It’s almost upon us and I can’t wait! While playoff basketball and hockey have been forefront in the minds of many U.S. sports enthusiasts, it is the 20th FIFA World Cup that has me and hundreds of millions of other people around the world on the edge of our seats. Kicking off the festivities on June 12th will be Brazil versus Croatia, with the U.S. starting June 16th against Ghana.
Perhaps the world’s greatest single sporting event, the World Cup only comes around every 4 years, with 204 teams competing for just 31 finalist spots (the host country is guaranteed a slot), all ready to show the world what their country’s got. Making this year’s tournament all the more enticing is the fact that it is being hosted by Brazil, a truly soccer-crazed nation, and one that embodies a culture of fun and fiestas. Whether it be Carnival, Rock’n Rio, New Year on Copacabana, or any number of other celebrations, Brazilians know how to throw a party and this year’s World Cup will be no exception.
Matching Brazil for excitement this year is Colombia. A soccer nation through and through, Colombia has been forced to watch the last three World Cups from home, after not qualifying for the games in South Korea (2002), Germany (2006), and South Africa (2010). In the 16 years since their last World Cup, the country has come a long way, both on the football pitch and as a nation. And you can feel it. I had the opportunity to visit Coloumbia in May, and in each of my destinations there was a palpable feeling of World Cup fever in the air. My incredible trip there, and the honest excitement of the Colombians I had the privilege of meeting, quickly solidified it as the country I will be pulling for hardest after the U.S.
Unfortunately, rather than positive press about the U.S.’s 2-0 win over Azerbaijan in a recent friendly game, most of the attention has been given to the questionable decision by coach Jurgen Klinsmann to drop Landon Donovan, the MLS all-time leading goal scorer. Perhaps more unfortunate for the U.S. was being grouped with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana, arguably the most difficult group of the tournament. While I’m excited to watch some of the great players like Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) and Michael Essien (Ghana) go up against the Red, White and Blue, it would have been nice to see these footballers in the second round rather than the first.
That said, we play games for a reason. With a little help from goalie Tim Howard and some much-needed breakout play from Jozy Altidore, perhaps Sam’s Army will be able to cheer past round one. Let’s go U.S.A.!