The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

Archive for the ‘World Cup’ Category

Life imitates Dream Team, African edition

Posted by steigs on October 16, 2008

Zimbabwe is a land with many problems — aging dictator, insane inflation, civil strife etc.  The people are getting no help from their soccer team, which has just failed to advance in World Cup qualifying, losing out to Guinea and Kenya for a berth in the final round of African qualifying for the first African-hosted World Cup.  The last straw was a 4-2 loss to Namibia, which must have been worse than it sounds, given that Namibia was up 4-0 50 minutes into the game.

So let the recriminations begin!  Round up the usual suspects!  European stars failing to come home to play?  Actually, no.  Witchcraft?  Hmm.  No.  What could it be?

How about a sex scandal?

Chief Executive Officer of the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) Henrietta Rushwaya reportedly taking care of sexual needs of a high profile premier league striker spelling the demise of the nation’s hopes of qualifying for international soccer tourneys.

Oh, dear.  What are they talking about?

“Rushwaya and the player have left the senior team in a state of shock. When he comes home especially on a siesta from his overseas club, he camps at Rushwaya’s residence where they live literary like husband and wife…”

Sounds like quite the lady.  Perhaps she could run Harchester United!

Rushwaya herself is known for being generous with her body and numerous scribes have had a go. She is a very kind boss whose generosity has won her friends especially in the media as most of her scandals are deliberately swept under the carpet,” said the source on condition of anonymity.

Yeah, that’s one way to keep the press on your side, uh-huh.  She could certainly fit right in at Harchester United.

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Posted in Life imitates "Dream Team", World Cup | Leave a Comment »

Liechtensteiners for the Day!

Posted by steigs on October 8, 2008

This weekend, tiny Liechtenstein is matched against Wales in World Cup qualifying, which must give the Welsh the unusual feeling of being the Goliath, not the David.  As you might expect, Liechtenstein is not bringing a big set of travelling fans, perhaps 20 in all.

But there’s going to be to be at least double that number cheering for the Liechtensteiners in Cardiff

A group of Darlington supporters are making a 560-mile round trip to Cardiff to cheer on their summer signing Franz Burgmeier, a Liechtenstein regular.

The Darlington fans will miss their own team’s game at Luton, which also takes place on Saturday.

The Liechtenstein football federation is so impressed by its new recruits, it is giving them free tickets.

Darlington is currently midtable in League Two — three divisions below the mighty EPL, in other words — so having an international player in the side is something of a novelty.  It’s one they’re growing to like: 

Ms Schneider said the Darlington supporters were also buying Liechtenstein merchandise online.

“In our online shop, our national shirt is something they like to buy and I get orders now from Darlington,” she said.

Burgmeier certainly says the right things in return:

“The lifestyle is different from Switzerland but the people have been very friendly and the players are really helping me,” explains Bergmeier.

“I like the British lifestyle. They are nice people, they don’t worry too much about things.”

“I think Darlington should be in a higher division,” he said. “Look at the stadium. The club should be in at least League One or the Championship.”

Posted in Wales, World Cup | Leave a Comment »

The Mouse that Roared

Posted by steigs on September 12, 2008

Here in the US, the midweek World Cup qualifier was a fairly routine affair, a clear 3-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago in Chicago.  For Luxembourg, it was anything but routine — their first victory in qualilfying in 36 years!

Luxembourg not only won for the first time in qualifying in nearly four decades, they managed it on the road, a 2-1 victory over the Swiss in Zurich.  They didn’t just beat another minnow, they beat a team that qualilfied in 2006.  And they did it with a late goal, after having lost a lead, a perfect time for such a major underdog to get disheartened.

Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld put it simply: “We embarrassed ourselves.”

The coach of Luxembourg, who is surely a national hero now, was optimistic:  “With similarly focused and disciplined performances, we could cause another upset or two.”

Hear that, Israel and Moldova?  Be ready, the Luxembourgers are coming for ya!

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Where the World Cup Began (Centanario/Penarol)

Posted by steigs on August 22, 2008

Wandering chef Anthony Bourdain recently visited Uruguay on his “No Reservations” show.  I was amused to see that Montevideo appeared to charm the jaded New Yorker as much as it did me.  (Love the cafes in the old port market!)  Which reminded me that I hadn’t posted about the other soccer-related trip I made while down there, an outing to see Penarol, the other giant of Uruguayan (and South American) futbol — as well as the storied Centenario stadium, host to the 1930 World Cup final. 

The section of the stands directly behind the goal is the only really crowded one, busy with drummers and standing teenagers, the type who sing throughout the game.  They stretch black and gold banners from the bottom of the stands all the way to the electronic scoreboard at the top.  I settle in close by, on a hard plastic seat.  There are no assigned seats — you just buy a ticket for the section in general.  Going to a soccer game in Latin America is generally a walk-up affair, not something to buy a ticket for weeks in advance.  It is more like going to the movies than a play or concert.  This is one of the cultural issues MLS struggles with as it tries to persuade the Latino part of its fan base to buy season tickets, not merely show up on the day of the game when the mood hits them.

 

For more, read on after the jump!

Read the rest of this entry »

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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 »

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 »

Forza Suwon! Korea Team Fighting!

Posted by steigs on March 6, 2008

The LA Galaxy has been on a tour of Asia, taking full advantage of the benefits of having David Beckham on the team.  (Well, maybe not full advantage — I imagine that the Chinese are buying knock-off Beckham jerseys, not official ones.)  They tied FC Seoul earlier this week, then lost on penalties.

South Korea’s K-League doesn’t have much of a profile over here.  To the extent we notice an Asian league — which isn’t much — it’s Japan’s J-League, which has more high-profile foreigners and has a highlight show FSC runs to help fill out its schedule.  Gamba Osaka of the J-League, for example, recently crushed the Dynamo to win the pre-season Pan-Pacific tourney in Hawaii. 

But as FC Seoul demonstrated, the K-League does have some decent teams and players.  Koreans can play, with South Korea being Asia’s most consistent World Cup performer, and the country is increasingly prosperous, which can help build a league.  I saw some of that myself on a trip to Korea in ’04, where I caught a Suwon game.  The Suwon Bluewings are one of Asia’s better club teams.  My notes on playing tourist in Seoul, Korean soccer in general, and the Suwon game are after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Korea, World Cup | 2 Comments »

Overkill, but that’s a good thing!

Posted by steigs on March 6, 2008

The US starts World Cup qualifying in June with a two-leg preliminary series against either Barbados (ranked #133) or Dominica (ranked #182).  Should be a formality before the semi-final round of regional qualifying later in the year. 

Still, we need to make sure our team is sharp and has some practice in advance of those games, given the tremendous costs of a hiccup in qualifying.  So the Federation is scheduling some friendlies to get the team warmed up.  What teams will we play?  It’s looking like:

England at Wembley on May 28th.  At Spain on June 4th.  And Argentina on June 8th, perhaps at the Meadowlands.  That would be three of the top 11 teams in FIFA’s rankings (such as they are).  That’s a string of three games — two on the road — with maybe one-third of the countries that can claim with a straight face to be contenders to win the World Cup.  Yeah, I know England just choked out of Euro 2008 qualifying and Spain routinely blows it once it makes it to an international tourney.  Still, that’s a murderer’s row of games.  That should quiet the bigsoccer types who complained about our weak friendlies in advance of the ’06 Cup, much as I enjoyed a second opportunity to see Latvia play in person.

Yeah, our team might be ready to play mighty Barbados after that trio of games.  If they survive.  I can’t imagine what the Federation will schedule as a warm-up for the final round of qualifying next year.  Maybe Brazil and road games in Italy, Germany, Holland AND an African tour to play Ivory Coast and Ghana?  Yowza.

Posted in Argentina, CONCACAF, England, Spain, US, World Cup | Leave a Comment »