Franklin Foer

When My Father Cried for Paraguay
July 09, 2010

The always brilliant Rick Hertzberg has been debating our very own Jon Chait about the perils of soccer nationalism and tribalism. I don’t have much to add, aside from some personal anecdote. The other week, my father and I watched Paraguay and Japan play in the first knockout round. It was hardly a match that anyone outside of those two countries will remember, except perhaps for Paraguay enthusiasts like Sasha. But the match droned on, nil-nil, all the way to penalty kicks.

Homage to Catalonia
July 07, 2010

There’s no doubt that Germany looked magisterial against Argentina. Late last year, I watched a team pummel Diego Maradona’s team in similar fashion. They ran all over them with astonishing ease, making them look like a third division team on the brink of the brink of relegation. This was a particularly low moment for Maradona, the winter when his team was more messy than Messi. Still, the side that beat them clearly possessed players of superior quality. That was last December when the albiceleste ventured into Barcelona’s Nou Camp. They left the stadium that day defeated 4-2.

The Counter-Insurgency Spain Must Wage
June 30, 2010

How will Spain manage to crack Paraguay? They have struggled against teams that have packed players into the final third and dared them to elegantly kick the ball about the midfield, with Spain looking so refined and yet so lacking in goals. Paraguay are, of course, the supreme example of this genre in the tournament. (I’m very moved by Sasha’s paeans to their lyrical dullness.) Spain should be able to pick that lock. But the lameness of Fernando Torres has been a major liability. Without him running rampant, teams have horded resources and used them to swarm Xavi.

Mourning USA
June 26, 2010

What made this team different? Longtime fans of the national team will remember our past painful efforts to string together possession. Or the times when our defense consisted of spasmodic clearances. Or the moment we coupled poor quality with poor character, staging our own disgraceful mutiny. This was a fine team in every respect. It should be said that they played several atrocious halves, the kind that reminded one of the most shambolic chapters of our soccer history. But they were able to put those behind them.

Could We Be Any More Likeable?
June 23, 2010

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.

The In-House Critics: Keeping TNR Honest
June 22, 2010

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.

Being Dunga
June 22, 2010

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.

USA! USA! USA!
June 18, 2010

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.

Chilean Romanticism
June 16, 2010

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.

Freedom From Quant
June 14, 2010

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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