Aug 11, 2014

    Football may make history in the US

    WHAT the rest of the world knows as football could be about to change forever.

    More than 100,000 tickets were sold in Michigan, in the United States, for a match between Manchester United and Real Madrid recently.

    The game was part of a "friendly" tournament that brought together some of the biggest football clubs in the world, including Liverpool, Inter Milan, AC Milan, AS Roma and Manchester City.

    It was a sporting event that poor countries would not be able to afford, and was hosted by a nation long known for another type of football entirely.

    It was unprecedented in the US, and history could be in the making.

    The rising popularity of football in the US - not the "American" version featuring athletes in body armour and a ball with pointed ends - should not be a surprise.

    The superpower has a few globally renowned footballers, and its team performed well in the World Cup.

    America is already a giant in the world of women's football, and a growing number of American children are kicking rounded balls on an increasing number of pitches across the country.

    The question now is whether football has become popular enough in the US to trigger a paradigm shift.

    It will be a real "game-changer" if the US becomes a soccer superpower.

    The country has what it takes to be great at the world's most popular sport - if it wants to, that is.

    Money is no obstacle, and neither are technology or other factors like stadiums or transport.

    And being among the world's most active users of Internet-enabled gadgets means Americans can join the community of global football fandom with ease.

    However, a glance at team rankings tells you that many of the game's top performers are poorer nations.

    Brazil, Argentina, Cameroon and Mexico are examples of countries doing well in football because their citizens not only love the sport, but also see it as a way out of poverty.

    While most Americans lack that motivating force, it is clear they have no shortage of inspiration for sporting success.

    Though relatively wealthy, the US has no problem producing great athletes in other fields.

    The country is the world's Olympic superpower, to begin with. What America is good at - swimming, track and field and basketball, for example - are anything but expensive sports.

    The US is now 15th in the Fifa world rankings, which are topped by Germany, followed by Argentina, the Netherlands and Colombia. It is hot on the heels of Italy, which is in 14th spot, and already above England, ranked 20th. France is 10th and Portugal 11th.

    Performances at the last World Cup played a big role in deciding who is where in the table, but many will argue that the rankings are a fairly accurate reflection of each country's status in global football.

    The game's traditional powers may find it scary that the US is sneaking up on them despite its lukewarm love of "soccer", and lack of obsessive fervour among fans.

    What will happen when the "passion" gets stronger and more children begin hitting soccer pitches rather than basketball courts, and kicking balls instead of swinging bats?

    The answer could come sooner than we think.

    The world got a taste of things to come recently, when American stadiums were packed to the rafters with fans singing the anthems of globally renowned football clubs.