For the next month, soccer fans watching the World Cup will see more fake injuries than any amount of magic spray could possibly cure. And by fake I mean diving, flopping, conniving—temporarily feigning injury in an effort to draw an advantageous ruling on the field.
Although seen in international soccer with regularity, diving during the World Cup happens in greater frequency because the stakes are higher. (This is the world championship, after all, held once every four years.) And when the stakes are higher, cowardice teams will employ anything they can for an edge.
“In the British game, it is often seen as an import from foreign players,” says psychologist Paul Morris, who studies diving at the University of Portsmouth. “Many people argue that it has been common in Italian football for decades.” Continue reading…
In honor of the World Cup, which starts next week in Brazil, here’s how I fell in love with the game.
The year: 198X. I was at a friend’s house in a remote part of northern Oklahoma. We were watching Victory, a so-so Sylvester Stallone movie about a POW soccer team playing Nazi Germany during World War II. My buddy and I were no older than five or six at the time.
Not wanting to endure the feeble character and pre-game drama, we fast forwarded the VHS “through all the boring stuff” to get right to the climatic game. While the build up to said game will likely keep most adults engaged — more for its interesting plot than acting skills — the last 20 minutes of the movie is most triumphant.
The World Cup starts anew this week in Brazil. If the past is any indication, there’s an 83% chance Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Germany, and/or the Netherlands will make the final. What do these countries have that others don’t?
“Of the factors that contribute, none is, necessarily, a prerequisite,” writes Gabriele Marcotti for ESPN. “But the more of the seven ingredients below you have in your shopping cart, the more likely you are to win a World Cup.” Continue reading…
“The Brazilian World Cup is best understood as a party,” writes Simon Kuper for ESPN. “You don’t host a party to get rich. You do it to have fun, and Brazilians will have fun. Yet there’s something obscene about hosting an extravagant party in a country where millions of people need houses, electricity, doctors. That’s what bothered the protestors.”
Politics aside, there are measurable increases in happiness among a host nation’s citizens, according to Soccernomics. Not unlike the effect a good house party has on a host.
But you can still skimp on a party and have a good time. The problem is, I think the Olympics and FIFA always want a lavish party, even if the designated host can’t afford it.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ezk0e1VL80o[/youtube] Appropriately making its debut during halftime of the USA-England World Cup game last Saturday, I love this commercial. Freedom aside, I also love all three American muscle car reboots: Challenger, Mustang, and Camaro very much included. Would probably buy the Mustang though.
Soccer doesn’t make much sense to Americans. Admittedly, it defies many principles we value most in domestic sports, including conclusive endings, lots of scoring, and sportsmanship (aka the opposite of this). Nevertheless, every four years, the World Cup turns numerous Americans into fans of the sport, including Los Angeles native Eric Altshule, who writes:
When I was 11, I thought soccer was gay. How could it not be? Sports was an activity broadcast on network television with production values and drunken announcers like Howard Cosell. Soccer was (at least in Los Angeles) a grainy, week-old, video of a Bundesliga game broadcast on PBS (which in itself is gay) narrated by some guy with a British accent. I played Little League and basketball, and one year my mom signed me up for soccer because she thought it was European, and thus cultural (i.e. gay). Our team name was The Leprechauns (how gay is that?) because some kid’s Irish dad was the coach. No thanks to my skills, we ended up winning our league, and I hid that trophy way back in the closet where nobody would ever see it and told my mom that I never wanted to play that dumb sport again.
NEW YORK—When you picture Brazil at the World Cup, you expect them in yellow. When you envision Italy, you know they’ll be wearing royal blue. England wears red. Argentina wears baby blue stripes. And Holland dons solid orange.
The United States? They don’t have a signature look, something U.S. Soccer and Nike are hoping to change with the release of new home and away “sash” jerseys. Yes, they look like something a beauty pageant contestant might wear. But there’s a meaningful reason behind the diagonal stripe.
I’m no conspiracy theorist. But I do believe in conflicts of interest. Which is why if I would never hire a foreign national team coach, like many modern soccer nations do.
I understand it’s faster to import coaching talent than to develop it yourself, something which can lead to immediate improvements. But let’s suppose England faces Italy in the World Cup final this summer, which is what they will do if both teams win their groups and go all the way.
England is led by Italian coach Fabio Capello. I’m sure he’s an honest man and all. And it’s doubtly he’d sabotage his employer by somehow jeopardizing said game. But the possibility of temptation is very real, solely because he is not a home grown coach. Never mind his proximity to Sicily.
With so much on the line then, why would a national team (of any sport) ever risk that?
Unconventional bravery has always been USA’s winningest soccer strategy.
Although losing its first unofficial match 0-1 to Canada in 1885, the United States men’s national team beat Sweden 1-2 in its first official match played in 1916. Historian David Wangerin noted how the upset was achieved in my new favorite soccer book, Soccer in a Football World:
Sportswriter Carl Linde observed how much ground the American forwards covered and how their sheer willpower often compensated for a lack of technique. Linde claimed this style represented “a new way of playing” and that the visitors “form a very dangerous team, mainly through their primitive brutality; through their speed and through their will to win at all costs.” Another writer remarked that such energetic play made the home side Sweden look as though they were engaged in “exercise for older gents.” (p. 85)
After the game, U.S. coach Thomas Cahill added, “We were outclassed by the Swedish players on straight football. It was American grit, pluck, and endurance that won. No great football stars were members of our team, but we had the pluckiest aggregation ever banded together.”
To this day, America still plays a more primitive game when compared to giants such as Brazil, Italy, and Germany. You have to respect that. Otherwise you’ll slow play it as the underdog, ineffectively counter attack, and ultimately lose playing better opponents. This, I fear, is what U.S. coach Bob Bradley will do this summer to our team’s eventual demise. Continue reading…
Bert Williams is 90. You don’t him by name, but he’s the English keeper who allowed a single goal in the team’s monumental loss to America at the 1950 World Cup.
In an interview with the Associated Press this week, he said he was “virtually one of the spectators,” since England dominated possession, but couldn’t “get the ball past” the American defense. “As soon as England played a good ball through, the whole American team retreated to the 18-yard line,” the keeper remembers. “We thought the score should have been 8-1, 10-1 even.”
But it wasn’t. The U.S. won 1-0. Contrary to what ESPN reports, Williams said it was a freak goal that never should have been. “I had the ball covered and it was a deflection off one of their players who was standing in front of me,” he said. “I was going the right way. It just happened.”
What’s more, Williams said the Americans had “no intention of winning,” and even showed up to the game smoking cigars and wearing cowboy hats.
My response: We’ll take it. And have for the last 60 years.