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.
Sunday, June 15
My head was pounding as I was blaring a song called “The Dream” by Thee Oh Sees. I have been noticing that my summer song selections seem to be filled with riff heavy garage rock post-2010. It’s a far cry from the disco induced summer I endured via Daft Punk in 2013. Maybe I am experiencing an inner “Disco is Dead” moment.
As I sped southbound toward my teenage home in Fort Mill, SC to spend time with my dad for Father’s Day, I started to think about today’s mid-afternoon match between France and Honduras. The soccer memories I have retained of France were that of Zidane’s controversial headbutt in 2006 – the only other summer I can remember where I was playing riff heavy garage rock courtesy of The Black Lips. At the time, I remember our elders clutching their pearls at the thought of a head butt. I really don’t understand the reason for the controversy given what was said to Zidane. Maybe because it was 2006, Bush was still our president and many Americans still had plenty of feelings about the pretentiousness of the French no matter how egregious the comments were to Zidane.
France, since then (or so I was told), have been known for inconsistency. They crapped the bed in 2010 in South Africa and people really didn’t know what to expect from Les Bleus other than some really beautiful jersey kits. With a game against a scrappy Honduras team, there was a sense that France would more than likely win it but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Hondurans came out on top. All doubts about France were quickly dispelled the moment the game ball hit the field.
The French kept pressing against the Hondurans who scraped, clawed and almost came to blows with their opponent. The first goal came when Wilson Palacios received his second yellow card and a red card for a foul of Karim Benzema who was awarded a penalty kick. Once the kick went in, I refused to continue watching. It seemed like Honduras had all the wind kicked out of them and there was a part of me that felt like middle America in the early-2000s. The French seemed so pretentious and entitled and all of them looked like they had the same Williamsburg haircut. There’s a reason we called them Freedom Fries at one point.
By the time I was able to relay to my parents that the French manhandled the Hondurans, I also remembered that the Swiss played the Ecuadorans. The Swiss won in a 2-0 shut out that I missed because of a lack of a television set and care. I headed home around six o’clock to take in some of the game between the team of God’s will and Bosnia or Herzegovina or both, if you prefer.
The storyline throughout the entirety of the game was Lionel Messi because of course. Besides Cristiano Rinaldo, he is the most recognizable player in the fold. All of Argentina’s hopes and dreams rest on the shoulders of Messi and a team that’s trying to beat out Brazil as the toughest team to compete with in South America. First, they would have to go through the upstarts in BIH.
The game started out slow with Argentina fans waiting for that first spark of Messi Magic that I have only seen in YouTube clips. Instead, the first Argentinian goal was scored by Sead Kolasinac from BIH who committed the error of an own goal. The first half came and went with plenty of shots for Messi but nothing came to fruition. Then, at the 65 minute mark, the nuclear fission that Lionel Messi is known for appeared. He crossed through a line of defenders then kicked the ball straight towards the post in what seemed like an initial error only for the ball to take a loving angle inside of the goal. It was the second Argentina score of the game and it was absolute poetry. Messi’s goal was like watching a careful, thought out calculation in real time. A surgeon at work. He made Van Persie look like GG Allin.
Bosnia and Herzegovina responded with a goal at the 85 minute mark but it was too little too late as the Argentinians closed their opener with a win. I closed my laptop after downloading Thee Oh Sees’ Floating Coffin and headed out with dreams of a swirling brazuca soccer ball gliding past me as I tried to stop it from going in the goal.
Monday, June 16
When I got out of the shower at my girlfriend’s apartment, I could hear NPR’s Morning Edition. One of the top headlines was about the priority of American soccer fans: the World Cup Opener against Ghana. A chill ran up my spine as I thought about 2010 when I watched the World Cup in a cramped student apartment in the Henley Village of Georgetown University. I remembered the clock winding down in overtime and Landon Donovan walking off the field with the most exasperated look on his face. All of the vuvuzelas that sounded through the streets of DC for weeks during the World Cup all seemed to simultaneously die. It was grim but at least the Nationals were good that summer!
With the specter of the Group of Death looming large, I had images of a similar defeat at the hands of Ghana on the way to work. How can I be optimistic about US Soccer in a group of teams that represent the top tier of their respective continents?
I got in to work and if I wasn’t downtrodden enough, I had to read that Lana Del Rey’s persona was even more depressing and nihilistic than usual on Ultraviolence. I took solace in the twitter joke that the World Cup logo is actually Hitler committing a face palm and John Roderick is a “chicken fingers eater” on last week’s My Brother, My Brother and Me. Then, the broadcast for the first game between Germany and Portugal opened up.
The ESPN broadcast was an aerial shot over the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador. The arena looked like a giant alien mothership that had planted itself in the middle of old world South America. It was at the edge of a river that wound through the town giving the appearance that it was fueling its lifeblood off of the humanoid water. This is FIFA in a nutshell, no?
The talk during all of the analysis was the impact of Cristiano Ronaldo and how he could lift Portugal, a team that is good to decent, if anything. Germany, the established super power, seemed like the most imposing obstacle anyone had ever faced. If Group G wasn’t tough enough with Portugal and Ghana, Germany would be like putting the Gundam franchise in the middle of a Godzilla battle royale. It’s a machine that is engineered to destroy when the sum of its parts are working in perfect harmony.
Within the first minutes of the game, a penalty resulted in Thomas Müller following through on a Mario Gotze assist. Shortly afterwards, Mats Hummels would guide through another assist from Gotze assist that would place the Germans increasingly out of reach for CR7 and the Portugese. Things got worse when 2014 Gheri Curl model Pepe hit Müller with a swift arm and then a head full of Soul Glo to earn a red card. The Germans continued the onslaught through the avatar of Müller who earned a hat trick on the day with two more goals. The game was out of reach for Portugal before the first half even closed.
The Germans played a brand of soccer that seemed very disciplined and strategic. It was like watching multiple Lionel Messis on the field in the way they strategically passed around each defender and made their way across the pitch. It was like watching a planned demolition. Piece by piece the Portugese were ripped and it seemed like they didn’t have a leg to stand on as they look towards facing the United States on Sunday.
The aesthetically pleasing sight of clean, diesel-fueled, efficient German soccer led to the World Cup’s first draw in Nigeria and Iran. It was actually the one game during this whole tournament where I managed to watch less than five minutes of it at work because of the utter lack of offensive will. The Iranian team is actually made of guys who specialize in defense (or so I’m told). Instead of paying attention, I just took to updating some journal entries.
I left work thirty minutes earlier so I could head home and prime myself for the game I had been waiting for all day. The United States was about to play Ghana in a major tournament since their elimination in South Africa. I looked at some preview columns and then took another stab at deciding whether or not I would download Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence. I guess it depends how I feel after this is over, I thought as I headed out the door.
I meet some of my friends at a bar where the game was on every television set. Like a bar on NFL Gameday, you had to talk several octaves higher over the cacophony of noise emitting from the broadcast. I saw one of my friends at the bar and approached her. We started talking about how we were taking in the tournament and then before the game clock could even strike one minute – Clint Dempsey had threaded a ball into the back of Ghana’s net. 1-0. What. The. Fuck.
It seemed inconceivable. We were playing the Black Stars – the team that killed the chorus of vuvuzelas that soundtracked one of the most exciting summers of my life. How did…how could? Wait.
I had to wait and with baited breath as Jozy Altidore gritted his teeth then clenched his hamstring. It was a sprain and then Ghana held on for possession for what seemed like an utter eternity. I knew the inevitable was coming. Then, it happened. A comeback – a goal late in the second half. The air that was in the bar’s collective balloon of red, white and blue seeped out through a tiny hole that sounded like the wind was saying, “FUCCCCCCCKKKK”. A draw wouldn’t be bad, I thought. We were outmanned with the loss of Altidore and Ghana was making passes that the US seemed incapable of defending. Maybe the Jurgen Klinsmann era was meant for 2018.
As the second half rolled on with Ghana taking shot after shot, a penalty put us in the corner with John Brooks, making his fifth international appearance in just the right spot at just the right time. As soon as the ball left Graham Zusi’s foot, Brooks knocked it in for what was one of the greatest moments of American soccer I had witnessed. The redemption of the US Men’s National Team and the thought that we were keeping hope alive. As the game winded down, the people in the bar applauded as we watched an elated Klinsmann give a press conference to an audience that wasn’t ready for this. When the cameras went to Alexei Lalas in the ESPN studios, he seemed on the verge of tears made out of the finest hops and barley.
As I left the bar, the sun went down over Charlotte – blanketing the sky in a pinkish and tangerine hue. It was beautiful. I wish I could’ve played “Pink Houses” instead of “I Came From the Mountain” as I drove toward my girlfriend’s apartment to eat s’mores.