Wow. What a tournament! And it’s only day two! It started yesterday with a wide open, six-goal game between Germany and Costa Rica, after which Ecuador upset Poland 2-0. This morning I was rewarded for getting up at 0500 by a goal from England just three minutes after the start. The party really got going when Trinidad and Tobago, the least populous country (1.1 million) ever to play in the World Cup, drew with a stunned Sweden. TNT couldn’t have been happier if they had won. The day wrapped up with debutants Côte d’Ivoire making an impressive showing against Argentina, even scoring a lovely goal in the 82nd minute. It certainly looks like the global playing field is getting ever more level.
It’s not just about the play, though. There is something special about the World Cup. It transcends nationality and unites fans and players from all over the globe. There are more countries in FIFA than in the UN. Soccer is the world’s game. It is low-tech and accessible to everyone, requiring no special equipment and no special physique, and as a result, just about everyone on the planet has played it. And not only is it fun to play, it is beautiful to watch. An estimated 5 billion people will see at least part of the tournament. They’re not watching because their country is in the World Cup—most likely it’s not. They’re watching because they just love soccer.
Part of what I and many others love about soccer is the sportsmanship and camaraderie, both on the field and in the stands. If a player is injured, the ball will be played out, and when play resumes, the ball is given back to the team that had it. It’s an unwritten rule that is rarely violated. Because so many footballers play internationally on professional teams, they can end up playing against teammates when they play for their country, and you often see warm embraces and friendly chats between them. Certainly tempers get tested at times, but overall it is a remarkably gentleman-like sport when you consider the level of passion and physicality involved. It’s probably as great a force for peace and understanding in our world as any I know of. How appropriate that this World Cup’s theme is “A time to make friends—Say no to racism.”
I haven’t completely forgotten books in my soccer madness. I made use of my Encyclopedia Britannica today to learn about Côte d’Ivoire during half-time, and plan to do more of that throughout the tournament. Tomorrow’s lessons: Serbia and Montenegro, Iran, and Angola.