I never wrapped up the World Cup, and though this one will not fade from memory soon- there’d been late drama and close games every day, few favorites (even France) ever seemed safe, and few minnows hopeless. Really, one of them made the Final! I’m loathe to waste my previously recorded thoughts. So I separated this excerpt from my latest book blurbs- also rapidly losing their topicality, and here it is:
At some point just past the Group Stage, without any sort of announcement or clear dividing line, we enter the part of the World Cup where people are consumed by it. Entire countries basically shut down or go through daily routine in a dream-like state. Were there people still drinking and celebrating in England and Croatia, days after they progressed to the Semis?
Yes, I’m certain there were. Soon enough, tension and anxiety sets in, though, as thoughts turn to the next round. Caution also sets in, coaches and players begin to feel the weight of national expectation, the nervy zeitgeist, the paralyzing realization that just two games remain.
There was a point where most of the final eight would have returned to a hero’s welcome, but we irrevocably pass the just-happy-to-be-here phase, to where the differences between 3rd place and 1st are magnified.England and Belgium found that out, and at some point, so too, will Croatia.
England was actually in control of most of their quarterfinal, though it remained at that always neurotic 2-0 scoreline, where just one goal can change the entire complexion and momentum of the match. Rather than make the classic mistake and sit back to defend, thus inviting doom, they continued to press for the third, and clinching goal. They didn’t get it, but Sweden, overmatched and game, kept it entertaining. Against Croatia in the Semis, though, England never really got onto the front foot.
Croatia v Russia was a barnburner, something we’d now come to expect from this WC, already being called the greatest ever, an incomplete judgement that Fox naturally jumped on for promotional purposes. I was not arguing the idea, though I like to see the Final before I make historical pronouncements. Now I have, and France’s talent speaks for itself, though Croatia, pretty much doomed after the 67th minute, never lost their fighting spirit. Dignitaries handing out medals in a downpour might’ve made even a nil-nil with PKs seem pretty legendary.
All of it mostly lost on oblivious, exceptionalist, USA of course. If tiny Belgium or Croatia can potentially win it, then it must not be a real sport. I was downtown one night over the holiday, and the overweight thousands were choking the streets for a Rockies game. I haven’t checked, but usually the Rockies are firmly embedded in last place by Independence Day.
I’m not putting down real fans. Nothing brings out the dunce confederacy for any event on the Fourth like hot dogs and fireworks. But it’s odd how this country celebrates -and overpays- forbloated spectacle, (military parade, anyone?) while the rest of the world anxiously awaits the results of a real sports and culture drama. When people are shocked by the US’ slow slide into neo-facism, I wonder why they don’t just open their eyes and look around them.
I’ll catch up on my reading list next. It’s mostly books on art, and comics. I’m glad to say that procrastination this time does not stem from the wretched ‘too busy’ excuse, but the relatively human ‘lazy summer days’ rubric, and I wish everyone the same.
The Summer Art Market was one of my better ones in terms of sales, and also one of the hotter ones. After this cool spring it was not that surprising, but it didn’t melt the crowd- I had sales in almost every two hour block of the weekend, which also keeps the time moving. Thank you to everyone who came by and helped me celebrate a positive year!
I had fun with the posters featuring my artwork, giving them away with sales and to my friends. Beginning with my “Best Of Show” award at 2017’s show (which landed me on the poster), I had a fun year; appearing in Westword, showing in the State Capitol, participating in MoPrint.
So after a very busy Winter/Spring, it’s a month to enjoy some relaxation, and the World Cup.
The World Cup is living proof of American exceptionalism. It’s by far the greatest sporting event in the world, but especially with the USA having crashed out, it gets little real attention here, not that attention span is something Americans excel at in sports viewing. Some overweight fool somewhere is on his couch, trying to convince himself- with ESPN’s help- that the four hour baseball game he’s watching has more significance than, say, Portugal v Spain, a gripping early clash of titans in the Group Stage.
One for the ages? Hard to say, as there were many mistakes. Ronaldo jobs Nacho for a PK early, then Spain works their way- patiently with characteristic precision passing, back into it for a number of chances before equalizing on a brilliant Costa run.
Patience is required to enjoy Soccer. More than any sport, it takes place in real time- it’s not bloated with commercials, fantasy league statistics, and long-winded analyses. One must actively read the ebbs and flows of momentum on the field, rather than passively await a scoring highlight or statistical benchmark, as in American sports.
Now Ronaldo sneaks a counterattack goal past DeGea to bookmark the first half. Again, a mistake by Spain. But Spain is patient and works a brilliant set piece goal from Costa. Then Nacho gets redemption with a brilliant, trailing whiplash shot off both posts.
Spain has clearly been the better team, yet they made two major mistakes at the beginning and end of the primer tiempo. They must close this out efficiently, or their WC will be in question from the get go. The Group Stage seems to offer multiple chances to get into a rthym, but for favored teams like Spain, it can be unforgiving.
Another mistake, and Ronaldo lasers the equalizer. What a game! If the rest of the WC is as good as its start, perhaps Ronaldo- and even Putin- can be excused for taking his shirt off.
The intensity ramps up with Peru v Denmark(0-1): the most intense 90+ minutes of football seen so far; end to end for most of the second half. The cruelty and drama of the stereotypically reviled one-nil: Peru will play entertainingly for all three matches, but will be eliminated after the second.“Insufficient guile” is Derek Rae’s assessment of a Peruvian FK late in their game v France. They couldn’t turn their exciting play into goals. That sums up their tournament.
Mexico make no mistakes. Their tactics are excellent against the World Champions. The first half they show a fairly high press with very concise long balls over the top to keep Germany out of rhythm. They stay wide and keep up a nice tempo- short, short, long; basically playing Germany’s slow midfield press against themselves, lengthening the field, where Germany loves to shorten it. The goal is a brilliant bit of cutback and a seeing eye shot by Lozano.
They bunker a bit in the segunda tiempo, with Germany slowly shortening the field, and Mexico with just enough counter to relieve pressure, though they misfire on all. GK Memo Ochoa is there for the inevitable final siege. Mexico puts themselves in good position to go through, if they can maintain their aggressive tempo.
This plays out in the second round of games, where the stakes are suddenly higher, and teams walk a fine line. Mexico v Korea (2-1) and Germany v Sweden (2-1), a late thriller with one of this tournament’s many extra timegame winners= one of the more thrilling days of the Cup, and it carries over into Sunday with Japan v Senegal (2-2), and Poland v Columbia (0-3) which actually puts Senegal in a bad place in the final match day. This, too, would prove significant. Monday, the first day of the third round, is also dramatic with Spain coming back (2-2) and Portugal being hauled back (1-1) intense, complex, Video Assistant Referee-flavored battles that decide knockout round pairings.
France v Denmark (0-0), not so much. The commentators are fond of saying “This game needs a goal”. Sometimes that’s all it needs, but here it’s a stultifying bird-in-the-hand type game between two teams who already have what they want, and little to gain in future pairings, unlike Mexico, who have a real incentive to avoid Brazil in the next round. So we get the only nil-nil of the Cup so far, as the crowd whistles, but it’s plenty enough to perpetuate the soccer stereotypes, I’m sure.
Now, today, it’s the last day of Group Stage -always bittersweet. I’m on the couch, well-coffee’d and watching an intriguing start for Columbia v Senegal, two dangerous teams. Senegal does take their usual aggressive attitude toward attack, but after half time, Columbia’s quality and resilience begin to turn the tide. Final score- yes, 1-0. Senegal is out of the knockouts on a tie breaker. I had already watched a complete collapse by Mexico (not to mention Germany) on replay last night. But Mexico ends up on the right side of the math, and goes on, at least as far as Brazil.
Now, there is bacon in the skillet and I’m awaiting the kick off for Belgium v England. Both teams also already through, but the well regarded, high-scoring Red Devils and the underrated Three Lions have a lot to prove with top of the group at stake, and I’m not expecting nil-nil. Commentators are the erudite Derek Rae, and former WC player Ally Wagner, who retains her field-level feel for tactics, and is thus far unsullied by pundit-speak. Fox has had an up and down WC so far. Rob Stone is a football lightweight, Lalas apparently the designated loudmouth, with Terry Bradshaw the model. Rae and Wagner are firmly in the “ups”.
We’ll see what kind of match we get. Group Stage has been surprising and very evenly matched. Even the bigboys- Brazil, France, Spain, have struggled to find rythym, and some- like Germany and Argentina have not found it at all, or rarely. There’s been a lot of late drama, and half my bracket is in shambles. My predicted finalists, Spain and Brazil are still alive, though.
Baseball and NFL are for bean-counters. Baseball flatters itself that its cheap stats make any of its long slogging progress toward September and October meaningful. When the brain rattling violence on the claustrophobic gridiron is done, the last team to do an end zone dance will be declared “World Champion”, having never ventured out of the astro-turf infested suburbs, none of their “highlights” having aroused any interest in the world. To Americans, soccer’s a game that doesn’t “count”, but in 2026, The USA will find out that no travel ban will keep it out.
My own experience with other Americans, especially those of my generation, who created the hype machine that is the Super Bowl, and are often heard extolling the copious commercials- is a frustration. Even friends who profess a positive attitude toward the game, when they can be coaxed out to the park, seem to see the jockeying in the midfield as some sort of pause in the action, rather than integral to it. They treat it as an opportunity to drift into triviality, as if it was a commercial break in NFL, or the interminable tics and twitches between pitches in baseball. Soccer, where one pass can define an entire game, measures itself on a continuum of emotion, it’s a game defined by persistence of the heart. It provides few defined periods, incremental territorial gains or mandated possessions. Politically, culturally, and especially in sports, Americans have little patience for the grey areas of life. They are considered “boring”.
Soccer is poetry in motion, possibility centered squarely in the moment. It’s the game that breathes and sings. A team (and nation) in the 80th minute of a 1-nil match are only seconds from a blowout disgrace, a life-saving draw, or a glorious fight back triumph. It is always up to the players. Each one on the expansive field has the power to change the result. Even for Ronaldo, it takes a career for any impressive numbers to be tallied up, but his greatness is visible on the grass long before then.
It’s on to the Knockout Round, where, sorry, bean-counters, the tension ramps up and the goals are fewer. (Update: often fewer. Not on the first day, though.)
Greatness and glory poised on a knife’s edge. The whole world is watching, not counting. To the world, it’s only the game that counts and thus it’s the only game that matters.