One of our central tactics in learning to assimilate culturally here in the UK has been sport (singular, never plural). Thus, we watched a bit of football and rugby in the autumn, and then got serious in January by following the Six Nations rugby closely and watching most of the games. We then watched the FA cup semi-finals and finals, and the euro cup finals in football, followed by a number of pre-World Cup 'friendlies'.
All of this was only prep work for experiencing the World Cup. Here, the World Cup is like Christmas, the Super Bowl and Ramadan all rolled together: 1) the excitement and giddiness about it, from everyone, is palpable, 2) it's the biggest event in sport, full stop, 3) it changes everyone's daily practices and rituals. It goes almost without saying that every single World Cup match is televised live on free-to-air TV (i.e. you don't need cable or satelllite). And even the announcers seem to recognise that there's just nothing like the World Cup; they'll sign off from the post-game wrap-up of the 2pm game by saying, 'and just 45 more minutes until there's more football'.
We're probably not living up to standards, but we've now watched most of about 17 games. My top games so far, would have to be:
1) US v. Italy (more below)
2) Argentina v. Serbia
3) Angola v. Mexico
Anyone who watched the Argentina game must simply confess that it's a beautiful sport. That second goal was just awe-inspiring: 24 consecutive passes before the goal, with each of the last 4 passes safely categorized as genuis, and the final back heel pass just breathtaking.
Anyone who watched the US game last night and still says they don't like soccer - that it's not a sport with any excitement or drama - must really be missing something fundamental in their brain-vision system. I just barely survived the tension of the second half, and I'm a hardened hockey fan who can usually take a great deal of sport stress. And the Americans played some brilliant, determined football against one of the very best teams in the world (and with only 9 players!). What most impressed me was that the British press this morning was full of praise for the Americans; there's a genuine love of the game, and when a team puts on a show of quality football they are applauded for it, even if they are the otherwise-hated Americans.
Many huge matches to go in the qualifying stage, with numerous unanswered questions:
1. Can England finally play up to their abilities?
2. Will Brazil emerge from their stupor and play at the level of Argentina?
3. Will the US show up for the game against Ghana looking like the out-of-sorts dolts from game one, or the tenacious group of footballers who clearly deserve to be the in the World Cup that played game two.
4. Will tiny Ecuador continue their impressive play?
You can be sure, we'll be watching. You should be too.