NORMAN — This week, sports fans around the globe will turn their attention to the most watched athletic event in the world — the soccer World Cup. In remote villages and urban centers, close to one billion fans will stop what they are doing and find the nearest accessible television set. Except in the United States. While the enthusiasm for soccer here has grown, its fan base pales in comparison to the Super Bowl, for instance.
The philosopher Paul Woodruff suggests that, to be a good spectator, you need to know how to care about what you are watching. Here are some suggestions for developing a deeper appreciation of this monthlong competition.
If you are new to soccer — what the rest of the world calls football — familiarize yourself with some of the key players besides the two most famous stars, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi.
Many great players play for club teams during the regular season in the top football leagues where the big money is made — Spain, England and Italy — but return to play for their national teams during the World Cup. Check out Eden Hazard and the dark-horse but talented Belgian team or the dynamic midfielder Luka Modric on Croatia’s squad. If either of these two teams advances out of the initial stages, Hazard and Modric will be the primary reasons.
Get a sense of the skills that are required to play the game well. Watch for the players who display a great “first touch,” the uncanny ability to stop and control a ball kicked at high velocity with the gentle touch of a foot. Hard-kicked balls careen off the shoes of less artful players toward their opponents, diminishing their team’s opportunities.
Pick a team to support before the tournament starts and stick with it. But whatever your choice, don’t be a team jumper, hopping from one team to another depending on who is winning. Worldwide soccer tradition compels an early life decision about whom you are with. Once you’ve committed, you never walk away from your team.