Unlike most Americans, I understand why the rest of the world loves soccer so much. Watching the Euro 2012 has made me realize that it’s not so much about the game, but having a national “home team.”
Sure we root for Team USA in the Olympics, and will this summer in London, but they only come around once every two years for the summer and winter. National soccer teams play practically year round, usually at stadiums packed full of screaming, crazy fans.
Especially during Euro 2012, which this time around is jointly hosted by Poland and Ukraine, fans from as far as Sweden and Portugal have packed stadiums all over the countries to support their national team.
The Irish supporters are famous for their enthusiasm and love for their team. Even during a 4-0 loss to defending champion Spain, the Green Army was clapping and yelling and singing to the point where the Spanish applauded them.
Granted, most Americans say they don’t like soccer because they think it’s slow, boring and low scoring. This coming from a nation that has declared baseball its national pastime.
Nothing against baseball. It’s a wonderful game to enjoy on a summer day with your family/friends and beverage of choice. But it moves at the pace of a blue whale’s heart beat.
Soccer is constantly in motion. Players are either passing the ball, trying to get it away from their opponents or shooting.
Yes, there are stoppages for goals, out of bounds, corner kicks and red or yellow cards, but that’s it. There are no commercials in soccer except for during halftime.
It makes watching American football feel like an infomercial.
The lack of scoring cannot be denied, but true fans appreciate the beautiful game for more than when the ball goes in the net.
That’s where the personal connection to a national team comes in. Soccer possesses a tension that few other sports can because the margin of error is so small.
The difference between a 3-1 embarrassment and a respectable 1-1 draw can come down to a matter of inches.
Especially when the stakes are as high as they are in the European Championships or the World Cup.
Win and achieve immortality. Fail to meet expectations and never hear the end of it.
This same pressure exists for American athletes in all sports, but rarely on that kind of scale.
If Mariano Rivera blew a save that cost the Yankess the World Series, he’d hear it in New York, a city of 8 million, for a while.
But if Brazil, a country where soccer is practically a religion, loses a game because of an own goal (as they did in the 2010 World Cup), a nation of 194 million will never let them forget it.
It’s not a feeling we can fully comprehend, but it’s something we can at least appreciate. And the perfect time to start appreciating it is during this Euro 2012 tournament.
It has everything: big stars, high drama and goals. Lots of goals. At this point in the tournament, more goals have been scored than any previous tournament since the Euros moved to this format in 1996.
Through 22 matches as of this column’s writing, there has not been a single goalless draw. Read it again. There has been at least one goal scored in every game, so if you want to see the ball in the net, Euro 2012 is the tournament to watch.
Once the hooks are in, you might just see why the rest of the world is so crazy about it.