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There's nothing else like it and nothing else even comes close. The passion, the exuberance, the patriot fervor that grips the entire world except for the United States.

Soccer's nothing in America. And because of that, it's almost impossible for people here to comprehend how BIG it is in the rest of the world.From kids playing barefoot in Trinidad, to the asphalt soccer fields of Hong Kong playgrounds, to the marshland fields of the Seychelles, they've been waiting for Sunday's World Cup final for four years.

And when it's over, the streets of Argentina and West Germany will erupt in either celebration or violence - very possibly both. The World Cup is war without weapons and on Sunday four years of battles come to a climax.

It's not like the World Series. It's not like the Super Bowl. Those are merely championships contested by clubs comprised of hired guns, players whose allegiance is to the team with the largest pile of cash.

The World Cup is country, patria, fatherland. All of us against all of them. Our system against their system. Our people against their people. If the team wins, then we all triumph.

That's why it's different. Each time Italy won a game, the streets of Rome filled with deleriously happy fans. They clogged the Via del Corso and the Piazza Venezia, waving gigantic flags. They chanted "Viva Italia!" and "Viva Schillaci!"

A month ago, Salvatore Schillaci was barely known. With five goals, he became an Italian hero, more popular than any politician or movie star. People ran down streets chanting his name. It must have been the same way two thousand years ago when Roman warriors returned from victorious battles.

In the rest of the world, soccer is not a sport, it's a craze. In Singapore, newspapers publish special editions that have stories about the matches. Since many of the games began at 3 a.m. local time, there was no way they could make the regular papers.

In Hong Kong, kids wearing replicas of West German uniforms dive for balls across asphalt fields painted on urban playgrounds, oblivious to any skin that's scraping off their legs.

In the Seychelles, a thousand miles from anywhere, this year's World Cup is the first live sporting event ever telecast. The islands have only had television since 1983 and, up until now, all games have been shown on videotape.

In the Netherlands, the fans become a sea of orange - orange shirts, orange pants, orange socks, orange hats, orange jackets and orange banners. And the really dedicated paint their faces orange, too. The hero there is Ruud Gullit, who keeps his hair in dreadlocks. So, naturally, you can buy Ruud Gullit baseball caps. The color, of course, is orange. And there are fake dreadlocks coming out the back.

In England, the specialty is chanting. "Ing-ga-land, Ing-ga-land, Ing-ga-land" they sing to the tune of "The Stars & Stripes Forever." "Come On England!" is popular when they are behind. The travelling fans put up Union Jacks with the names of their hometowns. The travelling fans - the army, as they call it - take over public parks and stretch out in the daytime to catch some rays. Britain, after all, is still damp and cloudy, even in the summer.

In Brazil, the fans beat their drums and dance the samba. Soccer there is usually a celebration, a combination of freedom rally and rock concert. Fans dance in the aisles at games, with some women tossing off their tops as their emotional level rises. And after the Brazil team lost in the second round, Coach Sebastiao Lazaroni was treated like some sort of mass murderer.

In Argentina, they can't believe their team is in the final. The team was too old, it was playing too badly, the odds were too great, Diego Maradona was too hurt. And now, when shockingly they advance to the final, the country erupts in celebration and violence.

Crazy things happen in soccer. When Italy beat Ireland, trains came to a halt outside Rome's central train station. They were just a quarter mile from the platform, but they stayed stuck for 45 minutes while the great national victory was celebrated.

When West Germany beat the Netherlands, two dozen West German fans found the only restaurant open in Milan at 2 a.m. For two hours they ate, drank and chanted German beer-drinking songs. There are a lot of German beer-drinking songs, and they don't even do "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall."

When Cameroon beat Costa Rica, a dozen fans of the Indomitable Lions started an impromptu rally in Milan, marching with their flags to the Piazza Duomo. "Forza Cameroon!" they chanted, pumping their fists in the air. A soccer game had put them, put their entire country, on the top of the world.

That doesn't happen here. The country is too big. The people are too diverse. There's too much to do, nothing big enough to gain the focus. Even if the U.S. team were good, few would care. Yo, dude, gotta head to the beach. Bring the volleyball and the boombox and we'll catch some tunes.

It's a different world out there, once you go over the border. For the rest of the globe, this is as important as things get.