The 2018 World Cup has begun! If you haven’t caught soccer fever yet, it’s about time you do.
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The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world, watched by billions around the globe. This month-long tournament attracts fans and viewers from every single corner of the planet. It’s the ultimate global party.
Here in Mexico, millions of people catch soccer fever during the World Cup, especially when the national team is playing. The Mexican team may not be a favorite to win the Cup, but the fans will never cease rooting for them.
Soccer in Mexico
In 1824, the first soccer match in Mexico was played in a small, windy pitch in Real del Monte, a charming little mining town in Hidalgo province.
Cornish miners brought the game along with them when they settled in Mexico’s cold central highlands. Slowly, soccer began to spread.
In 1902, the first Mexican soccer association was formed, teams started playing tournaments, and the rest is history.
Today, soccer is a multi-million dollar business in Mexico, with 18 first-division teams, a women’s professional league, youth leagues, and 18 large-capacity stadiums. You can bet the sport is a huge deal.
The World Cup in Mexico
Mexico has already been fortunate enough to have hosted two World Cups, in 1970 and in 1986. Arguably, you could say these have been the two best tournaments in history.
In 1970, the Match of the Century was played at the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City. It was the semifinal between West Germany and Italy, and involved extra time, last-minute goals, and an embattled Franz Beckenbauer playing with his damaged arm taped to his body. In the end, Italy won the match.
That year, Pelé’s legendary Brazil squad took the Cup home. It was perhaps the most astounding national team ever assembled, with players like Jairzinho, Gerson, Tostao and Rivelino, who were geniuses in their own right, and the best player of all time, Pelé, leading the squad.
The 1986 World Cup spawned two of soccer’s finest moments when Maradona’s unforgettable Argentina squad played the quarter final against England, also in the Aztec Stadium. In this historic match, Maradona scored history’s two most famous goals- the Hand of God goal and the Goal of the Century.
And as if Mexico didn’t already own enough soccer history, it will soon become the first country to host three World Cups. On June 13th, 2018, it was announced that Mexico, the USA, and Canada will host the 2026 World Cup together. Despite trade wars and tariffs, one thing is certain- soccer is still bringing people and nations together. The 2026 tournament will surely go down in history.
World Cup Athletes
If you’re not a fan, you might think soccer only consists of a bunch of players running around after a ball. However, soccer requires technique, specialized skills, and a great deal of athleticism.
Players are not all made the same: the goalie defends the net, the defenders keep the opposite team from approaching, and the midfielders direct the ball to the forwards so they can score.
Speed and stamina are also necessary attributes, since players are required to run around the pitch for almost two hours with sudden sprints. Endurance is definitely key.
World Cup Fever
Soccer is undeniably Mexico’s national sport, but it’s also popular the world over. When watching the World Cup, you can get a sense of being part of a truly international community.
From lavish stadiums down to a humble dirt pitch, soccer is played in Mexico by people of all ages and social classes. You don’t need much. Just a couple a wide enough, open air space, two pairs of rocks at each end, an old ball, and you’re ready to play.
My husband and my kids stroll out every Sunday with a ball under their arm to play soccer in the local park. Pretty soon, all the local kids join in and the magic begins. It’s a community-bonding ritual that Mexicans have enjoyed for generations.
Soccer is played year round all over the world, so there is always something to watch: the Premier League in England, La Liga in Spain, the Serie A in Italy, the Bundesliga in Germany, or Mexico’s own Liga MX; aside from international tournaments like the Champions League, the European Championship, the Copa America, the Copa Libertadores, the Cup of Nations, the Confederations Cup, and so on. But there’s nothing quite like the World Cup.
There’s something remarkable about watching national teams play each other for the Cup. It’s probably the closest two countries will ever get to fighting without actually going to war.
In the end it’s all just a game, of course, but fans take it very seriously. As surprising as it may sound, a nation’s sense of pride can depend on victory or defeat on the pitch, so things can get pretty dramatic.
World Cup Stars
For this 2018 World Cup, keep your eye out for some of the world’s best players:
Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo
Argentina’s Lionel Messi
Germany’s Thomas Mueller
Uruguay’s Luis Suarez
Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic
France’s Antoine Griezmann
Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas
Spain’s Andres Iniesta
And of course, Mexico’s own Javier Hernández
So excuse me while I put on my team jersey and turn on my TV to watch the World Cup. And please don’t talk to me from June 14th to July 15th. I’ll be too busy watching the matches. Join the craziness instead!
Are you watching the 2018 World Cup? Who are you rooting for?