Tuesday, July 06, 2010



by Wayne Robins

Those who think soccer is just a game and a line here last week about the French team facing execution just a joke should read some of the stories hitting the wires today, aggregated by ESPN. France has a new national team coach, Laurent Blanc, who said he was "outraged" by the team's behavior—mutiny, dismissals, missed practices, selfish and horrible play—that led to its early exit from the World Cup in South Africa. The pressure on him, Blanc acknowledged, is enormous: "I get the impression I'm heading toward suicide, or the guillotine," Blanc said. "I hope this climate will change with results."

After once-mighty Argentina's total 4-0 destruction by Germany on Sunday, the country's great soccer legend and team coach Diego Maradona looked stricken; one photo showed that he appeared to need help leaving the field. And the defeat was considered so humiliating that Argentine police, according to the Associated Press, went on "high alert" as the team returned home. A two-mile security perimeter around Buenos Aires airport was created, presumably to keep angry fans from attacking the team.

But Argentina and its football fans deserve congratulations for showing responsibility, respect, and maturity in accepting the defeat. The thousands of fans who greeted the team at their headquarters were mostly positive, and both players and fans indicated they wanted Maradona to return as coach. True, Maradona was outcoached July 4 by Joachim Low: Germany had a defense strategy, Argentina had none. Maradona has the prestige and sensitivity to learn from the experience, if he can handle the brutal pressure. (While many American football head coaches call their team's offensive plays, they hire assistants known as "defensive coordinators"—defense is too essential not to be delegated.)

After watching so many games, it seems that national soccer team coach is probably one of the most stressful jobs in the world: Dunga, Brazil's flamboyant coach, has also been fired for his team's underachievement. As we get ready for the final four: Uruguay-Netherlands later Tuesday, Germany-Spain on Wednesday, none of those coaches should be on the hot seat. To have gotten this far is a triumph for all—Ghana, though eliminated, are the heroes of Africa—and the largely peaceful acceptance of the tournament results so far a triumph for soccer. Of course, the fate of the North Korean players and coaches has not been made public.

Though I'm very fond of the Netherlands, I'm hoping for a Uruguay win Tuesday, and a German win against Spain, and a German win in the final. "Impossible Germany," as Wilco put it in one of their most enchanting songs? We'll have to wait and see.

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