Beaten with an American bat
| Eleven countries whose sports teams are even worse than America's |
1–10 | Djibouti, East Timor, Belize, Montenegro, US Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Guam, American Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Aruba | These 10 nations are all tied for 199th place on FIFA’s World Ranking of the entire planet’s men’s soccer teams.
11 | Afghanistan | Just not that good at sports.
Soccer is the world’s most popular sport, no contest. Billions watch it, play it, and obsess over it, from dusty Mexico City lots to punter-packed Irish pubs. Everyone, that is, except us. (Notwithstanding, of course, the morbid fascination of watching David Beckham and his dead-eyed, unsmiling wife colonize Los Angeles.)
Now, some may argue that this is precisely why America rocks. We have no time for foofy foreign fare like the so-called football of overseas. We invent our own damn sports! Baseball. Basketball. American football. Sports in which — unlike soccer — scoring is not a freak occurrence, but in which points or runs can come by the bucketful.
But a funny thing happens when you force-feed your sports to other, disinterested citizens from lands requiring a passport to visit. Eventually, they might get better at them than you are.
In 2000, a few months before George W. Bush ascended to his ill-gotten throne, the United States Olympic baseball team — a group of minor leaguers skippered by Tommy Lasorda — won the gold medal at the Sydney Games, toppling Cuba. Four years later, under a Bush presidency? The Americans failed to even qualify for the games.
Baseball has been a medal sport for four Olympiads, since the 1992 Barcelona Games. Three countries have qualified for the medal rounds in each of those four Olympiads. That would be Cuba, Japan, and . . . Italy. Yes, Italia, home of bocce, has a better track record in Olympic baseball than the USA.
We had a chance at redemption this past year in the inaugural — and ridiculously over-hyped — World Baseball Classic, played on our own home turf. What happened when the WBC brought teams from Holland and South Africa and Chinese Taipei to these shores in 2006? It was almost as bad: America finished eighth in its own national pastime, failing even to qualify for the semi-finals. (At least series MVP Daisuke Matsuzaka knows where his bread is buttered.)
In hoops, it’s been more of the same. The 1992 “Dream Team” assembled for the Barcelona Games is rightfully considered the greatest assemblage of b-ball talent ever put together. In 2000, pre-Bush, the US Olympic team won the gold, staving off a challenge from a surprisingly good Lithuanian squad. But by the Athens Games of 2004, the “Nightmare Team” — lazy and disinterested, and in that way perfectly reflecting the American populace under Bush — limped its way to a bronze, losing to powerhouses Puerto Rico and Italy (confound you, Italy!) along the way.
One of the most galling losses in that competition came at the hands of Argentina, an 89-81 thumping, with that team’s Manu Ginobili beating his Spurs teammate Tim Duncan. Now, of course, they are champions together. The Spurs won their fourth championship in nine years — a relative hoops dynasty for the aughts.