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Celebrating the World Cup / Celebrando la Copa del Mundo

World Cup Fever


Colombia won its game against Senegal on Thursday, June 28th. They advance to the second phase. Their next game is Tuesday, July 3rd at 1pm Colombia time. They’re playing against England.

The World Cup

We’re in the midst of the World Cup, the biggest sporting event next to the Olympics. It happens every four years.

This is my second World Cup in Colombia. I am no less amazed at how the country stops every time the Colombia Selection plays. The World Cup is like the Super Bowl in the US, but much bigger. I mean, MUCH BIGGER! Entire countries watch transfixed. It’s safe to say the world is transfixed. Because the United States is not a real soccer country, getting a true sense of the scope may be a bit tough. I’ll try to put it in perspective.

The Popularity of the World Cup

Despite the United States triumvirate of baseball, football and basketball, soccer is the most popular sport in the world. Hence the World Cup is the tournament where individual countries compete for supremacy in said most popular sport.

Colombian fans, or perhaps I should just say Colombians, buy into the World Cup whole hog. Business and any other activity grinds to a halt when their team, the Colombia Selection, is on the World Cup stage.

But it’s not just when Colombia plays, though that is the highlight. The entire tournament is a popular event. It’s amazing to witness. Anywhere there’s a TV set, crowds of people gather to watch the games. Malls set up big screen TVs and viewing areas. The mall in my neighborhood has soccer ball beanbag chairs.

In Colombia’s first game, I could tell when they scored their goal against Japan because all the cars on the street started honking like crazy. Unfortunately, Colombia lost.

I happen to not be a big sports fan in general. I’ve commented to friends that the biggest difference between my life in the United States and my life in Colombia is that in the U.S. I didn’t watch baseball, football or basketball, and in Colombia I don’t watch soccer. Since it’s the World Cup, I pay attention, but confess that I end up people watching more than keeping up with the game. Instead of getting excited when Colombia scores a goal, I get excited when the crowd I’m with celebrates the goal.

I was in Paris in 1998 when France won the World Cup. The city went crazy and partied all night long. The excitement and energy were impressive and infectious. I would love to experience that celebration in Medellin.

A Little More on Scope

Here’s a statistical picture. The jerseys of the Colombia Selection are popular attire. On game day, folks don their jerseys to proclaim their support. Anywhere from one in ten, to one in four people seen on the street are wearing jerseys. Let’s extrapolate that number seen in just my neighborhood to the entire country (because on game day, the whole country is watching). One tenth to one quarter of the country population of 49 million is wearing a jersey. That’s 4.9 million to 12.25 million people sporting colors. Those that for whatever reason haven’t bought a jersey might paint their face to show their support. In addition, there are those who may not wear the colors, but who are still fans enough to stop what they’re doing and get in front of a TV to watch the game. Let’s conservatively estimate that number at an additional 12 million. That means that 24 million people or almost half the national population is participating in the game in one way or another. I don’t think any sporting event in the U.S. can boast a fanbase of 49% of the national population! And again, I’m being conservative in my estimates.

(By the way, I’ve got both a blue and yellow jersey. They are fun to wear on game day.)

For comparison, an estimated 103.4 million people watched Super Bowl 52 this year. According to Worldometers, the 2018 U.S. population is 326,766,748, which means 31.6% of the national population watched one game on one afternoon. Remember, the World Cup is a month-long tournament and Colombia will play three games in the first phase before, hopefully, moving into phase two.

In summary: the World Cup is big in Colombia.

More World Cup fans
World Cup fans on the street

History of the World Cup

This is the 21stWorld Cup tournament. The first was in 1930. Colombia’s first World Cup appearance was in 1962.

FIFA (La Fédération Internationale de Football Association​ – the International Federation of Football Association), the governing organization that coordinates all things on the world soccer stage and, of course, the World Cup itself, was founded in Paris in 1904. It contained football (i.e. soccer) associations from France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Germany promised to join at a later date. Presently, 211 countries are members.

The final tournament, which is what is referred to as the World Cup, involves 32 teams. A two-year qualifying process involving all the member teams precedes the tournament. This current 32-team tournament format was adopted in 1998.

How Colombia’s Doing

Colombia is 16th in the FIFA Ranking.

The qualification process for this year’s World Cup began in March 2015.

Unfortunately, in this year’s tournament Colombia lost the opening game against Japan.

Facebook reminded me that four years ago Colombia beat Japan 4-0. In 2014, they advanced to the quarter finals where they lost against Brazil. The quarter finals is the furthest Colombia has ever made it in a World Cup.

But back to this year. The Selection won their second game against Poland 3-0. Their next game is Thursday, June 28that 9:00 am against Senegal.

You can follow their progress at www.futbolred.com or the official FIFA World Cup webpage, www.fifa.com.

In case you were wondering, the United States did not qualify for this year’s World Cup, having been eliminated in continental qualifying.

The 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar. Hopefully we’ll be able to watch the Colombian selection, and even the United States, play and advance.

There’s a lot more to tell … on Colombia!