HEY, HOW 'bout that madcap Group F in the World Cup?
In the just-completed first round, there were six games among the four Group F teams in the tournament, the Netherlands, England, Egypt and Ireland. Two games ended 0-0, three ended 1-1. The total number of goals scored -- in 540 minutes of "play" during this, the reputed greatest spectacle in sport -- was seven.
That's just about one goal every 90-minute game, amigos. Sneeze at the wrong time and you might as well head home to Amsterdam. Suddenly, it's all obvious: Soccer fans riot to stay awake.
So I ask: Why does the world insist we take this thing seriously? Why does it think indifference in these parts reflects some deep flaw in the Yankee character?
Look, I tried. For more than three years, I lived in the shadow of the Parc de Prince in Paris, the RFK of French soccer. I went. I watched the French national leagues on TV. And the evidence is in: This is a sport bereft of some of the most basic ingredients that make any sport enticing to a spectator.
Like, for instance, the hope that something might -- and will -- happen.
We go to sporting events to become deliciously tense, to relax through nervousness. That paradox is a product of possibility, the chance that whatever the situation is now, it might change in the next two minutes. If your team is ahead, it's that sense that its lead is not safe. If behind, it's that hope that a comeback is imminent. The enjoyment is in the possibilities.
In soccer, the fan has little hope of such reversals. There is so little scoring that the game has no possibilities. It is stripped of tension. And without tension, it might as well be cooking class.
Take the results of the last World Cup tournament, in 1986. In 60 percent of the games, two goals or fewer were scored in regulation time. In fully one quarter of the games -- yup, 25 percent -- there was one goal or no goal at all. Nada. Zip.
For the fan, the low-scoring reality of soccer means that if the opposing team scores first, the best one can hope for is a tie. Here's why: The 1986 numbers suggest it is unlikely your team will score twice and win, 2-1, because most games have no more than two goals. Further, the odds are one in four that your team won't even get that one goal to come away with a tie. Talk about frustration.
The issue here is not victory. It's predictability. A soccer game that's 2-0 at the half is over. An American football game that's 14-0 at the half is just getting started. Does this reflect some American male hang-up on scoring? You bet. Scoring is what makes reversals of fortune possible. It's the whole point. The more reversals, the more enjoyable the event.
Soccer fails the mind, too. There is little for the fan to analyze as the game progresses. One of the beauties of baseball is that it provides endless opportunities for the fan to play manager, to decide what he or she would do in the situation at hand. The fan can delight in the mounting tension and then watch what happens. But in soccer, hardly any moment is more pregnant with possibilities than any other. What is the soccer equivalent of fourth-and-goal from the one?
So how come so many billions adore this World Cup thing? Easy. They don't know any better. Most countries don't have professional baseball, football, basketball or hockey. They just have soccer. Maybe, too, they're comfortable with a sport whose essence is the lack of opportunity. They like its hopelessness; it feels like life.
For 20 years now, we've been told soccer was just around the corner here, too. So was Godot. A sport that limits chance and opportunity? By God, that ain't American. No, this is the land where sports offer hope and where players can use their hands.