He’s a recognized expert on Russian history, but Mauricio Borrero, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of History, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is also a leading authority on the world’s most popular sporting event.
dr Borrero, a sought-after expert on the World Cup and international football, was recently interviewed by the BBC, time Magazine and the Qatar-based news agency Al Jazeera. He is on leave of absence from St. John’s University this semester to write a biography of legendary Soviet goalkeeper Lev Yashin, whom Dr. Borrero described as a pioneer of world football.
The 22nd World Cup, hosted by Qatar, began on November 20th and will continue until the league game on December 18th. The 32 teams include the United States, which is considered to be one of the bottom performers.
“Football is simple in many ways, which has a lot to do with its popularity around the world,” said Dr. Borrero. “It’s also accessible to people in poorer countries who may not have the infrastructure that other countries have.”
“The World Cup has become such a pageant,” he continued. “There’s a joy that comes with it and the sport allows for such natural expression.”
dr Borrero was a fan, observer, author and lecturer on the sport. He is married to Phyllis Conn, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Institute for Core Studies and St. John’s College. The couple’s daughter, Rebecca, is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Environmental Sustainability and Decision-Making at St. John’s.
dr Borrero’s research interest in the World Cup arose from his study of Soviet-era society, which included the role of sport in communist cultures.
The Soviet Union, led by their goalkeeper Yashin, reached the quarterfinals or more at every World Cup from 1958 to 1970. Russia has come this far only once since hosting the event four years ago.
Mr. Yashin, said Dr. Borrero, broke with the form of stoic Soviet players. “He was known for his smile at a time when Soviet athletes were still perceived as mechanical,” said Dr. Borrero. “I thought it would be interesting for people to learn more about this guy.”
From 13 teams in its inaugural 1930, the World Cup has grown to 24 teams and now has 32. The World Cup will expand to 48 teams when it is co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026.
The expansion of the World Cup has become an economic engine for the host country. Qatari officials have predicted that the tournament will generate $17 billion for the country’s economy.
Qatar is the first Middle East nation to host the World Cup – another historic moment in a tournament seen by many, according to Dr. Borrero. Others are the 1970 tournament, which Brazil won for the third time; the 1994 tournament in the United States, which propelled the event into the largest untapped market; and the 2006 event hosted by a reunited Germany.
“It’s an English game, but not exclusively English anymore,” said Dr. Borrero. “If you look at the history of the sport and what the most significant World Cup was, it’s fair to say that every country has its own history.”
The 1970 World Cup was the last for legendary Brazilian striker Pelé, who won his third title – the most of any player – by scoring a goal and providing two assists in the league game.
In 1966, England used their home advantage to win their only World Cup title. The drama of West Germany’s victory in 1954, just nine years after the end of World War II, is often overlooked by the pageantry of Germany’s first post-Cold War tournament in 2006.
The 1954 and 2006 tournaments, said Dr. Borrero, made it acceptable for German fans to re-assume their national identity. “The Germans were no longer afraid to hoist German flags,” he said. “Football has that kind of power.”
As for the United States, their peak was at the first tournament in 1930, when they finished third. In 1950, USA heavily favored England but only managed 10th place. The USA has not qualified for the World Cup for another 40 years.
The US women’s team has now become a world power. The USA have won four titles – the most of any nation – since debuting the Women’s World Cup in 1991 and are reigning champions. The 1999 tournament, won by the USA, is seen by many as a confirmation of the Title IX commitment to women’s sport made decades earlier.
dr Borrero said women’s football has grown so much in the US that it could see mixed competitions in the future. It’s not an opinion shared by all football authorities.
“Not everyone agrees, but I think that the best players in a league can compete with the men,” he said. “One could imagine a league in which both sexes compete against each other. The quality of women’s football has just skyrocketed.”