What we can learn from the World Cup

I love the World Cup, and not just because of  this guy — although, in addition to being a treat to watch,  Golden Ball Award Winner Diego Forlan of Uruguay  provided some of the best lessons this year’s tournament had to offer.

That said, I know that  soccer, “futbol,” whatever you want to call it, isn’t everyone’s bag. Particularly in the U.S.  If not for a college boyfriend who introduced me to the sport, and two sons who are avid players, it might not be mine  either.  But after catching chunks of the last five World Cups, including every game of the 2010 event, I feel comfortable saying that  even if you’re put off by 90 minutes of running for what seem to be minimal rewards in terms of goals, there’s  a lot of inspiration to be had here.

So love it or hate it, and especially if you missed it, here’s my 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa highlight reel to inspire you:

On never giving up . . .

Plenty of examples here, although the U.S. comes most readily  to mind, with its great comeback against Slovenia and  Landon Donovan’s thrilling 90th minute goal that led to victory over Algeria.  After the U.S. departed, the tiny country of Uruguay continued to carry  the underdog mantle. Not only did they scrape by Ghana to enter the semifinals,  but they were just edged out by the Netherlands (in the semifinals) and Germany(for third place), two technically superior teams that didn’t have half their heart.  Finally, the victorious Spaniards, who managed to score in the 118th minute, showed the value of forging on strong to the very end.

On being prepared . . .

I’m not a big fan of the  style of play of teams like Holland and Germany, which  is often  too technically perfect and not pretty enough for my tastes. But it’s difficult to argue with the outcome, which led to second and third place finishes, respectively,  for these countries.   The ability of the German and Dutch to execute on the pitch was fueled by a strong mastery of and respect for the fundamentals of their sport as well as years of practice, training and perfection.  Ditto the precision passing of the Spanish.

On perseverance . . .

If you flip through the profiles on the FIFA site, you repeatedly come upon stories of players who were underestimated in the beginning,  but went on to prove themselves.  One of my favorites is the amazing German forward  Miroslav Klose, , who nearly bested the record set by Brazil’s Ronaldo for most career goals scored in  World Cup play. Klose was “one of the game’s late developers,”  according to his  bio, which also notes he’s a  pro, who shuns the celebrity trappings of the game. He was a class act till the end, even as an injury forced him to  watched from the sidelines in Germany’s last game as his chance of a record slipped away   Another, well-known example of triumph over adversity  is U.S. goalie Tim Howard, who struggled to control Tourette syndrome on his way to becoming a World Class soccer player.

On the unfairness of life . . .

While referrees didn’t catch every illegal or questionable act on the field, there was enough justice handed out to ensure that no one got away with playing dirty over the long haul.   Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez was rightly given a red card and suspended for a game after batting the ball out of the net in the quarterfinal match against Ghana.   But there were plenty of bad and missed calls, as well.  Most notably, when the U.S. and England were denied legitimate goals in decisive games.   Even as FIFA agreed to discuss using technology in future tourneys to avert such mishaps, however, subjectivity and disappointment will always be part of the game.   Case in point:  in a perfect world, an African country would have made it further in World Cup play.  But South Africa, The Ivory Coast and Cameroon failed to advance, while Ghana’s hopes were dashed in the quarterfinals.

On why no man is an island . . .
Prior to the tournament we heard a lot about the superstars who were coming to South Africa.  Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Kaka, Wayne Rooney, Thierry Henry.  But to a man, most of these folks disappointed, while their countries bowed out early.  Expected  powerhouses such as England and France collapsed under the weight of their star-power, with arguments and grousing spilling into the press.  Meanwhile, teams that were truly teams, like Uruguay, Spain and the Netherlands excelled.

On bouncing back from failure . . .

No one captures this ethos better than Forlan, who was rightly recognized as the standout player of the entire tournament. To watch the Uruguayan striker play was to see something really special. Despite having the best year of his career, however, Forlan hasn’t always had it so easy.  After being dropped by the English Premier league’s Manchester United in 2004, many thought his career was over.  But this setback proved to be the best thing that could have happened to Forlan, who went on to become a superstar and top scorer in the Spanish leagues.  In a fitting coda to his phenomenal World Cup play, he even received a message from his former boss at Manchester United congratulating him and cheering him on.

Second place would go to Asamoah Gyan, the striker from Ghana, who missed a penalty kick that would have given his team a victory over – ironically –  Uruguay, then came back to make his penalty kick in the final shootout. Sadly, a teammate missed, so  it wasn’t enough.

And lest we forget, Spain lost their first game to Switzerland, before coming back to win it all.

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Filed under second chances, starting over

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