Monday, July 03, 2006

World Cup Revisited

I said in 2006 FIFA World Cup on HDTV that high definition helps televised soccer. That was on a 32" Hitachi plasma. I now find that watching hi-def soccer on a 61" Samsung DLP is even more of a thrill.

I watched ESPN's cablecast of the quarterfinal game between Brazil and France, in which France upset the tournament favorite, 1-0, on the Samsung. The picture was so sharp, I realized I need to get my glasses prescription updated! I was able to read the numbers on players' jerseys just about all the time, but I had to turn my head slightly to get my present spectacles to bring them in sharp focus.

Though I have been watching televised soccer on and off since the U.S.-hosted 1994 World Cup, I am only now starting to be able to make much sense of the game. I found it helpful in the France-Brazil match to keep my eye on the star midfielder for Les Bleus, Zinedine Zidane, who had pretty much single-handedly beaten Brazil in the 1998 final, scoring I think two of France's three goals.

This time Zidane didn't score his team's lone goal ... he set it up. He used truly amazing footwork to gain and keep control of the ball in Brazil's end and then fed the ball to a teammate, starting France's attack. The ball was taken rapidly down the left side of the pitch, where a French player was (I thought needlessly) fouled by Brazil's Cafu as he approached serious goal-striking distance.

That so-called "professional foul" — given to stall the game and allow the defending team time to fall back into the attacking team's end of the field — allowed France to take a free kick from near the left sideline. Naturally, the great Zidane (not the player who was fouled) was the one who took it. He arced what in baseball is called a Texas leaguer over the lump of players from both sides jostling near the front of the goal, where circling French striker Therry Henry, surprisingly unmarked, volley-kicked it past the Brazilian goalkeeper Dida into the roof of the net.

It was for once in my soccer-watching career easy to keep track of this sequence and Zidane's other, more subtle exploits as rendered in large-screen high definition. The picture was so clear that I never had trouble finding Zidane in it, with his shaved-bald head, his pale skin tone, and his signature number 10.

Watching and enjoying a soccer game, it still must be admitted, is not something that is easy for many Americans. Jeffrey Toobin writes in the July 3, 2006, New Yorker, in "Un-American Activity: The World Cup and Our Problem with Soccer":
It's little wonder that many American fans, raised on the pauses between innings in baseball, and the committee meetings known as huddles in football — not to mention the pitching changes and time-outs that prolong the conclusions of these games — find soccer games both bewildering and annoying. "Soccer does not have the rhythm that Americans are used to," [former Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger [a well-known soccer junkie] told me from New York last week. "Americans like their games segmented into different plays, which can then be statistically analyzed. Soccer, with its continuous action, requires a change of thinking."
I don't know what to say about Americans' penchant for statistical analysis, but I do find that recording soccer on a digital video recorder, with its pause and instant replay functions, lets me segment the game at will. I recorded the France-Brazil game while I was otherwise occupied and watched it in two halves the next day, as time permitted. I even knew already who had won, and how, from the Sunday paper. I thought I might be bored, absent the usual suspense ... but, no. It was a marvelous game with two teams playing top-notch soccer, and the lack of nail-biting let me focus on Zidane and the finer points of the game.

No comments: