opinion | Experience the fun of football and believe that “football is life”.


Millions of Americans will spend this Thanksgiving weekend watching football. If they instead tune in to the World Cup, they’ll discover something infinitely more exciting.

Many Americans think they don’t like soccer. They complain about the low scores and seemingly pointless activity in most games. But they wouldn’t judge football by a 6-3 snoozer with lots of punts or the 1-0 baseball shutout. The real beauty of football may be an acquired taste – but once you’ve got it you never look back.

The World Cup is not football at its finest, but it could be football at its finest. With 32 national teams converging in one place, the sheer spectacle is unrivaled by anything but the Olympics. It has the quality of an all-star game as each team has their country’s best players who are only brought together for brief interludes each year. And the short-term competition creates jaw-dropping surprises, just like March Madness does college basketball. Japan’s 2-1 win over perennial power Germany this week is the global equivalent of a 16-starter dropping a No.1.

If that doesn’t whet your appetite, consider that the winner plays, the loser stays element. All 32 teams are currently in the group stage, in which four teams will play each other once to determine which two advance. After that, it’s like the NFL playoffs. It doesn’t matter where you are in the FIFA rankings: you win or you go home. Each game has the intensity that makes college bowl games so exciting.

The final itself is an event that easily eclipses the Super Bowl. There won’t be a halftime show, but there doesn’t need to be one either. More than 1.1 billion people worldwide watched part of the 2018 final – roughly 1 in 7 on the planet. The Super Bowl dominates American viewership but draws little attention elsewhere, with a total worldwide viewership of less than 200 million. Outside the United States, everyone is talking about the exploits of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappé, not Tom Brady.

American interest is likely to increase as the US team improves. Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna and other stars play with some of the best teams in Europe, giving them the experience that makes champions. This year’s men’s national team is also the second youngest in the tournament – so athletes will spend years after this World Cup playing together to improve individually and as a team.

This experience will come in handy at the 2026 FIFA World Cup to be played in North America. The United States, Canada and Mexico will jointly host an expanded 48-nation extravaganza, with 11 US cities set to host the majority of games. Teams hosting the cup usually do better than expected; Even tiny South Korea finished fourth when they co-hosted in 2002.

That alone is reason enough to get involved now. It takes time to grasp the intricacies of the game, but even beginners can appreciate the sheer individual brilliance that can make or break a game. You might see something like Gareth Bale’s famous overhead kick, or Son Heung-min dribble down the length of the pitch to score. Or maybe you’re watching a historically controversial play, like Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal against England in 1986. It’s like watching the greats of the NBA put on a show – once you’ve got jazz in athletic form see you are hooked.

There is also the national pathos that is inevitably on display. I was in London during the 2018 World Cup when England, the game’s inventors, made a rousing run to the quarter-finals. Watching that game in a pub with hundreds of fans desperate for it to ‘come home’ but used to heartbreaking defeats was an experience as England once again found a way to lose a game that it should have won. Supporting the Three Lions is like being a fan of the Boston Red Sox during their 86 years without a World Series title. If England wins, the long suppressed hope that will be unleashed will alone make the celebrations worth watching.

The famous Liverpool player Bill Shankly once said that for him football is not a matter of life and death: it is more important. Most fans would instead agree with Dani Rojas, the Mexican forward for the fictional Richmond Greyhounds on the TV show Ted Lasso: “Football is life.”

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