Thursday, June 10, 2010

More World Cup Hype

From the online edition of The Reporter newspaper by yours truly.

Do you remember what you were doing on June 25, 1998? Doubt it. Most people couldn’t tell you what they ate for breakfast yesterday. I was 7-and-a-half years old and I can still recall it as if it happened this morning.

Seated around my grandparents’ kitchen table in Guadalajara, Mexico, my whole family erupted in delirious bliss as Luis Hernandez of Mexico scored a miracle goal in the third minute of stoppage time against Holland to tie the game at two, sending Mexico into the knockout stages.

This was the equivalent of the Doug Flutie “Hail Mary” play, or Michael Jordan’s shot over Craig Ehlo, only 20 times bigger. It wasn’t just a team or a city being lifted, it was the entire country. At our small kitchen, it was pure pandemonium as hugs and screams reigned supreme. Mexico had done the impossible and I had front row seats. I haven’t missed a Mexico game since.

That’s the World Cup for you. It sounds so cliché to say it’s more than a game, but it truly is. It’s a matter of life and death.

During the 1998 edition in France, 151 people were treated for “football related problems” at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in Scotland. Heart attacks also increased by 25 percent on the day and in the two days after England lost to Argentina in penalty kicks.

It didn’t get any better in 2002. Reports show heart attacks increased by 60 percent in Switzerland during the World Cup, and they weren’t even in the competition!

It’s not all gloom and doom though. Heart attacks actually dropped in France when its national team won the whole shebang. That’s the amount of emotion invested in this tournament. A loss might kill you, but a victory could save your life.

Now, I know these are all examples from outside the U.S. There just isn’t that emotional investment in this country, yet.

This summer is an opportunity for the sleeping giant to wake. The U.S. has one of its best teams in terms of talent, with over half the team plying their trade in the upper echelons of European soccer. Landon Donovan is back to his world-beating 2002 form, showing he can play with the big boys with his successful loan-spell at Everton. Clint Dempsey is scoring unfathomable goals for Fulham, and will played in the Europa Cup Champioship last month. Phenom Jozy Altidore is a man amongst boys and proved that even at the tender age of 20, he can compete with the best in the world.

Unlike the 2006 fiasco where it faced three stud teams, it has a manageable group with England, Algeria and Slovenia as its first round opponents. Soccer-wise, this is a great opportunity to jump on the bandwagon without fearing you will be left with egg on your face.

The intangibles make 2010 the year of the U.S. fan as well. South Africa is only seven hours ahead, meaning the games will be on TV at a reasonable hour. All 64 matches will be broadcast in HD for the first time ever. And for an even more enhanced viewing experience for the rich people out there, put the 3D glasses on because ESPN is unveiling the world’s first 3D network by broadcasting 25 World Cup games in three dimensions.

So come June 12, plunk yourself in front of the big screen. The match against England will be the most watched soccer game in the history of the U.S., guaranteed. You do not want to miss out on that.

Who knows, you may fall in love and make some memories of your own.

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