For some reason, I only ever seem to watch the World Cup every eight years. I doubt I could have told you before this year's started who had won in 2006 (Italy), while I watched almost all of the 2002 tournament. Of course, that year I was pretty much a captive audience, as I was in a hospital bed for the majority of the tournament. Initially, I was hospitalized for surgery during the Stanley Cup playoffs, but ended up staying there through all but the final World Cup game. Four to five weeks of being in a hospital bed has you searching pretty desperately for distraction, and so that year the World Cup was a welcome diversion.
The years when I lived in Toronto, Ontario, up until 1990, you couldn't help noticing when the World Cup was being played. As one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, there's a fair chance that every country participating in the tournament will be represented by a segment of its population. It was especially difficult to ignore when Italy, Portugal, Brazil or Greece were involved, as they each have both large communities and specific neighbourhoods where their populations are concentrated most heavily. In years when Portugal got eliminated, the locals naturally switched to supporting Portuguese speaking Brazil. The chance of a Portugal-Brazil final this year will make for some interesting times down in "Little Portugal" if it becomes a reality.
This year, I have a feeling that World Cup fever in Toronto has been somewhat restrained up to now, with the downtown core being turned into a police state for the G20/G8 get-together. There's something about running battles between protesters and police, burning cars, barricades, and the constant din of helicopters patrolling the skies that tends to cut down on the festive mood.
The attraction for me this year has been the locale; for the first time ever the tournament is being held in Africa - specifically South Africa. That was enough to have me start tuning in for the group stages, via the live stream offered by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC). Usually these early rounds are fairly boring as the teams are all trying to find their feet so to speak, and while there have been some startling results in opening games in the past, by the time the group stage ends, the old order usually reasserts itself with the same old names leading the way into the round of sixteen. While there was still some truly remarkably boring football played, - the BBC commentators the CBC uses were constantly bemoaning a lack of goals in the early games - by the time the dust had settled, while some familiar names remained, it was obvious the old order was changing.