Entertainment Value High As World Cup Kicks Off
The biggest sporting event in the world begins today, and really, who could blame you if you forgot all about it?
Yes, the World Cup is upon us and it arrived with a roar less thunderous than a feather falling on grass. Even for many of us soccer fans, this once-every-four-years global tournament snuck up on us.
It’s not difficult to figure out why World Cup anticipation in this country feels lower than in past years. The primary reason being that the United States embarrassingly failed to qualify for the first time since 1986, despite the fact that it competes to qualify in the less-than-stellar CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football). Try convincing casual soccer fans -- of which there are a lot in the U.S. -- to pay attention when their own country is at home on the couch.
Perhaps we shouldn’t feel too embarrassed, seeing as how Chile, Italy and the Netherlands also failed to qualify. But, still, it’s a bad look for the U.S. and is a giant step backwards for a nation trying to be taken seriously in the most popular sport in the world.
There was some good news Wednesday, however, as the United States, Canada and Mexico were named the hosts of the 2026 World Cup. The trio bid overwhelmingly beat out Morocco in a vote. It’ll be the first time since 1994 (when attendance records were set) that the U.S. will host games, and some of those games will likely be played in Foxboro. The best part: we won’t have to worry about the U.S. qualifying on its own merit because host countries get automatic bids. At least that’s the way it’s always been. But with three nations hosting, FIFA will decide at a later date if all three will gain automatic entry into the tournament. The U.S. would presumably be a safe bet because it would be hosting the majority of the matches.
Perhaps the fact that the 2018 World Cup is being hosted by Russia is also a diminishing factor in terms of interest. After all, we’re talking about a country that meddles in foreign elections, so who’s to say they wouldn’t meddle in a soccer tournament. Let’s also not forget that FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup is so corrupt that it almost makes the NCAA look clean. Almost.
I’m sorry, but Russia + FIFA = skepticism.
With all that said, I’ll be spending a solid portion of the next month watching it all unfold. There’s nothing quite like world-class soccer played in stadiums filled with passionate fan bases, whose lives seemingly hinge on that day’s outcome.
Yes, we here in the good old USA don’t have a horse in the race, but the fun will be finding a team to latch onto and root for. You can have your pick of the 32-team litter. Find a style, or a player, or a uniform that strikes your fancy and hop on the bandwagon.
Or, just watch and appreciate the level of play. If most of your soccer-watching has revolved around the MLS, prepare to have your mind blown. The World Cup makes the MLS look like a pickup match at the park.
We all desperately wanted to see 19-year-old American phenom Christian Pulisic play against the best of the best, and it’s a waste for him to have to wait another four years. But there’s still plenty of star power for your viewing pleasure.
Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Germany’s Toni Kroos, France’s Antoine Griezmann, Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, Brazil’s Neymar and, of course, Argentina’s Lionel Messi will all be there.
The World Cup is coming at just the right time to fill the void in our suddenly-depleted sports schedule after the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Final quickly came and went. Yes, we have golf’s U.S. Open as well this weekend, but after that things get super-quiet for a while. Three or four fascinating soccer matchups a day will be a welcome sight.
This may not have the feel of World Cups of the past, but it’s here and it should be fun.
Follow Matt Langone on Twitter @MattLangone