Every four years, the excitement and the drama of the world's most watched sporting tournament takes over. And yet, if you're an American , statistics show you're not probably not paying attention this year. This is a shame, especially if you are lucky enough to be visiting or living in a soccer-crazy country like Germany during the World Cup. The quarter-finals begin on Friday, and the whole shebang will be over in just 10 short days. So even if you're someone who thinks of soccer as a kid's game, I'm going to list a few reasons why you should tune in.
1. Public Viewings: An excuse to waste a day at a biergarten
As Rog Bennett of the US-based soccer podcast "Men in Blazers" recently explained, normally if you're in a pub drinking a beer at 7:00 a.m., people are going to think you have a problem. But if you're doing so while a World Cup match is on TV, then you're simply a normal soccer fan. Of course, thanks to the time zone difference, fans in the US have to begin watching many games in the early hours of the morning. But in Germany we're in a good time zone for watching the remaining 8 matches: all the games start between 16:00 and 20:00 and all but two are on weekends.
Now, I am not encouraging excess drinking, but it is wonderful to just set aside an afternoon to gather with a few dozen or a few hundred people on a sunny day and cheer on a team. Most pubs show the games indoors and out, and the larger biergartens bring in huge screens so the crowd can comfortably watch the match. My recommended venues are Biergarten am Schlossgarten in downtown Stuttgart, Augustiner Biergarten in Bad Canstatt, Schwabengarten in Leinfelden, or Brauhaus Schoenbuch in Boeblingen. All conveniently close to Robinson Barracks, Kelley Barracks, and Panzer Kaserne respectively.
2. This World Cup is completely insane!
In the last decade, just a handful of teams have been consistently dominant - Germany, Spain, Brazil, and Argentina most notably. This time only Brazil has made it to the quarter-finals, which is a huge upset! Italy, which has won two World Cups in my lifetime, didn't even qualify. (Neither did the U.S., much to our shame, as it's the first time we didn't qualify since 1986!)
It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't follow international soccer what a huge upset this is! It's as if the New England Patriots failed to make it out of the playoffs! Even more bizarre are the plucky little countries who have managed to triumph over these giants of soccer, even up against the greatest players in the world such as Christiano Renaldo and Lionel Messi. Reigning champions Germany lost to both Mexico and South Korea, sending them back at the earliest stage of the game. Spain lost to World Cup host country Russia, a team that at the start of the tournament was ranked 70th in the world. And England, a soccer-loving country with a painful record of poor showings at the tournament, advanced via nail-biting penalty kicks for the first time in their history.
Smaller, dark-horse countries like Croatia, Belgium, and Sweden have all done remarkably well. While Brazil is still the favorite to win, for the first World Cup in a very long time, anything is possible. How can you resist the drama?
3. A little knowledge adds a lot of enjoyment
One of the reasons soccer has failed to take off in the USA is that a lot of us simply don't understand the game, at least not the tactics and strategy used at the professional level. I admittedly am not great at spotting "offsides" yet, but taking a little time to learn about the game makes it a lot more fun to watch (and makes the fouls a lot less confusing!) Here are some great resources to get started:
- Beginner's Guide to Soccer (US Soccer Players)
- 9 questions about the 2018 World Cup you were afraid to ask (Vox)
- Why soccer players take dives (Vox)
- How to Catch World Cup Fever (Freakenomics Radio Podcast)
4. Did I mention this only happens every four years?!
Seriously! And it's way more fun than the Olympics. Pick a team to root for (I recommend England because it's coming home) or a favored team to root against (Brazil is the clear answer here), grab a tisch at the biergarten, make some new friends, and get ready to say "Goooooooooaaaaaaaaaallllllllll!"
In honor of the World Cup, public Stuttgart tours will cost only 10 euro per person, and the schedule will be arranged so tours end 60-90 minutes before the start of the remaining afternoon games. I will be happy to give you advice and directions on where to best watch the game after the tour. (Go England!)