Remember: It’s Only a Game
Well, we’re off to the races! This has turned out to be a season of disappointments and unmet expectations. Last weekend, we witnessed the demise of a possible Triple Crown winner — the first since 1978 — as heavily favored California Chrome turned out to have lead weight in his hooves in a losing bid to capture the Belmont Stakes in New York.
And last Thursday, Brazil finally kicked off its month-long celebration of World Cup Soccer fever. Unfortunately, viewers overseas and at home were treated to an appallingly run-of-the-mill opening ceremony. Allegedly put together by Belgian artistic director Daphne Cornez, it boasted the participation of various samba contingents, with questionable contributions by non-Brazilians Jennifer Lopez (born in the Bronx of Puerto Rican ancestry) and Cuban-American rapper Pitbull, as well as pop singer Claudia Leitte, the only Brazilian within earshot.
It’s my understanding that the ceremony’s organizers wanted to attract an international crowd to the worldwide event, which is all well and good. Still, if Brazil wanted to show off its musical and artistic attributes, why not make use of local talent? Don’t tell me that the land of Carnival and Samba couldn’t get its act together in time for the show. They’ve had adequate time to prepare (it’s been seven years since Brazil was awarded the Cup — seven lean years, no less). To imagine otherwise strains credibility!
Controversy was indeed a critical part of the games. Since last year’s disastrous Confederations Cup clashes, protests have been the norm throughout the country — and for good reason. A disgruntled citizenry has demanded that attention be paid to their concerns for once: for more federal money, and state and local funding for schools; for more hospitals and medical facilities, and dependable infrastructure; for more affordable housing for those unfortunates left out on a limb by a seemingly indifferent Brazilian government.
I have no trouble with protests per se. In my view, it is a citizen’s right to petition their representatives for better services; to be heard and listened to; to be taken seriously, and treated with fairness and equanimity. When the politicians look on with deaf ears, it’s time to take to the streets. To do all these things while the world is watching and waiting can serve to draw attention to the people’s plight, which is normally a good thing. But there are times when too much of a good thing can lead to an undesired outcome.
Strikes are another means of getting the populace to focus on a common goal. The trouble with that is, once one sector gets their way — in the form of pay raises and increased benefits — another sector holds out its hand to ask for similar concessions. Meanwhile, essential services (e.g., subway, bus, banking, and consulates around the world) are interrupted and everyone suffers for the sake of the few; a few, that is, in relative terms.
I understand about adverse criticism, too. To have the press constantly pick at the World Cup organizers for their lack of preparation, to stress the cost overruns of over $11 billion spent to date, as mediocre soccer stadiums and other unfinished projects linger in shameful neglect and disrepair, can leave fellow Brazilians with a bitter taste in their mouths. People start to wonder whether the “professionals” employed are only just self-promoting amateurs in disguise, boasting of their so-called abilities, when in fact they lack the very thing required to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.
What most folks are really hoping for is for the host country to show their mettle on the playing field. Now there’s a place where Brazilians can seek retribution for the blunders of their elected officials. That’s where Brazil’s best can make a difference and shine in the eyes of the soccer world.
So what were World Cup fans given in return for their loyalty? Why, only pedestrian (I’m being kind here) displays of paltry soccer skills by a lackluster squad of young wannabes who never were. Sure, there’s talent aplenty in Brazil’s lineup: Fred, Hulk, Julio Cesar, Oscar, and the stylish Neymar (with a halfway decent haircut for a change).
Their showboating coach Luis Felipe Scolari, or Felipão (Big Phil), is the foremost football blusterer in the business. While he shouts out commands and gesticulates wildly from the sidelines — more to distract the opposition than to relay coherent instructions to his team — the players go about their business in routine, time-is-on-our-side manner.
I’ve written about this attitude before, how it frustrates the hell out of followers and coveys to viewers the artificiality of the much-abused term “team work.” I won’t waste valuable space on this blog to go over every wrong turn or wasted opportunity. However, I will point out the obvious: it’s ironic that the first goal to be scored in this year’s tournament was an own goal by Brazilian defender Marcelo — the first own goal of its kind in Brazil’s long history of World Cup participation. Although Brazil won the opening game by a score of 3-1, it was not a good start, and a bad omen overall.
The other breaking news of the day was the catastrophic defeat on Friday by the Netherlands of defending World Cup champion Spain. Did I say defeat? Heck, the Spaniards were categorically and undeniably demolished in a 5-1 shellacking of Brobdingnagian proportions.
True, it was only the first encounter for either side, and there’s plenty of time for Spain to make up the deficit. But, oh how sweet it is that the Dutchmen sought, and achieved, redemption for their poor performance against the Spanish four years ago in South Africa. While we’re on the subject, Brazil and the other soccer greats, among them France, Argentina and Italy, all floundered in 2010 thanks to little to no offense to speak of, or barely adequate defense.
I see, too, that the officiating has shown no improvement from previous years. Questionable foul calls, non-existent infractions, and spurious penalty shots have begun to dominate the editorials and sports pages. It’s too soon to tell if this aspect of World Cup Soccer will have the undesired effect of unfairly favoring one side over another. The way I see it, the more that soccer becomes dependent on advanced technology, the more the necessity for instant replays becomes a major issue in resolving such intractable problems as those cited above.
All we need now is another “Hand of God” moment (I’m referring, of course, to Argentine player Diego Maradona’s phantom goal in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal against England) to lend illegitimacy to an already dubious reputation that the Federation Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, has no doubt fostered.
Yes, we’re off to the races! Anyone for a replay of the Triple Crown? I didn’t think so…
Copyright © 2014 by Josmar F. Lopes