In 1970 I saw world-class soccer played in Bangkok, when world champion Brazil played against Manchester United in an exhibition game. The Thais were nuts about soccer. As soon as the Brazilians entered the field, the huge Bangkok crowd burst into a standing ovation.
The Brazilians virtually made the grounds tremble as they did their run in their spiked shoes. Their legs were so muscular. Brazil’s gods Pele and Tostao seemed built with solid torsos and stone shoulders.
The huge crowd sat in awe as the Brazilians displayed dexterous ball handling using the sides, front and back of their feet. They bounced the ball with their knees, catching it with their shoulders, rolling it over to the forehead. I never saw such magical ball handling done by feet, knees, shoulders and heads.
During the game, Pele, the living legend, was unbelievable. He could leap like a panther, run like a gazelle, and charge like a rhino.
While traveling in Europe in 1990, I watched the World Cup TV commercials which had Pavarotti singing Puccini’s plaintive “Nessun Dorma.” I sat transfixed at the TV in my Zurich hotel room, mesmerized at the brilliance of soccer superstars shown in riveting slow motion. All of Europe was anticipating the World Cup with bated breath.
Soccer is billed as the greatest spectator sport in the world. Billions of people, men and women of all ages from Europe, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia have been bitten by the soccer bug. Passions during games can run wild, causing stampedes resulting in hundreds of deaths. Sometimes vandalism happens after a team’s defeat. The Brits are notorious for this.
Why is soccer the most exciting sport on earth? Why does it bring out the highest levels of passion from fans? Why does it breed racial fanaticism? Why does it attract billions?
Name it, soccer has it. Combativeness. Cunningness. Lightning speed. Superb instinct. Precision. Stubbornness. Daring. Elegance. Racial pride. Animal physique.
Soccer is the perfect game for the perfect male species.
There’s a certain sophistication in the low score of soccer. A single goal is the result of a long struggle that involves a series of offenses, fully coordinated ball-kicking maneuvers, the long flight or a quick roll. The winning goal is a result of a unique design pattern.
The play usually starts from the opponent’s midfield, going center field using the side-fielded corridor or the center. The play shapes up with precision passing in the midfield. Brute strength and cunningness bring the ball to the goal area, and there a stroke of genius produces that unbelievable shot from a killer kick or a sharp header. To perform all these, players rely on excellent instincts.
Because of its huge playing field, a soccer game has a clearer process, more creative designs. Soccer players perform consistently with stamina and stubbornness. The fans sense the lion heart in a soccer player. Crowd involvement with their team is extremely high.
Watch UEFA Soccer on sports cable channels. Spanish, English and Italian soccer are the best in the world. African, Middle East and Asian soccer are on the rise. Ironically, South American soccer superstars play for megabucks on European teams. They make basketball stars’ paychecks look like peanuts.
Everyone is an artist
On a World Cup soccer team, everyone is an artist—whether he is a striker, a pass maker, a defender or a goalkeeper.
Every single move counts. To a soccer watcher, the details are beautiful. On a huge soccer field fans see a goal made in sequences of brilliant moves orchestrated by midfielders and strikers. The open skies and huge open field suggest a battlefield. The art of war is palpable. The battle goes on in spite of sun, rain and mud.
Soccer warriors have specialized skills that contribute to the precious winning goal. Strikers (goal makers) are deadly in the penalty area. Their killer instincts are honed in, their legs are pumping irons, their speed belongs to a 100-meter dash champ. Their feet dribble the ball with lightning-fast agility, to kick a goal and score in several styles.
Midfielders are superb ball catchers and handlers. Their precision passes are marvelous at any distance, any speed. They initiate attack patterns and elude their guards like escape artists.
Defenders are a special breed. They are strategic in winning a game by blunting and stopping attackers within 50 yards of the penalty-front area. Defenders artfully execute some of the most cat-quick reflex actions in stealing a ball from attackers. They win games through their superior performance.
Hearts beat faster when a forward surges toward a goal guarded like a leech by a defender. The simultaneous struggle displayed by the attacker surging toward the goal and the defender stopping the attacker at all costs is also heart-stopping.
In football, every player is key. The post-game analysis is total—a team effort. All the members play in the whole game creatively and passionately. No superstars. Team play rules.
Perhaps the biggest thrill in soccer is the dexterity of the human feet. Footwork. Foot dribbling. Foot ball-handling. It’s amazing that in soccer the foot is as good as, if not better, than the hands in holding, dribbling and shooting the ball. These skills are part genius and part discipline. It comes with practice, practice, practice.
But marvelous footwork is just half of the story. The other wonder is legwork. Leg power. Leg agility. Leg endurance. Running legs. Leg excellence involves the foot, ankle, knee; the whole leg is one perfect instrument to play artistic football.
Foot and leg excellence is simply an exceptional quality of a world-class soccer player. Unique to watch. An object of admiration.
The use of the head is another source of constant fascination. The player’s head seems stone-hard. It is used to catch or block aerial balls. Or for butting short passes. More spectacularly, it can head the ball to the goal either through a body dive or through a jumping head shot. Simply astounding!
Perhaps the superiority of soccer lies in the inherent virtues of a world-class player. The audience senses this. An excellent player embodies the virtues of self-discipline, bravery, endurance and the will to win.
Philippine football is showing a lot of progress with the Azkals as the focus of our attention. There are more tournaments now worthy of being covered on television, and we are seeing a lot of excellent players in the UAAP leagues and grassroots players from the provincial meets. Maybe someday we will be in the qualifying rounds of the World Cup.