Saturday, July 10, 2010


Wayne's World Cup: Consolation or Death Match?

by Wayne Robins

I wasn't sure I saw the point of a World Cup match between the semifinals losers: Saturday's contest between Uruguay and Germany. Who would be motivated to play? Wouldn't the sting of vying for third place in the tournament be just more disappointment for the players?

Perhaps I was wrong. The BBC website has an interesting
article today about Uruguay's intense desire to win: To uphold the pride of South America. To remind the world that this nation of about 3.5 million, (and winners of the very first World Cup in 1930 and again in 1950) belongs once again in elite soccer nations on the planet.

World Cup soccer is attractive not just because of the four year gap between competition, but because it represents so much more than sport. It is about history, politics, social and class conflict, colonialism, imperialism and independence, played by a species (that would be us) whose dominant sport has been war. The clichés (including my own) that accompanied coverage of England vs. Germany were as inevitable as they were irresistible. In a later round, when Germany played Argentina, I pondered the notion that had the game been played 50 years earlier, half the stadium would have been occupied by Mossad agents tracking Nazi war criminals who had escaped judgment at Nuremberg. Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the "final solution" He was
in Buenos Aires, where he had been living under the name Ricardo Klement, in 1960.

In Don DeLillo's 1972 novel "End Zone," which deals in the overlapping jargon between [American] football and nuclear extermination, a professor named Alan Zapalac says: "I reject the notion of football as warfare. Warfare is warfare. We don't need substitutes because we've got the real thing."

World Cup soccer is the real thing, too. According to the BBC, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez has warned Germany that his team will "fight to the death" Saturday. For third place.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010


WAYNE'S WORLD CUP: Holland Closer To Its "Goooool!"

by Wayne Robins

The semifinal World Cup match between the Netherlands and Uruguay was so interesting that I watched the first 20 minutes for a second time tonight in Spanish on Telefutura's WFUT, channel 68 in New York, which has been repeating key games of the day. (The Spanish network Univision carries the games live, simultaneously with ESPN and, on weekends, ABC.) Actually, I watched because I knew in the 17th minute Giovanni Van Bronckhorst would score an extraordinary goal, a long left foot strike that bounced off the post and in. "An absolute firecracker," ESPN announcer Ian Darke aptly called it. But I wanted to hear the great Argentine-born soccer announcer Andres Cantor call his now famous "gooooooooool!," stretching the single syllable word for about 15 seconds, one more time. (You can hear it often as your cellphone rings: Cantor's trademark call is available online as a ringtone.)

Ian Darke was in fine fettle as always. Both he and American sidekick John Harkes (a former U.S. team captain) took the Dutch to task for their sometimes lame "histrionics and amateur dramatics" in trying to induce the referee to call a foul on their opponents. The comment was piercing, because Holland is otherwise one of the class acts of world soccer, and certainly earned its place in the final, having run Brazil out of the tournament and finally beating the brave and resourceful Uruguay 3-2.

I don't know if a player on a team that loses in the semifinals can be World Cup MVP, but Uruguay's charismatic Diego Forlan, who evened the score in the 40th minute with his fourth goal of the tournament, certainly deserves consideration. Forlan was taken out in the 85th minute, his thigh hurting, with Uruguay trailing 3-1. A Uruguay goal in extra time made it 3-2, and the South Americans mounted a desperate attack only to be finally turned back.

So the domino theory, so discredited as the political and military concept behind the futile United States war effort in Southeast Asia in the 1960s, seemed to be accurate in this World Cup. All the South American dominos with the potential to dominate have fallen: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay. The Netherlands will play either Spain or Germany on Sunday for the championship. In the saddest contest in all of sports, 90 agonizing minutes of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," the loser of Spain vs. Germany plays Uruguay in the third place game Saturday afternoon.

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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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