Another Brian Phillips Grantland post worth its weight in gold, Stop Making Sense. As always with Phillips’ writing – and I never use words like “always” lightly – the whole thing is worth your time. But basking in the afterglow of the final, and turning a brave face to the next four bleak World-Cup-less years, the passage below sums it up perfectly (note that it was written on July 3, just before the quarterfinals; thus “Germany-France on Friday”, “next 10 days”, etc.).
Every World Cup does one thing better than any other event that human beings organize. It focuses the attention of the world on one place at one moment. Around a billion people watched at least part of the final in 2010; that’s several Super Bowls. When a game becomes so ubiquitous, it almost ceases to be entertainment and becomes something else, an atmospheric phenomenon, an object of astronomy. Will more people watch Germany-France on Friday or see the moon over France and Germany? Only the Olympics brings people together like this, and hey, due respect to the Olympics. But oh man is it ever not the same thing.
And this, even more than neuron-blowing games or unbelievable outcomes, is the magic of the World Cup. Over the next 10 days, a substantial portion of the living population of the Earth will have its feelings altered simultaneously by the actions of 22 men chasing a ball around a field in Brazil. Whether you watch alone or in a group or at a stadium, you will know that what you are seeing is being seen by hundreds of millions of people on every corner of the globe, and that your joy, despair, or disbelief is being echoed in incomprehensibly many consciousnesses. Is there anything more ridiculous than this? There is nothing more ridiculous than this, but it’s an extraordinary feeling, too. When something incredible happens — Messi curls a ball around three defenders; Zidane head-butts Materazzi — it’s not just an exciting moment. It’s a bright line connecting you with the human race.
People call soccer “the world’s game”, and it’s kind of a cliché, but it’s also pretty much actually true.