Wednesday, the U.S. soccer team will get back to work, facing the final roadblock in its hopes to play through to the knockout round of 16. It already has been an electrifying run for the Yanks, with comebacks, outrage, and a core of fans unifying behind its team.

Just over two weeks in, it has been one of the most compelling World Cups in recent memory. There have been favorites suffering early upsets, one team refusing to practice, and players facing national shame.

Once every four years the world comes together for the greatest spectacle in sport, and we are reminded that the event is a lens through which we can learn a lot about our global neighbors.

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the last two weeks of watching soccer:


The United States loves an underdog. Is there another team sport on Earth, one that matters, that we wouldn’t be the favorite in? With Bob Bradley’s team on the cusp of qualifying for the round of 16, this is an easy bunch of players to love. Every father who has ever brought along a sack of orange wedges to a kid’s game had to choke up when the head coach’s son scored the equalizer Friday against Slovenia.


The referee has the last word. We’re still waiting. With an American team speaking English, a Slovenian team speaking Slovenian and a referee not speaking to anyone, it was impossible to find out what Koman Coulibaly saw in the box to disallow Maurice Edu’s apparent winner late on Friday. At least baseball umpire Jim Joyce had the courage to apologize after blowing Armando Galarraga’s perfect game this month. Coulibaly either has to say he’s sorry, or tell us who fouled whom.


Other sports could learn from soccer’s sportsmanship. Yes, the players flop to the ground as if shot by a sniper. Yes, they plead with the referee as if trying a case before the Supreme Court. But have you noticed what happens when a player is hurt and play stops? The free kick goes to the other team which promptly boots it back to the opponent — who had the ball when the whistle blows.


If I never hear another vuvuzela, it’ll be too soon. Fans at the Marlins/Rays game on television Saturday night must’ve thought they were in Jo’berg. The first 15,000 fans entering the park that night were given the World Cup horns that have become the most talked-about instrument in the world. Every game sounds like it’s being played before an oversized nest of hornets.

Word is Excedrin is trying to get other teams to follow the Marlins’ lead.


Be happy you’re not Rob Green. He’s the British goalkeeper who let Clint Dempsey’s shot go through his arms and into the net. The English press has vilified the keeper. “Hand of Clod” (a play on the infamous Hand of God goal scored by Diego Maradona against the English in 1986) screamed the front page of the News of the World.

Imagine Bill Buckner being the focal point of an entire nation – not just New England – after the ’86 World Series. That begins to explain how Green feels right now.


The French are comic relief. It has been a ridiculous two weeks for Team France. They sent a player home, had to separate another when he accosted a coach, and saw the team director resign. The latter happened after the team refused to practice on Sunday. Les Bleus, the 1998 champs, have earned just one point on a draw in two games.

“Everyone in the whole world is mocking us now,” said player Franck Ribery. It’s one of the few things a French player has gotten right so far.


Never miss a chance to say what’s on your mind. After England’s disappointing tie with Algeria, a British fan burst into the team’s locker room. He aired out the team for its winless start in the Cup, before the injured David Beckham finally confronted him and officials led the fan out of the room.


Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.