(Persia Digest) - The New Yorker writes that soccer is beautiful because soccer is hard. Most popular sports artificially enhance the human body. Soccer diminishes it. Instead of giving players a bat, a racket, protective armor, or padded gloves—tools that allow players to reach farther, return a ball faster, absorb harder hits, or hit harder themselves—soccer takes away players’ hands. It prohibits the use of the nimblest part of the body, and then it says, “Be nimble.” Moreover, because the action in soccer so seldom stops, because there are so few moments when play resets to a familiar starting point, soccer requires players to work within the limitations it imposes for much longer, and through many more situational complications, than other sports.
Clumsiness and confusion are thus inherent to the game, and this is soccer’s perverse genius, because what happens when you force people to move a ball around in a highly unnatural way is that they find a way to do it. Human ingenuity and talent manage to outwit the restrictions the game places on them. And when this happens at a high enough level—when a goal is scored after a breathtaking run, or when a series of one-touch passes makes it seem as though players are telepathically linked—then what results is beauty, because creativity and grace have momentarily overcome the forces that oppose them.
Of course, soccer’s moments of beauty, even in a World Cup, are rare, which is why they mean so much when they happen. The rest of the time, soccer just looks as hard as it is. Passes are badly timed. Shots go shrieking ten feet over the goal. The ball comes down in a crowd of players, all of whom jump to head it at the wrong time, so that half the players fall over into a heap and the ball goes sputtering off in a direction no one anticipated. Whole matches go by in this way. On Friday, for instance, France beat Uruguay 2–0 in a hugely anticipated World Cup quarterfinal. It wasn’t a bad game. The stakes were high, the teams were closely matched, the players were committed, the shots were hard, the runs were all-out, and there was shouting and pointing and the ball went flying from every possible angle and the noise from the stands was like the sound of a spaceship taking off. Yet, because the whole match took place on the south side of inspiration, because the moments of brilliance that kept almost materializing never quite did, the play seemed to fall short. It was like the first two chapters of a book whose thrills come in Chapter 3.
That wouldn’t be a criticism, perhaps, of any game short of a World Cup quarterfinal featuring players of the level of Luis Suárez, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, and Kylian Mbappé. (I wish we could see the game played again, but with Edinson Cavani, Uruguay’s star forward, who was out with a calf injury.) And it’s not that there weren’t exciting moments. In the forty-fourth minute, with France leading 1–0, the ball fell for Martín Cáceres in the area after a Uruguay free kick. Cáceres, rising from a tangle of French defenders, struck an aerial toward the goal. The shot looked dangerous, but the French goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, came flying wildly in to knock the ball away from the lower left corner of the goal. The rebound fell to Diego Godín at point blank range. As Lloris scrambled off the ground, Godín mis-hit his shot and sent the ball whizzing straight up in the air. It was an eye-widening moment, but also one that felt emblematic of the match itself: a high-level scramble in which France came out barely ahead, and another entry in the vast archive of merely good soccer that makes spectacular soccer more spectacular when it appears.