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Pique n' your interest

The World Cup runneth over

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While the World Cup may not be gripping our nation, there are millions of others out there who have been religiously following the sporting news coming out of the east.

Take the English for example.

During last week's match against Argentina, six million English took the day off work (that's one in five missing from the daily workforce) as they watched their countrymen fight for their nation's pride against old rivals.

That's commitment for you - and patriotism, fanaticism and devotion all rolled into one.

This behaviour is repeated throughout the world, touching all corners of the globe because soccer truly is the world's sport.

Hundreds of thousands of dedicated fans have made the trip to Japan and Korea this month to watch their nation's team battle it out on the pitch.

Soccer, or football as it is more commonly known, is serious stuff.

It's played by boys in the smallest African villages, in the shantytowns of South America and by men in high-rolling city boardrooms.

They've all dreamed at one point of being on that pitch, playing soccer for their country.

That's soccer's draw - everyone has kicked the ball around and consequently, everyone can relate to what's unfolding on the pitch.

All you need to play the game is a ball and some makeshift posts.

Unlike hockey or skiing it doesn't require a bankroll to get started, nor does it require exclusive membership into a snotty club like golf or tennis.

It can be played on any side street, dirt road, or strip of grass, anywhere.

It transcends the lines drawn by poverty and class and even culture, culminating every four years when the best meet the best.

At the World Cup level the sport is all about sheer athleticism. It doesn't even matter what teams are playing - they're all good and that makes for some gripping matches.

Players have stamina equalling any hockey team, strength to rival any rugby club and the finesse of an Olympic gymnast.

Watching soccer players draw out a subtle game of ball control for 90 tense minutes is great sport-watching.

More often than not the games are not high scoring and the battle of control between two equal teams is as complex as a chess game.

Unlike basketball, where the swish of the ball through the net is so frequent that there's no real point in rejoicing when a team sinks one, soccer is about patience and about wearing the other team down.

And the drama extends both on and off the field.

Mere men become international legends overnight.

There is controversy over referee calls and fines for bad behaviour.

There is gossip swirling around the players, from their huge egos to their love lives.

And then there are the hooligans who accompany the sport wherever it goes.

Soccer's' pinnacle, the World Cup, is like a huge international soap opera unfolding on stage in nail biting seconds.

How could anyone think it was boring?

Why the World Cup sucks

By Andrew Mitchell

Soccer, like baseball, golf, bowling, and lawn darts, is a sport that is far more exciting to play than to watch. England beats Argentina 1-0 after a penalty shot. France and Uruguay battle to a 0-0 tie. Hardly what I would call exciting television. Luckily I have my official FIFA World Cup 2002 Toothpicks to pry my eyes open now and then to watch the highlights.

I know what the fans out there would say to me - three billion screaming soccer fans can't be wrong, and to watch what I say or I'm liable to get a kick in the teeth.

I've never found strength in numbers before, however, and I'm not about to succumb to the peer pressure now. Someone can have my space on the FIFA bandwagon - I won't be using it this year.

If Canada had qualified, I might be more inclined to watch a few more games out of pride, but right now the entire Canadian content in the World Cup can be summed up as Owen Hargreaves, a Calgarian playing for England by virtue of his grandfather, who was born in the U.K.

Much of my distaste for World Cup soccer has little to do with the sport itself.

I grew up in Toronto, widely regarded as the most multi-cultural city on the planet. More than 100 nationalities are represented within the population of four million, and over 45 languages are spoken.

Judging by what I've witnessed over the years, the World Cup is not a celebration of our cultural tossed salad, but rather a chance for every nation to rub our noses in their superiority.

Whatever team wins, you can expect traffic jams, honking and street celebrations that frequently turn into mini riots. And because of all the different countries represented in the city, that means these episodes are repeated almost every single night for the duration of the World Cup.

There were fights a few years ago between the Portugese and Brazilian communities, because the Portugese had the nerve to support the Brazilian team. Brazil being a former colony of Portugal, the Brazilians felt this was an attack on their nation's independence.

And for what? Ninety excruciating minutes of soccer that probably ended with a 1-0 score?

While it's important to be proud of your heritage, the nationalism displayed during World Cup season seems very out of place. The fact is, people are cheering for the countries they left for one reason or another, and many of the young people who make the most trouble - Canadians of British, Irish, Italian, Greek, Portugese, Turkish, Middle Eastern or African descent - have probably never even been there. If Canada did qualify, I wonder who they would cheer for then?

Getting back to the game, two players, from Ireland and Slovenia, have already been sent home because they were fighting with their coaches. Brazilian star Rivaldo - I think he only uses one name, like Madonna or Fabio - was fined around $11,000 for faking an injury that got a Turkish player expelled from the game. It seems more action happens off the field than on it.

The comparison to hockey is inevitable, and based on a lifetime of experience there's no question that a bad hockey game is still better than the best soccer.

Three billion people are wrong.