Johannesburg is about to become the Capitol of the World.
It may not be recognized as such by the United Nations, but for the next few weeks it will be the focal point of attention for billions of soccer fans all over the globe.
Soccer’s World Cup is huge in a way that transcends sports here in America, where we have choices ranging from hockey to beach volleyball, from squash to pro wrestling (which is still not a sport). For much of the world, sports equals soccer equals football. It is known as the beautiful game.
In 2006 my wife and kids flew to Europe for three weeks in July, somehow managing to miss the fact that Germany was hosting the World Cup that year. It was mayhem. Each country we visited, England, France, Germany and Italy, all had teams still contending, and all were whipped into a nationalist frenzy unlike anything I’ve seen here at home. We felt like flies on the wall of a runaway train. Even our metaphors were confused.
We soon learned that the national teams, like the countries themselves, had their own particular flavor. The Italians, who won the Cup that year, drew constant scorn with their maddening flops onto the pitch with fake injuries, clutching ankles that appeared as sturdy as toothpicks at a termite party. The English team was led by David Beckham, best known for his overly-spritzed hair and the ability to bend balls into the perfect cross, as well as a young kid named Rooney who handled the minor business of scoring. The Germans with their engineered offensive, pushed forward like a bratwurst rolling downhill. And who could forget the French, “Allez le bleu!” who had some of the best players with some of the worst tempers. Only a soccer–sorry, football–player would use their head to punch an opponent.
This Cup in South Africa should be just as electrifying. Most of the world is counting on it, and the world’s best will be there.
There’s even a pretty decent team from a soccer underdog known as the U.S.A.