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World Cup: big league entertainment

I can remember when summer was the season of TV reruns. Four excruciating months of round-the-clock regurgitated fare that offered little escape from the indoor hibernation necessitated by soaring mercury levels.

Things have changed.

My daughters fill their summer hours with marathon sessions of Orange is the New Black … on their laptops, via live streaming. But I’ve found something better to watch in this summer of 2014 — on an old-fashioned TV screen. It’s a rare summer serial called The World Cup.

I know there are those who find soccer boring, its rules obtuse, its on-goal shots sparse and its offsides calls baffling. But there’s a lot of entertainment value to be had in this year’s global battles in the soccer stadiums of Brazil. And you don’t even have to know a PK from a corner kick. In addition to a record-breaking number of goals on the field, there’s also plenty of fun off the pitch.

Herewith, I give you my reasons to watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The drama. Accomplished divers all (not the swimming-pool kind), soccer stars are the method actors of the sports world. Histrionics abound.

This week’s soap opera: The Bite Heard Round the World. Yes, Uruguay striker Luis Suarez tried to take a chunk out of the shoulder of Italian Giorgio Chiellini. It wasn’t a first – Saurez, dubbed The Vampire by the British press, has been known to take out his athletic frustrations this way before. While awaiting an official investigation into the incident, there are endless hours of enjoyment to be had in the Twittersphere.

Fans are having fun with the Saurez Biting Incident, as these parodies making the rounds attest.

Fans are having fun with the Suarez Biting Incident, as these parodies making the rounds attest.

The hot guys. Though the announcers are making endless conversational hay out of grueling playing conditions near the Amazon (89 degrees? 68 percent humidity? Wimps, all!), we’re talking a different kind of hot here. Soccer players are, arguably, the most fit athletes in the world. Add the distance running that produces great butts (am I crossing a line here?), and the very, very tight jerseys designed for the Uruguay team (something to do with battling the other kind of heat), and you’ve got years worth of pin-up calendar material. I’m not alone here. At ABC News, that bastion of serious journalism, you can fill in your own World Cup Hottest Players Bracket.

The haircuts. Curling and professional tennis may make their own fashion statements, but in this ostentatious World Cup the hair takes all. You’ll see slender mohawks, thick mohawks, multi-colored mohawks, initials and designs cut into the scalp, dreads and a curious new look that combines shaved sides with bushy tops. The Indian Express posts this wrap of the Top Eight Haircuts at World Cup.

Hair statements at World Cup: Portugal's Ronaldo, Ivory Coast's Geoffory Serey Die and American Kyle Beckerman

Hair statements: Portugal’s Ronaldo, Ivory Coast’s Geoffory Serey Die and American Kyle Beckerman

The fans. Futbol fans make the NFL crowd look like kindergarteners at a May Day picnic. And the World Cup brings out the most avid – and most exhibitionist – of them all. They scream, they wear war paint, they create national cheers, they dress funny. I’ve spotted English fans in full gladiator or knight outfits (how does one pack that for international travel?), Swiss wearing cheese on their heads that would put Packers in the also-ran category, a Mexican fan astride a full-sized fake burro … The New York Daily News recently published a representative sample of the World Cup’s Craziest Fans.

The New York Daily News has gathered 50 photos of the craziest World Cup fans. (Photos: New York Daily News)

The New York Daily News has gathered 50 photos of the craziest World Cup fans, including ‘elephants’ from Colombia, left, and a cat from Chile. (Photos: New York Daily News)

The technology. Although this World Cup is the first to use a new technology that electronically detects if the ball crosses the goal line, yielding a score, the most riveting new wrinkle in this department is …. a can of shaving cream. Yes, referees now whip out a can of the foamy stuff to mark the lines where balls are kicked and defenders line up. Actually, according to The Independent in Great Britain, the spray is the brainchild of Argentine journalist Pablo Silva, who calls it “9:15 Fairplay,” a reference to the metric equivalent of the free-kick distance requirement.


Spray painting at the World Cup. (Photo:

The commentators. This is by far the best guilty viewing pleasure of all. If you have spent years (as I have) listening to the inane on-air analysis of American sports commentators – “They really came to play today, didn’t they?” – then you will appreciate the vocabulary, wit and zeal of the World Cup analysts. Especially the Brits. Especially Ian Darke,who struts his commentating stuff below by calling a first date for ESPN.

I admit that a British accent ups the commentator ante (it’s second only to a French accent in the sexiness category), but really, Ian’s turn of phrase alone has me in his corner. Here are a few favorite outtakes from various people in the press box.

When a side is playing badly:

  • “They’re playing with a lack of guile.” (Wouldn’t that make you sit up and take notice of, say, the Falcons defense?)
  • “They’ve lost the plot.” (Saints fans can relate here.)
  • “Will they find the X factor?” (See above.)
  • “Perhaps they can find another gear.”
  • “It looks like he’s running into cul de sacs.”

And when a side is playing well:

  • “Ah, there’s Ronaldo going through his party tricks.”
  • “Portugal might be smelling blood here.”
  • “That goal came gift-wrapped.”
  • “That may be the assassin’s bullet for the Italians.”
  • “There’s a sprinkling of stardust in this Belgian side.”

The USA. Well, of course it’s all about your team. The U.S. plays its third game today (11 a.m., ESPN), and has proved it can offer nail-biting action. Despite a literally last-second goal by Portugal that tied Sunday’s game , the U.S. has a chance to advance. So dress up, be histrionic, cheer loudly and enjoy the World Cup.

And pray for a little stardust.


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