Having A Hard Time Catching World Cup Fever?

There is no doubt that TV ratings are way up for this World Cup, but some of the “new” viewers are having a difficult time finding a ton of excitement and drama in the opening group round games.

Here are a few of the criticisms that I have heard from self-described non-soccer fans regarding this year's World Cup.

The games have been boring.
I will agree that there have been a couple of snoozers, but for the most part I have found the games to be at least mildly entertaining. There has not, however, been a lot of scoring – even by World Cup standards. There have only been 23 goals through 14 games. The past three World Cups have featured 31-39 goals after the same number of games. The late goal by N. Korea against Brazil marked the first time a team had scored a goal in a losing effort.

I'm not sure what has led to the goal drought, but the usual suspects will be bandied about if this keeps up. Some will blame the ball, others will fault the Vuvuzela orchestras – and why not those seem to be the lightning rods for anyone who wants to complain about this year's World Cup. I have a couple of other theories as to why the games haven't been filled with drama and/or goals.

There is a lot of parity in world soccer right now. It is difficult to stand out from the crowd, and the days of 6-0 routs may be a thing of the past at the World Cup finals. The lower end teams are able to hang with the cream of the crop. N. Korea (Korea DPR) is ranked 105th in the world – some 50 spots below Tunisia, yet, they were able to keep their game against top-ranked Brazil respectable, even adding a late goal to make things interesting. Korea DPR kept 8 or 9 players behind the ball for most of the game, content to keep the Brazilians at bay. The strategy worked well enough for a scoreless first half, but Brazil eventually broke through in the second half. On a side note, there is no truth to the rumor that N. Korean television is showing their goal from three different angles and claiming a 3-0 victory in the name of Kim Jong-il.

A lack of goal scoring is one thing. Boring games are another. There can be a 0-0 game that features a lot of end to end action, but some of the games in this opening round have lacked quality scoring chances. Why? I think it has to do with the conservative nature of many teams in the opening game. I'm looking for an analogy to other sports, and the best I can come up with is this: You can't win the Indy 500 on the opening lap, but you can definitely lose it. Trying to go from 15th to the lead on the opening lap could lead to a disaster that ends with a crash into the wall and a very early exit from The Brickyard. A 3-1 loss in the opening game of a World Cup is darn near hitting the wall on the track.

In my opinion, many teams are content with a draw in the opening game. If a team takes chances and loses badly, they get put in a dire situation in their second game. I don't mind the conservative approach in the opening game. I also look for the action to pick up considerably in the teams' second games.

Although the U.S. managed a draw with England, I think they are close to a must-win situation against Slovenia. Slovenia's late goal against Algeria really put them in the driver's seat in the group. A draw against the U.S. gives them four points, while the U.S. would have two. If England beats Algeria, then the U.S. would be in a must-win and get a bit of help situation to advance out of the group. If the U.S. beats Slovenia they will be in great position to advance, regardless of what happens in the England/Algeria game.

Too many players fake injuries or “embellish” the severity of their injury
This time-tested criticism of soccer is as prevalent as ever. My response to anyone who voices this criticism is to give them a quick shot on the ankle bone with my dress shoes. If you've never been kicked in the lower leg by a soccer cleat, I can tell you this much: it hurts.

The next time a player is writhing in pain on the field, take a look at how much padding or protection the player is wearing in his socks. You'll find that most players wear the bare minimum of protection for their shins and ankles. It seems the more advanced your soccer career becomes the smaller your shin guards become. For many players, shin guards are a necessary evil. Large shin guards with ankle protection don't allow for the kind of precision touch that most players want when possessing the ball. I liken it to a quarterback wearing a glove. Most QB's will forego any protection from the glove because they lose the feel of the ball when wearing a glove. The bottom-line is those seemingly small nicks on the ankles and shins can prove to be very painful.

As for players going down and overreacting to an opposing player's tackle, I think that is a sound strategy at this level of play. If you look closely, the vast majority of the time there was some contact before the player goes down. If the player does not hit the turf, he will most likely stumble and lose control of the ball – resulting in being dispossessed by the opposition. If he goes down after contact, there will most likely be a whistle and a foul on the opposing player. If you look at it like that, there is no benefit to staying on your feet when you are fouled – especially if it causes you to temporarily lose control of the ball. If you are legitimately fouled, no matter how slight the infraction is, you deserve the benefit of the whistle being blown. I guess the best way to insure that happens is by flying through the air like you were hit by Jerrod Mayo.

The game doesn't end at a set time, it ends when then referee feels like ending it.
This is only partly true, but I understand the basis of this complaint. Many team sports feature a clock running down to zero and the game is over. The crowd knows exactly when the game is going to end.

Although it is an adjustment to get used to the idea of “extra time” being added at the end of a half and game, and then the fact that the extra time is not set in stone, varying based on what happens in extra time and how the game is played as the extra time ends. I don't think this detracts from the suspense, I think it adds to the suspense. I like the idea that the referee's whistle may not blow at exactly the time extra time is scheduled to end if a team is moving forward with the ball and threatening to score. Many times, a team is able to finish a gradual build-up with a goal several seconds after the allotted extra time has expired.

I'm not going to try and convince you that soccer is the world's greatest sport, as I realize that everyone is entitled to their own tastes and opinions. But, if you're new to the game, give it a little time. If you keep watching the games, you may just find yourself making arrangements to keep watching or at least reaching for the remote to set the DVR.