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    Upsets, Miscues, and Heartbreak, World Cup 2002

    Why is rooting for the underdog so exciting? Why do we even begin if we knowthe chances of them being successful are near nil? Well, because in professionalsports upsets are a reality! A painful lesson learned by many heavyweights ontheir assent upwards.

    Of late, our cup of upsets and near catastrophes floweth over. The Lakers werenearly dethroned by the Kings, who are still complaining about Shaq steppingover the foul line. The Red Wings dropped game one of the Stanley Cup Finalsto the 16th ranked Carolina Hurricanes (I didn’#146;t even know they had iceon Tobacco Road).

    Perhaps we should have known something was up at the beginning of the month,War Emblem stumbled coming out of the gates at Belmont. His attempt at the firstTriple Crown in over twenty years ended with a disappointing eighth place finish.

    And then there was Korea-Japan 2002, the most watched sports tournament inthe world. A combined viewership of 16 billion people are tuning in only tosee World Cup 2002 is proving the old adage’#151;’that’#146;s why theyplay the game”#151;true once more.

    Many traditional soccer powerhouses still haven’#146;t gotten over the hangoverof their premature exits.

    Pre-tournament favorites, Argentina, Portugal, and the winner of the previousWorld Cup, France, were all sent packing by teams who at least on paper didn’#146;tseem worthy to even lace up these teams’#146; boots much less be on the samepitch.

    With transfer fees totaling over one billion pounds, truly world class players,such as Zidane (two-time FIFA Player of the Year), Luis Figo, and Batistutahave been resigned to view the rest of the tournament on television like therest of us.

    Indeed, the soccer gods have been most cruel to the true soccer fans by takingfrom us the ‘beautiful game’ as is played by these giants.

    Perhaps I shouldn’#146;t blame the soccer gods. This year’#146;s version ofthe tournament has been quirky from the start and there are certainly a dozenterrestrial reasons why many are starching our heads at the fact that Senegal,a nation with 50 professional soccer players, made it into the round of 16.

    From the start there were several notables that even failed to qualify forKorea-Japan. The all-world starting striker corps for the Dutch’#151;Ruud vanNistelrooij and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’#151;who scored over 60 goals this pastyear are now admiring wooden shoes in the Netherlands. The Czech Republic, ranked3rd in the world at one time, failed to make it out of their qualifying groupin Europe.

    Then the tournament started and the favorites, who were magnificent in thequalifying rounds, began playing as if they were anything but. The powerhouseswho perhaps let the hype go to their heads showed little creatively and lookedexhausted after a very long season at their domestic clubs.

    A depleted French midfield and unexpected poor finishing could be blamed forthe stunning 1-0 defeat to Senegal. In spite of a few glimmering moments ofplay from Zidane in the last match, the French paled in comparison to their1998 form. ‘Les Blues’ were truly embarrassed, as they became thefirst reigning cup winners to exit the tournament without scoring a goal.

    And though Portugal and Argentina each managed to win a game, they too werecursed with tired legs and a lack of imaginative play.

    Some have cited the long trip to Korea-Japan and the great differences in timezones for their poor starts. Yet, all three of these teams could have qualifiedhad they won their last game. However, questionable lineups and substitutions,and reckless tackling left the teams ill-equipped to make a stand when it counted.

    By the time the smoke had cleared from the opening round of the World Cup threeof the top five teams in the world had fallen, and their stars and followersalike lay crying on the fields and in the stands wondering why.

    Perhaps it was the soccer gods after all.

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