Capturing the Game Pieces from UVA Students (Spring 2024)

The below essays are a selection of those written by students in Laurent Dubois’ UVA class “Soccer Politics” during the Spring of 2024.


Morgan Greig

The 2014 World Cup Semi Final: Germany v Brazil

Not only did Brazil lose for the first time in 12 years, but they also faced the greatest defeat in World Cup semi final history. Germany confronted Brazil in an utmost agonizing match, at Brazil’s home stadium in Belo Horizonte, where a home defeat for Brazil had been avoided for 39 years prior. Brazil went into the game without their good luck charm, Neymar, due to injury, and Thiago Silva, whose absence did not receive the same recognition. Within the first 11 minutes, Germany quickly took the lead, and showed no mercy for their struggling competitor. This game was incredible for Germany, who scored 5 goals in the first 30 minutes of the game, achieving a final score of 7-1. Two very memorable aspects of the 2014 World Cup Semi Final game were Klose’s (Germany) record-breaking goal and the emotions presented by Brazilian fans in the stadium. Some sources refer to this game as the most shocking result in World Cup history, despite El Maracanazo, when Brazil lost to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup. Brazilians began to call this specific game the Mineirazo, in reference to the Mineirão stadium and the national shame the game brought upon them.

Miroslav Klose played a key role in the victory for Germany against Brazil. By taking advantage of Brazil’s vulnerability, Klose was able to score his 16th World Cup goal. Both German players, Müller and Kroos, were able to set Klose up for a second attempt by beating César to increase the match score to 2-0. It can be said that following this goal, the game descended into chaos for the Brazilians, with goal after goal for Germany. This second goal provided a significant mood shift felt by the other players on the field, aiding in Germany’s victory. Previously, the player holding the most World Cup goals was Brazil’s player, Ronaldo, with 15 goals within the tournament, followed by a german player, Gerd Muller, with 14 tournament goals. Krose’s athleticism was recognized by knocking Ronaldo from his throne, giving him the top rank on the olympics website under “Most goals in FIFA World Cup” by scoring 16 times in 24 games, he was able to score in four different World Cup games. Additionally, Miroslav Klose ranks as Germany’s best, with 71 strikes in 137 international appearances. It is important to recognize Klose’s contribution to the history books of soccer, finalized in a game centered around the Brazil team and its fans, where despite the German team performing incredibly well, the game broadcast and publicity was focused on the negativity coming from the opposing team. Even after retiring, Klose is still considered one of soccer’s greatest goalscorers of all time.

As previously mentioned, Neymar suffered an injury that prevented him from participating in this game. During the same World Cup tournament, Brazil went against Colombia and Neymar was struck from behind by Juan Zuniga, sending him abruptly to the ground. Although Zuniga did not face a penalty for this action, Neymar was relieved from playing in the game because of this action. Following the incident, Neymar begged that the doctors not come to him on the field due to his passion persuading him to continue to play in the game, however, there was no turning away from what had occurred. He was deemed unfit for playing in the remainder of the tournament, and later diagnosed with a broken bone in his back. Brazil suffered without one of their greatest players – Neymar was left to watch his team struggle without his expertise, and eventually become eliminated from the match series. Neymar is lucky to be walking, let alone resuming soccer, as following his injury, he found himself unable to feel his own legs. Soccer players tend to over-exaggerate injuries in order to cause a foul for the opposing team, which Brazil fans had hoped was the case with this incident. Moreover, dedicated fans faced extreme worry for the fate of their team upon the release of their prestigious Neymar, which was just the start of an emotional World Cup.

An incident like this is not something new to Brazilian fans. Brazil has faced devastating losses in the past similar to this one, for example the 6-0 loss against Uruguay in the 1920 Copa America game, or their defeat against Uruguay for the 1950 World Cup final in Rio, which put Brazil at second place overall. Brazil fans were faced early on in the game with emotional devastation. They could be seen with tears in their eyes, and even leaving the match when the score reached 4-0. Upon the realization of the score during halftime, the Brazilian team came back with a different vibe for the second half, but couldn’t recover from the events of the first, leaving the audience distraught. With the history of soccer in Brazil rooted in nationalism, soccer games have become a crucial environment for fans to demonstrate their support for their country. Brazilian fans have been known to exhibit their support for their soccer team with corresponding bright colored clothes. Overall, Brazil’s matches have been considered celebrations, with fans cheering and a general positive mood from the stands. Soccer games in Brazil had been known to be celebrations, reinforcing nationalism through the game. Fans could be seen being extremely loud, some with face paint and others with team regalia. The vibe of the stadium was extremely different from what it is normally, with some fans crying and others sitting in silence. In several articles posted about this game, fans can be seen shrieking at the realization of their team losing.

The 2014 World Cup semi final game had a significant effect on the history of soccer, and demonstrated the commitment of Brazil fans to their team and their identity. On the night of July 8th, 2014, Miroslav Klose was able to achieve a world record title, and Germany demonstrated absolutely no mercy for its opponent. The German team presented incredible skill on the field that would not be overlooked, despite viewers wanting to empathize with the embarrassed opposing players and respective fans. Furthermore, the feeling Brazil fans might have felt that day did not hamper the strength of their commitment to their team. Brazil has been considered one of the most successful national teams in soccer history, thus one game shouldn’t deter life long fans.


Ian Iskra

Goals in the 88th Minute


Throughout my early childhood, Bayern Munich was an integral part of my identity. This was in spite of the fact I grew up in West Virginia, a state not known for its vibrant soccer culture. Almost no one in my hometown, and certainly none of my elementary school peers, had heard of Bayern Munich – except my father, from whom I had inherited my passion for the Bavarian giants. Constantly sporting my red and white striped Thomas Müller jersey, I stood out in a sea of unfamiliarity, often mistaken for a walking T-Mobile advertisement. For those who realized my attire was, in fact, a soccer jersey, such as my 4th-grade teacher, a common question was, “Who is Bayern München?” This was due to the German spelling of the club being placed above the numbers on the back, a placement typically reserved for the last names of American football and basketball players. Through isolating moments such as these and my boyish desire to please my father, I wove Bayern directly into my persona. Bayern meant a lot to me, as often it felt as if I alone was their only supporter. When Bayern won, I won, and no game meant more to a 9-year-old me than the 2012 UEFA Champions League final.

In 2012, Bayern surged through the Champions League table and their success seemed imminent. They reached the final which was to be played in the Allianz Arena, their home stadium. In front of a sea of red, the Bavarians clashed with the Blues of London, Chelsea. A Thomas Müller header in the 82nd minute ended the gridlock, causing both the Allianz and my living room to erupt in celebration. My father and I continued to watch nervously, however everyone expected to see Bayern crowned kings of Europe in their own backyard.

As the clock rounded minute 87 and approached minute 88, Chelsea’s Juan Mata lined up for a corner kick in front of the sliver of Blues supporters. Mata’s left foot whipped in an in-swinging ball to the near edge of the six yard box, where the legendary striker Didier Drogba darted diagonally to meet it. Despite having the elbow of Bayern center-back Jerome Boateng lodged squarely in his back, the Ivorian rose up high above the German defense. With his eyes laser focused on the ball, Drogba snapped his head leftward, redirecting the ball towards the top right corner of the goal. Bayern players stood motionless in prayer as Manuel Neuer’s outstretched left mit grazed the ball before it was caught by the back of the net. The Chelsea supporters bellowed their praise for the equalizer as the Bavarians watched their dream slip away, dreading extra-time when they had been so close. My father put his head down, hiding his emotions from his impressionable son.

Extra-time started and ended with no goals being scored to separate the two sides. The beast which is penalty kicks then commenced in front of the Bayern supporters. A miss by Bastian Schweinsteiger gave Chelsea the opportunity to win the cup with the fifth kick. To the dismay of all Bayern supporters, Didier Drogba stepped forward to take the penalty. With the biggest trophy in Europe on the line, the Ivorian very calmly buried the goal in the bottom left corner, giving Chelsea their first Champions League title. Drogba cried and so did I. As tears rolled down my face, I hated Chelsea, their players and fans, blaming them for the pain they caused me. My father said some choice words and stood up, turning off the TV and leaving the room. I did not receive the usual scolding from him as I often did whenever I cried. I could tell he was grieving.

That night my family went out for dinner, with me still sporting the red and white striped jersey of my club. As fate would have it, our waiter for the evening was a Chelsea supporter who immediately addressed my fandom. His words about the game, although nothing lyrically special, were kind and sensitive. He assured me that he knew my pain and had been there before, attributing this to the beauty of the game with its ebbs and flows. This of course did not console my 9-year-old heart, however my 10 year old self would know the true meaning of his words.

One year later, Bayern Munich found themselves back in the Champions League final. The match was to be played in the legendary Wembley Stadium, against another fearsome German club in Borussia Dortmund led by Jürgen Klopp. My father and I assumed our usual positions in the living room, both feeling extremely uneasy before the game. A win would mean redemption, a loss, humiliation.

It was Bayern once again who broke the game out of its goalless shell, with a Mario Mandžukić goal in the 60th minute. The lead did not last long however, as seven minutes later Dortmund capitalized on a penalty kick conceded by Bayern’s Dante. As the minutes ticked by, Bayern Munich continued to knock, searching desperately for a late goal, only to be denied by the relentless defending of Dortmund.

The clock once again approached the dreaded 88th minute which had crushed my dreams the year prior. As this happened, Bayern winger Frank Ribéry brought down a long ball with a tremendous touch, settling it on his left foot at the top of the 18 yard box. Shielding the ball from the defender, Ribéry rolled the ball backwards into a gap between the two Dortmund center-backs. Blazing through this gap came the fastest Dutchman alive in Arjen Robben. Robben galloped into the box all alone, defenders helpless trailing the bald speedster. With the ball glued to his left foot, Robben cut to his left, drawing out the Dortmund goalkeeper, before rolling it right past him into the back of the net without ever slowing down. As Robben slid on his knees towards the corner flag, so I slid on my knees towards the television, giving myself a respectable amount of carpet burn as a testament to my passion. My dad cheered loudly, jumping up and down before grabbing my shoulders, shaking me back and forth in joy as all Bayern fans chanted in Wembley. When the final whistle blew, the redemption journey had been completed.

As one 88th minute goal erased another, no longer was my fandom tarnished by a loss the year prior. It was at this moment that the Chelsea supporting waiter’s words truly meant something. The beauty of the game is not found in winning, and it’s certainly not found in losing. It’s found in its ability to control our identity, emotions, and memory. I was now once again proud to loudly express my passion for Bayern Munich, telling my soccer knowledge-less friends that they were the best club in the world. My father, a stoic man, went from a state of grief-induced noninvolvement when we lost, to a state of dynamic child-like bliss. My memory of the previous final and Drogba’s goals had dissolved, along with any mal contempt I had towards Chelsea, all replaced by visions of Robben’s sprint and the trophy in captain Philip Lahm’s hands. Mia san Mia.


Kaukab Rizvi

Earthquake at Camp Nou 

Neymar Jr. and Sergi Roberto were like two sides to a coin, two players who could not be more diametrically opposed. But 1 in every 6000 coin tosses lands on its side. In the vast tapestry of football, fate had woven a unique bond between them, blending their paths as if they were destined to intertwine. Neymar Jr. was born on February 5, 1992 in Mogi das Cruzes, while 8,682 km away and just two days prior, Sergi Roberto was born in the backyard of Camp Nou.

Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez refers to Sergi Roberto as “more Cule than the flagpole.” As a La Masia academy player by the age of 14, Roberto’s play could be characterized as solid but nothing to write home about. Making his way through the Barcelona ranks as an integral part of the B team, Roberto was consistent and maintained a positive attitude, never complaining about the lack of play time.

One thing that you must know about Barcelona is that they play football as if it’s Hot Potato. One touch passes, runs off the ball, and an obsession with maintaining possession. They call it tiki-taka. As a midfielder throughout his career, it would seem that Roberto would be at the center of this interplay. Yet, his firm loyalty to the club meant that Roberto would be flexible in his positioning, filling in where his team needed him. Luis Enrique moved Sergi to right-back and would later say that “If a fan saw Sergi Roberto play for the first time, they would say: ‘This guy has been a full-back his whole life’”. From his humble beginnings in Reus, Spain, Roberto’s career has followed a similar trajectory to Marco Reus, remaining loyal to his club through all the ups and downs.

Neymar da Silva Santos Junior began playing football at a young age, starting off with street style and indoor football in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Rising through the ranks of Brazilian football, Neymar Jr. exemplified the finesse and swagger of Brazilian ball. Quick feet, even quicker instincts, and lots of pizzazz. The ease with which he carried the ball made him that much quicker on the pitch, and in a way, his stylish play confused defenders who treated football as an all business, no fun endeavor.

While some in the football world were quick to make a fool out of Neymar’s showiness, Barcelona were keen to take a chance on this superstar who seemed to compliment his skillfulness with technically balanced play. For the tiki taka maestros of Catalonia, Neymar represented the ideal prospect. A player that could be coached into their play style while also providing the finesse to create goals out of nothing, similar to the magic man on the opposite wing, Leo Messi. This star was determined to succeed as he made the jump from Brazil to Spain, aiming to reach the ranks of footballing glory.

While Roberto would jump into the elite Barcelona academy and climb his way to the top by playing fundamentally sound ball, Neymar would dazzle defenders and appear on SportsCenter’s top ten before catching the eye of European scouts. The two would finally cross paths in the 2016-17 season.

With Messi, Suarez, and Neymar all at the top of their respective positions, and all on the same team for another season, FC Barcelona were no doubt the favorites heading into the European championships. As expectations soared, Barcelona entered the first leg of their Round of 16 matchup against Paris Saint Germain feeling good about themselves after a group stage campaign that saw them dominate opponents day in and day out. Things did not go according to plan though at the Parc des Princes as PSG drew first blood in a resounding 4-0 victory for the Parisian side. Even with a second leg match to redeem themselves, Barcelona had dug a hole deeper than the Mariana trench, or so it seemed.

Many Barcelona fans turned on the match as some background noise or filled in the rows of the Camp Nou to make the most out of a ticket they had saved up for, a depressing wave could be felt as the opening kickoff ensued. Fans sat ready to watch moments of brilliance from their idols, but few could imagine that even sustained brilliance could bring them back from such a deficit. After a quick Luis Suarez goal within three minutes, fans were convinced. Could it really be? Frantic mathematics ensued, if we can score one goal in three minutes, how quickly could we get to five? An own goal by PSG, followed by a trademark Messi penalty found Barca up 3-0 with plenty of time remaining: the fans were ecstatic. However, this pressure could not be sustained. The oohs and ahhs of the crowd slowly dissipated into utter silence as the end of the match approached and Barcelona found themselves up only by a score of 3-1. See, in the two leg system of Champions League play, this meant that Barcelona had to score three more goals without conceding if they wanted to proceed in the tournament. By the 87th minute, statisticians estimated that Barcelona had 200 to 1 odds of proceeding to the next round.

But the odds that Neymar Jr. and Sergi Roberto, the near twins, would wind up on the same pitch together were much slimmer. The left-winger and the right back. The Brasilero and the Catalan. The skillful dreamer and the disciplined pragmatist. The center of attention and the forgotten one. As the clock ticked past 90 and into the 90+5 minute mark, Barcelona found themselves only one goal away from completing La Remontada, at 5-1. The silence in the Camp Nou was no longer a silence stemming from the lack of expectation. Rather, the voices were resting up for what they would be channeled into if the impossible were to happen.

As the ball gets launched in from Neymar on a free kick, everyone including the goalkeeper are up in the box attempting to make a play on the ball. The crowd is silent. A cowbell shuts off its vibration. A clueless mother screams “Si se puede” only to be silenced by her son who is trying to focus from the top rows. The people at the bar all simultaneously put their drinks down to fixate on this. Time stands still as the ball is met by a PSG head quickly. Neymar recollects the ball and as his image appears in the faces of the defenders, they’re quick to assume his intentions. Surely he wants the hattrick, to be the hero, surely he’s going to shoot.

He’s got them exactly where he wants them. Neymar fakes a shot, creating an empty patch of grass ahead. The defenders in the box stand, attempting to block: for the second time around he has to shoot, right? From the right back position on the pitch, Neymar opts to float the ball instead, into the left-wing as the defenders find themselves sitting completely still. Only one player predicts Neymar’s intentions correctly, the one player who knew that position well and would likely have played a similar ball from the get go. The right back Roberto finds himself at left-wing, having timed his run to perfection, meeting the ball at the face of the goal as it’s chipped into his path. All it needs is a light caress above the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. 6-1 in the 95th minute. Game. Set. Match.

The Camp Nou erupts into madness. From the Jaume Almera Institute of Earth Sciences, reverberations are recorded on the Richter Scale, used for recording earthquakes. Two players so diametrically opposed in their appearance and play style, would go on to connect as if they were one and the same. The universe has brought together these two souls to create this perfect moment of union. After this moment, the two could never reach that level of fusion. With his search for fame and glory, Neymar would pass onto the very team he dismantled on that day while Roberto would remain content serving his club in whatever capacity.

Now, Neymar finds himself at the end of his career, without much success at PSG and onto the Saudi League. Sergi Roberto now captains a Barcelona side with a quest for identity, nonetheless, the loyal hometown hero remains an ever present figure at the Camp Nou. Many wonder what Neymar’s career would’ve looked like if he had stayed at Barca. Maybe he’d be in Roberto’s shoes now. Nonetheless, I think this is how it was supposed to unfold. Two players from opposite ends coming together for that fateful moment, only to diverge again. A moment of union only football could orchestrate. A moment worth the divergence after it, at least in my opinion.