Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1994 World Cup, Al Jazeera, Argentina, baseball, basketball, Blatter criticizes MLS, Brazil, Commissioner Don Garber, English Premier League, FIFA, FIFA President Sepp Blatter, Genoa, German Bundesliga, gridiron football, Italian Serie A, Italy, Jamaica, Kingston, Major League Soccer, MLB, National Hockey League, NBA, New York Times, NFL, Spain, Spain's La Liga
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber was struggling to remain diplomatic in the wake of recent comments by FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who criticized MLS for its lack of progress.
Blatter told Al Jazeera television, in an interview broadcast December 28, that “there is no very strong professional league” in the U.S. ”They just have the MLS. But they have no professional leagues which are recognized by the American society.”
He added that MLS was “still struggling” to lift soccer to the level of gridiron football, baseball and basketball in America. ”We had the World Cup in 1994,” Blatter said. ”But we are now in 2012–it’s been 18 years. It should’ve been done now.”
Countered Garber in an interview with the New York Times: ”We still have a lot of work to do–we understand and accept that. But arguably there’s probably not another sports league in the world that has achieved as much as we have in the last 20 years. [January 2]
Comment: Blatter’s latest blatherings triggered a firestorm of criticism among American fans of MLS and Americans who simply believe the man should have been unseated when his first term as FIFA chief ended in 2002. What was disappointing was how a man who, as FIFA general secretary, held America’s hand as it prepared for and pulled off World Cup USA ’94, could still have such a dismal understanding of this country.
Mainstream America really doesn’t know what to make of soccer. An estimated 18 million of their countrymen and countrywomen and countrykids play the sport. Its women’s national team is usually No. 1 in the world while its men’s national team, usually ranked around No. 30, is capable of beating Spain in the FIFA Confederations Cup and Italy in Genoa, then losing to Jamaica in Kingston. And its official national league, whose average attendance of 18,807 last season topped the NBA and NHL for the second year in a row, making it third behind the NFL and Major League Baseball in average gate, remains a television bust, stuck at 0.1 and 0.2 in the ratings.
What Blatter and mainstream America need to understand is that MLS is no measuring stick of soccer here. America loves the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA a whole lot more than MLS, not because they’ve had a 74-, 152- and 47-year head start, respectively, on MLS, but because the NFL, MLB and NBA are the best at their craft in the world. The NFL, MLB and the NBA play their game like they invented it because, well, they have. Even the National Hockey League can make the same claim, if, for the sake of this argument, we co-opt our Canadian friends. As for MLS, everyone in America knows that it’s not the best soccer league in the world, even those who know nothing about the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, the Italian Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga or the Brazilian and Argentine championships. And it’s hard to imagine a time when an MLS, which has gone from crawl to hobble to jog in those 18 years, will have the means and talent to challenge those leagues.
MLS will continue to be a symbol, a happy, regular rallying point, for soccer here, but it will never be the heart–or reliable barometer–of our sport. While the NFL can boast of astronomical television ratings and Major League Baseball can point to its tremendous total attendance figures, soccer in the U.S. quietly moves forward with a balance that should be the envy of the so-called “big four” pro team sports: a professional league that continues to grow and improve, a competitive men’s national team, a world-class women’s national team, and those millions and millions or participants of all ages and both genders. All underscored by a patience that Blatter doesn’t seem to possess.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1980 Moscow Games, 1980 Winter Olympics, 2010 World Cup, 2014 World Cup, ABC, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Argentina, Bear, Brent Goulet, Cold War, Commonwealth of Independent States, CONCACAF, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Detroit, Eagle, East Germany, Egypt, England, European Championship, European Group "F", Fabio Capello, FIFA, FIFA World Rankings, Frank Klopas, Huntington Sheraton Hotel, Iran, Italy, John Doyle, John Harkes, Joseph Blatter, Juergen Klinsmann, Kevin Crow, Krasnodar, Kuban Stadium, Lake Placid, Libya, Los Angeles Olympics, Miami, Miracle on Grass, Miracle on Ice, Moscow, North American Soccer League, Norway, Orlando, Palo Alto, Pasadena, Paul Caligiuri, Peter Vermes, Port of Spain, Rick Davis, Roman Shirokov, Rose Bowl, Russia, San Francisco, Seattle, Seoul Olympic Games, Stanford Stadium, Tab Ramos, Taegu, Trinidad & Tobago, U.S. National Team, USSR, Victor Faizulin, West Germany, Zenit Saint Petersburg
The U.S. National Team will close out 2012 with a Wednesday, November 14, friendly against Russia at Kuban Stadium in Krasnodar.
The Russians, No. 9 in the current FIFA World Rankings, are coming off a frustrating first-round exit at this year’s European Championship, while the Americans, ranked 27th, are 9-2-2 in 2012 and a tie away from posting their best single-year record in their history. [November 12]
Comment: This could be a useful exercise for both sides. Russia, led by the Zenit Saint Petersburg trio of Victor Faizulin, Roman Shirokov and Aleksandr Kerzhakov, leads European Group “F” in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and has gone 4-0-0–all by shutout–under coach Fabio Capello, who last faced the U.S. at the 2010 World Cup as England boss. As for the U.S., coach Juergen Klinsmann will use the opportunity to tinker yet again before his side begins the final round of CONCACAF qualifiers for Brasil ’14 in February.
But this game will hardly go down as historic. The Cold War is a distant memory, and the two countries now keep one another at arm’s length, a frozen smile on their faces. There have been meetings, but nothing of consequence:
o February 3, 1979, U.S. 1, USSR 3, in Seattle
o February 11, 1979, U.S. 1, USSR 4, in San Francisco
o February 24, 1990, U.S. 1, USSR 3, in Palo Alto, CA
o November 21, 1990, U.S. 0, USSR 0, in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
o January 25, 1992, U.S. 0, Commonwealth of Independent States 1, in Miami
o February 2, 1992, U.S. 2, Commonwealth of Independent States 1, in Detroit
o February 13, 1993, U.S. 0, Russia 1, in Orlando
o February 21, 1993, U.S. 0, Russia 0, in Palo Alto, CA
o January 29, 1994, U.S. 1, Russia 1, in Seattle
o April 26, 2000, Russia 2, U.S. 0, in Moscow
All friendlies, of course, with the Soviets/CIS’ers/Russians holding a solid 6-1-3 advantage. The only competitive match between the Eagle and Bear was played September 22, 1988, in Taegu during the Seoul Olympic Games. The U.S., featuring North American Soccer League old-timers Rick Davis and Kevin Crow and up-and-comers like Paul Caligiuri, Tab Ramos, John Harkes, Frank Klopas and Peter Vermes, had played Argentina and host South Korea to ties but needed at least a high-scoring draw against the Soviets to advance to the knockout round for the first time in its Olympic history. Despite goals by John Doyle and substitute Brent Goulet, the USA lost, 4-2.
There might have been a game of real significance, however–a real Cold War potboiler–had the stars not mis-aligned four years earlier.
In 1984, the U.S., as host, held an automatic berth in the Los Angeles Olympic soccer tournament. At the draw conducted that spring by FIFA at the plush Huntington Sheraton Hotel in Pasadena, CA–a stone’s throw from the Rose Bowl, site of the final–media members and guests gasped when it was revealed that the USA had been drawn into the same first-round group with the Soviet Union. Visions of a Miracle on Grass, a redux of the Americans’ titanic upset of the USSR in ice hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY, immediately danced through many a head.
When the media questioned draw emcee Joseph Blatter, then general secretary of a FIFA even less transparent than the one he heads today as president, the shifty Swiss was characteristically oblique. The U.S. and USSR landing in the same group didn’t happen by sheer chance, he allowed. On occasion, said Blatter, FIFA will honor a host nation’s “request.”
In the end, the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that set up the American-Soviet clash were all for naught. On May 8, the Soviet Union, still smarting from the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, announced that it was boycotting the Los Angeles Games. Thirteen other communist bloc nations followed suit, plus Iran and Libya. As for the ’84 soccer tournament, it meant that all three medalists from Moscow ’80–Czechoslovakia (gold medal), East Germany (silver) and USSR (bronze)–would be no-shows. They were replaced by three nations that fell short in Europe’s Olympic qualifiers: Italy, West Germany and Norway.
That summer, the U.S. thumped Costa Rica, 3-0, in its opener at Stanford Stadium, then lost to Italy, 1-0, at the Rose Bowl and missed the quarterfinals with a 1-1 tie with Egypt back at Stanford. It appeared to be a golden chance lost, because for this tournament FIFA had changed the rules to allow players, regardless of amateur/professional status, to take part if they hadn’t played in a World Cup for a European or South American country. Thus, this American team was loaded with NASL players, not raw amateurs. And the absence of a marquee match like U.S.-USSR allowed ABC, the Olympic broadcaster, to choose to limit its coverage of the 16-nation, 32-game tournament to all of five minutes.
The ’84 Olympic soccer tournament drew a record 1.4 spectators to lead all sports–track and field included–and enable the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to turn a $40 million surplus. And that turnout prompted FIFA, four years later, to award the 1994 World Cup to the United States.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1924 Paris Olympics, 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, 1930 World Cup, 1972 European Championship, 1974 World Cup, 1997 Copa America, 1998 World Cup, 1999 Copa America, 2002 World Cup, 2004 Copa America, 2012 European Championship, Brazil, Cesare Prandelli, Cesc Fabrigas, Colombia, Czechoslovakia, David Silva, ESPN, Fernando Torres, France, Germany, Gianluigi Buffon, Italy, Jordi Alba, Juan Mata, Kiev, Pele, Spain, Thiago Motta, Uruguay, Vicente de Bosque, West Germany, World Cup, Xavi
Defending World Cup champion Spain became the first country to win a second consecutive European Championship, humbling a shorthanded Italy, 4-0, in the 2012 final in Kiev.
The triumph made Spain, which won its first Euro crown in 1964, the second three-time winner of Europe’s biggest prize after West Germany/Germany (1972, 1980, 1996).
David Silva got the rout underway in the 14th minute when he headed in Cesc Fabrigas’ short cross. Jordi Alba latched onto a pass by Xavi to beat Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon four minutes before halftime to put the match out of reach.
Substitute Fernando Torres, who also scored against Germany in Spain’s 1-0 victory in the 2008 final, scored in the 84th minute, and Juan Mata, set up by Torres, applied the finishing touch at 88 minutes. Italy lost Thiago Motta to injury in the 62nd minute after coach Cesare Prandelli had used his three substitutions–the last of them Motta in the 57th–and appeared nearly helpless on the Torres and Mata goals. [July 1]
Comment: Spain’s dominating performance put a much-needed shine on a tournament that for the most part was downright dull. But those quick to brand this team as the best of all time need to take a deep breath.
Is Spain the best? Those who disagree might start with the West German team that won the 1972 European Championship and the ’74 World Cup. That team also lost the ’76 Euro final to Czechoslovakia on penalty kicks before winning its second Euro four years later. Others would point to Brazil’s Pele-led 1970 World Cup champs. And so on.
So are the Spaniards the best ever over an extended period? Various media reports branded coach Vicente del Bosque’s ball-possession magicians as the first to win three consecutive major titles. ESPN, which televised Euro 2012, was among them. But the first was Uruguay, winners of the 1924 Olympics in Paris and the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam–back when Olympic soccer was the sport’s de facto world championship. The Uruguayans so dazzled the Continent on those occasions that they fueled the drive to create the World Cup in 1930, which that year was hosted and won by Uruguay. De facto or no, that was three world titles in a row over a half-dozen years.
Too long ago, when soccer wasn’t quite the global game it is today? Then for hardware in the modern era, go with another South American team, Brazil, just a decade ago. Except for an interruption by Colombia at the 2001 Copa America, the Brazilians, three years removed from their win at USA ’94, won the next two South American championships, in 1997 and ’99, finished second at the 1998 World Cup to host France, then won their fifth world championship at Korea/Japan 2002, followed by another Copa in 2004.
But then, when it comes to soccer and other matters, we live in a Eurocentric world.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Allianz Arena, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Czech Republic, FC Barcelona, Germany, Gianluigi Buffon, Iker Casillas, Italy, Juventus, Manuel Neuer, Petr Cech, Real Madrid, Roma, Spain, UEFA Champions League, Victor Valdes
Bayern Munich will meet Chelsea in the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League final on May 19 at Munich’s Allianz Arena, becoming the first team since Roma in 1984 to play at home in European club soccer’s biggest match.
The two finalists both pulled off stunning upsets in the semifinals. German powerhouse Bayern, a four-time Euro champ (1974, 75, ’76, ’01) eliminated Real Madrid while England’s Chelsea, a finalist in ’08, shocked cup holders FC Barcelona.
Prediction: With all due respect to Iker Casillas (Spain, Real Madrid), Gianluigi Buffon (Italy, Juventus), Victor Valdes (Spain, FC Barcelona), and, yes, Chelsea’s Petr Cech (Czech Republic), Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer will emerge from the match having cemented his place as perhaps the world’s best goalkeeper.
And if he doesn’t, he has plenty of time to do so. Already a World Cup veteran, Germany’s No. 1 is just 26.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1982 World Cup, 1986 World Cup, Barcelona, Falcao, Fiorentina, Flamengo, Italy, Leandro, Oscar, Rai, Ribeirao Preto, Santos, Sao Paolo, Serginho, Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, Toninho Cerezo, Zico
Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, one of the stars of the 1982 and 1986 Brazilian World Cup teams that dazzled but ultimately disappointed, died at a Sao Paulo hospital of septic shock resulting from an intestinal infection. He was 57. His survivors include a wife and six children
Socrates captained the ’82 Brazil side that, needing only a tie to advance, lost a second-round match to Italy, 3-2, in Barcelona to become one of the greatest teams never to win a World Cup. Socrates scored a brilliant goal in that game, and an even better one in a group-round victory over the Soviet Union. Among those who exited with him were Zico, Falcao, Serginho, Oscar, Toninho Cerezo and Leandro.
Socrates scored 22 goals in 60 international appearances. The midfield maestro’s club tally reads 207 goals in 396 matches, 172 of them for Corinthians, for whom he starred from 1978 to 1984. He later played one season each in the late ’80s for Fiorentina, Flamengo and Santos.
Socrates was a true Renaissance man. He studied medicine during his playing career and went on to practice in his hometown of Ribeirao Preto. Politically active, he founded an opposition movement to Brazil’s then-ruling military government, and he became a popular soccer columnist and TV commentator. At the time of this death, he was working on a novel. [December 4]
Comment: The 1983 South American Footballer of the Year and a member of Pele’s FIFA list of the top living players of the 20th century, Socrates is probably best remembered by a younger generation as the older brother of star midfielder Rai, a member of the 1994 World Cup champion Brazil team who was ignominiously deposed as skipper four years later.
In his time, Socrates was the face of Brazilian style between the post-Mexico ’70 sag and the embrace of the Dunga-style grit and guile that produced world championships in 1994 and 2002. At 6-foot-4, he thoughtfully surveyed the field from a high perch and would pry open an opposition’s defense with a wide variety of tools, most notably his trademark back-heeled pass.
With Brasil ’14 fast approaching, what’s disappointing is that the hosts, with luck, may win the next World Cup, but they won’t embody The Beautiful Game, they won’t do it with any player as elegant, as thoughtful as Doctor Socrates.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1969 moon landing, 2006 World Cup, 2010 World Cup final, adidas, American Idol, Associated Press, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Dallas, Disneyland, FIFA, France, Green Bay, Holland, Italy, Johannesburg, M*A*S*H, McDonald's, Milton Kent, MTN, Pittsburgh, Satyam, Spain, Steelers, Super Bowl XLV, Super Bowl XXX
“It’s official: Sunday night’s telecast of Super Bowl XLV is the most-watched program in television history, in terms of viewership,” reports Milton Kent, sports media writer for The Associated Press.
“Fox, which aired Green Bay’s 31-25 win over Pittsburgh, breathlessly reported Monday that 111 million viewers tuned in to watch. That tops the 106.5 million who tuned in to see the final episode of M*A*S*H in 1983.
“This marks the fourth straight year that a Super Bowl telecast has set a viewership record, marking the first time a major sporting event has hit record highs in four straight years. More impressively, Super Bowl viewership from 2005 to Sunday night has increased by 25 million viewers.
“In ratings terms, the Super Bowl posted a 46.0 rating and 69 share, meaning 46 percent of the nation’s households were tuned in to the game, while 69 percent of all television sets that were on at the time were watching the contest. That ties Sunday’s game for ninth on the list of highest-rated Super Bowls and 16th on the all-time list of most-watched shows, occupying those spaces with the same telecast, that of Super Bowl XXX aired by NBC in 1996 between the Steelers and Dallas.” [February 7]
Comment: “The most-watched program in television history . . . .”
We all know that the solar system revolves not around the sun nor the earth but the United States. Nevertheless, Kent becomes the latest in a miles-long line of American media members who can’t bring themselves to qualify their remarks when it comes to the domestic versus the Universe at large.
The most-watched program in television history is, of course, the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and Holland. The second most-watched program in television history was the 2006 World Cup final between Italy and France. And so on. Even the moon landing in 1969 (roughly 500 million) doesn’t come close.
The question is, how many people actually saw the Spaniards overcome the cynical antics of the Dutch to win a far-from-classic final in Johannesburg last summer? A common guesstimate is two billion; FIFA puts the number at 700 million.
FIFA has every reason to inflate the figures. After all, its sponsors–Budweiser, McDonald’s, MTN, Satyam–and marketing partners like adidas and Coca-Cola paid dearly for billions of eyeballs, not millions. But maybe FIFA is wrong.
It has often been said that soccer is big abroad because the yokels have no choice when it comes to sports. They have soccer and, um, track and field and, um, chess. We, on the other hand, have three big sports to choose from (none of them soccer), plus another dozen or so sports (one of them soccer), plus hamburgers, Disneyland and “American Idol.” However, if one-third of a distracted America can rally around one of its three favorite sports once a year, then the rest of the world, sorely lacking in pleasant distractions, can surely muster up a third of itself to watch its favorite sport. In a world of six billion-plus, that would be about two billion.