RICHMOND, VA—Let me first state that there has been much to admire about how Uruguay has played this World Cup. They are worthy semifinalists, and might yet win the tournament.
That said, events in the 120th minute of Uruguay's shootout victory over Ghana mar—in my book anyway—the South American side's passage to the final four.
The most elemental rule of soccer is that you cannot use your hands. And in particular, you cannot deliberately use your hands to stop the progress of a ball struck by the opponent. But Uruguay's resort to an extraordinarily blatant handball on the line by Luis Suarez to stop a close range header from Dominic Adiyah in the last minute of extra time, an exceptionally unsporting play, paved the way for Uruguay to progress.
In basketball, Suarez would have been called for goaltending and Ghana would have been awarded a basket. In soccer, the referee cannot just give a goal when the ball has not actually crossed the line. Instead, it was the harshest permissible punishment: a red card for Suarez, and a penalty kick.
RICHMOND, VA—Sir Alex Ferguson is capable of making some remarkably biased comments whenever Manchester United or its nearest rivals are involved, but the veteran manager (and ex-Scotland boss) is generally well worth listening to when discussing football in general. Fergie was quoted by FourFourTwo magazine as saying World Cups don't really get going until the quarterfinal stage.
The quarterfinal stage is here, and if today's first match is any indication, both the intensity and the pressure have risen two or three notches from the previous rounds. A rather stunning second-half meltdown by Brazil sees them crashing out of the tournament, suffering their first defeat all time in the World Cup finals after leading at halftime. Two aerial goals by Holland see the Dutch advance to the semi-final.
When the clock read 120 minutes at Rustenburg, U.S. fans were naturally crestfallen. Americans drawn to soccer for the first time by the spectacle of the World Cup will, I imagine, mostly stop paying attention now that they do not have a national rooting interest. Others, though, will look for new teams to support. Understanding this, I feel compelled to perform a public service: do NOT root for Brazil.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA — Cape Town, June 29, noon, and the streets are filling up with fans of Spain and Portugal wearing their scarves and wigs and jerseys, the national flags draped across their backs, faces painted. The vuvuzelas already blare, as they do almost every moment.
I am glad that FIFA President Sepp Blatter made the decision to let a thousand vuvuzelas blossom, or a million vuvuzelas blare, but the truth is that they are a one-note wall of sound blocking out all the other national chants and cheers and songs, and I am sorry about that. The vuvus only truly bother me, though, when someone blows one directly into my ear or fills a shuttle bus with the relentless mooing.
But that’s the only bad thing I have to say about being at the World Cup in South Africa. Without exception, the South Africans I have spoken to in my first week here are thrilled and proud of have the Cup here. They are excited to show off their country, to break the stereotypes their visitors have about their country and continent. And they want to talk about soccer. Taxi drivers compare Messi to Ronaldo. Grocery clerks want to tell me why the English will never win the Cup. Waiters want to analyze last night’s game and predict tomorrow’s.
RICHMOND, VA—There are only certain conditions under which all of a soccer ball crossing all of a white line painted on a patch of green grass has any significance whatsoever. But Frank Lampard and England had every right to believe that the ball he struck from about 20 yards out over German keeper's Manuel Neuer's head met all of the relevant conditions:
A competitive soccer match was under way, the ball was in play, no foul was committed, no one was offside and the ball hit the underside of the crossbar before bouncing at least a yard behind the line. Under the laws of the game, that is supposed to be a goal. But the laws of the game also say that it can't be a goal unless the referee gives this. And as both the referee and the assistant referee were badly out of position, neither saw the play clearly, and play was allowed to continue.
The significance of the blown call in this match was, to put it lightly, large. England had been thoroughly outplayed by Germany over the first half hour, lucky to be trailing only 2-0. But Matthew Upson's headed goal produced an adrenaline rush, and if Lampard's goal had been properly given, England would not only have leveled the score but would have an enjoyed nine or 10 minutes of fevered momentum going into halftime, in which they possibly could have grabbed a third. At a minimum, they would have gone into halftime on a high and feeling good about themselves, not aggrieved.
World Cups Won All Time: Germany (W. Germany) 3, England 1
Head to Head Results at Knockout Stage: Germany 2 wins (1970, 1990), England 1 win (1966)
(On a side note, I was in Philadelphia Thursday and Friday, and was impressed by the bar at 30th Street station which had a printed poster announcing it would show all games in the "2010 World Soccer Tournament" to avoid having to pay some kind of fee to FIFA to use the term "World Cup.")
Brazil versus Portugal stirs up a Luso-world of geographic, historical, and cultural associations. In 1808, the Portuguese court fled Napoleon’s marauding army, bringing the entire imperial apparatus to Rio de Janeiro. Brazil was the only colony to have ruled over its metropole. It’s pointless to point out all of the connections, but interesting to note that the Portuguese flag hangs in abundance in Rio de Janeiro.
There isn’t too much riding on this game, other than a strategic positioning for the second round. I would be shocked and amazed to see anything but a draw here. The first place in Group G will cross with the second place in Group H, which is very much up in the air, could be Chile or Spain. Portugal will qualify in second place with one point, and Brazil will qualify regardless, so it would be an act of fratricide for Brazil to win.
It's not going to happen. 1-1.
Dunga will get to experiment with some other players and rest a few stars in the middle of the second half (Robinho, Maicon, Luis Fabiano). If an equalizer doesn’t happen “naturally,” look for the referee to balance the scales.
Dunga will replace the suspended Kaká with Julio Batista. Yesterday’s headline in the OGlobo sports section: “The beast in the place of the crack: someone who Dunga trusts, Julio Baptista is the only bachelor on the team but has a wedding planned with a Spanish model after the World Cup.”
Nothing but high quality reporting here.
The coverage of the World Cup in OGlobo and on OGlobo networks has been horrible. There is a total überload of information, none of which actually says anything that provides deeper insight into what is going on. To the contrary, in the lead-up to the Ivory Coast match, OGlobo continued to publish photos that were very explicit in their portrayal of Africans. I have included the photos and captions with translations. I am not sure what to say about them but wow, the animalization, Orientalization, generalization and blatant classism combine to make a powerful broth of racism that you can sip one day at time. Delicious!
I do hope you foreign correspondents out there will publish similar things about Brazil four years from now. Some indigenous folk with bows and arrows, lip discs, painted faces, headdresses, the symbiotic nature-culture-Avatar thing will be a good start.
Photos with my translated captions below.
The streets surrounding the FFF in Copacabana were full of yellow clad fans heading in all directions. Since it was Sunday afternoon, the Avenida Atlântica was closed to cars. On the sidewalks where there would have normally been camelôs (vendors) selling hats and shirts and beer and food, there were cops making sure that no commerce outside the realm of FIFA was occurring. The sterilization of the area surrounding the FFF was stunning. That public employees were directed to liberate public space for AmBev to sell beer at twice the price of informal vendors made me thirsty.
The line into the FFF was long. Hundreds of security guards regulated the waves of fans who passed through the various checkpoints. No one was concerned about the rules that prohibit the wearing of bathing suits into the FFF. However, inside the FFF, there were no musical instruments, no drums, no vuvuzelas (thank God). It would have been difficult to hear the crowd above the pounding bass of the booty beats coming from the gigantic stage. As the FFF filled, people passed out on the sand, hundreds lined up to get their beers and dancing started to take over the crowd. There was a definitive party atmosphere, ripe with anticipation. There were no songs about the national team, no syncopated “Brasil, Brasil, Brasil” chants, just people at a stage on the beach, dancing about with the people they came with.
The journalists were able to hang out in the shade of some palm trees in relative comfort, while the majority of the crowd baked in the afternoon sun. The VIPs in the Coca-Cola and Itaú boxes danced with the pretty lads that were there to lead them though some dance steps. In the Hyundai tent, young couples circulated around the cars. Two hundred people waited in line to get the Sony 3D experience. On the sand in front of the stage, people danced until the party was interrupted to watch a video game simulation (FIFA 2010, of course) of the Brazil versus Ivory Coast game, replete with live commentary. This is the spectacularization of the banal.
Thirsty, I went to get some beer and was shocked to see that it came out of a can and into a plastic cup. There were 18,000 people in the FFF. That’s a lot of cans. The maxim of the mega-event seems to be “maximize consumption.” I went back for more just to be sure. New can, new cup. Delicious.
I have catalogued for some time why I am not a fan of the Seleção Brasileira. I can’t take the smug satisfaction, the religious proselytizing mixed with crass commercialism, the corruption of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), the sense that willing the World Cup is an inalienable Brazilian right combined with a kind of dispassionate consumption of the spectacle.
One game changes everything, the saying goes. For the United States it was more like one kick, a single Landon Donovan tap in propelled the Americans from elimination to winning a group for the first time since 1930. Coincidentally that year was the country’s most successful tournament in history as they advanced to the semifinals. Things are shaping up similarly now with the USA set to face Ghana for the right to play Uruguay or South Korea.
And today, after the single most important strike in USA history and with a country experiencing the World Cup fever that others romanticize about, the tournament continues. We’ll add four more teams to our list of Argentina, South Korea, Uruguay, Mexico, England, USA, Germany and Ghana in the round of 16. We could lose the defending champion. We could see a team without a professional league in its borders advance. If yesterday is any guide, we’ll see a few stunners along the way.