The weekend we’ve all been waiting for is finally upon us. The World Cup championship game is set for this Sunday, 2:30 PM (EST, on ABC). Paired up are the oranje Dutchmen and the electric Spaniards. Northern Europe versus Southern Europe. Germanic speakers versus Italic speakers (sure, they’re all proto-Indo-European speakers, but…). North Sea-farers versus Mediterranean Sea-farers. You get the drift. However you frame it, this, my friends, is truly the big dance — de grote dans, el gran baile — a sporting title match for the bona fide status of “world champions.” In the U.S. we are accustomed to seeing that slogan plastered all over our league wining baseball, football, and basketball teams. But surely everyone knows that these athletes, although quite capable of competing on the world stage, are just national champions, not world champions. At best, we can claim North American supremacy in the MLB and NBA, but just barely since only the Blue Jays and Raptors remain. The National Hockey League represents our most cosmopolitan professional sports league these days (in terms of the cities included in the hunt for the league trophy). Across the board, the rosters of U.S. professional teams are of course increasingly cosmopolitan, though the National Football League seems to be lagging a bit behind the other leagues. Forget the “big dance” of the Final Four. It’s big, sure, and exciting. But like our professional “world championship” athletic teams, even the bigness we perceive in the Final Four is a product of our national myopia. As a nation we have been slow to open our eyes to, embrace, and have our professional team-sports–because tennis and golf, conversely, are truly international–compete in the games that pit nations in spirited (though not usually violent) engagement and captivate citizens of the world. Games like football (er, I mean, soccer). To be sure, the U.S. had a good run in this year’s World Cup. And I suspect that very good runs for the U.S. are in store for future Cups. Even if they have a ways to go to topple the mightiest footballing clubs like the Netherlands and Spain, which they no doubt do, they appear to have earned some international respect. Is football in the U.S. is serious business now? We’ll see. But it does appear that U.S. footballing is now taken seriously by the world footballing community.
P.S. This Saturday Uruguay battles Germany for third place (2:30 PM EST, on ABC).