For every World Cup there is a memory.
There is the world's memory and there is the personal memory.
Sadly, this time around, Zidane's vicious headbutt of Maserati in the final will linger on in the world's collective mind for longer than it should. But history will view this World Cup as a triumph, a triumph of globalization.
From the largest television audience ever, to the most diverse selection of countries competing—countries who overcame political and historical issues for the love of the game (and the wonder of one, not even two-decades-old, progressing to the quarter-finals in their debut on this world stage). The 2006 tournament has cast a strong ray of hope over a globe dogged and divided by war, famine and hypocrisy.
The brightest newcomers came from one continent that exemplifies all these things: Africa. The surprise successes of Angola, Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire (who are embroiled in a civil war that was allegedly put on hold to watch their team) have set the stage for the 2010 tournament—held on the African continent—to become a mouthwatering proposition.
Other highlights came from less familiar names, such as tiny Trinidad and Tobago holding Sweden to a goalless draw; Ecuador achieving second round glory for the first time; and the spunky Australians coming back to beat Japan by scoring three goals in the last ten minutes. These exemplify the power of "fútbol." David can beat Goliath, and often does.
While those unfamiliar with the sport complain about its lack of scoring, they are missing the real heart of the game: Anything can happen.
So, with an international cast list, this five-week long, 64-match, 147-goal marathon, attended by 3,359,439 people and viewed by 30 billion worldwide was indeed a spectacle to be in awe of.
As for the personal, the worst and the best thing about the World Cup is that it comes but every four years. What is one to do between times? What is one to do now that it's all over?
No more fleeing the computer screen and running to the nearest TV screen every 10 minutes during weekday games.
No more rising to the rafters in joy as England pull themselves up by their bootstraps and miraculously prove they still have it.
No more sinking to the depths of depression as England crash out, in the most ignominious way, yet again.
But the beauty of the upcoming four-year void is that each World Cup stays longer in the memory than any other sporting event in the world. The memories of these past five weeks, both football- and non-football related, will forever remain anchored by this magical tournament.
Going back over the past five tournaments (those being the ones that I was most aware of, having been born in 1977), I can still remember where I was and what was happening, whilst many other memories have slipped away:
Take 2002, when Brazil won in the Korea and Japan hosted tournament. I was working in Europe's tallest building, Canary Wharf, and the street parties that met each game on the tiny island in the River Thames were dogged by unprecedented, ever watchful security, following the previous year's catastrophic events.
Then 1998, when France won their first championship made all the more glorious by doing it on home soil, I remember a now insignificant college boyfriend whispering, for the first time, that he loved me, immediately following England's defeat.
And this year?
Watching from half a world away, feeling homesick for my England, and initially, incredibly irritated by my new home's apparent total lack of interest in such an important event, I will remember how I slowly overcame my European prejudices against an upstart "soccer nation," and watched as a small portion of Idaho turned and embraced this global event.
I learnt that my new home, unlike the "old world," has an undeniable appetite for new experiences. You will certainly never, ever see an Englishman in England getting excited about a baseball World Series, or hockey's Stanley Cup.
But as I sat at the Sun Valley Brewing Company last Sunday afternoon, with admittedly a mere handful of fellow viewers, I was inordinately proud that they were there. And that they were Americans who were watching, and enjoying, Italy beating France in Germany.