For millions of true football fans, the World Cup is above all an exercise in nostalgia.
While enjoying the tournament, we look back on all the previous World Cups we have experienced and relive the great moments as well as the huge disappointments. Current stars are compared to the giants of long ago. Each game is viewed through the prism of history. And of course now we have YouTube to remember the best moments.
It's also an opportunity to measure one's own progress through life. Personally, I remember where I was and what I was doing during every World Cup since 1966 when I was 12 and my team won. I even remember what the BBC commentator Ken Wolstenholme shouted as Geoff Hurst smacked home that final goal.
"And here comes Hurst! He's got...
(Wolstenholme's attention is diverted by some of the crowd spilling onto the pitch) Some people are on the pitch! They think it's all over!
(Geoff Hurst scores to put England two goals ahead)
It is now!"
So here are some personal memories of my 11 World Cups:
1966: North Korea, with their "tiny wee little men," beat Italy and led Portugal 3-0 after half an hour of the quarter final before Eusebio, "The Black Panther" (quaint old racism) hit four and Portugal won 5-3.
1970: England lead Germany 2-0 and are cruising toward the semis when their substitute goalie Peter "The Cat" Bonetti lets in two softies and Germany wins. The Brazil of that year, led by Pele, was the best team ever and left us with so many unforgettable moments including this.
1974 should have been Holland's year. Led by Johann Cruyff they give one magical display after another of "total football." Tragically, they are beaten in the final by West Germany. I was spending that year in a kibbutz where everyone was solidly behind the Dutch, who had defied the Arab oil boycott of Israel.
1978 was "the generals' World Cup" hosted by Jorge Videla, the military dictator of Argentina and an architect of the "Dirty War." Under his rule, some 30,000 Argentines disappeared. After blatantly fixing one of the qualifying matches against Peru, the Argentines duly won the tournament leaving a bad taste in the mouth all around the world.
1982 will be remembered as Paolo Rossi's World Cup. The Italian striker had been disqualified for two years for his involvement in a betting scandal. He returned to the game just before the tournament looking unfit and wandered around the field like a lost child for the first three matches. Then, against tournament favorites Brazil, he scored three times. Suddenly, he was the man of destiny. Two more goals followed against Poland in the semis and he got the opener against Germany in the final, which Italy won 3-2. This was my first World Cup after getting married, and I spent many long hours explaining its importance to my American wife -- an exercise I have to patiently repeat every four years.
1986: The Maradona World Cup, the "hand of God" goal that helped beat England. Still, with Pele and Cruyff, he was one of the three best players I ever saw, and his second goal in that same match was arguably the greatest in World Cup history.
1990: England reaches the semifinals and chokes in the penalty shoot-out. West Germany wins. I was covering the State Department for Reuters at the time. The Berlin Wall had fallen, Germany was about to reunite, the Cold War was ending and I was so busy and so exhausted that for the first time I missed many of the games.
1994: World Cup comes to America. I actually saw two games live at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. My eight-year-old son was entranced and since then has been even more fanatical than I am. (Now he's an aspiring rock star). But this country as a whole failed to grasp the privilege it had been handed to host the event.
1998: France hosts and wins. Zinedine Zidane is the star and scores twice in the final against Brazil. France are now better than England. How can this be? (But we still beat them at Agincourt when Henry V was our centerforward.)
2002: The hosts are Japan and South Korea, and I'm now around twice as old as most of the players and becoming a curmudgeon. England choke in the quarters as usual against Brazil who go on to win. None of the players are as good as those of the past. Bring back Geoff Hurst!
2006: Germany hosts, England sucks, Italy wins on penalties, Zidane gets red-carded in the final for head butting an opponent in the chest. Maradona might have done a stupid thing like that but Pele or Cruyff -- never.
2010: South Africa World Cup: After a slow start against the United States, England break forth, win a penalty shoot-out against Brazil in the semi-finals and beat Germany 4-2 in extra time in the final as Wayne Rooney scores three.
Well, one can hope....