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The World Cup Wrap-Up: Why this World Cup will hurt the chances of soccer in America, best goals & national anthem and the underbelly of the competition

July 15, 2010 1 comment

Part 1: An underwhelming World Cup with a worthy champion.

Farewell until Rio...

The curtains have officially closed on the 2010 World Cup and I am surprisingly unfazed. I thought that I would feel anxious and saddened by the fact I would have to wait another four years for my World Cup fix; that simply has not been the case. It may have something to do with the fact that this year’s edition of the world’s greatest sports competition was an oddity. There were few roller-coaster matches, no classic encounters, a visible lack of big stars and a cynical, nervy, often negative final match that was mired by a multitude of fouls and a hesitant referee.

The first act of the competition saw 2006’s finalists – France and Italy – exit ignominiously, while the finale saw two European powers – who had never won the Cup before last Sunday – vying for what was once believed unattainable. For the final matchup alone, this World Cup was intriguing. Spain ended up winning the Cup, deservedly so, for the first time in their history due to their display of a style that celebrated slick possession and movement over direct play and goals. Spain had to work hard for their goals in large part due to the opposition putting their players behind the ball and hoping for a counter-attack. The fact that they won the Cup is a testimony to the failure of this strategy and the superior class of the Spanish side. Bravo. Here’s a bit more insight…

The zeitgeist of this tournament proved to be defense and the counter-attack; a style of play perfected by Jose Mourinho, the current boss of Real Madrid. His Inter Milan squad of 2009-2010 succeeded in defeating the all-powerful FC Barcelona in this year’s Champions League Final using the logic of having the opposition hold onto the ball for the majority of the game while keeping defensive shape and quickly taking advantage on the counter. The World Cup Final pitted Spain, a team largely composed of Barcelona players and founded on possession, against the Netherlands, a team who slowly shed the colorful and flamboyant “Dutch” play for a style most in-line with Mourinho’s Inter Milan. According to the de-facto Dutch national philosopher on soccer matters, legend Johan Cruyff, the Oranje renounced their traditional style and played “anti-football” on the pitch. The embodiment of this unfortunate transformation of the Dutch team was Marc Van Bommel. The ultimate enforcer, he was like your friend in grade school who quietly stirred-up a lot of trouble but was never punished for it. Fact: Van Bommel did not receive a SINGLE yellow card for his malicious and incessant fouling until the final against Spain. It was unfortunate to see a team traditionally respected for its creative use of space and fluidity around the pitch resorting to fouling the Spaniards as their only way to slow them and gain a semblance of control in the game. In the end, the “beautiful”game prevailed but I was left underwhelmed. The interminable histrionics and continual fouling led me to walk away from the final happy for Spain but unhappy with how it all went down.

In contrast, the Germany vs. Uruguay 3rd place match gave us a teasing display of the kind of back and forth game that we wanted to see throughout the tournament; the teams were unafraid to make forays into the opposition’s half and they were willing to give up goals as a result. It was a thoroughly entertaining game.

Bold prediction: this World Cup did not help the case for those in America striving to prove to the traditionalists (American football, baseball and basketball fans) that soccer is an entertaining and enjoyable sport to watch. It’s surely not the fact that the games were low-scoring; the beautiful game has always been low-scoring. Rather, it was the way the game was played and the lack of flair and audacity — the stuff that make people’s jaws drop, bar tabs rise, and spirits lift. It all makes a sad truth for American soccer fans.

Part two: Goals of the tournament, best celebration and best national anthem.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst

Siphiwe Tshabalala

Diego Forlan – World class from the Golden Ball winner

Surprise of the Tournament: Uruguay

Reaching their first semifinals since 1970, the Uruguayans proved to be an industrious, well-organized, and an ultimately creative side to watch. The 3rd place match against Germany was the best tie of the tournament.

Disappointment of the tournament: The “marquee” stars

Rooney, Ronaldo and, to a lesser extent, Messi are just a few of the names on the list of the game’s superstars who failed to perform on the highest stage. What can explain this? I would wager fatigue from long domestic campaigns and, of course, pressure to succeed for their home country and not just for a multinational club.

Best Goal Celebration:

The Black Stars’ celebration after scoring against Australia takes the cake.

Best National Anthem:

One part opera, the other part pop song. I’ll be playing this at a party. Maybe not, but it’s still a cool song.

Part 3: The underbelly of the World Cup.

While the tournament was a bit underwhelming, we can at least say that the social, economic and political gains from having the World Cup in South Africa were significant, right? Well, yes and no. In Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski point to scholarly research which shows that the anticipated “economic bonanza” a World Cup is purported to bring (jobs, boost in tourism, investment ,etc.) is, in fact, a misleading notion. Countries compete to host the World Cup because it makes them feel as if they are in the world’s elite and fosters a sense of national solidarity amongst the various classes and groups of society. Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, presides over a country with the largest gap between rich and poor in the world and where a third of the population lives off of less than $2 a day. Before the World Cup, he had to grapple with riots in the shantytowns as well as trying to find new schemes to lower his country’s high unemployment rate. There were many critics who voiced their concern over South Africa hosting the World Cup due to the amount of money that would be spent on infrastructure and stadiums. Improved roads and trains are politically and socially viable goods that can be used after the competition, while the state-of-the-art stadiums will be much harder to fill. (The majority of Japan’s glittering stadiums used in the 2002 World Cup are largely unused to this day; almost lurking in the background to be used as chips for future World Cup bids).

Tom Humphries of the Irish Times recently wrote a decidedly scathing op-ed entitled, “Bye South Africa, thanks for being had by us” in which he sheds light on the underbelly of the World Cup. FIFA, or as Humphries likes to call them – “the pin-striped mafia” – were sitting on €2.6 billion in TV and marketing rights before the competition even began and will walk away with the lion’s share of profits. Underestimating the cost of building the stadiums caused the final price-tag to be 2 billion rand more than initially planned. Host cities were thus obligated to pick up the excess. Upwards of 355,000 unsold tickets forced the South African government to buy up tickets and sell them to their own people at subsidized rates. Meanwhile, 450,000 pre-booked rooms were put back onto the market by Market AG after overestimating the number of visitors. The ubiquitous markers of global capitalism superseded the local culture as colorful street vendors in front of stadiums were replaced by proper sponsors’ tents. What should we make of all of this? Is FIFA essentially offering the glitz and glamour of the world’s most popular sporting even while effectively stripping it of the selected host’s local culture and flavor for the benefit of global capitalism? Was the only truly South African contribution to the World Cup the vuvuzela?

There are all questions that should to be seriously pondered as we head into World Cup 2014 in still-developing Brazil…

What do an unwashed cashmere sweater, a national anthem with no words, and an erudite octopus have in common?

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Answer: The World Cup.

Spain

So here we are. The final stage of the World Cup. A competition filled with utter disappointments, pleasant surprises, heartbreak, and the power of youth. Spain and the Netherlands will go head to head in pursuit of their respective nation’s first ever World Cup trophy. We will see who will prevail. Until then, here’s a quick overview of last week’s quarterfinal and semifinal matches.

1) Brazil vs. Netherlands

Brazil came in as the undisputed champs, at least in their own minds, and in the first 15 minutes they showed their athleticism, guile, creativity, and superiority against the Dutch who were chasing the game. Felipe Melo, the Brazilian defensive midfielder, started the game as the hero and ended it, unceremoniously, as the villain. His sublime through ball to an in-stride Robinho gave me goosebumps, while his childish petulance and histrionics made me cringe. Melo’s rise and fall in the match closely mirrored how the Brazilians played. They started off well, performing in the superb, only to regress to playing like a wounded animal with no place to hide. The Dutch deserved to go through. For their part, the second half was a clinical exhibition of possession and movement.

2) Ghana vs. Uruguay

This game was a true heartbreaker for the neutral fan. With all the hopes and aspirations of a continent on their shoulders, the Black Stars of Ghana were unable to advance to the semifinals of the competition. The game was theirs to win or lose and Asamoah Gyan, Ghana’s star striker, missed his penalty in the 120th minute. Regarding the handball incident that led to the penalty, the uncomfortable truth of the matter is that any soccer player would have done the same thing. While I find the hand ball reprehensible and unfortunate, it was the only play that Luis Suarez had to keep his team in the game. By handing the ball he knew he would be ejected but it luckily (didn’t feel that way at the time) left the fate of the game in the hands of his keeper and the fallibility of the opposition’s kick taker. Gyan missed the penalty kick and Uruguay stayed alive. Well played. Poor penalties sealed Ghana’s fate and left me scratching my head. Not all is lost for Ghana though–they are the reigning champions of the U-20 World Cup and should figure in the World Cup of 2014.

The Netherlands

3) Germany vs. Argentina

Germany absolutely demolished Argentina 4-0 in an impressive exhibition of counterattacking soccer. Argentina failed to adapt their game and remained narrow in their attack with Leo Messi, Carlos Tévez, and Gonzalo Higuaín continually frustrated by the stout German defense. Their midfield lacked creativity while their defense was finally exposed with Gabriel Heinze and Nicolás Otamendi horribly dismantled by the speed of Thomas Müller, Miroslav Klose, and Lukas Podolski.

4) Spain vs. Paraguay

This game started as a bore and then turned into a white-knuckler with penalties on both sides of the pitch within 5 minutes of each other. As expected, Spain dominated possession, leaving Paraguay to chase the game for the majority of the match while creating sporadic opportunities in the front of the Spanish goal. Spain deserved to go through but left a lot to be desired by only scoring one against the pesky Paraguayans.

Semifinal recap:

1) Uruguay vs. Netherlands

This high-scoring affair sure had its moments. Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s master-class strike was one for the ages. While scoring three goals, the Dutch still looked quite vulnerable in the back with Khalid Boulahrouz continually making things interesting on the right side of the defense. When asked what the difference was between the 2010 Dutch team and those of the past (’94,’98), the current crop of players stated that they expected to win regardless of how they got there. Long gone are the days of playing beautifully but not getting the results. They have the confidence and expectation to win but the “Dutch Way” is no longer their modus operandi. Check out this illuminating article by Raphael Honigstein about Dutch soccer and the death of total football.

Uruguay was missing the services of the suspended Suarez – leaving Diego Forlan to create on his own chances, which he did – and the sturdy defender Diego Lugano who would have provided more of a test against the wily and melodramatic Arjen Robben. Uruguay can be proud of making it to the semifinals for the first time since 1970 and will most certainly make noise in Brazil in 2014. Brazil will hope that they don’t. Some Cocktail Fodder for you: Uruguay beat Brazil in the 1950 final in the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janiero 2-1. A rash of suicides in the country befell the country, as well as national competition to change the colors of the Brazilian team uniforms. A 19 year old came up with the winning design and won a yearlong internship with the national team.

Goal of the tournament:

The Prize

2) Spain vs. Germany

The youthful multicultural team of Germany finally met its match in the polished, methodical, geometrically ascetically pleasing, near lull-inducing Spanish squad (whew!). Not even a debonair coach with the unwashed lucky blue cashmere sweater could prepare his team well enough. From the beginning of the match one could tell that the Spanish were going to dictate the pace of the match with the Germans occasionally mounting a threatening counterattack. Now, there is something rather interesting and sobering about the Spanish starting 11 that is worth noting: the majority of them ply their trade at either Real Madrid or Barcelona in the Spanish La Liga. At the start of each season all the teams in La Liga, from Getafe to Real Madrid, have the same number of points (Check out the Alphabetized 2010-2011 standings) However, once the ball is kicked, the season is eventually predetermined with the only tension in the campaign revolving around whether Barcelona will continue its recent dominance or if Real Madrid can overtake them. Valencia finished in third place last year with 25 points between them and second place Real Madrid!  It is only natural that the national team be made up of the players from both squads as they are not only the leagues best paid but also the best players pound for pound. I like to think of this Spanish squad as Barcelona plus 5.

Where it gets even more interesting is in the identity of the player who scored the winning goal in yesterday’s semifinal to propel the team into the World Cup Finals for the first time. Carles Puyol, the shaggy-locked central defender, is from Catalonia; one of the 17 semi-autonomous regions of Spain. Spain could lift the World Cup for the first time thanks in large part to the talent pool generated by FC Barcelona; a well-established Catalonian institution and a sporting representation/symbol of Catalonian independence. I find this quite remarkable. General Franco would be rolling in his grave if he saw what was happening on the pitch.

A World Cup soothsayer?

Here is some more fun Cocktail Fodder for you: the Spanish national anthem has no words. It is one of the few in the world devoid of words. Why is this? Because the regionalism of Spain makes it virtually impossible to create a song that encapsulates what it means to be a “Spaniard.” From Galicia over to Catalonia and down to Andalucía, one finds areas that are politically, culturally, and linguistically distinct from the central government of Madrid. When one of the ESPN commentators noticed that none of the Spanish players were singing the national anthem I almost threw my drink at the screen (not really, but you get my point).

Patrick Cox’s podcast The World in Words from Public Radio International has two excellent episodes in which he touches upon the Spanish national anthem and whether the 2009 Champions league win by Barcelona could be hailed as a win for all Spaniards– definitely worth a listen. Here is the main page (http://patrickcox.wordpress.com/) with the topics of Spain coming up in the first and fifty sixth episode of the podcast.

Finally, check out this article about the “psychic” octopus who correctly predicted that Spain would beat Germany keeping its streak of correct match predictions alive: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2010/jul/08/soccer-octopus-world-cup-final

Enjoy the final. Until next time, cheers.

A Feel for Cocktail Fodder

June 18, 2010 3 comments

A martini glass. Accentuate it with your mind.

Here at Cocktail Fodder, we debated whether to jump right into substantive material or to present our new readers with a inaugural entry that gives them a feel for what we’re trying to do with our nascent blog. As you can probably tell from the title of these ramblings, we chose the latter route.

Chances are, you don’t talk about only one subject with your coworkers, friends and family but rather span a vast array of nuggets of knowledge you collect reading, conversing with others, traveling, surfing the web,watching TV, etc. Keeping that in mind, everyday of the week Cocktail Fodder will be centered around a new theme….

Mondays:  “International Intrigue” – We’ll try to present you with the hottest headlines, or most unique, in the international infosphere. One week may look at the drug trade in West Africa and the next might delve into the British election system. We’ll try to stay varied and constantly viable.

Tuesdays: “Domestic Diary” – Tuesdays will bring you the must read stories of the past week’s domestic politics. From Tea Party rallies to unbalanced budgets to the upcoming November elections, the Domestic Diary will look towards Washington with a critical and, hopefully, vigilant eye.

Wednesdays: “20 Somethings Eating Well” – The vast majority of twenty somethings, including your own Cocktail Fodder authors, live on a budget. A budget that doesn’t often include the culinary accutrements that they would like to treat themselves to. On Wednesdays, we’ll try to bring to light new culinary trends, off-the-beaten path wines and budget recipes to eat like the culinary expert you are at heart.

Thursdays: “Not Your Average Sports” – The word shmorgishborg does not begin to describe the litany of sports blogs at the disposal of the average net-surfer; specifically the average American internet user. On Thursdays, we’re going to try to feature a new take on the weeks news stories in the American and international sports scenes. Be forewarned though, we are soccer fans, enthusiasts if you will, and we will invariably bring the joy of the beautiful game to you.

Fridays: “Week In Review” – This is not a unique idea, we’ll freely admit that. But everyone needs a trusty and compelling week in review to get their intellectual juices flowing before well deserved weekend laziness. We’ll try to give you that in an idiosyncratic manner that will leave you wanting more Cocktail Fodder.

So that’s it. That’s what we’re starting with. It could change, but this is our raison d’etre. We hope you enjoy the reading and come back for more. We also want to hear from you. Comment, email us at cocktailfoddertalkback@gmail.com or tweet us. Let us know what we’re doing wrong or what we should try. No suggestion or comment is a bad one.

We start daily blogging on June 21st. Get ready.