From June 12 to July 13, billions of people will watch the world’s most popular sports event: the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup. The 2014 FIFA World Cup will be the 20th such tournament — and the second to be held in Brazil. Of the 203 national teams that competed in regional tournaments in order to qualify, only 31 teams will travel to Brazil to join the host nation for the 2014 cup. An estimated 600,000 foreigners will visit Brazil to attend a match, and many others, like myself, will journey to Brazil just to witness the spectacular (but controversial) event from outside the stadium gates.
The 32 teams competing for the world’s greatest soccer trophy are divided into eight groups of four teams. Each team plays one game against every other team in its respective group, with two teams advancing to the first knockout round. The host and arguable favorite to win the final, Brazil, will play the first game of the tournament against Croatia on June 12 in Sao Paulo.
The U.S. team is in Group G — considered by many to be this cup’s “group of death” — along with Germany, Portugal and Ghana. FIFA ranks Germany and Portugal as the second and third best teams in the world. The U.S. team is ranked at 14. Ghana is ranked at 38, but the team has proven especially challenging for the U.S. in recent World Cups. In 2006, Ghana beat the U.S. 2-1 in the final match of the group stage, thereby eliminating the U.S. from the tournament. Ghana eliminated the U.S. again with a 2-1 victory in 2010, though their encounter came this time in the round of 16 teams and was dramatically decided by Ghana’s last-minute goal in extra time.
Granted, the U.S. team will have its work cut out for it in the 2014 World Cup, though one might find some hope in the team’s surprise performance in the last cup held in Brazil. In 1950, the U.S. fielded a squad of semi-professionals and amateurs — including two decorated WW II veterans, a postman, a funeral director and a mill-worker — who defied expectations by upsetting the best team in world at the time, England, with a 1-0 victory in the group stage. Anything can happen in 90 minutes. The U.S. plays its first game of the 2014 Cup against Ghana, on June 16, in Natal.