15 Reasons to Be Excited About World Cup 2014
The 2014 FIFA World Cup is less than a year away. If that statement didn't pump you up, you might just be in the wrong place.
For the rest of us, it's already time to start dreaming about and anticipating the excitement bound to be generated next summer by the world's biggest and most popular sporting event.
What gets you excited about the World Cup? Here are 15 things we're looking forward to about it.
No More Vuvuzelas
Remember that grating, droning, horribly discordant racket that blighted every single second of every single match of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa? Or have you repressed the memory of the evil vuvuzela?
Take heart, then. The vuvuzela can't corrupt two straight World Cups. Right?
Or should we start worrying about Brazil's version of it?
The Trophy Itself
At the last World Cup, England's Frank Lampard had a perfectly good goal disallowed against Germany because the officials did not see that the ball had crossed the goal line (see the video at left).
That shouldn't happen in 2014, at least in theory. FIFA has embraced goal-line technology, which will be employed at the cup next summer (it has been in use at the Confederations Cup as well). GoalControl—incidentally, a German company—won the right to provide the technology, and Lampard's ghost-goal should become a thing of the past.
Hate him if you want, football hipsters (more on you later, by the way). The rest of us are pretty impressed with Neymar, Brazil's 21-year-old attacking talent.
Earlier this month Neymar secured a move to Barcelona, where he'll team up with Lionel Messi in the upcoming club season. Considering the fact that Neymar is already pretty much unplayable at his best, that's a scary thought for opposing defenders.
At this year's Confederations Cup, Neymar is showing that he is a budding superstar. What will he show us next summer as Brazil go for glory on home soil?
If Neymar is a budding superstar, then consider Argentina's Lionel Messi a living legend in full bloom.
Messi, who scored an astounding 92 goals in 2012, has won the last four FIFA Ballon d'Or awards—the honor handed out yearly to the world's best player. And he just turned 26.
Think about that for a moment. What were you doing at age 26?
Of course, Argentina still have to qualify for the tournament, but they will. And when they get there, Messi will have another chance to cement his lasting legacy with a world title.
As for Cristiano Ronaldo, there is a perfectly valid argument that Portugal's 28-year-old captain and undisputed superstar would be the world's best player if not for Messi.
In fact, in any other era, we would probably be singing Ronaldo's praises as a historically great player. He is, after all, that good, but he just happens to play at the same time as Messi.
One way for Ronaldo to step out of Messi's shadow would be to win the World Cup with Portugal. And before you say that a single player can't do it by himself, consider two words: Diego Maradona.
Don't act like you don't care. You like the WAGs. We like the WAGs. Everybody likes the WAGs.
WAGs—that stands for Wives And Girlfriends of the players—are a fascinating species. They wear skimpy clothes and huge sunglasses. They pout and pose for the camera while pretending to pay attention to the games. They prompt national team managers to ban players from having sex before the tournament.
What's not to like?
Perhaps no group of supporters embodies the rapturous and euphoric state of fandom during the World Cup better than the Dutch. Every four years, throngs of orange-clad partiers descend on whatever towns and cities host the Netherlands at the World Cup.
Everybody wins when such joy is released, and the Dutch are far from alone. Fans from around the world let their hair down during the event, and it's one of the best parts of the cup.
But just to be clear: please qualify, Holland, please.
Japan: The Hipsters' Choice
In football, it's much the same. And next June, all the football hipsters will be on Japan's bandwagon because, you know, they liked the Blue Samurai before they were popular.
By the time Japan reach the knockout stage, however, they will be old news—recycled fodder for the huddled masses. You heard it here first.
The Next Outrageously High-Tech Ball
It has become an unofficial World Cup tradition in recent years.
Before the tournament, FIFA releases a new, fancy, high-tech official ball, which is roundly criticized by players and media as being too "unpredictable." Eventually, the tears dry up and some football is played, but not before much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Oh, and NASA tests. Yes, that NASA.
Prepare for the latest sequel in the run-up to next year's event.
The Breathtaking Ecstasy of the Group Stage
Next June, 32 teams will participate in the World Cup's group stage—a blistering two-week barrage of football, with multiple matches taking place daily. It culminates with each group's final round of matches, which kick off simultaneously and are filled with tension because of the high stakes.
Hopeless minnows compete on equal footing with blueboods and also-rans. The American press inevitably asks whether soccer will finally break through in the States. Questions of collusion cloud the narrative. In some places, stars are made, leading to overpriced transfers. In others, reputations are ruined.
In the world of sports, there's almost nothing like it.
The closest parallel might come from America, where college basketball's March Madness captures the public's imagination every spring for a couple of weeks. But only the first few rounds of the NCAA tournament match the World Cup group stage for frequency and excitement, and those first few rounds last only a few days.
For two weeks every four years, the World Cup offers unrivaled entertainment value. And that's before the most meaningful matches even take place.
Yes, they're brutal. Yes, they're probably unfair. We still like penalty shootouts anyway.
For all their cruelness, penalty shootouts are also compulsively watchable. In essence, they reduce a 120-minute football match—often a match with high stakes—to a series of one-on-one showdowns.
Who wouldn't want to see that?
Consider the case of Spain and Italy this week in the Confederations Cup semifinal. Spain won the penalty shootout 7-6, with only one of 14 takers missing his shot, and the whole thing was just dripping with drama.
There were two of the world's best keepers in Spain's Iker Casillas and Italy's Gianluigi Buffon. There was pressure, and loads of it. There were world-class players on both sides. For a while, it looked like no one could miss.
Next year in Brazil, once the group stage is over, there will be penalty shootouts. Sorry, England. They're part of the package.
The Rise of German Football
Two German teams contested the UEFA Champions League final this past May, with Bayern Munich beating Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in a preposterously well played match in London.
The trophy was Bayern's second of three in a historically successful season that marked the rise of German football on the European stage. And with former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola taking over at Bayern this summer, Bayern's dominance could be set to continue for some time.
So what does this mean for the World Cup? Well, players from Bayern and Dortmund make up the majority of Germany's national team. During the Champions League knockout stages, Bayern and Dortmund knocked out Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively. Barca and Real, of course, supply more players than any other clubs for the Spain national team.
Spain, as you'll recall, won the last World Cup and the past two European Championships. The events of the past club season suggest Germany might be catching up, but we won't know for sure until next year.
Germany might have overtaken Spain in the club game last season, but at the international level, Spain still reign supreme.
The success of the senior national team—they've won the last two Euro cups and the 2010 World Cup—is widely known. But you might not know that Spain have also claimed the last two European Under-21 championships, including the tournament staged this summer.
In other words, Spain's tiki-taka talent pool is deep. Write off the defending champs at your own risk.
Come On, It's the World Cup
It's the World Cup. It's the biggest, best and most exciting sporting event on the planet, and it happens only once every four years. Need we say more?
OK, how about this? It's in Brazil, a tropical location that quite possibly hosts the world's most attractive population. And we haven't even mentioned Mario Balotelli's inscrutable antics or Andrea Pirlo's magnificent beard.
For a month every four years, most of the world unites as unforgettable and at times unbearable drama unfolds on the pitch. Around it all permeates a celebratory atmosphere that at its best can feel like a religious experience. Meanwhile, there's top-quality international football, and lots of it.
Next June can't come soon enough.