It’s not that I don’t like soccer, because I do, but, like many Americans, I grew up watching the four major sports here and that left little room in my life for another hobby. Sure, 10-year-old me could have told you how many saves Bobby Thigpen had in 1990—a whopping 57—but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you who won the Champion’s League in any year from 1984 to today.
And not much has changed.
These days I do know, for example, that Barcelona and Real Madrid played a big match recently, but I couldn’t tell you what title hung in the balance or name more than two players on each club.
Does Zidane still play? He was fun.
That’s why I’ve spent the last few weeks boning up on my soccer knowledge. Not so much to impress the more erudite soccer fans with whom I will be taking in some cup games, but just because games are more fun when you have a little backstory.
While my knowledge of international soccer might not be up to snuff, I’ve been reading up on various footy-related websites so that, after the United States gets eliminated during in-group play, I’ll still be able to follow the action.
Frankly, there are scores of international players who have the ability to amaze even the dimmest of American soccer fans. Even the casual soccer watcher probably knows Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese striker who won last year’s FIFA Ballon D’or—the award given out to the best soccer player in the world. After suffering a thigh injury some time ago, Ronaldo’s fitness has been called into question by some pundits. But I saw Ronaldo shirtless on the cover of Spanish Vogue.
He looks pretty in shape to me.
Then there’s Balotelli, the volatile Italian star who’s made headlines in the soccer world in the last few years as much for his tremendous ability on the pitch as his antics away from it. Take away his breath-taking set pieces, and you’ve still got a colorful character who is no stranger to controversy, conjecture and sometimes wacky spectacle. If you had a time-machine—and a sports-ability converter—he might have fit in well in the old, freewheeling ABA.
And the list goes on.
You’ve got Messi—whom some would argue is the best soccer player ever—looking to finally break out in international competition and bring Argentina a World Cup trophy.
You’ve got Neymar, whom host country Brazil is counting on to carry his club to glory in his home country.
And you’ve got Eden Hazard, who will be leading a dark-horse Belgium squad with true upset potential.
Of course, I’ll be rooting on the red, white and blue for however long they stick around this time out. But I won’t throw in the towel once they’re out of contention, not with these many amazing story lines floating out there.
So, if you’re not a soccer fan, and still want to enjoy this year’s cup, there’s still time. Do some reading, educate yourself and get ready for one of the greatest months in sport.
You won’t be disappointed, I guarantee it.
Follow Mike on Twitter, @LiveMike_Sports