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No Exit, No Excuses: Germany 2006
My Unconditional Surrender to Total Football
(And Why the Nex Few Weeks Will Be Nothing But)

It’s like losing your virginity: you don’t forget when it happened, though it usually happens much sooner. I know I watched the 1970 World Cup but I have no conscious recollections, only the vague sense that I was there in the television room in Beirut—the room whose windows gave on the Green Line and that would be shot to hell by snipers during the early days of the civil war, when we huddled in back of the fourth-floor apartment—when my father shouted his exuberance along with the rest of the world at the sight of the Brazilians putting on the greatest show in the history of the game, and at Pelé scoring one of the greatest goals ever in a game leading up to the final—greatest for the fact that the ball never even went into the goal. If you’ve seen the tape you’ll immediately know what I’m talking about: Pelé’s out-of-nowhere sprint up the middle toward the Uruguayan goal, taking a diagonal pass from midfield but letting it sail past himself and the rushing, utterly and flatly faked out keeper as Pelé kept running in the opposite direction only to zip back around the stunned keeper and reclaim the ball that had kept ambling on its merry way. Probably stunned himself by the DaVinci moment he’d just pulled off, Pelé, the back of the net gaping open to him, shot just wide of the near post: a goal all the same, in poetry if not in fact. After that, how could the Brazilians lose anything? They crushed Italy 4-1 in the final and made a man out of me. I was five and a half years old: Eros unbound at a very tender age indeed.

The next four years just did not exist for me. My first conscious memory of the game is of the 1974 World Cup final from Munich, the one pitting Johann Cruijff’s Dutch masters of Total Football against Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller’s invincible underdogs. The Germans were fated to lose. They won, 2-1 (for the longest time I’d remembered it at 3-2), with the wonderfully bouncy Sepp Maier and his blond afro in goal. I remember inexplicably rooting for the German side, a habit I wouldn’t lose until realizing in the 1982 cup that German football is only a more cynical reenactment of the Italian variety—stolid, stultifying, arrogant, with one saving grace: it is opportunistic to the core, giving it its rare moments of—not joy of course, they’d never allow it, but as with all things German, respect, frightful respect. Back on their home turf for the first time since that victory, they’re going into the 2006 tournaments its heavy favorites after Brazil, and I’ve picked them to make it to the final. But they’ll deserve to be taken out back, tortured with images of Der Spiegel as a right-wing sister-publication of National Review and shot with paintballs for a year should they (or any team for that matter) approach the horrors of the 1990 World Cup, in Italy, infamous for having averaged the lowest-ever goal average of them all: 2.2 per game, thanks in large part to the Germans and Italians.

The last one in Korea and Japan wasn’t that great either: an average of 2.5 goals, same as in Mexico in 1986, and worse than the 2.7 clocked in during the American World Cup in 1994 (the best organized, best attended by far and damn near most exciting since 1970) or the 2.7 of France ’98. I’ll be counting, tallying, and loading up the guns.

I’ll also be declaring the end of the world as we’re forced to know it day in and day out. Too much football to watch. Once every four years, the world can wait. I have my young children to educate in the finer arts. I might venture into a riff or two about the usual suspects should the bushy shop of horrors produce especially noxious sprouts (the intellectual narcotic known as current events can’t merely be sworn off) but my attentions, and most of whatever words I’ll write, will be on the German Iliad.

I have in mind to do some live blogging here, preview and review the games more for the sake of my rather unbalanced enslavement to the World Cup than for any reason that would make sense to the four readers from five continents who insist on browsing through here every other hour. No World Cup enthusiast in his right mind would waste his time reading a computer screen when he can have the full show at the click of a remote, and those who, imprisoned by work and other insanities at a time like this, will want to do their utmost to keep up with the games by hook and by stealth on their computer screens can have a full and detailed minute-by-minute account from FIFA’s Vatican-like web site. Still, I imagine a reader or two, unbalanced like me, logging in from a dial-up connection in a bark-and- aluminum igloo in the neighborhood of Russia’s Kolyma region, or from a burloid tent in the rocky reaches of a sub-Saharan sprawl of wind and desert, and finding these accounts passably instructive for their illustrative value: mine after all is only that most common human obsession that combines dedication to the unquestionably useless, which also happens to be the irreparably sublime: In a few words, that’s the World Cup, sans excuses.

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