[Editor's Note: I would like to welcome John Easterling to the Birmingham Weekly fold. John will be writing and blogging about sports for us, and he's started us off here with a passionate look back at the World Cup Weekend. Enjoy the first of what I hope to be many great posts under the "X's & O's" banner. Also, I've taken the opportunity to attach some photos I took at the Sloss World Cup Event on Sunday at the end of the post.]
Well, it couldn’t have been less of an “American-style” final. A game, a beautiful game, full of all the things that are supposedly wrong with soccer and why Americans can’t embrace the love affair that is International Football – the fouls, the flops, low scoring, no breaks, the arguing, the acting. This game had it all.
Right from the opening whistle, the tone of play of the 2010 World Cup Final was established as a game full of bookings, aggressive (if not dirty) tackles, high emotion, missed chances, and close calls. The first booking – a yellow card for Van Persie, the Dutch Forward – occurred within the first five minutes. By the twenty-fourth minute, the fourth yellow card had been issued, which put the game well ahead of the pace for record bookings in a Final (which was six). The game finished with an astounding thirteen total bookings.
The first half was largely uneventful in the way of scoring chances until the Netherlands established a foothold in the Spanish box in the last minutes. No goals ultimately as the teams went to half scoreless.
The second half, however, was saturated with missed chances and un-taken opportunities. Arjen Robben failed to deliver on two chances on fast breaks inside Spain’s box. Andres Iniesta and Xavi continued to pass on shooting chances, choosing to distribute the ball to teammates instead, resulting in loss of possession. Sergio Ramos sailed a header over the bar despite being unmarked on a corner. Wesley Sneijder, who has been arguably the most exciting player of the entire tournament, was non-existent for the vast majority of the match. Despite the increase of chances for both teams, the game lacked the electricity and excitement of distance goals so prevalent in the third place game the day before, and tournament as a whole.
Spain dominated the midfield and the Dutch counterattacked.
There was a moment as the second overtime was beginning in which announcer Efan Ekoku predicted a likely outcome of penalty kicks. And it certainly appeared that way. But then, in a moment that seemed to define the whole game, Fernando Torres sent in a lackluster cross that just wasn’t cleared but the Dutch defense. The ball fell right to Cesc Fabregas who sent a beautiful ball to Andres Iniesta who finally… freaking… shot. And guess what? GOOAALLLLLL!! It was the latest World Cup goal in the history of the Finals (116’). A broken play. A beautiful goal. A breathtaking game.
Spain went on to win 1-0, capturing its first World Cup title. Other firsts Spain achieved include the first team to win it all after losing its first game and the first European team to win outside of Europe and the first team to win on African Soil.
Now that it’s all said and done, and that fat ole lady has sung, I’m struck by one thought. One word continues to race over and over in my mind – passion. As a lifetime resident of Birmingham, Alabama, passion is definitely a word that resonates within me. Passion about college football. Passion about sweet tea. All too often, passion about division. If you even mention the word ‘Auburn’ or ‘Alabama’ be prepared to have a – let’s say heated – discussion. We’re very good at being “us versus them.” We like to separate ourselves from other countries. Heck, we even separate ourselves out within our country. And that’s not even mentioning the other division Birmingham is famous for.
Soccer is no different. Even though it is growing and gaining support, it is still relegated to the sidelines and backseats. Supposedly, Americans need more action and they need it now. Give us ten seconds of excitement then let us return to our beers and bathrooms and conversations until you’re ready to give us another ten seconds. But I saw something special during this World Cup. I saw millions of Americans holding their breath for 90 minutes at a time. When Landon Donovan scored against Algeria, the euphoria and ecstasy couldn’t be contained. It was released in an nationwide explosion of relief, joy, and amazement.
This is what carries over into American culture. We live for those moments of greatness. Bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, full count. Fourth quarter, no timeouts, down by six from the 35-yard-line. :03 left on the clock, down by two, in bound and shoot from half court. We live for those moments of drama. I think soccer translates wonderfully here. Each goal can count for so much. Almost every game is a huge build up to a dramatic moment. That’s not even mentioning PKs, which are about as high drama as it gets.
The World Cup being on African soil for the first time brought out the best of what sports can be. An entire nation, an entire continent, an entire world celebrating the beauty of one pursuit – winning. No, not winning. Playing the game beautifully. Playing with heart. Playing with passion.
Seeing the enthusiasm and pride upon the faces of the South African hosts for the first game as their team stepped onto the field, especially when one of their own became the first human being to score a World Cup goal on African soil was a special moment I’ll never forget.
Images of entire towns, cities, and countries stopping everything to be a part of something bigger than themselves will never fade from my memory. Faces, colors, and boundaries blurred together into pictures of excitement, ecstasy, despair, and anguish. The World Cup had become a world canvas for us to paint a new picture of hope. This is the beauty of sports. This is the beauty of passion. Just leave out the vuvuzelas next time.