It’s the biggest sporting event on the planet, and the USA men’s team has a chance to win it all, although Las Vegas is willing to bet 160-1 against that happening. The 2014 Soccer World Cup will begin June 12 with huge fanfare and the steady beat of samba drums, and the tension will grow daily until it reaches the crescendo on July 13. Life in America will likely continue almost as usual, but that won’t be the case around the rest of the world. Streets and shops from Australia to Uruguay will be empty and productivity will plummet, while upwards of 3 billion people gather each day around televisions, radios and giant public screens to watch the drama of the World Cup as it unfolds.
Just like the Summer Olympics, the World Cup takes place every fourth year, but any similarity stops right there. The World Cup is watched by five times as many people as the Olympics, and with much greater passion. Also, the 32 finalist nations, including Team USA, first had to win their way through a series of playoffs to qualify for the final stage. Those playoffs began back in June 2011 with 207 national teams split into six geographic groups around the world; three years and 820 games later, those 207 nations are now down to 31. Those 31, along with host nation Brazil, will play a total of 64 matches in 12 cities across four time zones until one earns the right to wear the crown of world champion for the next four years. Yes, it will take place in Brazil, that huge expanse of Amazon jungle, jaguars and beaches up on the northeast shoulder of South America, and the home of jogo bonito, the “beautiful game.” And, of course, it’s also home of one Edson Arantes do Nascimento, also known as Pele and regarded by many experts as the greatest soccer player of all time.
As a caution to the national teams from Europe, Africa, Asia, North America and Oceana, it should be remembered that all four World Cup finals previously held in South America were won by South American teams. This time around, Brazil is favored to add the trophy to their three previous titles, although their much-feared neighbor, Argentina, will also be there, along with current world champion, Spain, and perennially strong Germany. Also included in the mix are a couple of powerful African nations, and there is usually a dark horse or two – that ones that peak at the right time and come up along the rails to surprise everyone. This time, American is sending our best team ever and we just might turn into one of those dark horses. Unfortunately we’ve been placed in one of the “Groups of Death” with Germany, Ghana and Portugal, and the latter includes the 2014 World Player of the year, Christiano Ronaldo.
Yes, the 32 nations are separated into eight groups of four, and each nation will play against the other three in their group, gaining three points for each win, one point for a tie and zero for a loss. After the round-robins have been completed, the bottom two nations in each group will go home to varying degrees of sympathy or acrimony, while the top two will move on to the single elimination round of 16 and, if successful there, then on to the quarter finals.
Despite pessimism from Las Vegas, the young American team just might surprise the rest of the world.
Colin Sellwood of Whitefish will be writing periodic updates about the World Cup as the global sporting event kicks off. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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