Hate soccer? Then you don't know Doudou. (He's the one-named
striker for Queens Park Rangers in England.) But millions of us
do know our Doudou from our Kaka. (He's the one-named midfielder
for the Brazilian national team.) Kaka and Doudou are unrelated,
though the latter does have a Rangers teammate named Shittu.
Danny Shittu. Honest. I Shittu not.
Cyrillic eye charts have fewer strange characters than world
soccer. Take Robert Waseige. Last week he abruptly announced he
would quit as coach of Belgium's World Cup squad--effective at
tournament's end--while on the team bus to the airport for the
World Cup, a decision he conceded came at "a bad moment,"
timing-wise. A day later headlines in half of this planet's
Daily Planets read BELGIAN WAFFLES.
But who can blame him? Had Waseige resigned by ringing a bell on
the bus from his seat, signaling the driver that this was his
stop, and silently disembarked with a shopping bag full of
worries, it would scarcely have been surprising, given the
singularly weird pressures of the World Cup, which will be seen
by almost two billion television viewers around the globe,
including an American audience consisting of one night watchman
in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
That's because every single match of this World Cup--cohosted by
Japan and South Korea--will air live (on the East Coast) at 1:25,
2:25, 3:25, 4:55 or 7:25. That's a.m. The 2002 Cup is shaping up,
sadly, as the Spokane of sports spectacles. "The trouble with
Spokane," Jim Murray wrote, "is that there's nothing to do after
10. In the morning. But it's a nice place to have breakfast."
In England breakfast will be Beckham and eggs. That's what Brits
are calling the temporary laws that will let pubs open, for the
duration of the World Cup, at 7 a.m., all because one great
publican went to High Court to argue that Britons are entitled
"to celebrate football in the normal way--in the pub with a pint
in their hand." The High Court agreed, and when England and
Nigeria kick off in Osaka on June 12 at 7:25 a.m., London time,
beer taps will be bowing like Japanese businessmen all over
Blighty. And Martin Gough, proprietor of the White Hart pub in
Brislingon, will forever be a national hero: the Nathan Hale of
pale ale, a Patrick 'enry who had the courage to say, Give me
Caffrey's, or give me death.
The World Cup--unlike the World Series, the Harlem Globetrotters
or the International House of Pancakes--really is a planetary
enterprise. For the four weeks and two days that began on May 31,
in the words of XTC, "All the world is football-shaped/It's just
for me to kick in space." And space is pulling for Costa Rica,
whose native son, astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz, will this week
carry a Ticos jersey into orbit, where he may encounter newly
detonated Ireland captain Roy Keane.
Make that former Ireland captain, who did Waseige one better by
actually flying to the Far East with his teammates before
abandoning them, last week, on the island of Saipan. The
combustible Keane blew an O-ring in practice--his list of
grievances too manifold to recount--and promised never again to
play for Ireland manager Mick McCarthy, who in turn vowed never
again to manage Keane, the world-famous Manchester United
midfielder whom McCarthy himself has likened to an Irish Beatle,
a talented but temperamental Ring O'Starr.
Ireland prime minister Bertie Ahern proclaimed himself
"disappointed" in the two children and then offered to mediate
the dispute. But McCarthy and Keane remain at loggerheads, thus
dashing the hopes of a great many lagerheads.
It was on Saipan, in June and July 1944, that U.S. and Japanese
soldiers fought one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.
Indeed, as late as 1952 soldiers were emerging from caves on
Saipan and surrendering, unaware that the war was long over.
American sports fans as a bloc behave likewise, holed up in
caves, hiding out from soccer, unaware that the war is long over
and resistance is futile.
So surrender: Succumb to the storylines of the World Cup, which
already include a truly courageous coach (Hernan Dario Gomez of
Ecuador) who was shot--shot!--by his critics, and a team (Cameroon)
whose routine itinerary to Japan last week turned into a
five-day, three-nation epic in its own right. It included a
48-hour wage strike by the players that delayed the team in Paris
and an unplanned holiday in Bangkok, thanks to a pilot who failed
to get flyover permission from Vietnam and the Philippines en
Such things seldom happen to the Lakers. So make room for both
Kobes--Bryant and Japan. You won't believe the World Cup. The
tournament hasn't started, and already, in the last month, 150
South Korean dog-meat restaurateurs planned to set up boiling
pots outside Cup venues and serve Spot roast to international
visitors. Then the group, under enormous pressure from the office
of tourism, reconsidered, so dog meat will not be on offer in
Korean stadiums, unless you count the U.S. defense.
I Shih Tzu not.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER GREGOIRE
Every match will air live (on the East Coast) at 1:25, 2:25,
3:25, 4:55 or 7:25. That's a.m.