NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 01: Pele speaks on stage during the New York Cosmos Legends Gala at Gotham Hall on August 1, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for New York Cosmos)
Last week, the number of teams who confirmed their spot in the World Cup finals in Brazil 2014 expanded to include a host of veritable veterans as well as one or two debutantes.
And with 21 teams already dead certs to appear on the Canarinha’s home soil in a few months, now is as good a time as ever to look at what makes the World Cup so special.
For starters, it brings together the best footballers on the globe to compete against each other for the biggest prize in the sport – and it always makes for an enthralling experience. And because the tournament has always been used as a measuring stick for players in the pantheon of greats, it will forever be the pinnacle of success.
If you win it outright, you can consider yourself eternally celebrated by your fellow countrymen.
And for the last 83 years it has separated the great from the very good – it’s as simple as that.
Just take this quote from Pele as an example, per Goal.com: “For me Pele is the best. Nobody has done more than Pele. He’s the only player to be World Champion at 17, winning three World Cups and score over 1,208 goals”
Throughout the recent flurry of matches, some sides put any niggling doubts to rest as they booked their tickets to the world’s biggest and most respected football tournament. Germany, Belgium and Spain were all among those who qualified automatically, while others could only perpetuate their uncertainty by failing to make the grade for now, such as Uruguay and Sweden.
On the one hand, sheer joy and ecstasy took hold as fans and players alike celebrated clinching their spot in the 32-team feast of football, while other experienced pangs of distress having fallen at the final hurdle.
However, despite the ever-fluctuating, see-saw of emotions, there was one other thing that was for sure – the World Cup shows no signs of losing its appeal.
The scramble to earn the right to compete against some of the best footballers of the modern age showcased exactly how highly-sought after an appearance at the World Cup is.
Regardless of the strength of a country’s domestic league, there has been unrivalled passion and determination right across the board throughout the current campaign. Whether it was Roy Hodgson’s England or Safet Sušić’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was clear that pride in their team and a desire to ply their trade on the biggest stage in international football was there – stronger than ever before.
And with more teams still to earn their spot in the month-long marathon of play, that same spirit can be witnessed again when the next round of matches kicks off.
Now, it’s no big surprise – the World Cup has always been unique.
However, considering the level of club commitment that exists today as well as the personal effort involved in rising through the ranks to become a modern day, professional footballer, it still seems remarkable that the tournament has retained its worldwide appeal ever since its inception in 1930.
But importantly it has.
Even the controversy currently surrounding the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 underlines this.
Considering the uproar that’s been justly made against the proposed move by FIFA President Sepp Blatter, it’s safe to assume that interest in the competition shows no signs of waning.
Although the idea to host the World Cup in what’s sure to be swelteringly hot conditions in a time period that would disrupt many of Europe’s top domestic leagues is a terrible one, you can be sure, viewing figures will be higher than ever for the event.
Why? Because you just can’t beat the World Cup for a spectacle – even if it is mired in controversy or negativity.
SEATTLE, WA – MAY 28: A fan blows a vuvuzela during the match between Mexico and Ecuador at Qwest Field on May 28, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. Mexico and Ecuador played to a 1-1 tie. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Remember the Vuvuzelas? Of course you do, you can probably still hear them buzzing in your ears. Granted, you’d be hard-pressed to find any fans of the ever-present droning, humming horns, after they caused quite a stir in South Africa 2010.
Yet, even with those plastic instruments nearly drowning out the commentators, people still tuned in and attended the matches in large numbers and with greater excitement than ever before.
Something that detracted from the event a little more seriously was the suspected match-fixing involved during Italy’s crunch second round tie against South Korea in 2002.
An over-zealous attitude on the pitch from the hosts, combined with a series of dubious refereeing decisions on the part of Byron Moreno, led many to reveal a sneaking suspicion of manipulation from the powers-that-be to allow Guus Hiddink’s charges safe passage to the last eight.
Clearly, the World Cup and controversy certainly don’t make the strangest of bedfellows, as a big talking point usually pops.
Sometimes, its connotations can be far-reaching, while at times they can be contained, isolated incidents that make those involved blush momentarily before sweeping it under the carpet.
Cheating on the field of play is one such controversy that can have serious repercussions.
We could look at Luis Suarez’s handball to deny Ghana in the last World Cup as an example of this, or indeed Thierry Henry’s handball against the Republic of Ireland in qualification for the same competition, or a number of others – in truth, there are quite a few.
It is this next example, however, stands out the most.
Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” has been hailed by some as a sign of his genius, his constant ability to outdo his opponents, while others see it as a betrayal of the honesty that takes years to permeate through the game.
However, it damaged football’s reputation as a sport that vies to honour honest, hard-working graft whilst also elevating it to levels hitherto unknown – throwing the game into the minds’ of people who normally would never think about football.
In essence, it showcased how the sport could be glamorised on the one hand, yet demonised at the same time. We saw there and then in that moment how the World Cup, for better or worse, will always be special.
And the reason is simple – his goal has become synonymous with the competition, and is just as captivating and engrossing as ever before, despite the fact it happened over 27 years ago.
In truth, the World Cup may be honoured, celebrated, debated, anticipated or even vilified, but its appeal will always shine through once a ball hits the back of the net, and fans’ pulses start to race.
In short, its fleeting nature means its cherished more.
It’s distinctive. It’s outstanding. It’s the World Cup.