We have a World Cup champion. To get to the facts right away, the German team defeated Argentina 1-0 in second extra time, on an incredible goal by an improbable hero: Mario Götze, who deftly bounced the ball off his chest and then kicked it into the corner of the net, stunning his opponents, fans in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium, and people watching all around the world. The midfielder, with a supermodel girlfriend (Ann Kathrin Brömmel) and a wry smile, becomes the toast of Deutschland and the World Cup. As a late game replacement, Götze secures his place in football history (soccer for we Americans) and World Cup lore.
Germany has won the cup four times now, but this is its first win as a united country (three previous championships came to West Germany). The significance of this accomplishment was not lost on German fans everywhere, from those celebrating in the stadium, at home, or all across the world just as some New Yorkers did at an outdoor viewing party on the East Side of Manhattan. People of German descent and many others enjoyed cheering for this team, one that seemed destined to win since the beginning of the action weeks ago.
My mother’s family came from Germany, so we were rooting for not the home team but in the spirit of the blood coursing through our veins. When Germany played against the American team, we all wore our U.S.A. gear and felt if they didn’t win it would be a shame, but once the Americans were dispatched from the proceedings after the tough loss to Belgium, all our attention turned to the German team. My kids designed their own rally poster, working a long time on getting it just right. We all wore team colors and endured the long wait for our team to get the goal and win it all.
There have been many stories that American viewers stopped watching after their team was eliminated, and while the numbers seemed to initially support that (24.7 million watched U.S.A vs. Portugal, 21.5 million watched America lose to Belgium, and only 11.8 million watched Brazil vs. Colombia), the final match between Germany and Argentina is suspected to have attracted close to 30 million American viewers. In terms of comparison, the Super Bowl routinely attracts approximately 34 million viewers annually, so does this mean that soccer could be on the verge of actually becoming a major sport in America?
We continue to face the incongruity of being a country that has little kids playing soccer, some as young as three, for years, only to abandon the sport as they get older. We parents go and cheer on our kids, enjoy the games, and even place magnetic soccer balls on our cars and minivans and bumper stickers that support the teams. Something mystical happens though once the kids get older, gravitating to the more “popular” sports such as baseball, football, basketball, and even tennis. There seems to be a shift in mental alignment that takes place, moving kids out of their soccer cleats and into other uniforms to pursue the dream of getting a scholarship and eventually becoming a professional player.
One thing that most Americans will note as extremely different about soccer is that there are no time-outs. The clock just keeps running, even in the final when German player Bastian Schweinsteiger kept getting knocked down and bloodied to a pulp. The fact there are very little if any opportunities to cut for commercials clearly works against soccer, making it less appealing to advertisers and thus preventing its players (even at the professional level) to receive the lucrative contracts that the competition gets in other American sports. So it seems to be this fact, plus an apparently American parental aversion to soccer beyond children’s early years, that keeps it from becoming a mega-sport like NFL Football.
Despite this, the rest of the world loves football (soccer) and people all around the globe were watching. The worldwide ratings were off the charts for the final: Germany 35 million, France 13 million, Spain 12.7 million, and 20.6 million in the U.K. to cite a few examples). Overall, it is projected that close to one billion people watched worldwide. These mind boggling numbers attest to football’s (soccer) popularity to people everywhere, and also promotes the notion that sports can be a unifier, bringing people together like nothing else can.
I know that the World Cup brought my family together, and I think it also brought the world closer to one another with a common incentive to see these fine athletes playing at their best. It is so refreshing to be discussing people cheering collectively for something that rises above politics and war. I know it is a bit naïve to think it could be possible, but wouldn’t it be nice that if two nations had a disagreement they could settle it on the pitch rather than the battlefield?
FIFA’s 2014 World Cup from Brazil is history now, Germany has the cup, but the legacy lingers. More Americans than ever watched the games and became involved, coming a little late to the party that the rest of the world routinely celebrates. It is a rare moment indeed for a planet that seems inundated with negative news stories to become obsessed with sport to the point of forgetting about all the other minutiae that pulls us apart.
Alas, we need to wait another four years for the next World Cup. Sadly, that is too long to wait for that most unique thing, that unifying tournament that brings the globe a little closer and makes it a better place to live. Once again, the World Cup has proven the power of sports, especially football (soccer) to do what politicians everywhere seem unable to do – bring us together.
Photo credits: NY Daily News; Victor Lana
[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0762452242]