World Cup Impressions: The Beauty of Mown Grass

AS the World Cup soccer tournament rushes toward its July 17 conclusion, some observations: * Size is a virtual nonfactor in soccer. A player's height and weight are seldom mentioned during game broadcasts. Soccer players have no problem buying clothes right off the rack. Take a look at Italy's roster: Only eight of 22 players are six feet or taller, and nine are listed as under 160 pounds, with the heaviest a 192-lb. goalkeeper. * Thirty minutes seems a cruelly long overtime period, given that players have already spent themselves physically during 90 minutes of virtual nonstop action. * American fans may not fully appreciate many of the nuances of the game, but surely they can admire the distance world-caliber goalkeepers punt the ball. * On the whole, the official World Cup merchandise is quite attractive. The graphics are big and bold, the color combinations striking, and the general look a refreshing change for an American weaned on familiar major-league logos. One personal disappointment is the quality of the souvenir pins, which don't measure up to Olympic ones. * Why is nationalism so imbedded in the World Cup? In part, one suspects, because it is a team sport, unlike so much of what occurs in the Olympics, where individual athletes predominate. It's easier to make a cultural connection to a group of athletes who work in concert, as society itself must. Then, too, soccer doesn't seem to favor any particular country from a physical or historical standpoint. * Too bad somebody couldn't line up the World Cup goalkeepers for a group photo. They wear distinctive attire to make them more visible in a crowd, an important factor when players begin to descend on the goal mouth. * Has there ever been a greater advertisement for natural turf and the beauty of mown grass? Every World Cup field practically yells, ``Play on me!'' And the mowing patterns make the fields that much more appealing, especially that wonderful bull's-eye pattern at Soldier Field in Chicago. * At any given time during a World Cup game, hundreds of spectators have their views obstructed by flags and banners. * Reciprocal sporting gestures were a nice touch in a second-round game between Nigeria and Italy. With a Nigerian player momentarily incapacitated, Italian star Roberto Baggio intentionally kicked the ball out of bounds rather than go on the attack. When play resumed, Nigeria inbounded the ball to the Italian goalkeeper. * The players on many Cup teams must be introduced to one another, or at least reintroduced. Take Nigeria's Super Eagles: Only three of 22 players are teammates on the same professional club team in Nigeria. The rest are under contract to club teams in 10 other countries. * Watching Brazil outplay the United States during a 1-to-0 victory was a lesson in soccer appreciation. When the Brazilians dribbled the ball, it clung to their feet. The Americans, meanwhile, struggled to maintain possession. * One of life's lessons is woven into soccer's fabric, namely, that before you go forward, sometimes you must go backward. * Those who favor a return to single-platoon American football must admire the stamina of World Cup players, who switch from offense to defense constantly, just as in basketball. * To decide an overtime game that runs 120 minutes (twice as long as a regulation pro football game) on penalty kicks seems an incredible waste of group effort.

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