Spain is home to the greatest collection of soccer players in the world. Scoring just one goal in 120 minutes to win in the final over the Netherlands and just eight goals through seven games of the World Cup tournament, they were crowned champions. The Spaniards accomplished everything they needed to in what seemed like a short month, but their journey started so long ago.
Here's the good news America, the U.S. soccer team beat Spain less than a year ago during the Governor's Cup tournament in South Africa, so technically, we're better than the best in the World. That's a bittersweet realization of pride and the whatifs of a different starting lineup, an earlier substitution or the aftermath of a victory in the game against Ghana.
But that's not the whole story here. No matter what country you come from, who you root for, this year's World Cup showed just why soccer is the best sport in the world.
In a word: ecstasy. To work as hard as the Spaniards did, they deserve all the spoils of winning the championship of the world. No other sport boasts a legitimate world championship outside of the Olympics. The World Series is not, as the name suggests, the only baseball championship in the world. Same with the NBA championship and the Super Bowl. Other sports leagues reflect many championships around the world in their respective countries, but they never the final say.
Reason# 7: The Final Say
When the U.S. won the gold medal in basketball during the Summer Olympics of 2008, it was the final say of the sport. They were the basketball champions of the world. But yet, it was an empty championship. The team had been together for less than a year and the amount that went into the success didn't measure up to what the U.S. soccer team had to go through.
In a similar fashion, the U.S. hockey team were runner ups at the Winter Olympics in 2010, but once more, with just a few months of collaboration to get their spoils, it doesn't add up to the dedication soccer teams give to the World Cup.
The World Cup brings together the best players in the world in the only tournament of its kind and gives a final say in who is the best in the world. The World Cup is not just a tournament that throws a team together so that their nation can participate and hope for the best, it is a consistent thought in the minds of professional soccer players and spectators from nations around the world.
This U.S. team has been together for four years now, some with the team for longer. No, they didn't play or even practice once a week through all four of those years, but with various friendly games, the qualifications within their continent and different tournaments around the world leading up to the World Cup, the U.S. team was in fact a unit that worked on plays, plans and strategies together for years leading up to the ultimate test.
The rewards of even one win in the World Cup tournament makes that dedication worth it. To get a shot at the final say among everyone in the world makes this sport great.
Reason #8: Skill
It is through becoming the champions of the world of soccer that spectators can appreciate the pure skill that soccer players possess.
Think back to The Netherlands' Giovanni van Bronckhorst's goal in their semifinal game against Uruguay. It was at least 25 yards away from the net and was placed perfectly, snug in the top right corner of the net.
It was the goal of the tournament and the amount of momentum behind both the physical kick and the emotional boost it provided is unmatched in professional sports. It spurred the Netherlands forward and was the play that helped them win and carry on to the final.
Take a step back from the actual strike by van Bronckhorst's foot and take in all the elements surrounding the shot before it was taken.
With 22 players on the field, when a goal is scored, it has to be perfect. In my reason number 5 soccer is the best sport, I show the uncertainty of every moment in a soccer match. Eleven opponents is a lot of bodies to go through. Passes, lobs, crosses and finally the shots need to be perfect. If a team chooses, they can keep all 11 bodies on defense, making it extremely difficult to get a shot on net without it being deflected or in a position that the goalie is already in, ready to make the save.
Van Bronckhorst's goal defied perfection. It started with a cross from the opposite side of the field, followed by a perfect back heel flick that continued to the perfect amount of dribbling forward and passing in a triangle to get it to the open van Bronckhorst who also defied perfection with not jus this positioning and timing, but with just the right amount of touches before the perfect shot.
So much perfection gives me shivers.
So many other goals during the tournament followed suit. In fact, all of them did. Show me one goal that was a total accident, was sloppy, that was easily put in the back of the net. Not just the goals, but the defenses and sometimes the almost goals still showcased perfected skill.
In other sports, you're given multiple opportunities to showcase skills, basketball players will always make great shots, baseball players will get their hits and their strikeouts, hockey goals are generally sloppy and come through persistence.
In soccer, every goal is perfect, because it has to be. No skill like a soccer player's skill leaves your jaw dropped and a gasping noise coming from the room.
Reason #9-11: Togetherness
Yes. This counts as three reasons: Togetherness of your country, togetherness for the sport and togetherness of your fellow man.
Soccer is more powerful than a sport.
Did you watch any of the games with family? Friends? At a bar? With your nation? I bet you did, because soccer elicits the biggest feeling of togetherness among not just nations, but people.
The U.S. came together as a nation to watch this World Cup, with 40 percent more viewership than the last World Cup, America proved its interest is growing in both the sport and in coming together for a common goal.
The reactions of togetherness are evident. Here is the most powerful video I have ever seen of support in a compilation of videos showing how complete strangers embraced and cheered among each other in a display of togetherness after Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria across not just the U.S., but the world. No other sport can match this:
Need I say more?
No matter the size of the gathering, the location, the age, gender, race, sex, level of intoxication or level of interest, the togetherness of soccer shines brighter and boasts a connection tighter than support for a win. It's more than a game.
When the U.S. beat Russia in 1980 in hockey, the Miracle game actually divided the world. The U.S. felt like the victors, alone in their own stead, a nation victorious over other people in the world.
When Spain won the World Cup, I talked to a Dutch native I met when I lived in the country for a few months, expecting to console her, but the first thing that came out of her mouth was "Congratulations to Spain."
The sentiment among her countrymen was shared. They were all upset, sure, but they had the human connection to know what Spain went through. The two nations shared the same hard work and dedication, anticipating every moment as it unfolded for years to get them to this moment. Up until the last four minutes of the final, the two nations' emotions were one in the same.
But even after a devastating loss plagued the nation of the Netherlands for the third time in a World Cup final, they still do not feel disdain. Still connected to Spain, knowing what could have been, able to share even a little bit in their victory, having tasted it, smelled it, almost breathed it in, only to have the wind knocked out of them in the final minutes of an already exhausting game.
They still welcomed their boys home as if they were champions, cheered for Spain at the end of the game, respecting their victory together.
This does not show up solely in international soccer, that's the obvious form of togetherness: Of course you're going to root for your nation. In club soccer, this feeling still resonates beyond that of any other sport.
During my time in the Netherlands, I went to a public gathering to watch the Champions League Final, the final match between club soccer teams in all of Europe. Even during this match, between two teams that played hundreds of miles away in England, Dutch supporters found themselves embracing each other to support their chosen squads.
The most powerful bond among some of my friends are among the ones I went with to a Netherlands-Denmark game in Holland. I saw some of them for the first time in two years to watch the World Cup Final and it felt like we hadn't missed a beat. None of us are Dutch, but we all felt the same excitement, the same attachment and the same disappointment for the Netherlands squad through all 120 minutes.
Is there a why to all of this? What is it about soccer that creates this feeling? Why, when I tune in on a soccer match that I find a common supporter and instantly feel like we would have each others back in a fight, would loan each other rent if we fell on hard times, would offer each other the last peanut in the basket at the bar?
What is it about this sport that elevates it beyond all others to encourage this euphoria of companionship?
Because the world plays this game. Every continent, every country, every city, every village. Soccer resonates everywhere.
Not even running water is as universal as the world's game.
When your country wins a World Cup, you know that every one of the 6 billion people had a chance to prove themselves up against you and your nation.
Find me something similar to that, not just in sports, but anything.
Soccer, fútbol, football, fußball, futebol, call it what you will, it's the best sport in the world.
Well done Spain, but U.S. soccer nation has their eye on you, and the rest of the world too.
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