We’ve reached the 2010 World Cup bracket stage, and that means the action in South Africa is about to heat up.
If you’re still on the fence about this whole World Cup thing, or even the sport itself, this two weeks of sudden death soccer should convince you otherwise.
Here are six reasons why you should give the World Cup, and soccer in general, a try.
The global game
The rest of the world tends to mock the insular nature of U.S. sports.
America enjoys games that few other nations play, and baseball’s “World” Series symbolizes the happy isolation of America’s favorite sports from the planet’s other occupants.
By contrast, soccer is truly a global game.
FIFA has more members than the United Nations, and even a tiny Pacific island nation such as Tuvalu is given the opportunity to qualify for the World Cup.
Travel anywhere in the world and although you may not might not speak the local dialect, the universal language of "Beckham," "Messi," and "goal” will make you instant friends.
The World Cup brings together people from across the globe in astonishing numbers.
The tournament is a massive culture clash where people as diverse as Nigerians and Koreans party as one.
The passion of World Cup fans is renowned and once the stakes are raised in the bracket stage it becomes unique.
Goals are celebrated with unbridled joy and victorious songs. Defeat mourned by streaming tears and defiant cheers.
The heartache of losing a tie-breaking penalty shootout tends to live with fans for the rest of their lives. Just ask any English soccer supporter.
OK, so it doesn’t exactly draw stars like a Lakers game, but the World Cup attracts its fair share of notable fans.
Movie star John Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston turned up to support Australia, while United States Vice-President Joe Biden was spotted at the tournament’s opening match.
The World Cup also gives various Web sites, tabloids and television stations the opportunity to feature the “WAGs” (wives and girlfriends) of the players. These models and celebrities are often blamed for players’ mental errors, or credited as good luck for a country’s fortune.
As U.S. fans have discovered, soccer seems to favor controversy over fairness.
Without the instant replay technology afforded to officials in sports such as football or tennis, soccer referees frequently make bad calls that affect the outcome of a game.
But it is this controversy that drives the game and keeps fans talking and debating for hours on end. It might seem insane to Americans but soccer fans accept that the game, like life, is often unfair.
During the bracket stage of a World Cup, a simple bad decision by one man can suddenly become an iconic part of popular culture.
Diego Maradona’s Hand of God against England in 1986 is perhaps the single most famous incident in sporting history. Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt in the final of the 2006 World Cup was front-page news across the globe.
But you can’t just read about this kind of thing in the newspaper or catch the footage on YouTube.
To fully appreciate these culturally significant moments you have to see them live, eyes glued to the TV, outraged by how the referee could have missed such an obvious handball or baffled as to why the world’s best player would suddenly become a raging bull.
Quality of Play
It is generally accepted that the World Cup is no longer the game’s high point in terms of quality of play, as the teams don’t play together year round. The best soccer in the modern era is probably played in Europe’s Champions League competition.
But the World Cup’s capacity for thrilling soccer in its knockout stage remains unique.
These are the best players in the world, on the world’s biggest stage, with entire nations pulling, and praying for the team’s success.
Win, and you are forever remembered as a hero. Lose, and you don’t get a shot at redemption for another four years—if at all.
If those 90 minutes of exciting, end-to-end soccer don’t get your blood running, then you have permission to never care about the sport again.