world cup– group stage notebook

Longtime readers of this blog will notice that the World Cup notebooks are going to be a little thin this year.  Blame Fox Sports.  (And yes, this has something to do with jingoism and is therefore vaguely political, but only vaguely, so please bear with me.) Previous World Cups, at least since I started watching the football with full attention, have been covered by ESPN, who treated the tournament as the epic sporting event it is and hired whole teams of the very best commentators in the world.  And for American English speakers, this means the voices we know and love from watching the Premier League– the great British “voices in the booth” who know everything there is to know about the game and its long and storied history.

Fox, when they found out the USMNT didn’t qualify for the tournament (couldn’t beat or draw with Trinidad and Tobago, don’t get me started), decided that that meant US audiences wouldn’t be interested and cheaped out on the commentator budget.  Some group games were even “called” from the studios in the US rather than from the stadium.  That said, the commentators have not been particularly terrible, just rather pedestrian.

Standouts are Derek Rae and Aly Wagner — the great Scotsman who has called eight World Cups and his very well informed “student of the game” sidekick, and Jorge Perez-Navarro and Mariano Trujillo, who bring an excellent combination of knowledge, enthusiasm, criticism and the traditional and expected “Latin passion” for the game.  Any game called by either of these teams automatically goes to the top of the watch list.  But oh, what would Peter Drury, Arlo White and his partners in the “three man booth”, Graeme LeSaux and Lee Dixon, and especially the great Jon Champion, do with some of these excellent games!

That said, there are always a few notes:

  • The World Cup’s Russian style video introductions are pretty and fun– my favorites are the happy little Sputnik that cruises over the stadiums and the epic football as Faberge egg that opens to reveal the Cup itself.
  • The best souvenir I’ve seen is a pleather and fake fur ushanka hat dyed vividly in your team colors with your team badge holding up the front flap. I want several of these.
  • Rule explanation that sounds cool: “The whole of the ball must cross the whole of the line” for a goal to count.
  • Commentator special (paraphrase):  a “courtesy dive” is executed by a goalkeeper in a reaction to a spectacularly good goal.  There’s no way the keeper can possibly save it, but he or she dives anyway for the look of the thing.
  • Commentator insight (paraphrase): Club managers coach a team; international managers coach (and arrange and coordinate) individual players.
  • For the Football Dictionary: “running out of green space”– approaching the edge of the pitch and thereby risking going out of bounds.

Finally, an actual quotation.  From Derek Rae, of course, who spoke of England as “a country with a football tradition at its bubbling heart”.

And so, on to the knockout round.  And because I have very little hope that my personal team, El Tri, is going to get past my favorite-to-win, the mighty Selecao of Brazil on Monday, let’s end with a second to last look at my once and always World Cup Crush, Mexican keeper Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa.  Viva El Tri! Viva Memo Ochoa!

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