That's what I do. The world of the World Cup is the one I want to live in. I cannot resist its United Nations–like pageantry and high-mindedness, the apolitical display of national characteristics, the revelation of deep human flaws and unexpected greatnesses, the fact that entire nations walk off the job or wake up at 3 a.m. to watch men kick a ball. There are countries that have truly multiracial squads—France, England, and the United States—while other teams are entirely blond or Asian or Latin American. A Slovakian tire salesman, an Italian cop, or a German concert pianist—having passed the official fitness tests—will moonlight as referee. There are irritating fans: "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" (Blessedly few.) There are children who hold hands with each player as he walks onto the field. National anthems play. Men paint themselves their national colors and cry openly at defeat. An announcer shouts "GOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLL! GOL, GOL, GOL!" on the Spanish-language channel you're watching. (It's often the only way you can see the game live.) There are two back-to-back 45-minute segments without commercials. To quote the book every traveling athlete finds in his hotel room: "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven." Or, as my copy of "Soccer and Its Rules" says: "Are you ready? Ready to cheer the players to victory, marvel at their fitness, speed, and skills, urging them to win every tackle for the ball, ready to explode at a powerful shot? Ready for the excitement of flying wingers, overlapping backs, curling corners, slick one-two passing and goals scored with panache? Ready for another moment in a fantasy world?"
I am ready.
Soccer's worldwide popularity isn't surprising when you look at what has always motivated humanity: money and God. There's lots of money in soccer, of course. Club soccer (like capitalism) is basically the childlike desire to make dreams come true, no matter what the cost, realized by men with enough money to combine such commodities as the best Brazilian attacker, Dutch midfielder, British defender, and German goalie and turn them loose on whatever the other billionaires can put together—an unfair situation that describes much of the world these days. But the divine's there, too. What is soccer if not everything that religion should be? Universal yet particular, the source of an infinitely renewable supply of hope, occasionally miraculous, and governed by simple, uncontradictory rules ("laws," officially) that everyone can follow. Soccer's laws are laws of equality and nonviolence and restraint, and free to be reinterpreted at the discretion of a reasonable arbiter. What the ref says goes, no matter how flagrantly in violation of dogma his decisions may be. My official rule book, after presenting a detailed enumeration of soccer's 17 laws, concludes that the ref can throw out any of them in order to apply what it rather mystically calls "the spirit of fair play."