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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Up the Cup

I'll admit it, I know nothing about soccer. It's like basketball, but with 95 percent less scoring. It's like football only in the sense that you use your feet. Fans get injured or even killed at games despite the fact that Ron Artest isn't there.

They run around a lot. They hit the ball with their heads.

Now the World Cup tournament is about to begin, and once again, I'm wondering if I can understand it; if so, I'll try to get into it.

My buddy Steve Stark (of Beatle book fame) has, along with his son Harry, penned a short series of essays on the games, and they're up for sale dirt cheap as electronic downloads on Amazon. For 49 cents you can read their intro.

Steve lived in England for three years in connection with his Beatles project, and that's where he caught the world soccer bug. It will be interesting to see if he and Harry can break down my immunity.

Comments (31)

For more immunity-breaking, I suggest the June issue of National Geographic. The cover reads "Why the World Loves Soccer". Inside, the title is "the beautiful game: why soccer rules the world." Even the map is on the sport.

One of my favorite recent books on the beautiful game is "How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization"

There are some great Portland (Soccer City, USA) blogs dedicated to the beautiful game. Try:


...and where I spend way too much time:


I once read a really good suggestion:

Think of the whole thing like the NCAA tournament. Teams have personalities. Think of Brazil like the U of Houston of the early 80s...fun to watch, incredibly talented, a bit of a shock if they go down to an NC State equivalent. Germany=Duke. Personality-less. Only loved by their own. England would be like Carolina in recent years...trying to put some recent embarrassments behind them. The smaller countries in Europe and South America are like the middle-tier teams of the SEC, Big XII and Pac X (as in, who gives a rip). Asia, Africa, and North America/Caribbean are all Cinderellas from smaller conferences--a bunch of Bucknells--except maybe South Korea (call them Penn, I guess), the USA (Gonzaga) and Mexico (Louisville).

Anyhow, I filled out my bracket today. It's on my blog. I've got Portugal over the Netherlands in the final.

Two teams that always choke in the final? No way.

I never claimed to know my stuff. But I do think Portugal's recent performances indicates they've turned it around.

They're a good team, but the definition of a manic-depressive European squad that will come unglued for one reason or another.

Team USA is up against a tough group—three teams could end up effectively tied for the two spots in the next round, easily. Or the USA could play well and still lose two of three. We shall see.

My pick is England. Anyone know the odds?

Even before Wayne Rooney broke his foot, England was not expected to get very far. Let's hope the youngster doesn't rush back too soon and destroy his future. Take Brazil.

Sven has said England will win....Will Rooney play? We'll see...


Unless you've played soccer or lived in a soccer country, even limited like Mr. Stark, I just don't really see much hope for you of getting it. As you know, i have some experience within the sports news reporting world, mainly through my father. And, I believe Dwight Jaynes is a perfect example of not getting it. I've quit being pissed at him because I don't think he is capable of getting it. Soccer, like other Euro or non-American-centric sports like cycling, seem to elude those that are of a certain age or certain cultural upbringing. If you have lived in a soccer-mad place, the sympathy seeps into you whether you like it or not. If you have only played it, you can empathetically understand the game and appreciate it. A good analogy is to think about folks who hate baseball. But unfortunately, most american sports media is controlled by and mediated by folks who did not play soccer (but did play or grow up around baseball) and have never experienced what soccer means in the rest of the world. If that is the media you have been fed your whole life, what chance do you think you would have of understanding soccer now?

For me, my appreciation came from playing the game when I was in high school. I sucked at it but loved the game. My first world cup experience was watching it on the spanish station in 1982 when my family first got cable. Due to my cultural heritage, I rooted hard for Deutschland and enjoyed their victory. In the 1990s, the US finally became a legitimate competitor, if not contender, which only increased my enjoyment.

Oh well, I hope the best but do not expect anything. It is just reality.

Oh, and how can anyone bet against Brazil??? Portugal? Give me a break.


When the World Cup is in Europe, a European team wins. 100% of the time. You can look it up.

When it's in the Western Hemisphere, a Western Hemisphere team wins. 100% of the time.

That's why I have Brazil going down this year. I like the home-hemisphere advantage.

In fact, you SHOULD look it up, because you'll find I'm wrong. Brazil won in Sweden in 1958. I retract my bold statement from before.

Like I said, lack of knowledge did not prevent me from making picks...every group, every game.

What about Brazil in Sweden in '58?

Plus, far more South Americans have been playing professionally in Europe than ever before, and so Brazil or Argentina could do it this year.

(Hat tip: the Starks. It's a good read.)

Of course, in football, no one uses their feet - except the kickers, who are the only ones authorized to do so.

(Excepting, of course, for the dropkick play - unused for 55 years until last year, when Doug Flutie successfully executed one. It appears that it will turn out to be his last play in the NFL.)

The thing for neophyte World Cup watchers to remember is that, just like in the NBA or any other sport, some games are likely to suck. (In fact, the tournament opener, Germany/Costa Rica, may suck.) Other games will be great. So you have to kind of steep yourself in it to appreciate it.

You know what was really great locally in soccer? Going to see Pele play at Civic Stadium.

The only thing about using an NCAA tournament (or any American sports teams) for comparison is that it doesn't begin to capture the depth of meaning World Cup has for most countries. So much national pride is at stake, businesses shut down on their country's match days, old colonial wounds are reopened or vindicated. There's just nothing to compare in American sports. (The book Eric Berg mentions really gets at the social and political underpinnings of the game in much of the world.)

That passion is what makes this a great time for a neophyte to fall in love with soccer, though.

Jack, I must say I didn't get the whole soccer thing either...when I was growing up it was football and basketball that were big on the rez. It wasn't until I lived in England in the mid 80s did I understand the passion of the fans...especially after attending a Manchester United game...standing on the sidelines...eating fish and chips wrapped in newspaper...and a big pint of bitter in your hand. You become very adept at hanging on to your grub while dodging and weaving amongst the fans. The excitement alone is worth attending a big game.

Nick Hornby's soccer memoir Fever Pitch is pretty contagious...

When soccer was a fledgling (club) sport, like rugby remains, I embraced the sport as a player. The skills were all new, and dovetailed nicely with my football and wrestling training. I preferred soccer as a team sport and for it's pure athleticism. No gear. No timeouts. No stopping for injury. Incredible non-stop action. Only wrestling was more physically taxing. That said, watching teams I have no familiarity with, play the human chess match, for me rates up there with bowling, golf, and baseball (on tv only). Now I know my disinterest has nothing to do with learning an unfamiliar sport. I loved watching Aussie Rules football and knew nothing about it. So why my disinterest?
It seems from the comments, to appreciate the worlds most anticipated sporting event, it is important to develop team loyalty. Geopolitical dynamics also seems to factor in as well. Ok, I will try again to become a fan. Any suggestions on a team considered a long-shot from a small developing nation? I like rooting for underdogs.

Bill Mc, my parents were at that game. I have pictures of Pele playing, though they're small - it was years before my dad invested in a zoom lense.

Though I grew up in the States, I used to go to the old Timbers games when I was a kid, and I started playing soccer at a young age, not baseball. I'm so grateful for that sports upbringing - there's nothing as exciting as the World Cup. I couldn't care less who wins the "World" Series, but watching World Cup games at 4am with like-minded fans - there's nothing like it!

Brazil also won in Japan last time around, another Eastern Hemisphere country.

Check out the Starks' book. When the Cup is played in Europe, a European team (almost) always wins. When the Cup is played outside of Europe, a South American team always wins.

With all due respect to the late, great Willie Stargell, Pele was Civic Stadium's finest hour. The event was the 1977 NASL Soccer Bowl Championship game between the Seattle Sounders and the mighty Cosmos. Additional seating was brought in that came right up to the edge of the pitch. Civic Stadium never looked better.
New York won, but it hardly mattered, for filling the entire place with a charisma and presence rarely seen in sports, the great Pele prowled the field, electrifying the crowd with every touch. Legends don't have to do anything to be awesome. Sometimes just seeing the name on the jersey is enough. I felt this way as a youngster watching Willie Mays come off the bench and strike out in his last days of playing baseball. Yet, just when it was clear why Pele was nearing retirement, he reached back to his youth in Brazil, and delivered a burst of superstar dribbling and moves that dazzled the crowd.
Let's not forget that there once was a time when you could rev up at the Bullpen Tavern, then cross the street to Portland's Civic Stadium, and see the best-known athletes on the planet.
The names read like a Hall of Fame of Soccer: Franz Beckenbuer, the brilliant German sweeper. Giorgio Chinaglia, the ultimate Italian stud at striker. George Best, the most famous player from England. Johann Cruyff, star of the awesome Dutch team known as Clockwork Orange. And from Brazil, topping the list, the man known around the world by one name: Pele.

Yet, just when it was clear why Pele was nearing retirement, he reached back to his youth in Brazil, and delivered a burst of superstar dribbling and moves that dazzled the crowd.

Those are great moments.


Try Trinidad and Tobago. They're the smallest nation to qualify for the finals in the history of the World Cup.

Beyond that, if you want underdogs, just root for any African team or any Asian team save South Korea.

"Try Trinidad and Tobago. They're the smallest nation to qualify for the finals in the history of the World Cup."

And former Portland Timber Brent Sancho is on the provisional T&T WC roster.

Props to teacherrefpoet for making such bold and thorough predictions. He rates many, many teams lower than he ought - notably Paraguay and Serbia & Montenegro - but I love the balls on the calls.

I made predictions of my own, much less thorough mind you, but predictions all the same. But the key useful thing I can pass on are links to predictions and team profiles written by folks at the BBC and ESPN; when I started the particular project, there was also some stuff from Sports Illustrated, but their site is larded with download-throttling ads.

Where was I? Ah yes....

Go here for a full team-by-team listing and previews; this is almost exclusively the work of pros and should give you a solid footing for viewing.

A couple days later, ESPN produced something called the "Tactical Board." I linked to all of these, dubbing them "the best, or at least most digestible, group-by-group listing yet." I stand by that. I threw in my two pennies on each group as well.

Oh, and T & T is an admirable, but delusion long-shot call. Try Ukraine. They're World Cup debutantes and have the players to spring some surprises.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE soccer! My dad coached a college team when I was two, which I vaguely remember because I ran out on the field during a game and got hit in the head with a crossed ball in front of the goal. I played since that time when I had my first "header." I grew up in Tigard and played in the first year the soccer little league began. Dad coached the first Tigard High Men's team. I watched him over the years coach various high school teams, men and women, to state championships. We had season tickets to the Original Timbers. I met Pele twice. Glenn Myernick, the assistant coach to Bruce Arena on the World Cup team was my high school coach.

And, I had a dream two nights ago that the US beat the Czech republic 2-1...no kidding. I love it so much I'm dreaming of the games.

PS: Portugal and Netherlands are not advancing past the 8.

i love soccer, but in costa rica we have a lot of faith in our team, but if you want a little bit more of info about this subject accsess www.costaricaguides.com

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