Recently, I was watching TV and saw a commercial for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. It’s interesting to me that FIFA believes there’s an ROI from airing a commercial more than a year in advance of the event. Considering that watching the ad got me extremely excited for next summer, though, what do I know?
As a lifelong fan of The Beautiful Game, the World Cup has always been a glorious event. I’m certainly not alone in feeling that way. While the quality of play isn’t quite on par with that of the Champions League, the unparalleled fanfare, pageantry, nationalism, and passion more than make up for it.
The competition creates moments like this, that make you skeptical that anything on the pitch could be done more perfectly:
The competition creates moments like this one in 2010, when, during the final minutes of added time against Algeria, Landon Donovan broke the tensest of stalemates with arguably the most exultant sports moment I’ve ever witnessed:
The World Cup is great, not only due to its status as the pinnacle of international sport, but because of its cyclical occurrence. The tournament, which takes place like clockwork every four years, provides a natural milestone for life. Since the time that lapses between iterations never changes, the World Cup always makes me pause and think back to what my life was like the last time all these nations played. Now that I have a few Cups under my belt, I’d like to take a look back at what the hell I was doing during these apexes of the Beautiful Game, as, it turns out, they all occurred at interesting, somewhat transitional periods of my life.
Let’s dive in.
USA, 1994 – Infancy
As I’m a child of the late 80’s, this wasn’t the first Cup for which I was alive. However, I was only 5 by the time the tournament came stateside, so you’ll have to excuse me for not being on top of things in 1990 Italy when I was one and a half.
Even in 1994, though, I was still a bit too young, and I’m not sure how much of the competition I actually watched. I mean come on; there were still a few years before I’d even enter my obsessed-with-Pokemon phase (which, by the way, is still going strong at around 15 years). I was, however, certainly aware of Roberto Baggio’s epic failure at the penalty spot, likely more due to our playground-“World Cup” games than actually having seen the game itself.
Either way, still way too early for the kid to have had any semblance of a clue.
France, 1998 – Initiation
Most of my knowledge of soccer at this stage in my life could be traced back to two things: (1) Rec Soccer, and (2) the FIFA computer game. It’s the latter that we’re primarily concerned with here.
Across my lifetime, I’ve played my fair share of video-games, and as anyone in a similar position will tell you, there are a few that just resonate differently than the others. For me, EA Sports’ FIFA World Cup ’98 was the first of this class. I cannot imagine how many hours I must have spent playing that game.
What’s fascinating is how much this one video game influenced my understanding of the world of soccer. Since the game was only about the World Cup, it didn’t include club teams like Man U or Barcelona, so for a lengthy amount of time, I didn’t realize they existed. Brazil, France, and Colombia were the only three teams in the game graded a full 5-stars, so they were the only teams I thought were good. Thus, when France topped Brazil 3-0 in the title game, everything was right with the world.
I have two lasting memories about the game. One was that the only team I would ever play with was France, and my only objective, ever, was to score as many goals with one player. It was the same player every time.
Yep. You guessed it.
The other lasting memory I have of this game is that it included a walled-in, indoor arena for 5-on-5 gameplay. This, combined with the fact that the slide tackling of goalies, and players without the ball, wasn’t yet being prevented by the game’s CGI, made for the most delightful of times.
So many red cards. So much hilarity.
2002, South Korea – Sloppy Seconds
This is the second World Cup that I actually watched, but really the first for which I actually had a grasp of what was going on. I remember USA upsetting Portugal 3-2 in the opening round, and Ronaldo’s weird hair cut. I remember learning that Brazil should always be a favorite to win, because as soon as they’re not, they run both the table and the victory laps in the Final.
Moreover, what I really remember is the time of my life during which this all happened. I was finishing up Middle School, impatient to move on to summer, which was right around the corner. As is often the case when you reflect back, everything seemed so bright, as if you rolled up Brazil’s color scheme and created a mood out of it. I had no real responsibilities yet. My only major decisions were which playground to meet at during the day, or whether we should play Flashlight Tag or Manhunt at night.
I watched the entire tournament, up until the Final. Then my family went on vacation, and we missed the last game. Don’t worry, I’m not still bitter about it, or anything…..
2006, Germany – Skipping’s Cool
For so many different reasons, this was the greatest World Cup of my lifetime.
I was still playing soccer at the time, and actually caught the final, including Zidane’s famous headbutt, in between games of a soccer tournament I was playing in. However, my sentiments about this particular Cup are much more tied up in the pre-High School Graduation time period I was living in at the time.
Senioritis was in full force. The only time I ever skipped school (other than Senior Skip Day, of course) was when I had a girl in my E-commerce class forge a Doctor’s Note so I could join a dozen of my friends as we took off early, grabbed Chinese food, and watched the opening game as Germany put on a 4-2 clinic against Costa Rica. Fring’s goal, which can be found here, is still as sublime today as it ever was.
As I mentioned just now, I was still playing organized soccer at the time, but that part of my life was ending quickly. My Varsity career was over, and while Club soccer was still going on, I was much more into kicking the ball around while kicking it with my friends; I was less concerned about whether to play 3-5-2 or 4-4-2, but instead how many people we get for a 1 on 1 tournament on the Rexford blacktop. After all, FIFA Street had come out earlier that year, and it still wasn’t long after this 2008 gem:
As well as this one here, that embodies the spirit of that tournament, and the associated summer, and illustrates why there is really only one Beautiful Game:
Man, it still gets me every time Adriano kisses that ball, or how hard they get the ref to bite.
I think the reason I get so worked up from this video is that it’s fairly representative of that stage in my life. The Brazilians are in the locker room, allegedly preparing for a serious competition, but that’s not on their minds right now. Instead, they’re having their fun and games, despite this important event looming in the future. Considering my only concern at that stage in life was to shoot the shit with my friends and squeeze as much enjoyment out of my last pre-college days, I’d say that’s pretty spot on.
2010, South Africa – God Damn, is Spain Good or What?!?
From a momentous experience standpoint, not much stands out for this one. I recall Landon Donovan’s aforementioned goal, as well as the one from Andres Iniesta that sealed the deal for the Spaniards. It seemed like there were 395 Vuvuzelas per person, but there really wasn’t anything else about the tournament itself that made a lasting impression. Even England’s much hyped clash with our American squad yielded a completely underwhelming 1-1 draw, thanks to a basic goalkeeping error.
This is the tournament, however, that got me thinking about the timing of these World Cups in my life, and how much always changes between every time a foursome gets classified as “The Group of Death.” In 1994, I was aware of the tournament, but barely. Four years later, I was crazy about the damn thing, but, because I was 9, was completely out of touch with reality. By the time South Korea rolled around, I was fully immersed (my classmates and I had even chosen our names in Middle School French class to give homage to our favorite players) but still growing up, transitioning to High School but not quite old enough to feel like an outcast because I still had braces. The tournament in Germany was another, albeit later, transition period in my life.
It helps that I timed up three straight World Cups with graduations from different schools, and thus phases in my life, but this most recent one was arguably the biggest. I’d just finished attending Lafayette, and my future remained woefully unclear. I had no sense of where I wanted my life to go, nor any leads on how to figure that out. All I knew at the time was that three footie games a day, mixed with a massive binge of The Wire, sounded pretty freaking good to me.
2014, Brazil – TBD
It’s interesting for me to look back on these times in my life, using these World Cups as recurring events to benchmark progress against. The last few times have overlapped with naturally occurring transition stages in my life, but at every point, my life looks completely different than it did before.
My life right now is already worlds apart from where it was in 2010. Instead of living at my mom’s house in Niskayuna with no income, I’m gainfully employed and living independently in DC. It could get more different than that, I suppose, but it was never going to be.
While it’s always hard, in the present time, to appreciate that life will be different in the future, that’s the way it always happens. The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is still over a year from now. That’s more than enough time for change to happen. How much different will my life be the next time this great competition rolls around?
“When you were a kid, it was easy. You were not afraid to try… to dare…. So, my advice to you is…. never grow up, my friends” – Eric Cantona