ESPN's soccer announcers have been justifiably derided for their suckiness. The games have been broadcast both on the ESPN networks and also Univision, and I have usually opted for the Spanish-language broadcast. I think there are a sizable number of viewers who have chosen to watch the games with inferior picture quality, being broadcast in a language they don't even understand, in order to avoid ESPN's Dave O'Brien and Marcelo Balboa.
I haven't studied Spanish since 1997, but I still find the Univision announcers more intelligible than Balboa. In Germany's match against Argentina, Balboa repeatedly insisted that the penalty shootout could involve "all eleven guys". This is tantamount to a baseball broadcaster, in the bottom of the ninth, yammering that both teams needed to be prepared to play 18 innings. As it turned out, only four guys on each side took penalty kicks, just seven short of Balboa's prediction. Balboa also stressed how he was "unimpressed" by the German goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann, minutes before he saved two penalty shots to win the game.
One nagging annoyance of the early World Cup games was the Bottom Line. Because games were shown on ESPN2, a running ticker of scores and sports news ran constantly below the action. This would have been convenient were the games on early in the morning, when no other sports were happening. Hell, most NBA players are just going to bed at 6:55 AM, the time many World Cup matches started. At 6:55, there is no sports news, with the exception of the game you are currently watching. Yet for ninety minutes, ESPN devoted 10% of their screen area to information about probable pitchers, NBA playoff scoring averages, and leaderboards for obscure golf tournaments.
That wasn't the only way that ESPN encroached on the viewing area. Instead of a small box showing team names and the clock, ESPN went for a huge bar across the top of the screen, about four times the amount of space they needed to say, "Still tied, 0-0."
For the knockout round, it got even worse. An extra title bar was placed above the score bar, which said, "Quarterfinals - Fifa World Cup - Live". It's 8 AM! Who is watching this by mistake? It's as if ESPN is catering to the developmentally delayed, or perhaps disoriented alcoholics. Otherwise, these drunks and simpletons might wake up confused as to why ESPN was televising a friendly between Germany and Argentina. Fortunately for them, no matter what point in the game they wake up, the title bar is there the whole match.
The graphics were similarly horrible. ESPN thinks nothing of placing a graphic in the center of the screen, obscuring the action. Often the graphic is only tangentially related to the game at hand, or says something self-evident. The team that scores first usually wins? You don't say! We were treated to a twenty-second, half-screen graphic during Germany-Argentina that listed each team's remaining subs - Germany: 0; Argentina: 0.
Other Cup notes:
- One reason to watch Univision is the emotional, vaguely incoherent calls of important moments. When Germany won the penalty shootout with Argentina, here was the Univision call:
"El Alemán! El Alemán! Yes! Jens! Yes! Jens! Yes! Jens! El Alemán! El Alemán! Jens! Yes!"
Also of note is that announcer Andres Cantor has defected from Univision to Telemundo, taking his trademark "Gooooooooool!" call with him. As a result, goal calls on Univision feature a shorter, staccato burst of "Gol! Gol! Gol! Gol! Gol!" rather than one drawn-out "Goooool!" Kind of like if Cake did a cover version of Andres Cantor's goal call, minus the inevitable trumpet solo.
- Jens Lehmann reminds me of a taller, German version of Mike B. He's got curly hair, a slightly receding hairline, and two days of beard growth. Lehmann also looks sleepily grumpy in a way I remember from living with Mike B., a look that says, "I'm getting up to build Pepsi displays at 5 AM, and you guys are still up drinking malt liquor and playing video games."
- Most valuable information gleaned from the Bottom Line: "The U.S. Paintball Championships will be pre-empted by the World Cup Quarterfinals. They will be shown at 9 PM ET." Get those TiVos ready, America!
- Budweiser is the official beer of the World Cup, in Germany. Cassie says, "It's as if they had the World Cup in the US, and the official soft drink was Tab."
- Univision didn't say what they were pre-empting. I'm going to assume it was a telenovela.
- England's Peter Crouch is absolutely fascinating to watch. Crouch is 6'7" and approximately 105 pounds. He reminds me of the protagonist of the 1981 Scottish classic, Gregory's Girl. Or a giraffe. Crouch seems to have a normal-sized torso, but ridiculously long legs, which do not prevent him from doing The Robot when he scores a goal. Cassie gasped nearly every time he got the ball, both in hopes that he might score and in fear that his wee fragile legs would break, and he'd have to be put down like an injured racehorse. It's constant fascination coupled with fear.
You're a freak, Peter Crouch! You're unnatural!
- At different points in their game with Germany, Argentine players surrounded the referee and began arguing with and abusing him. It was like watching the famous Globetrotter circle, only with far more ponytails.
- You see far more balding players during the World Cup. In the post-Jordan era of American sports, balding players of any race tend to immediately shave their heads. Not so with international footballers. While many do indeed choose the shaved-head look, there are a significant number of World Cup participants with receding hairlines and what look like sweaty combovers.
According to Baldness.com:
A bald athlete has a special appeal. Athletes are so often exemplars of the human body, stunning combinations of speed, strength and agility. To see a bald athlete is to be reminded that he is human, that in most regards he is just like me.
Maybe these footballers are simply unashamed of their baldness. One might say it's refreshing for a player to simply accept his hair loss naturally without resorting to extreme measures like the razor. And how does the naturally balding athlete look? Honestly, kind of gross and terrible.