I’m not really a sports person.
But once every four years I get really hardcore into a sport. I am, of course, talking about the World Cup.
Which should really come as no surprise. For starters, it’s got my mostest favoritest trope; the ragtag multinational team. They may be in competition, but there remains the fun of watching countries as disparate as Belgium and Japan share a stage.
Then of course there’s the fact that soccer/football is the sport I know best. I didn’t move to the US until I was fourteen and so grew up around the sport that just about every other country cares about. I played it during recess in primary school and on the landing outside my apartment in Singapore. We played it on the quayside and in the confined rooms aboard the ship. Not only is soccer a sport I know how is played, but it’s one that’s familiar. The World Cup is a convenient reason to get invested.
Never mind I have no horse in this race, that none of the four countries that make me up (Singapore, the US, China, and Norway) are represented – that’s half the fun! Whoever you support can be completely arbitrary! Spain gave us papas bravas and sangria, pull for them! I once had a crush on a German girl, good enough for me! Messi’s hot; go Argentina! Japan has a half-Asian on their team, I’m in! But more than anything else, it’s great to see so many excellent games played.
Soccer (or association football, I never know what to call it) is as close to contained narrative perfection as you can get in a sport. Unlike American Football, which stops every play for planning and commercials, soccer keeps on going. Not only does this make for a sport more reliant on on-the-fly teamwork, but it creates an atmosphere of sustained tension throughout the game — with very little chances for catharsis. See, basketball, like soccer, doesn’t stop, but it’s also a game where goals come very frequently. We quickly find out if a play results in a goal and the points keep climbing. The somewhat more spaced out pacing of soccer makes for a more tense experience, at any moment an offensive play might succeed. That the score in soccer is typically lower also means that comebacks always seem within reach.
Therein lies so much of the narrative excitement inherent in a good game of soccer. The pathos and excitement of stories are built on the almost-theres and could-have-beens. Every run on the Death Star is exciting for all the times the proton torpedoes could have hit but didn’t; thus making Luke’s success so much more cathartic. The downbeat ending of Infinity War is due in no small part to how darn close the Avengers came to beating Thanos. And so with soccer, every time a goal almost happens but doesn’t just adds to the excitement. Because when a player finally scores, the pent-up tension of however long it’s been pays off, either in relief or tragedy, depending on who you’re rooting for. But no matter what, a good game is exciting.
I probably could get invested in non-World Cup soccer tournaments if I really bothered, but I’ll always love the multinational appeal when this particular series of games rolls around. We’re down to the semi-finals and most every team I’ve pulled for has lost. At this point I’m rooting for France and England, because I’m all about reigniting the Hundred Years War in the finals. But more than anything, I’ve got eight days left of caring about sports, here’s hoping for some really good exciting matches.