I enjoyed the 2010 World Cup, not just for the excellent soccer (or football, as it’s usually called outsideNorth America), but also for the sounds of the vuvuzela, the traditional horn that South African fans blew incessantly during the matches. My doctor says my ear drums will be fine — they should be back to normal just in time for the next World Cup.
The World Cup was a learning experience — at least that’s what I told my wife. Here are just 10 lessons I came away with:
1. South Africa was a big winner. The country did a magnificent job of hosting the World Cup, proving many people wrong and doing Africa proud. Some skeptics expected a crime wave during the month-long tournament, but the World Cup was relatively crime-free, aside from Uruguay stealing a victory from Ghana.
2. Timing is everything. North Korea, which qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 44 years,had a good showing in their opening match, losing by just one goal to five-time champion Brazil, so their autocratic government decided to televise the next match live. Yes, LIVE! The first LIVE match in a long time gave North Koreans an opportunity to see the national team playing DEAD. They were hammered 7-0 by Portugal, and the North Korean government had no choice but to blame it all on American influence: “Our team get confused, think they are playing American football, and lose by only one touchdown.”
3. Winning is better than not losing. Only one team didn’t lose a single match in this World Cup — that soccer power New Zealand. The Kiwis, who were eliminated in the first round, proved that they’re not just one of the most improved teams, they’re also the best dressed: they went home with three ties.
4. Soccer is a magical sport. No, I’m not referring to the phenomenal footwork or astounding goals. I’m talking about the disappearing act performed by superstars Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney. Poof! Even Cristiano Ronaldo went missing, but the South African police managed to track him down in a Durban beauty salon.
5. Octopuses are better at predicting soccer matches than other creatures. From a Sea Life Centre in Germany, Paul the Octopus correctly picked the winners of eight World Cup matches, outshining a number of other creatures who tried to predict the results, including Leon the Porcupine, Petty the Pygmy Hippo, Mani the Parakeet, and Melvin the Human.
6. The beautiful game needs fixing. Among the concerns at this World Cup: England was robbed of a goal against Germany, Uruguay benefited from a deliberate handball, and FIFA failed to listen to my suggestion to appoint Nicole Flint, Miss South Africa, as an honorary lineswoman. (Do you think she would have missed England’s goal?)
7. Asians can really play. The Africans were pretty good, as expected, but the Asians showed that they can really play. Yes, I spotted several of them doing a great job playing the vuvuzela. (They did fine on the field, too. Japan will win the World Cup one day, especially if they can pair their star midfielder Honda with a forward named Toyota.)
8. All balls aren’t equal. The Adidas Jabulani ball was the official ball of the 2010 FIFA World Cup — and it was officially awful. It took some quirky bounces — just ask England keeper Robert Green — and was particularly erratic whenever it was kicked by anyone who spoke French. (No, I’m not suggesting it was a Spanish ball, but did you see how it accelerated whenever David Villa shouted “Ole!”?)
9. Soccer stars are multi-talented. While players in American football can specialize in one or two skills, soccer players have to know it all: how to dribble, how to shoot, how to dive. Uruguay and Netherlands didn’t win it all, but at least Diego Forlan won the Golden Ball award and Arjen Robben won the Golden Fall award.
10. One goal is enough. In the knockout stage of the World Cup, Spain won all four matches by the score of 1-0. The team was a model of focus and determination. It had only one goal: to win the World Cup. Portugal, on the other hand, had seven goals — and North Koreans got to see them LIVE.
Cartoon by Mahendra