Oh my I love the World Cup! For the past few days I’ve been doing my usual going nuts over trying to decide which matches to watch because sadly, I can’t watch them all. I love this time of year, which happens only once every four years. There are so many things about it that are amazing to me. To me, in my very humble opinion, this sport is the greatest, not only because of the game itself, but what it means to people worldwide.
What makes me love this game so much? Well, I’m more than happy to tell you. The game itself I think is very special. I believe so strongly in team efforts but soccer exemplifies how important it is to work as a unit. Movement on and off the ball, creating space and then moving into it, passing and more all take a full team to make happen. To me, one of the most dangerous players on the field is the player with the most assists. This person is reading the game, can read his or her teammates and then place the ball where needed to score.
Soccer is very much a thinking game. There are no true set plays – the plays develop and execute at the same time or are busted up as they develop. Players are supposed to be thinking about what happens about 5-7 plays (at least) in advance of it actually happening, this includes from a defensive standpoint – there’s always a level of anticipating about what the opponent will do so as to disrupt plays. That factor alone is why it’s so impressive when you have true teams that has players who can read each other and they simply know where the other will be before that person gets there or without even seeing the teammate at all. It’s like mind reading.
Positioning is another key factor. Soccer is also about managing the players. It’s about knowing the strengths of each player, putting them in the correct spots and in a way that will mean each player compliments each other. This is accomplished through the different formations that can be used. Each formation is used based on the strategy a team will choose.
Lastly, there’s the physical fitness element. Of course there’s all the running but it’s being able to run at different speeds for 90 minutes and usually in all manners of weather. At the international level, FIFA rules are that three substitutes are allowed for the entire game. Teams can nominate up to seven players to be eligible as substitutes. I get the impression from many that people (at least in the U.S.) think that soccer isn’t a physical game. Okay so no there isn’t all out tackling like in American Football, but it’s a very physical game – not only in the fitness element but the shoulder checks, the slide tackling and simply trying to fend off someone from taking the ball of your feet.
Besides all of that, the game itself is meant to be gentlemanly. Okay so in recent World Cups this has changed a bit and now flopping has become a bit part of the game. Flopping is the dramatics of falling down in order to draw a foul/direct or indirect kick. It’s also changed in that there are certain behaviors happening now that didn’t used to, but despite these things, overall it’s still a gentlemanly (or womanly) game. There’s always the hand shaking and mutual respect for one another. Usually even when one player has fouled another, there’s a show of respect and possibly an apology. This is happening more this World Cup than in the last and that gives me hope.
Then there’s the connectivity between fans and teams. The amount of national pride that fans have is immense. Soccer fans are consistently referred to as the craziest and most intense. This may at times not always be good, but generally, it’s meant to be a fun spirit. Somehow, that craziness unites all fans. All fans can relate to the heartbreak and joy when the supported team has failed miserably or performed magnificently.
It helps that many of those players also play on teams in various international leagues, something you don’t see all that much out of other sports. These players are known worldwide and have fans who may not support their home national team but love how good they are as individual players. Again, this unites fans and teams and makes it more about the big picture and not just the black and white lines of this team versus that team. Again this means breaking down barriers, not building them.
For some people, having a favorite team brings families together; there are memories tied up in teams in ways that nothing else compares. This goes for lots of sports but take that and amplify it for soccer because it’s on a global scale. For instance, the Bosnian/Herzegovina team is from a smaller country, they’re huge underdogs because they’re experience, especially at the World Cup level, is so limited. They still get the chance to represent their country and play with pride and that’s a big deal. There was much flooding back in the spring so they carry with them their compatriots and hope to give them something to smile about. Okay so sports can’t sure not having a home or the loss of belongings and they’re certainly not MORE important, but what it can do is instill pride; sports can provide that one break from reality for a bit and some joy when your team gets a goal, especially against a superior opponent.
I’m not sure I have clearly illustrated my point, but I hope it’s a little clearer why this sport is so stinkin’ awesome. At the end of the day, the World Cup is something truly special. Perhaps I’m biased with my many years of soccer playing and watching but I do think it ranks up there like the Olympics, particularly because it’s once every four years.