The wait is over: The World Cup begins Thursday in Brazil.
The World Cup is perhaps the biggest sporting event on Earth. FIFA, the international soccer federation, claims that 3.2 billion people watched at least some of the 2010 World Cup.
I always wonder how they can say that. I mean, you can’t ask folks to raise their hands and then count 3.2 billion people.
With 32 teams, hundreds of players and 64 games, the World Cup is definitely big. Let’s look at some stories that may make the 2014 World Cup something to remember.
The U.S. team: The United States (ranked Number 13 in the world by FIFA) is in one of the toughest groups in the tournament. The Americans have to play Ghana (Number 37), Portugal (Number 4) and Germany (Number 2) in Group G.
The top two teams from each of the eight groups move on to the knockout rounds. That’s when the World Cup becomes like the NCAA college basketball tournaments. If you win, you go on. If you lose, you go home.
The United States must start fast with a win over Ghana on Monday to have much of chance of moving on. Goalkeeper Tim Howard will have to be at the top of his game if the Americans are to upset Germany or Portugal.
Big stars: One of the great things about the World Cup is that all the best players are in Brazil. No one skips the World Cup.
A big star may go on a goal-scoring spree to lift his country to the championship. Watch out for Lionel Messi (Argentina), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Neymar (Brazil) and Luis Suarez (Uruguay). They are the kind of talented, high-scoring forwards who might make this World Cup their personal playground.
Close games: Soccer is a low-scoring sport, so every goal is important. Maybe that’s why the players and fans celebrate the goals so much.
More than 70 percent of the games in the 2010 World Cup either ended in ties or were decided by one goal. That means one great scoring play or one acrobatic save can make all the difference.
It also means it’s hard to predict who will win. Lots of folks think that Brazil will win a record sixth World Cup. It has a talented squad and is playing at home.
I think defending champion Spain is the team to beat. It’s loaded with top players, and their precise passing game, like a fabulous playground game of keep-away, means they have possession of the ball most of the game.
In the end, I think Spain may also keep possession of the World Cup.