I love the World Cup. For me, it's better than the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and the World Series combined. I still remember going out late with my Dad to a Budapest bar (my first, I'm sure) at the age of 9 to watch Brazil play the United States in the '94 cup. And how could I forget watching the Brazilians win their record fifth title with thousands of screaming Brazilians on Copacabana Beach? Or seeing France upset the Brazilians from Paris in 2006... While I've yet to attend a World Cup (although I've promised to take my Dad to 2014 in Brazil), I've been lucky enough to watch the World Cup in six countries: US, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, France and Hungary. And the raw emotion and sheer excitement has been palpable in every single country. It's a remarkable feeling, as though an entire nation collectively suits up on game-day, ready to go to battle on the pitch.
This week I decided to watch FIFA's greatest World Cup moments. With goals form legendary players like Puskás to the greatest saves to World Cup bloopers, this is a must-watch. This video timeline reflects the depth, breadth, and timelesness of the tournament. It also highlights the mini-miracles of the past. How unbelievable that North Korea beat Italy 1-0 in 1966 to advance to the next round, and would have made it to the semi-finals had the Portuguese not scored four consecutive goals to earn a 4-3 victory?!
In my opinion, the World Cup tournament is the closest that exits to a shared human experience. FIFA estimates that over 715 million people watched the 2006 final, and the tournament drew over 26 billion cumulative views. The myriad subplots and layers of meaning enveloped by the World Cup - and certainly this World Cup - are enough to overwhelm even the most ardent football enthusiast or global citizen. From the story of South Africa's triumph over apartheid to Maradona's demands for a $2,000 bidet in his hotel suite, there is plenty to follow.
I couldn't be happier that the historic first World Cup on African soil has started with a bang, with two of the three African countries to play (South Africa and Ghana) performing extremely well in the first round. Who wasn't thrilled when the tens of thousands of noise-making vuvuzelas willed the brilliant strike of South African's newest hero, Siphewe Tshabalala, into the upper corner of the net? And who wasn't impressed with the ruthless efficiency of the Germans in dismantling an Australian team that many expected to advance to the round of 16? Anyone who has played sports has to sympathize with English goalkeeper Robert Green's botch, which cost the English a win against the Americans. These moments will live forever.
The World Cup truly is a unique global experience, encompassing creative goal celebrations, individual and collective glory and heartbreak, drama, absurd dives and of course heavy doses of nationalistic fervor. Enjoy it, embrace it, learn from it. Whatever you do, don't ignore it.