Hate soccer? Then you don't know Doudou. (He's the one-named striker for Queens Park Rangers in England.) But millions of us do know our Doudou from our Kaka. (He's the one-named midfielder for the Brazilian national team.) Kaka and Doudou are unrelated, though the latter does have a Rangers teammate named Shittu. Danny Shittu. Honest. I Shittu not.
Cyrillic eye charts have fewer strange characters than world soccer. Take Robert Waseige. Last week he abruptly announced he would quit as coach of Belgium's World Cup squad—effective at tournament's end—while on the team bus to the airport for the World Cup, a decision he conceded came at "a bad moment," timing-wise. A day later headlines in half of this planet's Daily Planets read BELGIAN WAFFLES.
But who can blame him? Had Waseige resigned by ringing a bell on the bus from his seat, signaling the driver that this was his stop, and silently disembarked with a shopping bag full of worries, it would scarcely have been surprising, given the singularly weird pressures of the World Cup, which will be seen by almost two billion television viewers around the globe, including an American audience consisting of one night watchman in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
That's because every single match of this World Cup—cohosted by Japan and South Korea—will air live (on the East Coast) at 1:25, 2:25, 3:25, 4:55 or 7:25. That's a.m. The 2002 Cup is shaping up, sadly, as the Spokane of sports spectacles. "The trouble with Spokane," Jim Murray wrote, "is that there's nothing to do after 10. In the morning. But it's a nice place to have breakfast."
In England breakfast will be Beckham and eggs. That's what Brits are calling the temporary laws that will let pubs open, for the duration of the World Cup, at 7 a.m., all because one great publican went to High Court to argue that Britons are entitled "to celebrate football in the normal way—in the pub with a pint in their hand." The High Court agreed, and when England and Nigeria kick off in Osaka on June 12 at 7:25 a.m., London time, beer taps will be bowing like Japanese businessmen all over Blighty. And Martin Gough, proprietor of the White Hart pub in Brislingon, will forever be a national hero: the Nathan Hale of pale ale, a Patrick 'enry who had the courage to say, Give me Caffrey's, or give me death.
The World Cup—unlike the World Series, the Harlem Globetrotters or the International House of Pancakes—really is a planetary enterprise. For the four weeks and two days that began on May 31, in the words of XTC, "All the world is football-shaped/It's just for me to kick in space." And space is pulling for Costa Rica, whose native son, astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz, will this week carry a Ticos jersey into orbit, where he may encounter newly detonated Ireland captain Roy Keane.
Make that former Ireland captain, who did Waseige one better by actually flying to the Far East with his teammates before abandoning them, last week, on the island of Saipan. The combustible Keane blew an O-ring in practice—his list of grievances too manifold to recount—and promised never again to play for Ireland manager Mick McCarthy, who in turn vowed never again to manage Keane, the world-famous Manchester United midfielder whom McCarthy himself has likened to an Irish Beatle, a talented but temperamental Ring O'Starr.
Ireland prime minister Bertie Ahern proclaimed himself "disappointed" in the two children and then offered to mediate the dispute. But McCarthy and Keane remain at loggerheads, thus dashing the hopes of a great many lagerheads.
It was on Saipan, in June and July 1944, that U.S. and Japanese soldiers fought one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. Indeed, as late as 1952 soldiers were emerging from caves on Saipan and surrendering, unaware that the war was long over. American sports fans as a bloc behave likewise, holed up in caves, hiding out from soccer, unaware that the war is long over and resistance is futile.
So surrender: Succumb to the storylines of the World Cup, which already include a truly courageous coach (Hern�n Dar�o G�mez of Ecuador) who was shot—shot!—by his critics, and a team ( Cameroon) whose routine itinerary to Japan last week turned into a five-day, three-nation epic in its own right. It included a 48-hour wage strike by the players that delayed the team in Paris and an unplanned holiday in Bangkok, thanks to a pilot who failed to get flyover permission from Vietnam and the Philippines en route.