MATT SCHUBERT ON SPORTS: Beautiful words for the Beautiful Game

GIVE THE BRITS this much: They sure know how to describe the Beautiful Game.

It’s hard to imagine an American announcer pulling off a World Cup soccer match with the same panache as their counterparts from across the pond.

A goal accompanied by an English accent excitedly proclaiming it “an absolute firecracker,” just has a little more weight added to it.

But as I have learned while watching the World Cup during the past few weeks, it’s more than just the accent.

There’s also a certain sensibility to the Englishmen ­– at least those employed by ESPN — that you just don’t get here in the States.

Would a Yank, for example, so brilliantly pepper the phrase “pantomime villains” into a telecast the way Ian Darke did during Tuesday’s Netherlands-Uruguay semifinal?

Methinks not.

I didn’t even know what a pantomime villain was two days ago.

Now, not only do I know the definition — which, surprisingly, has nothing to do with miming — but I’m determined to squeeze it into a conversation sometime in the near future.

(Maybe something along the lines of, “Seals have recently been cast as pantomime villains in Puget Sound fishing circles.”)

That’s the sort of stuff that makes watching a 1-0 soccer game not only tolerable, but quite enjoyable.

Here are a few more things I’ve enjoyed/learned during a blissful four weeks of morning soccer madness:

• Provincial platitudes — If there is one thing the World Cup allows us to do more than anything, it further reinforces certain stereotypes we have about other countries.

The Brazilians are flashy and playful (like their dance-like passing and dribbling style).

The Germans are efficient and productive (like their mechanical and powerful offense).

The French are pithy and disagreeable (like Zinedine Zidane’s 2006 head butt and the 2010 team’s very public implosion).

And the Italians are shrewd and advantageous (like their unmatched propensity to flop for foul calls).

I’m not saying these generalizations are true, just that it’s easy to look for any evidence that backs them up.

• Goal scoring is hard — Outside of the vuvuzelas, this might be the most common complaint about this World Cup.

It seems attackers must not only beat a defense to score goals, they also must fool the officials.

Never has a supposed unbiased party been so eager to have a direct effect on game quite like the latter. And, yes, that can be quite frustrating.

Still, there’s something to be said for the drama that builds in such low-scoring affairs.

It’s sort of like the first few weeks of a romantic relationship.

Neither party is quite sure what to make of the other, so advances are tiny and measured as they feel each other out.

There’s no kissing, hand-holding or cuddling, just an unspoken tension that (hopefully) bubbles over in one glorious moment.

That, my dear Peninsulites, is what Landon Donnovan’s injury-time goal against Algeria was like.

And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

• Dishonesty rules — I’ll be the first to admit that cheating is a part of sports.

Baseball players steal signs, basketball players throw elbows and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick sends spies to other teams’ practices (or so I’ve been told).

None of this, however, comes close to approaching the sort obscene gamesmanship that accompanies World Cup soccer.

I can even count the number of times I’ve seen a player fall to the ground holding their face after either A) not getting touched or B) receiving a slight tap nowhere near their ugly mugs.

Flopping is only part of it, however.

Defenders almost never line up 10 yards from free kicks like they are supposed to, forcing officials to actually place them there physically.

Throw-ins are routinely fought over, even when it’s patently obvious who the ball is off of. Sometimes players will even grab the ball directly out of an opponent’s hands.

Then there’s stuff like Uruguay’s blatant handball near the end of its quarterfinal victory over Ghana.

Not only did the defender deliberately break the rules in order to save a goal — sort of like grabbing a guy by his facemask at the one-yard line — he later threw his hands up as if he were innocent.

Don’t these guys know there’s cameras all over the field? Do they even care?

• Color clash — I was at a bar a few weeks ago when a group of drunken revelers broke out in a “Goal” chant after watching a late night replay (yes, a replay) of Donovan’s dramatic goal against Algeria.

Almost immediately, everyone around them jubilantly joined in.

We had all watched it, and we had all seen it the same way: A great moment in our country’s voluminous sports history.

It was a wonderful experience, perfectly juxtaposed by a similar one at that same bar a week before when a Los Angeles Lakers fan immediately drew the ire of many by loudly bragging about his team’s recent NBA title.

(Side note: I might have joined in by yelling out a few comments about Kobe Bryant’s sexual misconduct allegations, but that’s neither here nor there.)

I don’t think I’m blowing anyone’s mind by suggesting that Red and Blue have not exactly been complementary colors for a while now in this country.

All of that mattered little, however, once those vuvuzelas started blowing.

That was true throughout the rest of world as well. Pictures of dancing downtowns in Spain and Holland this week illustrated as much.

It was probably the best thing about this World Cup in my opinion.

For one month, we all agreed on the same thing.

Too bad it only comes every four years.


Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column regularly appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected]

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