When I posted about South Africa several weeks back football's World Cup was just in its opening group phase. Despite being the world's most widely-viewed (popular, important, followed) sporting event, it remained to be seen whether the quality of play and the unfolding of events would make this Cup entertaining as well. With only the results of championship match between the Oranje and La Roja in doubt, that question has been answered. It has been magnificent.
The team from the United States played well, to be commended both in qualifying for the Cup and making it to the round of 16. But that was as far as they went, and as it should have been. Despite the growth in the sport's participatory popularity, the U.S. still does not field a first-tier national team. This year we were gutsy and lucky rather than excellent; others were all three - and that is what it takes to move on. The U.S.'s time is coming.
But three teams with far more talent and experience failed - very publicly - to get that far. The English side, with amazing individual talent, failed to become a team. The Italians, Cup winners four years ago, just played poorly. But for drama no team could top Les Bleus; they simply self-destructed, their quest cut short by a player's simple suggestion at halftime that the manager, "Va te faire enculer, sale files de pute!"
On the other side was inspired play from teams from South America not named Brazil and Argentina, emotional and exciting play from the teams from Africa (whose time is coming as well), and good showings from asian teams. Yes, there has been a moderate amount of controversy on the field - cards given or not, an offside call blown now and then, and one goal unfortunately missed. But, so far nothing resembling the Hand of God or a brutal head butt. Drama? How about Uruguay/Ghana.
Even South Africa's criminals seem to be on holiday.
The story lines have been interesting and the play of high quality with a minimal amount of rough-housing or on-field theatrics. Two very worthy sides who have never won a World Cup will be playing each other on Sunday on a continent hosting it for the first time. Ah, this time, it has been The Beautiful Game.
I'm already looking forward to 2014, when Brazil hosts the World Cup.