The World Cup is the greatest sporting event in the world, a grueling, month-long spectacle that teases and torments and titillates players and fans alike. Every four years, this tournament commands global attention like nothing else. Football — “soccer” if you must — is a game of “we,” as in “We’re playing today” or “We’re through the group stage.” Football brings out our tribal passions, our fears, our hopes, and our longing; it makes grown-ups act like children and bestows on children memories they will talk about for decades.
Football got under my skin years ago and metastasized like a virulent cancer. Now I’m smitten, forever in thrall to this beautiful game played all over the world. I love America, despite its flaws and blemishes and contradictions, but I’m glad America doesn’t dominate world football as it does other sports. The U.S. has plenty of opportunities to strut on the global stage, to pump out its chest and throw its weight around. I find it refreshing that the U.S. is only a bit player where football (the real kind) is concerned. Let Peru and Egypt and Tunisia enjoy a moment in the limelight.
The athletic talent on display during the World Cup is astounding. Gape at the speed and control of individual players such as Cristiano Ronaldo; the now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t magic of Lionel Messi; the balance and agility of Neymar; or the brute strength of Romelu Lukaku. Football’s elite teams, such as Germany, Spain, Brazil, Belgium, and France, boast squads loaded with talented players, but even these giants cannot afford to take lesser nations lightly. This is the World Cup; anything can happen. As the pundits always say, football is a game of fine margins, inches, seconds; one lapse of concentration can spell the difference between success or failure, exaltation or despair.
Which teams do I pull for? Belgium is first because my favorite player, Eden Hazard, who plays his club football for my beloved Chelsea, is a Belgian; France because of the wonderful midfielder, N’Golo Kanté, who is also a Chelsea man; and, finally, for sentimental reasons, Argentina, because I’d love to see Messi — who has tasted so much success with his club team, Barcelona — shrug the international monkey off his back and lift the most coveted trophy of them all.
For football fans, nirvana arrives every four years.