The World Cup. La Coupe du Monde. Die Weltmeisterschaft. La Copa del Mundo. ワールドカップ
Like me, I hope you’ve been enjoying the incredible festival of soccer that is the World Cup during the last month, notwithstanding the anti-social kick-off times. Although there are significant political controversies within FIFA (the organisers) and Brazil (the hosts), the actual competition is simply an advert for the beauty of sport.
From as early as mid-2011, 203 countries from around the world began trying to qualify for the tournament alongside Brazil itself. 31 countries made it, pitting nations as diverse as the United States against Ghana, South Korea versus Russia and Greece against Japan. After 2 weeks of round-robin matches, 16 countries entered the knock-out phase and 16 countries were on the plane home.
The competition becomes the classic water-cooler talking point and the source of millions of tweets reacting instantly to the headline moments, say Tim Cahill’s stunning volley for Australia or the antics of Luis Suarez in biting (!) his opponent on the shoulder.
In the many European and South American countries where soccer is akin to a religion, each game fills the front pages, every local pub and sometimes even their own stadiums showing the action on a big-screen. It’s sometimes said that the morale of a country from a good run in the World Cup can even swing election results. It’s no coincidence that the Vatican called on soccer fans to observe a “pause for peace” before Sunday’s final to remember victims of war and poverty.
The real drama begins with sudden-death games played over 90 minutes, or in some cases 120 minutes or a penalty shoot-out. The concept of a penalty shootout is captivating. After 2 hours of slugging it out, the result comes down to the best of 5 penalties each over lasting about 5 minutes. What makes the drama unique are the pressures that bear down on a player as they put the ball on the spot.
On one level it’s a simple battle between them and the opposition goalkeeper, but the wider implications are almost profound. In the space of a single kick of the ball, the player is responsible not just for their own future but the fate of their teammates, their manager, their family and their entire country. All in front of an attentive global audience edging close to 1 billion, about 1/6 the population of the planet. Score and you might be a hero for the rest of your life, with all the trappings of fame and fortune. Hit the post and you’re a loser, in all senses of the word. Whatever you do, don’t miss.
Sadly I wasn’t talented enough to make it as a professional soccer player, although I do work in an area that’s almost as emotional – family law.
There’s a surprising number of similarities with the world game, not least that it stirs debate and everyone has an opinion about it. In a court case the result is often unpredictable and (at least in the eyes of the parties), unjust.
Like a penalty shootout, the stakes are high and after years of preparation the course of a person’s life can alter in a few minutes, when the judge begins speaking. However the odds of a favourable outcome are improved with the support of a smart and hard-working team – I think you know what I’m hinting at here.
I’m already looking forward to doing this again in 4 years time.