Love the Cup? Here are 10 reasons to keep watching
Posted: Tuesday July 11, 2006 3:40PM; Updated: Wednesday July 12, 2006 12:11PM
The look on the face of Wayne Rooney (9) says it all: Cristiano Ronaldo (center) is no longer a friend, and probably not a teammate, either.
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It pains me to see another World Cup in the books. And it's not just because it'll be another two years before the buzz machine starts for South Africa 2010. No, it's more the quadrennial American tradition that gets me: So-called "fans" come out of hiding for a month to enjoy soccer's premier event, then disappear again for another four years.
Look, I have no problem with the fact that some Americans can't stay interested in soccer outside of the World Cup. If you're going to show enthusiasm for footie, there's no better time. But if the steady uptick in ratings is any indicator, we're getting more and more curious about the Beautiful Game.
And so I go from journalist to salesman. If you caught the fever during Germany '06, there are plenty of reasons to keep watching soccer as we transition back to club season.
Fascinated by America's failings? Enthralled by soccer's newest villain, Cristiano Ronaldo? Captivated by hard-working Ghana? Wishing there were more WWE-type tactics in soccer? (Merci, Zizou.) We'll call it the World Cup Echo Effect.
So, Cup fans, here are 10 reasons to stay tuned in:
1. Bad blood brewing
Feuds often make for the best drama in professional sports, and soccer has long been a home for some of the best tête-à-têtes. And have we got a classic going on: "Stompgate." If you watched Portugal's penalty-shootout victory over England in the quarterfinals, you know the story.
In a moment of frustration in the 62nd minute, hot-headed striker Wayne Rooney introduced the bottom of his left cleat into Ricardo Carvalho's privates. The Portuguese players went berserk, and referee Horacio Elizondo slapped Rooney with a red card. Roo is seething over what he believes was a deliberate attempt by Portugal winger (and, for now, Manchester United teammate) Cristiano Ronaldo to influence the ref's decision, an assertion that might have some merit when you see the replay of Ronaldo winking at his teammates as he jogged to the touchline. In fact, Rooney tried to get into Portugal's dressing room after the match to get a piece of Ronaldo.
Here's where we are now. Man Utd simply can't afford to keep the über-talented Ronaldo. He's a pariah in England, where fans are already blaming him for their team's exit from the World Cup -- and he knows it. "I can't stay in England," he said after the Cup.
Already, it looks like the 21-year-old could be headed to the new regime at Real Madrid. If you're looking for fireworks, pray the Champions League draw gods somehow find a way for Real and United to clash this season. It won't get any uglier than that.
2. Ronaldinho's revenge
The best Brazil has to offer has been described in many different ways over the past few years. Genius. Wizard. Best in the world. But here's a label he's never carried: "Overrated." Heading into Germany, Ronaldinho was coming off a season where everyone was dazzled by his abilities; some even made the Pelé comparison.
But then he flopped in Germany, and his team followed suit. Along with Ronaldo, he was Brazil's marquee player -- both on the field and in the Nike universe. But O Gaúcho didn't score a single goal and was nearly invisible in a lineup that grossly underperformed.
How Ronaldinho rebounds is one of the most intriguing post-Cup storylines. He's the featured player at his club, FC Barcelona, and much of the offense is built around him. What now remains to be seen is if hell indeed hath no fury like a superstar scorned. European champion Barça is still one of the best clubs in the world -- can a Ronaldinho with something to prove make them even better this season?