Tag Archives: Germany

Brazil 2014: A Football Musing

There were some nerves heading into the 2014 World Cup. Concerns about safety, political unrest, climate, and pitch conditions all were raised in the lead up to the tournament, but once Brazil and Croatia kicked things off on June 13th, all eyes were fixed firmly on the pitch.

That first game, with all the pageantry and pride of Brazil on full display, provided some inkling, or perhaps warning, of things to come. Brazil won 3-1, but Croatia was the better team in all but the scoreline. Brazil survived thanks to some highly questionable refereeing, and some missed chances by the Croatians. Brazil’s tournament might have started successfully, but a month later the country was singing a much more bitter sporting song.

The second day the first real shock of the tournament came in the form of the Oranje army masquerading in their blue jerseys for the day. In a rematch of the 2010 final in Johannesburg, Spain and the Netherlands put on a much more exciting performance (except maybe from a Spanish perspective), that saw the Dutch thrash their way to a 5-1 revenge scoreline. It didn’t get much better from there for the defending champs, as they lost to Chile 2-0 in their next match and were the sent home in the first round.Other europeans powers didn’t fare much better than La Furia Roja. England, Italy, and Portugal all left South America with disappointingly short campaigns as well.

CONCACAF (the North American federation) made a big display despite having only four teams in the tournament, and were often antagonists of the European cause. Mexico knocked out Croatia, while tournament darlings Costa Rica were most responsible for the English and Italian exits. The USMNT for their part helped send the World’s best player home early, though he (Christiano Ronaldo) did manage to inflict some serious psychological damage on the Americans with his last second assist to tie their game.

Asia and Africa had two different experiences. While the Africans saw two teams advance to the knockout stage for the first time, the Asians were easily the most disappointing federation with no teams making it through.

South American performed well on home soil, with all but Ecuador progressing. However, with four teams set to face one another in one of the semifinal brackets, it meant that only two could actually make it through to the final. Their was the usual array of upstart teams headlined by the Costa Ricans. The Ticos made a stirring run to the quarters before just being edged out by a better Dutch unit. Colombia, and dark horses Belgium also made quarter finals runs, the latter coming at the expense of the Americans and a truly heroic Tim Howard.

After all the dust settled, the last four was composed of some usual suspects, thought the matches that followed were anything but. Most thought that the Dutch-Spanish contest on day two would be the shock of the tournament, but twenty-nine minutes of the German National Machine saw to that. Brazil, a team that had hope, prayed, and paid for success in this tournament, were left in tatters. The 7-1 obliteration set numerous records of futility for the Brazilian side, and their subsequent loss to the Dutch in the third place match all but ruined the reputation of Brazil’s storied footballing culture. Argentina squeaked by the Dutch on penalties, and in the final they looked to do the same to the Germans until a young man named Mario saw to it that Germany would win its first world title as a unified country.

Germany was the embodiment of a team, as they so often are, but plenty of individual talents were on display during the last month as well. Young stars like James Rodriguez and Xherdan Shaqiri arrived with a flurry of goals. While veteran goalkeepers like Howard and Guillermo Ochoa gained admiration by preventing chance after chance. The Dutch duo of Robin Van Persia and Arjen Robben created headaches for every defense they face. Neymar scored often for the Brazilians before a fractured vertebrae spelled the end of his tournament and Brazil’s hopes. Messi’s brilliance couldn’t save Argentina, though it nearly did. He won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, but falling so painfully short of the ultimate prize made the honor little more than a hollow consolation.

With 171 goals scored, tied with France 98 for most ever, the tournament was an offensive joy. It’s always bittersweet when a World Cup tournament comes to an end, and today is no exception. Only 1426 days until Putin’s tourney kicks off. It will be a long four years, but there will be plenty of soccer, both domestically and internationally, to keep the interest until then. In the meantime, bravo Brazil! It’s been a fun ride.

World Cup Fever

Part of the beauty of writing, is that achieving truth and reality is subjective, and depending on who you talk to, impossible. Predicting the outcome, or excitement in sports, is a frequent, fascinating, and futile endeavor. That’s part of what makes it so fun. The Superbowl is always hyped, but rarely does the pre-game buildup reflect the nature of the game, as we saw with the systematic decimation of the Broncos at the hands of the Seahawks. The NCAA Tournament provides the most exciting bang-for-your-buck four days in all of sports, and yet it cannot be fully described, and certainly not predicted. A World Series like the one that happened between the Rangers and Cardinals in 2011 is something that a Hollywood scriptwriter would look at as unbelievable fiction, because sometimes words feel cheap in the face of real world events.

No sporting event encapsulates those truths more than the World Cup.  It is a once every four years, nation unifying, world stopping, political force, that happens to involve a ball, and a laundry list of the world’s greatest soccer players (though unfortunately a number of them will be missing from this year’s tournament for various reasons).

The World Cup is such a globally unifying experience, and yet it holds a different significance for everyone that watches it. Of course there are the teams you’re rooting for, and the teams you’re rooting against, but it is also an event defined by setting. Not just the setting of the tournament, but setting of the spectators and fans. Whether it is a pub in London, a piazza in Rome, a sold-out stadium in Rio, a cafe in Lagos, or a conference room in Presque Isle, Maine, each holds its own power. That will be what comes to mind when you think of great saves, powerful goals, brutal tackles, and nimble footwork. It will bring back the taste of the beer, the brow full of sweat, and the butterflies in your stomach.


There is another side of the World Cup: the off the field politics. FIFA is by most accounts a pretty terrible entity. It’s a corrupt governing body, that often serves the interests of its aging oligarchs, rather than the sport it is supposed to govern. New details have emerged in the perceived corruption of Qatar’s 2022 bid, that saw a tiny nation with summer heat temperatures in the 120s, and very little sporting infrastructure, get awarded the World Cup. FIFA tried to maintain that there was no shady business going on, but now the floodgates seemed to have broken, with major sponsors stepping in to voice their concerns that too many back room deals, and briefcases full of money won Qatar the bid.

Brazil has its own set of concerns, a set that doesn’t appear to be dying in the days leading up to the tournament. Human rights protest, and even riots, have spread across the South American country, as the spending for the World Cup’s infrastructure has overshadowed the lack of spending on Brazil’s healthcare, education, and numerous other basic government duties. During last summer’s Confederations Cup — what many view as the dry run for the World Cup — there were numerous violent clashes between police and protestors, even during the final that saw Brazil dominate Spain 3-0. In the year since, other protests have sprung up, and there have even been fears about working conditions after eight laborers died at various times during the stadium construction process. The show will go on, but expect much more extra-curricular political protesting during the next month.

As if the greatest sporting event in the world didn’t need extra hype, the off the field politics, FIFA greed, and personal importance will be accompanied by the usual on the pitch excitement. Brazil will be riding a wave of pressure and support, as the host nation vies for its sixth World Cup title. Anything but a win on home soil will be a failure. Spain will be looking to win an unprecedented fourth straight major title, but appear slightly more vulnerable than the last go round. Germany brings its normal well oiled machine, minus a few key cogs due to injury. Argentina seems to be rounding into its usual ethereal form that could see it spoil its rivals host tournament, or flame out too early, yet again. The other contenders are there. England has a monumentally tough group with Uruguay, and the Italians. Italy and Uruguay each have injury concerns of their own, but still should knock the English out, and let the press have a field day with the fallout. The Americans look to have their hand’s full with the Germans and the Portuguese, not to mention their now archival Ghanaians — who have knocked them out of the last two World Cups. Portugal is hoping Cristiano Ronaldo will be fully fit, and the entire Iberian nation will be holding its breath if he’s not. Dark-horses abound in the likes of the Ivory Coast, Belgium, and Colombia, but don’t be surprised if it’s the usual suspects making deep runs in the tournament.

I won’t be making any predictions on the tourney, it’s too sacred to me personally to try to prophesy, but I will be pulling for my usual trio of nations: the Italians, the Americans, and the Dutch. I’ll be glued to my TV for the next month, enjoying the greatest sport even in the world. Hopefully you will too. Thursday can’t come soon enough.