Originally created 06/08/06

'Soccer is first'



The ball has stopped wars and started them, whipsawed financial markets and sent shivers of ineluctable joy and cardiac arrest rippling across entire countries at the same moment.

And the way it rolls at the World Cup means everything.

Because of it, a tenuous truce between the government and rebels in the Ivory Coast holds firm, politicos in Mexico worry voters will ignore a presidential election, and several more in Ecuador gladly shelved their campaigns for the coming month.

"Soccer is first. The craziness surrounding soccer is second," Latin American writer and social critic Carlos Monsivais summed up recently. "Then there is the rest of the world."

From Friday until July 9, the globe will spin according to the rhythms of that ball. Teams from 32 qualifying nations will kick it in a dozen German cities for the singular honor of hoisting a cup. The trophy depicts two human figures holding up the Earth.

More than the Olympics and anything short of actual war, it crowns the world's reigning superpower for the next four years.

At least a third of the planet will tune in at some point, making the Super Bowl - what Americans still stubbornly call "football" - seem like a pre-party.

Everywhere but at taverns and cafes in practically every place but the United States, business will get done only when broadcast schedules allow.

"On June 14 at 4 p.m. we expect an epidemic of unexplained illnesses to appear," Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said, referring to his country's opening match against Spain, its first-ever in the World Cup.

ONE DAY, AND COUNTING


WHEN: Friday-July 9


HOST COUNTRY: Germany


FIELD: 32 teams in eight groups



UNITED STATES SCHEDULE

MONDAY: vs. Czech Republic, noon (ESPN2)


JUNE 17: vs. Italy, 3 p.m. (ABC)

JUNE 22: vs. Ghana, 10 a.m. (ESPN)