SHEILAH KAST, host:
You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
WEEKEND EDITION essayist and soccer guru Tim Brookes doesn't own a television so he'll be following the World Cup Final in the 21st century way, on the Internet.
TIM BROOKES reporting:
The Emirates Airlines MatchCast, the live page of the Yahoo-FIFA World Cup Web site, is like pornography. It's as gaudy and exciting as possible to make up for the fact that it can't offer the real thing, in this case, a seat at a stadium in Germany or even live TV coverage. Instead, the site offers the full-blazing array of Internet links and add-ons, play-by-play commentary, match trivia, historical match-ups, a slide show of almost real-time photos you could email to friends, a trivia game to play against other fans, short video highlight clips, the chance to vote for man of the match, goal of the tournament, even fan of the match, because the FIFA people know something important about soccer.
Fans like to think that they make the game and their own banter is as important as the official commentary. Hence the fact that while one screen scrolls through the elegant prose of the play-by-play guy, two sublime crosses, first from the left, then from the right are aimed towards crouched Peter, England; another screen offers the fans the chance to yell, stupid Jerrod(ph), Beckham rocks, and after Carlos Gamarra scores an on-goal, the ultimate insult, Gamarra is a woman.
What strikes me is how American the experience is. The spirit is American, a parade, a party, a gaudy mass of multi-colored ribbons. The advertising is American. Soccer with its lack of time-outs, has historically been unattractive to advertisers, but Internet soccer has limitless ad potential. A surprising amount of the fan chat sounds like U.S. online chatter, even down to the language. One fan wished out loud that people would stop using American terms such as turnovers and expulsions in place of the traditional British equivalents.
Maybe this is the answer to the perennial question, what does the World Cup mean to the U.S.? The sneaky secret of the World Cup is that it pretends to be inclusive, but only about eight teams ever have a real chance of winning. The rest, like Ghana and Australia, are there to lose, but make a good showing, a hard concept for Americans to swallow.
No, America's chance to win it all is to leave the real competition behind and take over the virtual one, to dominate the way soccer is played on the grass median of the information superhighway, to be the perennial host nation. Team USA may never win the World Cup, but it's already through to the finals of WorldCup.com.
KAST: Tim Brookes is the director of the writing program at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont.
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