Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup: It's Finally Here!

By Andre Luciano, Northern Arizona Soccer Head Coach

Here we go again. The 2010 World Cup has officially kicked off today and the “world’s game” is once again in the spotlight here in the United States.

This time around the drama surrounding this World Cup goes a little deeper. There is a political and social message behind every game in South Africa that makes this tournament different. To imagine that until 1992 FIFA had banned South Africa from competing in international events due to its policy of Apartheid, to where the country is now; hosting the first World Cup in the African continent, it is pretty astounding.

It’s a time for the continent to showcase itself on the world stage, hosting the biggest event in sports. South Africa 2010 will open the window of Africa to the world. Let us not forget what Africa has faced in the last five centuries. It is a continent that has been exploited for its resources, has been devastated internally by despotic rulers, and ignored by the West. in so many ways. Now, Mandiba’s dream, to put South Africa on the world’s spotlight, and showcasing itself with billions of spectators watching has been realized.

Yes the Olympics are a grand event, but the World Cup takes special meaning to the other 97 percent of the world population outside of our borders. It is an event where the hope of a nation can rest on the shoulders of a single player wearing the 10 or 9 jersey.

What the casual American fan does not understand is the way people’s lives are affected by this simple game. For the average fan, that lives in a developing country, where political, economic, and social freedoms are not a given, the game is a way for them to be released from their troubles for 90 minutes. It is their escape. And once every four years, they get that escape, if their country is lucky enough to be one of the 32 nations being represented in the World Cup for a month. What other sport can boast of celebrations across a whole country after a win, and suicides after a loss? It is the World Sport. You can have the Super Bowl and call the winners of the World Series the World Champions (Which doesn’t make sense since the Blue Jays are the only international team in MLB), but you can’t compare the World Cup and what it represents.

There comes a sense of national pride from being successful in the World Cup. Only seven teams have ever won a World Cup and four of those teams have won it multiple times. So it is an elite club of winners and that pride carries a lot of weight behind it.

Take England for example. They invented the game, but have only won it once when they hosted in 1966. However, the English walk around as is they are the greatest football nation in the world. Rubbish I say. When they claim their 5th World Cup, then they will have some validity to their pompousness. As the saying goes “you might have invented the game, but the Brazilians have perfected it”. Can you imagine the Washington Bullets fans walking around like that in the NBA circle? Absolutely not!

Therefore, on Saturday, at 11:30 AM I pray that the USA has the ability to come out and compete against a very good English side. England has one of the top goal scorers in the world in Wayne Rooney, and a very good supporting cast that can get him the ball in front of goal. They play in one of the top leagues in the world, while we barely put together a team that has a starting 11 that plays in major international domestic leagues.

On the other hand we have unproven players that have fight and grit, but the patience and thought process of an eager puppy trying to please their master. We do possess one of the world’s greatest goalkeepers in Tim Howard, but a back line that is as organized as an etch-a-sketch held by a five year old, will surely keep him busy.

England’s arrogance on the pitch might be their downfall however. It is the way that they look at the USA in terms of football, with pure disdain.

In the 1950 World Cup we faced England in Brazil. The mighty Three Lions were heavily favored in that game. It was a lopsided game statistically in favor of England, but this is the cruelest of games, where luck does play an incredible part in the outcome of the game. The U.S. shocked the world winning 1-0.

Can the same magic come about in this year’s World Cup? We have a knack for making amends after dismal World Cup showings such as our 3-2 victory Portugal’s Golden Generation in 2001 after the disaster of 1998 proved and 2006 was an embarrassment for the USA (I nearly lost my lunch after the Czech Republic game), so we have to do something positive this Cup.

For those of you that continue to say that it’s a boring game because no one scores do this: Multiple every goal by seven and add three to every ball that is shot over the crossbar. And whatever you do, do not watch Bend It Like Beckham before the World Cup starts. It will destroy any chance of you ever enjoying the beautiful game.

Andre Luciano enters his 10th year as Northern Arizona University head women’s soccer coach after claiming back-to-back Big Sky Tournament Championships and leading his squad to two consecutive NCAA College Cup appearances. Luciano possesses a wealth of coaching experience from the intercollegiate level to club soccer coupled with a successful collegiate career at Indiana University that resulted in two conference championships and a NCAA Final Four appearance.