Like most Americans, I'm not a big follower of soccer. But every four years, when the best soccer players on earth get together to represent their countries in the World Cup, I always watch it.
Here's my take on the World Cup:
Americans' biggest complaint against soccer is that it is boring because there is not enough scoring.
Considering that goaltenders can use their hands to touch the ball, and that everyone trying to score can't, it makes scoring in soccer extremely difficult. Can you even think of another popular sport where you can't use any part of your arms to score?
At the World Cup level it takes an enormous amount of skill to score goals. With the athleticism of the world's best goalies, and the huge amount of national pressure on those players expected to score, the nets get even smaller. About one-quarter of the goals seem to come from guys accidentally knocking the ball into their own nets.
If not goals, soccer does deliver U.S. fans plenty of contact and injuries. No one likes a kick in the shins, and there are numerous head-to-head and elbow-to-head collisions. With blood spilling out of his forehead, American Brian McBride looked more like a boxer.
As much as I like the actual physical contact in the sport, unfortunately all of that is offset by the players' atrocious acting. Players with the ball often will fall down completely untouched, act as if they are mortally wounded, get their opponents a foul or yellow card warning, then miraculously get up and within seconds run to the goal. It is so obvious that they are faking contact and injuries. This practice is way out of control, and the players should be ashamed of themselves for such poor sportsmanship.
And the officiating is no better. There have been way too many yellow and red card warnings, leading to too many star players sitting on the bench. Also, a French goal was missed by the officials in its tie against South Korea, as soccer gets closer to the day of computer chips in balls or instant replay.
Overall I like the World Cup and will continue to watch it, but there is definitely room for improvement. American sports fans in general are just not ready to totally embrace it, and I don't blame them.
United States - The U.S. valiantly tied powerful Italy 1-1, but expended too much energy while playing with nine players against Italy's ten. Alas, a 2-1 loss to Africa's best team, Ghana, accompanied by another horrible call, would follow. Those horrible referees contributed to our failing to advance out of the most difficult first round group.
Champion - The pre-tournament upset pick of Germany to win the World Cup looks stronger now, as the host country rolled through the first round.
Second round picks - Germany, England, Argentina, the Netherlands, Italy, Brazil and Spain. The eighth spot is up in the air going into today's games, but the pick is France, unless the French didn't advance, or if they are playing Spain.
The two-out-of-three final in the College World Series is set with North Carolina taking on the winner of last night's Rice-Oregon State game. The pick is North Carolina to win it all.
Tennis' third major, the Wimbledon Championships begin Monday from London. The quick transition from the slow red clay of Paris two weeks ago to the fast lawns of Wimbledon is quite a change. A power game is now needed to win the titles.
Predictions - Both defending champions, Roger Federer and Venus Williams possess the power games and experience necessary to win. Federer is just about a sure thing, while the women's side is wide open.