The Daily

World Cup 2014

Desire and Despair

June 17, 2014 | by

Germany vs. Portugal; Iran vs. Nigeria; USA vs. Ghana.

photo 1

Watching the World Cup in DUMBO. Photo: Rowan Ricardo Phillips

The greatest poverty is not to live
in a physical world, to feel that one’s desire
Is too difficult to tell from despair.
—Wallace Stevens

Yesterday, in a tunnel down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, a flatscreen floated in the light of an arch like the iris of a giant eye. Tables and benches of the sort you’d find at a picnic site were spread about; it was one of those rare times in New York that space was clearly not at a premium. The tunnel was shady and cool. Behind the flatscreen, at the end of the long arch where the noon light seemed irrelevant, a renovated factory glittered.

On the screen, we watched as Germany took apart Portugal. The Portuguese team exhibited their typical flaws: an overreliance on hierarchy and on their best player; a rash of madness by their most hotheaded player, which led to his ejection; a lack of belief against a team with a higher pedigree. The German team, on the other hand, exhibited their typical strengths: you know, German stuff. They won 4-0.

Soon afterward, the tournament saw its first draw, with Iran and Nigeria sputtering through a scoreless game. The big story of the match was probably Nigeria’s forest and key-lime-green color palette, combined with their fluorescent pink-and-yellow shoes. That, and that Iran had a Christian on their team. The world, like a football, is round and confounds.

Watching Nigeria’s very good players amble toward no reward, I couldn’t help but think of twenty years ago, almost to the day, when the country debuted in the World Cup by beating the eventual semifinalist Bulgaria 3-0. Back then, Nigeria’s team was fearless, ebullient—they quickly became one of the darlings of the tournament, a favorite of the neutrals, and supposedly the harbinger of Africa’s footballing arrival on the world stage. That’s proven to be the case, but it hasn’t exactly been a meteoric rise. We’ve yet to see an African team reach the semifinals. Over the years, they’ve found themselves eliminated from the Cup in a variety of heartbreaking ways.

Ghana will probably be no exception. By now you know who won the Ghana-U.S. game. The Ghanaian team exhibited their typical weaknesses. They were profligate in front of the goal; they confused being thirty yards out with being in front of goal; they demonstrated a bewildering taste for timely lapses in defense. The U.S. team, meanwhile, exhibited their typical strengths: a fundamentalist reliance on sheer effort, a tendency to huff and puff toward whatever result fate has laid out for them, and a belief in the virtuousness of those first two qualities.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s second book of poems, Heaven, will be published next year. He is the recipient of the 2013 small>PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award and a 2013 Whiting Writers’ Award.

3 COMMENTS

1 Comments

  1. Kulk | June 17, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    Seeing the word profligate brings a smile to my face. During the sportswritering days, I covered a school in Central Vermont — Thetford Academy — and the boys soccer coach, a soccer honk and local D.A., used the word profligate one day at practice while trying to explain to his team that wild, wasteful shots on goal are “profligate finishes.”

    A few players immediately ribbed him for using a word better suited for the SAT. “Coach, stop using the word profligate,” one of them said. He chuckled with them.

    Believe it or not it was a bonding moment for the team. Not that Thetford players wouldn’t know that word because it’s the type of small school in Vermont that cherishes education and isn’t afraid to expand the education horizon for its student base.

    Profligate.

2 Pingbacks

  1. […] “Yesterday, in a tunnel down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, a flatscreen floated in the light of an arch like the iris of a giant eye. Tables and benches of the sort you’d find at a picnic site were spread about; it was one of those rare times in New York that space was clearly not at a premium. The tunnel was shady and cool. Behind the flatscreen, at the end of the long arch where the noon light seemed irrelevant, a renovated factory glittered. On the screen, we watched as Germany took apart Portugal. The Portuguese team exhibited their typical flaws: an overreliance on hierarchy and on their best player; a rash of madness by their most hotheaded player, which led to his ejection; a lack of belief against a team with a higher pedigree. The German team, on the other hand, exhibited their typical strengths: you know, German stuff. They won 4-0.” The Paris Review […]

  2. […] Um poeta americano viu o jogo Portugal-Alemanha num ecrã gigante em Nova Iorque. Sim, e a The Paris Review […]

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