Why I love the World Cup

I realize that trying to convince Americans of the allure of the beautiful game is a fool’s errand. Trying to explain why the rest of humanity loves the World Cup is likewise a path leading to a dead end.

I’m not going to try and convince you of the beauty of the game. I know what the problem is for Americans: not enough scoring. Futbol is actually a lot like basketball, except for the two sports are on the extreme opposite end relative to the amount of scoring that takes place. In this country, soccer is a sport that nine year old girls play while their mothers holler from the sideline.  So it has been for a number of decades now, and so it shall remain.

So why do I love the World Cup?

In some ways, the World Cup is a kind of surrogate for warfare, a place where countries can compete unapologetically, and nobody gets hurt. (Except for Neymar, but you know, not really.) It’s the one time that I can actually feel patriotic about being German without having to apologize for the Holocaust. Also, my team is bloody good, at least most of the time. Like a NY Yankees fan, it’s nice to support a winner.

The tournament is a festival where everyone can get involved. Rather improbable countries, like North Korea, Costa Rica, New Zealand and Iceland have made it to the World Cup. Everyone can have fun, and almost everyone does (except for the Americans, who don’t really care).

And then there are the aspects of it which really do have historical significance. For example, Argentina and England faced each other in Mexico, four years after the end of the Falklands War. That game was famous for two goals, both scored by Diego Maradona, as the Argentinians went all the way to win the cup.  The first was Maradona’s “hand of God” goal – in which Maradona clearly punched the ball in, a fact that the referee did not see – as well as his second goal, in which he slalomed through half of the English defense – thereby restoring a lot of Argentinian post-war pride.

Or 1954, the year that Germany was allowed back into the fellowship of nations after World War II, and managed to win the whole thing.[1]

Or when the United States had to play against Iran at the 1998 World Cup in France, where they lost 2:1 (and provided a lot of satisfaction for the Iranians).

This year Croatia, one of the many republics that emerged from the former Yugoslavia had the chance to play against Russia. In Russia. Former client state against former overlord. Imagine the satisfaction that the people of Croatia enjoyed by kicking Russia, the other big, bad world bully, out of their own tournament![2]

The tournament also allows play between nations who otherwise would never have anything to do with each other. Japan and Senegal, for example. Or Egypt and Poland.  Or Uruguay and France.  Or Ecuador and Germany. These are delicious pairings between teams that have generally never met before. Anything can happen.

There have been some remarkable upsets over the years. For example, in 1966, at the England tournament, North Korea beat Italy 1:0. Nobody believed that could happen, and it’s probably still the biggest sports triumph in the history of North Korea. Or, in 1950 when the United States, featuring an all-amateur team, upset England also by a 1:0 score.[3]

Another beautiful thing about the World Cup, is that it allows countries who have a “golden generation” of players to excel on the world stage. France had its golden generation when they won the tournament on home soil in 1998. Brazil has had several golden generations, but never more so then when they pulverized the competition in 1970. Germany had the first of its golden generations when they also won on home soil in 1974. Most recently Spain won with its golden generation in 2010.

Today there are two teams who have “golden generations” playing at the tournament, and those are Croatia and Belgium. Croatia has, as previously mentioned, made it to the World Cup Final. And Belgium almost got there, just narrowly missing out in losing to France. They still play for the third place game on Saturday.[4]

So there it is, my friends. The World Cup is a world party, one that everybody gets excited about, except the Americans. It’s chance to cheer unapologetically for your country; to have small countries beat big countries; to have matches with delicious historical overtones; to have teams and peoples meet who have never met before.

[1] The Germans have won fairly reliably every twenty years since – after 1954 they won in 1974, 1990, and 2014. (In 1990 they were four years early.) At this rate one can expect them to win again in 2034.

[2] Croatia has now also made it into Sunday’s final against France.

[3] English fans were so incredulous that a lot of them thought it was a misprint, and that England had actually won 10:1. The American goal-scorer was a Haitian-American player who was also a dishwasher in the restaurant owned by the same man who owned his soccer club.

[4] I would have liked to have seen Croatia vs Belgium, two small sides with their golden generations going after each other. I also would have like to see France vs England, two of the traditional powerhouse footballing nations – each with young and promising sides – take each other on.

About a1skeptic

A disturbed citizen and skeptic. I should stop reading the newspaper. Or watching TV. I should turn off NPR and disconnect from the Internet. We’d all be better off.
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