Every four years, a fever sweeps across the globe, instilling panic in the hearts of those left uninfected (see: American football fans). Symptoms of World Cup fever include increased amounts of excitement, fear and pride in one’s nation, as well as a disproportionately large number of grown, hairy men wearing short shorts. There is only one known cure for this ailment – soccer…a whole lot of soccer.
This summer, the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be hosting its 19th game in South Africa. Thirty-two nations will pit their best players against one another in a solid month of premier soccer sportsmanship. Over the course of the month, 32 teams will dwindle down to just two, both of which will undoubtedly leave it all out on the field, basking in the pride of their countries and perhaps convincing Americans, once and for all, that soccer is the real football.
The championship has been played once every four years since its inception in 1930, with the exception of 1942 and 1946, when the games were halted due to World War II. Since then, the World Cup has seen its ups – Maradona’s second goal against England, Pele’s pass to defeat Italy, The Miracle of Bern – and its downs – Massing’s brutal tackle of Caniggia, the ill-tempered Holland vs. Portugal game of 2006, Rivaldo's phony injury – but has never ceased to create some of the most memorable moments in sports history – even if they have been consistently ignored by American audiences.
This year is bound to be full of action with teams vying to capture the 18k gold trophy and $30 million grand prize. The qualification for the World Cup has been taking place for the past three years with teams fervently competing for one of the coveted 32 spots. The qualifying teams, including host nation South Africa’s, will compete to be a part of the most widely viewed sporting event in the world – an estimated 715.1 million people watched the finals in 2006.
Team Brazil, who has a staggering five of the last 18 titles, will undoubtedly be watching Italy, who will return to the games as the reigning champs. Team America will once again be the little engine that could. Consistently making the top 32, the USA has always placed well considering the lack of national enthusiasm when compared with other participating countries. Team USA might have good-guy-turned-world-class smack-talker Landon Donovan at the helm, but they are still a long shot for the title.
Team USA, however, is still faring better than Team England, whose star players have had a rough go of it these past few months. To put it bluntly, if the prize went to the team with the most pre-season drama, Team England would sweep. First, Wayne Bridge backed out after a rather messy season, which wouldn’t concern most if not for his extensive experience in international play. Then there is the soap opera that is Ashley Cole. While going through a messy divorce, Cole is in the process of rehabbing a broken ankle with hopes of being back on the field in time for the Cup. The final nail in England’s proverbial coffin came in February, when David Beckham tore his Achilles forcing him to bow out. The footy-obsessed UK has been left to ponder their chances of a win without their superstars, and we are left with an absolute roller coaster of a season.
So, if the sport doesn’t entice you and the drama leaves you bored, perhaps the FIFA World Cup Kick-Off Celebration will have you jumping out of your seat. Commencing on June 10, 2010 in Soweto, Johannesburg, the kick-off celebration includes performances by popular acts like John Legend, the Black Eyed Peas and Alicia Keys, as well as native South African acts such as BLK JKS, Vusi Mahlasela and The Parlotones. The games themselves will begin the following day, June 11, and culminate in a final match-up exactly one month later on July 11.
Check your local broadcasting schedule for airdates and times; for more details on the World Cup, including teams, matches and news, visit www.fifa.com/worldcup.