In case you were unaware, on Sunday we’ll have a new World Cup champion. There’s a chance we’ll even have an outright champion rather than a championship earned on penalty kicks after the extra periods and stoppage time, as France and Croatia won their semi-finals before getting to that point.
With the motherland, England, out of contention, I have no dog in this hunt, so I’ll be rooting for the underdog. Nothing against France, but the Croatian team isn’t just the underdog. It also has the distinction of defeating Russia, which means its players are Harry Potter or whoever the good guys were in “The Handmaid’s Tale” or something.
For those unfamiliar with the World Cup, here’s a brief primer. Established in 1930, the World Cup occurs every four years. Uruguay won the first one; Germany won the most recent in 2014. Croatia has never taken the title, which is another tassel on their wizard’s robe. France has taken the cup once, in 1988. There are no dynasties, although Italy has won four times, Germany four times (three of those were West Germany, when the Berlin Wall divided the country), and Brazil five times.
Okay, so those three teams have won 13 of the 20 World Cups to date, but they’re not dynasties in the normal sense of the term, even if Italy and Brazil have won back-to-back championships. Neither will win in 2018, nor will the 2014 winner, as none of the three made it to the finals this year. That is one of the upsides of the World Cup and only playing every four years.
It Will Probably Never Be America’s Pastime
Soccer hasn’t fully taken America yet, except for those of us with kids. We’re out there twice a week—and often a couple of times on weekends—yelling our hearts out for tiny warriors who don’t yet understand all the nuances of the game or even all the rules. For those age groups, the rules are somewhat nebulous anyway, so the important thing is that they have fun, work on discipline, and learn to rub some dirt on it when they suffer mild injuries.
One rule that is regularly enforced, regardless of age, is the one against handballs. Unless it’s the keeper who touches the ball — he’s allowed. Everyone else has to keep his hands away, except on throw-ins. Incidental contact is just as much a penalty as is intentional handling of the ball, even if Tom Brady were to switch sports.
This brings us to the biggest controversy in soccer: Why is American football called football when it’s played with the hands?