Held every four years, the World Cup is the most amazing sporting event in the history of the world, and this year's competition promises more than 35 BILLION viewers -- yes, that's correct. More than six times the population of the planet! We're talking cumulative ratings here. After all, the World Cup is a month-long event that makes the Olympics look like a child's talent show.
Over 144 countries have competed for over three years to narrow the playing field to the final 32 teams. Those teams begin battling on June 10. By July 12, the day of the final, there are only two countries left standing. That's 64 incredibly competitive games -- over 128 HOURS of soccer in one month.
To put the World Cup competition into perspective, look back at the so-called "Dream Team" the United States sent to the Olympics a few years ago. Because the U.S. has the only major basketball league in the world, our players are the best. Now imagine that dozens of countries had leagues equivalent to ours -- each paying hundreds of millions of dollars to their star players. The quality of international play would be much higher, and every country would have a roster of world-class superstars -- their own "dream team" so-to-speak.
That's exactly what happens in the World Cup. Every player privileged to play in the competition is generally a huge national or international multi-million dollar star. They don't make much money for the World Cup -- it's a quest for national honnor. So rather than the matches being incredibly one-sided like the Olympic event, the World Cup is the most competitive soccer and the players have the most to win -- or lose. Players can become national heroes or national disgraces. It's powerful drama you couldn't write.
Traditionally soocer's been weak in the U.S. We've only made it to the World Cup finals four times (and our last time, in 1994, was an automatic qualification as we were the host country). But soccer is the fastest growing sport in the country and now that Major League Soccer (in its third season and bringing in more fans, on average, than baseball) has raised the awareness level to its highest ever, ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2 are doing the unprecedented act of bringing every single World Cup match to U.S. viewers. If you are nut like me that means you'll be doing LOTS of videotaping so you don't miss a minute of the competition. For most viewers, catching the U.S. Team matches against three-time world champions Germany and political rival Iran will be key. Here's a brief schedule for you:
|BRAZIL vs. SCOTLAND|
(The opening game of the World Cup with previous winners Brazil -- this will be one to watch!)
|June 10, 11:30 a.m. (ET)|
|U.S. vs. GERMANY||June 15, 2:30 p.m. (ET), ABC Television|
|U.S. vs. IRAN||June 21, 2:30 p.m. (ET), ABC Television|
|U.S. vs. YUGOSLAVIA||June 25, 2:30 p.m. (ET), ABC Television|
|If the U.S. passes into the second round, we would play June 29 at either 10:30 a.m. (ET) or 3 p.m. (ET).|
|Championship Final||July 12, 2:30 p.m. (ET), ABC Television|
There, that's only 14 hours of games. Not so bad, eh? Well worth watching, I assure you. Catch a few matches and I guarantee you'll understand why they call soccer The Beautiful Game.