By Rob Ficiur
The day after the NHL awarded the 2014 Stanley Cup, a new sport took over every sports channel and sports cast. Two years before the Rio Summer Olympics, the world is converging on Brazil for the World Cup of Soccer. Organizers expect (hope) the tournament will generate $4 billion in revenue.
The 2014 World Cup is being played in Brazil for the second time in its history. In 2010, Africa held the games for the first time ever. 014 will be the World Cup’s fifth stop in South America: Brazil 1950, Chile 1962, Argentina 1978 and the first World Cup in 1930 was held in Uruguay.
The World Cup tournament has been played every four years since 1930 (with the exception of 1942 and 1946 because of World War 2). Brazil, with five World Cup titles, has won more than any other country. Italy has won four and Germany has three championships, Uruguay and Argentina have two; and Britain , France and defending champion Spain have one each.
Canada is not one of the 32 countries competing in the 2014 championship. Currently Canada is ranked 110th in the soccer world. Four years ago we ranked 62nd. Canada’s only appearance in the World Cup of soccer was in the 1986. At these Mexico City games Canada lost all three games and were outscored 5-0.
Twenty four of the thirty two teams participated in the 2010 World Cup. New comers to the tournament this year are: Bosnia and Herzegovina (1st ever World Cup). Teams returning from lengthy absence include Colombia (16 years) Russia and Belgium (12 years). Croatia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Iran are back in the World Cup after not qualifying in 2010.
The 32 teams that qualified for the World Cup of Soccer were divided into eight groups of four. The four teams each group play a round robin tournament. The two top teams in each group advance to the Round of 16. Once the second round begins, winners go on and the losers go home.
As with any tournament there have been upsets in 2014. One week into the World Cup, 2010 Champion Spain was eliminated after losing to Chile 2-0. Coming into the 2014 World Cup, Spain had earned its place in the tournament by winning its European division. The Spanish did not look like the team that had been favored to repeat as champions. When they lost their opening game 5-1 to Australia, I was amazed at the poor defense shown by the team (and I know little about soccer). Even before their third game of round one, the had been a eliminated. It was only the fourth time in tournament history that the defending champion was eliminated in round one.
In less humiliating fashion, Britain’s team has gone home after round one for the first time since 1958. Losing 2-1 games to both Italy and Costa Rica sent the English home with fans asking many hard questions. (To translate this into Canadian language – How would Canadians feel if our Men’s Olympic hockey team was eliminated in the preliminary round? That coach and those players would not be on the national team four years from now).
Predictably controversy follows the World Cup on and off the field. A referee at the center of controversial calls has been suspended for the tournament. Off the field controversy and second guessing goes on. One of the twelve stadiums built for the World Cup is located in a remote area, and the chances of it ever being used again are more remote than the location.
When Brazil was awarded the 2012 World Cup and the 2014 Summer Olympics, it made sense to construct facilities to be used for two major events. (Unlike Montreal’s Olympic stadium who has not had a major tenant for ten years.) Construction delays, protests, strikes and ballooning budgets that follow the World Cup will continue two more years leading into the Summer Olympics. (Construction delays, cost over runs, over budget stadiums, that sound like every other Olympic game that has happened in the last forty years – this time the World Cup gets to be part of the complaining).
The 2015 Women’s World Cup of Soccer will take place across Canada. The first Women’s World Cup took place in 1991. Like the men, their tournament takes place every four years. Unlike the men, North American teams have had success.
The Americans have won the event twice (1991 and 1999) and finished in the top four every time. The Canadians finished fourth at the 2003 games. With home ice … sorry home pitch advantage, perhaps Canada can win its first World Cup of Soccer medal; we find out next year.