This week, news broke that Somali terrorists murdered 50 Kenyan men in front of their wives and children, that Russian-backed separatists shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane killing 49 soldiers and that Islamic militants are sweeping through Iraq taking cities and executing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of captives. We live in a dangerous, violent, heart-wrenching world, where tragedy after tragedy crash into our consciousness like waves pounding upon breakers. In such a world, the Macbethian temptation is to come to believe that life is "full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
Some find it incongruous that, in such perilous times, the attention of much of the world would shift to Brazil and a soccer tournament. But the FIFA World Cup, held every four years, is much more than a diversion, a reprieve from the harsh realities of life. It is an expression of international camaraderie, an anthem to “liberté, égalité, fraternité”, a celebration of “the beautiful game” played by rich and poor alike, on grass, and cement and dusty roads in every country throughout the world. It is the greatest tournament in all of sports, bringing us together.
Soccer (known to the rest of the world as football) is the universal sport. It requires no special facilities, just a patch of dirt. It requires no special equipment, just a ball. It requires no special physical abilities, just your feet. It is a game that has crowned tiny Uruguay as world champion, twice, while shutting out the world’s dominant super-powers of the last 40 years. It offers, quite literally, the most level playing field on earth.
Qualification for the 2014 World Cup began three years ago as 209 national teams, organized by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) into six geographic zones, competed for a place among the 32 finalists. Once the field was set, the final 32 teams were organized, based on their qualification record and their world FIFA rankings, into eight groups of four teams. The World Cup tournament begins with a round-robin phase, where the four teams in each group play each other once, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the knockout phase. The team that wins the following four games in a row will be crowned the 20th World Cup Champion!
More that 3.2 billion people worldwide are expected to watch the 2014 World Cup, far exceeding the viewership of the Olympics. Each will hope to see a little bit of magic. We are now a week into the tournament, and have witnessed the Netherlands, in a rematch of the 2010 finals, dismantle Spain, the reigning world champions. We saw lowly Costa Rica upset a vastly more talented Uruguay. We saw a United States team finally beat Ghana, a team that beat the U.S. in the last two World Cup tournaments.
For those who tuned in, who can forget watching Argentina’s incomparable Lionel Messi flying past three Bosnia-Herzegovina defenders to rifle a curling shot off the post and into the goal from the top of the box? Who can forget Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa diving this way and that, making incredible save after incredible save to shut out the mighty Brazilians? Who can forget USA’s John Brooks Jr. heading in the game winner in the 88th minute against Ghana?
I hope that, over the next month, each of us will take a break from the cares of the world and find the opportunity to tune into the World Cup, if for no other reason than to connect, in a positive way, with the rest of the world.
Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and former U.S. Senate candidate.