Here’s to World Cup going to underdogs

Every-fourth-year extravaganza starts Thursday

Published: June 7 2014 | 12:29 pm in Soccer, Sports, The Hlog by Mike Hlas,

I can’t wait for Thursday.

The World Cup starts that day in Brazil. It’s so big, so colorful, so tense, so loud, so weird, so packed with euphoria and crushing disappointment and murmurs about match-fixing.

There’s one winner and 31 others. Five or six teams/nations might be happy at getting as far as they did, but many more are disgusted they didn’t perform better.

The winning country virtually shuts down for celebration after the title match. Wouldn’t it be great to experience that one time in your life, to be part of a truly national celebration for something as frivolous as a sports victory instead of just standing by your local or regional team?

The World Cup is two years of qualifying for a one-month tournament. In other words, it’s like running for president of the United States.

Most of the World Cup nations don’t possess nuclear weapons. They do, however, have remarkably quick feet.

The World Cup is the world’s cup. It’s estimated that 10 times as many people watched the 2010 World Cup final compared to the 2014 Super Bowl.

Rounded off, it’s a billion folks who saw Spain beat the Netherlands for the ‘10 championship. Combined, those two nations have about 64 million people. That left 936 million who watched without a national party or funeral hanging in the balance.

Even some of you soccer-haters would get sucked in if the U.S. shocked the world (and itself), and won the World Cup. It will happen one of these times.

“Here in the United States today they play more soccer than they play in Brazil,” soccer icon Pele said in a Los Angeles Times story. “It’s important the American kids know that.”

But if the U.S. can’t muster a winning effort this year, there are many other underdogs that would be easy to cheer. Like:

Bosnia and Herzegovina: It’s one of the smallest countries in Europe with 4 million people, but here it is in this tourney for the first time. Bosnia and Herzegovina were plagued with so much death and horror two decades ago after splitting from Yugoslavia.

Vedad Ibisevic is one of the team’s stars. When he was a little boy, ethnic-cleansing Serbian militia murdered as many Muslims as they could find in Ibisevic’s neighborhood. He and his family fled the nation.

“People from other countries, they don’t understand,” Ibisevic told ESPN.com’s Wright Thompson. “To them, it’s just another soccer game and the goal I scored is just a goal. But it’s not just a goal. I think the people who know me and know my family members, they have the same feeling. It’s not just a goal. It’s much more than that.”

Chile: World Cup finalists have only come from Europe and South America. So while I hope a team from Africa, Asia or North America breaks through, Chile would be fine, too. It has never gone past the Round of 16, it has about one-twelfth of host Brazil’s population.

But the team does have the staunch support of the Chilean coal miners who were trapped underground for 69 days four years ago. They returned to the mouth of that mine to film a television ad, vigorously urging the Chilean team to fight against all odds.

England: This nation claims to be soccer’s birthplace. I can’t verify it, but it’s said that in the 9th Century the populations of entire English towns would kick a pig’s bladder from one landmark to another. Presumably, it was done as sport.

But there is dark fear and deep loathing in England when it comes to the World Cup. England hasn’t won it since 1966, and some of the failures have been spectacular.

“They are not winning, absolutely not winning. They are not going to win the World Cup, absolutely not.”

The person who said that recently was Sven-Goran Eriksson. He was in charge of England’s 2002 and 2006 World Cup teams.

So I hope England wins. Or Bosnia-Herzegovina, or Chile. Or Mexico, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Honduras or any team that would blow the planet’s mind.

Aw, what the hey. USA! USA! USA! The rest of the world might as well start getting used to us winning these things.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@sourcemedia.net


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