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It's that time of year — school's out, World Cup is here

This week marked the end of the school year.

The seniors have all graduated and are enjoying teenage shenanigans “Downey Ocean,” but the rest of us all had to finish out the year. Kids were finished their finals, and unless they were still holding on to their perfect attendance record they were taking the day off, heading out early on a family vacation, or were working feverishly on the last day to get their remaining assignments in.

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Teachers were putting the finishing touches on the year, shutting things down until they return in a few months to start anew. Nobody could wait to get out of the building.

I had a different purpose in mind.

The last game of the second day of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and the premier matchup of the first round, Spain vs. Portugal, awaited me at my friend’s house. The game that pitted the owners of the most beautiful style of play, the Spaniards, against arguably the best player on the planet, Cristiano Ronaldo, ready to lead his men into battle against their respected yet bitter rivals.

Anyone who knows me or has read my columns over the years knows how much soccer means to me and has for a huge majority of my life. I understand that I’m more passionate about it than the average person although there are way more of us out there than people think. For those that don’t share that passion, I know it’s hard to watch a sporting event without having a dog in the hunt, and the embarrassing failure of our U.S. men’s national soccer team in last year’s qualifying matches could easily turn someone away from watching this summer’s World Cup.

Unless there’s a great human-interest story, our interest in the Winter and Summer Olympic events wanes if there’s not someone rocking the red, white, and blue competing in the finals.

If Tiger Woods isn’t competing for the title on Sunday, the golf viewership drops significantly. If LeBron James isn’t in the NBA Finals, well, I can’t remember what watching the NBA was like without the so-called “King” on one side or the other.

But if you make the decision to forego watching the World Cup, regardless of it being held in the homeland of the hated Russians or that our team didn’t measure up against Trinidad & Tobago, you’ll be missing some of the best drama and athleticism in modern sports.

Take Ronaldo for example.

The LeBron James of club soccer, naming himself the best player on the planet, put his money where his mouth is by leading his Portuguese squad to a 3-3 draw against Spain, scoring all three goals including the game-tying goal that will be nominated for goal of the tournament and will be talked about for years to come.

The World Cup has underdogs you can root for.

Even a casual sports fan knows that the top national soccer teams will always include Germany, Spain, Brazil, France, and Argentina. This year’s Cup has its share of teams that stand no chance of hoisting the cup but can make a difference in another team’s experience.

As they say in World Cup circles, “Expect the unexpected.”

Watch out for a surprise from Egypt, Poland, England, Belgium, or Uruguay as they advance farther than the “experts” are giving them. Keep an eye on Panama, Serbia, Japan, Korea, or crowd favorite Iceland, as they make the unexpected happen.

The varying styles of play among the regions is a beautiful thing to watch.

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If you watch a game of, say Iran vs. Morocco, you can see a tactical move by the Iranians to keep all 11 players behind the ball, taking a defensive posture and taking advantage of one of the few offensive opportunities they got to steal a win on an “own-goal,” earning a crucial three points in their group.

The Germans have a more physical approach than the Brazilians, who still have a bit of their samba style left with creative individual moves and an attacking style of passing. Watching the precision team passing of the Spaniards to me is one of the most beautiful things to watch in sports as was on display in Friday’s game.

There will certainly be many more individual and team moments that will take our breath away, like Spaniard “Nacho’s” goal to take the lead against Portugal, and the game-tying free kick bender by Ronaldo, just as there will be more traumatic mistakes made like the Moroccan own-goal and Spanish goalkeeper David DeGea’s error on Ronaldo’s second goal.

If you need me I’ll be in front of Fox Soccer Channel for the next 30 days watching things unfold and focusing on Argentinian great Lionel Messi, who says, “You have to show up in the World Cup, and in the World Cup, anything can happen.”

Stay tuned.

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