Becoming a World Cup Zombie

Jun. 26, 2014 @ 07:15 AM

I have a fever. No, it does not come from a virus, nor do I need more cowbell, but I do hope I’m contagious. I have contracted World Cup fever and what a fortunate malady to have. Many others suffer from the same condition as the fever has spread from sea to shining sea. I want to help spread it to my readers who are as yet unaffected. Just call me the World Cup Zombie.

I know some folks who are doing their best to ward off infection. They ignore the World Cup, still clinging to the outdated notion that soccer is a boring communist sport. In fact, my sister-in-law said she would rather watch paint dry. Another claimed they didn’t like soccer because it was hard to understand.

While I am far from an expert on the beautiful game, I want to dispel those myths so no one will have an excuse not to watch the big match between the USA and Germany at noon today. We need all the help we can get, even from those sports fans who have never watched a match before.

Soccer is a simple game and it can be learned quickly, which is probably why it is the world’s most popular sport. There are just a few things you need to know before tuning into the crucial match. Soccer is played on a field called a pitch, which is roughly the same length as a football field but slightly wider. At each end of the pitch there is a net. The objective is to kick the ball in the other team’s net. The player, of the 11 on each team, who normally tries to score, is called a forward or a striker, because they try to strike the ball in the back of the net.

The players who try to get the ball to the strikers are called midfielders. They are the John Stocktons of the pitch. They are generally more satisfied with assists, but they can score if needed. The third group of players is known as defenders and their jobs are self-explanatory, stopping the ball from going in the net. The last line of the defense in front of net is called the goalie.

The most confusing rules for non-soccer fans to grasp are offsides and fouls. An offsides is called when a member of the team with the ball, passes to a teammate who is closer to the goal (behind) than the other team’s defender(s).  For example, if USA midfielder Michael Bradley, passes the ball to forward Clint Dempsey, a German defender has to be between Dempsey and the goal, before he receives the pass.

Fouls are much the same in soccer as any other sport. They are called for illegal and excessive contact with another player, or illegal touching of the ball called a hand ball. Depending on the severity of the foul, the referee can issue a yellow card or a red card. If a player gets two yellow caution cards or one red card, he is sent off (ejected) and cannot be replaced. The fouling team has to finish the match with 10 players.

Sometimes a foul results in a penalty kick. Let’s say the USA has the ball inside the white box in front of the German goal, and a German defender commits a foul. The USA is then awarded a penalty kick, which means the Americans have a 1-on-1 matchup with the German goalie to try and score. It’s the most exciting play in soccer, much more thrilling than watching paint dry.

Now that you know the basics, here is what’s at stake for the USA versus Germany today.They have to win, lose by one goal, or draw (tie), to advance to the Sweet 16. This may sound simple, but it’s not. The Germans are ranked in the top three in the world by many publications making the Americans, ranked anywhere from 14th to 32nd, huge underdogs. They will be out for blood because the Americans beat them in an exhibition match last year. Still, according to the number crunchers at ESPN, the U.S. has a 76 percent chance of advancing to the next round.    

So, I encourage all you non-soccer fans to take what you have learned, gather around your TV or computer, and cheer on the USA. You too will catch the fever and maybe spread it to others. No need to thank me, though. I’m just your friendly neighborhood World Cup Zombie.

Welcome to the horde!