I got into thinking about this after being reminded that no matter what the players on Team USA say, an Olympic medal is far less preferable than the NBA championships for basketball. Guys often skip out on the Olympics after winning one, many athletes could probably play for Team USA and be assured a medal but choose to play for their national teams that have little to no chance of winning. Guys play injured and force themselves into one more year for a chance to win the championships, but Olympic basketball has a pretty quick attrition rate and many guys who can play don’t often try out or decline.
But soccer’s different. Both come only once every 4 years, and both are international competitions. National teams are many, and unless you’re playing in the elite leagues in Europe, a “world champion” national team isn’t much better than a middle squad in the Euro league or something. But unlike basketball, it seems national teams take a huge amount of pride in winning at the Olympics, and they frequently send their best guys.
Also, as an American, we don’t really get the soccer fervor so I’m not biased by a local team taking up the soccer news. To me, the World Cup and Olympics are equally big and take up the sports conversation for weeks. What’s it like in countries with existing great soccer clubs?