Sometimes being a global superpower isn’t as much fun as it’s cracked up to be. One of those times would be during the World Cup.
World Cup competition kicked off Thursday with a match between host country Brazil and Croatia. If you didn’t catch it, don’t worry, the finals won’t be played until July 13 with scores of games between now and then.
Some U.S. TV announcers describe the World Cup as the “Super Bowl of soccer.” This is an unwitting demonstration of American arrogance and the reason our status as the most powerful nation in the world makes no difference in World Cup competition.
For one thing, the rest of the world doesn’t call it “soccer.” Everybody else calls it football.
(We could compound our arrogance by insisting that U.S. football is the real football. But their football is actually played with feet while ours only occasionally involves kicking the ball.)
For another thing, while we claim that an audience of 1 billion watches the Super Bowl, conjuring up the image of Amazonian tribesmen watching the halftime show on a flickering black-and-white TV powered by a gas generator, the number of viewers probably is exaggerated. The World Cup, on the other hand, is a truly international sporting event featuring teams from every corner of the Earth that undoubtedly will draw a monstrously huge, diverse audience over the next month.
Unlike the World Series, the World Cup really is a world series.
So, where does the mighty United States figure in this world-wide competition? Our team will be lucky to make it out of the first round.
The competition has been divided into groups of national teams, and our group, which includes Ghana, Portugal and Germany, has ominously been nicknamed the “Group of Death” – that is, the demise of America.
Despite all our youth soccer programs, our endless national resources, our boundless love of sports, our jingoistic competitive spirit, we still are not a world-class power in soccer – excuse me, football. And did I mention that our team is coached by a German?
While the rest of the world adores what it regards as “the beautiful game,” the United States has been slow to share that enthusiasm. Many younger Americans, especially current and former soccer players, might genuinely love the game and follow the teams of other countries, but most of us are too busy watching baseball, basketball or the other football to care.
So, when the World Cup rolls around, we’re laggards, outcasts, know-nothings. How many of us knew who Lionel Messi was until about two days ago?
Americans like the big sports happenings, the blockbuster showdowns, the premier competitions. We get interested in horse racing when California Chrome has a chance to win the Triple Crown. We watch the Super Bowl even if we haven’t watched another football game all season. We’ll watch swimming meets in the summer Olympics if American swimmers are favored.
But with the World Cup, we’re like the outsiders who tag along to a party where we don’t know anybody. We stand in the corner, clutching our drinks, hoping we can fit in.
“Hi, we’re the Americans. Nice to meet you.”
“Say, aren’t you the ones in the ‘Group of Death’?”
For the next month, everybody else on the planet will be hysterical with World Cup fever. And who knows, maybe it’s contagious.
Then again, if the U.S. team makes an early exit, there is an upside: We won’t have to watch soccer until the next World Cup.
United States vs. Ghana, 6 p.m. Monday. Go USA!
James Werrell, Herald opinion page editor, can be reached at 329-4081 or, by email, at email@example.com.