I do like big sporting events and so I did my best to get into the World Cup. It was a little easier to get into it before the US was eliminated, but even after that I kept watching. The pure athleticism of the game is truly impressive. The truly worldwide nature of the game was also refreshing. The fact that the US was an underdog by a good margin also drew me in. When it came to yesterday and the final I really did not have any strong feelings for either of the teams, so I thought I would cheer for the Dutch because they were the underdog. That was until the game started anyway.
I had not been following close enough to understand that Bert van Marwijk, the coach of the Netheraland's team, had been encouraging his team to play rough. It was clear from the beginning that the central element of this game was what I had come to appreciate as the underlying premise in soccer: you do what you can to injure the other guy when the ref is not watching. Followed closely by objective number two in soccer: do whatever you can to make it look like the other guy tried to injure you when the ref was not watching. I admit that we have our share of violence in American football, and our share of theatrics in basketball, and it is hard for the officials in either sport to keep control of the game. I am sure that my reaction to the way the game of soccer is played is also colored by my unfamiliarity with the game itself.
To me it looks like all of the action in this world cup final was guys trying to break each other's legs when the ref was not watching, interspersed by occasions when the ref was watching. This World Cup set a world record with 13 yellow cards and one red.
Astonishingly, the one red card was not issued for the time Nigel De Jong of the Netherlands, executed a flying kick to the chest of Spain's Xabi Alonso. An act described by the announcer as a Kung Fu kick. Now I don't know much about soccer, but I suspect that this is extraordinary behavior. Apparently not extraordinary enough, because the offending player got a yellow card for trying to kill his opponent. From what I can tell, a yellow card is given out for intentionally doing something against the rules, and a red card (ejected) is either the second yellow card or a really bad version of a yellow card. Seems to me that trying to end a players life would be in the really bad category. Like with any sport, once a tone of lawlessness is set, the whole thing goes downhill.
So my memory of the 2010 World Cup is going to be dominated by this scene:
Credit to the AP for the photo.