Looking Back on a Summer Of Beautiful Athleticism

The game of soccer, like other sports, transcends national boundaries and divisions. In our polarized world, there is something special about a competition such as the World Cup that brings together so many nations to celebrate the artistry and athleticism of soccer.

England failed to qualify for the finals of World Cup USA '94 last summer. English love for soccer remains intact, however, and like many English soccer fans, I appreciated and enjoyed the best of USA '94.

In the early evening of the World Cup second-round tie between Switzerland and Spain, I was in a small town near Lake Geneva. La fete de jeunesse is an annual celebration of the start of the school summer vacation in this French-speaking part of Switzerland. The theme of the procession around town was "Go USA!" with music provided by a military band, a drum corps, and an impromptu jazz band.

That evening, the normally quiet rue du Nord was transformed into a noisy, vibrant avenue of music and dancing, complete with temporary restaurants. Loudspeakers pumped out music by Jerry Lee Lewis and the Beach Boys. Warm sultry weather gave the evening a Mediterranean atmosphere.

As kick-off time (in Washington, D.C.) approached, TV sets flickered into action along the street. Spain scored a goal midway through the first half and went on to win 3-0. Undeterred, the Mediterranean Swiss continued singing and dancing the night until dawn.

The quarterfinal match between Brazil and Holland was one of the best matches of the '94 World Cup. The first Brazilian goal was a beauty, one of the finest goals I've seen. Dunga gained possession of the ball near the center of the field and fired a superb pass upfield to Bebeto. He crossed to Romario, who hit a sweet half-volley past the Dutch goalkeeper.

Grace, skill, timing, and strength combined to create a goal of real class - a reminder of why Brazilians describe soccer as "the beautiful game."

As the World Cup final between Brazil and Italy approached, I was faced with a choice: Should I watch the final in nearby Geneva, where Brazilians and Brazil supporters would be gathering in le jardin Anglais to watch the match on a giant TV screen; or should I venture up to Lausanne, western Switzerland, where local Italians would gather to watch the final in an open-air cinema?

In the end, holding to the Swiss tradition of neutrality (and my work schedule), I stayed at home, happy to concentrate on the soccer rather than on the heroics of the finalists' supporters.

The global village was humming on the afternoon of the final, gathering around TV sets all around the planet. A converted football pitch in Pasadena, Calif., became the focus of the world's attention as the two-hour final was played out. There are no goals in a tense, exciting match. Brazil won 3-2 in a penalty shootout and are the deserved champions of US '94.

I look forward to the '98 World Cup in France and another celebration of "the beautiful game."

Alistair Budd

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