So the World Cup starts in two days. It’s exciting! We’ve been in a bit of a dead sprint getting all the pre–World Cup stuff done here at work, but now it’s really just time to wait till the games start on Friday (at 9:30 in the morning. I’m sure you can find a bar that has breakfast specials if you’re really interested in South Africa v. Mexico). So I thought I’d take a bit of a look at the TV aspect of the tournament, or at least the pre-tournament TV aspect: The commercials. I will not lie; there have been some fantastic commercials in advance of SA2010. Here are a few of my favorites.
Nike: Write the Future
It scares me a little to imagine how much this cost. Nike’s three-minute opus features about a dozen of the biggest names in the game, including a few who won’t be playing in South Africa (Brazil’s Ronaldinho, seen here doing his trademark samba over the ball, failed to make his team’s final squad of 23, because Brazil is just so good that they cut players other countries would kill to have. Also, Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba, the guy in orange at the beginning, has a broken arm and might not play). My favorite section is about 45 seconds in, when England’s Wayne Rooney sees the outcome of one play, if he makes a tackle or if he fails, and there’s a brief clip of American superstars (the closest thing we have to superstars!) Landon Donovan and Tim Howard laughing at him. Then, of course, he plays table tennis with Federer, which is hilarious. And I really enjoy the concept of Ronaldo: The Movie, starring Gael Garcia Bernal. Basically, this commercial makes me want to watch soccer. And buy Nikes. Mission accomplished!
ETA: Seth Stevenson over at Slate points out that the commercial was directed by clever Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu (hat tip to Friend of the ‘Faux Ali). Seth also spotlights another of my favorite moments in the spot and uses a particular bit of British football slang I love: “Later, Cristiano Ronaldo fantasizes that a successful World Cup will land him an appearance on The Simpsons (he nutmegs Homer, who exclaims, “Ronal-d’oh!”) and make him the subject of a blockbuster bio-pic starring Gael García Bernal.”
U2: “City of Blinding Light”
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that one of my day jobs is working for the company that holds the exclusive broadcast rights to the tournament in the U.S. But I have absolutely nothing to do with the broadcast division, or the people who make the ads for World Cup coverage. So when I say that I LOVE THIS SERIES OF ADS, know that I’m not being a shill for the Mouse. I really do love the set of spots ESPN has done for the World Cup featuring some of U2’s greatest music. This World Cup was basically packaged for Bono to weep over as soon as South Africa got the bid; it brings together two of his favorite things: football and AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHFRICA. This spot is pretty old, as you can see; all the footage is from Germany ’06 and, again, a lot of those players won’t be in this World Cup, notably beautiful German captain Michael Ballack, who you can see three seconds in and who, like effing ALL OF CHELSEA FC, is hurt. (If you’re interested in U.S. games, keep an eye out for our superlative midfielder Clint Dempsey, wearing #8 and seen at 11 seconds.) There’s just something glorious about the scope of the World Cup, the emotion of the players, and that great, great song that has had me tearing up at the gym whenever I’ve seen it over the past three months. Yeah. I’m a sap. I blame it on that adorable baby near the end with “SA” written on its head.
US Soccer: Over There
I saw this spot for the first time on Saturday during the national team’s final warmup game against Australia. (We won! Sorry, Socceroos.) And it felt kind of weird. “Over There,” as I’ve just learned, was written during the First World War and again became popular during WW2, and it just has kind of a weird, militaristic overtone to me. Especially if you look at the verses, which the spot doesn’t use. Given the United States’ unpleasant recent history of global, um, stomping on people, I don’t think that’s exactly the message we want to send. Except that as a soccer-playing nation, we have been historically incapable of stomping on anyone for about 60 years. If you want to ignore the vague cultural imperialism and just look at our very fine national team, that’s okay. We have a hot team this year.
If you don’t care for U2’s particular brand of bombast, you may want to stop reading here, because anti-Bono-ites will find this one really obnoxious. But I love it, for a couple of reasons. First is that the rhythm line for “Magnificent” is the best U2 has written since…oh, I don’t know. “Mysterious Ways,” maybe? That bass groove is just incredible. Second is the political aspect. When people talk about the World Cup, they don’t even pretend that it’s apolitical, like some folks still like to do with the Olympics. The World Cup is a political statement, much like the Beijing Summer Games were a political statement, and this World Cup is probably the most politically significant tournament since I don’t even know when. Mexico ’86? Germany ’74? I don’t know enough about soccer intersecting with world history to evaluate all 18 previous Finals, but this World Cup, the first ever held in Africa, is certainly the most important of my lifetime. The people of South Africa fought their way through a lot of shit to get this tournament, and if today’s reception for the Bafana Bafana is any indication, they are effing psyched. South Africa was banned from world competition by FIFA from 1976 until 1992 because the country’s constitution prohibited racially mixed teams. So within the lifetimes of the players on the field and most of the spectators, they weren’t allowed even to compete in this tournament, and now they’re hosting it. That’s a big thing.
U2: “Where the Streets Have No Name”
I like how ESPN is pretending U2 didn’t record anything between 1986 and 2004. Achtung Baby just doesn’t scream World Cup, does it? They had to reach all the way back to the pseudo-religious mysticism of The Joshua Tree to do this most delicate and potentially crass, if treated poorly, subject justice. And I think they succeeded, although your mileage may vary. The fact that the political ruling class of South Africa today was largely imprisoned barely 20 years ago is incredible and inspiring, and lends more credence to the whole “more than game” idea. Expect a whole lot of choked-up people on Friday morning when Mandela, the closest thing the planet has to a living saint right now, (hopefully) makes a brief appearance before the opening match.
Adidas: Star Wars cantina
This commercial is just fucking weird. What does Star Wars have to do with the World Cup? I have no idea. But it does involve my favorite Gallagher and David Beckham, who will be sorely missed on the pitch in South Africa (Becks blew his Achilles tendon in February, ending his hopes to be the first Englishman to play in four World Cups, but he’s there for the tournament. He was in the stands at USA vs. Australia Saturday, scouting and looking quite fantastic), as well as Jay Baruchel? What? Canadians don’t play soccer. And Snoop Dogg! See, I told you it was weird.
So that’s it. More World Cup selling than you can sneer at. Play starts Friday morning; match schedule is here. The final is Sunday, July 11. I think it’s going to be awesome.