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One Game Changes Everything. That's the World Cup slogan.
Of course, it doesn't really make sense. One game doesn't change everything. The World Cup is not a single-elimination tournament. The slogan would actually work better for the BCS.
But who am I to criticize a slogan that was no doubt conceived by an elite advertising firm and focus-grouped for months? No one, that's who. And in a way, I guess one game does change everything. It's like the butterfly effect. A flap of a butterfly's wings can result in a hurricane. Or, inversely, the World Cup's slogan can result in the premise of a World Cup preview column.
So here are some World Cup stories to keep an eye on. Be advised: All of these may change everything. (Da-duh-DUMMMMMM.)
Didier Drogba, the star striker for the Ivory Coast, broke his arm in a friendly against Japan on June 4. It's still not clear whether he will be able to play in the World Cup. Ridiculous. Wrap that thing in a big cast, switch him back to sweeper and have him lay some people out with punishing clotheslines, pro wrestler style. Zinedine Zidane's head-butt was the story of the 2006 World Cup. We're not going to top that in 2010 without making a real effort, people!
Host country South Africa hoped to earn an easy group draw. They got Mexico, Uruguay and France. Ugh. Well, there is a silver lining: There is absolutely no way South Africa will win the World Cup. And that means there's no way anyone will be asked to sit through "Invictus 2: Now It's Soccer!"
The worst team in the World Cup? Probably New Zealand. The All Whites made it to South Africa by beating Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Bahrain. I think two or three of those might be bands. Now they're in a stacked group with Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia. Ha-ha! They're going to get crushed. Let's all point and laugh at the New Zealand team. Whoops! We accidentally pointed and laughed at their powerhouse rugby team. RUN AWAY!
People across the world are excited for the World Cup. Except in North Korea. Because in North Korea, per Kim Jong Il's orders, the home team's games will be aired only if it wins. Fun Fact: North Korea is in a group with Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast. Fun Fact No. 2: North Korea's matches will not be aired. But cheer up, North Koreans! I'm sure you'll still get plenty of good sports news in the coming weeks. June is prime golf weather and chances are Mr. Kim will put up another 38-under round very soon!
French star Franck Ribery -- along with three other French players -- was implicated in an underage prostitution ring in April. He admitted having a relationship with a prostitute (prostitution is legal in France; no, really), but said he was unaware she was underage. Ribery will play in the World Cup and it is not yet known if he will be charged. It is known, however, that a Roger Goodell protégé is clearly not in charge of FIFA.
Argentina head coach Diego Maradona has had two high-tech toilets -- heated seats, bidets, blow-dryers -- installed in his personal suite in South Africa. Maradona clearly demands the greatest luxuries for his ... his ... his ... well, I'm not sure what word to use: (A) The word I want to use (it rhymes with "glass mole") is not allowed on a Disney-owned website, and (B) the same word also apparently means "poor, injured person" based on how Maradona used it last month when he ran over someone's leg with his car (read the third paragraph). Maybe Maradona just meant he wanted to take the injured man back to his suite so he could clean his injuries in his fancy toilet. He's a Good Samaritan. Yeah, that's probably it.
Brazil's Kaka is a legend in his sport. He's also an evangelical Christian. He has said that it is "faith that decides whether something will happen or not." And like the Bible verses on Tim Tebow's eye black, Kaka has sported the slogan "I Belong To Jesus" on his cleats. There's one more eerily similarity: Many scouts have said Kaka needs to drastically remake his throwing motion if he is to ever start at quarterback in the NFL. I mean, have you seen how he hurls the ball over his head with two hands? That might work in the spread offense, but not in the World Cup. Wait. I'm confused. I forgot which one I was talking about.
Spain is the odds-on favorite to win the World Cup. Of course, Spain is often a favorite and Spain always chokes. But the Spaniards should get off to a good start and gain some momentum in group play. Switzerland and Honduras aren't great. Spain's biggest threat is La Roja -- Chile. A very solid squad. But the Spanish team is known as La Furia Roja. And while I may not be a soccer expert, I think Spain should win out thanks to their clear advantage in the furia department.
Brazilian referees will call Saturday's match between the U.S. and England. They are preparing for the game by learning English swear words. Really. Tournament guidelines say that players can be cautioned or sent off for obscene language or gestures, so the refs need to be prepared.
However, I hope they realize that American swear words and English swear words are very different. For example, in America we say ... well, you know what we say. But in England, words that mean nothing here -- like "prat" and "bollocks" -- are crude.
The Brazilian refs must be made aware of this fact. Therefore, I have put together a list of English curse words and phrases the refs should learn. Referees, if you hear any of these, throw the English player out IMMEDIATELY!
"I respect your authority."
"I'm wide open!"
"Yay! We scored!"
"I love the music of the Spice Girls!"
Note: Feel free to eject American players, too, for saying the last one.
Soooooo ... I guess I'm kind of killing the premise of the column here at the end, but for all the hype surrounding the opening match between the U.S. and England, it really doesn't mean that much. Yes, there's the whole rivalry between our nations. And if the U.S. happens to pull the upset, tens of millions of Americans will suddenly pretend to love soccer because, if for no other reason, it will allow them to make fun of England. Which is as good a reason as any. I will not begrudge anyone that.
But chances are that both the U.S. and England will advance out of Group C, win, lose or tie on Saturday, because the other members -- Algeria and Slovenia -- aren't too strong. So instead of pinning all your hopes on the U.S. to beat England, maybe instead start working on some Algeria and Slovenia jokes. So far I've got: "Hey, Algeria and Slovenia: Are you bummed that all of the good disease names like progeria, anemia and diphtheria were taken?" Yeah, that's terrible. But I have time. Group play doesn't end for a week.
And one week changes everything.
DJ Gallo is the founder of SportsPickle.com. His first book, "SportsPickle Presents: The View from the Upper Deck," is available from only the finest bargain book retailers. His next book project will be released soon. You can follow him on Twitter at @DJGalloESPN.
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