France beat Croatia 4-2 on Sunday to win the World Cup in men’s soccer.
France is a known commodity in the world, and in world soccer circles. It’s a country that’s had a lot of swag for a long time.
Conversely, raise your hand if you can find Croatia on a map, or if you know more than two facts about the country.
I don’t see many hands.
Soccer fans got what they wanted with a perennial power in France going against a real upstart – a team that came out of nowhere with a series of dramatic wins – in Croatia. That kind of David vs. Goliath match-up is what fans want in their sports’ most important events.
Remember the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and Loyola of Chicago men’s college basketball teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament, and how much fun it was to watch them play and advance through the rounds – in Loyola’s case, all the way to the Final Four?
But here’s the difference: In the NCAA Tourney, while the performances of Maryland-Baltimore County and Loyola of Chicago made for great stories, we have to remember that the bluebloods, such as Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky, all got into the event as well. To be sure, it wouldn’t be a college hoops tournament without those tradition-rich programs.
But in the World Cup, the biggest country not just now but in the history of … well, the world – the biggest of the world’s bluebloods, as it were - didn’t get into the event.
There were 32 teams in the World Cup this year, but not one of them had "USA" written across the front of their jerseys. How in the world did the United States not make it, especially with a field that large?
Croatia, with a population of 4.71 million (there’s a fact about the country), or about twice the size of the city of Houston, made it.
Tunisia, which has the same population as Ohio, made it.
Senegal, which has about three times as many people as South Carolina, made it.
Morocco made it, and the U.S., which is 10 times bigger, didn’t make it?
OK, so the U.S. is not a world power in men’s soccer, but it is a world power in all the more important categories such as the military, economy, etc.
Yes, soccer has grown immensely in the U.S., especially in the last 10 years, making the sport a big deal here. Nonetheless, if the national men’s soccer program in this country is to be taken seriously and gain respect both here and around the globe, then it has to at least make the World Cup every time, and make some noise more often than not. There is absolutely no excuse not to do so.
And at the same time, for soccer to be truly a world sport – not just the rest of the world, but all of it, and reap all the benefits that would bring in terms of increased media coverage – then it definitely has to have the world’s top superpower involved.
Indeed, the U.S. desperately needs the World Cup, and the World Cup desperately needs the U.S. Thy are indelibly joined at the hip.