Dispatches from a Casual World Cup Observer: Judgment Day
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 26th
Time. That’s the only thing that was in the US Men’s National Team’s favor when facing Group G. The USMNT was given the ‘Group of Death’ with three titanic opponents that would crush any hopes the US had for, at the most, making it to the semi-finals. There was the unconquerable Ghana and the soccer stardom of one of the world’s best in Cristiano Ronaldo and, by proxy, Portugal. Then, there was the polished, mechanical, engineered-to-kill creation known as Germany. It was only a matter of months before all three would send the US packing back to a place where the MLS failed to attract a million viewers for its championship game. American ‘soccer’ has no place here, they seemed to mock. The United States was given 270 minutes before the vultures would come to pick the remains.
Before the last 90 minutes of the US’ tenure in Group G, they had achieved unthinkable. They managed to beat the Black Stars of Ghana in a wild game, during which Clint Dempsey recorded one of the fastest goals in World Cup history. Then, they took the lead in a match against Portugal with a chance to seal their fate and head to the Round of 16 before being spoiled by a late header from Silvestre Valera in stoppage time. The US was looking at a scenario where, in the next 90 minutes, it could still lose and make it into the knockout round. 90 minutes against the Germans. Oh boy.
I watched the Germans play Portugal in their first game to start group play. I walked away from the broadcast utterly terrified. The Germans were efficient with their passing and possession. They rendered the world’s most recognizable player utterly useless while racking up four goals. All of these players had names that reeked of the fearful, authoritarian, German archetype: Müller, Schweinsteiger, Götze, Özil. Their jerseys were made up of the bold colors of the German flag with clean lines of black along with the striking insignia of Deutschland football. I couldn’t help but admire their style of play as I sat in horror for the duration of the slaughter.
I failed to watch the Germans take on Ghana, but I considered the draw a fluke. I think Ghana’s energy from the US match transformed them into a team that was mad as hell. They knew they had to churn out, at the very least, two more draws in order to advance, and their ire was turned against the Die Mannschaft. For as great as the machine performed against Portugal, I think a pissed off Ghana left them reeling a little bit in the heat of South America (an atmosphere that has not been kind to European teams). After the draw, the Germans set their sights on the Little Engine That Could led by former countryman Klinsmann.
The lead-up to the match was full of hysterics and hype that made it seem as if the United States were all listening to Chicken Little. Something was going to happen and we all had to bare witness to it. The sky certainly felt like it was falling in Recife as the clouds opened up and flooded the city as well as surrounding areas. There were countless pictures of fans stuck in rivers of rainwater that ran through the city streets; leaving them without a view of the match. The pre-game coverage on ESPN displayed massive gatherings of US fans in New York City, Chicago, DC and Kansas City as if it was a Saturday rather than a Thursday near the end of the month in a quarter-end, where people rush to meet their quotas. It was almost apocalyptic though it wasn’t certain if this end of days would mean sweet, heavenly rapture or Watchmen-esque doomsday.
Once the national anthems started, the WatchESPN feed on my work computer started to lag dramatically. It was the first time that the feed really started to drag behind in real time. It was so bad that it stopped for a full two minutes. I panicked. I quickly headed over to Google where I punched in ‘world cup usa germany live stream’. The first site that popped up was, of course, the one that was being flooded with online users, which rendered my experience unwatchable. The next was a site to a Christian magazine which gave me multiple links to choose from, including Univision. I clicked on the link and opened the ESPN home site on another tab to see if the Germans had already drew any blood. To my relief, nothing had happened.
The Univision stream opened up after an iPhone commercial hesitated to get out of the way due to connectivity issues that Univision was also having due to an influx of users. The match was five minutes in, and the commentators left my head spinning. Every possession seemed as if it was the biggest play in the game due to the manner in which they were speaking. Every time a shot was taken by the Germans, the two Spanish commentators made it seem like it was going in. My blood pressure started to rise accordingly.
The Germans seemed to have the US backed into a corner throughout most of the game with the midfielders slicing around any defender that came through. Then, there was Michael Bradley who was making some of the most ill-advised moves with the ball. To his benefit, it might have been because of the flooded conditions that slipped the ball out of his possession and into the clutches of Die Mannschaft and, most ghastly of all, Thomas Müller.
Müller has been one of Germany’s highest scorers in this World Cup, with deadly accurate shots that goalkeepers cannot seem to stop. With a bandage over his stitched eye from a collision during the Ghana match, Müller looked more villainous than Luis Suarez, who was handed a four-month suspension the morning before the US and Germany arrived at the pitch. There were flashes when the ball would come flying from one side of the box over to Muller where I would clench my mouse tightly this was it. But, in the first half, it never came to fruition. The whistle blew and the first half was over with the score tied at 0-0. We held Germany to a draw while the score to Portugal – Ghana stared me in the face at 1-0 in favor of Portugal. If we were going to lose this match, it would be better that the score remain in Portugal’s favor.
The second half of the match began without me having an eye on the live feed. There was another lag during the Univision live stream right around the time I read a tweet that ESPN had 1.34+ million viewers trying to watch on ESPN’s streaming service. It was apparently an unprecedented amount of demand despite the fact that ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Hype, had been hard at work promoting this Armageddon scenario. The match started again on Univision with ‘Estadios Unidos’ trailing behind ‘Alemania’ by one point. Muller had struck. Then, Ghana equalized with Portugal. Where was Bob Ley’s panic room when you needed it?
The Germans advanced down the field endlessly as I started looking at the many info graphics that explained the US’ situation if the increase widened. With the exception of a few Clint Dempsey charges and mistimed shots towards the goal, there was nothing doing for the Yanks. I looked back at the other Group G match, and it was still 1-1. Then, at the 80 minute mark, Cristiano Ronaldo struck against the Black Stars. Portugal 2 – Ghana 1. The minutes started to recede at the pace of molasses. It seemed like the US had less time to consider elimination between the moment the groups were drawn and the beginning of the World Cup then at the 80 minute mark. It was the longest twenty minutes of my life.
The Germans played keep away as the Americans began a frantic race for a goal to seal their fate into the knockout round. With four minutes of stoppage time left, the ball just seemed to get bigger and bigger. Then, the whistle blew for Germany and the U.S. Seconds later, the final time was posted between Portugal and Ghana. Did Ghana manage to win it?
Portugal 2 – Ghana 1. The US was advancing.
I cannot recall a loss by an American national team that meant as much to the nation as it did on that Thursday. It is probably one of the only losses that the United States can almost unanimously celebrate (unless, of course, you’re paid not to celebrate your country’s athletic endeavors and advancement). I watched as thousands of people across the U.S. skipped their jobs, their careers, for the day to watch the men’s team lose. These countrymen and women not only watched it, but celebrated it. If you would have asked an American if they would have reveled in a loss months before this tournament, any survey gathered would’ve tallied a majority of people who would have unconditionally said no. Now, it seems that we are just fine watching our team live to fight another day. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially when you can say that, in 270 minutes, your nation cheated death.