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2006 World Cup Draws Global Audience to Ashdown

By Valery K. Brobbey

MIT is not oblivious to the ongoing action in Germany as all of the 62 matches already played in the 2006 FIFA World Cup have been broadcast within the internationally decorated Hulsizer room of Ashdown House. From all over campus, MIT affiliates and their friends have been putting aside their summer work and filling the seats to see beautiful footwork by the world’s greatest players.

Thirty-two national teams are competing in Germany for the biggest trophy in the world’s most popular sport. The competition which began on June 9th in Berlin will come to a close on Sunday with Italy and France playing in the final championship game. Germany and Portugal, who both lost their semifinal matches, will play for the bronze medal on Saturday.

According to Sian A. Kleindienst G, the graduate dorm decided to screen the matches after the success they had in screening the European Championships in 2004. “For the final match there were people standing all over the room,” she recalled.

Disappointment for team USA

In the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan and South Korea, the USA national team made American soccer fans proud by reaching the quarterfinal stage. Team USA made it out of the group stage ahead of Poland and European powerhouse Portugal. The Americans beat neighboring Mexico in the second round only to be beaten by three-time world champion Germany in the quarterfinal stage.

Riding on the back of the 2002 success, U.S. soccer fans were confident that their team was ready to compete with the best in the world. After a resounding 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic, team USA fought back with a 1-1 draw against Italy, although two of the team’s players had been sent off with red cards by the referee during the match. Kleindienst said that refereeing at this World Cup had been terrible, especially in the Italy versus USA game.

“They should have played well enough and that wouldn’t have been an issue,” she added, saying that the US team disappointed her with their playing style. The US team went on to lose to Ghana in their last first-round match, ending American World Cup dreams.

Ghana fans outnumber US fans

In a surprise turnout, the fans for Ghana outnumbered the American supporters at the Ashdown World Cup screening. Erik A. Dill G suggested that soccer does not appeal to many Americans because it is a low scoring sport. “In soccer you also have to appreciate the tactical maneuvering, ball movement, and defensive play.”

Sheila A. Fay, an administrative assistant in the Civil Engineering department said that the World Cup is not just about what happens on the field. The history of previous encounters between the teams and national pride are part of each game. She admitted that she was happy to see the Ghana fans colorfully cheer on their team when Ghana played USA. Kleindienst was also quick to say that the Ghana fans were her favorite group of fans.

“The amazing thing about MIT is that at every game there are people from both countries to support their team,” Fay said. Fay was disappointed to see only two fans at a bar in Watertown, MA, where she saw one of the World Cup games. She said that if the World Cup came back to the US, Americans may get excited about it. USA hosted the World Cup in 1994.

Some of the soccer fans at Ashdown believe that if Major League Soccer had as much television coverage as baseball or American football, many people in the country may become attracted to the game. Dill pointed out that it would be difficult to find sponsorship for soccer in the US because unlike other American sports, there are no commercial breaks in soccer besides the fifteen minute half time break when most fans use the bathroom or get a snack.

Poor officiating, dives smudge beautiful game

The ongoing World Cup has seen a record number of yellow and red cards. With two games remaining, referees at this year’s World Cup have already given out 336 yellow cards and 27 red cards. These statistics break the France 1998 record of 22 red cards and the Japan/Korea 2002 record of 272 yellow cards.

Many soccer fans think that referees have been too quick to reach for their cards when they could have verbally cautioned the offending players. Some strikers go down easily at the slightest touch to draw a foul on the opposing team. This behavior has continued at the World Cup despite the strict officiating, and has taken away from the beauty of the game.

Surprises and upsets at the World Cup

Trinidad and Tobago qualified for their first ever World Cup this year and showed their fighting spirit in their opening goalless draw with Sweden. Australia participated in their first World Cup in 32 years. They came back from behind to beat Japan, scoring their first World Cup goal in history. Although they lost to Brazil, a draw against Croatia saw them into the second round of the competition. Ghana is also playing in its first World Cup and pulled a huge upset against the Czech Republic and beat the USA to make it into the second round. Ghana lost its second round game against Brazil.

“Ghana got eliminated by three referees and Brazil,” said Ato Ulzen-Appiah ’06. “Ghana and the African teams have not earned the respect and reputation teams like Brazil, Germany, and Italy enjoy globally.” He hopes that the African teams would benefit from being at home in South Africa 2010 and get the chances to progress very far into the World Cup.

France’s 1-0 defeat of Brazil is one of the big upsets of the World Cup. Brazil, attempting to avenge their defeat against France in the 1998 World Cup, had poor control of the midfield and didn’t attack the goal. France played more confidently and deserved the win.

Brazil is not the only team unable to avenge defeat at this year’s World Cup. England suffered defeat from penalty picks against Portugal in the European Championships two years ago. This year England was hoping for better luck, but with their captain injured and star striker Wayne Rooney sent off with a red card, they were unable to score. The game had to be decided on penalty picks, which England lost after Portugal’s goalkeeper made three brilliant saves. “England played boring football,” said Fay, who was disappointed that England players Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard missed their penalty picks.

The host nation Germany also tried to avenge their 4-1 defeat in a friendly match with Italy earlier this year. With only one minute left in extra time the match looked destined to end goalless, in which case the game would have been decided on penalty picks. Germany has won all of its penalty shoot outs in major competition while Italy has lost all. Germany was more comfortable with going into penalty shoot outs while Italy was searching for a goal. Italy’s Andrea Pirlo gave defender Fabio Grosso a great pass in the penalty box, which Grosso coolly curled into the goal with his left foot. Italy added a second one on a fast break just before the final whistle.

Prediction: Soccer wins

Many MIT fans have been cautious in predicting who might win the World Cup. Speaking right after France eliminated world champion Brazil, Kleindienst found it difficult to speculate on who might win the trophy, saying she would not have been able to predict the outcome of the game which had just ended. She was more interested in seeing people congregating to watch entertaining soccer games and people playing pickup games of soccer with their friends.

Fay would rather have a team which has never won the World Cup before lift the trophy, but with France (1998 champions) and Italy (three-time champions) in the final, this will not be the case.

However, fans taking part in polls all over soccer Web sites predict Italy will win. A USATODAY poll is 71% in favor of Italy. With Italy’s attacking style of soccer versus France’s conservative methods, this may not be a bad prediction. But each soccer game is unique, and is independent of previous games.

All the fans at Ashdown interviewed think that soccer, known around the world as football, is a powerful tool that brings people from different backgrounds together. For this reason, FIFA is using this year’s World Cup to send a strong message against racism, which has tarnished the image of the sport in some European countries. Before each of the quarterfinal matches, team captains read a short anti-discrimination statement in their native languages. In addition, the slogan for this year’s tournament is “A time to make friends.” For all the MIT fans who watch the games at Ashdown, it has been a time to get together with other passionate soccer fans from all corners of the campus to share the joy of the beautiful game of football.

The final match of the World Cup between Italy and France can be seen in the Hulsizer room in Ashdown on Sunday, July 9 from 1pm-5pm.