Thursday is the start of the summer sporting event that every fan has been waiting four years for. It’s a month where nations hold their breath and their dreams of glory are realized or dashed by the thinnest of margins.
No, it’s not the Olympics. It’s the 2014 FIFA World Cup!
“Soccer…” you scoff. But hang with me, here. Turn down your derision, I’m going to tell you why you should care.
Before we begin, let me give you a lay of the land, so to speak. The tournament is being played in Brazil this year from June 12 to July 13. It features 32 teams who spend the better part of four years going through their respective continental tournaments to determine who will qualify. For example, the US Men’s National Team was grouped and played various games with teams from North and Central America before qualifying for the continent’s six-team round robin called the Hexagonal. Then the top 3 of those teams go to the World Cup (and just so you know, Team USA topped this tournament for the third straight year).
The World Cup itself works by grouping teams into fours with a random draw. Each team plays each other once, a total of three matches, with points assessed for wins, three, and draws, one. Two teams with the most points move on, the “winner” (i.e. survivor) of the group having an “easier” (i.e. not that easy) path the rest of the way. There’s a one-game each second round, quarterfinals, semifinals and final.
To put it into perspective — the World Cup’s meaning elsewhere in the civilized world is something akin to the Super Bowl meets the Olympics. That means drama, ladies and gentlemen. Lots of drama. In fact, the good ’ol US of A starts off the tournament with a must-win game in order to progress. But we’ll get to that later.
How about stars? You want the sport’s best, eh? Well you’ve got ’em. The two greatest players in the game today, and arguably of all time — Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Leo Messi — will both be in Brazil. But they are only two of the many top players who will be battling for the World Cup. To have players with their talent take on the world’s best of the best is something we should savor, it’s something we could tell grandkids about.
Want a team to root for? Well look no further than your own shores. I’ve already alluded to twice that the USA will be competing. That’s about all for the good news, though. The Yanks, as they’re nicknamed, were drawn in the dreaded “Group of Death” with Ronaldo’s Portugal, World Cup favorite Germany, and the US’s “bogey” team, Ghana (who knocked them out of the tournament in 2006 and 2010). With a group this dangerous, the US will have to win its first game, against Ghana, in order to have any chance of making it to the second round. Combine that with the fact that US Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a native German (!), put together a squad comprised of youth over experience and there’s a huge question mark about what the Yanks can pull off in South America.
Now for a moment of truth: I was so perplexed about how to grab all of your attention that I tweeted at a highly popular soccer podcast, Men in Blazers, about what I could say that would make you all care about America’s sport of the future. Their reply? “America winning.” They’ve said all along that the US will win it all in Rio on July 13. You’ve got to admire their optimism.
I honestly don’t know how much more intrigue you want than that.
“Oh, Sean. But the game is so boring.” OK, Mr. Sports Expert. Do you like baseball? Guess what — there’s a million times more action in a game of soccer than baseball! I looked it up, it’s a quantifiable fact. The clock never stops, the players are always moving (unless they’ve suffered a catastrophic injury as they are wont to do three to four times each game), and it’s short — you can watch an entire game in under two hours. Plus, the artistry on display is mesmerizing. A lot more so than a guy standing around looking at another guy making funny hand signals and shaking his head at him for an hour or so.
Let’s recap: drama (in spades), HUGE stars, the US’s sporting reputation at stake, and speed all the way around. So I’ll tell you something that should be obvious by now — watch the 2014 World Cup (available on ESPN, ABC and Watch ESPN).
But before I go, it’s important to note a famous quote about soccer from retired legendary English player Gary Lineker: “(It) is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win.”
I will soon find out if that’s true, Gary. And I hope you all win join me.
Sean Green is the managing editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune. You can contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org