Waxing Brazil

9 07 2014

87974_dd88989776b9a29af4f36e15f8582658_b7074e5727d16f90dc8ef2d33f893536This post originally began as a Facebook status. But as I thought about it there was more to say. It’s been close to 24 hours since the Germany/Brazil semifinal “mis”match in the World Cup, and certainly one of the big sports stories of the year.

The result was not a surprise but the margin of victory was a shock. Brazil did not impress in any of their previous games, but no one expected a slaughter. They finished atop what was arguably the weakest group in the tournament, and if it wasn’t for a phantom penalty call late in the first match versus Croatia they would have been on the couch a lot earlier. 

Brazil was the odds on favorite to win the World Cup, with more talent than any other team in the field. Their players are the best in the world, commanding the highest salaries at the top clubs. One would think that they could just show up and win.

That’s exactly what they didn’t do. The reason soccer is called the “beautiful game” is because of how the Brazilians always played it. A World Cup being contested in their own country… should be an easy win. (Ironically, the Croatia players and coaches asserted the same thoughts after their controversial loss… “Just give them the trophy now!”)

So what happened? Not to take anything away from a fantastic German side, it’s clear that Brazil was not ready to play against the best competition. As the host country, they do not have to go through qualifying like everyone else. With that edge lost, complacency took over with a predictable result. What we saw is a precise interpretation of an old axiom, that talent isn’t enough… you have to work hard to succeed.

I’m very interested to see how Brazil plays in the third place match. My thought… if they play neighborhood rival Argentina it will be a hotly contested match. If the play Holland, the Brazilians will roll over and die. Again…

After the match I saw a lot of comments about how the U.S. only lost to Germany by a 1-0 score, so accordingly we are better than Brazil. Sports doesn’t work that way. It’s a ridiculous notion, but can you imagine what a team with Brazil’s talent and America’s heart and determination would look like? Wow…

AR-140709193One last thought… ESPN’s coverage of the World Cup has been tremendous so far, with great pre and post game analysis and first-rate commentary during the match. Ian Darke and Steve McManama were terrific in, what had to be, a tough match to call. So I was disappointed that they spent so much time monitoring the streets of Rio de Janeiro waiting for a riot to start. I know that would be a ratings bonanza, but get a grip! I guess the Brazilians were too shocked to muster up the energy to flip over a car or two.

I’d like to give the fans credit. They stayed and cheered their team until the end, and showed appreciation for the German side that had just humiliated them. Well done… Brazilians!

So hoping the other semifinal is a better game.

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Thrice Bitten

25 06 2014

imageI’d love to like Luis Suarez… he is one of the most talented players in the world and I am in awe of the great things he can do on a soccer field. I’ve also never hidden my disdain for him because of his behavior on that same field.

After this past season at Liverpool, he was poised to be one of the biggest stars at the World Cup in Brazil. He missed the first match because of injury and then showed incredible resiliency in the next match, scoring two goals and breaking the heart of England.

Now, Luis Suarez is in trouble. Again. During a fantastic match yesterday, the dark side of Suarez emerged when he attempted to bite off a chunk of the Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder late into Uruguay’s final group game. The referee made no call on the play, and Suarez continued in the match. One could speculate that the Italy defense was in shock after the incident and it led to the winning goal being scored for Uruguay. But it isn’t speculation to say that Suarez not being ejected had an effect on the result, and led to the elimination of Italy from the World Cup.

Suarez has a long history of on-field issues, including a racial slur during a match and TWO previous biting incidents – if he was a dog he would have been put down by now! His resume also includes frequent diving and a notorious intentional handball in the 2010 World Cup. Not to mince words… he is a cheater. He has no respect for the game or his fellow players.

What galls me the most about this latest incident is that Suarez was rolling on the ground as if he was the victim… fully aware of what he had just done. And he completely denied any wrong doing in his post game comments, saying “these things happen on the pitch”.

Now all of the doctored photos are showing up on the internet – Suarez with fangs, or his head photoshopped into the children’s game, Hungry, Hungry Hippos. It’s funny, but I’m not in the mood. Because today I’ll be defending my beautiful game to some of my friends and coworkers. And I’m not sure how to do it.

Now, all eyes are on FIFA and we wait to see how soccer’s governing body will respond. It will be argued that this is a single incident, but Luis Suarez has a checkered past that must be examined and considered in any disciplinary proceeding.

Even the staunchest Liverpool or Uruguay supporter should be outraged and must admit that Luis Suarez is a serious problem. I would definitely question the character of anyone who would try to defend him. The powers that be at FIFA must come down hard on him for the good of the game, and before this maniac seriously injures someone.

So I’ll say it… ban him. For life. He’s a stain and a disgrace to his team, his country, and to the game I love. Good riddance to bad rubbish.





My Beautiful Game

2 10 2013

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A few weeks ago I posted my thoughts about baseball, and what I missed about the game I loved as a child. This elicited some great responses, and may have caused a blood vessel to burst in the heads of one or two people. I like the conversations my posts create, and find great joy in providing a forum to respectfully share views.

In the interest of fair play, I’ve decided to turn my keen eye to the game I love… soccer. My beautiful game. Don’t worry, I’ll only allow myself to gush for one paragraph. Or two. Maybe three…

When I coached young players I would always say, “It’s a simple game… If the ball is in their end, kick it in. If it’s in your end, kick it out.” Maybe I over simplified, but I believe soccer is the ultimate team game – a choreographed dance where each member has an equal share in the success and failure of the team. There are star players on teams at every level, but they can’t excel alone. Behind every great goal scorer several players who serve the ball. Accordingly, in front of the best goalkeepers are three, four or more players working together to minimize shots. Eleven players, working as one.

No sport in the world requires more athleticism and fitness, and puts more emphasis on playing for your country. Beyond that, I still love the simplicity… forty-five minute halves, no stoppages, no time-outs, no instant replay, only three subs per team, and the unrivaled pure energy that exists in a soccer stadium.

That’s the good stuff… nuff said!

But soccer isn’t without faults. Some are inherent in all sports, some are soccer specific. Things that need to improve…

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  • Faking Injuries – I hear about that more than anything else from soccer skeptics. I’ve lost respect for more than a few talented players because they get hurt when brushed by a feather. Thirty seconds later they are running like nothing happened. I’d love to see referees empowered to caution these players and get this out of the game.
  • Racism / Hooligans – Mostly in Europe, this continues to be a problem and clearly says more about the countries involved than the sport. Nothing makes me cringe more than video of players being subjected to this, or fan violence in the stands. Always newsworthy for soccer detractors, it needs to be dealt with.
  • Corruption – There are increasing stories about corruption in the game, from match fixing to bribery. FIFA has been the subject of numerous questions through the years, and now it looks like a major investigation will be underway about the choice of sites for the 2022 and 2026 World Cups. Obviously, when there is a great deal of money at stake, doors can open for some people to cut corners. Since soccer hasn’t reached a fever pitch here in the states (yet), U.S. Soccer and MLS haven’t been associated with such problems. We could probably learn some lessons from England, arguably one of the most rabid soccer countries in the world and virtually free from this type of scandal.
  • Winning – Yes, believe it or not winning is a problem… but only at the youth level. And this is a problem for all youth sports. Too much emphasis on building winning teams erodes the skill level of all our athletes. Basic fundamental teaching of a sport is giving way to a “win at all cost” mentality, and the players are suffering.  It’s a broken system that needs correcting. It’s not a coincidence that the United States produces the most talented athletes in the world, but doesn’t compete at the highest level in soccer.

I always draw a distinction between the sport and the game. When I spoke about baseball, my commentary mostly concerned what the sport has done to adversely affect the game. Truthfully, I love the game of baseball, of soccer… and also hockey, football, basketball, etc. You have to admire the competition on the field, the pitch, the ice or the court.

I’ll have to keep an eye on these bad things about soccer, and hope they don’t adversely affect what happens between the white lines.  And I’ll continue to love my beautiful game, unless it becomes too much of a sport.