The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

Archive for the ‘Euros’ Category

Andy Gray versus Jack Edwards

Posted by steigs on July 9, 2008

Over at Pitch Invasion there’s a nice post by Richard Whittall acknowledging that ESPN’s coverage of the Euros was, you know, actually pretty decent:

ESPN also offered live, uninterrupted coverage of every game from start to finish. No ads for Ford suddenly covering half the screen during the attacking build-up play, no giant banners appearing from nowhere to advertise some horrific sitcom to air later that night, no tape delay, and no presenter trying to serve as interpreter for an audience presumed not to know or care about the sport.

This coverage was somewhat startling to regular soccerheads like myself, used to watching Euro games, often with smooth, skilled British commentators.  As Whittall notes, part of the problem with usual World Cup coverage from the ESPN/ABC family has been the need to explain the sport to the uninitiated.  Dave O’Brien’s never-ending “up close and personal” stories about the players, for example, were an attempt to give viewers a rooting interest in players they were presumed to have never heard of before.  The result was that serious American soccer fans felt like they were being talked down to — at best.  At worst, they simply flipped over to Spanish language coverage in an attempt to avoid the annoying prattling of the announcers who seemed so clueless.  (Cue a dozen bigsoccer threads of complaints.)

Whittall, perhaps because he’s a Canadian, thinks that a lot of the problem with previous coverage was all the nationalism involved as well:

This unnatural, flag-waving attempt to Americanize a game that already had a distinct national history (including a healthy, St. Louis-based league interest prior to 1930 and the Miracle on Grass in 1950) did nothing to preserve its autonomy or capture its unique American flavor. Viewers new to soccer were left with the image of a very slow hockey game played on a big grass rink, while Edward’s unrelenting patriotic exhortations underlined that the match was worth watching only to witness the USA beat the rest of the world at their own game.

Perhaps.  Certainly with no American team at Euro 2008, there was no rah-rah U-S-A style announcing to bother Whittall.  But, see, I’m an American and a fan of the American team.  I don’t mind an announcer who’s biased towards the US.  And I fully expect that come World Cup 2010 Whittall will be disappointed because whoever is announcing the US games — JP and Harksie, perhaps — will favor the US again, if perhaps not in a way that’s quite as easy to mock as Jack Edwards.  That’s because international soccer has become, at least in US sports culture, like the Olympics.  That, in fact, part of the charm to the casual American sports fan, the ones who don’t really know the difference between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich — but can easily grasp and enjoy Spain vs. Germany.  (Cue jokes about World War II or tapas!)  In an Olympic style environment, nationalism is going to be there when the US plays. 

What is improving, and I hope this will continue for the 2010 World Cup, is the willingness of ESPN’s announcers to assume that viewers know a little bit about how the game is played.  The gradual infiltration of soccer into American sports culture means that some understanding of the game can be taken for granted.  A whole lot of today’s sports fans played soccer when they were kids and now they’ve seen some World Cup games.  What was noteworthy about Euro 2008 was the way it drew decent ratings with no US team involved at all.  The “Olympicization” of international soccer means there is some appeal to games matching well-known teams even without the US. 

Finally, Whittall blames ESPN’s broadcasting style for the US-Portugal game not being a bigger event in US sporting culture.  Maybe.  But I would remind him that a game being broadcast in the middle of the night, US time, is hardly likely to generate a mass audience, particularly for a game where the US was not expected to have much chance of victory.  I don’t think ESPN helped — but it wasn’t the biggest reason, by any means.

Posted in Euros, US, World Cup | Leave a Comment »

Kiev 2012?

Posted by steigs on July 3, 2008

So the Euro party is over for another four years.  Sigh.  Such a good show.  Hail the “never-say-die” Turks!  And the temporarily fabulous Dutch!  And, above all, viva Espana!

One side-effect of Italy’s scandals was the derailing of the country’s bid to host Euro 2012, opening the door to the unlikely pairing of Poland and the Ukraine as hosts.  While both have had respectable teams of late, neither has quite the tourist draw or infrastructure of Switzerland and Austria.  Their soccer infrastructures are weak as well.  So their bids depend in part on successful investment in stadiums and roads and so on.

UEFA head Michel Platini is visiting the co-hosts this week.  Poland?

“We are carefully carrying out the plan that we have adopted and that has been accepted by UEFA,” Tusk said Wednesday at a joint news conference with Michel Platini, the president of European soccer’s governing body. “We still have a lot of work to do, including on stadiums, airports and hotels. They are very ambitious projects, but I assured the president (Platini) that we will do it.”

Poland must build stadiums in Warsaw, Gdansk and Wroclaw, and also overcome gaps in roads and other public infrastructure.

Ah, but what’s the situation in the Ukraine, a nation still riven by the “Orange Revolution” and its aftermath?

Well, they’re having a lot of trouble getting the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, due to host the final in four years, renovated. 

Two companies are vying for the right to renovate the Olympic Stadium in Kiev that will host the final of Euro 2012, Ukraine’s sports minister said on Wednesday.

A special commission is due to choose the main contractor on Thursday, ahead of an executive board meeting of organisers UEFA and next week’s visit to Ukraine by UEFA president Michel Platini.

Delays in renovating the stadium have been a focal point of concern that the country has been too slow preparing for Euro 2012 and media speculation is rife Ukraine and Poland could lose the right to co-host the tournament.

This sort of problem is making people wonder if the two countries will be able to host — or will the tourney be moved to another country which already has the infrastructure?  The Scots have their hand up to volunteer to serve as a Plan B.  That’s one way to avoid another qualifying group that includes both of the previous World Cup finalists!

Much as I love Scotland, and would love to sneak over to a Euro tourney in Glasgow and Edinburgh, I do hope they get things in order in Kiev.  One of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever attended was in Kiev:

 

It is a match-up of mid-table teams. Obolon is in yellow jerseys with black shorts. Borosphyl is in white. They represent the town where the Kiev airport is located, about 30 miles away.

In general, the Rough Guide does appear to be right about the fans, though. I see more Dynamo scarves than Obolon gear. There is a single group of Borosphyl supporters down in front with American style pom-poms, a bunch of cheerful junior high kids. I feel for them. My Ukrainian guidebook is more than 300 pages long and the only time it mentions their home town is in reference to the airport. Must be a whole lot of nothing there, just a short ride away from the metropolis of Kiev, and it must feel worse to have all those travelers bound for faraway places passing through every day. I am reminded of my own home town, hours from Los Angeles but still part of the vast Southern Californian media market. We were bombarded with ads for events we could never attend, always being made aware there was a much bigger, more exciting world than ours.

For more on that, plus a visit to Kiev’s complex of monastery caves, read on after the jump!

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Euros, Ukraine | Leave a Comment »

Soccer Diplomacy

Posted by steigs on June 25, 2008

My day job is in politics.  I don’t discuss it (much) here but sometimes I do daydream about ways we can improve America’s image through the “beautiful game.”  So, a modest proposal: President Barack Obama should attend a game at the 2010 World Cup.  (Assuming, of course, that he wins the November election.)

I’ve been watching Euro 2008 and a staple of the television coverage is the cutaway shot to the celebrity and/or politician fans.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been particularly prominent:

She has even chided German winger Bastian Schweinsteiger for being suspended for the Austria game. He said: “She told me that I shouldn’t do the same stupid things again. When Frau Chancellor says you have to do something you have to do it.”

Germans have been charmed by her enthusiasm, which with a general election expected next year, she may find useful.

If a President Obama traveled to South Africa to watch, say, a US-Ghana rematch with his Ghanian counterpart, you know that the worldwide television feed would show him every chance it got.  And the message sent would be, to paraphrase US Weekly, “Americans: they’re just like us.”  In the wake of the last few years, we need to reassure other countries that there are shared values, that the US is not simply an angry, alien land. 

Obama is already something of a continental hero in Africa — a trip to South Africa for Africa’s first World Cup would be wildly popular there and seen as a gesture of respect, much like President Bush’s plan to attend the Summer Olympics in Beijing. 

I recognize that Barack Obama is not known as a soccer fan, although the British tabloids seem to think he supports West Ham.  His love for basetball is abundant and authentic.  But he is clearly a serious sports fan and the World Cup has become a popular sporting event in the US.  As such, he might even have a great time — and having millions and millions around the world see him doing that would be worth more than most public diplomacy initiatives dreamed up around Washington can achieve.  Barack Obama has written eloquently of how America is viewed in the shantytowns around the globe.  Here’s a simple trip he could take that would bring him into all those shantytowns at once.

Oh, and for his domestic political advisors, here’s a thought:  Have a President Obama attend the next US-Mexico World Cup qualifier in 2009.  Millions of Hispanic voters will be watching!

 

Posted in Euros, Television, US, World Cup | 1 Comment »

The Doner-ization of Germany

Posted by steigs on June 25, 2008

Today’s Euro semi-final match-up of Germany and Turkey highlights something most Americans are unaware of — the vast Turkish immigrant population of Germany.  The post-World War II rebuilding of West Germany involved importing a lot of low-wage, low-skill “guest workers” from Turkey, many of whom put down roots and stayed.  It is a bit reminscent of the influx of Hispanics to the US.

It’s been a difficult relationship at times but the influence of Turks in Germany is undeniable.  For example, the quintessential street food of Berlin may be the doner kebab, a shaved meat sandwich.  (It’s yummy.)  It’s a bit like the way adapted Mexican food has become an American staple, a cultural infiltration through the stomach.

If you believe the New York Times, today’s game will be a friendly rivalry match:

If the most memorable symbol of Germany’s successful hosting of the World Cup in 2006 was the German flag displayed without shame or second-guessing, the motif this time around for German spectators are the twin Turkish and German flags flapping from countless car windows around the country.

“Of course my heart lies first with the German team,” said Rainer Krause, 63, a Berlin native who bought a red Turkish flag as well as a German one at a store in the heavily Turkish Neukölln neighborhood, where he works., “But over the decades the loyalties have grown together, there are such strong feelings of connection.”

And:

Some Germans have gone so far as to switch allegiances from their home team to Turkey, a sentimental favorite of the tournament if not quite a Cinderella, considering its run to the semifinals in the 2002 World Cup. “It’s only fair,” said Rosie Lambrecht, who was out shopping for a Turkey T-shirt on Tuesday morning and who roots with her Turkish friends and neighbors in Neukölln. “They’ve never won the tournament.”

The Times says 500,000 (!) are expected in the public viewing area by the Brandenburg Gate.  Hopefully, it will go off peacefully, a sign of how sport can bring people together.

Someday, the US and Mexico may reach that stage.  For now, it’s not important enough for most Americans and, perhaps, too important for Mexican fans.  But it’s nice to imagine a re-match of the US-Mexico knock-out round game in the 2002 World Cup at, say, a 2022 World Cup with thousands of fans of both teams watching together in parks in New York and LA and DC…

Posted in Euros, Germany | Leave a Comment »

Czeched Out

Posted by steigs on June 16, 2008

The Czech collapse against Turkey yesterday was startling, a rapid unraveling of a previously solid team.  (Wait, Petr “possibly best goalie in EPL” Cech made a crucial error?)  Credit the Turks for an impressive display of fortitude.  My wife M. says she likes to root for teams that show “can do” spirit — clearly she should be cheering on the Turks now, given that remarkable comeback plus the way they came from behind against the host Swiss in that wicked rainstorm.

This may represent the end of an era for the Czechs, who like other smaller nations with strong soccer cultures, usually need a couple of stars to lift them from the “regular qualifier” level to “dark horse threat to win it all” level.  (See also: Croatia, Sweden, Bulgaria etc.)  American fans remember all too well the way we were dismantled by the Czechs at the 2006 World Cup, before the Czechs went awry at that tourney.  They’ve had a handful of world-class players in recent years but they are largely moving on — Pavel Nedved has retired from international play, giant Jan Koller will join him soon, Tomas Rosicky has injury problems and missed this tourney.  They’ve still got Cech but he wasn’t exactly helping the cause yesterday. 

This Czech side peaked at Euro 2004, where they arguably played the best soccer of any team before running into the brick wall of the Greek defense in the semi-finals.  I was lucky enough to see them beat Denmark in the quarter-finals.  What was it like?  Here’s a taste.  For more, read on after the jump.

Around minute 30, the Danes start swaying in unison.  The Czech fans, on the other hand, perhaps provoked by the Danes, begin doing one of the stranger cheers I have seen.  First, they chant “Czech-ia!” and then “Hop Hop Hop” hopping as they say it. 

As best I can gather it means “Onward, Czechs!” but the effect is as if the section beside us is getting a Ramones concert on a frequency the rest of us can’t hear and doing the pogo — either that or offering encouragement to rabbits.  “Hop!  Hop!  Hop!”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Czech, Denmark, Euros | Leave a Comment »

Washed Away on a Sea of Oranje

Posted by steigs on June 13, 2008

As I’ve expressed before, I’m a fan of the Dutch.  So their brilliant demolition of Italy was a treat to watch, perhaps even some long delayed vengenance for the painful semi-final defeat at Euro 2000.

But this BBC blog post brought back some fond memories of my trip to Euro 2004

Orange Elvises, orange mountain maids, orange bears, orange road workers, nuclear plant workers in orange radiation suits – orange variations of any kind of clothing you care to mention rolled into town and sparked a huge, huge party.

I know at some level that this what the Dutch so often do — raise our hopes with great play before losing in heartbreaking fashion, probably on penalty kicks.  But it’s always fun at first and while I’m stuck in the US for Euro 2008 it’s good to know that the Dutch fan tradition continues. 

Posted in Euros, Holland | Leave a Comment »

“I felt like killing the ref”

Posted by steigs on June 13, 2008

I think we’ve all had that homicidal feeling after a referee gives the other team a huge break.  Like, for example, a borderline penalty call in stoppage time of a crucial match

“…last night I was speaking very differently about the whole thing, I wanted to kill.  Referees make mistakes and this was an obvious error that harmed us all…”

That’s Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, on the Austria-Poland game.   Brilliant political pandering to his angry constituents or a reckless stirring up of passions?  You make the call. 

Posted in Euros | Leave a Comment »

Riding the Pink Train

Posted by steigs on June 6, 2008

Euro 2008 kicks off tomorrow.  Alas, I won’t be there.  I haven’t managed to arrange my life so that I can jaunt off to the tourney for a week like I pulled off in 2004.  But awhile back I did catch a game at the stadium that will host the final in Vienna on June 29th:

I’ve gotten to soccer games in a variety of ways — subways, driving my car, the bus, hiking up a hill.  This, I conclude, is undoubtedly the coolest.  M. and I are riding a mini-train — the “liliputbahn” — to the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna.  And, to make it even better, the train is pink. 

 

We are bound for an important Austria Wien game — Wien being German for Vienna — against Olympique de Marseille.  It is the first leg of a two-game playoff for a slot in the lucrative Champions League group stage.  The kid-sized train is rolling along through the Prater park, packed with men chugging beers and reliving their childhoods.  Woo-woo! 

Want to hear more about that, along with a quick trip through Austrian soccer history?  (Really, they used to be good, despite the current national team being so pathetic as to generate a petition to withdraw them from Euro 2008 to avoid embarrassment.)  Read on! Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Champions League, Euros | Leave a Comment »

The Euro 2008 Beer Finals

Posted by steigs on June 6, 2008

The Guardian comes through for us, on this “Euro 2008 eve.”  Let’s play Euro 2008 through a tasting competition with a national beer for each representative!  For example, the Dutch choice:

Holland
Grolsch Weizen, 5.3%
This widely revered wheat beer, from the same stable as the iconic swing-top, is bursting with lovely flavours. But, as always with the Dutch, much depends on whether they get along in the glass.

The early favorites are obvious — Germany, Czech Republic, etc.  For example, Pilsner Urquell’s early triumph:

Czech Republic: Breezed through the group stages with its sturdy malt base, brusque hop bitterness and a mouth-feel as velvety as the revolution.

Alas, Belgium didn’t qualify for Euro 2008 else, as one commenter notes, they’d be overwhelming favorites.  (Perhaps Belgium is the Brazil of beer!) 

The winner is slightly surprising.  I won’t spoil it for you — click the link to find out.  In the meantime, I sense a theme for the next few weeks of soccer watching…

Posted in Czech, Euros, Germany, Holland | Leave a Comment »

The Euro 2008 team bus slogans!

Posted by steigs on May 22, 2008

They ran a contest for fans of the various teams at EURO 2008 to pick a slogan to paint on their team’s bus, in their native language and in English.  (Something similar happened at the 2006 World Cup.)  The results are here.  And the buses themselves, in full team color glory, are here.  (Lot of red and white teams at the tourney, it appears.)

Some slogans are pretty obvious.  The Swiss went with: Final destination: Vienna.  (That’s where the championship game will be held.)  The Germans have: Germany – one team – one purpose.

Others seem more revealing.  The French appear interested in making friends: Live together, celebrate together.  Same with the Poles: …because only sport and good fun matter.  Turkey plays the passion card: Can this bus contain the passion of Turkey?

The Italians sound a bit surreal to me:  The sky is always bluer.

But my favorite is the slogan for Spain.  It’s tinged with resignation — unlike ESPN’s ad campaign, they expect their team to disappoint them:  Whatever happens, SPAIN FOREVER.  Now that’s true fandom — whatever happens, we’re for our team. 

Posted in Euros, Germany, Italy, Spain | Leave a Comment »