It’s here, it’s happening and I know, we’re not going, but we were never going to make it past the round of 16 anyway, right? The FIFA World Cup kicks off on June 14, thus commencing the most popular sporting event in human history.
There are too many storylines to count. This is Messi’s last realistic shot at a World Cup. After coming so close in Brazil, will he finally bring La Albiceleste what they’ve been craving during their 32-year World Cup drought? If he does, he will likely be considered the best soccer player of all time.
What youngster will light up the tournament, like James Rodríguez did in 2014, and propel his career into the stratosphere? Can Neymar, coming off a broken foot, avenge Brazil’s 7–1 national embarrassment to Germany? After dreaming of el quinto partido (“the fifth game”) for decades, will Mexico finally realize its national obsession by reaching the quarterfinals on foreign soil for the first time in team history?
Every team has a unique World Cup story. Each believes that this year, the Soccer Gods will bless their country en route to achieving the seemingly impossible on the world’s biggest stage.
This is, we must remember, the World Cup Finals. The World Cup began three years ago in qualifying campaigns that saw world giants like Italy, the Netherlands and our beloved minnow, the United States, fail to qualify, launching long investigations into ‘Why?’
Like every World Cup, this one too is already marked by controversy. From accusations of workers’ rights violations in stadium construction to allegations of corruption in delivering Russia the World Cup Finals in the first place, controversy will never be too far from the pitch. Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and its European relations looms in the background.
But this is what the World Cup is all about — a reflection of the state of the world in a sporting event that brings billions (yes, billions) together.
When my parents lived in Amatitan Arriba, El Salvador, in 1994, they saw adults walking two hours to the nearest town, putting two car batteries on their shoulders and walking back, only to plug them into a 12-inch wide TV screen to watch World Cup games. El Salvador hadn’t even qualified.
International football offers a chance for humanity to lay down its arms, like when Pelé arrived in civil-war ravaged Nigeria only to find the two sides in truce, waiting to see the Brazilian maestro kick a ball around. Or when the Germans and the English called for a Christmas Day truce in 1914 on the western front to play a game of football.
This summer, the world will hold its breath together, reminding us that though we are divided by languages, seas, ideologies and grudges, one 16 oz. ball will, if but for a few moments, be a symbol for our one world.