No matter how exciting March Madness and the NFL playoffs might be, they simply do not compare to the pandemonium that is the World Cup. The only thing that comes close, for us as Americans, would be the summer Olympics when we all check the paper each morning to review the updated medal count. Even still though, the Olympics are diffuse with more sports than anyone can name, different a different sports hero to match each person’s taste. The World Cup is nationalism at an entirely new level.
As we traveled through Germany during the start of the World Cup we watched as all of the people we met prepared and posted their brackets, naturally all showing Germany going all the way. It was the first time, many told us, that they felt they could cheer for Germany and show their national pride….the first time they were allowed to put it on display and be excited together.
When Germany trounced Australia in their first game the honking horns could be heard miles away.
As we’ve continued traveling, the Cup has been in our faces 100%. Walking into Prague’s central square for the first time we could see the Aussie fans holding on for just one win while the rest of the crowd was clearly pulling for Ghana. The next night we didn’t even need to be able to see the enormous screen to know when Brazil scored each of its 3 goals against the Ivory Coast.
When the US lost its fateful match to that same Ghana team, people in Budapest stopped us on the street when they heard our accents to commiserate with us. One British man was getting ready to watch his big game against Germany. His wife was German. One of them was watching in Buda, and the other watching in Pest, they were not watching together. (Yes, Budapest is actually divided in half!) We caught the score as we walked past a giant screen at the entrance to a shopping center, we were going to buy groceries.
We don’t have very many ‘rally round the flag’ events in the US. We are so big and so diverse, we handle most of the competition within our borders. Think of the last time your team (if you come from Florida and have the Miami Hurricanes and Florida Marlins, this is an easy task) was in the race to win and you joked with that guy at work who roots for the Yankees because he doesn’t know any better. A third co-worker was a Boston fan anyway and a fourth didn’t care. Now put all of those people for the same team, with everyone else you know, watching all the games together, in public places with beers in hand. Rooting and cheering and hooting and hollering. Add a few vuvuzela’s and that is World Cup.