The beautiful game

Thursday, June 15, 2006

For the next month, futebol, or soccer as its called in the United States, will capture the attention and imagination of billions of fans. The World Cup final, to be played on July 9, is expected to be the viewing choice of one of six people on the planet.

Soccer is called "The Beautiful Game" and that is a fitting description of a sport that requires players to use only their feet to guide the ball around a huge field and attempt to put the ball into a small goal. Critics of soccer claim the sport is boring, because many games are decided by a single goal, and after 90 minutes of non-stop play, isn't that a little disappointing?

To those who follow the game, the answer is absolutely not. The beauty of the game is not defined by the number of goals scored. Instead, the game is elevated to an art form through players' creativity and their ability to "see" the field and create scoring opportunities and amazing saves.

Already in the early days of the World Cup, we have seen some breathtaking soccer. We watched Luis Figo, an aging Portuguese player who came out of international retirement to rejoin his national team, deftly kick the ball past an Angolan defender, retrieve his own pass and slice the ball through two other defenders to place it directly in front of the goal for his teammate Pedro Pauleta to cleanly place into the back of the net. There have also been some gorgeous rocket shots from 35 yards out. Who couldn't be impressed with Tomas Rosicky of the Czech Republic who sent a screamer of a ball soundly into the net from way beyond the penalty box. Sadly enough, Rosicky's goal, the first of two, was the undoing of the American team as the Czech Republic went on to embarrass the U.S. with a 3-0 thrashing. It's also incredible to watch goalies, often the most athletic players on the field, make diving, one-handed saves, just clearing away a ball that is careening toward the corner of the goal.

For those who have never watched a game of soccer, now is the time. The World Cup brings together the top teams in the world and it's always exciting to watch as players become inspired and teams typically play beyond expectations.

Already in opening play, we have watched Trinidad and Tobago, the smallest country ever to qualify for the World Cup, play powerhouse Sweden to a 0-0 draw. The Soca Warriors, as the Trinidad team is known, played a gutsy game and showed the world that a country's size does not determine its soccer potential, especially on the world stage.

For newcomers to the game of soccer, we suggest you pay close attention to the Samba Boys of Brazil. Although hype and expectations could take their toll, the Brazilian team is expected to repeat as World Cup champions. They truly have a dream team, and if you want to watch soccer played at its highest form, make sure to see a match involving Brazil, and if you want to see magic performed with a soccer ball, watch Ronaldinho, Brazil's brilliant #10 in the midfield. He's been called soccer's sorcerer and his play has been compared to two of the sport's all-time greats, Pele, of Brazil, and Maradona, of Argentina. There is no more creative a player than Ronaldinho. His legs are like cannons yet he moves the ball around the field with the grace of a dancer. He is truly beautiful to watch, and once you see him play, maybe then new initiates to the sport can understand the enormous appeal of the game.

Soccer is also an amazing sport because players work together with very few set plays or coaching support once a game begins. For 90 minutes, players move about the field, passing the ball back and forth with precision, looking for the chance to create a run that results in a hard-to-come-by goal. And soccer is not all about scoring. The best teams must also put together an impenetrable defense. A team's back line is immensely important and is the reason why goals are so hard to score. Attacking players must find ways to break down the defense and create space to take shots on goal. And when those shots make it into the net, it's hard not to jump up and cheer out loud.

As we write this editorial, we realize that there are few soccer lovers in Barry County, but we appreciate the opportunity to share our love of the game with our readers. If you've ever been curious about the game of soccer, now's the time to explore its nuances. The World Cup offers soccer at its very best. Enjoy and let us know what you think.