I'm an American. I ought not care about soccer, and for the most part I don't. So take what I say with a grain of salt.
What do I say?
That the end of the World Cup was the steamingest pile of stinky diarrhea shit I've ever seen, and every time I attempt to watch the World Cup, it ends the same feces-encrusted way -- with the aberrant termination of a game through the penalty kick. It is the worst abomination that could possibly befall any sport, especially in its finest hour.
How can I illustrate this? Well, put it in American terms. It's the Super Bowl. The goddamn Patriots are playing any NFC team (unfortunately, we know how it ends). It's 21-21 with three seconds left. Vinatieri comes on...and misses a field goal (he'll do it now that he plays with the non-loathed Colts, but Martin Gramatica will be doing great this year). So the time's out, there's no time left. We're going to...the punt, pass, and kick contest!
Or...it's the bottom of the ninth in the 1997 World Series. Jose Mesa blew the save. Instead of extra innings, where we would continue to play baseball and allow the Indians to lose in a soul-crushing fashion...it's home run derby time. Hope you're up to it, Matt Williams!
Or...it's the NBA playoffs. Ah, I can't watch this crap, the playoffs began last January and aren't ending until May 2009, change it to Major League Soccer.
They've played soccer for an ungodly period of time. They're dead tired, they've got nothing left, the game will grind to a near halt. In other words, this is where it finally gets interesting. The game could end at any moment. But instead, after two overtimes, soccer substitutes the shootout. This doesn't work. Hockey has used the shootout after overtime fails, and generally, it's pretty exciting. Good stuff. But they have the good sense to drop it when it counts. If it's November and the Penguins and Blue Jackets have skated (I use the term loosely) to a 1-1 tie and overtime didn't settle it, fine, use the shootout, because those fans haven't been able to get a beer since 10 minutes into the third period, and they know that even though more than half the teams will make the playoffs, these aren't among them. But in the playoffs, it's overtime, overtime, overtime, and then when that doesn't work, more overtime. They know that the reason the teams are there is because they're good at hockey, not just a particular facet of the game. No matter how passable the shootout is to casual fans, it's just not a real game. It's not as if a goalie is playing by himself against five guys shooting the puck. There's a team component that's totally neglected by the shootout. Sure, you have five guys shooting, but a good team isn't one that is made up entirely of scorers (see the aforementioned Pittsburgh Penguins).
With soccer, it's even more egregious, because it's not a test of skill on skill, it's a test of skill on total and utter luck. There were nine penalty kicks taken in the penalty kick phase that settled the game. 8 of them were goals. This tells you how preposterous it is for resolving a game. For one, nine shots is an astonishingly high percentage of the shots you'll see in a game. Secondly, that's a conversion rate of 89%. How many saves were there by these goaltenders, among the best in the world? None. Not one single save. The only shot that missed was because a French guy was not content to fire into the Red Rocks ampitheater that is a FIFA soccer goal and hit the crossbar.
What's worse, what the penalty kick phase rewards isn't even a major component of the game. The goal is huge because it's rare to get a shot, and because if you do get a chance at a shot, you'll just about never get it off with an opportunity to just focus on putting it in. There's not a whole lot of soccer breakaways. If a scorer gets a shot at a net with no defenders but the scrawny antsy looking guy with the different jersey, he will score way too often.
Maybe that's fine if you're settling some regular season match, but it's not fine when you're settling bragging rights for the World for four years. That's utterly preposterous. And what reason do you have?
1) TV coverage - cry me a damn river. Maybe Americans shut it off when it wasn't 5-2 after 90 minutes, but this is the biggest sporting event in the world. People would watch this if it went on for three weeks. And I'm not an advertising seller, I don't know how it works, but sell contingency ads. You say to GM/Nissan/Renault, "All right, you've got the ads for the transition between the third and fourth OT if it happens. It'll cost you forty billion dollars, if the game gets to that point." They'll buy it. I don't know how the Super Bowl operates with respect to overtime ads, since no Super Bowl has ever gone to overtime, but I'm pretty sure the ad revenue is still better than when the European station switches over to reruns of Webster after the game.
2) Excitement - Oooh, look, it all comes down to this, there's 2 out in the bottom of the ninth! No. Bullshit. It's only exciting if the excitement arises in the organic and natural course of the game. If you tack on generated "excitement", you're just obliterating the nature of the sport. And if you really want to make it more exciting by changing the game...you've got better options. First, shrink the number of players on the field. 11? Screw that. Time for 7. That's still more guys than you need and more names than just about any American will know. Second, make it sudden death. In soccer, overtime doesn't end upon the first goal, the periods are actually played out in their entirety. The paucity of goals scored in your average match renders it essentially sudden death except the losing team has to run around embarrassed until the game's over, but that's besides the point.
3) It's FIFA's bedtime. - You got it. That's all I've got.
These aren't excuses, I don't like soccer as a general rule, it's just not a game I can really get into, because I've been raised in a generation of video games. There has to be something more instant about gratification. If you can be the greatest player of your generation and I won't know by watching four or five games, then I'm not going to give a damn. If your goalie is amazing because he saved actual bona fide shots...I'm not impressed. Even Victor Martinez stops a wild pitch now and then. But that said, if I was a fan of soccer, I'd be utterly irate right now. The World Championship of a sport needs to be decided by playing that sport, not its XBox equivalent.