The Rest-of-the-World Cup

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There are just two things about the World Cup that prevent Americans from caring: it involves soccer and the rest of the world. We could get over the soccer part eventually — after all, it's kind of like the soccer we make our suburban children play, only without the goal scoring. But the global part just isn't going to happen. When I hear that Tunisia is playing Belgium for the crucial Group H runner-up spot, all I want is a map. The only way Americans are going to learn another country's name is if it attacks us.

It's different for the rest of the world. Other countries have all kinds of disagreements and problems with one another. They are dealing with one another constantly, making treaties and trading currencies and whatever else it is they do. The World Cup is mildly entertaining because you get to see them sublimate their little issues by kicking a ball at one another, sort of like watching your children backyard-wrestle. Senegal beats France, and the Senegalese throw a huge party venting their anger over two centuries of French colonialism. Imagine how much fun it is for anyone to act superior to the French, and multiply that by Senegal. And last Friday England and Argentina got to work out whatever their deal was with those islands. The problem for us, however, is that it's really hard to work up that much antagonism when you're a superpower with a short history and friendly borders. Last week we pulled off a huge victory against Portugal. It didn't make us feel that great because there's not much Portugal is better at than us, other than making sweet wine and salted cod. This is a country that has been in decline since 1494, when in the saddest, most grandiose moment of self-delusion in history, it actually sat down with Spain and divided up the world. Not even Brad Grey and Mike Ovitz ever did that, at least not publicly.

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When Iran beat us four years ago, the Iranians went crazy in the streets. How anyone could have differentiated this from what Tehran normally looks like, I'm not sure, but apparently there were especially powerful American-flag flames. But I'm glad they beat us, since we wouldn't have enjoyed it if we had won. We don't throw ticker-tape parades for beating Iran at stuff, because if we did, we'd be short on ticker tape. The only thing we could possibly lose to Iran at besides soccer is subjugating women. Now that Russia isn't important, there's no one for us to get juiced about. The Taliban, unfortunately, don't even have a soccer team, which doesn't make sense since they spend all that time at camps.

We have the same problem with the Olympics. We like those new fake sports we force the Olympic committee to include so we can win, like beach volleyball, snowboarding and major-motion-picture production. But unless the games are held either in America or Utah, we're not going to watch people pole vault. Unless they get hurt doing it. Then we'll watch it over and over again.

Sure, we could watch the World Cup, get rid of our steel tariffs, sign the Kyoto treaty and build a coalition before invading Iraq, but all that sounds like a lot of effort. We have enough trouble persuading our states to get along without involving the rest of the world in our activities. When we trumpeted globalization, we were pretty clear that we meant other countries acting like us, not vice versa.

If the world really wants us to watch their cute little no-handsy sport, they've got to make an effort. The world has done a poor job marketing this World Cup thing to us. There's no Burger King tie-in, no campaign with Matthew Perry going Soccer Crazy as a pre-emptive excuse for going to rehab. Would it be too much to ask that France's Zinedine Zidane develop Le People's Eyebrow? You know who's doing World Cup commentary on TV? Me neither, but I'm pretty sure it's not Snoop and Ozzy Osbourne. I can't understand why I'm not in charge of everything.

And just because Americans grew up playing soccer in adolescence doesn't mean we want to watch other people do it; we also grew up bowling and arguing about who should hang up first. The intrinsic problem with soccer is that a goal can occur at any time, including breaks for nachos, beer or the bathroom. Unlike the rest of the world, with their soccer and cricket and goat malleting, we have perfected our sports so that you only have to tune into the last two minutes to see if Shaq can hit his free throws. We're a busy people.

Look, we'll watch the World Cup when we win the thing and not a second before.