In the U.S., where there’s always sizeable skepticism about soccer, even the vuvuzelas will be missed. Yup, even them.
Not for their incessant and, okay, annoying, buzzing, but for what the soundtrack of the now completed World Cup signifies. The horns provided an auditory reminder of game time, of community theater and communal celebration. Here in the U.S., which boasts billion-dollar industries such as the National Football League and National Basketball Association, which could’ve been mistaken for a league of one lately, the soundtrack of sport is so, well, artificial. So, well, sad.
Forget about folks blowing horns or banging drums, except for that persistent percussionist who, from his seat deep in the center-field bleachers, cheers for baseball’s Cleveland Indians.
For the most part, there is no groundswell of spontaneous samba, which pops up whenever and wherever Brazil plays. It just doesn’t happen. What we get instead is a giant scoreboard, like the one erected by the Dallas Cowboys, literally telling us, asking us, pleading with us to make some noise.
The World Cup ended yesterday in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Spain, wearing blue, and the Netherlands, in its familiar orange, played a game that had the referee, again and again, reaching for yellow. And red, which the Dutch surely would regret.
Final score: Spain 1, the Netherlands 0. Overtime. Beautiful, no, but the better team won.
Early Scoring Chance
There were chances for both sides. More of them for the boys in blue. The game was barely four minutes old when Spain’s Sergio Ramos, a defender with a penchant for pushing forward, was denied by a spectacular save from Maarten Stekelenburg.
It was Ramos again in the 77th minute. This time, from four yards out, he just blew it. The chance was there. The accuracy was not. It happens. His header sailed over the crossbar.
Spanish substitute Cesc Fabregas almost played hero five minutes into overtime. His shot, however, found Stekelenburg’s left leg, not the back of the net. It happens. Madrid remained mute.
For the Dutch, Arjen Robben, who has enjoyed a wonderful tournament, went one-on-one with the goalkeeper just before Ramos’s miss. His shot nicked the goalie’s leg, bounding wide of the target. Robben dropped his face into his hands even before the ball had crossed the end line. It happens. Antsy in Amsterdam.
You get the sense that American fans are catching on to what the rest of the world seems to already know: That soccer’s intrinsic appeal isn’t in the goal scoring but the buildup. It’s chess.
It’s a series of advances and retreats, of try this, try that, try something else if necessary. It’s about control and movement, poise and positioning until the ball makes its way to a 5-foot-7 midfielder, a newly minted and humble hero, in the 116th minute.
Andres Iniesta’s right foot waited for the ball to fall, gravity taking its sweet, sweet time, and sent it into the back of the net.
Soccer is about the explosion of euphoria when all of it comes together. Just like it did for Iniesta. Boom. Madness in Madrid. Agony in Amsterdam. Again.
Americans were reminded, yet again, that athletic greatness exists outside of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, whose Lakers teammate, Pau Gasol, was among those on hand. They got to know Uruguay striker Diego Forlan, who was voted the best player of the tournament.
Americans won’t soon forget Landon Donovan, who mere moments from elimination gave U.S. soccer its water cooler moment. Everyone was talking soccer, talking trash, speculating on a semifinal meeting with powerhouse Brazil. The U.S. lost to Ghana, which was the last African team standing. This was the first World Cup whose final didn’t include Brazil, Italy, Argentina or Germany. So there’s hope.
This is the World Cup where U.S. sports fans showed outrage at wayward whistles, demanding answers and the use of technology to get it right. They just might get it, too.
So, around these parts, it’s back to baseball, where scoreboards around the big leagues will implore fans to clap their hands and make some noise.
Don’t fret, though. There’s a vuvuzela smart phone application, a whenever-you-need-it reminder of sports as community theater and communal celebration.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)