I shuttled between New York and Paris at the onset until the near conclusion of the 1998 World Cup. It wasn't much talked about in the United States as the people I had been meeting with were oblivious until I got to Europe. Over there, it was electrifying. The World Cup was capable of bringing entire populations to a standstill. Horns blared along the streets of Paris every time the home team (they were hosts) scored victories and cafes in Zurich were filled with eager-eyed men AND women running commentaries while watching large projection screens.
I had the same kind of experience in 2006 while in Madrid. Once the Spanish team (hey, they are favorites this year) punctured the goal, the entire edifice where I was shook to the stomps, cries, and other sounds of elation by academicians whom I thought were engrossed in scholarly endeavor. One is likely to feel goose pimples over the national pride, something which the World Cup is able to achieve with seeming ease and flamboyance. This year, the Cup is being hosted by South Africa, the first time that it's being played on the African continent.
Because I haven't played football in my entire life, I at first could not quite grasp the magic that has so much engulfed the continent. Having been used to rival sports like basketball and tennis, I found it odd that the game could end up in a draw and produce very low scores. In time however, I have learned to admire and enjoy watching AND criticizing football games.
Like all sports, the Cup has its own heroes. In 1998, Zidane rose to world fame. Today, they come from all over but strikingly from African teams who have been playing with European franchises. Have you seen Cote D'Ivoire's Didier Drogba in the latest issue of Time? Too bad injuries sideline him in this Cup hurting the chances of his national team. Influence is written all over the faces of these icons that compelled Armani to pick Cristiano Ronaldo as his new image model.
We could only wish that these influentials could use their personal power to satisfy hunger in Africa or to prevent violence in Palestine. Is that too much heat for this fever?