Monthly Archives: November 2009

World Cups 2006 and 2010

Since we will be talking about the upcoming World Cup in South Africa this week I thought it was an appropriate time to write a post about my experience at the 2006 Cup and my plans for 2010…

I was lucky enough to get to attend the Portugal vs. Iran game in the group stage of the 2006 World Cup.  I’m attaching a picture from that game, you can see how passionate the Iranian fans were.  I also have a video of Cristiano Ronaldo scoring on a penalty kick, you can watch it on youtube:  As you can see from the video, my friends and I were out-of-our-minds excited to be at the game.  We spent a whole month in Germany watching games at the FanFests, learning German culture, talking football twenty four hours a day, and playing pick-up games on the street with people from every continent.  I’m attaching another picture that I took on the street in downtown Munich after Germany won their round of 16 match against Sweden.  It was an amazing experience, and we all promised to go to at least part of every World Cup for the rest of our lives.  That being the case, last summer I bought tickets to match 45 in South Africa (G1 vs. G4).  No idea who is going to be playing, but it’s going to be awesome whoever it is.  If I can find the money I’m hoping to buy tickets to a few more matches, but the main thing I’m excited for is experiencing the atmosphere at the 2010 Cup.  My experience in Germany was phenomenal – people from all over the world connecting and finding kinship in their shared passion for the beautiful game.  Does anyone else has plans to go the 2010 Cup?  If you’re thinking about going, just take the plunge and buy a match ticket or two through the Fifa website, you won’t regret it….

After a German victory in the semifinalsThe passion of the Iranian fans

Superman from Bilbao

From the game between Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona.

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Istanbul Derbies

As I have purchased my tickets for several football games in Istanbul during the winter break, I wanted to share some videos with you that make me get excited each time I see them. Yet, before that, I want to say something about the team and supporters culture back home.

Firstly, although I am a Galatasaray fan since the day I was born, I really have to give credit to Besiktas and Fenerbahce supporters for making the Istanbul derbies a special event for everyone who is present in the stadiums. As much as I hate anything related to these teams, including their supporters, each time I end up finding myself in one of their stadiums especially during weekends when Gala plays away. At the end of the day, it is a joy to watch the games while I hope for the opponents of Besiktas and Fenerbahce to win the game.

I had to watch several derbies with the Besiktas and Fenerbahce supporters as I did not have tickets in the Gala side in the past few years. It was one of the most disgusting feelings that I have experienced in my life. Not being able to cheer for your team, hiding your feelings when you team gets close to score, trying to act cool as if you are one of them and wishing it was a game in our stadium, the Ali Sami Yen Hell.

A derby in your neighborhood is different. Thousands gather before the game encircling the stadium. There would be people everywhere, a hectic crowd closing the traffic… Thus, if you are driving around during the stadium, my suggestion is don’t, because you will stop wherever you are for hours. Gathering early around the stadium and singing is one of the traditions. One side yells sari (yellow) and the other side shouts stronger kirmizi (red) until one of the sides quit… and other chants that have ossified in the collective memories of millions. You might be amazed how these supporters do not get tired.

Yet, it is not solely the supporters that you see around; it is also about everything else. For example, the subjects of the Turkish informal economy can easily be traced during any of the matches. On the pavements you might see random people selling various products… Different size Gala and Turkish flags, a variety of styles of scarves, corn-sellers, sandwich sellers, small moveable mobile devices wondering around selling everything from rice to different meat products, from fruits to deserts… And kids who want to profit from this scene, some beg and some work… The water-sellers are the most striking one as the kids have stand in front of a plastic bucket that is full of ice. The last time I went to a game in August, one water bottle was about one dollar. Considering the fact that it is 1/4th of what it is in supermarkets, one can easily point out that even these kids aim to screw you on foot. If you wonder about the quality, some are okay but some are…oh my god… you do not even want to touch the bottle and wonder from which fountain they have filled the bottle. Also, the blackmarket dealers… who tries to quadruple the already expensive ticket prices. You do not have call anyone to find a ticket before a game if you do not have any, trust me, they will find you, and not even once. Every 10-20 steps you take around, a guy will ask ‘brother, you need tickets?’ Thanks to God there is alcohol… one of the inevitables of the game.

But if you do not play home, you just have to digest a similar scene with different colors around you. In all of the derbies that I have watched with the away supporters, the worst part was the random conversations that I found myself in about how they will (you can put many creative curses here) Galatasaray (and supporters&their relatives).

For those who have not experienced these surreal moments in their lives, I can tell that it might be a pain for the first time and especially if you do not ‘die’ to watch the game, you should not be aiming to go even near a stadium during these times. You are not allowed to sit during the game. You have to stand on your chairs. If everyone is on foot, you will not see the game sitting on your seat… Did I say your seat? Sorry fellas, but unless you have a supporter card, even if your ticket tells you to sit at a certain seat, it is a first come first serve culture. Thus, do not be surprised if someone else is already seated in your place when you reach your section. Just try to find a place and stay steady because someone will tell you to slide bit by bit and at the end you might end up a mile away where you first came. Also, pray that there will not be any fights anywhere around your section. Believe me, two people is more than enough for that fight (that you thinks is far away from you) to include you in couple of minutes. And believe me you will find people just behind you, or in front of you that are very enthusiastic to join it. During the game you will also see orchestrators who lead the songs and chants. These are very organized chants. And half the time, people will be more interested in yelling and dancing than actually watching the game.

Yet, you cannot continuously hide your feelings as an away fan… You just cannot be as keen as them. That is the sole reason I got assaulted by a drummer with his stick last May during a  Besiktas-Galatasaray game for not cheering up for Besiktas… Tough times.

Coming  back to my initial point, here are some videos:


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10 days to go…

The drawing of lots for the 2010 World Cup will be determined on the 4th of December.  FIFA have yet to announce the seeding procedure and thus a mixture of geographical draw precedent, current FIFA rankings and past World Cup performance points, and upcoming ranking changes, have been used to complete the below. underlines that

However, it’s not quite as elementary as it may seem at first. It is simply not the case that the team swill be thrown into four pots by order of descending ranking. For one thing, South Africa, the hosts, and reigning champions Italy are defaulted into the top seeding pot, although the Italians would be there anyway. These seeding pots are decided by a mixture of FIFA ranking and past finals performances of 2002 and 2006.

Secondly, due to FIFA rules, teams from the same confederation are, whenever possible, kept apart. This means that there will not be two South American or Asian teams in the same group. Due to the sheer volume of European teams – 15 – there will be some groups with more than one country from UEFA, but there is very likely to be a hard cap of two.

This was the case for the 2006 draw, whose procedures we largely mirror below as we look ahead to the draw. For the reason of continental hard caps as given above, Pot 2 is likely to comprise UEFA-only teams, with AFC, OFC and CONCACAF in Pot 3 and the non-seeded CONMEBOL teams joining Africa’s CAF in the fourth pot.

In other words, only Pot 1 is truly an ‘achievement’ to reach (South Africa’s host status aside), and the rest are largely geographic, with ranking taken as a secondary concern.

Although this World Cup means nothing to me (as Turkey is out of it), if Goal’s predictions are true, I want two things to happen in the seeding:

1- France to be in the same group with Algeria.

2-A combination of Spain&Brazil / Netherlands&Portugal / Mexico&USA/ Cameroon&Ivory Coast in the same group.

Goal’s prediction can be seen below:

Pot 1
Pot 2 (UEFA Pot)
South Africa (CAF – as hosts) Netherlands (UEFA)
Germany (UEFA) Portugal (UEFA)
Brazil (CONMEBOL) Switzerland (UEFA)
Italy (UEFA) Greece (UEFA)
Spain (UEFA) Serbia (UEFA)
England (UEFA) Denmark (UEFA)
France (UEFA)
Slovakia (UEFA)
Argentina (CONMEBOL) Slovenia (UEFA)
Pot 3
Pot 4
Mexico (CONCACAF) Paraguay (CONMEBOL)
South Korea (AFC) Cameroon (CAF)
Japan (AFC) Cote d’Ivoire (CAF)
Australia (AFC) Nigeria (CAF)
Honduras (CONCACAF) Uruguay (CONMEBOL)
New Zealand (OFC) Algeria (CAF)
North Korea (AFC) Chile (CONMEBOL)

Wi9an Athletic

You have probably heard of Wigan’s destruction while facing Tottenham Spurs this past Saturday. Just in case you have not, here is a link: Tottenham-Wigan Athletic.

Wigan took their first step towards the Premier League in 1997 when they won the Third Division under John Deehan.  Paul Jewell then earned promotion to the First Division with a points tally of 100 in 2002/03, just his second season at the club. The club promoted to Barclays Premiership in the season of 2004/2005 and have beaten all expectations. Wigan’s first ever EPL game was a home match against  the previous champions Chelsea, which they lost 1-0  as Crespo scored 30 seconds before the final whistle (Crespo\’s goal). After a  successful run Wigan found itself in the 2nd position in the league by November. The Latics were creating wonders in the Football League Cup simultaneously. Having left Arsenal out of the cup in the semi-finals, Wigan reached the final in the same season, losing 4–0 to Manchester United. Latics eventually finished the season in 10th place – the club’s highest ever league placing.

The upcoming years were not that great. The club hardly stayed in the EPL in 2006/2007 and stayed as a mid-class team in the other seasons.  Unorthodox to the way EPL works, the club has changed 3 managers since the season of 2006/2007, Roberto Martinez being the 4th one to continue.

I was very interested in the way Wigan was going to handle the loss. Martinez apologized from the supporters and called the loss ‘unacceptable’. Yet, a bigger move came from the players yesterday. I do not if this will ease the supporters’ anger or not, but the following news is from the Wigan’s website:

Wigan Athletic players to personally refund Tottenham tickets 

The club have announced that the players of Wigan Athletic have decided to personally refund every Latics fan who bought a ticket from the DW Stadium ticket office for the match against Tottenham Hotspur yesterday.

Latics had a sizeable following at White Hart Lane and skipper Mario Melchiot, speaking on behalf of all the players, said today: “We feel that as a group of players we badly let down our supporters yesterday, and this is a gesture we HAVE TO make and pay them back for their tremendous loyalty.

“There is not a lot else to say, just that as a group of professionals we were embarrassed by the way we performed, we feel it was below our standards and this is something we feel we owe to the fans. 

“Now we have to draw a line under the game, focus completely on training this week and bounce back on Saturday. 

“We are professionals, we will take it on the chin and move on but it’s important that we do not take our supporters for granted.”

The club has confirmed that every supporter who bought a ticket for the game from the DW Stadium ticket office should contact the ticket office and refunds must be claimed on or before Friday 4th December 2009.

Play Like a Soccer Star

Thierry Henry may have handled the ball to pick up an assist in France’s 1-1 tie against Ireland, but that doesn’t mean he can’t also score goals all by himself, or all by his hand.

That’s at least the point of this game.

Click the link and then click on “Joeur” to see how many hand goals you can score!

Link courtesy of Deadspin

Henry, God’s Hand and the Philosophy of Football

With the furor surrounding the France-Ireland game, and Thierry Henry’s decisive handball, dying down a little, it may be time to think through what just happened, and what it illuminates for us about the sport of football. After receiving a barrage of criticism, a not inconsiderable amount of it openly racist, Henry redeemed himself in some quarters with his declaration that the game should be replayed. Trappatoni, the coach of the Ireland team, made clear he didn’t blame Henry. Beckham came to his defense, seemingly a little put off by the tone of the criticism. Many wondered by Henry hadn’t immediately gone and told the referee what had happened. But, as some commentators have pointed, that seems a bit naive, to say the least. (See, for instance, the comments on Sanford Soccer net, notably those by Jackie Maniel). It’s a beautiful thought — ultimately, football wouldn’t even need referees, as players stepped over themselves to apologize one another and confess to any and all fouls — but it’s hard to imagine it coming to pass on this planet any time soon. And, as Christophe Lalo notes in So Foot, it’s also concretely hard to imagine Henry, surrounded by ecstatic teammates celebrating what was essentially a nearly-guaranteed ticket to South Africa, volunteering to the referee that there was a handball.

FIFA, however, has declared that the match will not be replayed, and the French Football Federation (F.F.F.) has declined to join the Irish Football Federation in continuing to demand a replay. Much of the vitriol surrounding the event is now being directed against the F.F.F. and the various administrators of football, including Michel Platini, who critics are calling hypocritical since they often call for fair play in football but are not willing to demand a replay of this particular game.

What to make of FIFA’s decision? It was, it seems to me, inevitable. To decide otherwise would have been to create a precedent with major consequences for the governance of football. Henry’s handball was particularly egregious and decisive, and yet it is just an extreme example of something that is a feature of many football games. Questionable calls by referees, often the result of intentional trickery or theatricality on the part of players, consistently shape the destinies of teams in professional and international play. Indeed, with rather impressive regularity, they  are often decisive in determining the outcome of games. Ask an Australian fan about the 2006 Italy-Australia game, for instance, and you are likely to get an earful about how refereeing can be cataclysmic. In the same World Cup, a convincing acting job by Henry against Puyol won France it’s 2-1 lead in the France-Spain game. Obviously some players, and some teams, are more guilty of this kind of things than others. But here’s the rub: they are often the most successful players and teams.

FIFA could have canceled the result of the game and ordered it played again, as they did a few years ago in the case of an Iran-Bahrain 2005 qualifying game that was bandied about as a precedent by those demanding a replay. But the furor likely instead sent FIFA representatives looking back to the 2005 decision with regret, and determined not to make the same mistake again. If teams knew that it was reasonably possible for a result to be overturned when a refereeing decision that was proven wrong had a decisive impact on the game, such appeals would obviously multiply. The Irish had pretty much an iron-clad case here, of course, but while such cases are rare they are not that rare. And there is always room for interpretation even in less clear cases. It’s well known, after all, that football fans are very good at identifying the ways in which the referee caused them to lose a game.F.I.F.A., I think, was just protecting itself, unwilling to set up an entire section devoted to hearing appeals for match replays.

While the F.F.F. can be accused of being partisan here, I’m not sure there is reason to assume the rulers of F.I.F.A. had a powerful stake in seeing France in the World Cup rather than Ireland. (Unless, that is, you believe those who claim that corporate and professional footballing interests who want to see more star players in the tournament in order to sell more shoes shape the body’s decisions). I think it is more likely that those who made this decision peered into an abyss: a place where they would regularly have to entertain requests for replays, and where people would always be able to say: but you did it for Ireland!

Then they decided they didn’t want to step off the cliff.

In the many conversations I’ve had about the handball in the past days, I’ve been reminded a bit of the incredible global conversation incited by Zidane’s “coup de boule” in 2006. With one group of friends, we jokingly decided that the handball was an act of resistance against the limited number of slots given by FIFA to Africa in the World Cup. A European team statistically has twice as much of a change of playing in South Africa as an African team, after all. There is, however, one team in Europe whose players are mostly of African descent, either from West Africa or the African diaspora in the Caribbean: France. Many of the players of the French team have, for some time, intimated that it was extremely important for them to play in 2010, not just to be in the World Cup, but to be in what is likely to be the only African World Cup for a long time to come. Maybe Henry and Gallas, both of Caribbean descent, just decided they had to get to South Africa by any means necessary? It’s hard to imagine it right now, given the low quality of play of the team in the qualifiers and the fact that Domenech, a disaster of a coach, is still in charge of the team, but maybe France will end up being a kind of representative for Africa in the tournament, as they were in the final stages of 2006 when only European teams were left playing. We’ll have to wait for December 4th to get a clearer picture of what match-ups are in store for us. While we’ve lost out on the possibility of an impassioned Ireland-England game, we can imagine we’ll be in store for a France-Cameroon of France-Algeria game. If the ghosts of empire will haunt the field in a particularly powerful way in the case of such match-ups, there will also be plenty of ambiguity there: the players of the French team whose players are largely children of the French empire, many of them children of recent African immigrants to France, and they’ll face off against teams representing former colonies many of whose members play professionally in France.

Many football fans, of course, will continue to lambast Henry,  and the event will perhaps go down in Irish footballing history as something akin to England’s loss to Argentina in 1986. Will French fans will ever find ways to celebrate the “Hand of God” of Henry the way many Argentinians do Maradona’s legendary act? Probably not. The French reaction has been largely apologetic and embarrassed — So Foot initially published a bilious and disgusted response to the whole affair as a reflection of how low France and French football has sunk — though of course French fandom and sports journalism traditionally involves an impressive amount of whining and complaining about the national team. And, as Christophe Lalo notes in So Foot, in 1986 Maradona went on, after his “Hand of God” goal, to score one of the greatest goals in the history of football, which helped some “swallow the pill” of his earlier goal. Henry, meanwhile, didn’t. Only time will tell how profoundly this incident ultimately marks his career. If he does as well this year as he did last for Barcelona, or for France next year in South Africa, many people will probably forgive and forget. Some won’t, of course, but but plenty of fans will probably come to see this as a pretty minor event in a largely spectacular career.

Unless FIFA, fans, managers and players are willing to transform football into something very different than it is today, and has been for decades, we are going to have to stick with a sport that is, often enough, totally unfair in its outcomes. What Jennifer Doyle, in discussing the Henry case, has described as the “moral ambiguity” of football is, though, a constitutive part of the sport, and indeed part of what makes it what it is — even what makes it great. Anthropologist Christian Bromberger has argued that particularly strong role the referee has in shaping destinies in football is part of what makes the sport such a powerful “terrain of interpretation,” and thus explains a significant part of the passion it arouses.

What football offers in return for the heartbreak of losing unfairly when you should have won is, however, a kind of consolation: there will always be another chance. And some day your team will probably win when it should have lost.


If football were fair in any way, Ireland would be heading to the World Cup in South Africa. Instead, after a largely weak performance, France snuck through thanks to a handball by Thierry Henry converted into a header by Gallas.  Irish fans, who packed in large numbers in the Stade de France, are surely reeling in shock and rage.

Some are already comparing the goal to the infamous “Hand of God” goal scored by Maradona against England in 1986. The commentaries on You Tube and elsewhere are already lighting up with curses against Henry, some of them openly racist. Henry, meanwhile, has admitted that he touched the ball with his hand, but added: “I’m not the referee.”

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What, as a fan of the French team who desperately wanted to see the team play next year in South Africa, to make of this? A renewed respect for how perverse football can be, certainly, especially since I can’t help feeling elation and relief at the fact that, after torturing its fans for much of the past year, the French team has somehow made it through. Maybe in Africa the team will redeem itself?

South Africa’s Brazilian love affair

Last Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Japan was Carlos Alberto Parreira’s first game back in charge of South Africa. You would be forgiven if you thought that the tenure of Brazilian compatriot, Joel Santana, as Bafana coach had just been a dream. The promise of good things that emerged from their Confederations Cup campaign had since dissipated into the ether. Not only was Carlos back, but the errant Benni McCarthy had been recalled, Elrio van Heerden was playing again and Siphiwe Tshabalala started. It was as if the Santana days had never happened.

Doubts still persist though; why did SAFA re-hire Parreira and not a local coach? After all, when he resigned, it was Parreira that suggested Santana as the most suitable replacement. If Santana was such a bad coach, then surely Parreira’s judgement is suspect? Why not Clive Barker? He was the coach for the victorious 1996 African Nations Cup side. What about Gavin Hunt? Having taken Supersport United to back-to-back PSL titles in South Africa and currently top of the log again, surely he’s proved himself able? The local v foreign coach debate is an ongoing saga throughout many countries but what has happened in South Africa feeds into wider issues of post-colonial power relations between Africa and the West. Europe consistantly takes the best footballing talent, the Essiens, the Eto’os and the Drogbas and in return gives third-rate mediocre coaches. After Stephen Keshi led Togo to World Cup qualification in 2006, he was abruptly replaced by the German coach Otto Pfister. Keshi had proven his worth but it was apparent that the TFF felt otherwise. African football is littered with these European coaches who have had little success at home but are still sought after in Africa. In Parreira, SAFA do have a World Cup winner but that was with Brazil. By choosing a coach from a traditional football powerhouse over local options, it threatens to continue the stagnation of local coaches.

Closer to home, power relations between Europe and North America aren’t that much different in some aspects. The EPL gets Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore. MLS gets Adam Moffat, Carl Robinson and Jamie Smith (who??).

The level playing-field seems to be a little lop-sided.