Through the month long tournament, we learned the difference between Slovakia and Slovenia or Paraguay and Uruguay.  The Netherlands taught us the correct spelling of Oranje and ESPN translated Côte d’Ivoire to the brilliantly named Ivory Coast.  Conversely, the Ivory Coast’s Dider Drogba, Africa’s best player in the continent’s first World Cup defied the odds by playing with a protective cast on his fractured right arm but scored a historic African goal against Brazil with his head.

For 2 weeks Landon Donovan almost singlehandedly err….singlefootedly lifted the U.S. onto his toes .  This World Cup rewarded us with the greatest morning sports moments in American sports history when Landon Donovan kicked a rebound ball into the back of the net and vaulted the States from group play into the Round of 16.  However, the noon game times also subtracted a bit of the mystique.  After the games were over, I had an entire day ahead of me and there’s another 12 hours of baseball, Wimbledon and free agency speculation left.  In addition, Skip Bayless and newsapers couldn’t pound it home until the next morning.

There were also a litany of odd coaching decisions such as Brazil coach Dunga’s decision not to place all-world midfielder Ronaldinho on the World Cup team in pursuit of his decision to play in a more disciplined offense over Brazil’s flamboyant style of play.  Not winning the World Cup in four years spurred the drastic change in strategy for Brazil which was worse than the Golden State Warriors benching Stephen Curry to implement a more defensive orientated strategy.  The more stagnant style of play fit Brazil like a square peg in a round circle.  Not surprisingly, Dunga resigned less than 24 hours after Brazil was eliminated.

And then, there was Argentina manager Diego Maradona.  His only managing experience prior to being named Argentina manager came in a 2 year span in 1995 and 1996 where he accumulated a 15% winning percentage.  Without the beard he’s essentially an SNL Horatio Sanz character. In between, coaching, Maradona was a sporadic coke addict and television host who was sentenced to nearly three years in prison for firing an air rifle at reporters.

Oddly enough, he was a chatterbox around the media for the past month.  He threw barbs at Pele, Germany, referees and promised to run around an Argentinian monument naked.  It was the equivalent of Team USA deciding to trot out Charles Barkley as head coach of the 2012 Olympic team.  I haven’t watched must soccer in the past four years but if the ESPN wants to capitalize on Team USA’s success they’d offer Maradona whatever he wants to host a Sunday MLS Countdown show for ESPN, alongside Pele, David Beckham and Franz Beckenbauer.  It would draw more ratings than inviting Michael Irvin, Dennis Miller, John Madden, Al Michaels and Rush Limbaugh back to ESPN in a mega-sized Monday Night Football booth.

The indelible moment of the World Cup came as a result of the most significant, blatant handball in World Cup history.  In the final minute of extra time, the Black Stars of Ghana were attacking with a flurry of precision shots on goal culminating in Luis Suarez batting away what would have been a sure match winning goal by Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan. The main difference between Thierry Henry’s handball in World Cup qualifying and Maradona’s “Hand of God” is that the officials didn’t disallow those goals and award a red card.

Suarez was given a red card but it didn’t matter. Gyan’s penalty kick bounced off the crossbar and Uruguay survived to win by PK.  NBA experts thought the league’s mandated one game suspension for a player’s seventh technical was harsh. The World Cup suspends players for a second yellow and a red card ejection forced Netherlands to play with ten men on the pitch freeing up Spain’s Iniesta to break the tie with a late goal.  German midfielder and Golden Boot winner Thomas Mueller was suspended for Germany’s loss to Spain after a ball bounced off his left arm against Argentina.

Unfortunately, the Finals between the Dutch and Spaniards resulted in a 120 minute snooze fest which literally rocked me to sleep during the 15 minute intermission.  For all the grace, “the beautiful game” offers, it’s rulebook also contains one of the most offensively stifling buzzkill rules in all of professional sports.  I’m talking of course about the offsides rule.  It’s one of just 17 laws in the FIFA soccer omnibus but it is also the most vague rule explanations in all of sports as well.

According to FIFA, when a pass is made, a player is not in an offside position if he is level with the second-to-last defender or level with the last two defenders.  It essentially eliminates almost any “fast break” type goals and caps scoring opportunities.

In a sport where shots on goal are fewer than Evander Holyfield’s remaining brain cells, it’s questionable why they’d torture viewers with a rule so inexplicable.   It’s akin to the NFL instituting a rule, making it illegal for a receiver to beat the cornerback and two safeties without the ball in his possession or baseball making left and right field foul territory.  Soccer and American football are roughly the same age, yet soccer is stuck in the pre-forward pass era.

Another example of soccer’s mid-20th century mindset is their antipathy towards instant replay.  They missed more calls in this World Cup than MY 80 year old grandmother with a new IPhone.
Wimbledon, one of tennis’ most traditional venues actually built a retractable roof in 2008 and tennis has the most advanced replay technology in all of sports.  The U.S. would have advanced easily if they hadn’t been robbed of a pair of goals against Algeria and Slovenia.  In the first knockout round, a clear game tying goal by the English was missed by the official.  I don’t think even Tim Donaghy ever awarded points for an airball which slapped the net.

In FIFA’s defense at least they don’t have any rules against exuberant team celebrations on the pitch.  It shouldn’t be much longer until endzone choreography, celebration props, Sharpies and the Ickey Shuffle make it across the Atlantic.

Besides Spain, the biggest winner in South Africa’s World Cup wasn’t Spain, Landon Donovan or Germany’s youthful international squad, it was the hearing aid industry’s projected boom in sales from the incessant buzzing caused by South Africa’s vuvuzelas. At the risk of an SEC investigation, here’s an insiders hint. Buy stock in Phonak.  See you in four years in Brazil which will host the Olympics six years later.