Five Things I Learned From The 2010 World Cup

Today was the last day of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Much has been said about the level of interest in soccer/futbol/football in the normally non-soccer crazy United States, but the influence and global reach of the Internet and social networking sites made the event, the teams and the sport ubiquitous for the past month.

Although I’m not a huge soccer fan, I’m not one of those xenophobic soccer-haters. I actually wouldn’t mind going to an LA Galaxy match – it’s just that Carson’s Home Depot Center is a little too far for me compared to Dodger Stadium or Staples Center. But I do have a couple soccer cred points: I attended one of the Soccer semifinal matches in the 1984 Olympics at the Rose Bowl (Brazil vs. Morocco), and I actually played a game of soccer one day in my life (a team-building activity in a theater group I briefly joined in 1994)  — and scored a goal.

I did watch Spain win today over the Netherlands, though I had to admit my World Cup interest waned after the USA was eliminated by Ghana the other week.Nevertheless, I did learn a few things from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa:

5. Oh yeah, the clock counts up. Like (American) football, basketball, hockey and virtually every sport except for baseball, there’s a clock that determines the game time. Of course, it took me a couple games to remember that unlike the aforementioned clock sports, soccer counts up. It’s also non-absolute (it can go for a bit longer even past the three additional minute mark). Remember that next time.Kinda reminds me of the time I went to my first hockey game – the Los Angeles Kings vs. the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, back in 1998, when Staples Center first opened. I was puzzled why everyone left the game at the end of the “Third Quarter.” Forgot that hockey wasn’t make up for four quarters, but three regulation periods. Duh.

4. Soccer is not a good radio sport. A lot of Americans deride soccer as “boring.” I don’t find it boring; the low-scoring games are simply a testament to it being a sport that’s heavily skewed towards defensive play (as opposed to basketball, which is more offensive-driven – even if each basket were worth one point, it would still be a high-scoring game), with the large pitch size being a factor as well. But driving home this morning and catching the beginning of the final game on the radio, it was a little hard to follow. There is none of the poetry and statistical tidbits of baseball, nor the fast-paced play-by-play of basketball and hockey. Soccer, whether seen live or televised, requires a large group of people to share the action with.

3. A plastic stadium airhorn is called a vuvuzela. World Cup 2010 will forever be known for one thing and one thing only: the vuvuzela. And heretofore, no matter where in the world you are, and no matter what language you speak, you will always call one of those things a vuvuzela. I’m sure the 2011 Webster’s Dictionary will include vuvuzela among its newly-added nouns. And perhaps, from now on, when people want to express mass dissent, discontent, or just wanna make a bunch of noise, they will blow their vuvuzelas in sustained notes for hours on end.

2. The South African band Freshlyground. For those who find the vuvuzela brash, offensive and annoying, here’s something from South Africa that’s more pleasing to the ear: the Cape Town band Freshlyground, a band that fuses afro-pop with soul, jazz, rock and folk music. The band catapulted into the international limelight through their collaboration with Colombian singer Shakira for the “Waka Waka” 2010 World Cup theme song, and millions around the world – myself included Googled or searched YouTube for this act, which has a nice, mellow sound to it.  Lead singer Zolani Mahola has a clear, pleasant voice that’s sort of like a cross between Minnie Riperton and Gwen Stefani. And the seven-piece band, featuring male, female, black and white members, is the perfect post-apartheid image for a South African musical ambassador.

Check out one song:

1. Soccer isn’t boring; it just doesn’t have any superstars. Well, of course it has superstars, but none that Americans are familiar with. Perhaps the only soccer superstar a typical American can name is the Brazilian footballer Pele, who reached his prime in the 1960s and ’70s. But we would be hard-pressed to find the A-Rods, the Kobe Bryants or the Peyton Mannings of the sport. Surely the Internet, social media and televised coverage have brought the names Diego Forlan, Thomas Mueller and Iker Casillas into our conscience – but for now. But certainly the World Cup has thrust Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan into the national spotlight. Only time  (and media exposure)will tell whether we’ll be seeing more familiar names heading into the 2016 World Cup in Brazil.

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