Like most Americans who watched the USA's World Cup team taken down by Ghana last weekend, I was disappointed but not outraged.
Before the tournament, the Yanks were considered long shots to advance beyond the final 16. They made it to the final 16. How could anybody be outraged by the failure of a team to advance any farther than it was expected to advance?
In the wake of the USA’s elimination, there’ve been some demands that coach Bob Bradley be replaced. (Who else to blame for the team’s consistently lethargic play during the opening minutes than the coach?) I’ve also read commentary demanding that the star-search for potential World Cup participants be expanded to the inner cities.
“We’ve got to get better development,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said the other day, “and better players at the end of it.”
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Otherwise, mainstream America’s response to its national team’s World Cup elimination has been to move on. It’s just a game, after all.
What’s the fuss?
The rest of the world finds Americans’ reluctance to take the World Cup defeat personally as an indication of backward thinking. We don’t get it, and, worse, we don’t understand why we don’t get it.
The rest of the world is right, of course. You and I and tens of millions of other sports fans who didn’t regard the USA’s defeat last weekend worthy of a National Day of Mourning, we’re all backward.
Which is just as well: I’d rather Americans remain backward about soccer than to emulate the fever-pitch irrationality prevalent in such “forward-thinking” nations as France.
By any measure, the French team, which finished second in the World Cup four years ago, did not distinguish itself in South Africa.
Forward Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting the coach. To protest the harsh way Anelka was disciplined, the team sat out a day of practice. Upon losing its final game of group play – its final game of the tournament – coach Raymond Domenech refused to shake hands with the winning coach from South Africa.
Fans in France had every reason to be furious with the players and furious with the coach. Except the aftershock of France’s dismal showing in the World Cup didn’t stop with furious fans. The after-shock extended all the way to the parliament, where lawmakers conducted a hearing and demanded answers from Domenech and national federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes.
Parliamentary interference in the matters of soccer competition is strictly prohibited by FIFA, whose president, Sepp Blatter, has warned that governments in violation of the anti-tampering rule are risking the suspension of their national team from international events.
Lawmakers in France responded to that threat the way lawmakers in any soccer-centric land would respond: They told Blatter to mind his own beeswax.
“This isn’t just about football,” said lawmaker Jacques Remiller.
“It’s about France: It’s our honor … at stake.”
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a man named Jacques might take this football stuff way too seriously. In any case, he’s wrong. A maddeningly abrupt exit from the World Cup is not about France, and not about France’s honor. It’s about football – nothing more.
While French lawmakers overreacted to the ignominious showing of its World Cup team, the president of Nigeria went into a panic. Goodluck Jonathan – a name so wonderful, you’d figure he’s got some issues – didn’t wait for FIFA to suspend the national team for governmental interference. Jonathan took it upon himself to suspend Nigeria from international competition for two years.
The penalty, according to the president’s spokesman, was imposed so that the “embarrassing outcome of the World Cup in South Africa won’t repeat itself.”
And how did Nigeria embarrass itself? By finishing with a record of no victories, one defeat, and two draws in Group B. The “Super Eagles,” Olympic champions in 1996 and silver medalists in 2008, scored three goals while allowing five. Aside from the red-card expulsion of midfielder Sani Kaita in a 2-1 defeat to Greece – an expulsion that found Kaita haunted by several hundred death threats – Nigeria’s most tangible humiliation is that it finished fourth in a group of four.
Goodluck Jonathan is the leader of a nation whose 2010 World Cup of 0-1-2 is sterling compared to its record on the human rights front.
Abuses include judicial corruption, torture of prisoners and forced child labor. Nigeria’s five decades as a major global oil source has produced a society of an elite few and a majority groveling to survive on $2 a day.
And the president’s most urgent order of business this week was to get tough with the Nigerian soccer team?
I’m keen on international sports. I’ve savored my opportunities to cover the Olympic Games, and someday I hope to travel overseas for a World Cup. But I must confess to a dirty little secret: The more I observe other nations’ illogical emphasis on winning – and creepy aversion to losing – the more I’m proud to be a man in a land where football requires helmets and soccer is just a game.
Here’s to the USA, marching backward since 1776.