Limp as a junkie after a month-long binge, I bid a fond adieu to World Cup 2010, glad to get back to my life, but sad to see the party's over. The world is in so much trouble these days, it was great to take a month's semi-respite from worrying about oil-slicked birds, bailout billions going to Wall Street billionaires while John Q. Public and his family on Main Street USA get evicted from their home, and why we're still knee-deep in the longest, stupidest war in our history. But I find it prudent to take a moment after a massive blowout party to take stock of myself, have a good long look at the man in the mirror, and reflect on what I've learned about myself, the world, and the connection between the two.
South Africa, The Country
Beautiful beaming faces, shining bright eyes, warm welcoming arms, and a crazy kaleidoscope of color bursting everywhere with ecstatic celebration of this booming Rainbow Nation. World Cup 2010 put South Africa on the map as the Olympics did for China. And they weren't scary about it. They know how to party, and they have the infrastructure. I wish I had gone. It's now on my to do list: Go to South Africa.
White people hate the vuvuzela. So screamed the headlines all over the world. But no one was able to stifle the voice of a nation trumpeting like a billion bumblebees buzzing. Granted, I didn't have one blowing in my earhole, but I am now like one of Pavlov's dogs, when I hear a vuvuzela, I get a soccer woody.
Propaganda Proves To Be Big White Lie
All over Europe and the United States, wild reports circulated that murdering marauders would be marauding and murdering soccer loving tourists. Girls were going to be abducted in front of their houses and sold into slavery. There were no reports of murdering marauders, or girls being abducted and sold into slavery.
Methinks the lady doth protest too much! Despite all the squawking and moaning and whining and complaining, last I heard both teams play with the same ball. If you hit the Jabulani correctly, you scored a goal. If you don't believe me go ask Siphiwe Tshabalala, the South African striker whose stock rose 100,000 points in one second when he sent that accursed ball screaming into the net to score the first World Cup goal on the continent of Africa, and get the party truly started. Ask Japan's Honda, Uruguay's Forlan, and Holland's Van Brankhorst. They didn't seem to have much trouble with it.
Backbone & Guts
Asamoah Gyan, the lithe yet powerful revelation of a striker from Ghana, missed a penalty kick in the last moment of the Uruguay game, breaking 1 million African hearts. Then he had to come back a couple minutes later before the whole wide world, and take another penalty. This one he made. Poignant, noble, heartbreaking, triumphant, inspiring, it's everything I love about humans.
If you have to cheat so your country has a chance to win, is it okay to cheat? Ask Luis Suarez of Uruguay. In the last seconds of their epic match against Ghana, he found himself standing on the goal line, the ball about to whiz past him into his net, dooming himself, his teammates, and his country to instant death in the tournament. So he broke the law. He cheated. He was banished. And yet the soccer gods were kind to Suarez and his team, and cruel to Africa's last hope, the Black Stars. The cheaters won. The cheated lost. What would you do? I'd cheat. Does this make me a bad person?
The Virgin Mary
Instead of the Hand of God, it was widely reported that the Virgin Mary was responsible for Uruguay's hero/villain Suarez illegally stopping the ball from entering his goal and eliminating his team. The Virgin Mary, when contacted, refused comment.
1,000,000 condoms were shipped to South Africa. Sources in FIFA, on the condition of anonymity, reported all of those condoms have been used. They attribute this largely to the fact that double wrapping was heavily advised.
Have they always suck this bad? Yes, they have. Should something be done about it? Yes, it should. Someone needs to invent RoboRef, a Terminator-like machine/man who instantly accesses all data electronically and makes the right decision every time. There's no arguing with RoboRef. After a red card, you lose a limb.
Led by the Great Green Gaffe, one of the most astounding mistakes in the history of the World Cup made by England's Robert Green, this World Cup will be known for the staggering horrorshow errors made by the only man on the field who can actually touch the ball in his hands. Faouzi Chaouchi of Algeria, Uruguay's Fernando Muslera and Claudio Bravo of Chile also deserve kudos for their nightmarish performances.
Should he stay or should he go? He made some great substitutions that got USA through the first round. His team was generally organized, they created many scoring chances, and obviously they earned international kudos by being the little-train-that-could-cardiac-kids. But he can't seem to get his players to awaken from hibernation in the first 20 minutes of a game. And his insertion of Ricardo Clark against Ghana was unforgivable. As soon as American fans saw his name in the lineup, he groaned out loud. Sure enough, Clark made a rookie mistake early on that was punished cruelly. I would keep Bob around for two more years then reevaluate, and see if there's a big-time battle tested World Cup winning coach on the market. But that's just me.
Saddest World Cup Story
Charlie Davies. For those of you who don't know, he was injured in a car accident (he wasn't driving) which kept him out of this World Cup. I kept thinking to myself, what is that poor, starcrossed fellow thinking as he watches America search for a second striker to play off Jozy Altidor? Time after time a chance fell to exactly where Mr. Davies would've been. At the Confederation Cup last summer, he was developing a beautiful partnership with Altidor. Charlie, wherever you are, I feel you, you were sorely missed.
For American fan, World Cup 2010 was like going on a great date with a very hot chick. You get back to her door, you have a furious make out session, you get all hot and bothered, you're both really into it, then she smiles, shakes your hand and says, "Well, goodnight." After which she disappears inside the house and you're left standing there on the doorstep all revved up with no place to go. Yes, you had a great time, but you just know there could've been so much more, and it would've been soooooooooooooo good. That being said, when Landon Donovan scored that magical last-second goal against Algeria, the most fans ever to watch a soccer game in the United States went absolutely batshit crazy, and the footie choir got some new converts.
In the end it was a victory of beauty over brutality. Never has a World Cup champion scored fewer goals, and looked so precarious. They 1-0'd everybody to death. But in the end, their combination of flowing one touch passes, skill-mad midfield of Inesta, Xavi and Alonso, the angelic goalscorer extraordinaire David Vilas and devilish two headed beast of Piquet and Puyol destroyed the best the world had to offer. And Spain will forever be the champions of World Cup 2010 in South Africa.
Channeling their inner Viking rather than their Total Football Dutch Master, they slayed the mighty fire-breathing dragon of Brazil, and made it all the way to the finals without losing a game. More street fighters than artistes, they weren't the most beautiful thing in the world to watch. All they did was win. Until they didn't anymore. And now they are the only team who lost the Final three times. Retaining their unwanted crown as Best Team to Never Win the World Cup.
Underestimate Uruguay if you dare. They were the team of the tournament. From the second smallest of the 32 countries, they went farther than anyone (other than themselves) predicted. They are fierce, and they bring it 1000%, with skill and grit. Even when you have your foot on their throat, don't stop pushing until they stop writhing and twitching.
A fierce beast who has become America's bête noire/worst nightmare having now exterminated USA twice in a row from very promising World Cup starts. Imagine if their best player Michael "the Bison" Essien had been fit to stampede up-and-down South Africa, creating instant offense and inflicting punishment on defense. As it was, they came within 3 inches of sweeping all of Africa into the semifinals. If I'm America, my balls start to shrivel when I hear the word: Ghana.
I said before this tournament that Italy was old, but I had no idea they were this old. All my Italian friends screamed at me, called me names, and told me how great these Italian players were. I'm not happy about it, but I feel vindicated.
The image of the French team locking themselves in the bus, smoking cigarettes and talking existentially about why they should bother playing when life itself is a living hell, will be stuck forever in my brain, a fitting symbol of how simultaneously arrogant and atrocious France was in this World Cup. It had the feeling of a parable illustrating the importance of karma. If you get into the World Cup by cheating, (see the Hand of Henri) you will disgrace yourself shamefully.
Self-loathing was taken to new heights when English fans traveled thousands of miles and spent thousands of Euros to call their own team filthy names that would make you and your mother cringe. The weight of this once great nation proved far too much for this team for pseudo-superstars, who proved to be limp and impotent as the sun slowly sets on the empire.
Who would've thought that the creators of the beautiful game would turn it so ugly? Granted, it was disturbing to watch Dutchman Arjen Robben writhing around like Juliet in a bad junior high school production of Romeo and Juliet, but that Gestapo-like stomping of the Diving Dutchman was everything that's wrong with human beings.
With their valiant leader, the ever stylish Michael Ballic, sidelined, I thought it would be difficult for Germany to go far in South Africa. It takes a big man to admit when he's wrong, and I am nothing if not big. Who would've thought that the cyborg soccer which is such a part of the Germanic tradition would give way to this open, flowing, goal happy beauty?
The image of larger-than-God Maradona trying to lay an embrace on a shattered, numb, bewildered Lionel Messi was one of the saddest moments of the World Cup. All those flashes of brilliance, dazzling runs, and no goals. In the end, they were shredded by the genius of Germany. This is what happens when the lunatics run the asylum.
Great goals, staggering mistakes, infantile insanity, noble heroics, this opera/farce made me happy to be alive. See you in Brazil in 2014!
David Henry Sterry is co-author, along with Bay Area literary legend Alan Black, of The Glorious World Cup: A Fanatics Guide, for those who like their soccer with a side of kick ass.