Cup Crazy

They are flashier than a Benetton ad, more fanatical than a religious cult. And with all due respect to Kobe and Shaq, they are taking part in the only sports tournament whose winners truly deserve to be called “world champions.”

They are football enthusiasts, or “soccer fans” as they’re called in this parochial corner of the planet. Sporting face paint and fright wigs, feathered headdresses and sombrero-studded bras, they’re gathering in Japan and South Korea this month to cheer on teams from 32 nations competing in the 17th World Cup tournament.

Of course, national pride and self-advertisement propel these over-the-top fashion statements. But so does a sense of community, a cosmopolitan spirit of belonging to a joyous and decorous human pageant that arrives but once every four years. The carnivale attitude that animates these faces is what is making the World Cup--for a few brief weeks this summer--the pulsating capital of the global village.