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One game changes everything.
Or so I hear. That's why I beg you to read this World Cup preview column right now, before the matches really kick into full gear. Because once that happens, everything -- everything! -- will be changed. What I've written. What you hold important in life. Your underwear. Everything.
There are 32 teams in the World Cup, and below are 32 items about the World Cup. Synergy? Or just laziness on the way to 100 items about the World Cup? You decide.
The World Cup logo is laughing at you.
Look at it. It doesn't respect you. It thinks you're stupid. It thinks you know nothing about soccer. The guy on the right is laughing so hard at you he has turned green and is about to throw up. The guy on the left has actually laughed himself to death. And all of their laughing has awakened the orange baby from a nap, and now it's laughing at you, too. Are you going to just let them laugh at you like that? Do you have no self-respect? No dignity? I guess you don't. You sicken me. You deserve the logo's scorn.
Last names are for squares.
The land of Pele still doesn't see the need for its soccer players to use a last name. The current crop of players includes several who go by a single name, most notably Ronaldinho (Ronaldo de Assis Moreira) and Ronaldo (Ronaldo Luiz Nazario de Lima). There is also a guy named Frederico Chaves Guedes who goes by, simply, "Fred." No joke. And I mean no disrespect to any Freds out there, but that is hands down the lamest attempt at a "cool" name in history. (Not counting the naming of the Spike network, of course.) But perhaps best of all is Brazilian midfielder Kaka. While I don't know what his full name is, I'd like to think he shortened it to Kaka from something like Poopy McGee.
Calcium? Just a fad.
Seriously, English people -- it's time you drink some milk. David Beckham broke bones in his left foot two months before the 2002 World Cup, leaving him less than 100 percent; then this year striker Michael Owen suffered a foot fracture, and fellow striker Wayne Rooney could be limping throughout this year's tournament with a broken bone in his foot. So what I'm suggesting is some calcium. Just a glass of milk a day. Give it a try. And not only does calcium strengthen bones, it does wonders for teeth. Not that you all have any teeth problems, of course. I was simply stating one of the added benefits calcium provides.
Nothing says "Germany" like a talking lion without pants.
Meet Goleo VI, the 2006 World Cup mascot. He hangs out with a talking soccer ball, has an undefined crotch bulge and, according to the official description, "is alive, talks and thinks. And naturally, he has his own opinions and point of view, as no one is born just to be a mascot." Well, yeah! That would just be stupid.
Don't use your bookie. Use my goalie.
Italy included goalie Gianluigi Buffon on its World Cup roster, despite allegations that he has bet extensively on soccer games. But I can see why Italy isn't too concerned about Buffon and the charges against him. Even if he got in way over his head and was bought off by bookies, it's not like a goalie can have much impact on a soccer game. Right?
Who ordered the Group of Death?
Ever since the group assignments for the World Cup were announced in December, many American soccer fans and commentators have called the U.S. group, Group E, the toughest because it contains four of the best teams in the world, yet only two of them will advance. And that argument makes a valid point: There are four very good teams in Group E, and it's true that only two of them will advance. How that makes Group E different from any other group, though, is unclear, since all of the teams who qualified for the World Cup are, you know, uh good. That's kind of a requirement for qualifying.
War is not over, even if you want it.
You've heard Bono in the ad: "After three years of civil war, feuding factions talked for the first time in years, and the president called a truce because the Ivory Coast qualified for its first-ever World Cup. And as everyone knows, a country united makes for better cheerleaders than a country divided." The thing is, most experts don't expect the Ivory Coast to get out of its group. In fact, they may not even win a game. I'm just saying: you may not want to schedule a vacation to the Ivory Coast anytime soon. (Because I'm sure that was your plan.)
David Beckham in HD? I have the vapors.
Every World Cup match will be broadcast in the U.S. in high definition on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2. So it could be argued that those who are watching the games from their living rooms have better seats than those who paid thousands of dollars for tickets. Plus, if you're at a game and some moron skinhead sitting beside you starts yelling racial slurs, you risk getting jumped by his fellow hooligans if you confront him. But if the same thing happens in your living room, you can just tell the guy to get off your couch and leave. (And I'd also throw out whoever invited the guy, too.) Advantage? HD.
S&M will punish you.
Serbia-Montenegro may be making its first appearance in the World Cup, but it finished ahead of Spain in regional qualifying and allowed just one goal in 10 matches. So that sleeper goalie you are looking to pick up in the late rounds of your World Cup fantasy draft? His name is Dragoslav Jevric.
Why not just slap a Canadian maple leaf sticker on the bumper?
Due to security threats, the U.S. team doesn't have its national flag on its bus -- the only squad of the 32 in Germany to take that measure. And it's a necessary measure to take. But it's not as though the American bus is indistinguishable. First, it has no flag, as mentioned. And second -- this one is a bit more subtle -- it's surrounded by an enormous security detail that dwarfs that of every other team. Other than that, though, it's practically a stealth bus.
Whinny or else.
Brazil is the favorite to win the World Cup. Again. But as Barbaro's injury in the Preakness proved, sometimes unforeseen circumstances can strike down even the biggest favorites. And what's even more encouraging for the field is that Brazilian star Ronaldinho kind of looks like a horse.
Dear Lord, what a goal!
More than 1,000 churches across Germany are opening their doors during the World Cup to let soccer fans watch games on big screen televisions. The hope is that the outreach will bring people together and show that the church can play a role in everyday life. It's a great idea, but since only one team wins the World Cup, I'm afraid most fans might learn nothing more than that God doesn't always answer prayers. And that churches have a very poor selection of beers.
Must be the lack of commercials.
More than one billion people worldwide will watch the World Cup final on July 9. To put that number into perspective, that's 10 times the number of people who watch the Super Bowl. Or, if this helps you get your mind around it, one billion times the number of people who watched "Pepper Dennis." Amazing, isn't it?
Clint Dempsey spits hot fire.
U.S. team member Clint Dempsey is not only a midfielder, but a rapper, too. He teamed with Big Hawk (since deceased) and XO to record "Don't Tread." And I have to say it's not too bad a song. In fact, I think Dempsey has staked his claim to the title of World's Best Rapping Soccer Player. I believe he's also staked his claim to the title of World's Only Rapping Soccer Player.
Pardon us while we take a siesta for three decades.
Spain always has one of the most talented teams in the tournament. It also always falls miserably short of expectations, and it's gotten to the point that no one even expects much from the Spaniards anymore -- which could be very freeing and allow them to finally break through. Of course, that won't happen and they'll still exit the tournament early, but it's fun to dream while on siesta.
So you're saying there's a chance.
Even though Germany is a soccer power and the host of this year's tournament, recent polls have shown that less than a fifth of Germans think their national team will win the Cup. That's shocking to me, considering the common perception of Germans is that they're such positive, upbeat and excitable people. Goes to show, I guess, that perceptions are often misleading.
You forgot Poland. And now they're going to kill you.
Poland finished last in its group in 2002, and apparently its fans are still a bit angry about it. The, uh, "rougher" Polish fans have threatened to cross the border into Germany armed with knives and axes to attack German and English fans. Seriously. And some have even tried to schedule fights with hooligans from other countries. Seriously again. But not to fear -- if the Polish thugs deal with contact as well as their soccer-playing heroes, one touch and they'll be down on the ground, wailing and crying for medical attention.
How do you say "racist" in Spanish?
Television microphones picked up Spain head coach Luis Aragones making racist comments about France's Thierry Henry two years ago, but Aragones resisted calls to apologize. And I respect a man for sticking to his true feelings in the face of public outcry. That's why I hope Aragones doesn't mind if I stick to my opinion that he is a steaming pile of s---.
What to get for the soccer fan who has everything but nightmares.
So your friend is having a World Cup party and you want to bring him a gift as a thank-you. Why not purchase this figurine of retired referee Pierluigi Collina? Your friend will be sure to remember the gift until his dying days. (Which will likely come soon when he goes insane and blows his brains out because the figurine is reading his mind.)
The low end theory.
Group A qualifier Ecuador isn't being taken seriously in the World Cup because it seems to play well only at home in high altitude, whereas at lower altitudes the Ecuadorans struggle. Although if Ecuador's players want to get high, they can always head across Germany's western border to the Netherlands. (Ba-dum-cha!)
There are some who call me Thi-A-Rod Henry.
He's got tons of talent. He's handsome. And he's extremely wealthy. But detractors of French star Thierry Henry claim he always comes up small when the pressure is on. But at least no one has ever accused him of wearing purple lipstick, so he's got that over A-Rod, at least.
Oh, it's so ON.
World Anti-Doping Agency chairman Dick Pound? You've been served. Meet South Korean head coach Dick Advocaat.
My, your balls are slimy.
The balls that will be used during competition at the World Cup have been widely panned by goalkeepers. They say the balls are prone to knuckling in the air and become very slick in the rain. They also think the balls should be 10 times larger, covered in a thick, sticky tar and magnetized so all shots they can't get to bang off the posts or crossbar and fly harmlessly away.
Scoring like an Ace Of Base member in the early '90s.
Sweden averaged three goals per game during World Cup qualifying. And while the irrational soccer haters who think the sport is too low-scoring may not think three goals per game is all that impressive, irrational soccer haters have never been accused of being especially bright. So look at it this way: the Super Bowl champion Steelers averaged only about three touchdowns per game last year, it's just that each touchdown was awarded seven points (yes, I realize it's officially only six). So if it helps, let's say Sweden averaged 21 points during World Cup qualifying. Wow! Amazing! Soccer is so high-scoring!
Beware. Beware, I say!
Nike is plastering billboards across the country with pictures of U.S. soccer players and the word "Beware." It's all part of an estimated $75 million campaign to promote the World Cup. And like many ad campaigns, the tagline is intentionally vague. But I think it's pretty clear that "Beware" is a warning to anyone who would actually put money on the U.S. men's team winning the World Cup. I suppose it could be intended as a sort of warning to those who would dare underestimate the team, but I'm guessing it's the former. Especially because I know Nike would never, ever promote unrealistic expectations for the sake of a buck.
For us, against us, or anarchist?
Group C opponents Serbia-Montenegro and the Netherlands play on June 11. The cool thing is, the Netherlands flag is the Serbian-Montenegrin flag upside down, and vice versa. It could provide for some fantastic fodder for halftime speeches: "Look at the crowd! Our fans are so upset with how we're playing that they're holding our flag upside down! They've resorted to anarchy!" Inspiring stuff.
Introducing the Patriots' new kicker.
The New York Jets once tried out former U.S. goalkeeper Tony Meola at punter, and now it's the Patriots' turn to look to soccer for talent. The captain of Team Paraguay, Carlos Gamarra, says his team's sole goal is to get "respect" at this year's World Cup. Uh, Carlos? It's Bill Belichick on Line 1. He says he likes the way you talk, and thinks you'd be the perfect person to replace Adam Vinatieri in New England.
Who wants to go Dutch?
There are four Dutchmen serving as head coaches in the World Cup, more than any other nation -- the aforementioned Dick Advocaat with South Korea, Leo Beenhakker with Trinidad & Tobago, Guus Hiddink with Australia and Marco Van Basten for the Dutch national squad. I may be in the minority on this, but I think soccer needs to work to develop coaching candidates in other countries. For instance, why should there be four Dutch coaches when there isn't a single head coach from soccer-mad countries like Holland and the Netherlands? It makes no sense.
A dingo ate their strikers.
Australia hasn't been to the World Cup in 32 years and it's not favored to advance very far this year. But the Aussies probably can't do any worse than their last and only appearance in history, when they went home without tallying a single goal. Although it would be kind of cool to see them go scoreless again, just in the off-chance of hearing the chant: "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oy! Oy! Vey!"
Iran? Iran not so far away.
Iran may be about to get the bomb, but it's already got a pretty good soccer team. And it could pull an upset or two in Group D. Although Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari doesn't think so, and has called Iran the weakest team in the group. Sounds like a guy who's cruising for a nuking.
Ronaldo is attracted to America's soft underbelly.
Brazilian star Ronaldo has gotten a bit out of shape in recent years, so much so that some soccer fans have taken to calling him "Fatty." (A little low on the originality scale, but it does get right to the point.) Coincidentally, as Ronaldo was packing on the pounds, rumors started building that he wanted to play in the U.S. -- home of the world's most delicious and plentiful fried food. But then last month he turned down a 10-year, $120 million offer from the New York Red Bulls. And to be honest, until some MLS team offers him a 10-year, all-you-can-eat deal, I don't see him coming to play in the U.S.
Stop being such a Cisse.
French forward Djibril Cisse was knocked out of the World Cup this week when he sustained a serious injury to his right leg in a tune-up match against China. Normally I would take no pleasure in a player getting injured, but considering that in the last year Cisse was cautioned by police for assaulting his pregnant wife and for hitting a 15-year-old-boy, well those are karma sutures in your leg, pal.
We present you with these beautiful parting gifts.
Not only do Croatia's opponents get to trade jerseys with them after a match per World Cup tradition, they get wonderful tablecloths, too! Such a generous spirit captures what the World Cup is really about. Hats off to you, Croatia. And I'll take a fat guy's jersey -- size Ronaldo. I have a big table.
DJ Gallo is a regular contributor to ESPN The Magazine as well as the founder and sole writer of the award-winning sports satire site SportsPickle.com. He also contributes headlines to The Onion.