Discipline and Robben
July 02, 2010
It turned out that discipline made the difference between Holland and Brazil, but it was Brazil that lost their nerve and fell apart. I guess Robben got to them--he did not have a single shot at the goal, did not pass a single ball into the box and generally did very little other than flopping and annoying the Brazilians. And in that way, he did his job.
The Unbearable Weight of World Cup History
July 01, 2010
To anticipate Argentina versus Germany or Brazil versus Holland is to again hear World Cup history whisper ever more urgently as the tournament approaches its conclusion. The coaches and players will insist that such talk is nonsense; a distraction. The game must be won on the pitch in South Africa. Eleven against eleven. The future scripts are yet to be written. What's past is irrelevant.
Swimming With Sharks
July 01, 2010
From a list of the most dangerous sites in the world for shark attacks. Recife, Brazil: The trouble started in the 1980s, when Porto Suape was constructed to the south of Recife. The construction sealed off two freshwater estuaries, which had served as the birthing waters for many bull sharks. When the estuaries were closed, the sharks went to the next estuary, which happens to discharge right into Recife's waters. A nearby channel used by surfers became these sharks' new feeding grounds.
Are England Actually Under-Achievers?
June 29, 2010
A good question! Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski suggest not. Their argument, summarised by Tim Harford, runs more or less like this: - England do about as well as you’d expect, given their size, economic power, proximity to football’s “core” in Western Europe, and footballing history. That is, you’d expect them to usually make the last 16, sometimes make the last 8, occasionally make the last 4 and make the final very rarely. And they do. - Managers don’t make much difference to a team’s expected performance.
How To Beat Brazil
June 28, 2010
You play soccer. You have a team, some decent players. You’re ambitious. Good for you. Now, attempt the following: When the whistle blows and the match begins, jog around the pitch slowly, laconically, grinning the entire time. Your body language should express an indifference to the game itself. In fact, let your opponent control the pace, let them have possession, let them think they’re in charge. When you do get the ball, pass it around a little, just to see how it feels. Isn’t the stadium pretty under the lights? Smile. Mostly, though, wait. Be patient.
June 27, 2010
My brother’s favorite description of a technically poor soccer player is that “his second touch is a tackle.” I might add, “and he’s probably English.” There was a moment at the very start of the second half of today’s trouncing by Germany where the flaws of the very essence of English soccer were so clearly evidenced as to be borderline hilarious (if you DVR’d it—and why would you?—go to 45.45 and watch for a minute). Here’s what happened: Schweinsteiger attempts a stupid over-the-shoulder pass, square at the half-way line, and Steven Gerrard picks it off, pings it to Rooney, who checks an
"Yes We Can"...Actually No, We Can't
June 23, 2010
I'm sitting in a solid block of Americans at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria watching Team USA play in the sandbox with the Algerians, and the one thing I notice is the total absence of "Yes We Can" chants. This time last year, even the South Africans were chanting Obama's campaign motto. In the teeming Johannesburg bar in which I watched Bafana Bafana take on Brazil in last June's Confederations Cup semis, "Yes We Can" was the favorite refrain, not to mention at the US-Brazil final. I haven't heard it once this year. My companion and I tried getting a round going in the stands here, but no dice.
How Argentina Works
June 17, 2010
Argentina seems to have benefited from Veron's injury. His absence sped them up considerably, and since there was no designated ball distributor, Messi and Tevez had to come back even deeper for the ball, pulling up the Korean defense with them, only to come back down relentlessly, often turning to the left which allowed Higuain to be open on the right side of the box. He scored all three goals from practically the same position, the ball coming to him from the left wing.
On "Men With Balls"
June 16, 2010
Don DeLillo’s 2007 novel Point Omega begins with an anonymous man, standing in the Museum of Modern Art, watching Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, which stretches the Hitchcock film to diurnal length, turning mere frames into emergent stories. “Suspense is trying to build,” DeLillo writes, “but the silence and stillness outlive it.” DeLillo says Point Omega was inspired by his own accidental encounter with Gordon’s work.
I’ve Seen Brazil And It Is Germany
June 14, 2010
A curious thing has happened to Brazil and Germany over the last decade: they have become each other. After losing the 1998 final, Brazil decided–quite consciously, some insist–that jogo bonito had to become jogo para ganhar. They eventually hired Dunga, who always did play the sort of strong football, with some technical flair, usually seen in Munich and not in Rio. It’s been a long time since Brazil has had a truly magical player. Ronaldo could certainly be amazing. I once asked Rafael Márquez what it was like to try to defend against Ronaldo in his prime.