Monday, May 31, 2010

Adidas Tired of Being Kicked Around

After enduring several days of harsh criticism of the balls it is rolling out for South Africa 2010, sports equipment giant Adidas is fighting back.

The complaints about the "Jabulani" ball (they all have to have names, for marketing purposes) have been both general and specific.

To recap:

Julio Cesar, Brazil's goalkeeper, called the Jabulani ball "terrible" and compared it to the cheesy kind of ball you would buy in a grocery store.

Italian forward Giampaolo Pazzini called it a "disaster", adding, "It moves so much and makes it difficult to control. You jump up to head a cross and suddenly the ball will move and you miss it. It is especially bad for the goalkeepers if it means they concede a goal because they can't judge the trajectory."

Said Brazil midfielder Julio Baptista: "There is no way to hide it. It's bad for the goalkeepers and it's bad for us. It's really bad. The players try to cross it and it goes to the opposite direction they intended it to go."

Said Spain goalie Iker Casillas: "It's sad that that such an important competition like the World Cup has such an important element like this ball of appalling condition."

It is something of a World Cup tradition for Adidas to come out with a new ball, and for players to complain about it. But usually, it's only the goalkeepers who are complaining. The criticism this time seems wider and deeper.

So now, Adidas has responded. And to boil it down, the German company says the players are 1) smokin' crack or 2) cretins who didn't bother to practice with the thing even though it has been available for months.

Complaints about sports equipment are not new, and they are not always unwarranted.

Remember the "new and improved" National Basketball Association ball made of synthetic something-or-other by Spalding? It was introduced at the start of the 2006-07 season, and players hated it. Hated it. They said it was slippery, and so hard that it split the skin on players' hands. Steve Nash, who was the two-time league MVP at the time, said it "tears my fingers apart."

They complained so much and insisted so strenuously that the old leather ball be returned ... that the league caved in and the players got their old balls back.

It seems unlikely Fifa will do the same. It is an imperious organization that cares far more about sponsors than players.

So World Cup players ... will just have to become accustomed to irregular flight paths ... unless they want to admit it's their fault they didn't embrace the new ball soon enough. That's allowed, too.
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Sunday, May 30, 2010

A South African Vuvuzela-Hater!

I thought it was a law: If you are South African, you love the vuvezela.

(Yes, this is Day 2 of our anti-vuvuzela campaign.)

Turns out, as this Johannesburg Times columnist notes, that the vuvuzela is a recent curse, and that before the turn of the century South Africans routinely sang before, during and after soccer matches.

Which reminds me of ...

Paul Simon, the American singer, doing an entire album -- and quite a musical one -- named "Graceland" entirely with the cooperation and collaboration of South Africans.

And here is our columnist, Mondli Makhanya, ruing the conquest of South African soccer ambience by the vile vuvuzela.

"In two weeks' time, when Bafana Bafana take on Mexico at Soccer City, there will sadly be very little singing in the stands.

"We South Africans, a mighty musical nation if ever there was one, will have replaced hearty renditions with the noise of something called the vuvuzela.

"This instrument, which emits a sound akin to that of a goat on the way to slaughter, is now at the center of a growing row in international football."

He notes that players who were at the Confederations Cup last June complained of the noise. Said Xabi Alonso: "I think Fifa should ban it. It's not really distracting, but it's not a nice sound to hear."

"Last week, football legend and Thailand coach Bryan Robson blamed the vuvuzela for his team's disjointed performance in their friendly against Bafana Bafana at Peter Mokaba stadium. He warned that it would make life difficult for coaches at the World Cup.

"The coaches at the World Cup are definitely going to have to inform their players beforehand that they will have to communicate effectively with each other on the field," the former England and Manchester United midfield dynamo said.

"It's very difficult to get any message to the players from the bench. Coaches are going to have to make that known to their players."

"Word on the street is that several coaches have voiced their disquiet to their national associations, who have in turn conveyed the message to Fifa."

Not that it's going to do any good. South Africans seem to have decided that it is a matter of national pride, which the columnist mocks.

"Predictably, South Africans have been very defensive. A lot of noise has been made about the vuvuzela being part of South African tradition and it being the proverbial 12th man in the Bafana squad ...

"Defending the vuvuzela has now become a patriotic must," the columnist wrote.

"It is as if our nationhood is being challenged by pesky foreigners who want to dictate our behavior on home soil.

"On this one I beg to be unpatriotic and for permission to side with the enemies of the vuvuzela.

"What the vuvuzela has done to our football is to take away the spontaneity of song. Soccer fans do not compose new songs any more. The tribal chants that you hear at great soccer cathedrals such as White Hart Lane and the Santiago Bernabeu are rarely heard in our soccer grounds these days. Except for the Bloemfontein Celtic support base, the music in South African stadiums has been drowned by the dreadful instrument."

I'm right there with you, Mr Makhanya. I wish the vuvuzela would go away. I am pleased you have cited local history for its demise.

Sadly, I think both you and I will be drowned out by the goat-to-slaughter blare of that horrible instrument.
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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Vuvuzuelas: Give Them a Rest

Could this be the start of the downfall in the vuvezela tyranny?

The aural cockroach of world sports -- the plastic horns beloved of South African football fans -- were unwelcomed at critical moments of the Bafana Bafana Bafana's match in Soccer City tonight vs. Colombia.

If only we could carry that over to the World Cup.

The vuvuzela is annoying as hell. It costs about 25 cents, so everyone can afford one, and it seems as if everyone does, if last year's Confederations Cup were any indication.

The sound the vuvuzela makes is a sort of one-note trumpet-like blare, and if you get enough of them going, you can't hear yourself think. And a a bit after that, you have thoughts about stuffing your head into a barrel or perhaps choking anyone blowing on a horn.

Danny Jordaan, the president of the organizing committee, said ahead of South Africa's friendly with Colombia that fans shouldn't be blowing on the vuvuzela during national anthems (thank you, Danny) and to cool it enough so that the fans in the stadium could hear instructions via loudspeaker.

Somehow, I don't think that is going to work. Soccer and vuvuzelas are so intertwined now ... any match is going to be two hours of nonstop honking.

Oh and the tournament begins two weeks from today. This thing is imminent. About time to melt down every vuvezela in the country.
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Friday, May 28, 2010

'Keeper Trashes World Cup Ball

Here's guessing that Julio Cesar does not have a commercial tie with the Adidas brand.

Brazil's elite goalkeeper (and how often have those words been written in the history of soccer?) hates the new ball to be used at South Africa 2010, by Fifa fiat.

How much he not like it?

Well, he said it looks like something "from a grocery store." He also called the ball "horrible" and "terrible." And suggested it was created to make life hard for those poor hard-working men in the nets, the goalkeepers.


Normally, almost nothing a Brazilian goalkeeper might say could be disregarded because Brazil's goalkeepers generally were second-rate and nondescript.

Julio Cesar, however, is different: He just backstopped Inter Milan to the Champions League championship. So he has some credibility.

If you would like to see a semi-scholarly (and Adidas-friendly) review of the ball, check here.

Apparently, the hope at Adidas was to create a ball that was ... oh, perfect. "True" in flight, with a higher ratio of kicking surface because of fewer seams ...

Here is a mugshot of the ball. On which, of course, is attempting to sell you one.

And $122 ... on sale?!? No thanks.

I believe I would be quite happy with a soccer ball from, say ... the grocery store Julio Cesar shops at.

Anyway, look for more complaints about the new ball. Athletes never like new equipment. Particularly when they think it makes their jobs more difficult.
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Maybe This 'Soccer' Thing Is Catching On ...

The U.S. national soccer team had a "farewell and good luck" session with President Barack Obama today at the White House.

So maybe this "soccer" thing is catching on in the States, where "football" is a game played with a pointed ball and by very large men in helmets.

The significance?

That has never happened before, as far as my research indicates.

Bill Clinton was in the stands at Chicago in 1994 for the opening match, but it didn't involve the host nation -- it was Germany vs. Ecuador, as I recall.

In 2002, President George W. Bush called the U.S. team ahead of its second-round match with Mexico (a victory). In 2006, he called ahead of the opening match against the Czechs (a defeat).

And before Clinton, U.S. presidents couldn't be expected to know the national soccer team from any other 23 young guys rounded up off the streets. Soccer was an inconsequential sport. Didn't matter.

Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated recaps some history of U.S. presidents and the World Cup, and it isn't a lengthy retelling. (Betcha $100 that President Herbert Hoover not only didn't know about the U.S. team at the 1930 World Cup ... he didn't know the World Cup existed.)

Obama reportedly told the players, "We're going to be proud of what you do in South Africa. And you will have somebody in the Oval Office watching ESPN to make sure things are going OK."

Rumors are that Obama will travel to South Africa if the Americans get out of Group C play.

OK, it wasn't a complete triumph ... Obama appears to have been doing a "meet the athletes" relay. Before chatting up the soccer lads, he congratulated the Duke University men's basketball team that won a national championship.

But, yeah. This soccer thing ... it may be at a tipping point. A bit of success this time around ...

American proponents of the game called soccer "the sports of the future" for so many years that critics responded by tweaking that statement with this: "Soccer is the sport of the future ... and always will be."

Actually, the future may finally be here, for the U.S. game.
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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ox Sacrifice: Not Something You See Every Quadrennium

We stipulated long ago that South Africa 2010 would be like no other World Cup. For hundreds of reasons.

And here is one of them: The sacrifice of an ox at Soccer City to bless the country's World Cup stadiums, two weeks ahead of kickoff.

I am pretty sure Germany didn't sacrifice any large domestic animals at the 2006 World Cup ... and neither did Uruguay at the first World Cup, in 1930.

This is a South Africa thing.

According to the Johannesburg Times story linked above, a 70-year-old warrior of the Xhosa tribe did the honors, dispatching the beast with a spear thrust between the horns.

(Brings to mind the final thrust of a bullfight, actually. Maybe Spain did kill a bull or two, before the 1982 World Cup? But Italy won that one. Hmmm.)

The Times was told that the elderly warrior is "an expert in doing this" who was "brought all the way from the rural Eastern Cape" for the gig.

The story uses a couple of local-local words that I, at least, don't recognize, so I did some research.

A sangoma apparently is a "traditional healer" and sometimes simply referred to as a shaman.

Meanwhile, an inyanga seems to be more of a Zulu tribal concept, and according to the link is more into homeopathy than divination. And the inyanga apparently "learns from the living while the sangoma learns from the dead."


Doesn't hurt to have some around, presumably.

The ceremony included a blessing of "everything related to the World Cup." Does that extend to the author of this blog? Maybe not.

Let's see how South Africa 2010 turns out. Four years from now, Brazil may want to refer back to today's ox-slaughter/blessing-giving.
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hey, Wait! Mexico Is Pretty Good

As a North American soccer fan, I can't help but smile at this.

A European journalist sees Mexico play and comes away saying, "Hey, those guys are pretty good."

Even after England defeated Mexico 3-1 at Wembley on Monday.

Such is the case of this story in the Johannesburg Times, where the individual supplying the copy for the newspaper decided, "Hmm, South African could be in trouble in that World Cup opener against Mexico 17 days from now."

Twas ever thus.

Euros tend to think the United States is decent is soccer, and it is. More or less. Wins a few, loses a few.

But Mexico seems to surprise the Euros -- and apparently the Africans, too -- every four years.

What about "five straight times in the second round" do people not get? (Leaving out the 1990 World Cup, when Mexico was banned for having used an overaged player.)

Quarterfinals in 1986, round of 16 in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006.

El Tri, as Mexico is known (because Mexico's flag has three colors), is a serious opponent. They turn out cohesive, quick and technically advanced teams. They are expected to advance, and they expect if of themselves.

If you followed the link (above) to the game story, you will note that two of England's goals came in the air, in front of the net. And yes, size and playing in the air are the two biggest issues Mexico has. And they may not be issues at all against South Africa, also not a tall team.

The optimists in South Africa figured they would beat Mexico (how good can they be?) in the opener, then sneak past Uruguay and get into the second round out of Group A.

Then they say El Tri play.

The author of the Times story also points out how challenging Mexico's schedule in the run-up to South Africa 2010 is. After England at Wembley, they now get Netherlands in Freiburg, Gambia in Bayreuth and Italy in Brussels, giving them four matches in 11 days, three of them against top-eight-ranked teams in the world.

That's a Mexico thing, too: Play the best. And certainly coach Javier Aguirre is living it. When you play Italy and England and the Dutch, how easy will the Bafana Bafana Bafana seem?

Just makes me smile. This eternal surprise: "Hey, these Mexico dudes are pretty good."

Eventually, people other than gringos and ticos will remember this.
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Monday, May 24, 2010

Fill 'Er Up, and Where's the Museum?

These ideas always sound so inspired.

Hey, let's give a crash course on being a tourist guide to the guys who work at gas stations!

Which is what the city of Johannesburg is planning here in these final two weeks and change before South Africa 2010.

From the story linked above:

Employees at Sasol garages will be sent on a training course, and be able to provide helpful information on places of interest like Nelson Mandela’s former home in Soweto, or Constitution Hill in downtown Johannesburg, which celebrates South Africa’s new democracy.

"We are delighted to offer this industry-first, value-add service to our customers, both local and foreign, to ensure that they get the most out of their experience of the city of Johannesburg," Sasol Oil managing director Maurice Radebe said.

The Joburg Tourism company said the two-day training program will include different modules on tourism awareness, cultural diversity and a tour of all the tourist attractions in the city.

As we noted, a nice thought. But how practical is it?

Take if from a guy who pumped gas as a kid ... I knew where Broadway and Pine was ... but I probably couldn't tell you where civic luminaries in my town lived, back when I was a teenager checking oil and washing windows.

Maybe South Africa's pump jockeys know more about their hometown, and it's cultural epicenters ... but I'm not sure I would ask a guy at the BP where the nearest good Italian restaurant is. Or where Nelson Mandela lived, in Soweto.

More than anything this seems to be a sign of the country's enthusiasm (finally) for the event. To look at South Africa media these past few weeks is to get a sense of a country that is close to being "All World Cup all the time!"

As someone who has been watching South African media for the past year, I can say this: "It's about time people there got excited."
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Sunday, May 23, 2010

El Jefe Loco and the Deluxe Loo

Mixing some Spanish and English-English there. And even I am weary of noting the antics/foibles/madness of Diego Maradona, but this cannot go unremarked.

Our friend, David Lassen, passed along the Daily Mail version of this ... but we have returned to the original source, the Johannesburg Times, for this breaking story:

The Times reports that El Jefe Loco demands and is getting world-class toilets for the World Cup.

One might think El Jefe would have other preoccupations about now.

But no. Having the best bathroom in South Africa is a bigger priority for El Jefe Loco than, oh, anything. Like breaking down film of practice of studying opponents or dreaming up his latest utterly random lineup.

He now has the best bathroom fixtures in the world, including a bidet with a bunch of gadgets (as you can see in the Daily Mail story) ... so that when El Jefe retires to his office he can think deep thoughts while in the lap of luxury.

All paid for by Argentina's football association. Of course.

So, let's review. In recent weeks, El Jefe Loco has ... been bitten on the face while "kissing goodnight" his own dog, requiring a trip to the emergency room at a hospital and stitches ... has run over the leg of a video cameraman and rebuked him for getting his limb in the way of his wheels, shouting "asshole!" at him ... and now made such a stink about his bathrooms in his hotel suite that he is making even more news about something that has nothing to do with Argentina soccer.

That he is considered the biggest joke in the coaching fraternity goes without saying. But it is worse than that.

He is mad, I tell you. Daft. Barking. Muy loco.

And we have yet to see how he will manage it, but I am convinced he will make so many horrific decisions with the Argentina team that what might be the best club in the world, on paper, will not make the final, let alone win it.
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Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Professional Sepp/Fifa Basher

The Johannesburg Sunday Times has a story on Andrew Jennings, professional Fifa critic.

Sometimes an outsider has to wonder if Jennings has gone around the bend a bit, so uninterrupted and strident are his condemnations of Fifa and its president, Sepp Blatter.

The gist of his message?

That Fifa is out to shake down every country foolish enough to host the World Cup. And that South Africa's turn is almost done now.

Some highlights:

--On Sepp Blatter:
"Well, it's not for nothing that he has been booed at the last two World Cups. Your country is being exploited. The profits of the World Cup won't trickle down - they won't go to anyone except Fifa."

--On Jack Warner, Fifa honcho from Trinidad: "He is a horrible, horrible thief."

--On the purveyor of tours, Match Hospitality: "It is too late, people decided last year that they weren't coming. Transport and hospitality got the shaft; these come before violence as a deterring factor. People just can't afford it. Not even the American wholesaler could sell the overpriced hospitality packages. For Match it's just greed, greed, greed."

--On tickets being nearly sold out: "Well, your municipalities are buying tickets. They tell you there are no empty seats because we have to believe there is a scarcity value; there has been a political move to cover up the scandal. Blatter is dishing out tickets to the unemployed -- you are going to get screwed."

--On what South Africa can expect when the event is over: "South Africa bent over and let Fifa have their way. Officials and the government have sold South Africa down the river: 'Bye Africa, bye suckers!' "

Jennings claims he is the only reporter in the world who is banned from Fifa press conferences. Don't know if it's true, but we can see why that might be.
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Friday, May 21, 2010

World Cup TV During Circumcision Schools

Well, this should cheer up the lads a bit.

President Jacob Zuma said South African boys and men who are scheduled to be circumcised during the World Cup will be able to take televisions with them into the bush so they can watch soccer during "initiation schools."

A little diversion certainly couldn't hurt ... well, not more than having your foreskin excised at the age of 15 or up.

Male circumcision is considered a passage into adulthood in many parts of Africa, and South Africa is no different. But usually the event comes with isolation. And certainly not TV.

This time, however, will be different.

It isn't every winter (in the Southern Hemisphere) that the World Cup is going on in the country.

Some South African men go to what is known as an initiation school for the process. Which, yes, is for much older men than in most of the West, where male circumcision overwhelmingly is performed on infants.

Adult circumcision is a cultural event of significant interest, among some academics, as you can see by reading this rather weighty treatise on the topic.

The money quotes: It "is a socially significant act, resulting in the integration into the community and assurance of acceptance and respect from other community members. Initiation is an important social device in dealing with adolescence (and) the training and preparation provided at the initiation schools enables the shift from childhood behavior to more complex behavior expected in adulthood."

So, it is a big deal. However, it has to be painful, and in a World Cup year, some initiates might be less interested in trekking out into the bush to go through with it when it means no World Cup, as well.

But the president says TV is OK, this year. And actually, it might make the process, which seems to take quite some time, once healing is included, a little easier to bear. Though the skill of the guys wielding the sharp objects, as well as the sterility of those objects, might make for longer-term success than access to the South Africa-Mexico match on June 11. Though a victory by Bafana Bafana Bafana might even ease the pain of the ordeal, at least for a bit.

Have we mentioned this? The 2010 World Cup will be like no other before it ... in many, many ways.
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

El Jefe Loco Runs Over Cameraman's Leg

I have decided this. From now on, Diego Maradona should be known as ... El Jefe Loco.

Can we agree on this? Diego "El Jefe Loco" Maradona?

This is my contribution to the 2010 World Cup. Along with Bafana Bafana Bafana (two is nice, but three is better) and the Four Lions.

So, yes, today, El Jefe Loco ran over the leg of a TV cameraman.

And his reaction? That of a crazy person. Of course.

El Jefe Loco blamed it on the cameraman. See, his leg got stuck under his wheels. How rude is that.

EJL apparently called the man an "asshole" ... presumably in Spanish. Though some people are amused by the concept of bad words in another language.

A guy who runs over a cameraman, no matter how intrusive, and then blames the cameraman for the incident, shouting "asshole" at him ...

Wouldn't all of us like Argentina's chances to win the World Cup a lot better ... if the team were coached by anybody other than El Jefe Loco?

This will end badly. And prematurely.
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Rough World Cup for Working Girls?

A story in the Johannesburg Times suggests it will be a tough World Cup for prostitutes. Especially after they seemed to have thought, not long ago, that the month-long event would be a financial windfall for them.

What has soured them on their World Cup fortunes?

--The significant drop in expected foreign visitors, from early projections. All those foreigners scared off by price-gouging airlines and hoteliers ... will impact the working girl's bottom line, they seem to believe.

--A growing international realization that South Africa is the epicenter of Aids, with more cases -- 5.7 million -- than any country in the world. That is, more than 10 percent of a population of some 50 million are HIV-positive. That can have a chilling effect on the sex trade, prostitutes told the newspaper.

--South Africa's unwillingness to designate certain zones for the sex trade, as Germany apparently did in 2006. That leaves many prostitutes on the street, where they believe they are more likely to be victimized by violence or robbery. South Africa already is infamous for its crime.

--The fear that recent arrivals from other African countries will drive down prices. Apparently, fears of a massive invasion of sex workers from around the continent have not been borne out, but enough desperate women from nearby countries are trickling in to change the sex-trade dynamic. And not in a good way, economically, for South Africa's native working girls.

South Africa, like many countries, has no legal prostitution. Note the quote from a World Cup official: "We can't give them shelter because we can't be part of a crime. ... We can't be a banana republic that creates laws for an event for one month."

A World Cup is such an enormous event that it has ramifications on all social strata of a society. Even (especially?) on those near the bottom.
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Whatcha Gonna Do When They Run from You?

Fat boys, fat boys ...

Everybody, sing! You know, the theme song from "Cops" ...

Or not.

The story here is South African officials making a priority out of their police losing weight and getting in shape in time for the World Cup.

It appears donuts may be an issue in South Africa as well as, say, the south Bronx.

Apparently, this stems from a recent drill in Cape Town during which some three-quarters of the cops involved seemed to be huffing and puffing ... and a member of parliament noticed.

"In Cape Town they were practicing as we were viewing the stadium. Three-quarters of them were overweight," Elizabeth Thabethe told the Johannesburg Times.

"How are you doing with that programme, because surely they must be able to run if there is an emergency and not be blocked by their weight."

She said she could give an assurance the South African cops will be "slim and trim" in time for the World Cup, which is barely three weeks off. Must be a crash diet.

Then again, for directing people and performing basic gendarmerie/British Bobby type tasks, a police officer doesn't need to be a lean, mean crime-fighting machine.

But if something more dire comes up, terror or even a serious riot, well, yes, it would be nice to have some cops who could run down a malefactor or two.
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Ballack: Biggest Injury Story Yet

Midfielder Michael Ballack, Germany's captain, will not play in South Africa 2010 because of injury.

He is not the first prospective squad member for the 32 teams heading to South Africa in a few weeks to be declared out. But he is the most prominent player yet to be sidelined. (As opposed to David Beckham, who is far more famous than competent, these days.)

Ballack was declared out of the World Cup by German medical personnel today.

What are the ramifications?

It means Germany's chances of winning the World Cup just declined. Ballack was both a leader and a producer. He played in the last two World Cups for Germany, starring for the 2002 team that fell in the final to Brazil, and performing well for the Mannschaft as recently as 2008, when the Germans were runners-up to Spain in the Euro Cup.

Ballack did not have a great season with Chelsea of the Premier League. He had a series of niggling injuries and was never quite healthy.

But none of his injuries were as severe as this one, which occurred on a vicious tackle by Kevin-Prince Boateng of Portsmouth in the FA Cup final.

Boateng, interestingly, plays for Ghana, which is in the same World Cup group as the Germans. Some whispers have been heard that Boateng didn't mind the idea of hurting Ballack in that situation, but planning an injury while playing full speed is a tricky concept.

Kevin-Prince Boateng, by the way, is the half-brother of Jerome Boateng, who (like Kevin-Prince) was born in Germany, but unlike his younger brother plays for Germany. If you followed the link, you saw that Germany's coach, Joachim Low, asked German fans not to blame Jerome for his half-brother's crude play.

Losing a player of Ballack's pedigree also makes the World Cup a bit poorer. What all serious fans want is a tournament with the best possible players in it. A World Cup without Ballack is short one great player.

England lost Beckham, who is better-known than Ballack but not remotely the player. Becks might have had trouble getting on the field for England.

Other leading players who may not be ready include Fernando Torres (knee) and Cesc Fabregas (broken leg) of Spain, though both have a chance to be there.

Unlike Ballack, who has been ruled out, period. And who, at 33, might never play in another World Cup.

That's a shame. For Ballack, the German team and for World Cup fans.
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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Another Bad Day for England

Yikes. England's World Cup players are almost certain to perform better for the nation than its officials have the past few days.

First there was the Mario Capello cash-for-ratings scandal noted in the item below.

Now we have this mess, Lord Triesman suggesting Spain will attempt to bribe referees at the World Cup. Which is a very serious charge that reflects badly on Spain, Russia (the country Lord Triesman suggested would work with Spain) and on Fifa, whose apparently referees are for sale.

What made this worse?

Lord Triesman was, until today, the leader of England's 2018 World Cup bid. He has resigned from that job but has kept his presidency of of the Football Association. For now.

Among generic soccer fans, the sense seems to be "it's time" for England to get the World Cup. The home ground of the game, the location of one of the two best leagues, hasn't hosted since 1966. In 2016? Sure.

But England officials can't seem to get out of their own way. A batch of gaffes let to the ascension of Lord Triesman, who was supposed to be the soul of discretion ... until a "friend" taped him speculating on Spain trying to cheat in 2010 South Africa.

To wit:

"There's some evidence that the Spanish football authorities are trying to identify the referees... and pay them," Triesman said, according to The Daily Mail on Sunday.

"My assumption is that the Latin Americans, although they've not said so, will vote for Spain. And if Spain drop out, because Spain are looking for help from the Russians to help bribe the referees in the World Cup, their votes may then switch to Russia."

Uh. Yeah.

We all have heard stories/rumors of backroom dealing in the world of Fifa. With favorable judgments going to the highest bidder.

At the same time, bid leaders can't really be heard talking about corruption on tape.

But that is about 2018, and the damage it does to England's bid. Which is significant but not as pressing as other aspects of this story.

Specifically, it's out there now that England fears that Spain will cheat. Why Spain? Does Lord Triesman know something we don't? Is Spain known for this? Or is it just a team England fears?

An unfortunate story. Badly times. And like the Capello situation, it is a distraction when England ought to be focusing on South Africa and nothing else.
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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fabio Capello's Very Bad Week

England's coach, Fabio Capello, has done almost nothing wrong since he took over the Three Lions after the 2006 World Cup. He led England on a dominating run through qualifying, and that led to a England being the top-ranked team in its group and a global notion (and national conviction) that his lads could actually win in South Africa this summer.

But then came this week ... and Fabio not only had to worry about former captain John Terry being hurt, he also had to clean after an amazingly bad decision designed to make himself a few more quid out of this World Cup.

To wit:

Capello decided (or maybe his agent did) that it would be a good idea to lend his name to a player rating system that would have graded his own players' performance in South Africa within a few hours of their matches.

When news of that knocked around England, the reaction was quick and harsh.

As AFP put it:

"Capello's employers at the Football Association quickly decided that their six-million-pound-a-year head coach could comfortably do without the extra income the project would have generated and, following a barrage of hostile media comment, the venture has been shelved until after the tournament."

Capello, you may recall reading here, is the highest-paid coach in the World Cup. (The salary noted in that post was correct at the time, coming before the pound lost value against the dollar.) That sum of 6 million pounds is now about $8.7 million, or still almost what Phil Jackson makes to coach the Los Angeles Lakers.

It's a lot of money.

So, backpedaling from the ridiculous player-rating scheme was pretty much required. Like, how many quid does a guy need out of one World Cup?

If you are an England fan, you hope you have just witnessed Fabio's one and only major gaffe in the run-up to the World Cup. Well, make that his second and last major gaffe, since he went back on his earlier decision and said the infamous English Wives and Girlfriends (WAGs) would have more access to players than he originally would allow.

Anyway, no more bad decisions, right Mario? England certainly hopes so.
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Friday, May 14, 2010

North Korea Recruits Chinese Fans

Back to North Korea and how pitiful it is. If they weren't representing the most loathesome government on the planet (or one in the top five, anyway), we would feel sorry for them. Actually, I do feel sorry for the soccer team and the regular fans. They didn't do any of this.

Well, of course, North Korea will have no fans in South Africa. It can't afford to send its politically reliable people and everyone else really doesn't have any money, so the North Koreans are about to play three very high-profile matches (Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast) with nobody in the stands. And how sad is that?

So, the North Koreans are recruiting fans from the only country that is likely to stick up for them. That would be China. To China's shame, because doing anything that props up that regime is criminal.

But, anyway, here is a ridiculous/pathetic story about North Korea and its Chinese fans.

1,000 Chinese to cheer for NKorea at World Cup

BEIJING (AP) -- Few North Koreans will be able to cheer their team at the World Cup in South Africa. So the country is recruiting 1,000 Chinese fans.

The Beijing office of the North Korean Sports Committee is giving out tickets to the tournament, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

The Chinese fans will attend North Korea’s games against Brazil and Portugal, Xinhua said.

This is just the second time North Korea has qualified for the World Cup. It shocked the world with its first appearance in 1966 when it beat Italy and reached the quarterfinals.

The Chinese fans who will support North Korea this time include celebrities who have led similar groups to cheer for Chinese teams in the past.

The Beijing office of the North Korean Sports Committee could not be reached on Friday.

North Korea is the great unknown in the World Cup. News in the communist regime is strictly controlled.

Broadcaster APTN in Pyongyang reported that the national team received a festive send-off on Saturday, with residents waving North Korean flags outside the airport as the players arrived. Footage showed women waving flowers as the team boarded the plane.

Coach Kim Jong Hun promised "a great success."

China is North Korea’s chief benefactor, and it apparently respected the wishes of the country’s reclusive leader Kim Jong Il last week when it refused to confirm his secretive visit to Beijing until he had left.

Chinese support for North Korean sports teams is not new. A China-based sports apparel maker, Erke, sponsored all of North Korea’s teams in the Beijing Olympics two years ago, and it now sponsors the country’s football team.

That's just sad. We don't trust our people to travel, not that we can afford it considering half of us are on the verge of starvation, not that we ever would admit to it, so we're going to get the Chinese to show up and act like our fans.

Can't root for these guys. Because the government will claim any success as its own. What I root for, I suppose, is defections. But the North Koreans no doubt are worried that if they do their friends and family will be forced to subsist on half-rations of gruel.

And the Chinese fans ... can the make a point of cheering half-heartedly? Even China ought to be embarrassed by being North Korea's best buddy.

For sure, the weirdest team in the World Cup. Not even close.
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shocked! Shocked! to Find Profiteering at SA2010

These sorts of stories do make a person a bit indignant. Unfairness, and massive mark-ups by companies who have nothing to do with the production of an item ... nor are the final consumer.

But this is the World Cup, people! It's all about profiteering.

The gist of this story in the Johannesburg Times: Workers in South Africa are making Bafana Bafana Bafana jerseys for 100-150 Rand ($13-20) ... and they are being sold for 599-1,200 Rand ($78-$156).

The union representing the workers who make the jerseys is annoyed at the mark-up. Which is allowed ... but we know exactly how it happens.

The jerseys get made. They are then sold to Adidas, which is the official apparel sponsor for South Africa 2010, for 100-150 Rand. Presumably, Adidas gave Fifa a boatload of money for the privilege, and a part of the deal is ... that the makers of the jerseys are not allowed to sell them directly. To anyone. Except Adidas.

As the story notes, Adidas then sells the jerseys on to retailers in South Africa for something like 330 Rand, and then the retailers charge ... whatever the market will bear. And apparently the market will bear 599 Rand and up.

Pretty annoying. When Adidas does nothing in the process aside from setting up a delivery system, and the retailers do nothing but stock the jerseys and throw open the doors.

It isn't a completely horrible story, however. Really it's not. Because at least the jerseys were made in South Africa in the first place. Many of the official mascots for this World Cup were made in China in sweatshops. At least the jerseys are made in South African sweatshops.

Big events like this are all about profiteering. Some of it is South African-inspired. The high rates charged by airlines. The ridiculous rates most of their hotels wanted, almost to the last instant.

It's never pretty. But it should not come as a surprise.
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

North Korea May Not See World Cup

Well, of course. If any country on the face of the Earth could pull this off in 2010 AD, it is North Korea and the madmen who run the planet's most benighted country.

The poor people of North Korea may not be able to see South Africa 2010.

North Korea can't or won't pay for its own broadcast rights. In 2006, it was a South Korean station that provided TV of the World Cup in Germany.

But negotiations for the same sort of arrangement have stalled since the apparent North Korean attack on a South Korean vessel, killing 46 sailors.

And now?

Well, nothing is happening. The South Korea company said the tension between the two countries since the unprovoked attack have stopped negotiations ... for South Korea to provide free TV to their oppressed brothers to the north.

This matters in particular this year because North Korea qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1966.

And here is the real fly in the ointment: Even if these negotiations get worked out ... North Koreans may not see any of their team's matches, anyway.

Why? Because North Korea has a history of delaying all broadcasts of its sports teams, waiting to see if they win before they actually run them on TV.

Can't have viewers see their team lose. That can't happen.

Considering the group North Korea is in -- Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast -- the odds are long that North Korea will win a match. Could be three defeats and, bang, back to Pyongyang and a life of want and terror.

Anyway, North Korea's people probably expect very little in life. Which is good, because it seems unlikely they will be able to share in the pleasures even the poorest people of the most backward nations on Earth have -- an ability to watch the World Cup on free TV.
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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Making the Squad: Part 1

Teams going to the World Cup announced expanded rosters today.

Most teams picked from 25 to 30 players, the last step before they get down to the 23 they will be able to take to South Africa 2010.

The Johannesburg Times has a list of the selections made by most teams. See it here.

In every country, debates are raging over who already isn't on the team. Who has been left out, and why? And which semi-anonymous guys who happen to have hit a hot patch are suddenly in the running for the final roster.

Among the biggest names:

Ronaldinho and Ronaldo not called in by Brazil. Not really a surprise in either case, but those are some big names, and the two gentlemen made clear they wanted to go ... but coach Dunga said "no thanks."

For France, Patrick Vieira and Karim Benzema were not invited. In England, Owen Hargreaves and Gary Neville are staying home.

The preliminary U.S. team is not on the Johannesburg Times list, at this writing.

So here is a link to a list of the 30 players called in by U.S. coach Bob Bradley.

Surprises there? Among the left out, Charlie Davies, nearly killed in a traffic accident last year; Conor Casey, who had some big moments during qualifying last year; Freddy Adu, considered the next great American player just a few years ago. Among the surprise called in, Edson Buddle, who at 29 has played in less than 15 minutes with the national side; Alejandro Bedoya, Robbie Findlay, Herculez Gomez, each with minimal histories with the U.S.

To recap: These lists are going to be further shaved in a few weeks, and the really hard cuts are ahead. For now, sure, plenty to talk about when it comes to your own national team. A little harder to get really interested in the Nos. 20-30 guys for other squads.
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Monday, May 10, 2010

Wada Gives Fifa Free Rein at WC2010

When it comes to the Olympics, to cycling ... the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) is ready to pounce. Test everyone. For everything. Penalize. Ban.

So it seems more than a little odd that Wada's president says, in essence, Fifa has this drug-testing thing handled and we won't be doing much of anything at South Africa 2010.

How does this work, exactly? Let's see, one of the selling points of performance-enhancing drugs is the ability to bounce back from exertion quickly. You think soccer players might not find that helpful, a little chemical help to help bring them around for another 90 minutes two days later?

Most of us associate drugs with big guys. Football players, rugby players ... and all those fast-twitch guys who need a little extra explosiveness. Like, oh, every world-class sprinter from the past three decades.

So why is Wada backing off from Fifa?

The Wada president, John Fahey, seems to suggest that the length of the World Cup (a full month) makes it too expensive for his group to be hanging around, doing what it might do at an Olympics.

Is that it? All of it?

Or does Wada just not care about the typically smallish soccer lads? Because they aren't all bulky and don't have the look of cheaters? And why does Wada let soccer get away with not following the "whereabouts" rule? (Letting Wada know where you are at all times so you can be tested randomly.)

Anyway, what are the odds -- I mean, really -- that Fifa's drug-testing crew will ever (ever) come up with a positive drug test for a player during the World Cup? Small. And in the case of latter rounds, nil.

Just sounds like a bad idea. Let's have an aggressive, omnipresent Wada hanging around the World Cup. Testing. Testing. Testing.

Just because soccer players aren't big doesn't mean they aren't juicing. Let's get the same sort of policing rigor into the World Cup that we have for other events.
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Sunday, May 9, 2010

World Cup Beefcake in Vanity Fair

The magazine Vanity Fair decided to get the World Cup onto its cover, and did so in a provocative way:

With, as the magazine puts it, the players wearing their nation's colors ... and not much else. Well, boxer shorts. Short boxer shorts.

Who is included?

In the first photo, in you followed the link are, from left Sully Muntari of Ghana, Landon Donovan of the U.S., Kaka of Brazil, Samuel Eto'o of Ivory Coast and Pato of Brazil.

On the cover, a bit further down on the Vanity Fair page, are Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal.

Inside (and if you watch the video at the bottom of the link, you can see most of them) but not available in a still photo on this link are Michael Ballack of Germany, Dejan Stankovic of Serbia, Gianluigi Buffon of Italy and Carlton Cole of England.

As the story details, photographer Annie Liebowitz flew all over the world to get these guys' photos. (Collecting them all together at one spot would have been massively expensive and probably impossible.)

So, there are your lads.
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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Yankees Go Home! Obama Stay Home!

Not sure I can remember this happening, before a World Cup. A government official of high standing saying in a very public setting that his fondest wish is for a specific team to go home after the first round.

But that is what happened in South Africa on Friday.

South Africa's police commissioner said he hopes the United States is eliminated in group play. He wants the Yankees gone. Because it will make his job easier. Or maybe he doesn't like them, either.

This is remarkably bad form. Who knows what sort of ideas it puts in the heads of referees, for example? Who knows how it impacts how the U.S. team is treated by fans, by hoteliers, by officialdom, now that South Africa's top cop has singled out the Americans for "please leave" treatment.

If you didn't follow the link, here are the key statements made by Gen. Bheki Cele at a public parliamentary committee meeting:

"Our famous prayer is that the Americans don't make the second round. They get eliminated and they go home."

Presumably, that's mostly about the threat that American athletes always face when abroad. Targets of terror threat and all. The local cops have to put on a few extra men when the Americans are around. Hire some food-tasters. Etc. It's so tiresome, making sure your country is secure.

But some of this, the General indicated, is about the difficulties that would be presented by the arrival of U.S. president Barack Obama -- which could happen if the Americans get to the knockout phase.

The good general doesn't want to deal with Obama in the country.

Said Cele: "One challenge is the American president, who is coming, not coming, coming, not coming. It's 50-50 as we stand."

He added: "We are told if they go to the second or third stage, the American president might come. It's one big challenge that we will be facing." He also said that 43 heads of state will be going to South Africa next month, but that Obama would be a much bigger problem. "Those (other) 43 will be equal to this one operation," he said of the chore of keeping an eye on safety of the U.S. president.

I'm trying to remember any public pronouncements from organizers or host-country officials about their preferences for who advances and who does not. Ever.

And coming up empty.

The only vaguely similar concept I recall was a sentiment expressed by the chief organizer of the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.

Alan Rothenberg readily conceded that he was relieved when England was defeated in qualifying. The big difference being, Rothenberg made the statement after England was out of the running.

His concern was over the fans that would come with the English team; 1994 was not far past the peak of English soccer hooliganism. Rothenberg said it would require more money and manpower to keep England's thuggish fans from tearing up whatever city they happened to be in. (The violence and mayhem of the sort they perpetrated after a match in Marseille in the 1998 World Cup in France.)

I am certain he didn't say it while England was still in the running.

Rothenberg also may have been happy that Iran didn't qualify, as well as North Korea (each of which played in the famous six-nation Asian qualifying tournament at Doha, Qatar, in October of 1993 but failed to advance), but I have no recollection of that being enunciated. Perhaps assumed but not confirmed.

This is something new. A police chief telling us a month before the tournament that he wants one team gone, gone, gone.

Perhaps we can assume, then, that when the cops on the U.S. team's security detail tell the Yanks, "Break a leg!" ... they will be speaking literally.
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Friday, May 7, 2010

Germany's Team, Plus Four

Joachim Low today revealed the 27 finalists for the 23 slots on Germany's team.

This is important because the Germans are among the half-dozen teams who could actually win South Africa 2010.

Some of the highlights:

--Who's here? Michael Ballack, who was alternately hurt and ineffective this season at Chelsea. But don't you have to take the recognized leader of recent German teams? Until someone clearly has replaced him? Lukas Podolski is here after a shaky season. Miroslav Klose is hanging around. Seems as if he's scored a lot of clutch goals, doesn't it?

--Who isn't? Kevin Kuranyi, the forward who doesn't get along with Low, so Low apparently has decided he can get along without him. Will it hurt the Germans? We find out next month. Also, midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who helped the Germans qualify and midfielder Torsten Frings, who thinks he is anything but done; Low begs to differ. And top goalkeeper Rene Adler, who is injured.

--And the big surprises. The two guys off the Under-21 team, Bayern defender Holger Badstuben and Dennis Aogo.

--And the big surprise (not): Seven guys from Bayern Munich. Low likes the idea of players who are coming from successful club seasons, and it's hard to beat what Bayern is doing -- including that Champions League final date with Inter.

Fairly typically, the Germans don't look overpowering. But World Cup history is rife with German teams that didn't look like world beaters ... getting to the semis -- or to the VIP tribune to shake hands with the Fifa president after winning the whole shootin' match.

The Germans seem to be able to turn it up in the World Cup, combining supreme tactics with discipline and cohesion, and a sort of deep-seated confidence ... to get deep into nearly every tournament.

The consensus seems to be that Germany will score, and will get good play in goal, presumably from Manuel Neuen, but is shaky in the back, particularly in the middle, and not as dynamic in midfield as it was back when Ballack was in his prime.

The one-man consensus here is ... don't expect Germany to lose before the semifinals.
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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cash Incentives for Bafana Bafana Bafana

An aside, up front. I am adding a Bafana to the name of the South Africa national soccer team. I mentioned this before. The theory being if Bafana Bafana is good, Bafana Bafana Bafana is better. I believe this should be embraced by everyone in South Africa. It's already redundant; let's take it to the next level.

(I also believe England should be known as the Four Lions. Why not?)

Speaking of embracing ... South Africa's national federation has come up with cash incentive plan for its team. Not that it is taking on any massive risk here.

Here is the plan:

One million rand for the team for each goal scored.

Well, let's break that down a bit.

--One million rand is ... $132,000. Less than a million of anything might sound like. And divided 23 ways (the number of players on a World Cup team), that comes to about $5,600 per man.

--South Africa has had enormous trouble scoring goals for the past two years. In the B-cubed's last 34 matches, it managed only 32 goals. Not quite one per game. At that rate -- and can we predict many more goals against world-class competition? -- that's three goals in Group A play, which is $392,000. Big deal.

--If South Africa actually starts scoring goals and gets to the second round, or even deeper, the team pays for itself with additional monies to the federation from the Fifa kitty. Add in the intangibles in terms of marketing and increased interest in the national side ... and again, it becomes a self-funding concept.

Also note that the South African federation has yet to indicate how much it will pay individuals for making the team and playing, etc.

I do like that they are offering goal money to the team and not just to the individual who scores. This emphasizes playing together.

What will be interesting in coming days is to see how much some of the other federations are going to pay its players, and what sort of bonus systems they will put in place.
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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More Fear!

Crime. Racial tension. Terror. High prices. Dangerous highways ...

South Africa can be a dangerous place. (As can most of the world, if you work at it.)

But just when you perhaps thought you had heard it all ... we have something else to worry about ahead of next month's tournament.

What, you ask?

Well, of course: Rift Valley Fever.

The World Health Organization is advising World Cup visitors to be on the watch for Rift Valley Fever, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Well, OK. And how do we get it? At the airport? In the stadiums? In the hotels?

Actually, no. None of those places.

You can get it on farms, game preserves, from raw meat, from being in contact with the blood or organs of dead animals ...

Yes. Not exactly the sort of activities the typical World Cup fan is likely to seek out.

WHO says mosquitoes also can pass on the disease. writes that ...

The UN health agency is not advising any international travel restrictions, but a statement on its website reads: "WHO recommends that visitors to South Africa, especially those intending to visit farms and/or game reserves, avoid coming into contact with animal tissues or blood, avoid drinking unpasteurized or uncooked milk or eating raw meat.

"All travellers should take appropriate precautions against mosquito bites (use of mosquito nets, insect repellents)."

So, what if you get the dread disease, which has killed 15 this year? Well, it's like the flu.

Actually, I feel a bit bad for South Africa sometimes. It has issues. Some of them quite serious. But Rift Valley Fever?

Sounds exotic, sounds dangerous even ... but if Rift Valley Fever turns out to be the biggest worry at South Africa 2010 ... it will have been a very good World Cup.
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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

South Africa Looks Better to Gamblers

South Africa is ranked No. 90 in the world. It has not been playing well in international matches since the Confederations Cup almost a year ago.

But someone thinks South Africa has at least a decent shot of having some success in its own World Cup.


Perhaps trying to buck up the home fans, who have had their hopes battered down by a string of poor results by the national side, the Johannesburg Times is all over this story:

Gamblers rank South Africa 18th to 21st to win the World Cup!

Hey, that's something. Someone believes! ... that the Bafana Bafana Bafana won't be the worst team at South Africa 2010.

The story quotes a "trader" at Ladbroke's, a famous London gambling site, as saying the BBB will be lifted by hometown enthusiasm when the tournament begins on June 11, with South Africa playing Mexico.

"Even though they are in a tough, competitive group, if they qualify [for the last 16] they will be tough for any team to come up against," the bookie told the newspaper. "Being host nation will play a key role and the backing of the fanatical supporters will be tough for any nation to come up against."

According to the Times, Ladbrokes and other books suggest South Africa's chances of winning the tournament (hah!) are as good or better than those of Nigeria, Australia, Denmark and Switzerland. (Not that any of those countries has any chance at all of winning.)

Ladbrokes' line suggests South Africa is the least likely of the four teams in Group A (France, Mexico and Uruguay are the others) to get out of the group stage. Perhaps reflecting the money already put down by sober gamblers.

Realistically, it comes down to the first match. If South Africa picks up a point against Mexico, I think the country goes nuts and somehow the Bafana Bafana Bafana (slogan: if saying it twice is good, saying it three times is better) picks up enough points to slip into the knockout phase. If Mexico wins and South Africa deflates like a punctured balloon ... the BBB might not earn a point.

Bookies may be weighing that option themselves. "Not very good but ..."

And Ladbrokes has Spain as the favorite to win the whole thing. Not Brazil.

Might take a couple bucks of that action. If gambling were legal.
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Monday, May 3, 2010

Brazil 2014 Gets Kick in the Pants

Getting ahead of ourselves again. But this time only four years out.

Jerome Valcke, Fifa general secretary and Sepp Blatter's strong right arm, gave Brazil 2014 organizers a spanking today ... for what apparently is a lot of nothing going on in preparation for the big event four years hence.

To wit:

Valcke says Brazil has done little or nothing on the stadium front.
"It's incredible how late Brazil is, and I'm talking about all the stadiums," he told Reuters. "A lot of deadlines have passed and nothing has happened. Brazil is not on the right path."

He seemed to make a sort of poke at Latin "manana" culture when he wondered when Brazil would feel a sense of urgency.
"This year, there's a presidential election so almost nothing will happen. Next year, Carnival comes along. So everything's only going to start after Carnival?"

The suggestion seems to be that Brazil has never quite taken seriously the logistical/practical side of the 2014 bid. Brazil essentially was handed the 2014 World Cup because back in 2007, when it was awarded, Fifa was using its lame "rotation" system, and it was South America's turn.

The problem with that was ... that no other South American nation put on a serious bit, and by 2003 the nation's other nine federations backed Brazil's bid. And that was that.

Brazil talked a lot about the nation's contributions to the event, the five championships and all the great players. "Come to our place and party."

But not much was said how or what would be done on the building front, and now Fifa has gone over to have a look ... and it doesn't look like much.

Consider this Fifa's way of trying to jolt Brazil into some life. Brazil seems to have gotten a little smug of late, about its golden future, blah blah blah. But, really, what has Brazil done in the past 60 years on the international sports front? A Pan-Am Games or two, but no Olympics, no World Cups ...

Time to get moving, is what Jerome Valcke is telling Brazil.
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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Qatar in 2022? Sepp Wants It

Getting a little ahead of ourselves here ... like 12 years ahead of ourselves ...

But Fifa boss Sepp Blatter made clear the other day that he would like to see the 2022 World Cup in ... wait for it ... big soccer country ... a real hotbed ... wait ...


Which would seem like an amusing concept if you or I threw it out there. Sure. Qatar. Right there on the Arabian Peninsula, sticking into the Gulf like a sore thumb. A country that has never qualified for the World Cup, where summer weather is stunningly hot, a country with a tiny population ...

But here is the thing about Sepp and World Cup bidders:

Those he is thought to favor -- and sometimes he just comes out and tell us -- tend to be where the World Cup ends up. Such as South Africa 2010.

So those other nations bidding for 2010? You might be wasting your time, lads. That means you, the United States, Australia, South Korea and all those European contenders whose bids go on the junk pile if England gets the 2018 World Cup, as expected. Russia, Spain/Portugal, Belgium/Netherlands, Russia ...

If you didn't follow the link above, here is Sepp talking about Qatar:

"The Arab world deserves to host the World Cup. We are now nearing the end of the bidding process for the World Cups in 2018 and 2022 and Qatar is the only country bidding from the Middle East. I was an advocate of the Fifa's rotation policy. It was important to bring the World Cup to North America and Africa. Now I strongly feel that the World Cup should come to Qatar."

Again, wow. Can you imagine the head of, say, the IOC coming out so openly in favor of a single bidder before the process is complete? Neither can I.

Granted, Blatter was in Qatar when he pumped up the country for the 2022 World Cup. But of late he doesn't seem to pander to folks. He is more into delivering.

Remember, this is not some distant project. The host countries for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be announced on Dec. 2. This year.

Yes, Qatar. Oil rich Qatar. Don't be surprised if you hear that name coming out of Sepp's mouth on Dec. 2.
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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Corruption in Fifa, South Africa Alleged

I'm not even going to try to do much in the way of synthesizing here.

It's complicated ... it's technical ... I'm not sure how dependable the sources are ... but some or much of what they allege might be true.

Here is the story from the Johannesburg Times on a report/book issued by an entity called the Institute for Security Studies. No, I don't know quite what it is, either. And here is a pdf file from the press conference the group held this week to announce their book/study.

In it ... at least according to the interpretation by the newspaper ... are some fairly hazy charges of corruption involving Fifa and South African officials.

Among them:

--Awarding a company the right to handle accommodations for fans, and seeing that company charge up to "1,000 percent" above normal rates.

--Suggestions that a deal signed with a firm to manage the main stadium for South Africa 2010, Soccer City, will not yield any profit for the city.

--Allegations that the bid to build the stadium in Cape Town was decided by Fifa president Sepp Blatter the day before a meeting was to be held to review the six bids ... and that the winning bid Blatter hand-picked was the most expensive.

The one quotation tied to the story comes from Andrew Jennings, a contributing editor to the book and a professional Blatter-basher, is this one, on Fifa:

"The unaccountable structure they’ve installed is honed to deliver the game to the needs of global capitalism – with no checks or restraints. Just cheques."

Not sure quite what to make of this. Not much here seems nailed down, to my journalist's way of thinking. But we have enough suspicious stuff going on to make us all wonder how much of this whole World Cup process came together on the up and up.

Go have a look at it yourself. See what you think.
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