Once every four years the world gets to witness about a month of pure, unadulterated sport. Two, three, sometimes four times a day of the world’s most beautiful game graces television is every part of the world. Grown men cry, legends are created (and sometimes destroyed) as people everywhere invest everything in something only twenty two men can control. The World Cup is the greatest sporting event in the world, bar none.
Every kid in America, well almost every kid, has visions of going to the ballpark with their dad, grabbing a hot dog, catching a foul ball, and taking in every ounce of ambiance that pours from America’s pastime. It’s my favorite sport. The intricacies and details of baseball cannot be triumphed by anything: the white of the foul lines, the exchanges between the pitcher and catcher, the hope that a trip to the ballpark will bring something special, something to be remembered forever. Think about that feeling you get when you first step out of the façade of a ballpark and see the pastures of green in front of you. You get a sense that this is something much larger than you and you can’t help but get caught up in it. Take that feeling and multiply it by ten, that’s how the rest of the world feels about the World Cup. It's like an eclipse really because even though we know it will happen again we still look at it as this rare, special occurrence.
Because America isn’t so much a “soccer nation,” the World Cup will forever leave something to be desired. We, as Americans, don’t fully appreciate the magnitude of what goes on during those ninety minutes. Even though we are no longer the laughing stock of the soccer world (America will make some noise this June, take my word for it), we still don’t appreciate what exactly is going on between those lines. Every man on the pitch has the ability to be Bill Buckner and Reggie Jackson, every man has the opportunity to be the goat or the hero. The pressure is enormous, it goes without saying. It’s hard even sometimes to breathe as the tension fills every inch of the air in that stadium.
Every four years we get the opportunity to see the Red Sox end an 86 year drought. What 2004 was to New England, the World Cup is to each and every soccer nation of the world. Just look at the outcry at Thierry Henry’s (or “the cheat” as I believe he is known now) hand ball that sent Ireland packing or David Beckham’s impact not only on England but on the entire world.
We get caught up in the stories of sports. It’s not so much the stats or the wins that really gets our blood flowing, it’s that we see Josh Hamilton come back from extinction to have arguably one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sports. We see John Lester come back from cancer treatments to not only fulfill his potential but to dominate the sport in October. Our jaws drop as Michael Phelps seemingly stops time to come back in that 100 Butterfly to grab the gold by a fingernail (literally). Every event has a storyline that will capture the hearts and souls of the world. The thing about the World Cup is that this isn’t something that is hoped for – it’s certainly guaranteed.
In Mexico, 1986, Diego Maradona, perhaps the greatest footballer of all time (besides some guy named Pele) cemented his legacy by netting two goals against an English squad in the semi final match. The first goal came, like France’s goal that sent Ireland packing, with a little help from a limb your really not suppose to use in soccer, as Maradona’s hand struck the surely and clearly used his hand to encourage the ball over Peter Shilton. Not too long after that he showcased maybe the greatest brilliance anyone has ever displayed in any sport, receiving the ball in his own half and starting a 60 meter, 10 second dash that ended in ecstasy for Argentina and heartbreak for England.
We all saw what happened in Germany in 2006, as Zinedine Zidane’s bald head broke through our television screens and broke the hearts of Frenchman everywhere. Italy won that game in penalty kicks as what would seem one of the greatest goalkeeping performances in recent memory was displayed by Gianluigi Buffon but still long forgotten because of an angry Frenchman’s response to some schoolyard insults.
The story lines of 2010 are ready to be written. We can only hope that Lionel Messi or Christano Ronaldo put on displays that penetrate borders or that an underdog George Mason like team will rise out of the group stage and produce worries even in the world’s greatest teams. For the people of South Africa this is a chance to show off, to display their nationhood to the entire world because that is the audience for the World Cup. Nobody is hoping that Boston or New York will make their way into the finals to boost ratings or that there isn’t a first half blowout that will produce only a half-time show headline.
The world’s greatest game will be on full display for a month starting on June 11th. I urge you not only to tune in but to get caught up in the glory, the grandeur, and the heartbreak, because you’ll have to wait another four years to experience it.
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