Italy, The Head Butt and Bruce Arena’s Downfall

John Lampert

The unforgettable image of this year’s World Cup is Zidane’s infamous head butt of Marcos Materazzi, one of those moments in sports that was at the same time upsetting, shocking and absolutely hilarious. However, despite this somewhat sour note that the World Cup ended on, the event as a whole served as an incredible celebration of the world’s game. The World Cup brought countries together in a purely competitive way, as issues of racism, which have plagued European soccer for years, kept at a minimum.

Yet despite the excitement of the event as a whole, I found the actual games to be somewhat frustrating to watch. Teams often found themselves stalemated at midfield simply passing the ball around. Players frequently faked injuries and lay on the field in agony for a prolonged period of time, only to taken off by stretcher and triumphantly return thirty seconds later. When a team finally did make a break, half of the time the striker rocketed the ball thirty feet over the crossbar, or took a dive as if Ray Lewis tackled him, when in fact the defender hadn’t laid a finger on him. Also, certain weak, arrogant and dishonest players constantly flopped, faked injuries and drew absurd penalty shots that went a long way in eliminating countries such as the U.S. from the World Cup. (As you can see, I am still fuming about that atrocity).

However, when big plays finally occurred, they created excitement unparalleled by any other sport. I was left stunned and utterly speechless when Maxi Rodriguez of Argentina volleyed a shot into the upper -left corner of the net to beat Mexico in overtime. And when Beasley and Dempsey finally came together for America’s first real goal of the tournament, the excitement among my group of friends almost matched what we felt when Aaron Boone beat the Red Sox with a game seven walk-off home run severalyears ago.

The World Cup intensified in the States this year because we actually had a semi-respectable team. However, the increased excitement only led to increased frustration and disappointment. The level of jubilation I felt when Dempsey scored the first U.S. goal was matched by my disappointment when the United States trudged off the field for the final time after its 2-1 loss to Ghana. I’m sure my anger was shared by others

Bruce Arena, the United States’ incompetent manager, turned out to be as stupid as he looked. Arena was reluctant to make necessary substitutions and his strategy seemed to involve playing not to lose, rather than playing to win-a recipe for disaster in any sport. Despite Arena’s ineptitude, the U.S. still had a chance to advance past the opening round. But in the team’s last game against Ghana was wrought with missed opportunities, terrible calls and bitter disappointment, serving as a microcosm for America’s World cup experience. Of course, not all can be blamed on Bruce Arena. I’m pretty sure that Landon Donovan missed the connecting flight to Germany. In fact, I’m almost positive that I didn’t hear his name once during the four games in which the U.S. participated. Veteran leader Claudio Reyna, simply put, was pathetic. He has since retired from World Cup play, in case anyone cares.

Despite America’s disappointing showing, a passion for soccer was revived among formerly casual soccer fans in the United States. The tournament provided many thrills, unforgettable moments, and, much as I hate to admit it, a worthy champion in Italy.

And now that we are all fired up about soccer, FIFA will inexplicably make us wait another four years for the next World Cup.