.

The ceremony started with the centerpiece sphere lighting up and projecting vibrant colors. In what seemed like an instant, costumed performers started walking around the glowing ball of technicolor. Some of them were dressed like deciduous trees that limped out of Rainforest Acres Retirement Home, others were dressed in more traditional gaucho attire. The most befuddling sight to the Twittersphere was the handful of performers who were wearing the hexagonal shapes that pattern a soccer ball. The intent was to make a human soccer ball – the effect was more like a George Lucas set piece.

If the Jim Henson-like designed costumes weren’t disjointing enough, Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez erupted from the sphere which had a slight malfunction when bringing Lopez to the stage. J. Lo was wearing an ensemble that could be mistaken for an on-the-nose rainforest interpretation of her infamous Grammys dress. Pitbull looked like he watched the “Rio” music video for the first time and assumed everyone in Brazil wears white pants cuffed past the ankle. They were performing “One World”, the official anthem of the 2014 World Cup to remind everyone watching that 1) this is the official anthem of the World Cup and 2) Pitbull is now your auditory overlord.

After the clumsy, primary color explosion of the opening ceremony, the set was cleared from the pitch to host the first match of the tournament: Brazil vs. Croatia. The preliminary handshakes and coin toss resulted in a crescendo of fan fare and like that, the World Cup officially began. Like the rest of America interested in international soccer, I watched the action intermittently as I flipped from Excel spreadsheets to the ESPN screen. I saw the brilliant red checkered Croats run around the beacons of highlighter yellow while an IF function asked that I enter what false value would be generated. Then, there was a chorus of groans that erupted into my headphones. I switched back to the live monitor. The Croats were awarded one point after the Brazilians accidentally knocked the ball into their own goal. The hilarity of it was great. This led to broadcasters Ian Darke and Steve McManaman talking about how Brazilians were worried that Neymar would be more concerned about his haircut than his play on the pitch.

This was a nice segue way for Neymar’s first goal of the tournament. Then, another goal from Neymar. The game ended 3-1 due to a penalty kick that Brazil was awarded from brilliant masterpiece theatrics in the goal box. I saw the final score on Facebook as I made the drive home while listening to Parquet Courts’ “N Dakota”. It’s a song that paints a bleak picture of section of America that is most often glamorized in cigarette ads. I could not help but think of the parallels of the dilapidated flavelas hovering in the background of the white sand and tanned bodies lining Copacabana.

Robin Van Persie, Aerial Assault

Friday, June 13th 

The story of the Mexican national team is one of frustration. They are one of the most talented squads within CONCACAF and they have squandered their potential in friendlies leading up to the World Cup. Miguel Herrera has been seen as an animated boor – a guy that is exacting revenge on Mexican players who did not play in the nation’s professional leagues by not starting them. He’s also been like an old time boxing coach by sexually repressing his team so they can focus their energy on the pitch rather than the boudoir. Fans of the Mexican team did not know what to expect when the team took the field against a Cameroon team that is only as good as the aging Samuel Eto’o.

Mexico was as animated as their manager. They were aggressive down the field with Oribe Peralta a strong presence when the ball passed over mid-field. It seemed certain that everything I had heard about FIFA’s corruption was coming a reality when two corner kicks that went in for a goal were negated by bogus offside penalties from the officials. If Mexico wasn’t going to lose this game, then the referees were certainly going to help them give it away.

The game went scoreless for almost the entirety of the game until Peralta scored halfway through the 2nd Half to strike first against Cameroon. Mexico squeezed the pressure on Cameroon by maintaining possession and eeking their way into Cameroon’s backfield to provide many more scares. Mexico won the second contest of the tournament and is now looking at Brazil on Tuesday, a far more challenging battle than the middling Ghana Cameroon.

The second game was a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final pitting the Netherlands against Spain. People rolled their eyes before the match began because of the snoozer of a match that was the 2010 World Cup final due to Spain’s tika-taka style. Much like the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Spanish aim to defeat their foes through an anaconda method. It’s all about possession and ball control so it was easily assumed to be one of the slowest of the early games. Then, Robin Van Persie happened for the Dutch.

Van Persie went quite literally head first into the Spanish backfield and head butted his way into one of the most magnificent highlights of the World Cup thus far. It was like watching the high flying antics of Florida Gulf Coast come crashing down on the Princeton perimeter play of Georgetown in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. The Dutch were quick, exacting and barreling. They were like an oncoming freight train that the Spanish just expected to switch rails. I left work before for the game ended so the lasting image I have of the game is this faux pilot clutching World Cup trophies in his hand and reminding the world that there’s more to Dutch people than tulips and windmills.

I didn’t see the entirety of the slaughter but the world seemed to revel in it. To continue with the college football metaphors here, it was like watching Alabama getting throttled in the Sugar Bowl by the Belldozer and the Oklahoma Sooners. Spain is one of the European favorites and they looked like they didn’t even belong in the same tournament. They looked like the few minutes I watched of Australia.

I watched a little bit of the match between Chile and Australia at a friends place and they seemed about as disjointed as Spain. They looked bewildered as Chile dribbled all over the pitch. It was almost like the Australians, in their gold and navy uniforms, were ready to quit and go watch a rugby game.

“I think they changed the system in the region,” my friend commented while watching the game. “They qualify almost every year, but they are a joke.” I took him at his word because I have the faintest idea of the Australian footballing culture.

Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure

Saturday, June 14th

I missed a majority of the games during the day because I was nursing a hangover. I rode my bike to my girlfriend’s place, which is about four miles away from my apartment. I was sweating, my lungs felt heavy, and I felt a bigger imperative to heal my throbbing cranium than to watch Colombia throttle the home of my ancestors. After multiple glasses of water and a nap, I headed out to attend an engagement party for one of my friends.

I was without any means to watch the game between Côte d’Ivoire and Japan except for the small moments when I would pass by the bar of the McCormick and Schmick’s hosting my friend’s engagement party. The only thing I’d see was a tiny possession by either side with the score of 1-0. I missed the late comeback by the Elephants to win the game over a promising upstart in Japan because the party featured an open bar and jumbo shrimp. I also missed out on England losing to Mario Balotelli.

I would watch the highlights later, I told myself, as I sipped on a bourbon and ginger.

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