Satire can be a fantastic way to stimulate discussion about real issues; often, it can be more revelatory than straight discourse. Laughing at a joke compels understanding and examining why the joke was funny– and in satire, the humor is derived from revealing precisely how ridiculous certain serious subjects truly are. Satirists are frequently an important part of cultural criticism, from Mark Twain to Bassem Youssef; humor is an excellent way to make an unreceptive public care about what you want them to care about. While frequently more ridiculous than incisive, the Onion is one such source; and when I stumbled upon this piece written about the 2010 World Cup, I discovered that many of the premises of the humor of the piece are still distinctly applicable to soccer in the US.
The running joke is that the single soccer fan in American has become insufferable over the World Cup, the humor (and truth) lying in the fact that, of course, while there is more than one, there are far fewer soccer fans in the US than practically anywhere else, despite a deeply entrenched culture of sports spectatorship and participation (particularly, and paradoxically, participation in soccer youth leagues.) The lone fan, Brad Janovich, is “the only American citizen currently aware that the World Cup begins June 11″; the sources quoted in the article are “only peripherally aware of the World Cup,” and are confused and irritated when he strikes up “several extended but one-sided conversations concerning figures such as “Kaka” and “Ronaldinho,” generally mystifying and alienating everyone he has come into contact with.” I won’t ruin the genuinely funny piece by quoting further, but you get the gist. The humor of the piece is predicated on the isolation of the US in its apathy towards the global game, and that the grip soccer has on American audiences is tenuous at best. These are realities that have seen some movement in the last 4 years, but not much; hopefully this World Cup will do a better job of capturing the American imagination (apart from Brad Janovich’s) better than the last one.
Unlucky Ribery, it looks like a champions league, Bundesliga title and a Pokal Cup will not be enough to help you win the historic Ballon D’Or. After months of trying to figure out should Ribery win the prestigious award as his team won a historic Treble, or was Messi’s end to the 2012/2013 season enough for him to seal it, Cristiano Ronaldo shows up in the clutch scoring two goals in 38 seconds to send his nation to Brazil in 2014.
In addition the news that Fifa has extended the ballot voting period until the end of the month will allow those who want to change there previous decision, which ultimately, cannot be good news for Ribéry either. Ronaldo’s display was one that the football Gods can only dream of, one matched to Messi’s at the Santiago Bernabau in 2012, or Paolo Rossi in the 1982 World Cup final and even Diego Maradona’s touch of class against England. He was simply flawless.
He was taunted and booed by the Swedes the entire night. Every time he touched the ball, dribbled, lost possession or took a ridiculous shot on goal. His performance in Stockholm was one that represents the new Ronaldo, no longer a young arrogant player who when suffering with his feet, takes it out on his teammates, stops passing the ball, and simply beating himself up in the corner of the pitch. He controlled the game on Tuesday, when Portugal was down and required a quick momentum change CR7 was there to make the difference. When Portugal rocked, he refused to allow them to tumble. He continued his impeccable club form on international duty. As Andy Brassell wrote “The scorecard may have read Zlatan 2 Cristiano 3 but the difference was much more appreciable. Ibrahimovic gives hope where there is none. Ronaldo makes the impossible possible.” Moreover, his hat-trick capped tying the all-time scoring charts for Portugal with 47 goals at the young age of 28.
Although I would still agree that so far in his career Messi has been the better of the two, as much as it pains me to say this, 2013 has been Cristiano’s year.
If you wish to watch a great documentary presented on ITV4 (U.K television) last month click here
66 Ronaldo has scored an incredible 66 goals for club and country in 2013. That includes 56 goals in 46 games for Real Madrid and 10 in nine for Portugal.
8 The 28-year-old is the top scorer in the Champions League this season with eight goals, one ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and two ahead of Lionel Messi.
1.20 Goals per game ratio for Ronaldo in 2013. And it gets better if you only look at this season. He has 31 goals in 21 appearances in 2013-14. That’s 1.48 goals per game.
16 The Portuguese is also the top scorer in La Liga this season with 16 goals in 13 matches. He already has twice as many as Messi.
47 Ronaldo equalled Pauleta’s national record of 47 goals for Portugal. The forward is closing in on Bobby Charlton and Thierry Henry’s records, but has a way to go before he catches Gerd Muller (68) and Pele (77).
5 Ronaldo has outscored the Premier League’s five biggest clubs in 2013. Liverpool (61), Man City (56), Arsenal (55), Man United (54) and Chelsea (54) have all scored fewer league goals this year than Ronaldo has scored in
225 Since joining Real Madrid, Ronaldo has scored 225 goals in 216 games for the club. In just five years he has already become Madrid’s fifth highest scorer and is closing in on Ferenc Puskas (242, right) in fourth. 
Responding to Fifa President Sepp Bladder’s recent call to expand the number of African and Asian berths to the World Cup at the expense of European and South American nations, UEFA President Michel Platini believes that the tournament should be expanded to a forty team format. This expansion to forty teams would allow for the number of African and Asian representatives in the tournament to increase without reducing the number of European and South American representatives.
Blatter believes that European and South American nations hold an unfair advantage in dominating the make-up of the tournament, despite the having fewer members associations of FIFA than other territories. Pushing towards globalization of the sport, Blatter would like to see the numbers of berths of a territory be more reflective of the number of FIFA member associations . With only 63 member associations of FIFA, European and South American teams will account for 18 or 19 berths at the 2014 World Cup. Africa and Asia, on the other hand, will only be represented by 9 or 10 teams in total, despite accounting for 100 members associations of FIFA. Blatter believes that, “This flawed state of affairs must be rectified. At the end of the day an equal chance for all is the paramount imperative of elite sport.”
UEFA President Michel Platini, who many believe will be the successor to Bladder as FIFA President, feels that expansion of African and Asian berths should not come at the expense of European and South American nations. Instead, the tournament should be expanded to a forty-team format, with eight groups, each consisting of five teams . He calculates that the length of the tournament would be expanded by only three days with this format. While this would add more berths for under-represented territories, this idea could significantly lower the quality of competition by adding berths to territories whose nations do not have teams of similar quality to that of Europe and South America.
As explained by the Nick Ackerman of Bleacher Report, “Although one of FIFA’s more commendable ideas, both Blatter and Platini have to consider the competitiveness of adding eight teams to the current setup.” With the last World Cup taking place in South Africa, only one of the six African teams in the competition was able to advance past the group stages . This success rate is much lower than for the European (6 of 13) and South American (5 of 5) representatives. Additionally, with European and South American nations dominating the top 12 spots in the current FIFA rankings, it can be argued that these territories deserve the most representatives based on merit .
While I believe that Africa and Asia deserve more representatives in the World Cup, I do not agree that it should come at the expense of European and South American nations. I feel that this change could significantly lower the quality of competition in the tournament. I would be much more in favor of expansion, even if this resulted in the inclusion of lower quality teams in the tournament. I believe this format could result in qualification by nations who have fallen short of qualification due to the current format. With a more realistic opportunity for qualification, I believe that these nations will strive to produce a higher quality team that is able to compete on the World Stage. However, until the quality of teams in territories such as Africa and Asia matches those of Europe and South America, it is hard to argue for the number of berths per territory to better represent the proportion of member associations within FIFA.
After the conclusion of the World Cup, a new cycle of FIFA World Rankings begins. Every month, FIFA releases an updated list ranking every national football team — #1 to #207. For most fans, myself included, these rankings seem arbitrary. What does it matter that Croatia is ranked #10 and USA is #13? What does that even mean? Portugal has 1029 points compared to Mexico’s 839. So what? How does FIFA arrive at these point totals? Well, after scouring the internet and solving some middle-school-level math equations, I’ve finally figured out how it all works. To my surprise, it actually makes sense. I could attempt to summarize and simplify the process, but FIFA actually does a pretty good job with explaining how they arrive at each team’s point total.
The basic logic of these calculations is simple: any team that does well in world football wins points which enable it to climb the world ranking.
A team’s total number of points over a four-year period is determined by adding:
· the average number of points gained from matches during the past 12 months;
· the average number of points gained from matches older than 12 months (depreciates yearly).
Calculation of points for a single match
The number of points that can be won in a match depends on the following factors:
• Was the match won or drawn? (M)
• How important was the match (ranging from a friendly match to a FIFA World Cup™ match)? (I)
• How strong was the opposing team in terms of ranking position and the confederation to which they belong? (T and C)
These factors are brought together in the following formula to ascertain the total number of points (P).
P = M x I x T x C
The following criteria apply to the calculation of points:
M: Points for match result
Teams gain 3 points for a victory, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a defeat. In a penalty shoot-out, the winning team gains 2 points and the losing team gains 1 point.
I: Importance of match
Friendly match (including small competitions): I = 1.0
FIFA World Cup™ qualifier or confederation-level qualifier: I = 2.5
Confederation-level final competition or FIFA Confederations Cup: I = 3.0
FIFA World Cup™ final competition: I = 4.0
T: Strength of opposing team
The strength of the opponents is based on the formula: 200 – the ranking position of the opponents
As an exception to this formula, the team at the top of the ranking is always assigned the value 200 and the teams ranked 150th and below are assigned a minimum value of 50. The ranking position is taken from the opponents’ ranking in the most recently published FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
C: Strength of confederation
When calculating matches between teams from different confederations, the mean value of the confederations to which the two competing teams belong is used. The strength of a confederation is calculated on the basis of the number of victories by that confederation at the last three FIFA World Cup™ competitions (see following page). Their values are as follows:
So, now that we understand the math, we can talk about the bigger issue — the impact of the FIFA World Rankings on the World Cup. First, it is important to explain how the World Cup draw works. There are 32 teams that play in the World Cup — 8 group of 4. To determine which nations end up in which group, one pot is created of the top 7 nations, ranked by FIFA, and the host nation, in this case, Brazil. The remaining 24 teams are placed in pots separated by “geographic and sports criteria“.
By being one of the top 7 teams, a nation is arguably given an easier road to advance as they do not have to play the 7 other FIFA-ranked “soccer-powerhouses” in group play. Thus, besides qualifying for the World Cup, every nation’s goal is to be one of the top 7 seeds.
To say the least, the entire process is not easy. While there are a lot of factors and variables that go into the FIFA World Rankings, there is just as much ambiguousness when it comes to how these rankings are employed. The last several qualification matches will determine the final rankings and where each nation will end up. The 2014 World Cup Draw will take place December 6th.
Click Here for more information on the FIFA World Rankings.
Now that we are done with all of the boring numbers, let’s get down to it: of all of these 191 teams, there is only one team in the entire world that has won every single one of its qualifying matches. No draws, no losses, all victories. Care to take a guess? Messi and Argentina? Ronaldo and Portugal? What about Xavi, Iniesta, and the rest of the Spanish national team?
Wrong. Wrong. And Wrong.
The correct answer would be Egypt.
The only team in the world that has won every single one of its qualifiers belongs to the tumultuous, chaotic, riot-crazy land of the Pharaohs.
Sadly, when most people think of Egypt and soccer, they don’t think of a team on the brink of qualification or a young group of talented players, led by their fearless, new American manager.
It goes without saying that Egypt has not been the best place to live, let alone the best place to be an international athlete, in the past few years.
Nevertheless, throughout this violence, this rioting and killing and oppression, the Egyptian national team has been sliding by, under the radar, serving as a symbol of hope for this beleaguered country. Behind their fearless American coach, Bob Bradley, who, instead of shying away from the challenges that Egypt faces, not only as a national team, but also as a country, has very boldly emerged as a true leader, and somewhat of a hero, in Egypt.
Since the overthrowing of Mubarak, not only did the Egyptian football league decrease somewhat in stature, but it also was forced to cancel league play after the Port Said Massacre. This has made things very hard for the Egyptian national team and Bob Bradley, as far as keeping players in shape, evaluating young players, and finding some of the potential new young stars in Egyptian football. In the two years between winning the African Cup of Nations in 2010 and not even qualifying for the African Cup in 2012, Egypt dropped 55 places in the FIFA international standings, from 9th place in the world to 64th. Just like that.
By bringing much needed energy, hands-on training, and a sense of accountability to this Egyptian national team, a team historically rich with football talent, Bob Bradley, the former United States national team manager, has guided his new Egyptian squad back into relevancy, his new adopted country back onto the international sporting map.
Playing most of their home qualifiers in an empty stadium in the beach town of El-Gouna, while also in the midst of an overthrow of the Morsi regime, the Egyptian national team nonetheless managed to go to undefeated in their qualifying group, winning all 6 games, home and away, against Zimbabwe, Guinea, and Mozambique, with a goal differential of +9.
The team’s success is in large part due to the inspired play of 21 year old Basel FC striker, Mohamed Salah. Salah, one of the young rising stars of European football, who heard offers from a plethora of major European clubs over the summer, is currently the leading scorer in African qualifying, with a whopping six goals in six games. “We have been playing in difficult circumstances since the start of the qualifiers because of the football stoppage in Egypt and the problems facing the country,” said Salah about the trials of qualification. “But the most important thing will be to have luck on our side and think about the people who are eager for happiness. A qualification for the World Cup is the biggest thing that could make the people happy.”
Despite being selected earlier this week to play perennial African powerhouse, Ghana, in the final, two-leg matchup of qualifying, Bob Bradley, along with the rest of Egypt, still seems optimistic and eager to make it to their third World Cup appearance, their first since 1990: “We are the strongest team in the group. We are not afraid of confronting Ghana.”
After missing out on the World Cup in dramatic fashion in 2010, enduring a coaching change, and living in the midst of multiple political uprisings, a massacre, and a stoppage of Egyptian league play, the Egyptian people and the Egyptian players are ready to redeem their country, unite the people of their trifling nation, and prove to the world that the Pharaohs belong in the World Cup.
Greg Dyke gave his first speech on Wednesday as chairman of the Football Association, the governing body of English football. His remarks confirmed what most football fans and pundits already suspected – that England have a poor chance of winning next year’s World Cup in Brazil. ”I asked a bunch of journalists what would be seen as doing well in Brazil. The consensus was if we reach the quarter-finals we’ll do very well. That’s not to say we can’t win. But let’s not kid ourselves, it’s pretty hard to win in Latin America anyway for a European side. We’re certainly not going to go there as odds-on favourites, that’s for sure”, he added. Dyke also began to outline his plan for reforming the English footballing system, as he aims to increase the number of English players in the Premier League, and ultimately help England have a realistic chance of winning the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
With every poor performance or embarrassing loss in a global tournament by England and its youth teams comes the inevitable flood of criticism and re-evaluation of the country’s footballing structure. Every level of the game is scrutinized as the cause of the country’s failures, from the senior team all the way to the academies and youth sides. This statement from Greg Dyke has provoked a similar reaction. While English arrogance, conflicts between youth and senior teams, and poor coaching structure have all been pinpointed as clear areas of concern in the last week, the problems with English football are clearly complicated and multi-faceted.
Or maybe they just need to practice their penalties more? (Don’t watch this video if you’re an England fan. It might ruin your day).
The USA Men’s Soccer starting lineup for its World Cup qualifier vs. Mexico on Sep. 10, 2013. The USA won 2-0, clinching a World Cup berth.
America’s Team. Fans across the country lay claim to this label for their favorite sports team. As a result of this dilution, this moniker largely has lost its meaning. So if you’re still searching for the real America’s Team, look no further than the USA Men’s Soccer team. As you no doubt know by now, Tuesday night it clinched a World Cup Birth by beating arch-rival Mexico 2-0. This is America’s Team.
We like to celebrate the U.S. as a melting pot, a place where people of myriad races, ethnicities, cultures, religions etc. identify as one nationality: American. Nowhere is this more apparent than the lineup for USA Men’s Soccer games (see image above). Eddie Johnson, who is black, headed home the game’s first goal from the corner of Landon Donovan, a white player who is perhaps the team’s most famous. Donovan also tapped in the USA’s second goal, thanks to a low cross from Mix Diskerud, who was born in Norway. The USA’s defense alone is a microcosm of the melting pot. In defense, the USA fielded Jermaine Jones, who is black and grew up in Frankfurt, Germany, as well as the Texan Omar Gonzalez, DaMarcus Beasely, an African-American from Indiana and Fabian Johnson, who also grew up in Germany.
Blacks, whites, Hispanics, immigrants — the USA Men’s Soccer lineup reads like a Census report. This team paints a more accurate picture of this country than any other of its national teams. The USA Men’s Olympic basketball squad, the Dream Team, is probably the nation’s most well known national team. Led by Duke’s own Coach K, featured thirteen blacks and one white players. Blacks might be racial minorities but that lineup is not diverse.
Unsurprisingly, given the demographics of the national team, the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport gave Major League Soccer an A+ for its players’ racial diversity in its 2012 Annual Racial and Gender Report Card. Professor Orin Starn often used to say during his Anthropology of Sports lectures, “What you play is who you are.” When it comes to America’s Team, USA Men’s Soccer is the real deal.
Five days ago, before the September qualifying games in the CONCACAF region, soccer fans everywhere were fairly confident that no matter how each of the last six teams finished their last four games, Mexico would easily qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Either Mexico would finish as one of the top three teams in the region, or they would settle for fourth and play a one game playoff against New Zealand from the Oceania region, which they would be heavily favored in. Jumping forward to the present, here’s how the CONCACAF standings look:
With the loss to the United States that occurred a few hours ago, Mexico has now fallen into a tie for fourth place with Panama in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying standings. Even worse, Mexico is currently losing the tie breaker to Panama due to the difference in the amount of goals scored by each team in the fourth round of qualifying (Panama: 7, Mexico: 4). So Mexico is actually in 5th place out of a total of 6 teams. True there are still two games left, and yes Mexico is only 3 points (1 win) behind the third place Honduras, but I’m still not inspired by Mexico’s recent play to be confident enough to predict that they will finish in the top three, finish fourth and then beat New Zealand, or even finish in the top four of this region.
There are three main reasons for why I believe Mexico is going to have a tough time qualifying for the 2014 World Cup:
1.) Recent firing of head coach
2.) Lack of wins in 4th round
3.) Lack of passion
1.) The firing of their past head coach Jose Manuel de la Torre was probably much overdue, but the fact that this decision occurred with only three qualifying games left can not be good for the team. Although Luis Fernando Tena, a previous assistant, has been named the interim coach, the team currently is going through an identity crisis. Tena is unsure whether to continue following Torre’s previous gameplan or to make alterations. Either way, I’m guessing that the team is fairly confused on what Tena’s plan is and may actually lack confidence in Tena’s ability to lead the team. Even though Tena’s confidence has not faded away, his lack of experience with the national team may be Mexico’s downfall.
2.) From looking at the FIFA world rankings of the teams in the CONCACAF region, it appears on paper as Mexico should be fairly dominant in these qualifying games. However, these games are played on the field as Mexico is not living up to expectations. Sure Mexico isn’t actually losing the majority of these games, but the problem is, Mexico isn’t winning enough games. Through the first eight games, Mexico has only won one game, which was against Jamaica. Mexico is currently ranked 20th in the world, yet they have tied and lost to the 43rd ranked team (Honduras), tied the 40th ranked team (Panama), tied the 42nd ranked team (Costa Rica), and tied the 76th ranked team (Jamaica). Although they have two very winnable games left (vs. Panama and @ Costa Rica), there streak of not winning these types of matches is up against them. Two more ties, which is fairly probable at this point, and Mexico is certainly not qualifying for the World Cup.
3.) Which brings me to my last point. Mexico’s passion on the field is almost non-existent. It almost appears as if the team is solely going through the motions. This lack of enthusiasm limits the amount of energy on the field, thus limiting the amount of quality play by the Mexican team. Mexico hasn’t looked like the intimating team that dominates CONCACAF region year after year. If this low quality of play keeps up, Mexico will at best tie their last two games, causing them to watch the 2014 World Cup at home.
Patrick Viera. Thierry Henry. Zinedine Zidane. The list goes on and on, but these are a few of the more recent bastions of French football that have brought glory to the streets of Paris and the beaches of Marseille, players who were widely considered to be some of the world’s best. Viera’s power and guile coupled with Henry’s wit, agility, and clinical finishing dominated the Premier League at Arsenal, while Zidane dazzled fans, opponents, and teammates alike while climbing to global superstar status at Juventus and Real Madrid, the most storied clubs in Italy and Spain respectively. A World Cup victory in 1998 and Euro Cup glory in 2000 marked the peak of modern day French football. Euphoria stemming from those victories was ephemeral; a disastrous 2002 World Cup, which saw France finish bottom of their group, was cause for warning. The following two snapshots, however, best capture the inception of their decline:
Although France may have vaulted back into relevance during the 2006 World Cup, in part made possible by Zidane’s emergence from retirement, the renowned midfielder’s vicious, albeit provoked, head-butt of Marco Materazzi shown above rather succinctly quelled any momentum they may have gained by reaching the finals against an Italian side in Berlin, Germany. Since that moment in time, the French national team has underperformed while being marred by such controversies as Henry’s deliberate handling of a ball, directly responsible for preventing the Republic of Ireland from World Cup qualification while booking the French side’s tickets to South Africa, the dismissal of Nicolas Anelka from the team during a dismal 2010 World Cup performance, training boycotts, further suspensions to stars such as Samir Nasri, Jeremy Menez, and Yann M’Vila for various immature infractions, etc.
Today, France is on the verge of a critical World Cup qualifying tie with UEFA lightweights Belarus. Although not entirely pivotal in terms of securing second place behind a dominant Spanish side, but more so as a morale boost, the French team is desperately in need of a resounding victory. Les Bleus will likely dispose of the last place team in UEFA’s Group I, but France’s goal drought is more than concerning. Real Madrid striker, and France’s number 9, Karim Benzema has not scored an international goal in 14 months, while the team itself has failed to score in 479 minutes—more than five games. These stats are astounding from a team that fields the likes of Franck Ribéry of Bayern München, recently named 2012/2013 UEFA European player of the year, Samir Nasri of Manchester City, the aforementioned Karim Benzema of Real Madrid, and various other stars that are more than capable of turning the tide of any game.
Perhaps there is more unrest in the player ranks. It would not be the first time a French team failed to fulfill its potential due to an unruly dressing room. Or maybe the players have failed to grasp debutant manager Didier Deschamps’ footballing philosophy. More alarming is the prospect that Deschamps’ philosophy could well fall short altogether. Club success, at Olympique de Marseille in Deschamps’ case, of course does not automatically translate into triumphs at the international level. Tomorrow’s game against Belarus will provide some limited insight into these issues. Whatever the problem is, France needs to start scoring goals if it expects to compete in UEFA’s second round of World Cup Qualifying, which includes eight runners up from the first round of qualifying, likely talented sides such as Croatia, Greece, Sweden, and Montenegro, among others.
As a completely biased Arsenal fan, I say Deschamps should include in-form Olivier Giroud in his starting XI. This listless French side is desperate for change. Utilizing both Giroud and Benzema in a 4-4-2 could prove fruitful, as Giroud’s hold up play, ability to win headers, and neat flicks and touches ideally would dovetail with Benzema’s running off the ball. If that doesn’t work, Les Bleus can always call on the classic covert handball to goal strategy. It worked for Maradona:
and Henry demonstrated his best impression. Not ethical by any means, but where would the beautiful game be without a little controversy?
The US Men’s National Team fell 3-1 against Costa Rica during their qualifying match this past Friday. Many have drawn comparisons to when the US lost in Costa Rica in 2009. Both were World Cup qualifiers, both 3-1 defeats, and both saw Costa Rica take an early lead and hold it throughout the match.
I am drawn to consider how the more recent match in March of this year may have impacted Friday’s match: the World Cup qualifier played just five months ago in Colorado. Costa Rica protested the US 1-0 victory, saying that the snowstorm had compromised the “physical integrity” of the players and officials. Here is a quick reminder of the conditions they were talking about:
Fast forward five and a half months and the US is traveling to Costa Rica for a qualifying match, and the resentment is still fierce. The team was forced through public customs lines to be derailed by the local fans. Practice locations were shuffled around. The US was denied a practice ball of the same kind to be used in the match. Taxi drivers slowed the team down on their progress to the field. The crowd volume in the stadium was even measured at an earth-shattering 96 decibels! These are not ideal conditions for the US team and clearly gave Costa Rica the home field advantage. The US was shaken and it showed on the pitch. Costa Rica got their revenge, taking an early lead and showing that the location of a match and the crowd can truly influence the results.