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Whole world watches final, including many US viewers, which bodes well for the sport.
But the Dutch strategy became harder and harder to effect as the game went long, the legs got rubbery, the yellow cards piled up and Spain pressed its attack. It seemed inevitable that one of the Dutch players would pick up a second yellow card and force the team to play a man down. The unlucky Dutchman was the stalwart central defender John Heitinga and Iniesta would score from the very territory he vacated.
World Cup 2010 was certainly a big win for South Africa as well, putting a joyous face on a country that is most often portrayed as a troubled nation plagued by crime, corruption and disease.
But it is the nature of sports that even a historic triumph on and off the field quickly becomes yesterday's news. So those fans not partying the night away in celebration are already asking what's next: for the World Cup; for the game; and — here in the United States — for soccer's future in America.
About the only certainty is that the World Cup will next be competed in four years and in Brazil. Brazil, as host nation, is also the only country guaranteed to play there. It is certainly reasonable to assume that there will be enormous pressure on Brazil's next coach to resurrect the style that proved so successful for Spain and that, before it was abandoned for a tougher, more physical approach, kept Brazil on the game's loftiest pedestal.
The United States is a contender to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, both of which will be awarded in December. The 2018 competition seems destined for Europe — possibly England, Spain or Russia — since the soccer establishment will not tolerate three straight World Cups off the continent.
The U.S. would seem to have an excellent chance to land 2022. The country has the infrastructure in place and FIFA will certainly have taken note that Americans both attended games in South Africa and watched from home in record numbers.
The sport itself is unlikely to change much before the next Cup. Soccer is bolstered by its traditions, but dogged by them too. And despite pledges to examine such controversial matters as officiating, FIFA is reluctant to embrace almost new concepts. In truth, it tends to revel in
controversy, at least behind close doors, and believes it stokes the passion of the fans. So while Brazil 2014 might find extra officials positioned near the goal, don't hold your breath for technological innovations like video replay.
Few organizations can top FIFA for sanctimony and, even before Sunday's final, it had dubbed the officiating in South Africa "a big success." Its head of refereeing announced that 96 percent of the calls on the field had been correct. Even granting that as an enviable percentage, it
ignores the fact that soccer, because of the low scoring, is a sport where errors can have the greatest consequences. And those few wrong calls that FIFA did acknowledge included mistakes that helped send teams like England and Mexico home.
The American team certainly inspired some excitement. The team is often credited with high energy, excellent fitness and fine goalkeepers (because that's a hands-on position), but this time around the Yanks flashed some genuine skill and produced some highlight-reel goals. The team was also more consistent game to game, though it was remarkably inconsistent within each contest. There is absolutely no future in being a comeback team in the sport of soccer.
Still, the U.S. team should be bolstered by soccer's higher profile here, as it continues the steady transformation from regional power to international player. It obviously needs to do a better of job of tapping the reservoirs of talent in this country, not just immigrant communities but inner-city youth. There is a plethora of talented and stylish point guards who, by dint of size, aren't destined to play big-time basketball, but are a perfect fit for the soccer field.
At the very least, the U.S. team should continue to dominate what is a relatively weak soccer region. Which means that Americans, unlike most nationalities around the world, can pretty much count on their team playing in Brazil in 2014.
While the average American sports fan may not pay much more attention to soccer until then, it is clear that we have finally turned on to the World Cup.
And there is something comforting in the notion that when it's said the whole world is watching, that world now includes us.