The days are long, the sun is shining, and if you believe Ella, the fish are jumpin’. Yes, old sport, it’s summertime and the living is easy. I don’t know about you, but I seem to have more energy and a generally sunnier disposition this time of year. If New Year’s Eve was on June 30, I have no doubt that all those resolutions I made would have lasted longer than January 5. A resolution I seem to have every year that mostly is pushed aside by other obligations is to see more of the world. Although technology brings us closer as a global community, the closest that we Americans will get to walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is traveling the same road those shoes tread.
Every four years a global phenomenon electrifies the summer air like a lightning bug riding a comet. That event is the World Cup of football. Unlike the Super Bowl, in this version of football, the participants are slavishly dedicated to actually using their feet. In fact, using your hands is frowned upon to the point of punishment. And unlike the American football world champion, the World Cup champion actually plays against other countries around the world.
I am like you. I love American football, and basketball, and on a nice lazy day, baseball. The local teams have spoiled us with championships and we have radio and television stations dedicated to these sports so you can get your fix at any time. I grew up on a basketball court, and I can’t think of a better way to pass a winter day than watching American football, but (and this opinion will probably upset you) soccer, especially World Cup soccer is by far a better spectator sport than baseball in the summer. I will give you a couple reasons why.
The best thing about the World Cup is that it truly is a global competition. And unlike the Olympics where any country can send a team, you have to qualify. Now I fully admit that at first glance I thought Bosnia and Herzegovina were Victoria Secret swimsuit models, but that is part of the fun. You learn about other countries. Did you know that The Ivory Coast DOES NOT actually export Ivory Soap, or that Cameroon is not named for “Growing Pains” star Kirk? I was shocked, too.
Almost on cue for my American attention span, the games have been higher scoring this year with more drama, and slightly flashier star players. With movie star looks and the ability to score goals almost at will, Portugal’s Cristiano Renaldo was greeted at his hotel by a topless model and a person dressed up like Donald Duck. Lionel Messi had a solid gold cast made of his foot and the Pope asks to have meetings with him. And they have lived up to the hype, Ronaldo putting an incredible pass on the head of a teammate to tie the US with 15 seconds left in the match, and Messi scoring in each match with his most recent being a game winner with 2 minutes left to break a scoreless tie.
Soccer is a sport that is almost universally loved. No matter one’s color, creed, religion or gender, soccer is loved all around the world. Except in America. Or I should say the United States, because every other country in the Americas loves soccer. And despite what is commonly thought, the term soccer comes from England high society, not because Americans hate it so much they refuse to call it by its proper name. Think of another time you can cheer for a team on a generally level-ish playing field, and better yet, that team is the pride of your nation. Don’t like Iran? You can cheer on Messi and his left foot against them. Sick of Nigerian spam emails? Argentina plays them too (Messi is really likeable; you’ll never find it easier to root for such a huge global superstar. He is like the anti-Justin Beiber).
But it’s so long!!! It’s 90 minutes long, shorter than a baseball game by a long shot. And the commentators are British and make Simon Cowell seem shy. I have watched as the commentators flirted with pretty girls on screen (they can’t see or hear the guy) and chastised dudes in strange outfits, the coaches, the players and even the weather. It’s pretty entertaining.
All I am saying is I get it. We have great sports here in the US. We are better at them than any other country. But we are making strides in soccer, and you may want to get out in front of this thing. Say you suddenly find yourself stuck somewhere with an incredibly good looking foreign stranger. If you bring up the World Cup, you will immediately have common ground. Think of it as improving your foreign relations. Go to a local bar when they show a game and just blend in with the crowd. You will find yourself being swept up by the enthusiasm. Four billion people can’t be wrong, can they? All I am saying is you should make giving the World Cup a shot one of your summertime GOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL(s).