Things I like
about the beautiful game:
1 - you can see cultural differences in the play of the national teams. Brazil plays like they're dancing, Germany plays quite workman-like, England bombards the defense with arcing balls and slashing runs, Australians are supremely tough and (by and large) do not "dive."
2 - plays are dynamic, organic and have time to develop. When a goalie rolls a ball out to his defender to take up the field, that is the beginning of the offensive play. Unlike in basketball where you're already three passes before you can shoot, in soccer you're probably 50 passes away before the actual shot comes. But each pass is important in moving the defense around to the offense's whim. When a game has been recorded, one of my favorite things to do after a goal is to rewind the game and try to discover where that play began. Usually it began way on the other side of the field.
3 - there's a mixture of "hardness" and "softness" in game play. Ball & player movement flows around and through the defense, with the defense dynamically shifting to compensate. If the defense is too "hard" at first, the offense will simply flow around it. If the offense starts out "hard," the defense will simply stiffen and meet "hard" to "hard." (You could also think about this in terms of "confrontation" and "subtle redirection.") What the offense and defense both want is to force a confrontation on their terms.
Generally, at the end of the offensive work a "hard" shot is generated. A direct confrontation between shooter and goalie. The defense is generally working to set up a "hard" confrontation such that the offense won't be able to flow around it. So, often the defenders will redirect the offense to the outer corners of play, forcing the offensive player to eventually turn and confront the defender.
This third point doesn't seem to be inherently beautiful, but it's beautiful to me as I watch the game move from fluidity to sharp action and back to fluidity. It reminds me of a martial artist who flows around their opponent until the opportunity to strike presents itself. Then suddenly the master who's seemed so ethereal suddenly becomes rooted and is punching/kicking you with all kinds of hard.