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Saturday, June 12, 2010

World Cup Fever


I know that global football, a.k.a. soccer in the USA is not the darling of spectator sport in the States. And admittedly, prior to moving to Europe, I would never have considered getting excited for a football tournament. But our environment does have a way of shaping us. This is my 3rd World Cup while living here in Sweden. We had been living in Sweden for 4 years when the buzz began in the summer of 2002. I paid very little attention to the buzz that year as I was still not a believer. Doug kept trying to convince me that this tournament is a very big deal, but hey, I was raised by an American Football coach. Soccer was portrayed as a communist subplot to take over the world. My interest was firmly planted in the not interested category. But admittedly, as the tournament wore on, I found myself catching on to the buzz. I realized that almost every single person at church was interested. We scheduled a board meeting on the night of one of the matches and almost had a mutiny on our hands! Luckily it was at our house and we let them put the game on! The south Korean team did really well and so the Korean pastor from church was just crazy with joy! The hotel that is attached to our church put big screens in the lobby and between services we figured out that people were running up to check the scores! It was through these experiences that I realized that football really does cross boundaries and bring people together. For one month every 4 years the entire world stops to cheer on their favorites. The pro football players return home and football fans all over the world get game after game of thrilling football.
I know that for people who haven't learned to follow soccer, they think the lack of scoring is a problem. I too think that major matches that are decided by shoot out are a disappointment. As for the scoring, when you learn a bit about the game (Doug has helped me a lot), you realize that it's not just the putting of the ball into the net that matters. It's all about the poetry on the field, the way in which the players move about, creating opportunities for the magic of a goal scored to take place. When you begin to see how a side sets up a scoring opportunity, it is so great to watch them execute it. Sometimes they score, sometimes they don't, but either way it's a thrill to see it unfold. Plus, it's really, really, really hard to score a goal in football and that's why when it happens, it's awesome.
So obviously, now I am a believer. In 2006 we were in Greece when the World Cup began and it was so amazing to see that every restaurant and bar had huge screens set up all over the place so that anyone could view what was happening at any time. We went to a sports bar where a lot of Swedes had gathered to watch what ended up being a dismal game for the Swedes. But the atmosphere was so much fun. And with the US doing so much better now, it's great that we actually have a chance to win a few games along the way. We held a World Cup Final Event at church in 2006 and it was wild. We played a big football game in the afternoon and everyone from 6-65 participated. Then we cooked up hot dogs and showed the game on the big screen. The fans were split about 50/50 and it was such a great atmosphere! We'll be doing the same this year so if you're in Stockholm on July 11, join us for the Immanuel Cup, bbq, World Cup Final extravaganza! I actually had a little football hangover when the World Cup ended last time. Suddenly, after a month long feast, it was all over and there were no more games to watch. I anticipate the same feeling this time, especially if the US and Argentina do well!
This year is unique because Sweden failed to qualify. It's been a source of national mourning here! Still...there is intrigue because the coach for the Nigerian team is Swedish! And TONIGHT is the big game between the US and England. I am really going to be rooting for the home town boys. My British friends aren't even giving us a chance so I hope we whip them! We have some Brits coming on over to watch with us. Should be great fun!
And for the Americans in our midst who think it's boring and silly, just consider for a moment that this is one arena where the world really does come together in a common way to compete on a global stage. This event brings so much joy and interest world-wide that in and of itself, that is enough reason to celebrate and at least seek to understand why the world loves football.