Tomorrow marks the start of the XIX FIFA World Cup. With the Summer Olympics, it is the biggest sport event in the world. Starting with the South Africa v Mexico opener, 32 teams will be competing for the most prized trophy in all of sports.
I lived my first World Cup in the United States in 1994. Since then, football has come a long way in this nation, thanks mostly to a policy of spreading it across schools in America. It is known, with good reason, as the beautiful game. Its near universal appeal is due to a combination of factors: It blends individual skills with team spirit. It does not required a particular physical build (unlike, for example, American football or basketball), anyone can play it. And, above all, it requires nothing but a ball and a field to be played, not even a goal (kids use anything they find to make makeshift posts) or a proper football (I remember that growing up I didn't even need a football to play. I would just crumple an old newspaper in a ball and kick it around my grandmother's dark hallway.). This makes football the sport of choice in poor countries. This is a particular important point, because some other exciting sports, like hockey, American football, and tennis, require the investment of large sums of money over time in special gear, club memberships, lessons, etc. Football (with track and field sports being the other exception) is rather unique in being open to people of all social backgrounds.
Favorites to win include Brazil (as usual), Argentina, Spain, and England, with a few other teams right behind (Holland and Germany foremost, but do not count out the defending world champions--Italy). Personally, I think that Spain will not do as well as expected, certainly not well enough to win. Holland is long overdue and have a real chance to win, but to do so they will foreseeably have to get past Brazil, which is a tall task. Among the few other predictions I am bold enough to venture: look for Mexico to stun a theoretically better team along the way (England?). Italy is a huge question mark. If they advance, which they should in what is likely the weakest group, they become a threat for anyone on their way, especially Spain. The team is widely regarded as weak, but coach Lippi is showing a lot of confidence in the players he brought to South Africa. Do not underestimate his ability to motivate his "troops".
Until July 11, when the World Cup Final is played, count on my appearances on the blog to be scarcer than usual, and mostly football-related. I hope you share my interest but, if you don't, see you back here in a month.