What is it with psychology, especially as it relates to team sport. On Friday, Mexico goes 0/0 against Angola. In the first 15 second of the match Mexico nearly scores. From then on, for the next ninety minutes, the match is as flat as the bottom of a tire. My favorite match of the World Cup thus far was the 1/0 win by Germany over Poland. In this match, 90 minutes of round, intense play flash by and Germany scores a goal in the final minute or so.
So it calls for what ifs. What if Mexico had just slowly moved into play. And so forth.
I remember beginning a tennis match and heading toward the net. I prep. The ball’s perfect. A low, mistimed lob. I figure I’ll slam the ball so hard it’ll bound and go over the opposing fense. Instead, I cream it into the net tape with a big slap. From then on, I can only think how that net cheated me out of an easy point. I fret about such a stupid decision. Could have simply eased the ball over for a solid point, perhaps up 30-Love. Keep my mind on things. Problem is, one point like this can decide the match either way: it gives me momentum if won. Lost, it gives the opponent wiggle room.
It happens all the time. It’s like setting the tone early in a story. Such a thing can shape the players on a team, as it shapes character. The team itself takes on the tone, the theme, the oppressiveness of squint vision, a negative zone where everyone waits in hush. “My legs are a little tired,” says a player. “Mine too,” another answers. Neither say what really hurts, neither hints at what’s really going on.
I still kick myself for missing that overhead. I still blame the net.