BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- You can feel 2013 coming on in a whoosh here. In fact, you could feel it coming on back in September and October, on several victorious nights when horns blared and flags flew out car windows.
Here comes '13, and while the year itself might seem indistinct given its lack of Olympics or World Cup or any such colossus, and while the superstitious might fear its numerology, think of '13 as a year shoveling joy all around the world. Come this fall, 31 nations will have qualified for the biggest sporting event in the world and maybe the biggest party in human history: the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
'13 will complete the process that began way back in June 2011 and continued in earnest this past fall. Here and there and a bit of everywhere, more celebrations will erupt, streets will fill and voices will scream. In some ways, the mere act of qualifying could trump the actual event (that is, if the main event were not slated to take place in the world's most fascinating country).
Yes, ’13, will soar.
It will have, of course, a Super Bowl in New Orleans, a men's Final Four in Atlanta, a women's Final Four in New Orleans, an NBA Finals somewhere and in Miami (oh, wait, let's not get ahead of ourselves), another 10-team baseball October and a final college football season using the common sense of choosing champions via polls and computers before resorting to the lunacy of playoffs. It will have a U.S. Open golf tournament at Merion near Philadelphia for the first time since 1981 when the Australian David Graham won his second major title, a British Open at Muirfield near Edinburgh for the first time since 2002 when Ernie Els won the third of his four major titles, and a PGA Championship at Oak Hill near Rochester for the first time since Shaun Micheel shed anonymity with a 175-yard shot on the 72nd hole from the first cut of rough that landed two inches from the cup.
It might have the most intriguing boxing stories in years, with Vitali Klitschko’s possible retirement (leaving the heavyweight belt to his younger brother Wladimir for the taking) and Manny Pacquiao hoping to bounce back from the vicious KO from Juan Manuel Marquez.
It might have a British Wimbledon champion, if Andy Murray can build on his strong 2012.
And it will have an NHL (think positively, hockey fans).
The beginning of any year usually demands some bold and fearless and even reckless predictions, so here are some: Come spring, much of the NBA playoff talk will revolve around the Miami Heat. Come summer, the training camp of the New York Jets will not include Tim Tebow. Come fall, there is a very large chance that the World Series will occur in two different cities, and a large chance those cities will be different from the previous two, Detroit and San Francisco.
Come wintertime, the Cleveland Browns will not be undefeated.
Come the first day of the NCAA tournament, many tourists in Las Vegas will not be in the swimming pool.
And come June, Wimbledon will begin next to a gorgeous gumdrop of a village just south of London, and the chatter will be whether or not defending champion Roger Federer can still thrive the closer he gets to his 32nd birthday.
But more than anything, the energy of the planet will center on '13 as a window into '14. And it’s all because of these numbers: 53 nations in nine groups in Europe, 40 nations in 10 groups in Africa, 10 nations in two groups in Asia, nine nations in one group in South America, four nations in one group in Oceania and six nations (including the United States of America) in one group in North and Central America. They’re all vying for 31 places alongside host Brazil and its anticipated majestic World Cup opening two Junes from now.
That global verve might not find any better version than here in Colombia, where the reborn ambition of the national team has energized the country. In the early 1990s, Colombia had a dazzling and otherworldly squad whose 5-0 qualifying win in Buenos Aires against Argentina in 1993 ranks among the best ever. But that team fizzled in the 1994 World Cup in the United States, and the squad hasn't seen a World Cup since 1998.
But now Colombia holds down a sturdy third place in qualifying, with matches on the horizon against Bolivia and Venezuela that could help them challenge Argentina for first. It has one of the world's brightest stars in 26-year-old Radamel Falcao Garcia Zárate -- just Falcao if you wish -- and the team breezed through the fall with wins by 4-0 over Uruguay, 3-1 at Chile and 2-0 over Paraguay. Their Argentine manager Jose Pekerman has righted things since signing on in early 2012, and 2013 promises special nights in March, June, September and October on which the second-largest country in South America will seem to halt. As Falcao told the FIFA website, "We want to make our own history and pave our own way."
So goes the world for ’13, with the promise of more flags waving at odd hours and the sound of car horns blaring -- a symphony of triumph.