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South Africa World Cup 101: Why is the World Cup such a big deal?

Like the Olympics, the South Africa World Cup stirs deep strains of national pride. But unlike the Olympics, there’s only one sport to focus on, and it’s not about individual feats in highly specialized events.

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Mexican fans react while watching the inaugural World Cup 2010 soccer match between Mexico and South Africa on a giant screen at Mexico City's Zocalo main plaza, Friday, June 11, 2010.

AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo

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As the top tournament in the world’s most popular sport, soccer’s South Africa World Cup draws nations from every continent.

Rich nations and poor compete on a level field in a simple, fluid team sport controlled by players, not coaches. No timeouts. No hands. Just 90 minutes of hustle, skill, strategy, and cooperation.

In what other competition could a David like Cameroon shock a Goliath like England, as they did in the 1990?

IN PICTURES: Crazy World Cup fans

Like the Olympics, this quadrennial event stirs deep, otherwise dormant strains of national pride. But unlike the Olympics, there’s only one sport to focus on. And it’s not necessarily about individual feats of athleticism (although that's evident), endurance, or skill in highly specialized, often obscure events.

Less variables, more teamwork, more equality, more popularity, the World Cup is the Grand Daddy of sporting events.

In soccer loving nations, people live for the World Cup. Kids skip school. Workplace productivity plummets. Populist presidents call national holidays.

Then, clad in their nations’ colors, fans gather around giant screens in city parks, pack into small living rooms, or swarm fuzzy TV sets in slums.

With faces painted, they bite nails, gnash teeth, scream at referees, and erupt into spasms of glee if their team wins.

Die-hard fans who scrimped and saved to go to South Africa to support their team have just joined the world’s biggest party; South Korean fans chant in unison until they’re hoarse, grown Dutch men cover themselves in orange, and Brazilian beauties samba till they can’t samba no more.

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