I've been really enjoying the FIFA World Cup Finals this summer even though the team I was cheering for (for no other reason than heritage) didn't make it out of their group.
My first exposure to the Soccer World Cup were on international stamps that I collected back in the mid-1980s. I remember thinking Brazil and Spain must have been the unbeatable teams since they had so many stamps dedicated to the World Cup.
When I lived in Edmonton, I got to attend the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship. It was the most compelling sports event I had ever attended. Since the tickets were so cheap, we went to four double-headers at Commonwealth Stadium. Every game was even more and more packed until the sold-out final game.
The Canadian team did super well too, beating the Brazilian team (who played so dirty - the coach would even go behind the Canadian goal keeper's net and harass her) in the semi-final and then losing a tense match against the United States in the final.
(scoring a penalty shot win against Brazil)
The previous two World Cups, I was in Guatemala where soccer is a religion. In 2002, I woke up in Guatemala City after flying in the night before to cheers from seminary students at Seteca. Brazil was playing Germany in the final and RRRRonaldo scored the two goooooaaaals for Brazil to win the cup.
In 2006 we were living in Tactic, Guatemala and we got to see the build up to the Cup Finals for the months leading to the month of madness. People bought up televisions like they had just been invented. People got cable. Stores had flat screens installed. It was a frenzy. Then the games started and any time a latino country was playing, there was no one on the street.
The 2006 final was awesome, though disappointing as I was cheering for France. Zinedine Zidane's headbutt at the end of the match will stand as one of the greatest moments in sports history for me.