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A vintage whine, straight from the World Cup in South Africa

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

JOHANNESBURG -- Four days into the month-long World Cup, a sound is building on the playing fields from Cape Town to Johannesburg that threatens to rival, if not overtake, the high-pitched din of South African vuvuzelas.

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It is the sound of whining.

Not a day has gone by that a global soccer star or highly compensated coach hasn't complained about one thing or another that's spoiling the beautiful game.

The high-tech Adidas soccer ball designed expressly for the 2010 World Cup is a disaster, according to a host of players, who say it's flummoxing world-class goalkeepers and otherwise prolific scorers with its erratic spins and bounces.

The semi-artificial field at Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane -- a mixture of grass and synthetic fibers -- is oddly fast and unpredictable, opposing coaches carped after a poorly struck ball led to a goalkeeping gaffe that handed Slovenia a 1-0 upset of Algeria.

And the incessant buzz of the plastic horn known as the vuvuzela is drowning out all conversation on the field. "It is impossible to communicate," said Argentina's Lionel Messi after his country's 1-0 victory over Nigeria. "It's like being deaf."

It's an open question whether there's merit in the griping or it's simply a case of finicky millionaire athletes fixating on all that's different about the first World Cup contested on African soil.

But it's a familiar refrain to former player Alexi Lalas, a member of the United States' 1994 and 1998 World Cup squads, who's in South Africa as a member of ESPN's broadcast team.

"It's all whining," said Lalas, 40. "It happens at every World Cup with regard to the ball. It happens every World Cup with regard to the surface. When you're at a World Cup, and a billion people are watching you -- whether it's a case of losing or not playing well -- it's human nature. You try to look for reasons other than the fact that you made a mistake."

Elite soccer players hardly have a monopoly on complaining in sports.

National Basketball Association players hated Spalding's new microfiber composite basketball so much when it was introduced in 2006, saying it was slippery and cut their fingers, that the league reverted to the traditional leather model.

Major league pitchers famously balked over the more tightly wound core of a redesigned baseball that juiced up hitting averages and put a dent in their own ERAs.


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