This Thursday, the host country's national team kicks off the greatest sports spectacle on the planet: the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Even those Americans who are marginal fans at best will take time to watch a few matches along the way--especially the ones where the USA play (Ghana on 6/16, Portugal on 6/22, and Germany on 6/26).
Given the youth on our team, the almost 9,000 miles of travel in those 10-11 days, and the quality of teams in their group, I hope our boys in the red, white, and blue will play well enough to generate plenty of enthusiasm in their home country.
But for me, this World Cup is more than just soccer. As Americans, our tendency is to think of America first, and what doesn't affect America doesn't fly on our radar. Yet, the World Cup can change that mindset, if you allow it. So permit me to share five ways to enjoy the World Cup--some of which involve what's on the pitch.
- Take time to Wikipedia the various countries involved in the World Cup. For instance, if you Google 'Brazil,' the Wikipedia article comes up first. You see that it's the fifth largest country in the world, and the largest Portuguese speaking country (and you'll learn the word 'lusophonic,' which means anyone who speaks Portuguese. You'll learn about the history, geography, economy, governmental setup and about the culture. Some countries thrive, other countries struggle. The things we take for granted (food, groceries, toys, cars, etc.) are luxuries in most other countries in the world. We would do well to understand other countries' plights. It might change our perspective on a number of fronts.
- Embrace the culture of each of these countries. The food, the clothing, the sports, the literature and--the most defining aspect of a culture--it's music. With all the social media possible now, why not cook or order take-out of various foods and Spotify/Pandora some music of those various cultures to get the full feel. Even if your family or friends don't 'get' soccer, you can certainly have some fun--and maybe convert them to the beautiful game in the meantime.
- Notice how the culture influences the style of the game. Some countries possess a certain offensive flair, while others may slow down the pace (park the bus?) with a defensive tactic. Granted, the culture of those countries may not translate, depending on the talent these teams possess, but still--enjoy the different styles of play.
- Enjoy the surprise teams that will certainly make some noise. The first World Cup that I really paid any attention to was 2006. Yes, the USA played, but also Trinidad and Tobago--their first trip. I had made some friends in Trinidad & Tobago on my various trips to that wonderful country, and felt their joy when the 'Soca Warriors' earned a spot. They were in Group B. No one expected much. But they drew 0-0 with Sweden when Shaka Hislop made some incredible saves. They played England tough, but Peter Crouch (with the aid of his grabbing the dreadlocks of Dennis Lawrence) and Steven Gerrard scored late for a 2-0 loss. Then their loss to Paraguay 2-0 sent them home--but not without the respect of their resilient play in their inaugural trip.
- Ponder that, as the world comes together, you're sharing these moments with 500 million people. Yes, the world is coming together for the World Cup. I do hope (and am optimistic) that many Americans will tune in to watch the USA make it out of the group stage. But the sheer magnitude of watching these games with half-a-billion people? Mind blowing.