‘Beautiful Game’? Would you settle for ‘has a great personality’?

I have mixed feelings about soccer. On the one hand, as a certified sports nut, I feel a certain obligation to enjoy a sport that is beloved by 98% of the world. On the other hand, I don’t know enough about it to understand the strategy involved, which makes watching a game on television akin to watching a baseball team run wind sprints in the outfield. (And a side rant that the ESPN/ABC announcers are useless when it comes to explaining enough of the game to actually make it interesting to casual fans. What a wasted opportunity.

But it’s once again World Cup time, and I vowed to make a real effort to watch some games and see if I could capture a little of the excitement. And surprisingly, it’s kind of working. I have watched several games through the group play and the next couple of rounds, and it’s actually pretty cool. I still don’t understand a lot of the rules (what’s the deal with free kicks? when does a team get awarded a corner kick instead of a throw-in? how do they determine stoppage time?) but it is amazing what talented players can do with the ball. The way they can control the dribble, direct their kicks, stop the ball with their shoulder or foot, it’s pretty amazing.

I think I got hooked when I watched Argentina score the most incredible goal during group play off what I think the announcer called a “back heel” — the player kind of overran the ball, then flicked it with his heel to a teammate standing behind him, who kicked the goal. It was jaw-dropping. So I was saddened yesterday to see Argentina lose to Germany on penalty kicks. And now today England loses the same way to Portugal.

Seriously, teams should pay me not to root for them.