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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

"Someone said, 'Football is more important than life and death to you,' and I said, 'Listen, it's more important than that.'"

The final is set in the African Cup of Nations: Egypt v Ivory Coast. The first semifinal was a tepid affair, with some peculiar attributes. The weather in Alexandria was in the 60's, but by midway through the second half Nigeria looked tired. After they went behind to another Drogba strike, no one except Okocha - a sub for Obi Mikel - was really trying. Even Drogba struggled to fire up his side's fans as the last minutes ticked down.

Despite the cool weather, playing in the late afternoon in Alexandria seems to be no picnic. The stadium faces almost exactly east-west, so one team was always going to see its offense neutralized by the glare of the low sun. (To see for yourself, try this link on Google Earth.) Martins had to shield his eyes just to arrange the second-half kickoff with Kanu!

It sounds like the other semifinal, not broadcast in TDH's neck of the woods, ended on a sour note. Apparently Senegal should have been awarded a penalty in the 90th minute that could have drawn the match, but the referee waved play on - probably out of fear for his life.

It's not only in Egypt that such a thing could happen. A better question might be, why don't such threats ever arise in the US? Perhaps it's because sporting events are much more of a family affair there. Or maybe it's just because, for all our faults, Americans realize that a game is just a game.

Plenty of diehard football fans see that attitude as a sign of the inferiority of American sports and sporting culture. It's not emotional enough, not life-or-death enough for them. Well, maybe they should take a step back once in a while to consider their priorities.

5 Comments:

Blogger the Maradona of Malawi said...

I don't know - it could just be because some American sporting events are even more middle class than European ones. Even in the '80s, Magic Johnson was saying that playing in Detroit was nothing near the experience that it was for players playing in the 70s because of ticket inflation. and lets not forget the various cases of Soccer Dad Murder we've heard about the last few years. just a game?

I saw Senegal's penalty shout, though, and Kamara went down pretty easily. There was a touch, but DK was never going to score from that angle and he knew it. Egypt ended the game very strongly.

Another note: early on in the game, Mido showed great sportsmanship by calming down one of the Senegal players who was cruising towards a red for a foul on the keeper and a bit of argy-bargy. He made a joke about it, calmed his teammates, put an arm around his shoulder and the player was just warned. The camera cut to Mido being given an absolute bollocking by his coach, and on the next possession he dove theatrically to win a free kick. I wonder what the coach said...

7:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it reflects on the parochial nature of American sports. Your average baseball fan would never have to invest his emotions in a national US team playing in competitive international tournament. Same with gridiron and to a lesser extent basketball. For many Soccer fans, a nation's identity can sometimes go hand in hand with the performance of their national team in international competition. Especially for troubled third world countries where the few times they can feel proud of their nation is on the football field. An embarrassing Olympic performance by the dream team doesn't resonate with the Americans because the the NBA finals are more important and more ingrained in the American psyche.

It sounds extremely patronising, but ask your average Tinidadian or Togolese person what one the most significant days for their country was and i'm sure it would relate to World Cup qualification. This sounds ridiculous to your non-sports fan but it makes a lot of sense to me. Just off the top of my head, you could argue that Germany's 1954 world cup win breathed new life into a nation that was on it's knees after the war. And there are numerous other examples. Sometimes football is that important.

7:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it reflects on the parochial nature of American sports. Your average baseball fan would never have to invest his emotions in a national US team playing in competitive international tournament. Same with gridiron and to a lesser extent basketball. For many Soccer fans, a nation's identity can sometimes go hand in hand with the performance of their national team in international competition. Especially for troubled third world countries where the few times they can feel proud of their nation is on the football field. An embarrassing Olympic performance by the dream team doesn't resonate with the Americans because the the NBA finals are more important and more ingrained in the American psyche.

It sounds extremely patronising, but ask your average Tinidadian or Togolese person what one the most significant days for their country was and i'm sure it would relate to World Cup qualification. This sounds ridiculous to your non-sports fan but it makes a lot of sense to me. Just off the top of my head, you could argue that Germany's 1954 world cup win breathed new life into a nation that was on it's knees after the war. And there are numerous other examples. Sometimes football is that important.

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

bugger. double post. sorry

7:50 AM  
Blogger The American Geordie said...

Don't worry about the double post, you're among friends.

Well, I certainly used to feel like European countries - especially England - were using football to relive past glories on the battlefield. Whether it was a central defender on my team yelling "Turn and face!" and "Push them back!" or simply the fact that the Number 10 was referred to as a "midfield general", there was always that military flavor. Then there were the headlines in the tabs before every England v Germany match. And of course the hooligans fought their own pitched battles off the pitch.

I also remember the Senegalese merchants in New York dancing along Broadway in midtown after their homeland qualified for the last World Cup. But why should such extreme positive feelings always be mirrored by violent negative reactions when things don't work out?

Perhaps the rest of the world is just more prideful? This goes back to your point - Americans are so used to being "No. 1" that national pride is almost an afterthought, something taken for granted.

6:27 PM  

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