I have seen hundreds of games over five World Cups, and by far the most exciting Word Cup experience for me occurred this summer in Chile. The already infamous fervor of Chilean fans was intensified by the fact that they had not qualified since the 1998 World Cup. Of course, this created many opportunities for some typical soccer hooliganism. If you happened to be nearby after watching the Chile-Brazil match in one of Santiago's central plazas, you might have seen people being water-cannoned in the face by police-tanks back down the stairs of some metro station entrances. But besides providing an opportunity for raucous behavior, the World Cup encouraged above all a sense of unity among Chileans. Every time Chile played, families had barbecues, co-workers gathered around TV sets at the office, and the masses showed up at the country's plazas where enormous projectors were set up to watch the matches. Clubs, bars and restaurants were packed, the country's bus drivers took a ninety-minute break, and schools across the country stopped classes as soon as a game was underway. Paraphernalia with Chile's national colors was sold everywhere and about half of all TV commercials and highway advertisement boards displayed images of the Chilean national squad.
The World Cup brought joy to Chileans. I watched the Chile-Switzerland game at a local school that some friends of mine attend. There are few times in my life when I have seen a group of people so jubilant as in the instant when Chile scored the game-winning goal against Switzerland. More than sixty of us were watching the game in a classroom designed for maybe thirty. There were kids on the floor, in chairs, on tables in the back, on chairs and tables piled on tables in the back, and on top of bookcases. And when Chile scored, it was chaos: frantic movement celebrating victory, chants, flags, vuvuzelas and even a drum. Within three minutes after the game was over, cars were in the streets honking horns to a rhythm of victory. Drivers zoomed around with people hanging out halfway, shouting and waving Chile's flag. Some people formed caravans and danced on street shoulders.
Even after they were knocked out of the tournament, the Chileans were enormously proud of what their team accomplished--after all, they had only lost to Spain and Brazil. When Chile's players came back from South Africa, thousands rallied to the plaza in front of the presidential palace to welcome the national squad back home.
The World Cup stirs the pride of nations and brings the joy of soccer to families, friends, co-workers and nations. It has been a pleasure to witness how celebrating South Africa 2010 in Chile has encouraged a sense of camaraderie among the nation's people, a phenomenon that is replicated in many countries all over the world.