Friday, June 27, 2014

World Cup Fever

From his sister's home in Germany, Stefan will be able to watch the Fifa World Cup final group G match between powerful Germany versus up and coming United States as both teams would appear to make it to the next round of 16.

In their first group match, the U.S. beat Ghana in a vengeance match as payback for the latter's rousting of the Americans at the 2010 event in South Africa, and the Americans came very close to besting Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal side last Monday (Tuesday morning at 5.00 a.m. Thai time).

I was able to watch most of that match while readying myself for a visa run to the Thai-Burmese border.   The American side at first were unable to answer the early goal by Portugal's Nani as the match broke for halftime.  But American  midfielder Jermaine Jones evened things up with a goal in the 64th minute.

In the 84th minute, forward Clint Dempsey put the U.S. ahead with a beautiful goal that had me screaming at my TV at 6.40 a.m.  I thought, all you guys have to do is hold on for this victory!

Unfortunately, I was screaming again 11 minutes later when, in the 90th minute plus 5 minutes injury time, Silvester Varela evened the score 2-2, barely a minute before the referee whistled the match to a close.  It was quite a disappointing end to a match that featured a very strong American team.

There have been surprises galore in this year's World Cup finals as some of the "beautiful game's" biggest contenders have been eliminated from the tournament, including former world champions Spain, Italy's famed Azzuri, and now Portugal as well.

Poor England, a perpetual also-ran since it won the World Cup final it hosted in 1966, was shut out of the final 16 with a miserable draw and two losses in group D.

Meanwhile, some of the "minnows" of the sport have delivered major happiness to their supporters with their stunning upsets and ferociously determined play.  These teams include Costa Rica at the top of group D, Chile second in group B,  Algeria also in second in group H, and Greece in second in group C.

Colombian fans are thrilled to see their team topping group C with their best World Cup performance in history.

And Uruguay surprised some with their second place in group D as they eliminated Italy in their final group match.  Unfortunately the celebration was marred by Luis Suarez's biting of Giorgio Chiellini's left shoulder.  It was the third biting incident in Suarez's checkered career, and Fifa has banned him for four months which means he will miss Uruguay's next nine games.

All this--the thrilling matches, the heartbreak, the controversy--is personally reminiscent of the
2010 World Cup which I was able to watch during my seven week tour of Central America in June and July of that year.

And I am reminded also of my experience in 1994 when the United States hosted the World Cup for the first time.

At that time I was living and working in Bangkok, and often I would stay up late--at times until 3.00 or 5.00 a.m.--and go out to watch the matches at the Malaysia Hotel, near my room in the Soi Ngam Dupli neighborhood.

I discovered then that I enjoy watching this level of "soccer" play, even though I was never a huge sports fan.  There is something really compelling about the World Cup.  It's similar to the excitement generated by the Olympics, but I think it's more exciting than the Olympics, and I'm not sure I can explain why.

In 1994 I was proud, too, to see the U.S. make such a good international impression with its outstanding hosting of the event.  That year, the world famous Brazilians came out on top against Roberto Baggio's Italy in an overtime penalty shootout.

This year, the Brazilians are the hosts and they are also the favorites to win their sixth World Cup.

I'm just thrilled to see the U.S. make the top 16 with Germany in their group G.  Can the Americans advance to the next round?

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