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Weltmeisterschaft: Watching too much "fussball" on television 

The e-mail read: "please don't schedule anything between 1 and 4 p.m. as I'll be watching the World Cup."

OK, so the guy who wrote the e-mail is German, married to an American and happy to be living here and even happier to root for the old home team.

Every four years the World Cup rivets a good part humanity for much of the summer. I recall when the tournament was greeted in the U.S. with a big yawn. Now it's on ESPN, and ESPN-2 with reruns on all the other ESPN channels. Turns out, the World Cup has become a pretty big deal in the U.S.

Part of the increased interest is due to the huge number of Americans who played soccer as kids. Then there's the important factor that the U.S. has a fairly decent team this time around. Finally, a lot of citizens simply love spectacle and the World Cup is a spectacle.

But wait, not so fast. Not everyone is convinced that soccer/football is a good idea. Witness the ever-insightful television political commentator Glenn Beck. Beck says Americans don't like soccer/football and they don't want to see it on television. He indicated that the sportl is just another part of the Socialist agenda to brainwash Americans.

So there you have it, another Commie plot to subvert Americans- in this case using a round ball that guys wearing short pants kick. Enough said.

For the casual soccer/football observer like me, the Socialism argument is way over my head. What isn't, are some simple facts.

Fact 1: A lot of teams play possum during the round robin part of the tournament trying not to give away any strategies or strengths.

Fact 2: The game is rougher than it looks. Witness the vicious elbow American Clint Dempsey took to the jaw late in the game with Algeria. That was real blood coming out of his mouth.

Fact 3: The Italian team (i Azzurri, or the blue) is the best diving team I've ever seen. An opponent runs within five yards of an Azzurri player and the Arrurri goes down as if he'd been hit by a Mack truck. The Italian team's dives/flops make those done by NBA stars look amateurish at best.

Fact 4: Latin countries really know how to play soccer/football.

Fact 5: Italy is gone from the tournament and with it games that took on the look of comic operas at times (see fact 3).

Fact 6: We American television viewers get to listen to play-by-play announcers with either thick (read not BBC or Oxonian) English accents or Scottish brogues. Hey, once you get the gist of what they're saying, it's great stuff.

I never knew how great or important the World Cup was until 1970. That summer found me hitchhiking around Europe in the middle of the competition.

Everyplace I went, people were huddled around television sets watching the games. Watching them and then screaming with joy, moaning with disappointment or flat out weeping in despair.

In Germany, fans derided me as a "Hollander" (Dutchman). In Italy, they derided me as a Tedesco (German).

When Germans and Italians found I was an American, all was forgiven. What the hell do Americans know about soccer/football anyway?

I knew enough to enjoy the games on television and started root for the Italian team.

I arrived in Rome a few days before Italy met Germany in the semi-finals. That evening as the game played out on television, a friend and I walked around Rome on completely empty streets. Rome was like a ghost town.

Then at about midnight, the game ended with a 4 to 3 Italian victory (a game later called an epic match) and the streets of Rome came alive with people and a party that lasted all night.

Italy went on to lose to Brazil and the great Pele 4 to 1 in the final. Rome was silent yet again.

Which brings me back to this year's tournament. Here, based on nothing more than feel, is my prediction for the final four: Spain, Portugal, Argentina and The Netherlands.

And the winner is... ... .

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