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World Cup Lessons We Have Learned
Rick Reilly
July 13, 1998
There are three great shames in America today: 1) 98.3% of us are hideously obese; 2) Zima; 3) we suck at soccer.
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July 13, 1998

World Cup Lessons We Have Learned

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There are three great shames in America today: 1) 98.3% of us are hideously obese; 2) Zima; 3) we suck at soccer.

In the World Cup—the World's Greatest Sporting Event—the U.S. just finished 32nd. That's only because there is no 33rd. In the last four decades of the World Cup, we have scored a total of five goals, ranking us just behind Upper Volta.

What's worse, in an informal poll an overwhelming majority of Americans said they not only didn't care that we suck at soccer but also would rather give Richard Simmons a soy-cream body cleansing than watch an entire World Cup match. This, of course, is very wrong. Each one of us in this country needs to wake up and learn our lessons from this World Cup so that we can do better in 2002.

For instance...

We don't smoke nearly enough. The nations that have done well in this World Cup smoke like Dean Martin. Their fans smoke. Their players smoke. Every shot of a coach during a game, he's smoking. At one point Argentina's coach, Daniel Passarella, sprinted onto the field with a cigarette in his hand. In the future, American players should be able to dribble through the midfield while carrying cartons of Kents.

We riot after the game. This is a problem. The great soccer countries riot before the game. England's fans went triple postal in Toulouse before a first-round match with Romania, leading to numerous arrests and holes in heads where they didn't used to be.

We're not passionate enough. To truly participate in the World's Greatest Sporting Event, winning has to matter to you more than life. In the U.S. we are too good at too many sports. This divides our passions. The best soccer countries play only soccer, and they only get to show the world how good they are every four years. The sport matters. So far in this World Cup more than 700 fans have been arrested, 3,200 injured and hundreds teargassed. Three coaches were fired during the Cup, the British press surrounded the home of the team scapegoat's parents, and a French policeman was clubbed over the head with a signpost by a German hooligan. All we ever do is turn over a couple of cop cars. These people think Attica.

We play soccer with our feet. Great soccer is played through the air, the ball bonging from one head to the next, for hours on end. This doesn't result in many goals, but it saves the nets from expensive wear and tear.

We write letters to the editor. This is a waste of time. When true soccer fans get mad at sportswriters, they find them, chase them down and break their collarbones, as they did to the British Press Association's Andrew Woodcock during a traditional pregame riot. The fans said Woodcock was giving them a bad name. (Naturally, this lesson shouldn't apply to sportswriters who write derogatory columns about the Chicago Bulls.)

We settle tie games all wrong. In our championships we like to break ties by continuing to play the same game we were playing before. This is not at all how they do it at the World's Greatest Sporting Event. After playing 120 minutes of obscenely defensive soccer, the World Cup switches to a completely different game. Guys get to line up 12 yards in front of the goalie for a wide-open kick that Jos� Feliciano couldn't miss. We need to try this. From now on, extra-inning games will be decided by a quick round of home run derby, hockey games will go to a figure-eight-off and NFL games will be settled by arm wrestling.

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