We are but a month away from the greatest, most anticipated, sports spectacle in the world: the FIFA World Cup. Regardless of the fact the the U.S. doesn’t give nearly enough of a flip for this to even cause a blip on the sports radar here, it shouldn’t be missed or understated. There is no greater sporting event known to man. The World Cup transcends politics, poverty, and violence. It puts the entire world on hold for one month. One month of fleeting freedom from the everyday struggles of billions across the world. Just take a look at the Ivory Coast, who qualified for their first World Cup ever. They have a cease fire in their war torn country for the entire Cup. Young, old, men, and women tune into to cheer on their favorite team, and there is no chant that can compete with the “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” chant, I mean, it’s not even close. Soccer is synonomous with passion, with life, and with the success and tragedies that come along with sporting excellence at its finest and most compelling.
There are NO other fans like soccer fans, and that shouldn’t even be disputed in the least bit. They will cheer you, boo you, and then burn down the very stadium in which you play, and that’s just the home fans, imagine when you are on the road as a player or a team. Every soccer fan exudes the passion and competetive desire that is shown by each individual player participating in the world cup. There are a thousand storylines that should compel you to watch this years world cup.
Have you ever seen Ronaldinho play? He is the And1 equivalent in the world of soccer. He has the moves to leave you gasping for air, in awe of what you have just seen. He is the Brazilian wonderboy, the gifted and limitless prodigy who has starred for Brazil and most recently, FC Barcelona. He is the reigning Footballer of the Year and he is reason alone enough to watch the Cup this year. There is the intriguing storyline of Zinedine Zidane of France (born in France to Algerian parents), who after a dissapointing showing at the 2002 Cup, will be playing in his last major international match at the World Cup. He, along with Thierry Henry, will try to return France to it’s 1998 glory and overcome the dissapointment of the 2002 Cup. Can he provide the lift and leadership needed to help France erase the memory of 2002’s dismal showing? There is the legend that is Ronaldo, the man with the golden foot and a cerebral instinct for scoring goals. There is the returning flair of Raul of Spain, trying to lead his team to it’s first World Cup title ever, amidst talk of Spain’s inability to perform large on big, international stages. There is the precision and effcient execution of fundamentals by team Germany, and there is the unpredictability of the Argentinian team, who came into the 2002 Cup as the favorites, but got eliminated early and dissapointed an entire nation drenched in political turmoil. You CANNOT mention the world cup without mentioning the two powerhouses, Brazil and Italy, who are sure to both make a run at this years Cup.
Brazil is the overwhelming favorite to hoist the Cup in July. They are loaded, absolutely stacked with talent and experience. If there ever was a team that was destined to win, it is Brazil. The attacking style they play is indefensible, even for the Italians, who are known to specialize in defense. The combination of Kaka and Ronaldinho is unmatched anywhere in the world and th experience of Cafu and Ronaldo will pay major dividends for the “Jogo Bonito” practicioners. They can be beat, but it will be enormously tough and will require Brazil to play more as individuals than as a team and to become complacent, but it can be done. Italy has been embroiled in controversies of gambling an match-fixing in their Serie A league and is looking to unify as a team and country and advance out of the “Group of Death” and win it’s 4th World Cup title. Will the mastery of Francesco Totti lead Italy to it’s first Cup final since 1992? England has dissapointed in the past few cups, but are looking for redemption this coming June (especially if Wayne Rooney recovers in time to join them in Germany). David Beckham is looking to atone for dismal 98′ and 02′ Cup performances and prove to everyone once and for all that he is more than a pretty face, that he is the premier midfielder in the world and as a passer is second to none. Then you have the tall, lanky Peter Crouch who has become a crowd favorite in the Premier League with his goal celebrations. Even the Americans have a legitimate chance of at least advancing to the semi-finals. They have the strongest team they have ever put on the field at a Cup, with a large majority of their roster returning from the surprising 2002 World Cup team. But they are in the “Group of Death” and will have to advance ahead of atleast two of the following teams: Ghana, Italy, Czech Republic. Will the Americans be able to shock the world again this year?
The individual play at the World Cup is always at a premium, and like any other sporting event, there are surprises. I can’t wait until I see the first free kick where David Beckham defies gravity with the ball and contorts it into the goal and right past the fingers of the goalie. Just how many minutes into the first match will we get to see Ronaldo’s patented scissors move? When exactly, at what minute of what half, will Ronaldinho absolutely annihilate the defense and perform one breathtaking move after spectacular move after another and score a goal? When will Raul show the world the he is still the premier left footed player in the world? When will he blaze a left-footed goal through the net and past the goalkeeper from outside the box?
Is anybody ready for the atmosphere of the World Cup? The display of team spirit that we will see? Faces painted, bodies painted, flags, hats, jerseys, and who knows what else? The food, the culture, and the traditions of the fans and of their respective countries will define the essence of what is great about the World Cup. It is truly an international event, and the entire world will be tuned in, from Delhi, to Melbourne, to Paris, and everywhere else in between. Let’s just hope that there a few more here in the states that can appreciate the magnitude of the Cup.