The Greatest Show on Earth

John Gozzi, Contributing Writer

Author, John Gozzi



Recently I got a call from a pal asking, “you watchin’ the World Cup final?” And I said, “Who’s playing?” Ignorance aside I did know the following A. the game was in Qatar, B. the audience is global and HUGE, C. the crowd roars.

Let’s face it, soccer can be the B word (boring). The field is too big- the scores are too low- the fans are polite. That is in America. But for most of the 32 countries at the World Cup, people worship two religions and one of them is soccer (aka futbol).

So, I turned on the game. The stadium itself was spectacular- if I didn’t know better, I’d say the outside structure was made of pure gold. The sights of Qatar in the background were otherworldly. And inside the crowd was going bananas. It wasn’t an out-of-control drunken mob, probably due to the no alcohol rule, but a bi-partisan mob nonetheless. There seemed to be an equal amount of blue (France) and white (Argentina) clad fans. Now and again, you could spot the surreal sight of a local man in a headdress and robe.

It took me a while to get my bearings with the time clock (clock runs up- not down like in America) but the tension, even as a casual fan, was palpable. It was mentioned that there were fans that spent their life savings to be at this game. Now that is INSANE.

The game runs in two 45-minute halves. After the first half the score remained 2-0 and France had not even had a shot on goal. And I’m thinking that is why I’m not a soccer guy. But during that brief  intermission there were three or four “experts” tossing out analysis. I recognized two of them as former star U.S players. The most telling comment being, 2-0 is a dangerous score- one goal by France and they’re back in it. If Argentina scores first, it’s DONE AND DUSTED.

The second half play was tentative and even more physical. This is a sport without pads for the  most part. There were many yellow cards (warnings for rough play) and numerous players writhed on the ground in agony. If this were an NFL game more than a few players would have been excused from the game as probably concussed.

Finally, later in the half, France, after scoring a goal scored again to tie the game. They were no longer done and dusted and the legion of blue in the stands was going whacko. Then came extra time (like overtime in mainstream U.S sports only better). Substitutions were made and some of the players  exiting were in tears and some looked appalled. Fun fact, unlike basketball or football once you’re of the game, you cannot return!

By the end of extra time the game was 3-3 and being called by the announcers as the greatest WC final ever. So, it came down to penalty kicks and the experts predicted if it goes to penalty kicks –advantage Argentina. Almost three hours later they were right and Argentina was the champion. Tears and hugs in the stands and on the field were everywhere and I finally “got it.”   (Do yourself a favor and watch the concise recap on YouTube.)

The World Cup is much more than a glitzy event held every four years. It is a very tangible struggle of the Best against the Best. Someday, I hope to attend – it doesn’t have to be the finals, just being part of the greatest sports spectacle on earth will be plenty good enough.