Roy Exum: Writhing At The World Cup

Thursday, June 26, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

From every indication it appears the FIFA World Cup Soccer extravaganza has finally become as big in the United States as it has been in the rest of the world for years. Ever since I can remember soccer has languished as “American football” has become our biggest sport but – at long last – the 2014 games are attracting record throngs of viewers and fans. I think that’s wonderful.

But the sport of soccer isn’t perfect, as the prestigious Wall Street Journal pointed out in its Wednesday editions. In a hysterical story that highlighted the “World Rankings of Flopping,” some fun-loving editors loaded the first 32 games that were played in this year’s event into a DVR and meticulously charted “writhing time.” Soccer has some weird statistics but “writhing time” is a hoot.

This is where the game stops for an injured player, although the clock continues. Staff writer Geoff Porter delightfully writes, “All too often during matches, seemingly fit men fall to the ground in agony. They scream, pound the grass with their fists and gesture to the sidelines for a stretcher. Some of them clutch a limb as if it has just been pulled from a wood chipper. But after a few moments, just as priests arrive to administer Last Rites, they sit up on the gurney, shake it off, rise to their feet and run back on the field to play some more.”

Watch any game and you’ll find the phenomenon is true. In the first 32 games, WSJ staffers counted 302 players who claimed to be hurt. Never mind just nine were eventually hauled away on stretchers. Brazil had the most “injuries” in two opening games with 17 incidents that accounted for three minutes and 18 seconds of writhing time. Chile was 16 (6:58) and third was Honduras with 15 injuries that took up a whopping seven minutes and 40 seconds to collectively heal. Nigeria and Mexico also had 15 injuries each, Nigeria making a better 6:25 disappear on the clock than Mexico’s 3:58.

The United States? We were seventh on the list of the 32 teams with 12 incidents that clicked onward for six minutes and 24 seconds.

Many fans and even opponents feel these injuries might well be called “embellishments” instead. This theory is strengthened by the WSJ’s finding that players who were injured when their team was losing accounted for a total of 40 injuries and 12.5 minutes of collective writhing whereas teams that were winning – and needed to run the clock – had 103 injuries and – ah ha – did four times as much writhing as players that were losing.

The delightful story included the Wall Street Journal’s first-ever international soccer injury-embellishment awards and here they are, along with the writer’s comments:

THE TEAM MOST COMMONLY SEEN IN ANGUISH – BRAZIL: There were 17 incidents in two games when a member of Team Selecao was seen on the ground in pain – the most of any country. World Cup poster boy Neymar had five such injuries, the most on any team. In every case, he was back on his feet within 15 seconds.

THE OVERALL WRITHING CHAMPION – HONDURAS: Team Los Catrachos spent more of the team on the ground or being tended to by trainers: seven minutes and 40 seconds to be exact. Naturally, five minutes and 10 seconds of that came in the first half against France when the match was tied (which would have been good enough for them.)

TEAM MOST LIKELY TO GRIN AND BEAR IT – BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: These World Cup newbies obviously don’t get how this works. They only had two “injuries” in two games for a total of 24 seconds of writhing time.

THE TEAM WITH THE MOST CARNAGE IN ONE GAME – CHILE: While they protected an early lead again Spain, the Chileans tallied 11 “injuries,” more than 24 other teams had in two games.

THE FASTEST INJURY YET – ENNER VALENCIA, ECUADOR: Against Honduras, Valenica was on the ground, clutching his leg after four seconds.

WORST USE OF A STRETCHER – FIVE PLAYERS (TIE): Of the nine players actually carried off on a stretcher, five returned – all in less than 90 seconds, including American DaMarcus Beasley.

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