Campioni del mondo!

Italy's triumph in World Cup soccer made even Moscow smile. At least, for the first time in memory, a spontaneous celebration by foreigners was allowed in the Soviet capital. It was as if nothing could stop the Italians in their hour of vittoria. Their cheers rang from Madrid, where the final was played, to Melbourne, Brooklyn, and wherever else a compatriot could be found.

Soccer is only a game, you say? But what a game. It galvanizes the attention of the globe like no other professional sports event. It reaches into the third world, across political boundaries, to countries small and large, with an air of giving everybody a chance. This year the United States, Canada, and Mexico failed to qualify for the World Cup games - but their small neighbors Honduras and El Salvador did.

The US is conspicuous as a large country where soccer has not really caught on. Now there is talk about holding one of the next quadrennial World Cup series there. With the new enlarged 24-team format, there would be an extra advantage in the number of big stadiums the US has to offer. Maybe the American public would notice what was going on.

But could Americans ever make a place in their baseball-basketball-football hearts as big as the place Italians gave soccer over the weekend? And could American players transform their outlook as the Italians are said to have done under coach Enzo Bearzot - from dwelling doggedly on defense and containment to seeing soccer as a game about adventure and inventiveness, too?

These are questions for the future. For now, congratulations to the campioni del mondo!

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