Beginning June 11, billions of people will turn their eyes to South Africa as teams from 32 countries gather for the World Cup, the largest sporting event in the world. This is the real activity that unites us. It’s not drinking a Coke, not watching the Super Bowl or American Idol.
Just in time is The ESPN World Cup Companion: Everything You Need to Know About the Planet’s Biggest Sports Event. It contains World Cup history since 1930, highlights of important teams and players, even a little gossip about players’ wives and girlfriends. It includes Zinedine Zidane’s bizarre fall from grace in the 2006 final when the wily and explosive midfielder was ejected after head-butting an Italian player talking trash about his sister. Playing one man down, France held Italy to 1-1, even after playing 30 minutes extra time, but lost the game 5-3 in a shoot-out.
Here’s why I enjoy watching what’s come to be called “the beautiful game”:
- Superior athleticism. There are no time-outs and no television commercial breaks. Players run up and down a pitch that is larger than a standard American football field. They run for 45 minutes. They get a break. They run for another 45 minutes. And in some championships games, they may have to play 30 more minutes to determine a winner. And even then they may have a penalty kick shoot-out. That level of endurance requires extreme conditioning.
- It’s a low maintenance sport. No equipment, no helmets, no shoulder pads.
- It requires strategy but honors personal artistry. Some players are fancy, some are agile, and others are like steam rollers, but hogging the ball will get you only so far in the game. The most beautiful goals are not the long shots from afar, but orchestrations of strategy and improvisation that require players to trust each other to be where the ball is going.
I’ll be watching the World Cup and I think you should, too.
The ESPN World Cup Companion