Franklin Foer

Editor

Every couple of months, Bob Bradley produces a crisis of faith. His team slips and the mind wonders, what if Jurgen Klinsmann were the man in charge? Would we look so shaky in the back? Would our attack have a bit more flair? And then his team turns around and pulls out an incredible result—a smashing victory of Mexico in the Gold Cup, a stolen win from Spain, a fantastic half against Brazil. In this tournament, he has outcoached Fabio Capello; his tactics have been, to my eyes, largely sound. He never lets his own ego or rigidity interfere with the pragmatism that the moment demands.

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One of the pleasures of TNR is disagreement, the regular encountering of arguments that one instinctually dislikes. These essays might not always convert, and may occasionally provoke the hurling of the magazine at the wall, but at their best, they prod you to sharpen your thesis and wield more persuasive evidence. Of course, disagreement already exists in spades on our website. But as an experiment, we’ve decided to formalize it.

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Being Dunga

Anyone nicknamed Dopey-- or as the moniker quite nicely translates into Portuguese, Dunga--will be an easy mark for ridicule. Even Carlos Dunga’s most tender gestures, like wearing attire designed by his daughter to big matches, result in the commentariat doubling over in cruel laughter at his expense. But in this World Cup, he has cut an image that is more villainous than comic. He is cast as the heartless assassin of joga bonito, the mercenary who took a pillow and snuffed the élan out of the Brazilian game.

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USA! USA! USA!

Well, I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to work after that.  But why mess with the morning's workless streak? (Actually I'm at a panel discussion, where chin-tugging will hopefully calm me down.) The most exciting match of the tournament by far. Add it to the growing pantheon of courageous U.S. ties.  (I await the day when my most precious memories of U.S. soccer aren't just spiritual triumphs.) I certainly had a bad feeling entering the second half and had already begun writing an angry blog post in my head.

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The fate of attacking football in this tournament largely rests with Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile. Like so many other teams in these opening games, they should have probably run up a much higher score today. (A point-blank header into the arms of the goalkeeper didn’t help.) But it’s hard not to be enthusiastic about Chile’s contrarian methodology. There's lots of talk about Bielsa being a nutter, and, how this explains Chile's unique approach. I suppose the nickname “El Loco” will tend to generate that line of chatter. But, as I’ve argued, this doesn’t do the great man justice.

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There's a new master narrative for the history of sports. And it goes like this: We have only just begun to emerge from the superstitious dark ages, where coaches clung to folk wisdom, into the enlightened world of data. The Copernicus and Galileo of sports’ scientific revolution are the statistician Bill James and the Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane.

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South Africa, I think, has actual reason for elation about the result. The Carlos Alberto Parriera system worked. His defense is barely good enough (and counterattacking capabilities sufficient) to keep them in any match in their opening group. South Africa will be more than content to retain their viability and hope that some gust of luck and homerism carries them through. Mexico, on the other hand, somewhat disappointed me. As a Barca fan, I’m pleased that Rafa Marquez scored his gimme goal. But you can see why Barca doesn’t use him regularly anymore.

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"Life is too short to miss any games to be played this summer in South Africa. A sad fact of human existence is that an average life seldom contains more than 20 World Cups—our games are tragically numbered." From Aleksandar Hemon's preview of the tournament in the current issue of TNR.

YouTube is, in many ways, a tragically demystifying invention. One of the joys of watching a World Cup was encountering a great player from an obscure league for the first time. But now highlight reels abound. Still, there are players that I can’t wait to see in action--if only to gauge if they can live up to the moments edited together by some adoring fan. One such player is the Portugese full back, and dribbler extraordinaire, Fábio Coentrão. His skills remind me of Denilson, who could make dazzling runs, filled with step-overs and other circus moves.

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I am a big fan of the site Zonal Marking. The good folks over there have an excellent study of Chile. Now, I plan on rooting for Chile on feel-good humanitarian grounds. But I also intend to root for them because of their coach, Marcelo Bielsa. We’ve spent a fair amount of time already discussing the eccentricities of Diego Maradona. You might ask, how on earth did the Argentine football federation select such an obviously unstable man? Well, Maradona probably looked sane in comparison to Bielsa, one of his predecessors as the national coach.

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