June 16, 2010

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- I watched Brazil’s 2-1 win over North Korea in a bar in the hipsterish neighborhood of Melville, where my brother, nephew and I are renting a small house for two weeks. Brazil shirts abounded, as they always do. The run a distant second to South Africa’s ubiquitous shirt, but the two kits combined make yellow the dominant street color of this World Cup.  I like Brazil for all of the usual reasons -- grace, possession, elan, the inevitable jaw-dropping ball-on-a-string move or physics-defying shot.

Can the Hermit Kingdom Play Another Game of their Lives?
June 14, 2010

Apart from the fact that they are extreme long shots to win tomorrow’s match against Brazil—and their unfortunate mistake in listing their striker, Kim Myong-Won, as a goalkeeper—the North Korean side remains shrouded in mystery. Placed at 105 in the global rankings by FIFA, only a handful of the country’s players have experience playing abroad.

Mexican Destiny And That Lame Ball
June 11, 2010

Am I disappointed? Well, yes. Whenever a team owns the ball for 70% of a match, one is bound to feel frustrated if said match ends in a draw. But I’m used to this. A friend just shared with me what seems like the perfect epitaph for Mexico’s first outing in South Africa: “If football were a game with no results needed, Mexico would be a real contender.” It’s true: We’ve always been masters at possession: the lateral pass is a country specialty and we can cover the ball just like the best of them.

Home Field
June 11, 2010

As South Africa gets set later today to kick off the biggest international event Africa has ever hosted, the phrases we've coined in the past like "World Cup fever" seem badly lacking as descriptors of what's going on here.

Best of the Web, AM Edition
June 10, 2010

The most irritating World Cup products Tom Williams: Ten tactical questions for the World Cup FIFA: We Have No Profanity List The official Twitter feed of the stat geeks at Opta The Dutch squad have been banned from Twitter. Why Slovenia might qualify ahead of the US Argentina’s fitness coach says Messi’s exhaustion is “irreversible.” Top 25 “hard men” at the Cup

Dunga, Diego, and Destiny
June 10, 2010

The World Cup is but a couple of weeks away, and, if you are not trembling with anticipation, now is the time to start. There has never been a World Cup like the one about to take place in nine South African cities: For the first time ever, the greatest soccer tournament is being held in Africa.

Hemon on Messi
June 07, 2010

One of the most compelling narratives of the tournament will surely revolve around reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi and whether he can transfer his brilliance with Barca onto the international stage for Argentina. Aleksandar Hemon wrote about Messi (and the help he gets from his teammates) in April for TNR: This column was supposed to be about Messi, as he seems to be having a perfect season. He has scored 40 goals for Barca in his 45 appearances, 27 in La Liga alone.

June 02, 2010

My best friend, a notorious Americanophile, has been trying for years to get me to abandon the lush, green meadows of soccer for the thin, shiny parquet of the NBA. A dreary return match between Barcelona and Inter in the Champions League semifinals provided him with the perfect opportunity to try and convert me again. “How can you waste so many hours watching a game where the highlight is a closeup of a frustrated, unshaven Spanish player spitting on the ground?” he asked. “Even FIFA knows the game is mega boring. Why else would they try to jazz it up by changing the rules every year?

‘Galacticos’ in Hell
March 22, 2010

It has become a sign of spring: as swallows crowd the sky over Madrid, Real is eliminated at the knock-out stage of the European Champions League. Yet again, the richest club in the world has spent obscene amounts of money with the sole intention of winning the most important club competition in the world, but on March 10, they were knocked out from the last 16 for the sixth year in a row (in 2003, they were eliminated from the last eight). This time, they were brought low by Olympic Lyon, who beat them at home and tied them in Madrid.

Old Spice
July 23, 2007

Beckham's MLS run has come to an end. Here's what we said when it started.