2014 FIFA World Cup Column
Kyle Beckerman had a dream. The midfielder had long desired to play for the United States Men’s National Team. When he was a teenager, Beckerman would play soccer at all times of the day. When he left his parents a note saying where he was, he would sign it with his autograph and the identifier “USA No. 15.”
For long parts of his career in soccer, his dream was just that, a thought squared away in the back of his mind. Try as he might, Beckerman never fell into the plans of U.S. managers Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley.
Things changed in 2011, when Jurgen Klinsmann took over as the national coach and Beckerman saw more action. When the preliminary roster was released for the 2014 World Cup, Beckerman’s name was listed, as he was expected to backup defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones.
Monday against Ghana, Klinsmann rolled out a lineup with two defensive midfielders, meaning Beckerman would start. Beckerman strolled onto the field in Natal, a 32-year-old man, living out the dreams of his childhood. Everything was complete. Even his number, 15.
Beckerman’s case is just one example of the dreams that can be fulfilled at the FIFA World Cup, the quadrennial soccer showcase that has halted civil wars, put small, not so powerful nations on the map and often elevates its performers to the level of demigods. Dreams come true for fans as well as players, because the brightest stars shine on the highest level.
At this World Cup, fans have received more than their money’s worth. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was a very defensive affair, with teams trying simply not to make a mistake. The 2010 final between Spain and the Netherlands was a grim watch, with 14 total yellow cards and several harsh sliding challenges.
Brazilian soccer is traditionally the complete opposite of what took place in South Africa. The nation holds the most World Cup titles with five and has always been known for an attractive style that captivates fans. After all, this is the country that produced Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Neymar Jr. and more.
Simply put, this is not your slightly older brother’s World Cup. Just to demonstrate the more impressive offensive play we’ve seen this tournament, the total number of goals scored in 2010 during this same time frame has been more than doubled. Those who slogged through South Africa were dreaming of a beautiful tournament in Brazil. So far, the World Cup has delivered.
Of course, all of the World Cup stars have their own dreams. In many cases, big names have started in a big way. The host nation’s talisman, Neymar Jr., is Brazil’s present and future. At age 22, there may be up to three more World Cups in Neymar’s future, depending on how gracefully he ages. With two goals already this World Cup, Neymar looks poised to break Pele’s 77 goal record for Brazil.
Other stars have swaggered into the spotlight this World Cup as well. Robin van Persie, a Dutch mainstay, has shrugged off his shaky club performance with Manchester United and scored two goals in the opening game. His teammate, fellow Dutch legend Arjen Robben, added two goals as well, topping out at 37 kilometers per hour on one of his furious runs. World Cup 2010’s golden boot (top scorer) award winner, Thomas Muller, is well on his way for another scoring award. Muller’s hat trick against Portugal puts his career tally at eight World Cup goals. At age 24, Muller could well break Ronaldo’s record of 15 goals in the tournament.
The game’s greatest current player and one of its best ever, Lionel Messi, removed some criticism from his previous World Cup play by scoring a beautiful goal against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some, however, have not been so lucky. England’s Wayne Rooney played a rough game against Italy, furthering his World Cup struggles. Fellow top star Cristiano Ronaldo also languished against Germany, losing 4-0. Bear in mind though, that Ronaldo’s talent surrounding him is not that strong. Sometimes when watching Portugal, it looks as if Ronaldo is competing with himself, surrounded by 10 red jersey wearing mannequins. For some, the World Cup dream can become a nightmare.
This is certainly true for one of the world’s top teams and the defending World Cup champions, Spain. The Spaniards have enjoyed a storybook six years, winning three consecutive major tournaments. The story took a dark turn in Spain’s first game, a 2010 final rematch against the Netherlands. Many expected Spain to dominate, but the Dutch played inspired, transcendental soccer, winning by a score of 5-1. With a tough group remaining, some have doubted whether the champions can come close to defending their crown.
While traditional powers falter, there is always a team on the rise. The United States has long been regarded as a land of opportunity and the U.S. appears to be making the most of its World Cup, even against challenging odds. When the World Cup Draw was over, the U.S. fans gaped in horror. Germany, the three time champions, headlined the group. Portugal, with Ronaldo, loomed large as well. The real terror though, came from seeing Ghana in Group G. Ghana, the same side that had eliminated the U.S. from the last two World Cups, would play the U.S. first, on June 16 in Natal, Brazil.
With a true American spirit, however, the United States was able to dream big and move past Ghana 2-1. The game was not without its tough moments though. After Clint Dempsey’s goal 30 seconds in, Ghana took control of the match. After Andre Ayew scored for Ghana in the 82nd minute, it looked like the U.S. could possibly be heading towards the same fate that had befallen it in 2006 and 2010.
John Brooks, the 21 year-old German-America national team convert, wasn’t supposed to be on the field when he scored in the 86th minute. The only way he worked his way onto the pitch was because Matt Besler, who Brooks backs up, had to exit the game with tightness in his hamstring. Brooks did more than defend, as he also scored the game winning goal off of a Graham Zusi corner kick, looking completely shocked that he had just defeated Ghana.
Brooks’ dream, as it turns out, was an actual dream before he even scored the goal. Two nights before the Ghana game, Brooks actually dreamt he entered the game as a substitute and scored off a header from a corner kick to give the USA the victory.
Whether it’s a dream from two nights before, or a 20 year desire of representing your homeland, that’s the true power of the FIFA World Cup. The cup is a competition where the lines that separate dreams and reality, which often remain parallel and never intersect, blur and merge together on a 120 yard long, 80 yard wide canvas.
Kyle Gibson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. He writes a blog about soccer that can be found by going to www.kickingitsoccer.wordpress.com.
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