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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Sunday February 20 2011

One of the many reasons for the worldwide popularity of soccer is surely that, because scoring goals is difficult – even when they are easy, they are easily missed – a superior team can easily have an off day and lose to a hugely inferior team.  Witness how near Manchester United came to losing to non-league Crawley Town yesterday.  Okay, not that near.  But Crawley were only 1-0 down at the final whistle, and with a bit of luck in front of goal might have made one of their several difficult-but-definite chances count.  Or, Man U might have missed their goal.  Given either of those eventualities, who knows what might have happened?

Contrast all that with what has been happening today to a couple of international cricket minnows, Kenya and Canada, in the Cricket World Cup, which got under way yesterday with a big win by India over Bangladesh.  All these first three games were pretty much over well before the first innings in each match had even ended.  India crashed 370-4, which Bangladesh were never going to threaten.  The Kenyans were bowled out for 67, which New Zealand passed with 42 overs to spare, i.e. in 8 overs.  Sri Lanka made 332-7, it having earlier looked like being even more.  Canada, who lost their first three wickets on 0, 8 and 12, never came near and they are now 111-8.

As a result of games like this, the Cricket World Cup has, in a sense, yet to begin.  Once the minnows are all ejected, then the real business of the tournament can start.

In short, soccer minnows can dream.  Cricket minnows, not really.  They can only dream of, one day, getting good enough to dream plausibly.  At least these Cricket World Cup annihilations give them an idea of the standard they must reach, which is something, I suppose.  Or then again, maybe not.

Here’s another angle on the difficulty of actually turning a soccer goal chance into a soccer goal.  Consider the ongoing argument about the try celebrations that England rugby star Chris Ashton has been indulging in, before he actually plants the ball down over the line.  Personally, I regret this habit of Ashton’s, and fear (along with thousands of other England rugby fans) that sooner or later he will screw up a certain try on a day when it really matters.  I wrote about this after he did one of these fancy dives against Wales.  He did a couple more against Italy, despite having been told not to and having said he wouldn’t.

Even worse, all this arguing about whether Ashton should or should not swallow dive could insert a fatal dose of uncertainty into his try scoring habits.  He may screw up a vital try through trying to be sensible about it, but, on account of not having got into the habit of being sensible, screw that up.

It’s a bit like that thing about how the Greenies are right that the end of the world is indeed nigh, but that it will come not of its own accord, but because of some botched scheme promoted by them to stop it happening.

So, anyway, the point I have been trying to make during the last four paragraphs is that soccer players never celebrate goals until they have scored them.  They know that a goal is never a certainty until it really is done and dusted.  There is just too much to go wrong, no matter how easy the chance may look.  Which means that a dominant team can make a dozen chances, take none of them, and lose.  And an outclassed team can make a couple of chances, get lucky with one of them, and win.

Canada all out 122.  Glad that’s over.

Now my television is telling me about another soccer surprise.