Day 896: When Footy Gets Kooky

originally published June 14, 2014

Chances are, if you’ve even so much as sneezed in the same room as a computer connected to the internet this week, you’ve absorbed some snippet of World Cup fever. The World Cup is the most watched sporting event in the world – more so than the Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Full-Contact Bare-Knuckle Finger-Jousting Championships combined. And due to the current impressive girth of our pudgy modern internet, which is just right for streaming the games to every interested PC, tablet and phone, they’re predicting this to be the widest audience for anything, ever.

Soccer is the ultimate sport to bridge together the citizens of this floating rock, mostly because the rules are simple and you can make a workable ball out of trash and/or roadkill. It’d be hard for a poor rural village to fashion together functional sticks to play hockey, hoisted-up hoops to play basketball or crudely-crafted anabolic steroids to play baseball. Soccer (or “football” – I know, I know) is where it’s at.

Apart from the degenerate wuss-bags who perform acts of atrocious theatre in hopes of drawing a foul for the other team, soccer really is a great game. And even though I’ll be spending the next few weeks getting caught up on the new season of Orange Is The New Black, I might allow myself to sip just a little bit of the tournament’s excitement. After all, soccer can – in rare cases – get a little weird.

In my neighborhood, local interest for the qualification round of the 1994 Caribbean Cup was pretty much nil. But for fans in Grenada, the January 27 game against Barbados was huge. Having lost to Puerto Rico already, Barbados would have to win by two points in order to advance to the final round and bump Grenada out. For a country perpetually mired in revolutions and/or hurricanes, this was a big deal.

The Barbados national team did their job and racked up a 2-0 lead. Then, at the 83-minute mark, Grenada scored. With a limited amount of time to reclaim their necessary lead, Barbados kicked up their gameplay.  Still, they couldn’t get through that defense. Time was running out, but there was a catch in the tournament’s small print that could help them. It was a little quirk of an rule known as the modified Golden Goal.

A golden goal is simply another way of describing a sudden-death overtime period: first team that scores is the winner. But under the bizarre rules of this particular Caribbean Cup tournament, the first goal scored in extra-time not only wins the match but it also counts as two goals. Under these rules, an extra-time win for Barbados would mean a 4-2 victory, and they – not Grenada – would be in the final round. So, in order to take advantage of this rule, Barbados switched tactics with about three minutes to go and proceeded to score a goal on their own net. It was 2-2.

The Grenada players weren’t stupid (well, some of them might have been – I really don’t know for sure, do I?). They figured out that if they scored on either net they’d advance to the finals and foil Barbados’ chances, either because they won or because they lost by a single point. The last three minutes of the match consisted of Grenada trying to score in both directions while Barbados tried to defend both goals. It was a bit surreal. But it worked; the clock ran out on Grenada and they were forced into extra-time.

Barbados scored the winner, nabbing their 4-2 win and a trip to the final round. Karma caught up with them there, when two draws and a loss bumped them out of the tournament. The tweaked golden goal rule was used five times over the course of the 1994 Caribbean Cup (though this was the only occurrence of such chaotic strangeness), after which the rule was dropped completely.

While we won’t likely see any of this year’s World Cup teams fighting to score on their own net this month, we can still hope for something strange to go down. It probably won’t get wilder than some overly-demonstrative goal celebration, but there’s no reason we can’t keep our eyes peeled for more.

The 1998 Tiger Cup, held in Vietnam, was the championship tournament of the ASEAN Football Federation. Unless you follow Southeast Asian soccer you probably haven’t heard the story of the infamous Thailand-Indonesia match during the group stage of this competition. Both teams were assured of making the semifinals, and this game only determined who they’d play. Vietnam was seen as the more formidable foe, and since the winner would be off to play Vietnam, neither team wanted to put in a lot of effort.

It was a plodding game, with both teams doing everything they could to half-heartedly kick at the ball without scoring. The defense was also playing weakly, allowing for two goals per team when the clock hit 90 minutes. Mursyid Effendi of Indonesia put the game to bed during injury time, by planting the ball deep into his own net. Indonesia earned the right to play Singapore instead – a game they lost.

Thailand also lost to Vietnam, and ultimately it was Singapore who rose to the top of the tournament. Effendi was banned from international play for life and both teams were fined $40,000 by FIFA, who were not impressed by their commitment to failure.

Those of you who diligently follow Madagascar football are no doubt wondering when I’ll get around to that historic match between AS Adema and Stade Olympique de l’Emryne (whom we’ll call SOE because that name is a fingerfull of typing).

The setting is a four-team round robin playoff to decide the national championship. Entering the final game on Halloween, 2002, AS Adema already knew they had won. SOE had been eliminated in the previous game, due to a much-disputed penalty. Coach Zaka Be and the rest of the SOE team were so infuriated by the tournament’s crappy officiating, they decided to stage a protest. From the moment of the opening kickoff, the SOE players passed it to one another, booting the ball into their own goal. 149 times.

There were refund demands, impending suspensions for the coach and several players, and a downright amused AS Adema team, who claimed their championship after an unfathomable 149-0 victory.

That’s the kind of craziness I’m hoping to see – but not counting on – during the 2014 World Cup. Oh well. Even if nothing out of the ordinary occurs, at least this will kill half the time between now and the start of preseason in the NFL. We’ve all got our own favorite styles of football.

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