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Death Cup 2022.

“The migrants are squeezed seven to a room, sleeping on thin, dirty mattresses on the floor and on bunk beds, in breach of Qatar’s own labour standards. They live in constant fear of imprisonment because they have been left without paperwork after the contractor on the project, Lee Trading and Contracting, collapsed. They say they are now being exploited on wages as low as 50p an hour.”

As preparations for World Cup 2022 threaten to amass a higher body count than 9/11, The Guardian uncovers ever more examples of criminal worker abuse happening in Qatar. “In 2012 and 2013, 70 labourers from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka died from falls or strikes by objects, 144 died in traffic accidents and 56 killed themselves, the government’s own figures show. Dozens more young migrant workers die mysteriously in their sleep from suspected heart attacks every summer.” Maybe let’s move it, eh? (Poster above via here.)

The Beautiful Game.

And so it ends. After a US loss to Belgium that included a meme-making defense by Tim Howard, and a complete 7-1 evisceration of the host nation by the eventual winners in the Semis, Germany wins the World Cup 1-0 over Argentina, on a beautiful strike by Mario Gotze in extra time. “At some point we’ll stop celebrating, but we’ll still wake up with a smile.”

All in all, a really entertaining World Cup. And perhaps it’s because I reside in DC and spend time on Twitter, two of the most futbol-happy environments around stateside, but this felt like the year soccer might have finally broken through in America for real. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, I should do a better job of supporting the MLS. Valar Futbolis!

Valar Futbolis.


I believe.

I believe that.

I believe that we.

I believe that we will get what turns out to be an entirely acceptable result in our third group-stage game that, combined with the result between the other two teams, puts us through into the knockout round!”

As USA reaches the second round the hard way, MLS Soccer’s Matthew Doyle offers his tactical insights on the US-Germany match. “Whether it was Klinsmann’s own decisions, or his willingness to listen to others, I don’t really care. What matters is that he made the right moves to get us out of the group. I’m tipping my cap as I type this.”

Next up for we Americans, wily, athletic Belgium, who I feel bad rooting against, having lived there back in the day. Still, to mix my fantasy metaphors, there can be only one — on to Round 2.

Over Ghana At Last. | Late Tie with Portugal

“There was a lot of shade being thrown at DaMarcus Beasley on Twitter, as if it was his fault that the Ghanaians kept bombing down his flank in 2-v-1s and whipping in crosses. You see the math, right? When it’s 2-v-1 on the flank, the best thing you can do as a fullback is coax the opposition into hopeful benders, which is exactly what Beasley did…The US can deal with crosses all day, but you don’t want Geoff Cameron, Besler –- most likely John Brooks now –- or especially Omar Gonzalez having to come out and meet attackers wide.”

As the US defeats Ghana 2-1 in their World Cup opener, garnering three critical points in this year’s Group of Death and revenge against the team that knocked us out in 2006 and 2010, MLS Soccer’s Matthew Doyle explains how the US’s risky rope-a-dope strategy worked. (Apparently, hardly ever controlling the ball was our master plan.) “The US invited Ghana forward, and wanted them to play thoughtlessly. Jermaine Jones pushed up the left real high to hunt the ball, and it worked.”

Of course, we also lost critical striker Jozy Altidore, who only broke out of a shooting slump against Nigeria, and whose speed, if nothing else, is needed to stretch the field. Without him, as this article points out, we’re going to have to bunker. And unless we start playing better (looking at you, Michael Bradley), Portugal and especially Germany are going to eviscerate us.

By the way, you’ve probably already figured this out by now, but Univision is streaming all of the games online for free. Accelerate the work day, work on your Spanish, and watch some very exciting futbol so far, all in one fell swoop.

Update “In their last four games – two friendlies and now the two group stage games – the US have conceded four goals after the 80th minute…They are sloppy in possession down the stretch, and even worse in closing down running lanes. All the precision you saw from this team through the first 80 minutes disappeared over the final 10.”

So Bradley did play better in Game 2’s almost-upset of Portugalfor 94 minutes. Sigh…well, we still have four points — hopefully the high-powered Germans will agree to a gentlemanly draw on Thursday.

Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang.

“‘I kind of had in my stomach that we were going to get Germany,’ U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. ‘Obviously it’s one of the most difficult groups in the whole draw, having Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo and then Ghana, who has a history with the United States. It couldn’t get any more difficult or any bigger.'”

The World Cup 2014 groups are announced, and — alongside Germany, Ghana, and Portugal in Group G — the US look to have a tough go of it. The silver lining: “There is actually some evidence that if the group of death doesn’t kill you, it can ultimately make you stronger.”

Tricksters on the Borderlands, on the Throne.

A few days ago I was watching Touch of Evil, Orson Welles’ fevered monument to America’s fear of and fascination with the Border, which opens with that famous three-minute tracking shot…It hit me (weirdly, I guess, but I spent way too much time thinking about sports) that this shot contained everything you needed to know about the U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry.

In Grantland, Brian Phillips looks to the border for insights into the US and Mexico soccer teams. To be honest, I’m not really sold on ESPN’s Grantland experiment just yet. Too much of the site exudes the terrible taste and fratgeek sexism of its editor-in-chief, “Sportsguy” Bill Simmons. Frequent contributor Chuck Klosterman is another red flag to me, for the same reasons. Both consider themselves pop culture arbiters and both are compulsively readable but – Simmons on the NBA notwithstanding — they’re also usually irritating and often wrong.

Still, Grantland does publish worthwhile culture pieces now and again — Hua Hsu on Watch the Throne today is another good one. And, speaking of good Watch the Throne commentary, Matt at Fluxblog has a particularly keen observation on it: “Kanye can’t help but project his intense insecurities – he’s emotionally transparent at all times, and it’s part of what makes him such a fascinating and magnetic pop star. Jay-Z, however, is the radical opposite – his every word and movement is focused on controlling your impression of him…In this way, Kanye is analogous to the Marvel Comics model of whiny, introspective, persecuted superheroes [Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk] and Jay-Z is more like DC Comics’ Superman and Batman, who thrive when creators trade on their stoic, iconic qualities.

This Field’s On Fire.

“‘On behalf of millions of people living in the Middle East, thank you,’ Qatar bid chair Sheikh Mohammad bin Hamad Al-Thani said. ‘Thank you for believing in us, thank you for having such bold vision…Thank you also for acknowledging this is the right time for the Middle East. We have a date with history which is summer 2022.’

Um….ok. FIFA picks the next two World Cup hosts after Rio: Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022. (Pro-tip: Remember to apply for a booze permit for the latter.) “Qatar, which has never even qualified for a World Cup, used its 30-minute presentation to underline how the tournament could unify a region ravaged by conflict.” Y’know, perhaps they’ll both make for great Cups. But if FIFA was trying to get out from under the recent bribery allegations, I don’t think I would’ve chosen these two particular nations.

El Siglo de Oro.

Congrats to Spain on winning the World Cup 1-0 yesterday (and to Pulpo Paul for going eight-for-eight this Cup, the most impressive run by a psychic cephalopod since the twelfth chapter of Watchmen.) I was rooting for the Netherlands going in to yesterday’s game, but after a chippy game from the Dutch, Spain probably deserved it. On to 2014!

Wait ’till 2014.

As everyone already knows, the US bowed out of the World Cup over the weekend — in front of a record American television audience — by losing to Ghana 2-1, the same team that knocked them out in 2006. While I haven’t been posting much on the Cup (or on anything over the past fortnight), I have been watching what I can, and the US looked shaky from the start. Argentina notwithstanding, that Phoenix Suns style of futbol — great on O, very little D to speak of — doesn’t usually work too well at the World Cup level.

Speaking of that record television audience (which has been a pattern of late), the Cup has also been occasion for the usual litany of “Why Soccer Will Soon/Won’t Ever Work in the US” stories in the press. See, for example, Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi bashing on soccer and its fans in his usual fast-and-loose “it goes to 11” -style. (On this and all other issues: less heat and more light, please.)

I dunno. At this point, I feel like I’ve heard variations on this soccer-on-the-cusp argument my entire life. Frankly, it’s gotten to the point where I don’t much care anymore. Does it really matter if the US as a nation fully embraces futbol or not? I enjoy soccer, and so do most people whose company I enjoy. That’s good enough. If you don’t like the game, well, that’s ok too.

United States of Shank.

So how is it that a country as wealthy as the U.S. couldn’t manage to qualify once for those nine World Cups? You start with a sport that for years struggled to escape its ethnic roots and rise above semi-professional status. Then you add governing bodies, the U.S. Soccer Federation and its predecessors, which were constantly flirting with bankruptcy. Put that up against a relatively high-powered program such as Mexico’s, and you had the perfect recipe for World Cup qualifying futility, even in a region as historically weak as CONCACAF.

As World Cup 2010 fever heats up, ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle offers the institutional argument for USA’s forty-year Cup appearance drought. “Pioneering isn’t always fun, but it needs to be done, and there’s still pioneering work to do,” said Gansler.” As far as 2010 goes: Even with an easy group, I suspect it’ll be hard to pioneer any farther past our quarterfinal showing in 2002 this year, given the current porousness of our defense

Sliding Kicks, Sliding Doors.

I thought Amores Perros and Babel were meh and 21 Grams was laugh-out-loud terrible. But now I too have a favorite Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu film: “Write the Future, this really great World Cup 2010 ad, featuring, among others, Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Fabio Cannavaro, Franck Ribery, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Patrice Evra, Gerard Pique, Ronaldinho, Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Thiago Silva. Yes, y’all, the world’s greatest sporting event is right around the corner

Tant Pis, Henri.

“Although this is not yet confirmed, FIFA is expected to use a tried and tested formula for its finals draw for South Africa 2010. The system couples FIFA rankings with performances in the past two finals tournaments to create a group of eight seeds that also includes the hosts.”

With fans of Ireland still smarting after Thierry Henry’s egregious “Main de Dieu” handball last month, ESPN reviews the crop of futbol teams facing off in World Cup 2010. Here’s hoping the unseeded France ends up in this year’s Group of Death…and USA doesn’t!


All’s fair in (bromantic) love, war, and English football in Tom Hooper’s (and Peter Morgan’s) peppy and entertaining The Damned United, a character study of fast-talking seventies soccer manager Brian Clough. (Apparently, his legendary yapping even once drew the ire of Muhammad Ali.) Like writer Peter Morgan’s earlier films — The Queen and Frost/Nixon, both also featuring Michael Sheen — The Damned United chronicles the fascinating back-story of a famous (at least in the Isles) television interview: In this case, the awkward 1974 meet-up between Clough and the man he despised and replaced, Don Revie.

Now, I would consider myself a casual soccer fan, but, going in, I had no sense at all of this tale. As a 5-6 year-old in England a few years after these events, I liked Kevin Keegan and Liverpool, mainly, I think, ’cause he was a superstar who had my name. And, when I heard this movie was called The Damned United, I originally presumed it referred to current Yankees-like powerhouse Manchester United, not Leeds, who, it turns out, was the premier squad of the early seventies. (To be honest, when I hear the word “Leeds,” I usually tend to think “they’ve got us working in shifts!”)

All of which is to say that you don’t need to know the history here, or even be all that interested in soccer, I don’t think, to get a kick out of The Damned United. (In fact, there probably should have been more football in this film — there’s really not much coverage of the actual games throughout.) Rather, like Morgan’s earlier movies, this is less a sports movie (if anything, it’s the anti-Hoosiers) than another tale of clashing personalities. And, like Morgan’s last two flicks, Michael Sheen delivers with another engrossing bit of mimicry. His Brian Clough carries some of the flash and dazzle of David Frost, but Sheen has also taken on some definite Nixonian qualities here: Tricky Dick was an American football fan, true, but Brian Clough here possesses the same chip-on-the-shoulder drive to avenge minor slights; the same blue-collar work ethic, and the same Orthogonian loathing of (Kennedy/soccer) elites.

That would make the Kennedy of this story Don Revie (Colm Meaney), the winning manager of the Leeds dynasty, much-beloved by his city and his players, who moves to shape up the dismal English team when national duty calls in 1974. Surprisingly, Clough — a bit of a dark horse candidate — is announced as Revie’s replacement…and promptly starts pissing his new bosses and players off by demeaning the Leeds legacy on the telly. (Like Nixon vis-a-vis Kennedy, Clough is convinced, probably correctly, that Revie and his team “won dirty.”) Basically, Clough is a smarmy self-satisfied egotist from his first day in the gig, and one starts to wonder why he was ever considered for this position — It’s abundantly clear that the Leeds players, captained by Stephen Graham of Snatch and Public Enemies, consider him a first-rate wanker.

Flash-back to 1968, when Clough and his right-hand man Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) are coaching the lowly Derby County F.C, and the Chairman of their Club (Jim Broadbent) seems perfectly content with bottom-feeding in the second division. (In English soccer, the major and minor leagues are fungible — the worst teams in the “first division” go down to the “second division;” the best teams move up. It’s a kind of awesome idea that American sports should adopt immediately — The Knicks would kill in the NBADL.) But, after a chance draw — you wouldn’t call it a friendly — against the mighty Leeds United, and a perceived snub at the match, Clough becomes a man possessed. He will bring Don Revie and his squad of thugs back down to Earth…or at least drive everyone around him crazy in the trying.

The rest of the story plays out like Godfather II, basically, with Clough’s rise with Derby told against his fall with Leeds, culminating (like The Queen and F/N) in the televised Clough/Revie mano-a-mano. As with those earlier movies, there’s not a lot of suspense throughout, but it’s all in the telling. (And good job by Tom Hooper in so well evoking the northern England of 1968-74. This entire movie has the gritty, working-class seventies feel of any number of wry and excellent Kinks songs.) A strange subplot involving the long-term bromance between Clough and Taylor, his talented #2, felt overwrought and belabored to me, particularly in the closing moments. But otherwise, The Damned United is another solid and entertaining outing by the Peter Morgan-Michael Sheen team. Steady on, lads, steady on.

Close, But…

Sigh…From a 2-0 lead at halftime, the US falls to Brazil 3-2 in the Confederations Cup final. (And it really should’ve been 4-2 — The refs missed a Brazil goal in the 62nd minute.) Well, we had a good run, and we’ll always have the Spain win…onto 2010.

“A Miracle on Grass.”

“The stunning 2-0 victory by the United States over Spain — the best team in the world — is probably the greatest victory by the men’s national soccer team. And when you think of it, the victory Wednesday is probably the second-biggest upset by an American team, behind only the 1980 Miracle on Ice by the hockey team over the Soviet Union in the Olympics.” The NYT’s George Vecsey sings the praises of the surprising 2-0 US win over #1-ranked Spain yesterday in the Confederations Cup.

I happened to catch the entire game and, while Spain looked like the dominant team for most of the match (particularly the top of the second half, when they unleashed a barrage of quality shots on goal), USA definitely capitalized on their limited offensive opportunities — I thought goal No. 2, above, was particularly pretty.

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