[Last Lap] Beauty in early morning

Before you change to a movie channel, consider that the football game you are watching is the one played worldwide. In Southeast Asia, the Philippines is the only basketball country while the rest are lovers of the sport called “the beautiful game.”

Football’s beauty lies in how players control the ball with their feet, pass without looking down to a teammate hurtling down the pitch who scores by kicking the ball or heading the ball into the goal. This happens so quickly and unveiled skillfully that you will regret taking time making a peanut butter sandwich on two pieces of wheat bread.

In the next few days, football fanatics will live and die with every goal and missed opportunity. Only black coffee will jolt them to action in the morning and a nap will restore their energy. This is the knockout stage of the World Cup where the losing team goes home.

The football millionaires playing in England’s Premier League, Italy’s Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga don their country’s jersey no matter the cost. Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, one of these millionaires whose movie star looks draw women, has not been able to lead Portugal to the World Cup championship. He makes the game look easy but one player can’t lead his country to the World Cup.

Pieces of soccer beauty have been created in the preliminaries. When Lionel Messi, the Argentinian who broke Filipino Paulino Alcantara’s goal scoring record for Barcelona, strikes the ball, it looks like the goalkeeper can grab it in the air. To his horror, the ball breaks to the corner or sails above the goalkeeper, who regrets not taking that extra step or not jumping high enough.

At the UST field, site of many UAAP football matches, the Spanish priests often cried: ”Avantage!” when the referee would whistle for a foul if Galloping Goldie would be tackled in front but would manage to keep the ball. Proper use of the advantage clause, as the late UST PE Director Greg Cordero used to say, gives football its unique excitement. Had the referee raised both hands and said, “Play on!” momentum would power the forward for that one-on-one with the goalkeeper, who sometimes loses this battle.

Flopping spoils this action. Football players act so convincingly as if their kneecaps were hard hit or their Achilles tendon ruptured when they are tackled from the side. Anything for a penalty or a free kick! More than one coach has been quoted in media saying that their players were not cunning enough to draw fouls.

Maybe height is not a factor but being rugged is a plus. All those jostling for position, shirt-pulling and physical defense but short of fouls are meant for solidly built but fast players.

Will this be the World Cup that will finally unveil the US’ potential? Manager Jurgen Klinsmann has revamped the US squad but whether this will spur the Americans to greater heights remains to be seen. Gone are Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, England, and Italy.

On Monday, action at round-of-16 starts with Netherlands vs Mexico and Greece vs Costa Rica. It starts at 12 midnight. It’s worth the wait and the evening to see football played at a high level. The shots, slick passing, and breath-taking saves by a goalkeeper beats an energy drink around 1 am. – Rappler.com