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GOSHEN -- Take the Final Four basketball game. Add the World Series in baseball, the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, the Indy 500 and the Olympics. Stir it up, then multiply by 10. That's how big an event the World Cup is if you're a soccer fan.
Not only to people outside the United States, but also in Goshen, where fans from all over the world gathered Friday to watch the first game of the World Cup.
The landscape may look the same as any other day to most Americans, but for these fans, the world has a new center for the next month.
"Soccer brings the world together in a way which few Americans can even imagine possible," said Galen Graber, a Goshen soccer fan and native of Brazil, a record five-time world champion.
This year, Graber's spending $250 on tickets for each of the United States' guaranteed three first-round games in Germany. The total bill with transportation and accommodation: $6,000.
His friend, Tavi Mounsithiraj, is a Goshen College soccer coach from Laos who calls the game his "first love." He put on a soccer cookout and showing of the first game Friday. That's popular with international students, but also with Americans who have studied abroad and now support the team of the country they went to.
"We're pretty soccer-fanatic in this area," Mounsithiraj said.
It's hard to explain why soccer is such a big deal to foreigners, myself included. But if you go overseas during the final games of the World Cup in soccer, especially small countries, you'll know what I'm talking about.
You'd think you just entered a nuclear disaster area if you venture outside during a national game. The streets are deserted and there's complete silence.
But inside, patriotic soccer fans are in national team jerseys, scarves around their necks and flags painted on their cheeks crowd in front of big-screen TVs. They wave flags and sing national anthems with beer in their hands, and -- in Denmark, where I come from -- Viking helmets or silly red-white hats with hands that clap with the pull of a string on their heads.
While the game's on, perfect strangers exchange toasts, loud cheers and spontaneous hugs. After all, we're all fans of the same team and we unite and rally around it with a passion that denotes nothing less than a lawn-side war. With every unfair referee call, penalty shot and impressive goal, there's an explosion of energy.
It's a snippet of that world culture you'll experience if you go to the Rec Center at Goshen College to watch the 32-team tournament over the next month.
The simplicity of the game is part of what fascinates soccer fans.
"Perhaps it is because it is such a simple game which requires very little equipment (a ball)," Graber said in an e-mail before taking off to Germany. "When I was a kid, when we didn't have a ball, we would stuff newspaper in an old sock and kick it around using either shoes or stones for the goals. Or at recess at school, if we didn't have a ball, we would kick an old can around."
Another part of the beauty of the game is that a country can win the championship no matter if it's a political superpower or a Lilliputian state that nobody ever heard of.
"My country is pretty poor, but we have something to fight for," Mounsithiraj said of Laos, which has 6.4 million citizens. "The whole country's supporting the team, and we have something to look forward to and be proud of. In my country, we don't have anything else going for us."
If a fan's national team wins, parades with the players and singing and dancing in the street are a must. If you're lucky, the president will declare the day a national holiday.
"It would mean a lot," Mounsithiraj said. "They have bragging rights for four years. For them, winning is enough for the rest of their lives. For that moment, they actually have something to be proud of. The whole world gets a chance to see their country. They put it on the map. It's an awesome feeling."