Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2012 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, Alfredo Di Stefano, AP, Argentina, associated press male athlete of the year, babe didrikson, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Babe Ruth, Bayern Munich, Carl Lewis, Circulo de Periodistas, cyclist lance armstrong, Diego Maradona, Eusebio, FC Barcelona, Ferenc Puskas, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Gerd Muller, Jim Thorpe, Johan Cruyff, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Lance Armstrong, LeBron James, Lionel Messi, London Olympic Games, male athlete of the year, Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, Michel Platini, Muhammed Ali, Olimpia de Oro, Pele, Roberto Baggio, Sebastian Crismanich, Secretariat, Sergio Martinez, soccer, sports, Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt, Wayne Gretzky, WBC, West Germany, Zico
Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps has been named the 2012 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, the AP has announced.
Phelps, who won six more medals at last summer’s London Olympic Games to bring his career medal haul to 22, including 18 golds, got 40 votes in balloting by 100 U.S. editors and broadcasters to out-poll basketball’s LeBron James, with 37, and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, with 23.
Phelps joins track’s Carl Lewis as the only Olympic-related athlete to win the AP honor twice. Golfer Tiger Woods and cyclist Lance Armstrong have won the award four times each, and basketball’s Michael Jordan is a three-time winner. [December 20]
Comment: The elephant not in this room, of course, is Argentina and FC Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, whose 91 goals for club and country in all competitions during the calendar year broke the 40-year-old record of 85 set by West Germany and Bayern Munich poacher extraodinaire Gerd Muller.
The AP has been doing this since 1931, and it has rarely looked beyond its own shores, let alone smiled on a soccer player. This is a group of sports editors and sportscasters that in 2000 voted on the best 100 athletes of the 20th Century. The only soccer player was Pele, who was No. 15–six places below female multi-sport standout Babe Didrikson Zaharias. No Alfredo Di Stefano. No Ferenc Puskas. No Eusebio. No George Best. No Franz Beckenbauer. No Johan Cruyff. No Zico. No Michel Platini. No Diego Maradona. No Roberto Baggio. (For the record, at the top of the AP heap was Babe Ruth, followed by Jordan, Jim Thorpe, Muhammed Ali and Wayne Gretzky. The race horse Secretariat came in 81st.)
But before outraged soccer fans here throw up their hands, there’s this story, released a day before the Phelps announcement, by the same Associated Press:
BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Argentine journalists don’t think Lionel Messi is the country’s best athlete for 2012.
Argentine boxer Sergio Martinez was awarded the title of “Olimpia de Oro,” given to the South American country’s top athlete in voting by the Circulo de Periodistas–or association of journalists.
Martinez defeated Mexican boxer Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. earlier this year in their WBC title fight.
Barcelona star Messi, who has had a record-breaking year with 90 goals, didn’t even finish second in the voting. That went to Sebastian Crismanich, the taekwondo fighter who won Argentina’s only gold medal in the London Olympics. Messi finished third.
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: 1991 FIFA Under-17 World Championship, 2007 Asian Cup, 2018 World Cup, 2022 World Cup, Albert Speer, Asian Football Confederation, Australia, Belgium, Christians, England, FIFA Executive Committee, Holland, Iraq, Japan, Kurds, Mohamed bin Hammam, Morocco, Persian Gulf, Portugal, Qatar, Qatari Stars League, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sheika Moza bint Nasser al-Missned, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Shiites, South Korea, Spain, Sunnis, Tunisia, U.S., United Arab Emirates, West Germany
Qatar beat out a strong bid by the U.S. to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup while Russia was awarded the 2018 tournament in balloting by the FIFA Executive Committee in Zurich.
With 22 members taking part, 12 votes were needed to win. The last-place finisher in each round was eliminated.
The 2022 vote:
First Round — Qatar 11, U.S. 3, South Korea 4, Japan 3, Australia 1.
Second Round — Qater 10, U.S. 5, South Korea 5, Japan 2.
Third Round — Qatar 11, U.S. 6, South Korea 5.
Fourth Round — Qatar 14, U.S. 8.
The 2018 vote:
First round — Russia 9, Spain/Portugal 7, Holland/Belgium 4, England 2.
Second Round — Russia 13, Spain/Portugal 7, Holland/Belgium 2. [December 2]
Comment: So how did Qatar do it? How did this nation of 1.7 million people perched on a tiny Persian Gulf peninsula, a country that has never even qualified for a World Cup, win the prize at the expense of the United States, a nation whose bid was the only one among the nine 2018/22 hopefuls to be given a 100 percent score by FIFA?
To many, the immediate answer was, “Follow the petrodollars.” That, however, may be too easy. The U.S. bid, after all, promised record broadcast rights fees and ticket revenues from a land that is home to many of FIFA’s major sponsors.
However, there’s the usual horse trading of votes. In fact, the trading season might have begun not during the bidders’ presentations in Zurich but back in August, when Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed bin Hammam announced that he would not run for the FIFA presidency in 2011 and instead devote his efforts to ensuring that his native land–Qatar–wins the 2022 World Cup sweepstakes, thus clearing the way for Sepp Blatter to win a fourth four-year term as FIFA supremo next year. And beyond the horse trading, there was the geopolitical factor.
Qatar’s bid borders on the fantastic: Build seven stadiums and enlarge five others and air-condition them to beat July heat that can reach 115 degrees, then dismantle most and reassemble them in needy nations. That grabbed the attention. But two emotional appeals at the end of its slick bid presentation the day before the vote were telling. One young man whose affiliation was listed as Qatar Foundation, a non-profit founded by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, told of losing family members in fighting in his native Iraq, then recounted Iraq’s triumph at the 2007 Asian Cup, a feat that united–briefly–that country’s Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians. The point, though a pipe dream, is that a Qatari World Cup could bring together the Middle East. The emir’s wife, Sheika Moza bint Nasser al-Missned, then addressed committee members, pointedly, dramatically, asking them, “When? When will the World Cup come to the Middle East?”
The United States is not loved in the Arab world. The young Iraqi did not elaborate on the “fighting” that claimed his family members, but most U.S. bid members must have felt their ears burning, at least for a moment. For Executive Committee members with sympathies toward, or obligations to, the Middle East, Her Highness’ question–”When?”–could be regarded as a firm prod, if not an effective bit of guilt tripping. And what would be more delicious to those leaning in that direction than to award a World Cup to a Middle Eastern state at the expense of the Western nation that looms menacingly over the region, from Israel to Iraq to Afghanistan?
At the same time, the vote may have been FIFA’s way of putting the U.S. in its place.
The U.S. bid, on its face, hit all the high notes: stadiums, infrastructure, profits, experience, diversity, and what could be summed up as “give us the World Cup and we’ll finish what was begun in 1994.” However, it could be that FIFA likes the United States exactly where it is, a giant who has, in soccer terms, struggled from a prone position to rise up on one knee. Perhaps that’s the way FIFA wants things for the time being: a United States that is a cash cow of Coca-Colas and Visas, a credible competitor on the international stage but not a perennial champion, a people whose interest in the game is encouraging but not overwhelming.
No country on earth has the soccer potential of the United States. If realized, America could very well become the tail that wags the dog (see U.S. television rights, International Olympic Committee). And what FIFA doesn’t need is another one of its 208 member-nations treating it with disdain. Like England.
o Five of the new stadiums promised by Qatar have been designed by Albert Speer and Partners. Yes, that Albert Speer–Albert Speer Jr., son of Hitler’s most favored architect and ultimately the Nazis’ munitions minister during World War II.
o Russia’s current place in the FIFA World Rankings–No. 10–is a bit flattering. That’s six places above four-time world champion Italy. Qatar’s place–No. 109, one place ahead of Iceland–is not.
Qatar has been trying to reach a World Cup since 1978, and despite a string of Brazilian and French coaches it has failed all nine times. Its greatest international feat remains its loss to West Germany in the final of the 1981 FIFA World Youth (U-20) Championship, followed by a fourth-place finish at the 1991 FIFA Under-17 World Championship. The hardware in the dusty Qatari trophy case: Winners of the 1992 and 2004 Gulf Cups, both times as host. Qatar also pocketed runners-up medals at the 1998 Arab Nations Cup, an event it hosted. In one of its most recent friendlies, the ultra-rich Qatar lost to the desperately poor Haiti, 1-0, in Doha before a throng of 5,000. According to the FIFA rankings, No. 109 loses to No. 128–at home. Had the U.S. been eliminated in the first round of its 1994 World Cup, it would have been a horror. Then South Africa failed to reach the second round of its 2010 World Cup, and FIFA apparently concluded that losing a host nation after three matches doesn’t signal the end of the world. So it’s on to Qatar.
Meanwhile, don’t look to the Qatari Stars League–a circuit of 12 first division teams and six in the second–to serve as a springboard to international glory. Since its launch in 1963, it has won zero honors in Asian club play. Its most decorated club, at 12 national championships and six second-place finishes, is the aptly named Al-Sadd.
o It remains to be seen what Qatar ’22 will do to grow the game in the Middle East. Soccer is already the region’s passion, so if the event cannot further rachet up the game’s popularity, then FIFA’s aim, surely, is to lift the level of play there. However . . .
Arab nations, despite considerable capital investment, have combined to make 20 World Cup appearances dating back to Argentina ’78. The result is a record of 7-38-15. Tunisia has crashed in the opening round four times, followed by Algeria, three; Egypt, two; and Kuwait, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, one each. Morocco and Saudi Arabia have both qualified four times, and they lead the parade with one second-round appearance apiece, in 1986 and 1994, respectively.
Because of a reluctance on the part of Westerners to travel to Qatar for the ’22 World Cup, the in-stadium audience for the tournament could very well be overwhelmingly Middle Eastern. And if so, a wave of passion could see the world’s 109th-best team into the Round of 16, the realm of respectability. But don’t count on it.