It’s the greatest stage on the planet, and the whole world is watching. Every four years, after qualifying rounds, the best 32 soccer teams in the world gather at the World Cup to determine the champion.
Soccer is played — with intense passion — in virtually every nation around the globe, and literally, billions of people watch the cup tournament. For, it is the rare occasion when soccer teams are organized around national identities. Inevitably, powerful individual and tribal emotions and dramas are played out.
Professional soccer leagues abound across the world, and the teams within them are composed of players from many nations. Nothing reflects the phenomenon of globalization more than professional soccer. The best leagues in the world are in Europe — England, Spain, Italy, and Germany — and the players for, say, Liverpool or Milan are hired and traded across national lines. (America’s MLS league can’t compare to Europe’s soccer.)
When we watch any team at the World Cup, we are seeing a provisional team whose roster is put together with players from many professional clubs. Juventus players, for example, can be found on the Italian, French and Chilean teams. Arguably, therefore, the Real Madrid team could probably beat Spain, and Bayern Munich could probably defeat Germany. Nonetheless, World Cup play is the emotional pinnacle of the sport.
Americans, mostly, neither understand nor like soccer. It’s just not part of our culture. Mostly, we don’t grow up kicking a ball around, and instead, we gravitate to baseball, basketball, and football.
To Americans, soccer is low-scoring, simple, without action, and boring. And the game is played in two, 45-minute halves, each of which consists of uninterrupted time. Play is nearly continuous, briefly halted for only a very few reasons. This also means that there are no television advertisements, which Americans are not used to.