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On Spain, Portugal, and the appearance of boredom

Jun 28, 2012, 1:40 PM EDT

Fans react as they watch on a giant scre AP

I’ve been thinking a lot about Wednesday’s Spain-Portugal debacle over the past 20 hours. It sure was ugly, wasn’t it? Forays that went nowhere. Massive amounts of possession going for naught. So many little passes. Tika taka. Tika taka.

But step back a bit, and I think we’re missing something.

For explanation, we turn to a post on Terry Duffelen’s subtlety named Terry’s Soccer Blog (which comes to us via @Fredorrarci, who is a genius in his own right):

The Euro 2012 semi final between Spain and Portugal was a near perfect example of how brilliant and how rubbish football can be, depending entirely upon your point of view. If you like your football to be all action then you may well have found the game boring. If you’re fascinated by the tactics, technique, and fluidity of two top class teams then it was a modern classic. If you’re watching a game on the telly and waiting for something cool to happen then you were probably wishing you could change channel while knowing deep down that you can’t. This perhaps is where boredom becomes confused with waiting. They occupy a lot of the same space on their venn diagram but they are two separate states of mind.

Gosh, that’s a lovely final line.

But beyond that, I think Duffelen raises an important point, especially when we talk about the growth of soccer in the United States. Yesterday’s game was not exciting in the traditional sense. It dragged; it went through fits and starts; it never really got off the runway.

I, like Duffelen, watch soccer for that one moment. (As he so wonderfully puts it: “If watching football was looking at the naked night sky, I look for the pinpricks of light.”) I would imagine most Americans — schooled in the NFL and the NBA — do as well. The subtleties of the sport aren’t lost on me; I just don’t find them as interesting as a blasted free kick, a stunning slide tackle, or another brief moment of action.

Yesterday had precious few of those. But, thinking back, it did have some. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t on the edge of my seat as Cristiano Ronaldo and three other Portuguese players streaked toward the Spanish goal late in the match. The subsequent shot ended up in row 78, but it was still something to behold.

The point here, I think, is that the skill to make something amazing happen is always present (even in lower leagues). We sometimes forget that, bogged down in the fouls, the back and forth passing, the cynical challenges. But there’s a reason we don’t change the channel.

(All that said, I wish Italy-Germany would hurry up and start.)

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