World Cup 2002 -- A (10)
Produced by FIFA and directed by some guys at ESPN2 and Telefutura, World Cup 2002 has so far been the greatest show of the year. The first act contained tons of twists, most notably the opening sequence where defending champ France lost to Senegal, who proved to be a team worthy of round 2, and then France's continued dropping into shitsville. Right on its heels, the U.S. defeated major contender Portugal on their way to a probable birth in round 2 (with a win over or tie with Poland). Ireland comes back in stoppage time of the 2nd half to tie Germany. England beats Argentina to avenge their tie with Sweden. Saudi Arabia and China play the worst soccer anyone has ever seen for three games. And then the U.S. plays a blood-soaked road match against host nation Korea, mustering up a 1-1 draw (including a brilliant penalty kick save by keeper-of-the-tourney Friedel) in the face of 65,000 chanting red-shirted Koreans.
Hugely important match between Cameroon and Germany yielded at least 16 yellow cards, including two players with two each (sending them off with reds). Worst officiating ever. Then you've got riots in Russia after the team loses, and in China after a TV was turned off before the team lost 4-0 to an unstoppable Brazil. The Italian diving team is playing quite well, and actually doing more footballing than diving, for a change. Look for Spain, backed by maestro Raul, to challenge those two for the Cup this year, unless underdogs U.S. or England can make things exciting. Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and Ireland all came to play as well.
No film has been as exciting as staying up at 3 am to watch two nations warring it out on the football field, racing through the midfield, distributing high-curling balls to strikers, firing wicked crosses, and shooting dangerous corners at a leaping keeper. There is simply no argument that at this level of play, soccer is truly the sport of the planet. Only the Olympics can match this intensity, and the Super Bowl and March Madness can only watch on the sidelines while the energy of the World Cup can make third world nations like Paraguay and Costa Rica stand up to the Russians and the Brits. If only there were no wars, no bombs, and no guns, and all disputes were settled between the white lines with camouflage being replaced by Ronaldo's yellow #9 and Raul's red #7.