by Sam Griffen

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not much of a soccer fan. The fact that I call it ‘soccer’ and not the more widely used ‘football’ is a testament to my American ignorance about the sport. I’m not saying all Americans are naive to this worldly game, but for reasons unknown it has never really captured much of an American audience, hindered by sports like baseball, basketball and ‘American football.’ However, once every four years, something magical happens across the world. Every person who once called themselves uninterested or uninvolved in the game of soccer gets captured, mesmerized by the fantastic intensity of the World Cup. In some ways, the passion and excitement exceeds that of the storied Olympic Games, with teams teetering on the tightrope between advancement and elimination and a tournament parity that is unmatched by any other. In simpler terms, it is the single most enticing and unpredictable sporting event the world has to offer, and I just feel privileged to be allowed to watch it despite my lack of knowledge about the game.

This year, things were just as exciting as always at the World Cup in South Africa. In the group stage, teams like South Korea and Japan shocked the world by advancing convincingly to the second round, while typically stronger squads like 2006’s finalists France and Italy surprised in a different way by bowing out. And, though my loyalties lie with the Blue Samurai, I was also very pleasantly surprised to see the United States escape the brutal group stage and snatch a spot in the Round of 16. It was then that stronger nations like Germany and Brazil put away their opponents with ease, while to my disdain both Japan and the US were eliminated in two of the most heart-wrenching defeats of the tournament.

From there, four more exciting games brought Uruguay, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain into the semifinals. The Netherlands narrowly beat Uruguay 3-2 while Spain outlasted Germany 1-0 to set up a Spain-Netherlands final in South Africa. And, proving that their position as the favorites of the 2010 tournament was no lie, Spain took home its first World Cup by defeating the Netherlands 1-0 in an intense overtime on the backs of superstars Carles Puyol, David Villa and Andrés Iniesta, who scored the clinching goal and won Man of the Match. As for other awards, Diego Forlan of Uruguay won the Golden Ball, the award given to the tournament’s overall best player, and Germany’s Thomas Mueller won the Golden Boot, the award given to the tournament’s best scorer, as well as the Best Young Player Award. Spain’s Iker Casillas won the Golden Glove, given to the best goalkeeper, and the Spain team won the FIFA Fair Play Award to go with their World Cup. It was as gripping a tournament as ever, and I can safely say that my interest in the sport has been significantly heightenedsimply because of how enjoyable it is to watch.

Overall, Spain conquered all others and won their first World Cup, but that has never been what the tournament is about. The real essence of the tournament is the way it brings countries together, using the entertainment, tenacity and beauty of sports to accomplish something that even the most gifted of politicians would be unable to do. Every four years, for a single month, the problems of our world are eradicated and all that remains is a group of people playing with a ball. Having fun. Through all the yellow cards and red cards and tough eliminations is a single game, uniting a world that understands the significance of becoming one in the interest of soccer.

Alright, fine, in the interest of football. Here’s one American who has been converted.

Photo 1 by Jamie McDonald, © 2010 Getty Images

Photo 2 by Cameron Spencer, © 2010 Getty Images