The first round of a World Cup tournament is a mere dress rehearsal for what we are about to experience. Starting today, this is where the World Cup begins. Where every game matters. Where teams will either live or die by the sword.
During the first round, teams are often playing conservative and calculated soccer. In the first game, nerves are showing and teams try to make sure that they don’t lose. In the second game, the match opens up and can be quite exciting as teams push forward. But by the third game in the first round, games can often be as extreme as being completely inconsequential or as good as the winner takes all.
But now that we’re entering the second round of the tournament, every game from here on matters. Every moment will be treasured. Every referee’s decision is crucial. Every near miss oooh and aaahed.
The other benefit of games from here on in the tournament is that entire countries will be swallowed up in watching the match. With everyone knowing that at the end of the game, whether it’s decided after 90 minutes, during extra time or by penalties, one team will walk home as the loser while the winner advances to the next stage.
During an interview with ESPN this week, the US players talked about how they were physically and emotionally exhausted after the incredible last-gasp victory against Algeria. But what most pundits fail to acknowledge is how exhausting these type of games are for us, the viewers. Building up to each of the US games thus far, I’ve found nerves and anxiety creating tension in me before a ball is even kicked. And then comes the most exhausting aspect of the journey: the actual game itself. Ninety minutes of highs and lows, of incredible tension and – sometimes – wonderful exhilaration. After the USA versus England and USA versus Slovenia games, I was completely drained. Not only that, but my voice was so hoarse from screaming and shouting that it took a couple of days after each game to return to normalcy.
Now, imagine how physically and emotionally draining first round games are and imagine how much more so the second round (and possibly latter stages of the tournament) will be.
So, let me repeat. This is where, to me, the World Cup truly begins. This is when I encourage non-believers to sit back and watch the incredible spectacle we are about to see. Let’s enjoy it and hope for some wonderful soccer.