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Walters column: World Cup makes for appointment television

 

Scott Walters

 

For these three weeks, we really are all soccer fans. 

 

It's okay to admit it. I have quickly come to the conclusion that it is acceptable to be a soccer fan and to be passionate about following the sport. 

 

The World Cup has done this for others before me and will do it for others after me. 

 

However, it is time to admit this year's tournament has created some compelling television. 

 

BIG STAGE 

 

Personally, it has been fun watching this year's month-long event. However, don't expect the DVR to be set up to record any major league soccer matches anytime soon. 

 

The World Cup fits perfectly into the sports calendar. During the fall, Thursdays will be spent watching East Mississippi Community College play the other kind of football. Fridays belong to Columbus High School and most Saturdays are spent at Davis Wade Stadium. 

 

During the long, slow days of summer, the World Cup fills the television void just perfectly. 

 

However, this year has been quite different. Instead of circling the three American matches, your faithful scribe has been watching things such as Argentina vs Iran. Alerts are being sent to the phone and the ESPN soccer page is actually bookmarked on the personal computer. 

 

Each nation provides incredible story lines. While most Americans strive to win a World Series or Super Bowl, this really can define an athlete's entire career in other countries. 

 

ESPN has brought us the College World Series with some equal compelling story lines at the same time. It is a safe bet the people who had Ole Miss going to Omaha may have been the ones who had Costa Rica starting 2-0. And hey both events involve pitches. 

 

ESPN has done a wonderful job of bringing these story lines into our living room. It has been able to break down the game of soccer for those of us who are novices, while keeping it fun and entertaining for those who follow the game passionately. 

 

As always, the beauty of soccer is its compact nature. In under two hours, you can watch an entertaining, compelling sporting event, with just about as much as scoring as this year's College World Series. 

 

International soccer competition also allows us to reunite with entertaining broadcasting legends, such as Ian Darke. Fast-paced, entertaining, witty and knowledge about the sport, Darke brings the average viewer into the match with an enjoyable call, regardless of the opponents. 

 

Within our own boundaries, the Americans are off to a 1-0-1 start in Group G play. Prior to the tournament, the Americans were assigned to the so-called "Group of Death." Germany, Ghana and Portugal were expected to provide quite a challenge, with the Americans being a long-shot to advance to the knockout round. How can an event not be great with something called a knockout round? Even Team USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a former World Cup champion with West Germany in 1990, downplayed his squad's chances for significant advancement. 

 

Still, hundreds of thousands of Americans stormed neighborhood eateries and sports bars to watch the Americans as they defeated Ghana 2-1 in the opening round last week and again Sunday to watch a 2-2 draw with Portugal. 

 

For the most part, many in attendance could not name five soccer rules. Furthermore, most could not name five players on the team. In most countries, the soccer stars are the biggest-named athletes in a country. Here, most would be much more able to identify Kobe Bryant or Peyton Manning, as opposed to keeper Tim Howard or midfielder Jermaine Jones. 

 

Your faithful scribe can actually recite the entire American starting lineup, something he would be hard-pressed to do right now for his beloved Houston Astros. For the record, the Astros will not lose 100 games this season. Yay for improvement. 

 

Yet we were all there Sunday watching the Americans as they tried to nail down a spot in the knockout round by beating Portugal. In a totally heart-wrenching draw (if there is such a thing), the Americans rallied from down 1-0 at the half to take a 2-1 lead. Renaldo, one of the tournament's elite players, helped set up a goal in the closing seconds to score the equalizer (another cool word not used often enough in sports) in virtually the final seconds of play. 

 

Suddenly, the enthusiasm faded and even though the Americans would have been thrilled with a draw in this match before it was played, there was sadness that an almost-certain victory slipped in the final seconds. The Americans are now 0-14-2 when trailing at halftime of a World Cup match. 

 

LOOKING AHEAD 

 

Now, we all look ahead to the next match. Germany is the opponent and ESPN will have the telecast starting at 11 a.m. The Americans can win the group with a win. A draw against the heavily-favored Germans will also send the Americans to the knockout round. Even a loss could still advance the squad, based on the outcome of the Ghana vs. Portugal match, which will be played at the same time Thursday morning. 

 

The odds of long term advancement in the knockout round would be limited at best. However, much like Ole Miss in Omaha, you can't win it unless you are in it. Defending World Cup champion Spain lost its first two matches and suffered a knockout prior to the knockout round. 

 

Appointment television again rolls around Thursday. Most of us will not understand the strategy involved in setting up certain plays. However, the raw athleticism on display can not be underplayed. For many countries, this is the premier sport and the premier players play it. 

 

Those are some of the reasons why the odds are stacked against the Americans. In a group chat the other day, a close friend said he felt like we could win the World Cup sometime between now and the year 3000. While the comment was made in jest, it is more amazing that three close friends of mine were in the same chat window, living and dying with every pass, header and offsides call for a bunch of players we could not have named a month ago. 

 

The World Cup is powerful stuff. It can hook you, even when you don't know it has.  

 

Scott Walters is a sports reporter for the Commercial Dispatch. He may be reached at swalters@cdispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.

 

Scott is sports copy editor and reporter

 

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