Return to Sports
by Mike Nutter
(July 9) While most of America focused on the All-Star game on Tuesday night, Geir Stabaek stuck with the world's most popular sport.
Stabaek, a native Norwegian and member of the West Virginia Wesleyan soccer team, watched Brazil's 4-2 penalty shootout over the Netherlands after a 1-1 tie in regulation.
"I haven't missed a single game yet," said Stabaek, from his home in Norway. "For a soccer fan, there isn't a more exciting sporting event.
"In the United States, with the other sports, you see people cheering for their local teams, but with soccer, your entire country gets involved and is pulling for the national team."
Stabaek said soccer's popularity was evident after Norway's stunning win over world-power Brazil during round-robin competition of the Cup's first round.
"That was amazing," said Stabaek. "I think that there were 200,000 people in Oslo celebrating that night. It just brings out something that is hard to explain.
"There are 4 million people here, and I believe it was said that over 2 million were watching that game.
"I can't imagine how the French people are feeling, holding the World Cup and maybe having their team in the final."
While the United States may seem light years behind the rest of the world, as was shown by its dead-last showing in France, Stabaek believes soccer can reach the same level of intensity here as in other parts of the world.
"What is so different here is lack of club teams. Schools and scholarships are good, but they limit you as to who you can play," said Stabaek. "And when you get players playing together all of the time, it helps out a lot.
"Brazil was probably a lot more athletic team, but (Norway was) more technical and were used to playing with each other and that made the difference.
"Already, I can see a difference in American players," Stabaek said. "My first year here, there were probably half American players, and half foreign players, and only two Americans actually played. This past year, I think that we had five Americans that started for us."
Stabaek says that for most of the world, the World Cup takes on the same atmosphere as the Super Bowl does in the United States.
"When Norway was still in it, there was a lot going on. Clubs would be very crowded with people trying to watch the game on the television.
"Now that we were beaten, most people stay home, but it is still very exciting to watch," Stabaek said. "For the final I'll probably stay home with some friends, but I'll definitely be watching."