World Cup Runneth Overtime

What makes the World Cup so special? Like the Olympics, much of its allure stems from its infrequency, which amplifies the stories and sub-plots. Millions of rabid fans from countries in every hemisphere have been waiting four, eight or often more years to converge on this one stage (in person or via television and radio), making it an unmatched spectacle.

I know, we Americans don’t “get” soccer. Too many ties; too much flopping and acting; too little scoring. But there is a reason 90% of the planet is soccer-crazy, and yesterday’s action was a perfect example of why. The USA vs. Algeria game was like a script out of Hollywood. Already having been robbed of a precious goal in their previous game, (one that would have assured them a spot in the coveted knockout round), it appeared for 90 minutes that the story of Team USA 2010 was destined to be a tragedy. In what everyone knew could very well be their final game, against Armenia, they found themselves again the victim of a dubious goal-erasing call early in the game. Reports from the other pool game being played simultaneously conveyed the worst of news. England held a one goal lead over Slovenia. Now only a US win would do. The Americans subsequently missed opportunity after opportunity, only intensifying the magnitude of those excruciating officiating errors, and were tied 0-0 and on the brink of elimination as regulation time ended. As the game entered four minutes extra time, only the most faithful and optimistic believed there was any chance of a tournament-saving goal.

But then it happened. With heads in hands as distraught fans sat on the edges of their seats, Team USA was raised from the dead by a sudden and miraculous goal just before time expired. Just that suddenly, the fates of other nations changed as England fell to number two in the pool and Slovenia went from moving to the round of 16, to going home. Imagine how the Slovenian fans felt as their game ended and they scrambled to catch the final minutes of ours. In an instant, our epic good fortune became their calamity and heartbreak.

These scenarios are played out in every pool, in every participating country throughout the tournament. And when it’s over for a team and country there is no, “Get ‘em next year.” There’s nearly half a decade’s wait, or more, for another chance. Four more years to hope for an opportunity that may not come or that might finally arrive again, then end – or not – in the blink of an eye. Who knows? Maybe this World Cup thing might catch on.

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