Han Solo was a character in Star Wars. I never understood the plot, couldn’t figure out who was on whose side, but I did understand a human (Harrison Ford), out there trying to right wrongs, or whatever he was up to.
That brings me to goalkeepers. They are a different breed, most of them lone rangers, wearing bizarre costumes and sporadically called upon to save the day. Hours of tedium, moments of terror, as somebody said about pilots.
A few great keepers are phlegmatic, like Dino Zoff of Italy, but many more are expressive lunatics, like Gigi Buffon, also of the Azzurri. They scream at their teammates. They disrupt the opposition.
The United States goes into the final of the Women’s World Cup against Japan on Sunday relying on Hope Solo, not to be confused with Han Solo, although maybe yes. Some people think she should not be representing her country because of allegations of a family brawl, but I don’t think her case is comparable to the Ray Rice affair.
Solo will be in goal on Sunday, perhaps to replicate the brash tactics by Briana Scurry that helped win the WWC in 1999. Scurry had the gall to leave the line and intimidate a Chinese player during the shootout that would decide the championship. She took the chance of being shown a yellow card and earning a do-over for the shooter.
Was it cheating? Was it gamesmanship? I say the ref went for it, and that is part of any sport – the slide step by a pitcher on a pickoff, the head fake on the line of scrimmage that induces an offsides call, the dive in basketball. Any way you look at it, Briana Scurry is a great keeper who helped win a World Cup.
Hope Solo also commandeered the goal zone in Tuesday’s semifinal, after Germany had been awarded a penalty kick. Solo went into her disruptive mode, wandering around, fussing with her water bottle, wasting seconds, icing the German kicker.
By the time Solo decided she was good and ready, the German player was licking her dry lips and turning her head for assurance from the sideline. She emitted a weak shot that skittered a foot wide to her left. Disaster. The U.S. went on to win the match.
Intimidation is part of the sport, but it has its limits. I thought Tim Krul of the Netherlands was way over the line with his pro wrestling behavior against Colombia in the 2014 World Cup. He should have been red-carded for gesturing at the opponents, but maybe guys get away with more. I had no problem with Scurry’s quick start in 1999 or Solo’s need to hydrate for 90 seconds in 2015.
Every team needs an audacious keeper who could make a difference in a final.
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.