My American View of Football/Soccer and the World Cup

Even though I spent the summers of 1998, 2002, and 2006 in Lebanon, I don't recall having watched the World Cup. Given how passionate Lebanese people are about football (I'd say soccer, but the "when in Rome" concept must prevail here), I doubt it was less heavily anticipated and followed then as it is today in 2014. So I'm supposing it was my general ignorance of the sport that led me to cast a blind eye to it all together, and I blame my American upbringing.

You see, I grew up on basketball. A native of Southern California and a sister to two active brothers, my allegiance unmistakably rested with the LA Lakers. We used to watch every game with avid interest, tuning in religiously for the Slam Dunk Contest, the Western Conference Finals, then the playoffs and championship if the Lakers had qualified. It helped that the game was so riveting: players running back and forth, rebounding the ball, sinking in three pointers, racking up high scores, fouling and getting fouled, and depleting timeouts. Best part was that a game consisted of four 12-minute segments, meaning it didn't drag and it didn't violate the limits of your attention.

Soccer on the other hand paled in its hold over us. You could hardly make out the players pacing the field, it was so expansive and the camera so zoomed out. You just couldn't feel a connection with the participants, who rarely scored goals. In fact, when have you ever known a team to achieve more than five goals in one match? Some even go home with a binary score, 0 or 1. So how heinously boring was it to spend nearly two hours divided between two 45-minute halves with constant ball passing, goal blocking, and the occasional foul shooting only to emerge with a measly score like 1-0? It just didn't pay dividends.

I hypothesize that's why Americans don't fixate on the sport like their foreign counterparts. By and large, Americans prefer the fast-paced action of basketball, baseball, and football--I'm talking American football, akin to rugby, where a touchdown translates to 7 points fair and square, perhaps testament to a disdain for low scores. Soccer stagnates and requires an inordinate measure of patience.

This year, for the first time ever, I've been tuning in to the FIFA World Cup. It's almost hard not to, in a country where almost every cafe, restaurant, pub and shopping center is broadcasting it to lure viewers out of their homes and into their commercial strongholds. I confess, it's been much funner than I could have imagined, but not because of the game. I still have no fond attachment to the mechanics of the match, and I can't be bothered with its slow sequence of plays. 

On the other hand, the atmosphere of watching a match surrounded by other Lebanese viewers is mesmerizing. I've never seen us so positively charged about anything, not even politics, as I have over this sport and particularly the World Cup. We don't even have a team representing our nation, yet that doesn't inhibit us from cheering on our favorites with the fervor of zealots. We buy the flags, the mugs, the caps, every piece of paraphernalia you can conceive, and we proudly display them. 

So you see, it's the powerful sense of unity and playful competitiveness we embody with our eyes glued to the screen, the cheesy "Congratulations" song belted out over loudspeakers at every goal made, and the willingness to stay up late into the night thanks to the six-hour time difference simply to be involved. All of it's done me over, and I'm loving it.


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