Tag Archives: world cup

Brazil Feels The Heat

brazil-teachers-1

International football is set for a big week.   By next Tuesday evening, 11 more teams will have secured their spot in the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.   Obviously, there will be much rejoicing — or a collective gnashing of teeth, depending on the outcome.   But for FIFA and the home nation, there are obviously bigger concerns surrounding the tournament… namely Brazil’s potential descent into chaos.

Brazilian organizers are facing pressure from both within and outside the nation.  Domestically, the FIFA tournaments have served as flashpoints for wider discontent with the country’s economic direction.  Protests have ebbed and swelled since before the summer’s Confederations Cup tournament, with social activists upset that public funds are being used to fund stadium construction and renovation.  That’s despite government assurances that the funding would come from private sources.  On Monday night, things got worse: violence erupted in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo over wages and government policy.  While the protests weren’t directly related to the World Cup,  they show a disturbing pattern of escalation as the tournament gets closer.

Last week, the activists were handed additional ammunition.  On Wednesday, a judge ordered work to stop at the Arena de Baixada due to poor safety standards on-site.   The ruling couldn’t have come at a worse time for FIFA.  Just a week ago, the Guardian revealed that hundreds of migrant workers are labouring under appalling conditions in Qatar, the site of the 2022 World Cup.

This all comes as Brazil rushes to meet December’s  stadium completion deadline.  On Monday, FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke was in country, inspecting stadium sites and admitting that his visit was a way to put pressure on tournament organizers.  Meanwhile, Brazil are seeking help from the man behind the 2010 World Cup to help them get ready.  South African Football Association President Danny Jordaan has been hired as a special advisor.

That’s all well and good, except that South Africa experienced the same problems meeting deadlines, as well as dealing with poor labour conditions and funding improprieties.  All of the same mistakes appear to have been repeated, which is troubling for a country that is set to host the world twice in two years: they are hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics as well.  Brazil’s woes have swung the spotlight back onto the debate about whether it is responsible to award a major sporting event to developing or economically troubled nations.

The tournament is also causing a headache for Brazilian football itself.  According to this BBC report,  the country’s league system can’t handle the World Cup’s intrusion into its club schedule.   This does not bode well for the European leagues, who will have to try and figure out a way to work around Sepp Blatter’s plan to move 2022 World Cup to the winter, in order to avoid Qatar’s blistering heat.

Speaking of playing in the heat: no one is really talking about possible conditions at some of the Brazilian matches this June.  Technically, this is a “winter tournament” because most of Brazil sits below the equator.  But some cities are within the equatorial zone, meaning they don’t experience winter or summer; it’s more like “wet” or “less wet”.   And while Fortaleza and Recife worked out for the Confederations Cup, venues in Manuas and Cuiabá are untested.  These are cities that sit in the middle of a rainforest and experience average June-July highs of 30.7 to 31.8 degrees Celsius.  Throw in an average humidity of at least 80% during afternoon kick-offs and you might see Northern hemisphere teams experiencing their own climate nightmare.

The window for World Cup ticket requests closes on Friday.  FIFA says it has received 4.5 million requests to attend matches.  But if the stadiums aren’t built, if the nation’s infrastructure can’t transport and house fans, if security can’t keep players and tourists safe, if the country doesn’t want the tournament… then FIFA’s dream of returning the game to O País do Futebol may already be turning into a PR and financial nightmare.

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under Uncategorized, World Cup

Between Messi and immortality, a world of pain

As the undisputed king of football, Leo Messi has already secured his place in the game’s history. La Liga champion? Check. Copa del Rey winner? Check. Champions League winner? Check. European Footballer of the Year? Been there. FIFA World Player of the Year? Done that.

But all the accolades don’t seem to be enough for some pundits to consider Messi to be the greatest of all time. The critics argue Messi isn’t Messi without his Barcelona buddies by his side. Put on the Albicelestes colours and his magic disappears. To be the best, they argue, requires winning the one trophy that has been held above all others – the FIFA World Cup. Win that, Leo, and the debate will be over.

His quest begins again this Saturday, when South America kicks off qualifiers for Brazil 2014. And make no mistake: if Messi is to be a World Cup winner, getting there won’t be easy. The CONMEBOL qualification tournament is regarded as the toughest in the world, agrueling three-year cycle in which every South American team competes in home and home round robin tournament. The top four automatically qualify, with the fifth place team going to a playoff round against an Asian team. There are no easy matches in South American qualifying anymore, no Faroe Islands, Maldives, or St. Lucia’s to beat up on. Every match is war.

Don’t believe me? Check out the semi-finalists from this year’s Copa America: Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. No Argentina, nNo Brazil… and no gimmes. Every game will be tight, physical and challenging. At the end of a South American qualifier, the players look as if they were in a rugby match, not a football match.

For any player, the World Cup is the ultimate prize. To win it as an Argentine in Brazil would be even sweeter. For Lionel Messi to lift the trophy, he will have to go through football hell. That is the high price of immortality.

Hadi Zogheib

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Groan When You’re Winning

One more England miss, and they'll be stuck like that...

I’d like to put forth a very philosophical question that is almost Talmudic in the asking of it:

Is it right to criticize your team when it is winning?

I cheer for England.  I cheer for Canada. I cheer for Liverpool.  All three sides have taken myself and millions of others to the depths of despair… or at least, to the deep end of disappointment.  But all three have been winning lately.  So why am I seriously underwhelmed?

A fading member of England's "Golden Generation"

England pulled out the win on Tuesday and have almost booked their plane tickets to Poland/Ukraine.  But Wales could have beaten the Three Lions, as they played with purpose and aggression and without fear.  This was a different Dragons squad from six months ago, with Gary Speed giving the captain’s armband to 20-year-old Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey.  Speed also had a fit Gareth Bale on the wing… and both players ran the hell out of the English backs all game.  My mate wondered aloud what the Welsh could have done if only Craig Bellamy hadn’t been suspended, and I had to agree.

England got the win but it wasn’t pretty: it was boring.  So I thought perhaps the country of my birth would play more exciting football than its colonial fathers.

How could I have been so naïve?

In fairness to the reader, I missed the first half.  In fairness to me… I missed nothing.  I turned on the match to see a Puerto Rican pitch that was in worse condition than the field at my under-funded elementary school.  Neither team could complete a relay of more than three passes, even if their lives depended on it (which in some nations, it would.  Colombia, I’m looking at you).  Canada went on to win 3-0.  But it still irks me that the Canucks have been forced to play tiny Caribbean nations in World Cup qualifiers while Third World backwaters like Honduras flourish internationally.

On the professional side, Liverpool has emerged from the financial ashes to spend over £100M pounds on fine young talent, most of it British.  Yet only two players — Luis Suarez and Charlie Adam — have been real game changers.  The club has no debt, they have a living legend as their manager, and the team has yet to lose a competitive match in this young season.  They have even won two major trophies in the last six years.  Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe… but a drunk and bitter Jiminy Cricket sits on my shoulder, nagging at me with doubt.

The reason for my skepticism comes down to the words of the great, er, scholar Dr. Phil who espouses this idiom: “The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.”  All three sides have monumentally underwhelmed in the past.  Why should the near-future be any different?

Don Fabio: He no happy...

Volumes have been written about why England’s national side has not won a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup.  Spoiled players.  Too much pressure from the support and media.  Too many club fixtures.  Too many friendlies.  Yesterday, the manager added mental fragility to the list.

Meanwhile, Canada’s problem is that the players are simply not good enough.  Don’t get me wrong: they try.  They try hard.  But when you only have three players on the pitch who belong to top-flight clubs, the writing is on the wall.

DeRo keeps his World Cup dream alive

It blows my mind that Canada is one of the richest nations in the world, yet it is still not competitive in one of the biggest sports in the world.  I don’t buy the “ice hockey is everything” excuse.  Sweden, the Czech Republic, Russia and the US are all hockey powers and have all managed to find ways to build successful national soccer sides.  Sweden and Russia have thrown the “cold weather” excuse out the window as well.  The Canadian Soccer Association has a lot to answer for.

As for Liverpool, the club is only now recovering from two decades of Rip Van Winkle-itis: not paying attention to the New Business of football until it was too late.  The once-mighty club was too loyal to managers and players who did not perform, while failing to keep up with the Manchester Uniteds, Chelseas and Manchester Citehs until now.  Over the last eight months, Liverpool has spent over £100M.  Time will tell if it makes them a contender, or if it has bought more disappointment for their painfully loyal fans.

Perhaps I am being too persnickety, too willing to focus on the negatives in order to ease my mind when I am eventually let down.  But I’d like to think that I am making educated assumptions as I watch these teams play, seeing repeated errors and thinking,”this could be trouble.”

Maybe it’s just to cover my arse so when my team(s) finally lose, I can say, “I told you so.”   In the briefest of instances, I will have slid down the moral gradient from being “right” to just being “self-righteous”.

Because these days… isn’t that what being a football fan is all about?

Brent Lanthier

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CL draw: Spurs get San Siro return

When Tottenham was drawn against Young Boys of Bern in Champions League qualifying back in August, it was a dream draw for the North London’s debutantes, the easiest opponent Spurs could have faced at the final hurdle before the group stages of the competition.

And although they nearly bolloxed things up by falling behind 3-0 in the opening 30 minutes of the first leg, Spurs recovered to sweep past the Swiss side and move on to the tournament proper, where their only slip-up in six matches was a 4-3 defeat to Inter at Milan’s San Siro. A 3-1 triumph in the return leg at White Hart Lane put Tottenham on top of Group A to stay, meaning they’d avoid some of Europe’s heaviest hitters in this morning’s draw for the Round of 16.

This time, there was no dream draw, and Tottenham must go back to their house of first-half horrors to face Inter’s crosstown rivals AC Milan in February. The best scenario this time, if it could be considered as such, was probably FC Copenhagen, the first Danish side to reach the last 16. But even as a group winner, Tottenham still faced the prospect of many problematic opponents. And in the Rossoneri, current Serie A leaders, Tottenham have drawn one of the toughest. Sure, Marseille, Lyon and Valencia wouldn’t have been cakewalks, either, but this promises to be a stern, serious test.

Spurs, who will hope to be healthier in 10 weeks time, will be coming home for the second leg, of course. And our man ’Arry isn’t afraid of the big, bad boys from Northern Italy, saying he’s happy to keep measuring his squad against the best.

Of course, as North London squads go, Tottenham’s draw looks far better than neighbourhood rivals Arsenal, who face the daunting task of a battle with Barcelona, the same team that knocked them out of the tournament last year, and beat the Gooners in the 2006 final. Good luck with that one, lads.

Rather than Spurs, it was West London’s Chelsea who got the great Dane draw against Copenhagen, while Manchester United will meet Marseille. Inter got Bayern Munich in a rematch of last year’s final. Will the embattled Rafa Benitez still be in charge by then?

Meanwhile, the scabby Europa League teams also learned their fate today, with Man. Citeh drawn against Greece’s Aris Salonika, the team that knocked title holders Atletico Madrid out of the tournament. Obi Woy’s Liverpool get Sparta Prague, and Tottenham’s old adversary Young Boys, still alive in this competition, get Zenit St. Petersburg, who were UEFA Cup winners in 2008.

Finally, speaking of Swiss men and young boys, FIFA head of corruption president Sepp Blattter has apologized for his recent remarks urging homosexual fans to refrain from gay sex in Qatar. I give old Joseph a piece of my mind in my weekly Toro Magazine column today.

Ian Harrison

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Filed under Champions League, Premier League, Serie A, World Cup

From Watford to the Whitecaps

Exciting news out of Vancouver, where the Whitecaps have made American defender Jay Demerit their first MLS signing.

Demerit, if you don’t know his incredible story, is the guy who went undrafted by the MLS out of college, went over the England to find a place to team, played with a non-league outfit on Saturdays and in a pub league on Sundays before landing a trial with Watford FC, then scoring the goal that clinched their promotion to the Premier League.

Demerit played in every US game at the World Cup but was out of contract with Watford when Vancouver came calling with a contract offer. He will not be a designated player.

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi euphemistically said DeMerit is the type of “aggressive defender” his nascent squad needs to compete. That strategy might have worked well in Toronto, where it took far too long to come up with the capable pairing of Nana Attakora and Adrian Cann (although naming Cann team MVP over Dwayne DeRosario is still indefensible).

Ian Harrison

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It’s grim up north

sam allardyce

Sam Allardyce recently claimed he could coach the likes of Inter Milan and Real Madrid successfully, and that in essence the jobs there are much easier than his present one at Blackburn Rovers. He even went as far to declare himself the perfect candidate as the next England boss. Well Sam, you’ve got one thing right, you’re perfect for England. That’s because they’re woeful.

Week in, week out, we football fans are subjected to the brute force and “get up ‘em” attitude that certain clubs in the North of England hand out to free-flowing teams. You know what I mean here; think Arsenal’s troubles almost every time they play Bolton and Blackburn.

And herein lies the problem. The Northwest is typical of what the game once was. Brash, unashamed, fiercely proud, and accepting only of the highest commitment. Teams such as Leeds in the 70’s would kick if it moved, or kick until it did. The strategy worked for decades.

But then came the 1990’s and the influx of foreigners and their attractive new style of play. They were quicker, smarter and an awful lot more talented.

The likes of Allardyce are perfect for England. Let’s face it, England were awful at the World Cup because they clung to the belief that if you try hard enough, you will always succeed. Sorry kids, but here’s a sobering lesson. Talent always prevails. No matter how hard you try, if you’re not good enough you’ll lore far more often than you win.

Teams such as Bolton and Blackburn (them again) have supporters who fall in line with the English mentality of football. I’ve been to games at Ewood Park and heard them chant “Get into them!” In short they mean, “Yes, we might not win, but at least we can give them a damn good hiding.” Well I’m sorry, but that really only applies to war.

So while Chelsea prevail with foreigners in the Premier League, and the Spanish win the World Cup by not retaliating to Dutch brutality, the likes of Rovers and England will never grasp what it means to win with satisfaction.

Aaron Ramsey injury

It’s no coincidence that all of Arsenal’s major injuries in recent years have occurred north of the Watford Gap: Eduardo (Birmingham), Diaby (Sunderland) and Ramsey (Stoke). It happens because of the continued aggression faced and, dare I say it, the violence dished out. Every one one of those injuries was avoidable. Sadly, each guilty culprit was an Englishman.

So while Allardyce may think he’s a great candidate for any top-flight job, the footballing elite will just smirk and overlook him. He’s stuck in a time warp. Go back to the 1970’s Sam, and take your boxing gloves with you.

Sam Saunders

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Growing middle class on deadline day

Let’s be honest. Who really thought Sunderland, Stoke and Birmingham would be the clubs making the biggest splashes on the final day of the summer transfer window? Sure, England’s biggest teams had taken care of most of their business already. But it was still a surprise, as the final hours ticked away, to see a club-record 13 million pounds splashed out to bring Ghanian World Cup star Asamoah Gyan to Wearside from French club Rennes. Who knew the Black Cats even had that kind of cash? You’ve sure got to turn over a lot of couch cushions to come up with that kind of loose change.

Only slightly less surprising was the triple swoop made by Birmingham, who landed former Arsenal midfielder Alexander Hleb on a season-long loan from Barcelona, defender Martin Jiranek on a one-year deal from Spartak Moscow and Chilean winger Jean Beausejour from Club America in the Mexican League.

The Potters, meanwhile, added four players to a team yet to record its first league points of the season, with Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen joining on a season-long loan from Monaco and former Arsenal, Birmingham and Liverpool man Jermaine Pennant coming over on loan from Spain’s Real Zaragoza until January.

The combined effect is a serious thickening of quality for some of the Prem’s mid-table teams. There aren’t many easy weeks in the EPL, even for those at the top, and those teams should all be strengthened by their deadline day dealings. The moves also make life harder for the unlucky few clubs left scraping to stay in the top flight.

Tottenham, as usual, left it late, leaving fans to play the ‘vaiting game’ over the status of Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, whose cut-price, 8-million pound move from Real Madrid reportedly requires Premier League approval, given that Arry and co. didn’t even start  on things until two hours remained in the transfer window. Yids will be hoping the deal gets done, if only so that Sylvie van der Vaart, his lovely missus, can brighten up the scene down the Lane.

As they prepare for a debut season of Champions League football, with Inter Milan looming large in Group A, Spurs decided not to parcel anyone out of North London, holding on to Robbie Keane and Jermaine Jenas, and bolstered their goalkeeping corps by finalizing the long-awaited arrival of Croatian Stipe Pletikosa on a season-long loan from Spartak Moscow. Things didn’t pan out yet for Tottenham’s other trialist, South African defender Bongani Khumalo, but he may still join in January.

Elsewhere, Man. City said so long to Brazilian bust Robinho, who set sail for AC Milan, Everton’s Joseph Yobo was loaned out to Turkey’s Fenerbahce, Liverpool finalized the signing of Paul Konchesky from Fulham (so much for Uncle Woy’s pledge not to plunder the Londoners) while letting Emiliano Insua leave for Galatasaray.

So, no more moves until the New Year, and we now await the naming of 25-man rosters for the next four months on Wednesday. Could be some difficult decisions to make at some clubs. Stay tuned.

Ian Harrison

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Filed under Champions League, English Football, Premier League