Soccer as much about the process as the result
By JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press
As Euro 2004 unfolds in Portugal, it's not surprising immigrants here take to hockey so readily.
The object of both is to score into a goal. There are referees, linesmen, fouls, penalty shots, offsides.
But mainly they are games of flow. Newcomers brought up on soccer can warm up to hockey and basketball, but not very readily to the stop and start of football and baseball.
While there is evidence of growing interest in soccer this side of the Atlantic (witness TSN's coverage of the World Cup and current European Cup), its detractors focus on one element to which they are unaccustomed -- the scoreless tie.
Yesterday, Italy and Denmark battled to the double goose egg. Yet it was gripping as the unfavoured Danes and more glamorous Italians traded counter-attacks (transitions in hockey) for chances against superb goaltending at both ends.
What more could you ask for? Well, goals, of course.
And they came a game later, when Sweden scored four in the second half to wipe out Bulgaria 5-0.
Still, soccer is all about the buildup, the tactical nuances of ball movement and making space and of individual match-ups. In essence, it's as much about the process as the result.
A well-played 0-0 draw is surely more entertaining than a blunder-filled 4-3 final result or even a 5-zip shellacking.
One is inclined to wonder whether the bountiful lifestyle of North Americans is part of it. In many other parts of the world, soccer parallels fans' lives.
It's all about striving, about nothing coming easily and about how quickly the fates can turn against you without notice. Consider the defeat suffered by England to France on Sunday. Here was England, against the run of play against a superior side, taking a 1-0 lead into injury time after the regulation 90 minutes had expired. Then the man considered the world's most gifted player buried them.
Zinedine Zidane bent a brilliant free kick in to tie the game, then scored from the penalty spot right after to give France a 2-1 win that shocked England fans worldwide.
In every language under the sun, there is an answer to all that is unlikely, unforeseen or incredible.
"The ball, she is round" is the time-honoured way of explaining the inexplicable bounces of fortune, although not much of a cure for English or Bulgarian hangovers today.
As past coverage of World Cups and other premier tournaments has shown, the differences between game-calling of hockey and soccer are vast.
Unlike hockey, where a second's silence seems something to be avoided even with the insertion of a fatuous comment, the talking heads of soccer are more inclined to let the action speak for itself.
The lone Brit handling the TSN broadcasts doesn't do a radio play-by-play. As in the manner of soccer broadcasts in all languages, you'll get "Totti, Vieri, Gattusso" with each touch of the ball during the buildup, then the more urgent cries of expectation when something potentially big is afoot.
One suspects the radio calls of TV guys comes from the days when hockey broadcasts were on snowy screens, when it was difficult to tell what was going on without audio assistance. The soccer broadcast model would be a neat modern-day fit for hockey.
If there is a message to Canadian soccer in Euro 2004, it's that it will always be a minnow in the world game until it can get adequate representation in the world's major leagues.
Many of the Danes, Swedes and Bulgarians in yesterday's game, for example, play in elite leagues elsewhere.
London City and other Canadian Professional Soccer League players have stepped up to minor operations overseas but answers are not easy.
The ball, she is round.