In June of 2006 that would be sports. Lots of ’em.
Basketball: The NBA Finals
Here in South Florida, it’s hard not to get at least somewhat excited about basketball these days, even if you’re not a fan. The Heat are in the finals and it’s hard not to pay attention, especially when every news program, radio jockey, newspaper cover and half the billboards from West Palm Beach to Key West mention Shaq, Wade, or the team in some way, shape or form. In fact, the gym I just joined is owned by Shaq himself (60% of it, at any rate).
And yes, I’m well aware of the fact that the Heat lost to the Mavs yesterday; I do read Mark Cuban’s blog, after all. Still, Go Heat!
I’ll admit, I enjoy the occasional Orlando Magic or Miami Heat game, but I’m honestly not a big fan of the sport. I know, I know — I should be, right? After all I played basketball when I was a kid (I can’t even count the number of summer basketball camps I was sent to), I’m surrounded by it, and basketball is an extension of the Catholic religion to most Puerto Ricans. (It’s in the Catechism… somewhere…) But I’m just not a fan. (Which means I’m going to Purgatory, at least for a while.)
Ice Hockey: The Stanley Cup
Strangely enough, I lean more towards ice hockey. Yep, hockey. In South Florida. Over basketball. Go figure. Maybe I should consider moving to Canada, instead. (Hey, Quantum, DMOS, cdlu: anyone got a spare room somewhere?)
As you know (or can probably guess) if you’ve been reading this blog, my favorite team is the Tampa Bay Lightning, and has been since the early 1990’s when there was no Ice Palace in downtown Tampa and they played in the middle of a cow field in the Florida state fairgrounds. Nothing like the smell of cattle dung during a hockey game; almost made me feel I was out in Wisconsin during winter, save for the frostbite and all.
Now here’s what’s even stranger: even though I’ve been in Fort Lauderdale for 2+ years (wow — has it been that long?), I’ve yet to go to a Panthers game. Surprising to me because I live about 15 minutes from where they play, whereas in Tampa it would take me about half an hour just to get to the Ice Palace. I guess that means I’m less of a fan of the sport than I am an admirer of it. Oh well.
Of course, the news now isn’t about the Panthers or (sigh) the Lightning, it’s about the Carolina Panthers and the Edmonton Oilers, who are fighting it out to see who wins the coveted Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to watch any of the games since I don’t have cable and they’re not televising it on regular TV, at least down here. (Ah gots me a flat screen with them bunny ears shoot’n way on top the teevee there.) I’ve tried to keep up by reading CNNSI and ESPN on the Web, but it’s just not the same, and I refuse to spend my evenings at the local sports bar (Miller’s Ale House) to watch the Hurricanes and Oilers. Lightning or Bucs? Let’s go for it. Anyone else? I’ll usually pass, thank you.
Soccer: The World Cup
Now, neither one of those are the really big news, regardless how tall and heavy Shaq may be, compared to the World Cup, which starts today in Germany. (To paraphrase Obi Wan, I feel a shift in the blogosphere. It’s as if a billion voices were cheering as one… or something like that. I need to watch more Star Wars.) I’m tempted to do a rundown on all the countries and who I expect to win (Brazil), but I won’t. Sure, I like soccer, but c’mon: can I really add anything to what’s already out there? If you’re looking here for information on soccer you’re probably not interested enough in the sport to really care, and if you are, I’m sure there are — quite literally — a million other places you can get much better information on.
With that in mind, I’ll help those of you who want to know just enough about what’s going on to be conversant with some of your more extreme folks. (Since Fort Lauderdale is covered with South Americans and Europeans — not to mention Cubans who probably spent a good deal of time in Russia and Europe — there are a lot of those around here.)
Teams to Watch:
(1) The United States. They’re in a tough division, facing Italy and The Czech Republic. If they go past the first round, people may finally start respecting them, before they likely get blasted away by the Brazilians. (They’ve got a harsh road ahead of them, and tons to prove.) Oh, and they’ve pretty much dominated Mexico lately, as well as CONCACAF. In 2002 they made it to the quarterfinals in the World Cup. Currently, they’re 5th in the world standings (just under Mexico and tied with Spain). With a player as dominating as Oguchi Onyewu and Landon Donovan on the roster, they may just surprise some people. (Gee, guess who I’m rooting for.) Or, they may just flop, in which case America will care just as much as they care now. I mean, let’s face it: the only way Americans will care about soccer in large numbers any time soon is if they make an appearance in the title game itself. (I may be crossing my fingers, but I’m not holding my breath.)
(2) Germany. The tourney is being played at home which, as time has shown, is a huge advantage. (Can you give me any other reason France won in 1998? I don’t think so.) With a prolific and high-scoring midfielder like Michael Ballack, most teams would be sitting pretty.
(3) Brazil. Let’s face it, short of an act from heaven or hell, Brazil is poised to own the tournament. For the US’s point of view, unless the US can be at the top of their class (should they beat out either Italy or the Czechs and move on), this team will probably hand them their flight tickets home. With FIFA World Player of the year Ronaldinho and star side-kick KakÃ¡ both playing on the same side of the ball, it’ll be hard for any team to stop the Brazilians, who’s love of the sport is nothing short of religious fanaticism.
(4) Argentina. Next to the Brazilians, the Argentineans are the generally favored team. Currently they’re 8th in the FIFA rankings, but don’t let that fool you. With a player the caliber of Lionel Messi, acknowledged to be one of the best in the country’s history, this team can’t be counted out.
(5) The Ivory Coast. Surprise, surprise! This ought to tell you the power of the World Cup: the current civil war taking place in that country has undergone a cease fire throughout the duration of the tournament in response to the Ivorians’ first ever World Cup entry. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this team doesn’t have a pool of talent to draw from. “This is a team that’s laden with top-tier talent from the world’s finest leagues. Defenders Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue anchor Arsenal in the English Premier League, while strikers Didier Drogba and Aruna Dindane can score against anybody. Throw midfielders like Didier Zokora and Bonaventure Kalou into the mix and this is a team that will cause plenty of problems for Holland and Argentina.” (source)
(6) Italy. If Francesco Totti, “The Next Pele” (according to Pele himself), doesn’t implode, Italy could be in for a golden run. In fact, some predictions have the Italians playing the Brazilians for the title. Me? I’m just watching to make sure they don’t get the best of the US. Yes, I’m biased. Live with it.
With all that said, you can keep abreast with what’s going on over at ESPN’s Soccernet and Sports Illustrated’s World Cup website. Check out who’s playing who in the different groups. Finally, check out the calendar of events. If the US can make it out of the first round — as I’m confident they can do — they’ll already have done more for their name on the world stage than ever before.