Filed under: Joao Havelange, Uncategorized | Tags: 2016 Summer Olympics, Alan Rothenberg, Berlin Olympics, Boris Yeltsin, China, Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange, FIFA, FIFA Women's World Cup, Helsinki Olympics, Ian Thomsen, International Olympic Committee, Joao Havelange, Judge Joachim Eckert, King Fahd, Las Vegas Convention Center, MasterCard International, Michel Platini, New York Cosmos, New York Times, North American Soccer League, Pele, Pope John Paul II, Ricardo Teixeira, Rio de Janeiro, Samaritano Hospital, Sepp Blatter, Sir Stanley Rous, South Africa, U.S. Justice Department, U.S. Soccer Federation, United Nations, Zurich
Joao Havelange, who as president of FIFA from 1974 to 1998 transformed the world soccer governing body into a moneymaking behemoth and in turn a breeding ground for corruption that ostensibly has peaked in recent years, has died. He was 100.
The imposing Brazilian died at Rio de Janeiro’s Samaritano Hospital from a respiratory infection as the 2016 Summer Olympics track and field competition began at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. It was Havelange who in 2009 led Rio’s bid presentation to the International Olympic Committee, and he invited the members to “join me in celebrating my 100th birthday” at the 28th Olympiad he correctly believed would be held in Brazil.
Havelange the athlete made his mark not in soccer but aquatics, swimming for Brazil at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and playing water polo at the 1952 Helsinki Games. An imposing figure, he swam every morning before breakfast well into his 90s.
Havelange had been in charge of Brazil’s soccer federation for nearly two decades when he upset the status quo in international soccer by defeating incumbent Sir Stanley Rous of England in the 1974 election to become the first non-European to take the FIFA helm. He wasted little time in transforming FIFA from a sleepy administrative organization in Zurich into a worldwide juggernaut. As he put it, in his familiar deep-throated croat, perhaps in French, perhaps in his native Portuguese, “I found an old house and $20 in the kitty. On the day I departed 24 years later, I left property and contracts worth over $4 billion. Not too bad, I’d say.”
On his watch, FIFA membership expanded by a third, to more than 200 nations and territories–more than that of the United Nations. Among the additions was China, which left FIFA in 1958 but was coaxed back 22 years later, and South Africa, which was suspended from 1964 to 1976 but would go on to host the 2010 World Cup. But it was the minnows of the soccer-playing world that made Havelange’s long rule possible. The Brazilian saw that the end of colonial rule had created scores of new nation-states, and under FIFA’s one-member, one-vote statute, Fiji had as much clout as England or Italy. Adding members, no matter their status on the playing field, and sharing FIFA’s increasing largesse with them all but guaranteed his unprecedented five re-elections as president.
Havelange also gave those minnows a shot at international experience and dreams–however faint–of international glory. Quickly recognizing the power of television and the untapped potential of sponsorships, he expanded the World Cup from a stingy 16 nations to 24 and finally 32, and he created world championships for under-20s and under-17s. He also introduced the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991 and later the women’s under-20 championship.
This rapid expansion and transformation of world soccer from a relatively naive enterprise that missed any and all commercial opportunities into a $250-billion-a-year industry threw open the doors to corruption that has only been slowed by an aggressive probe by the U.S. Justice Department that has left an indelible stain on Havelange’s legacy. Havelange, who accepted no salary as FIFA president, enriched himself with kickbacks, and soccer officials worldwide eventually followed his lead–if they hadn’t already begun the practice. Among them were scores who have been recently indicted by the Feds. Havelange’s successor and loyal No. 2, Sepp Blatter, has not been ensnarled as yet, but he was banned from FIFA for eight years by its ethics committee in late 2015, six months after winning a fifth term as president. The suspension stemmed from his $2 million off-the-books payment in 2011 to former star player Michel Platini, the UEFA chief who had hoped to defeat Blatter in his bid for a fourth term that year but who dropped out of the race.
Havelange’s most spectacular take, shared by his then-son-in-law, onetime Brazilian soccer president Ricardo Teixeira, was nearly $22 million over nine years beginning in 1992 paid him by the body in charge of FIFA’s marketing and commercial rights, ISL, which filed for bankruptcy in 2001. Havelange and Teixeira ultimately paid back $6.1 million in a confidential settlement.
Havelange resigned in 2011 as a member of the IOC just days before its leadership was expected to suspend him and rule on claims that he accepted a $1 million kickback. That ended, after 48 years, his tenure as the committee’s longest-serving member. Two years later, facing suspension, he stepped down as honorary president of FIFA after FIFA ethics Judge Joachim Eckert called his conduct “morally and ethically reproachable” for accepting kickbacks from ISL. [August 16]
Comment: Heading into USA ’94, Americans had known little of the power of the World Cup and the power of soccer outside this country in general. On the eve of the 15th World Cup in their own backyard, they got an eye full of all that, along with the man behind it, Jean-Marie Faustin Godefroid de Havelange.
Ian Thomsen of the New York Times, reporting in December 1993 from the Las Vegas Convention Center, site of the 1994 World Cup draw:
Two hours before the globally televised presentation of the World Cup Final Draw, the soccer player whose work had largely made the ceremony possible still had not been told that he had been banned from appearing on stage.
“I don’t have any official word yet,” Pele said Sunday morning at a breakfast hosted by MasterCard International, an official World Cup sponsor which said Pele would continue to be its worldwide representative despite the controversy.
“All I know is that they said the names of the players appearing in the draw and I was not there,” Pele said.
The decision to bar Pele from the ceremonies had been made by his fellow Brazilian, Joao Havelange, the president of FIFA. The reason: a dispute between Pele and Havelange’s son-in-law, Ricardo Teixeira, president of the Brazilian soccer federation.
Pele has charged that a group with which he is affiliated bid $5 million for the rights to televise Brazilian league games, but that a rival group was awarded the contract, despite bidding $1 million less, because the Pele group refused to pay a bribe to Teixeira.
Teixeira responded by filing a defamation suit against Pele. Havelange, over the objections of FIFA’s general secretary, Joseph Blatter, and other officials of the sport’s governing body, then entered the dispute and ordered Pele removed from Sunday’s ceremony because he didn’t want to share the World Cup stage with Pele. He even refused to mention Pele by name at a news conference.
Members of FIFA and the World Cup Organizing Committee were unable to alter Havelange’s decision, which reportedly was made without discussion with either organization.
“FIFA has to respect the wishes of its president,” FIFA spokesman Guido Tognoni said. “I can’t add more.”
U.S. officials said Alan Rothenberg, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation and chairman of the World Cup USA 1994 organizing committee, was livid over the decision to exclude the only household name in American soccer from the grandest ceremony in American soccer history.
Havelange then rebuked Rothenberg.
“Mr. Rothenberg would be disappointed if we withdrew the World Cup,” Havelange said. “Mr. Rothenberg has everything he wants. Nothing will be missing. The absence of one person is not going to affect the World Cup draw. Persons who don’t participate are not important.”
Pele said he would be in the audience of 3,500 at the Las Vegas Convention Center to see the group assignments of the 24 finalists drawn by movie stars, entertainers and star athletes–everyone but the world’s greatest player.
“His son-in-law, with the secretary of the Brazilian federation–they proposed to me something which I do not accept,” Pele said. “I do not accept corruption. You know the problems of Brazil. Corruption is a big problem here. What I want to make clear is, my problem is with the Brazil federation. I don’t accept their proposal for corruption. Everyone knows I am for Brazil, I want to help Brazil, I want Brazil in the final, I want the best for Brazil.
“Everybody knows I don’t have anything against Mr. Havelange and FIFA,” Pele said. “Mr. Havelange has been my idol since 1958. He has encouraged me, he has given the message to me. He is the boss of FIFA. He can say whatever he wants.”
Of course, it was Pele who made Brazil an international soccer power, which helped put Havelange in place to become FIFA president in 1974. And it was Pele’s decision to play for the North American Soccer League in 1975 that created the possibility for the World Cup to come to the United States almost 20 years later. Pele remains the only soccer name recognized by Americans.
“When I came here to play for the New York Cosmos, we started to talk of the World Cup coming to the U.S.,” said Pele, now 54. “They said, ‘Pele, are you crazy? The World Cup in the U.S.A.?’ But today the dream comes true. In my view, we are here today to start the World Cup. This makes me happy.”
The soccer world we know today is, for better or worse, what the arrogant autocrat known as Havelange hath wrought. For those who watched his career as FIFA strongman, this quote, to Time magazine in 1998, summed up Havelange:
“I’ve been to Russia twice, invited by President Yeltsin. In Italy, I saw Pope John Paul II three times. When I go to Saudi Arabia, King Fahd welcomes me in splendid fashion. Do you think a head of state will spare that much time for just anyone? That’s respect. They’ve got their power, and I’ve got mine: the power of football, which is the greatest power there is.”
Filed under: Hope Solo, Uncategorized | Tags: Alex Morgan, Brasilia, Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, Italy, Pia Sundhage, Rio de Janeiro, Sweden, U.S. Women's Olympic Soccer Team, Women's World Cup, XXVIII Olympiad, Zika
The U.S. women, hoping to become the first team to win an Olympic gold medal a year after capturing a World Cup crown, were upset in the quarterfinals by Sweden in Brasilia on penalty kicks, 4-3, following a 1-1 draw.
The Americans had medaled in every Olympic tournament since women’s soccer was introduced to the Games in 1996, but with the loss they were sent home without even seeing Rio de Janeiro, host city of the XXVIII Olympiad and site of soccer’s semifinals and finals.
After the match, U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo created a storm by calling the triumphant Swedes “cowards.” Her remarks:
“I thought that we played a courageous game. I thought we had many opportunities on goal. I think we showed a lot of heart. We came back from a goal down. I’m very proud of this team. But I also think we played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that. I think you saw American heart. You saw us give everything we had today.”
Asked what she meant by “cowards,” Solo responded, “Sweden dropped off. They didn’t want to open play. They didn’t want to pass the ball. They didn’t want to play great soccer. It was a combative game, a physical game. Exactly what they wanted and exactly what their game plan was. They dropped into a 50. They didn’t try and press. They didn’t want to open the game. And they tried to counter with long balls. We had that style of play when Pia (Sundhage, now the Sweden coach) was our coach. I don’t think they’re going to make it far in the tournament. I think it was very cowardly. But they won. They’re moving on, and we’re going home.” [August 11]
Comment: Hope Solo has been a polarizing figure her entire international career. Many thought she should have been dropped from the U.S. squad following a 2014 family dust-up that led to two charges of domestic violence against Solo that have yet to be resolved. Or after a 2012 domestic violence incident involving her ex-football player husband in which Solo was injured. Solo also drew chants of “Zika” from the crowd at the USA’s Olympic opener after tweeting before the Olympics photos of a bed covered with bug repellant containers and another of her wearing mosquito netting. (A P.R. faux pas in a country that earlier in her career considered Solo soccer’s reigning beauty queen.) But now she’s gone from being a loose cannon to a disgrace.
That said, she’s absolutely correct in her assessment of what was a humbling defeat for the U.S. The Americans did out-play Sweden, and Sweden did play a negative game, putting nine players behind the ball to neutralize world-class attackers Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan while hoping against hope (no pun intended) that it could produce a counterattack goal, which it did on the hour through Stina Blackstenius to open the scoring. After the U.S. equalized through Morgan with 13 minutes left, Sweden played overtime aiming to hold on and get to PKs.
But if that’s cowardly, then Italy (the men) has been cowardly for about a century. The Italians have prized defense, it’s in their DNA. They are compact, cynically sophisticated and punishing on the tackle. On the other end they have made an art form of the counterattack. And all it’s gotten them is four World Cup championships. It makes Solo’s rip job simply bizarre, because no player with more than 200 caps and 100 shutouts can possibly be that naive. Or maybe it was just Hope being Hope yet again.
The U.S. went to Brazil ranked No. 1 in the world; Sweden was ranked sixth and obviously the underdog going into this match. Sundhage, as the former U.S. coach, knows some of the American players better than they know themselves. Her tactics were correct and they worked.
Sundhage, who had her own issues with Solo back when she was U.S. boss, also got in the last word regarding “cowards.” “I don’t give a crap,” she snapped. “I’m going to Rio, she’s going home.”
Filed under: 2014 World Cup predictions, Uncategorized | Tags: ABC, Amazon, Angel Di Maria, Argentina, Belgium, Bob Bradley, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brad Friedel, Brasil '14, Brazil, CONCACAF, Croatia, ESPN, ESPN2, Europe, FIFA World Player of the Year, Germany, Gold Cup, Gonzalo Higuain, Group "A", Group "F", Group "G", Group of Death, Ian Darke, Iran, Italy, Juergen Klinsmann, Korea/Japan 2002, Lionel Messi, Luis Montes, Manaus, Maracana Stadium, Mexico, Natal, Nigeria, Nobel Prize, Real Salt Lake, Recife, Riccardo Montolivo, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Sergio Aguero, South Africa, South Africa '10, Spain, Switzerland, United States, Uruguay, Western Hemisphere, World Cup
The 20th World Cup will kick off Thursday, June 12, in Sao Paulo when host Brazil plays Croatia in a Group “A” match. The Brazilians go into the 32-nation, 64-game tournament as an 11-4 favorite to lift the World Cup trophy for a record sixth time. Oddsmakers also have established Argentina as a 4-1 pick to win it, followed by defending champ Spain and Germany, both at 6-1. The United States is a 250-1 longshot. [June 11]
Comment: Here are predictions for Brasil ’14:
o Argentina will defeat Brazil in the final on July 13 at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium, site of Brazil’s nightmare 2-1 loss to Uruguay in the last match of the 1950 World Cup. This time, the Argentines will win an end-to-end thriller, 3-2, to capture its third world championship and its first in 28 years. Why? Because of Lionel Messi, who four years ago in South Africa played a part in several Argentine goals but scored only one. This time, the four-time FIFA World Player of the Year runs wild. Along with Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, the Argentine attack builds momentum against soft Group “F” opponents Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria, a momentum that only grows in the knockout rounds. In the third-place match, a banged-up Germany defeats an aging Spain … unless an outsider crashes the semifinals. Uruguay and Belgium are popular picks for that role, but Switzerland lurks.
o The U.S. will confound the experts, defy common sense, and advance out of Group “G”, the so-called “Group of Death”–and it won’t require a brutal tackle on Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. Juergen Klinsmann’s side has enjoyed an encouraging run-up to Brazil without suffering injury, and its considerable fitness level gives it an edge in the heat of coastal cities Natal and Recife and the Amazon jungle’s Manaus. Under Klinsmann the U.S. has become the attack-minded side it was not under then-coach Bob Bradley four years ago, and he has established a culture of winning, from placing first in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers to taking the 2013 Gold Cup to beating Italy in Italy. More important, he has instilled in his team the belief that it’s not just Germany that’s capable of a late miracle comeback. The U.S. enters its seventh straight World Cup without international stars, as usual, but as goalkeeper Brad Friedel, hero of the USA’s 2002 quarterfinal run, said in a recent interview, the Americans can do it as a team, if every player earns a 1-to-10 rating of 7 for every match.
o World Cup television viewership in the U.S. will dwarf the ratings numbers established at South Africa ’10. No matter where a World Cup is played, a World Cup game is scheduled to kick off in what is prime time in Europe, or close to it–the rest of the world be damned. With this being the first World Cup played in the Western Hemisphere in two decades, we Americans finally get reasonable game times: noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. EDT on most days. That’s a far cry from Korea/Japan 2002, when some games started at 2 a.m. on the West Coast. Meanwhile, greasing the skids is the fact that, with apps and expanded streaming services, this will be the most digitally interactive World Cup ever.
o ESPN/ESPN2/ABC has once again gone all-British with its play-by-play commentators. Ian Darke rightfully gets the choice assignments, including the final, but it will only influence more in the American soccer media to go Brit. A player, wearing a “kit” and a pair of “boots” and playing not on a field but a “pitch” will score two goals, which will be referred to as a “brace.” One goal will have been made possible by a teammate who, at “pace,” sends him an “inch-perfect pass.” That will leave the opposition “on its back foot” yet possibly inspire it into a “purple patch.” Anyway, look forward to another four-year period in which an increasingly number of Americans who know better refer to any singular thing in soccer as a collective: “France are,” “Uruguay are,” and the “Real Salt Lake are.” I are looking forward to it. Or we am looking forward to it.
o Americans who really, really don’t like soccer–that is, those who feel threatened by it–will dig in their heels even further over the next four weeks. Everyone from newspaper columnists and radio sports talkers to Internet commentators will call the World Cup a dull, overblown waste of time and make xenophobic remarks about the participating nations and their fans. But with each World Cup, their footing is growing more unsteady. Those cracks about foreigners and soccer can’t be so easily excused anymore, not with some of our cherished sports–like golf, basketball, hockey and tennis–now a virtual United Nations of participants. Those jokes about one-named Brazilian soccer players? See “LeBron,” “Kobe.” The argument that soccer in the U.S. is a game for kids? The estimated number of soccer players in this country has ballooned from 8 million in 1982 to 25 million today. Hard to believe that a few of those millions aren’t adult players, particularly when what we see at the local park doesn’t say otherwise. And the line about soccer and 1-0 games leaving Americans bored beyond belief? That kinda lost something with Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria four years ago. What’s left is the complaint that penalty kicks are ridiculous and the charge that players feigning injury make soccer players crying, whining wimps. PKs are ridiculous, and a Nobel Prize awaits the first person who figures out a better tie-breaker. As for the macho involved in playing soccer compared to more manful, manly and masculine American sports, you could start with the hundreds of thousands of soccer players recovering from concussions caused by head-to-head contact. Or ACL tears. Or you could go straight to last Saturday, when Italy’s Riccardo Montolivo and Mexico’s Luis Montes sustained broken legs–in friendlies.
o Finally, this official World Cup song will be forgotten three days after the Brazil-Croatia opener: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGtWWb9emYI
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2016 European Championship, 2016 Summer Olympics, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, CONCACAF Gold Cup, Confederacion Sudamericana de Futbol, CONMEBOL, Copa America, Costa Rica, Honduras, Major League Soccer, Mexico, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, South America, Sunil Gulati, U.S. National Team, United States, Venezuela
The long-rumored centennial Copa America in America became a reality when CONMEBOL announced in Miami that it would play its 2016 championship in the United States.
The tournament, to be held outside South America for the first time, is scheduled for June 3 through 26. In addition to CONMEBOL’s 10 members, the host U.S., Mexico and four other CONCACAF nations will round out a field of 16 teams.
Many questions remain, among them the cities that will host matches.
“One benefit we have in a country like the U.S. is that we have many, many venues that can host this,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “A number of venues have been in contact with us in the last 48 hours that want to host it. Some [candidates] in person here in Miami have talked to us, and a number by e-mail.”
Also at issue is the timing of the tournament, which would be a special edition wedged between the regularly scheduled 2015 Copa America in Chile and 2019 Copa in Brazil. It would overlap with the 2016 European Championship, which kicks off June 10, and conflict with the same season as the 2016 Summer Olympics soccer tournament in Rio de Janeiro. It would mean the cancellation of that year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, and CONCACAF clubs are not obligated to release players to play in an event that is a South American tournament. For the U.S., that issue becomes problematic because Major League Soccer will be in mid-season.
The Copa America is the world’s oldest continental soccer competition, first held in Argentina in 1916 to commemorate that nation’s founding as an independent nation; midway through the tournament, the four participants announced the formation of the first-ever continental soccer confederation, the Confederacion Sudamericana de Futbol. It’s 14 years older than the World Cup and 44 years older than the European Championship. [May 1]
Comment: For those who see this as a way for South American soccer to milk the U.S. of many millions of dollars, keep in mind that clubs and national teams from South America, CONCACAF and, especially, Mexico, have been coming here to feed at the trough not for years but for decades.
Of course, there are always the dollars. But when it comes to sense, the big winner here is the U.S. National Team.
The U.S., like Mexico, cannot progress living on a steady diet of regional competition–regardless of how hard it is to win a World Cup qualifier at Costa Rica or Honduras. Playing competitive, non-World Cup games against European opposition is an impossibility, which is unfortunate considering that U.S. internationals play for European, not South American, clubs. South America and its Copa America, then, makes perfect sense.
Unlike Mexico, a regular guest over the past 20 years at the Copa America and twice a finalist, the USA’s participation has been spotty. It crashed in the group stage in 1993, surprised all by reaching the semifinals against Brazil in 1995 and predictably crashed again in the first round after sending an experimental team to the 2007 Copa in Venezuela.
It is hoped that the Centennial Copa America is a rousing success and a good U.S. performance inspires–compels–the U.S. Soccer Federation to find a way to make its national team a regular guest participant in future South American championships. Otherwise, it’s a continuation of a dull treadmill involving the Gold Cup and friendlies against international opponents who, depending on the circumstances, may be under strength and/or under inspired.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1962 Intercontinental Cup, Argentina, Ballon d'Or, Bayern Munich, Benfica, Black Panther, Black Pearl, Brasilia, Bulgaria, Cristiano Ronaldo, El Copa del Rey, Eusebio, FC Barcelona, FIFA World Player of the Year, Franck Ribery, Jupp Heynckes, La Liga, Lionel Messi, Manchester United, Nadine Angerer, Pele, Portugal, Real Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Stockholm, Sweden, Sylvia Neid, UEFA Champions League, World Cup qualifier
Cristiano Ronaldo was named the world’s best player of 2013 in balloting by national team captains and coaches and selected journalists, receiving 1,365 votes to Lionel Messi’s 1,205 and Franck Ribery’s 1,127.
The Portugal and Real Madrid star received his Ballon d’Or trophy at the annual FIFA awards gala in Zurich. Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer was the women’s winner. Jupp Heynckes, who led Bayern Munich to the UEFA Champions League crown, plus the German league and cup double, was the top men’s coach. Germany’s Sylvia Neid was selected the world’s best women’s coach.
Ronaldo’s triumph was his first since 2008, when he won what was then known as the FIFA World Player of the Year award, while with Manchester United. The following year, he finished second to Argentina’s Messi. The FC Barcelona striker would go on to capture the honor the next three years as well, with Ronaldo the runner-up in 2011 and 2012. [January 13]
Comment: It was an emotional Ronaldo who accepted the trophy as world’s best from Pele, who earlier had accepted an honorary Ballon d’Or of his own. Still, he had to be thinking about “the little man” in his rear-view mirror.
Though Ronaldo scored 69 goals in 2013, capping it in November with a stirring hat trick in Stockholm that lifted the Portuguese to victory in its World Cup playoff with Sweden, he won by default. Messi may have finished second, but he was hobbled three times by injury during the year–and opened 2014 like he’d never missed a beat.
Ironic that Pele would be honored the same night that his rival, the great Eusebio, was eulogized. The Black Pearl and the Black Panther, who died January 5, met in the 1962 Intercontinental Cup, with the irresistible Santos, behind Pele’s five goals, beating Benfica by an 8-4 aggregate as Eusebio scored once. Four years later, at the World Cup, they met again. Pele had been brutalized by Bulgaria in Brazil’s opener. In its final group match, Brazil and a limping Pele bowed out as Eusebio scored twice and Portugal topped the group. The Black Panther would go on to score a tournament-leading nine goals and the Portuguese would finish an unexpected third.
Unlike Pele and Eusebio, we’ve been treated to several clashes between Ronaldo and Messi in La Liga and El Copa del Rey since Ronaldo joined Real Madrid in 2009. Nevertheless, here’s to a grand showdown in 2014. If the stars align, Portugal and Argentina could meet in the World Cup quarterfinals on July 4 in Rio de Janeiro or July 5 in Brasilia. Who knows? It might determine the ’14 Ballon d’Or.
Filed under: 2014 World Cup draw, USA's Group of Death | Tags: 2014 World Cup draw, Amazon, Argentina, Asia, Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cameroon, Chile, Clint Dempsey, CONCACAF, Costa do Sauipe, Costa Rica, Cristiano Ronaldo, Cuiaba, DeMarcus Beasley, Eddie Johnson, England, FIFA Player of the Year, Fortaleza, Germany, Ghana, Golden Generation, Group "B", Group "D", Group "F", Group "G", Group of Death, Guadalajara, Holland, Honduras, Iran, Italy, Japan, Jogi Loew, Juergen Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, Lionel Messi, Luis Figo, Luxembourg, Major League Soccer, Manaus, Maracana, Mexico, Michael Bradley, Natal, Nigeria, Paris, Portugal, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Sao Paulo, South America, South Korea, Spain, Steve Cherundolo, Sunil Gulati, Sweden, Tim Howard, Torsten Frings, Ulsan, United States, Uruguay, Washington DC
The 2014 World Cup draw, as expected, produced multiple “Groups of Death” as the 32 finalists were sorted into eight groups of four nations each for the 64-match tournament, which will begin June 12 scattered over a dozen Brazilian cities.
The United States got the worst of it, being drawn into Group “G” with three-time champion Germany, the Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal and Ghana, the nation that knocked the Americans out of the last two World Cups. Not far behind in terms of difficulty were Group “B” (defending champion Spain, 2010 runner-up Holland, Chile, plus Australia) and Group “D” (2010 third-place finisher Uruguay, four-time champ Italy, England and Costa Rica).
Conducted at the beachfront resort of Costa do Sauipe before an international television audience, the draw also produced a first-round cakewalk for Argentina, which was joined in Group “F” by the tournament’s only World Cup newcomer, Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as Iran and Nigeria. [December 6]
Comment I: In a repeat of the Brazilian nightmare of 1950, Brazil will tumble in its own World Cup. Argentina will defeat host Brazil on Sunday, July 13, before a stunned, heartbroken crowd of 73,531 at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, and lift the World Cup trophy for the third time.
Argentina, unlike host Brazil, has been steeled by 16 World Cup qualifiers in the ultra-tough South American region–and finished first. It went into the draw at 6-1 odds, just behind Brazil and Germany. It will be playing virtually at home, without all the pressure that comes with hosting a World Cup. It will have the motivation of the opportunity to humiliate its neighbor and historic arch-rival. Its only question mark is its defense, while its absolute certainty is up front, four-time FIFA Player of the Year Lionel Messi, who will turn 27 the day before his team meets its final group-stage opponent, Nigeria. And the draw produced brackets that make a Brazil-Argentina final possible.
Comment II: To distraught fans of the U.S. National Team: Enough with the hand-wringing.