That was hard to watch.
It was the biggest game in the planet’s favorite sport. And that’s why yesterday’s World Cup final was, for the most part, disappointing.
I didn’t have a personal cheering interest, but leaned toward the Dutch, since so many of them drove the length of two continents to support their team.
But in reality, I was rooting for the sport itself. And I lost.
We were promised the beautiful game. Instead we got something closer to no-hands rugby.
Spain and Holland reached the final with precision and creativity. But in front of 84,490 in Johannesburg and 700 million watching worldwide on TV, it was a 116-minute display of bumping and flopping and missed opportunities, until Spain’s Andres Iniesta put it away in extra time.
The teams combined for 14 yellow cards, including eight plus a red for the Dutch.
AT HALFTIME, I went to The Varsity. The place overflowed, mostly with Spain fans — unlike Soccer City Stadium, which was more orange than a Denver Broncos home game.
When regulation ended scoreless, I learned something new about soccer fans as nearly half of them rushed outside for a break: They like to smoke (OK, maybe it’s soccer fans who go to a bar on a Sunday morning who like to smoke).
One thing I already knew was the more at stake, the less likely an exciting, cleanly played soccer match.
When Germany beat Uruguay 3-2 for third place Saturday, the action flowed freely and Uruguay nearly tied it at the end. It was fun — they coached and played to win, not to not lose.
But yesterday was thuggish and sluggish with the championship on the line. That neither country had ever won the Cup added to the lack of rhythm.
The timing for such an unattractive championship was bad for soccer’s future in the United States — although not all agree.
"This game was all about violence today," said Spain fan Eduardo Ortiz, originally from Mexico. "And I think Americans like violence."
True, but we want scoring with it. And we want to buy our guns on credit, not layaway. An appreciation for delayed gratification is not among our country’s strengths, so when the lone goal was scored in extra time, how many Americans had already tuned out?
This same World Cup made Landon Donovan a national hero with his equivalent of a fast-break putback at the buzzer in OT. That happened so long ago, I almost didn’t remember it was against Slovenia … unh, Algeria.
NONE OF the three orange-shirted supporters of the Dutch present would talk to me after the loss. Disappointing, since I’d heard they were the life of the worldwide World Cup party.
But former Punahou player Kyle Hunt was elated. He wore a red "Torres" No. 9 jersey. And KGMB sportscaster Mike Cherry cheered on Espana, because a bud back at Maui High was an exchange student from Madrid.
At some point I ditched the Dutch, because of the great play of Spain’s goalkeeper Iker Casillas (NFL cornerbacks make me forget sometimes that World Cup ‘keepers have the most pressure-packed job in all of team sports). But backing the winning team didn’t make me feel better about what I’d just seen.
It was far from beautiful. Almost as hard to watch as Jim Gray chit-chatting with LeBron James — with an even longer wait for the payoff.