Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

World Cup is a spectacle — not a tournament

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By the time the World Cup final kicks off on July 13 at the iconic Maracan£, few people will actually have a direct, rooting interest in the outcome. Only two countries will be preparing a celebration and the pride of victory will be experienced by only one of them.

But everyone will party.

Maybe, like the cliché goes, it's not all about winning.

The World Cup, after all, is an event, a spectacle. Its draw is its international flavour -- the sense that, no matter where or with whom you happen to be watching, you are somehow part of something bigger and more inclusive than your community, your city, your country.

You are, for the month in which soccer is an international social convener, a truly global citizen, whether you happen to live in Wigan, Wuppertal or Winnipeg. You are in it primarily for the fun, and even before the trophy is presented you'll have no doubt enjoyed more than a few moments that had little to do with results.

Maybe a particular player will have caught your eye.

At Italia '90 a 38-year-old Roger Milla thrilled the world with his energy, exuberance and a goal-scoring celebration at the corner flag that has been mimicked ever since. He scored four times in that tournament, including twice in extra time against Colombia.

Then he and his Cameroon side took England to the limit until a Gary Lineker penalty sent them packing.

Team performances, too, can be memorable.

Brazil's display at the 1982 World Cup in Spain is still revered as one of the best in competition history, despite the fact they didn't even make the semifinals. But in their five matches, the likes of Socrates, Falcao and Zico, in particular, played the sort of soccer that turned casual observers into lifelong fans.

They played with smiles on their faces -- running about like children and moving the ball with joy. For them, success was measured in style points, and they racked those up like no team before or since.

Even heartbreak can be a story.

In a 1990 semifinal against West Germany, England attacker Paul Gascoigne was booked for a foul on Thomas Berthold. Already on a yellow card for a previous offence against Belgium, the 23-year-old began tearing up as he realized he'd be missing a potential final through suspension.

Say "Gazza's tears" and most soccer fans will know what you mean. It was a touching moment that has become all the more poignant because of Gascoigne's tragic personal life.

In one way or another the 2014 World Cup will produce something similar -- something that sticks.

It might be a moment of magic from a superstar. Neymar, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are each capable of the otherworldly. Or perhaps an up-and-comer such as Mateo Kovacic, Paul Pogba and Jordy Clasie will use the tournament as a springboard to a very special career.

Maybe the World Cup will turn a nobody into a hero, like Fabio Grosso in 2006.

It might even involve something just for you -- a free kick you never forget, a dribble that gets you out of your seat, a friend you make.

They say it's not all about winning. They're right.

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2014 C7

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