Countdown To The World Cup! (Don Ward)

By: Don Ward
By: Don Ward

We're just days away now from the greatest sports spectacle.

THE USA HAS A TOUGH FIRST OPPONENT

Our national team has to try to overcome England in game one.  It also has to try to overcome some lingering apathy here at home.

South Africa becomes the center of the sports world starting Friday.  That's when 32 teams begin a month-long tournament to crown the true world champions in the world's most popular sport.  More than 200 teams spent two years in qualifying tournaments, just trying to get to this stage. 

This only happens once every four years, so every time it happens, it's special.  In 2006 it's estimated that about 26 billion (billion with a "b") total TV viewers watched all the games combined.  That number is expected to be higher this time around.  There will be plenty of viewers in the U.S. but not as many as soccer supporters would hope.

I love baseball and football.  I like basketball and hockey.  Soccer though, this football is the world's game.  In our American sports egocentrism, which seems to know no limits, many of us simply decide that if we don't like something, no one else should, and anyone who does is wrong.  That's....well, let's just say, under-informed.  With a handful of exceptions outside North America, soccer or football is the most important sport in just about every country.  It's hard to argue with the 6.4 billion (with a "b") or so people who occupy this planet and don't happen to be American. 

This tournament is the most important moment for the world's game. If you've never watched much soccer, watch this.  Take in a whole game and learn how it works.  It's a pretty simple sport played by remarkably skilled athletes. This time our team, the USA, may have a chance to do pretty well!  Remember, it's not like Celtics vs Lakers, or Yankees vs Dodgers, or Broncos vs Raiders.  These are all-star teams.  They are the best players of every nationality, selected to represent their countries.  It's like our NBA Dream Team for the Olympics.  These guys may play in different leagues all over the world for a living, but they all come home to their national teams when the World Cup is up for grabs.

Our Team plays England in its first game this Saturday, the 12th.  Here's part of a blog I wrote about that matchup way back in December when it was announced:

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From December, 2009

Here's my dilemma.  I'm a USA fan, obviously, we all are.   In any contest, sport, comparison, war etc, I will always pull for the U.S. of A.  However........I spent some time in England as a child.  That's where I learned to love the beautiful game.  It has the league I still follow closely, the players I admire the most.   In any match-up with any team I will always pull for England....unless it's against the U.S.  That's the problem for me.  I really, really, really like both teams. 

Here's the great part.  England and the U.S. are both in group C after that draw on Friday (carried on live TV in 200 countries by the way).  They do play each other, then they each play Algeria and Slovenia, the other two teams in group C. The top two teams in each of the 8 groups of 4 will advance to the round of 16.  Algeria and Slovenia both did very well to make it to the World Cup tournament, but there are very few followers of the game (outside of Algeria and Slovenia) who expect anyone other than England and the U.S. to advance out of the group. 

That means on June 12th it doesn't really matter who wins or who loses when the Americans battle the British. (I say British for style, it's really just the English...for soccer purposes the British Isles are divided into teams by country...England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland..England is the only one of them that qualified...thanks to the infamous Henry handball that killed Ireland)  Both teams will be able to pick up enough points in their other two group games to advance, even if they lose the opener.  A win is good, but a loss isn't bad, so as a fan I'm off the hook!

The way the draw is set up, when both England and the U.S. advance to the second round, they'll be OK for a while...but here's the rub (to paraphrase an Englishman).  There is a chance if they both do well and keep winning that the U.S. and England could play each other in the semi's or even in the final!!!!  And if that happens......USA vs England is my nightmare!

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I guess I'll worry about that when and if it happens.  In the meantime, let's all enjoy some soccer or football..and soak in the magnitude of this sports spectacle, and just what it means to the billions of fans who will riveted by it ...for a month!

We'll talk again soon.

Don Ward

 

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