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Gastelum: Global argument for the Cup (Feb. 8)

By Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, February 7, 2013

Editor’s note: This is the 10th story in a 10-part series discussing the best events in sports. In this installment, Andrew Gastelum argues for the World Cup.

I remember exactly where I was and you probably do, too. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. just a few days removed from my high school graduation and went to wake my best friend up. Just for the United States vs. Algeria game in the 2010 World Cup. Crazy? Yeah, but so was the ending.

In fact, those 90 minutes were the most miserable decision of the summer, until the last 30 seconds.

The words “Go, Go, U.S.A.” now ring in glory, and true American sports fans remember where they were at that moment Landon Donovan put away the goal that spit in the face of expected elimination and continued irrelevance.

But here’s why the World Cup is the best event in sports. Because 10,000 miles away from my celebration flowed tears from an Algerian soccer fan whose hope of soccer relevance was crushed while mine was realized. And 10,000 miles away from that was a Korean soccer fan up way past his bedtime gawking in amazement at that thriller of a finish.

There was no longer an excuse for soccer in America. That moment was the sport’s Battle of Yorktown, because it could finally start to legitimately build itself into the fabric of the nation.

While we grow up dreaming about draining a buzzer beater in the NBA Finals or hitting a walk-off in Game 7, every other kid in the world dreams about doing what Donovan did that day in South Africa.

No event in sports tugs on this global thread, not even the Olympics. Disagree? Well, can you imagine entire countries shutting down and gathering in city centers to watch Usain Bolt run or Michael Phelps swim for days at a time?

Now I’m not just talking about a city or school shutting down for the Super Bowl or national championship, but an entire country for just a group stage game. For just one month, fans of the most intense rivalries in soccer sing the same anthem and cheer the same cheers. You cannot tell a Barcelona fan from a Real Madrid fan when they wear red and yellow; the same goes for an Arsenal and Chelsea fan wearing white with a
Union Jack wrapped around their back.

In 2006, the World Cup shut down a country for more than just a day. Try the entire summer. In Ivory Coast, a civil war that left thousands dead and spanned four years forced a truce for the summer because warlords just love their soccer so. Less than a year later, the war ended. I don’t remember a sporting event ever stopping a war, but then again my memory may just be a little hazy.

The World Cup is the only sporting event that affects just about every country in the world. From the qualifying stages to the event itself, billions of eyes take a glance at this sultan of spectacles, this colossus of clout.

It doesn’t just apply to everyone outside the U.S. Can you remember a sporting event where American patriotism was higher than where it was at the 2010 World Cup after that single goal? Tough call.

It is simply mind-blowing how the World Cup holds this literal, earth-shattering power. But nothing quite beats one month of do-or-die soccer between 32 of the world’s best teams. Call it a global March Madness, where enrollment is in the millions and tailgates become unofficial countrywide holidays.

The World Cup is the ultimate competitive stage for soccer, the world’s game. The Olympics are an amateur’s afterthought compared to the World Cup. And there is no way to predict a winner, especially since there hasn’t been a repeat winner since Brazil won it in 1958 and 1962.

It embraces sports’ most admirable themes: perennial powerhouses, rooting for the underdogs and celebrity status. Even Americans know who Pele is, soccer’s most beloved figure. But what they don’t know is that Pele never played in Europe against the top competition. Yet he is the only player to win three World Cups and because of that he is the globe’s indisputable champ.

The fact that it happens every four years gives it the anticipation of the Olympics with the grandeur of the Super Bowl. It combines the best of the best, because it truly is the best.

This Sports Authority series over the past two weeks has put us all in the midst of the greatest events in sports. Those moments in sports that we remember for the rest of our lives stem from the 10 discussed in this space right here. It’s the beauty of debate, mixed in with the world of sports we all love so much.

But good thing they saved the best for last.

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.