I'm happy to say that World Cup fever is alive in the United States. Although some Americans are disheartened after seeing their team soundly thrashed by the Czech Republic on Monday, groups of soccer fans continue shouting at televisions and slurping beer at bars across the Front Range.
There's nearly a month to go in the tournament that began last week in Germany. I've been watching Cups regularly since 1982, after getting hooked on the sport in England as a boy.
So far, I've run into gaggles of Brits, a drunken and ecstatic German, a handful of Koreans and, of course, a couple of Mexicans screaming, "Goooooal!"
When I ask them what their hopes are for the Cup, many of these foreign-born Americans want to see the U.S. national soccer team win.
"I think this just might be their year," says my friend Dave from England, despite Monday's loss. "I just wish more Americans cared about it."
Dave's hope is that Americans embrace the optimistic spirit surrounding the world's most popular sport. Unlike baseball's World Series, the World Cup is truly a competition in which every nation in the world competes. Over a four-year period, 32 teams earn spots in the final tournament.
Yet American newspapers have focused more on the regrettable sideshows that always accompany the Cup.
For example, Germany's far-right National Democratic Party promised violence against Muslims. Activists, celebrities and politicians gathered in anti-neo-Nazi rallies to show that the vast majority of Germans are not xenophobes.
And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pled in vain to the Fdration Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) that Iran be booted out of the Cup. He made the request because Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denied the Holocaust happened.
The World Cup isn't a cure for these complex problems. It's a place where these problems might fade a bit as the world agrees on one thing: Soccer is a beautiful game.
My Irish friend Glenn jokes that the Iranians, who scored a goal in a loss to heavily favored Mexico, will finally have something other than a nuclear-arms program to be proud of. But while taking a stab at Iran, he also speaks with sincerity. "Maybe they'll cheer about something for a while," he adds.
Although one billion people roughly a sixth of the globe's population will tune into or attend matches, the perception among many Americans is that soccer is boring.
I note that this allegation emanates strongly from old-guard newspaper columnists, who probably are scared to death that their readers might just become as obsessed with the game as Malcolm Glazer, the owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team. He recently became owner of Manchester United, one of England's best soccer clubs, to the chagrin of English soccer fans.
But watch the sport and respect it. Few sports can match the excitement of Brazil's Ronaldinho striking curving goals over the keeper from long ranges. England's David Beckham, known largely for his off-field entourage, still deserves Pel's praise as one of the game's all-time greats.
Watching such players is like watching basketball's Michael Jordan in his heyday. And you don't have to be 6-foot-6 to become a pro soccer player. One of America's stars, Landon Donovan, is a mere 5-foot-8 and 148 pounds.
After the Americans' 3-0 loss Monday, my friend Dave, recalling that the United States is ranked fourth in the world, still held hope.
"They just need to start working as a team," he said, adding that Italy on Saturday is a make-or-break match.
That's the spirit.
The best match so far? Sweden vs. Trinidad and Tobago, the smallest country ever to qualify for the World Cup.
Even after one of its players was ejected for a penalty, Trinidad and Tobago held on to a 0-0 draw versus heavily favored Sweden.
I've never seen so many people who know so little about a country cheer so hard for no goals. Sweden's pride is bruised, and Trinidad and Tobago's Cup hopes are alive.
How can that be boring?
Amazing story of some amazing groups of people who care. Well done.
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