Cope: The world gathers in South Africa |

Cope: The world gathers in South Africa

David Cope
Vail, CO Colorado
Spectators wave their flags during the opening concert for the World Cup at Orlando Stadium in Soweto, South Africa, Thursday. The World Cup kicks off today with the hosts against Mexico.

While talk of 2015 is deservedly exciting the streets of Vail, many hearts and minds in the rest of the world are ready for the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa to begin. To quote Shakira, “It’s time for Africa.”

No, I won’t be making the trip this time, too far, too expensive and too dangerous. I know that last one makes me a bit soft but I’ve got kids to raise, a wife to love, teams to coach and history to teach.

Never has …

Let’s begin with a few nevers.

Never has a European team won the cup outside of Europe.

Chalk one up for the South Americans. Brazil has won in Europe, North America and Asia. Part of the problem is travel and the time away from home. Take a typical Argentine playing in Europe like Carlos Tevez – he spends his entire season away from home in a Manchester hotel from August to May.

There isn’t a prominent European player plying his trade on any other continent. Even a Champion’s League game in deepest Albania sees them home in their, “Safe European Home,” (Clash reference in the first column by the way) within 24 hours of the game ending. So count out Spain, even though they are ranked No. 1 in the world.

Never has a foreign coach won the World Cup.

Sven Goran Erickson couldn’t lead the English to glory and Fabio is unlikely to either. I’d love to see it happen, but it won’t. A proud nation has to count on its own heritage, culture and tradition. Wayne Rooney can’t sport the stylish Italian suit, and the team is way too reliant on him anyway.

Sven has resurfaced with the Ivory Coast but an unlucky injury to Didier Drogba, a top-five player in the World for sure, will leave them out in the first round. Count out England and Ivory Coast as well.

Never has a team without Pele won two World Cups in a row.

The trophy has no handles for a reason. It’s difficult to hold on to. The reigning champion Italians are in for the long haul and will be in the mix at the end, but won’t win it, despite a cakewalk of a draw in the first round. Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand are their rivals in group. Count on an uninspiring run to the quarterfinals.

Never has a host team failed to reach the second round.

The USA reached the second round in 1994 as hosts, South Korea the semifinals in 2002 and England won their only World Cup in 1966 as hosts. Mexico reached the quarterfinals when they hosted the World Cup.

If South Africa advance, that means an early ticket home for either France, Mexico or Uruguay. After a glorious run at the end of the century, including a World Cup win in 1998 as host nation and a European Championships win in 2000, the French are beginning to fade.

Factor in the controversial hand ball by Thierry Henry in a win over Ireland to get there and you have to think neutral that the stars and the neutral fans are aligned against them. I see Mexico and South Africa advancing from Group A. Stick with your team, Mexico fans. Even if they begin slowly in the opening match against the host country, keep supporting them. Of the two slogans associated with the Mexican team, I prefer, “Si se puede,” (yes you can) to the oft repeated, “Jugamos como nunca, perdimos como siempre,” (We played like never before, we lost like always). Remember that in 2006 the Mexicans lost to a wonder goal in extra time by the Argentine Maxi Rodriguez, a goal worthy of World Cup history.

The Americans

Never has a US team underachieved outside of Europe.

Remember the pattern of recent US teams. In 1990 in Italy, a dreadful three-and-out exit in the first round. Four years later, we saw advancement to the second round after a victory over pretournament group favorites Columbia.

In 2002 in Asia, the United States advanced to the quarterfinals after defeating Portugal and Mexico but succumbed to Germany in a controversial game after a non-call of a handball on the goal line. Sorry, Heinz Weiland, but that was a penalty. In 2006 the U.S .was eliminated again in the first round back in Europe, despite a glorious draw with nine men holding off 10 Italians, the only game in the tournament that the eventual champions Italy did not win.

So if the pattern holds, every other World Cup since 1990 the US have advanced and every World Cup they’ve been to outside of Europe they’ve pulled off a major upset. Look for the United States in the second round, at least.

And that brings us to the U.S.’s opener Saturday against England. Brazil in 1950? How does U.S.A. 1, England 0 sound?

In perhaps the biggest upset in World Cup history, the US defeated England in Brazil in another World Cup held outside of Europe. Fits the pattern, doesn’t it?

OK, before you post comments and e-mails, I am aware of other glorious World Cup upsets – Senegal over defending champion France in 2002, Uruguay over host Brazil in the 1950 final, and mighty North Korea over Italy in 1966.

The last one in that list led to my dad getting tickets to the 1966 final at Wembley Stadium, courtesy of his distraught Italian boss who gave away his tickets, sending Mum and Dad to the final, me with a babysitter and perhaps sealing my fate as a hopeless addict of The Beautiful Game for the next 44 years and counting.

The next time my father visited Wembley stadium was with his granddaughter in 2009. A statue outside the stadium of the great English captain Bobby Moore says that he was the, “first English captain to raise the World Cup.” Please notice that it didn’t say the, “only.”

Could it happen again, the underestimated Yanks taking down the mighty Brits? It’s unlikely, but you never know. The upset in 1950 should never have happened, but it did.

This time around the U.S. starts maybe two players who would start for England, Landon Donovan and Tim Howard but they do have a great team spirit, a refreshing excitement and a couple of game changers.

Want to see the best goal of the 2009-2010 season in Europe? Then go to YouTube and search for, “Dempsey goal against Juventus.” It was a sublime chip, yes he meant it, perfectly executed to seal a victory for lowly Fulham against mighty Juventus in a Europa league match. Do you think he believes upsets can happen?

Divided loyalties?

Will I be rooting for the United States against England despite my British birth? With apologies to Sarah Palin, you betcha. As I told some of my students recently, who are of Mexican-American heritage, that country gave me my blood and my ancestors, but this country? It gave me the clothes on my back, the roof over my head, the food in my belly and my family around me. I am of that country, but from this one.

As they walk onto the field in South Africa on Saturday, the team I will be rooting for will be the United States, wearing that weird beauty pageant sash on their jerseys that pays tribute to the 1950 team.

And never …

What will happen this time around? Who knows? Unless you are Brazil or Broomfield (a perennial Colorado high school power), these tournaments never seem to turn out the way you had hoped.

But the outcome isn’t what’s compelling is it? It’s the journey, the twists and turns, the unexpected red cards, the bad calls, the penalty misses, the moments of magic, the emerging superstars, the last gasp of a brilliant career, the hopes of a nation playing out in front of the eyes of the world.

Nothing compares to it in the world of sports. As my brother said to me recently as we watched the Colorado Rapids play, “It’s so close now that any other conversation I’m having, I’m faking it.”

Amen. Sure, I can talk about oil spills, the Tea Party, school reform and the economy, but I’m not just not that excited because of June of 2010 was always going to be about one thing, the World Cup in Africa (OK, my wife Kathleen’s birthday as well is today, but you know what I mean). Ask me about Drogba’s arm injury, Rio Ferdinand’s ankle, Edson Buddle or Wayne Rooney and I’ll buy you a beer and offer you a chair. Which brings me to the last of our nevers …

Never call, text or e-mail during a World Cup match. I’m busy.

David Cope is the longtime coach of both soccer teams at Battle Mountain High School. When he’s not being a devoted husband and father, history teacher or soccer coach, he watches international soccer like a madman, including trips to recent World Cups and Euro Championships. He also wishes his wife, Kathleen, a very happy 26th birthday today.

Cope’s can’t miss-games

My picks of the first week of games are here (all times MST). There will be plenty of time later on for the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Italy and Spain. For the first set of games, catch these live and set the DVR for the rest. To quote Bruce Springsteen at the Roxy in 1975, “Bootleggers, roll your tapes.” All games are on live and in HD on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC.

Today – South Africa vs. Mexico, 8 a.m.

Saturday – USA vs. England, 12:30 p.m.

Monday – Netherlands vs. Denmark, 5 a.m.

Tuesday – Ivory Coast vs. Portugal, 8 a.m.

Wednesday -Honduras vs. Chile, 5 a.m.

Support Local Journalism