I was at a Baptist meeting a couple of weeks ago, rooming with a former colleague from another state for the two nights I was in Atlanta. Greg told me he had become a fan of the World Cup soccer competition in progress, especially since the United States team was still in the running.
I must confess that I was certainly interested in how the American team fared but I also confess that I had not become much of a fan of the most popular team sport in the world.
Greg announced one morning that he planned to watch the U.S. soccer match with Germany at noon in our hotel room. Without other lunch plans for that day, I agreed to join him and to bring up lunch for us to enjoy during the match.
It helped to have Greg explain what I didn’t understand about how the World Cup competition works, especially how officials determine which teams would advance to the round of 16 from the preliminary groups.
The U.S. was still in the running to advance after the match with Germany, he said. It had to do not only with wins, losses and ties but with point spreads in games leading up to this preliminary game, taking into account all four teams in the group.
Two of the four teams in the group would advance to the single-elimination round of 16, he said. Germany was a lock, and the Americans would definitely advance with a win over Germany or even a tie, he explained. "But what if the U.S. loses to Germany? Does that mean our team goes home?" I asked.
No, he said. Actually, the U.S. could lose the match and still find itself going to the next match. I was confused and asked for further explanation. So Greg patiently walked me a little deeper into the scenarios at play in the group.
Ghana had suffered a lop-sided loss earlier, he said. If the Ghanaians knocked off the team from Portugal, they would need to do so by several points to move forward — or the U.S. would have to lose big themselves. There were a few more details Greg passed along but I’m not sure that I caught them all. Two weeks later, I don’t remember them.
The upshot was that Portugal defeated Ghana, and Germany knocked off the U.S. 1-0. As the match ended, Greg confirmed what TV announcers were saying: The U.S. would advance along with Germany to the round of 16. By game’s end, we learned the Americans would face favored Belgium five days later.
I could understand the round of 16 level. In each match, the winner advanced to the next level (quarterfinals, semifinals and championship match). The loser of each match was out of the competition.
Belgium knocked off the U.S. 2-1 in what turned out to be a nail-biter. The Americans lost (and thus were eliminated) but they were competitive.
Because I learned a little more about soccer and the World Cup, I have a greater appreciation for soccer, especially played at the top international level. My previous interest was keenest when one of my grandchildren was playing over in central Illinois.
In any area of life, we tend to have a greater appreciation when we understand what is going on. We all are indebted to the "Gregs" in our lives who help enlighten us in the process.
Thanks, Greg. I understand one of my obscure cable channels is airing a rugby match next week. Are you perchance available to talk me through it?
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.