World Cup Fever!
Messi. Ronaldo. Neymar. Balotelli. Xavi.
For many Americans, these names are not just foreign, but meaningless. To casual American sports fans, the first two names may ring a bell. But to all who adore the world’s game of futbol, we all know that these names being mentioned in the same breath can only mean one thing: it’s World Cup time.
31 national teams have made their way to Brazil to join the host nation for the 2014 World Cup. Among the teams in attendance is Spain, winner of not only the 2010 World Cup, but also the 2008 and 2012 Euro. Argentina, led by the aforementioned Messi, brings a powerful offensive squad to the tourney. Germany is a perennial threat, and my brogod Milt’s pick to take the trophy home. The Dutch return a strong squad that finished runner-up to Spain in ’10. The mercurial French team, which includes the aforementioned enigmatic yet mercurial Balotelli, has the potential to run the table this time around like it did as host nation in ‘98, eager to erase the memory of a dismal 2010 Cup showing. They can certainly do it, but their biggest problem comes from within. All their divas are going to have to check their personalities at the door and play as one to win the whole damn thing. Team USA brings one of its best squads in national history to the tourney, but is still likely to finish way outside of title contention. The squad departed for Brazil having left all-time leading scorer Landon Donovan off the roster. The host nation Brazil, hungry for its first championship since ’02, fields a powerhouse squad, determined to restore its place atop the soccer world. With the likes of the aforementioned Neymar, as well as Silva, Dani Alves, and Hulk, Brazil is definitely a favorite to go all the way.
Who will win it all? Even though this is my fourth World Cup (dating back to us hosting back in ’94), I still consider myself a casual fan, with not quite enough experience to handicap a winner. But I can guarantee this: even the casual fan will enjoy what the World Cup brings to the table. We Americans have four to five sports to cheer for. And with the big 3 sports, insane ticket prices coupled with corporations that buy most of the affordable yet decent tickets means the true, passionate sports aficionados are rarely able to afford good tickets, and when they are, most of those tickets are already sold out. All this has led to the average American sports fan being extremely blasé about being at live venues, whether it means stomaching the inflated ticket prices or actually staying awake during games when they do attend. A lot of venues around the American sports world have hard times selling out consistently, and many of the attendees are so casual that it’s almost like attending a Methodist church service. But soccer fans…they get it in. I love the passion that you see when you watch both the international game as well as club (league) play. Whereas we see it as being “not so serious,” soccer fans see it as being the exact opposite. They’ll die for this shit. I love that passion so MF much. The players also have the same passion. The difference between soccer players as opposed to other professional athletes who play for their respective national teams is that international soccer players live for the opportunity to represent their countries in World Cup play. It’s the ultimate bragging rights. NBA players could care less about the damn World Cup of Basketball, other than not losing to avoid embarrassment. Unlike every other major world sport (except for cricket), the powerhouse professional leagues are spread out around the world, and not just in the US (India for cricket). The best baseball and basketball players around the world all play in MLB and the NBA; they’re all under one collective, figurative roof. But soccer players are spread out over leagues in several countries and continents. They don’t see and compete against each other as regularly. It only makes international play more competitive. The fans take the World Cup much more serious because outside of the big 3 sports in the US and cricket in India, soccer is the headliner in every other country. I’m talking about a lot of nations that exist for the most part in third world poverty, countries with few hopes and dreams inside day to day life. For these people, soccer is more than a mere game, more than mere competition. It is life or death.
Big ups to Colombia for its World Cup win Saturday and the joy it brought to my Colombian folk in Englewood, an American city with a considerable Colombian population. I love to see that pride.
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