7/04/2010
The art of watching football

Watching sports on television is, unsurprisingly, a family affair.

My dad skips work (well, he can afford to) so he can watch the NBA All-Star Game and, a few weeks back, the final game between the Lakers and the Celtics. My mom follows the tennis, and if she's up to it, she can stay up late to watch a Rafael Nadal match.

And then, of course, there's my brother. He's this snobbish sporting kind. He's a member of his high school's basketball team, and it's no surprise he watches a lot of basketball, but he's also up to speed with my mother's tennis and the UFC. But I can't rely on him to explain slightly alien concepts to me. I'd ask him what's going on and he'd sneer silently, probably wondering why I, his brother, am not into sports.

That description isn't entirely accurate, though. I can watch a basketball game, and I can watch a tennis game, and I can watch the UFC. I just don't know enough to call myself a fan - you'll never spot me browsing through sports news websites, reading about who's trading who. I'll watch a UFC match - say, the Brock Lesnar-Shane Carwin shocker earlier - and I won't know much about how they fared before the big face-off. I get it when one's going down, but don't get me started on the technical terms.

Thus, I was surprised when I decided to follow the World Cup in South Africa.

That description isn't entirely accurate, though. Sure, my constant listening to British radio stations at work made me more curious than usual, helped by the fact that a local channel is airing all the live matches, but I haven't really paid much attention. I'm the sort who wants to start things from the very beginning so I can really get a grip on what's going on. With the World Cup being years in the making - all the qualifying matches, and all the gossip - I figured I can't get myself into it, or at least, not this time.

But I'm still watching, or at least the matches that I can get myself to watch. I mean, I don't exactly expect myself to stay up until four in the morning just so I can say I've seen everything. And watching football is a test of patience - ninety minutes of players kicking the ball around, with the chance of making a goal not as big as basketball. I'm not exactly the patient kind.

And yet, I decided to watch these football games for one thing: to watch one player make a goal. Live.

I guess seeing Icka and Eena (talk show idea, anyone?) tweet about the games compelled me on this silly quest - and the idea that  the probability of a match having at least one goal is pretty high. That turned out to be a pretty flimsy excuse. I began with the Portugal-Brazil match, presuming it would yield at least one goal - hey, the girls were looking forward to it, and so was my brother, who suddenly knew enough about football to act snobbish around me again - but that ended in a draw. And I stayed up for it.

The next match I gave a lot of attention to came during the round of 16: it was Paraguay against Japan, and I was in a bar. The first half passed and there wasn't a goal. I got home and there wasn't a goal. I fell asleep and the game ended in penalties - not that it counts.

I didn't pay attention to the Netherlands-Brazil match, but my British radio listening told me I missed three goals. The Brazilians got one in. The Dutch got one in. The Dutch got another one in. I finally watched, but it was too late to make a difference.

For a moment I was rooting for Brazil, but I had very selfish intentions.

On one hand, I started to think that I'm jinxing the games. I told Icka something along the lines of, "since you're rooting for the Dutch, I'll watch the game so they'll hold on to the lead and win, since whenever I watch a game nobody makes a goal." At least we have something else to talk about now.

On the other hand, I was actually gaining the patience to watch the games - and the curiosity, too. One of the Dutch's goals was caused by the Brazilians, which led me to ask my sister: "what exactly is an 'own goal'?" Sure, it definitely refers to when one player makes a goal on the opposing team, giving that team a point, but after our experience with defining what an offside is - I'm still too lazy to look it up online - I've come to presume that everything in football is complicated. Now, my sister was part of her high school's football team, but she doesn't have an answer, either.

My brother can't explain it either."Parang fastbreak," he said, using that basketball term. "Pero nakalinya yung defense. At least yun yung nangyayari kapag offside ako sa PSP."

At least he wasn't sneering.

That explanation came yesterday, while we watched a rerun of the Netherlands-Brazil match. I was somehow setting myself up to watch the Argentina-Germany one, although I didn't really plan to do so closely, since I was in front of the PC. But I was looking at the television just as someone from the German side made a free kick, leading Thomas Müller to hit the ball in the head, sending it to the goal. I finally saw my first live football goal.

As if making up for the past few weeks, I ended up watching the Germans bring tears to Diego Maradona and his Argentinian kids. One goal led to another, and to yet another, and in the second half of the game, I realized I somehow get it: the wisdom that you need to distract your opponents while keeping sight of the goal to make things work, and the reality that you can set up a beautiful route to the goal, only to be foiled by one person. I felt genuinely bad for the Argentinian goalie, but upon realizing that I have a Deutschland shirt on my wardrobe, I felt I rooted for the Germans by default.

Still shallow, but at least I knew better. And just in time, since the last four matches will all air at two in the morning.

And your responses...

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