December 9, 2005

Eleven Days in June

Today, the draws for the World Cup were announced. In case you didn't know, and you probably didn't, the United States is eighth-seeded in the world's biggest sporting event -- bar none.

Soccer (the rest of the world calls it "football" but most of my Loyal Readers are from the U.S. so I will use the U.S. phrase) is a bit more mundane and, at first glance, not so much fun to watc since the scoring is not high and the action is continuous. But after a while, you begin to realize that the players position themselves much like players in a hockey game, albeit a little bit slower because they are running, not skating, over a much larger field. And they need tremendous balance, reflexes, and speed as well as endurance.

Part of what makes the World Cup fun to follow is that these are national teams. There is something about a sports team symbolizing a country that is qualitiatively different for a sports fan to watch than a professional team symbolizing a community. The Olympics are fun for the same reason, but another part of what makes the Olympics enjoyable is that Olympic sports are not often seen outside of the Olympics; they are specialized and there is some novelty to them as a result. But the World Cup is bigger than the Olympics by a long shot.

Now, if you're like me (and I know I am) you're not going to take the time to watch all sixty-four games. But I will make at least some effort to watch the U.S. games play and certainly will cheer on the team. I also will enjoy following the Cup this summer, regardless of how the team does. This only happens once every four years and it's fun to follow along.

Here's what you need to know. There's 32 teams in the tournament. They are broken down into eight groups of four teams each. In the first round of the tournament, they play round-robin style for points. Three points for a win, one point for a tie. At the end of the first round, the two top point scorers in each group advance to the second round. The second round is a single-elimination playoff with brackets much like the NCAA tournament; teams are seeded based on their completed standings within their groups. The second round begins on June 24 and the championship game is July 9. Brazil is the returning champion and Germany is both the host team and a heavy favorite. Other powerhouses will include England, Italy, Argentina, and Holland.

The schedule is here. On June 12, we play the Czech Republic in Gelsenkirchen, a city in a north-west German state called Nordrhein-Westphalia near the larger city of Essen, near Belgium and the Netherlands. On June 17, we play Italy in Kaiserslautern, one of the larger cities in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, near the French border. This should be a "home game" for us, due to Kaiserslautern's proximity to one of the largest U.S. military bases in Europe; my father has seen a professional soccer game at the arena where this game will take place. Finally, on June 22, we play Ghana in Nuremburg, a city in the southern German state of Bavaria (and, by coincidence, the city of my birth). The U.S. should be favored to win against the Czechs and Ghana, and no one wants to yet opine on the U.S.-Italy game, which may well be the best match in the entire first round. But, none of these teams are lightweights. Other groups, like group "H" (Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Tunisia) or group "F" (Croatia, Australia, Japan, and returning champion Brazil) are much more one-sided than our "Group of Death."

As with any sports tournament with many entrants, there will be surprises, upsets, chokes, and Cinderella stories. But it happens on a national scale and, a few hooligans aside, it is generally pretty friendly and all done for fun. So I say, let's look forward to our eleven days in June and, hopefully, a good showing in the second round, too.

1 comment:

Salsola said...

And if we are able to come in second place (which would be quite a feat), then we next play Brazil, the number one ranked team in the world and the winner of the last World Cup.