With the NHL and NBA Finals, the earthquakes in college football, and the ongoing baseball season, it’s easy to forget that the World Cup starts today when the despicable Mexican squad plays host nation South Africa at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg. Ha ha, just kidding. The baseball season could never distract from the World Cup.
But the fact remains that as Americans, we’re a little bit behind the rest of the world in playing skill and knowledge of the beautiful game. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the world’s greatest international sporting event (lick my nuts, Olympics). Even if you’re not a soccer fan, you should be able to support the notion of cutting out of work to go to a bar and drink while you watch sports for two hours. As our friend Alan Whickers noted:
Maybe you like soccer, maybe you don’t. But if you’re reading this blog, then you DAMN sure prefer drinking during the day to working. With that in mind, here are the most basic pieces of essential information about the World Cup, presented in the fewest words possible.
Welcome to South Africa! This is the first World Cup ever hosted on the Dark Continent, so FIFA went with the closest thing to a white European country that Africa has to offer. Of course, as the AIDS-riddled teenage prostitutes can tell you, it’s still very much the real Africa. Expect the massive infrastructure built to support this event to cripple the country’s economy within the next few years. Hey, how’s Greece doing since the 2004 Olympics?
THE UNITED STATES ISN’T PLAYING. WHO DO I ROOT FOR?
As Spencer Hall masterfully detailed at SB Nation, choosing a side in World Cup matches involves a simple equation that balances the following variables: a team’s style of play, the likability of a team’s country, and miscellaneous factors like jerseys and hair styles.
In short, there are many, many teams that you can cheer for in the World Cup without being unfaithful to the U.S. of A. — none of which are Mexico and Italy. If you see anyone cheering for either country during a game televised in the United States, and that person is not a busboy or landscaper, you have every right to break a beer bottle over his head and stab him in the neck with the remaining shards. ESPECIALLY if it’s an Italian-American at least three generations removed from his ancestral roots. Fake-ass Italians are the worst kinds of poseurs.
TOO MANY WORDS. GIMME A CRIB SHEET.
Good: USA, any African country (there are six in the tournament), South Korea, Argentina (for Leo Messi and manager Maradona), Australia, Netherlands, Spain, England (but only after group play, since they’re in the U.S.’s pool).
Evil: Italy, Mexico, Greece (boring!), Germany, France (dickheads; also: shouldn’t even be in the Cup), Serbia, Brazil (stylish and fun, but too bandwagon-y), Portugal, Subway’s “Five-Dollar Footlong” jingle.
Not worthy of your time: New Zealand, Honduras, Slovenia, North Korea (evil, but they suck), Switzerland, other teams not mentioned, any movie with Cam Gigandet.
WHAT THE HELL? IS THERE AN ANGRY SWARM OF WASPS IN THE STADIUM?
That awful buzzing sound you hear during the games is the vuvuzela — or rather, thousands of vuvuzelas — a stadium horn that originated in South Africa. It’s annoying, but authentic to the region’s particular brand of futbol, much like fires and rioting are to Turkish soccer. If you focus on the game, your brain will tune it out.
WHAT GAMES SHOULD I WATCH?
The World Cup is best enjoyed in the company of passionate fans, so tailor your viewing schedule accordingly. If you live near a Brazilian restaurant or a Spanish tapas place or an authentic English pub, go to those places for those nations’ games. Likewise, a Mexico or Italy game is an excellent time to visit your local taqueria or ristorante, bar the doors from the outside, and light the building on fire. Otherwise, here’s an abbreviated list of highlights from the first round (all games on ESPN or ABC, all times Eastern):
Saturday, June 12: Argentina vs. Nigeria, 9:30 a.m.
Saturday, June 12: England vs. USA, 2:30 p.m.
Monday, June 14: Netherlands vs. Denmark, 7:00 a.m. (ouch)
Thursday, June 17: France vs. Mexico, 2:00 p.m. (GO METEOR!)
Friday, June 18: Slovenia vs. USA, 9:30 a.m.
Sunday, June 20: Brazil vs. Ivory Coast, 2:00 p.m.
Wednesday, June 23: USA vs. Algeria, 9:30 a.m.
Thursday, June 24: Cameroon vs. Netherlands, 2:00 p.m.
Friday, June 25: Portugal vs. Brazil, 9:30 a.m.
MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHO SHOULD I BET ON?
The Sporting Blog gathered a roundtable of die-hard fans with more passion than anyone here at With Leather, so check their predictions before you take out a second mortgage to give your bookie. My final four prediction: Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and… uh… Serbia? I expect Spain to choke — they always do at the World Cup — which will set up an all-South American final, with Argentina taking it over Brazil. If that doesn’t seem like a bold prediction, it’s because I’m not very knowledgeable.
As for the U.S., conventional wisdom says they’ll finish second in Group C behind England, then flame out in the second round. Working against the Americans: a spate of injuries. Striker Charlie Davies isn’t on the roster (injured from the horrific car wreck last year), leaving Jozy Altidore as the team’s only competent true striker — and he sprained his ankle last week. Key defender Oguchi Onyewu isn’t fully recovered from tearing his patellar tendon, leaving the back line unsteady. Tim Howard, the Tourette’s-afflicted genius in goal, will have to have a big tournament, as will midfielders Landon Donovan — who finally seems to have matured on the international stage — and Clint Dempsey.
Working for the Americans: since the USMNT qualified for the 1990 World Cup, they’ve alternated Cups where they’ve exceeded expectations and fallen short of them. With surprises at the ’94 and ’02 tourneys, they’re due for another exciting run. How’s that for blind nationalistic homerism? U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
Now skip out of work, head to the bar, and start drinking! WOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!
(images via this excellent Big Picture gallery)