Filed under: 2026 World Cup, Uncategorized | Tags: 1994 World Cup, Canada, CONCACAF, Japan, Mexico, Qatar, South Korea, United States, USA-Mex-Can. FIFA
The worst-kept secret in international soccer will be revealed tomorrow in New York when CONCACAF announces that the United States, Mexico and Canada will submit a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.
FIFA decided last year to expand the ’26 World Cup from 32 to 48 teams and from 64 games to 80.
The U.S., which lost out to Qatar in its campaign to host the 2022 World Cup, is expected to take a leading role in the ’26 effort based on its wealth of stadiums, training facilities and infrastructure.
The bidding process will culminate with a decision in May 2020. The CONCACAF bid will be an overwhelming favorite because Africa and South America hosted the last two World Cups and Europe (Russia) and Asia (Qatar) get the next two. That leaves potential challenges by England and China as long shots for ’26. [April 9]
Comment: Regardless of whether the U.S.-Mexico-Canada bid succeeds, the 2026 World Cup will not be your father’s World Cup.
If this bid succeeds, it will usher in a new era in which a bloated 48-team field will require not just co-hosts–as in 2002, when Japan and South Korea reluctantly joined hands to play host to 32 nations–but tri-hosts. And in this case, it would require a centerpiece host nation like the U.S., which in 1994 hosted the best organized, best-attended World Cup in history, to pull off a successful tournament.
And what of a tri-hosted World Cup? Will USA-Mex-Can ’26 prove conclusively that a World Cup with four dozen participating nations and four score matches will henceforth require three host countries? And if so, where will those trios come from in the future? Considering geopolitical realities around the globe, how many threesomes of nations with common borders–or within shouting distance–and adequate infrastructure are there out there with the will and means to work together and competently stage a modern World Cup?
Three-country World Cups would open opportunities to host to many nations that otherwise could never pull off one on their own, starting with Canada, thus invigorating efforts to develop the sport in those nations. But in the case of Canada, it will mean instances in which a bidding trio will include a nation that would be a long shot to qualify but whose automatic berth as host takes a berth from another regional rival. It all begs the question, as with its wrongheaded decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, did FIFA create an unnecessary problem in over-extending itself, with the excuses, lame explanations and, um, solutions to come later?
Filed under: Gianni Infantino, Uncategorized | Tags: 2018 World Cup, 2022 World Cup, Andorra, Arab Spring, Asian Football Confederation, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil '14, Brig, Cameroon, Dutch East Indies, European Championship, FIFA, FIFA Council, FIFA Executive Committee, France, France '98, Gianni Infantino, Honduras, Jerome Champagne, Joao Havelange, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Michel Platini, NCAA basketball tournament, Prince Ali, Qatar, Russia, San Marino, Sepp Blatter, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim, South Korea, UEFA, UEFA general secretary, Visp, World Cup, Zaire, Zurich
A dark horse candidate–Michel Platini’s lieutenant at the UEFA–emerged as the victor in a tense, six-hour FIFA presidential election in Zurich as member nations sought to put behind them years of scandal that cost Sepp Blatter his job as world soccer boss and led to the indictment of 41 soccer officials and marketing agencies.
Gianni Infantino, an Italian-Swiss attorney who grew up in the Alpine Village of Brig–just seven miles from Blatter’s hometown of Visp–surprisingly finished first in the initial balloting, attracting 88 votes to 85 for the favorite, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim of Bahrain, 27 for Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan and seven for Jerome Champagne of France. With no one having won a two-thirds majority, that set up a second ballot for the first time in 42 years, and with a simple majority of the 104 votes needed, Infantino out-polled Salman, 115 to 88. Ali received four votes and Champagne none.
Salman, the head of the Asian Football Confederation, was the front-runner during the four-month campaign, but he apparently was undone by concerns over his actions during the Arab Spring riots of 2011. Infantino only entered the race in October to hold a place for Platini, who was under investigation for financial wrongdoing and ultimately was banned from soccer activities by FIFA for six years.
Infantino, 45, will be president until May 2019, completing Blatter’s term. Blatter resigned under pressure last May, four days after winning a fifth four-year term as FIFA chief. He subsequently was banned for eight years–later reduced to six–for financial mismanagement related to his dealings with Platini.
Before the election the member federations approved a wide-ranging slate of reforms intended to increase transparency, foster greater inclusion and restore the confidence of sponsors. Among them, FIFA presidents will be limited to three four-year teams, and the FIFA Executive Committee will be expanded from 24 to 36 members (six of whom must be women) and renamed the FIFA Council. [February 26]
Comment: Best of luck to Infantino in righting the FIFA ship. But beware of another Swiss bearing gifts.
Just as Blatter before him and Brazilian Joao Havelange before him, Infantino assumes the world soccer throne having made offers to please the have-nots among the membership, including more funding steered in their direction from the $5 billion taken in by the 2014 World Cup. But for those who consider the World Cup the greatest of all sporting events, what’s troubling is Infantino’s stance that the tournament be expanded from 32 finalists to 40.
It doesn’t seem like much: eight extra nations, probably 10 groups of four teams instead of the eight groups of four at Brazil ’14 and every World Cup since France ’98. But does international soccer’s biggest stage really need an additional eight no-hopers, eight teams that under today’s format wouldn’t have even been strong enough to earn the opportunity to finish last in a World Cup first-round group?
World Cups have had contenders who hadn’t a prayer of even surviving the opening round of a 16-nation tournament, from Dutch East Indies in 1938 and South Korea (0 goals for, 16 against, in two matches) in 1954 to Zaire (a 9-0 loser to Yugoslavia) in 1974. But while the balance of power around the world has improved, FIFA has maintained the World Cup gap between the strongest nations and the rest by expanding the tournament, first to 24 nations in 1982, then the present 32 in ’98. As a result, the finals remains diluted, and we get performances like those of Cameroon, Australia and Honduras two years ago, which went a combined 0-9-0 with five goals scored and 26 conceded. That amounted to matches not worth watching on what is the sport’s grand stage.
The parameters for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and ’22 in Qatar have already been set, so the first time Infantino could spring a 40-nation tournament on the world wouldn’t be possible until 2026, whose host–the U.S., perhaps–has yet to be determined. But Americans already have seen how these things get out of control. The NCAA basketball tournament started modestly enough in 1939 as an eight-school affair. Within a dozen years it had been expanded to 16, then doubled again in 1975. Four years after that it was 40, and the year after that 48. It has since grown by degrees to 68 schools, and for the past five years there has been pressure to expand it to 128. And the driving force behind this amazing expansion has been–no surprise here–television money.
Infantino has to lead the reform of FIFA while his organization deals with a current deficit of $108 million. A tall order. Should he win a term in his own right, he’d have the opportunity to make a 40-nation World Cup a reality in 2026. And he would know how to get it done. In his previous post, as UEFA general secretary, Infantino oversaw the expansion of the European Championship from 16 teams to 24. If that seems bloated, it is: That’s nearly half the UEFA’s membership of 54 nations. Ridiculous, but countries like San Marino, Liechtenstein and Andorra can dream, now, can’t they? And soccer fans who want to watch a competition like the Euro Championship that offers the highest possible quality can hope that no-hopers like that continue to be able to do nothing more than dream.
Filed under: Brad Friedel, Uncategorized | Tags: 1974 World Cup, 2014 World Cup, Aston Villa, Belgium, Blackburn, Brad Friedel, Columbus Crew, England, English Premier League, France '98, Germany, Gregg Berhalter, Hermann Trophy, Iran, Jan Tomaszewski, Juergen Sommer, Kasey Keller, Korea/Japan 2002, Liverpool, Major League Soccer, Mexico, Ohio, Poland, South Korea, Tim Howard, Tony Meola, Torsten Frings, Tottenham Hotspur, UCLA, Yugoslavia
Brad Friedel, one of the most decorated players in U.S. history, announced that he would retire at the end of Tottenham Hotspur’s English Premier League season.
The 44-year-old, who made his EPL debut 17 seasons ago with Liverpool and went on to play for Blackburn and Aston Villa, holds the league record for consecutive starts with 310 and made 450 overall. He’s eighth all-time in career shutouts with 132, and he is only the second goalkeeper in league history to score a goal.
Friedel made 82 international appearances from 1992 through 2004. He won the 1992 Hermann Trophy as a UCLA junior and two years later was the USA’s backup goalkeeper to Tony Meola, along with Juergen Sommer, at the 1994 World Cup. He was the 1997 Goalkeeper of the Year, with the Columbus Crew, in his only season in Major League Soccer. Friedel then left for England, where he made 450 starts–310 consecutively. The Ohio native recorded 132 shutouts (eighth all-time in the EPL) and became only the second goalkeeper to score a Premier League goal, still only one of five to do so.
The 44-year-old Friedel, described by one writer as “follicularly fulsome” at the beginning of his career and bald as a soccer ball since, now brings his curious British/Midwestern accent to the tube as a full-time commentator for Fox Sports. [May 14]
Comment: For all the accolades that came Tim Howard’s way for his heroic performance in the USA’s overtime loss to Belgium in the second round of the 2014 World Cup, the greatest sustained World Cup performance by a U.S. goalkeeper was Friedel’s at Korea/Japan 2002.
Friedel was the guy who, at France ’98, was known as the USA’s No. 1 1/2, losing to Yugoslavia, 1-0, after No. 1 Kasey Keller had lost to Germany, 2-0, and Iran, 2-1. But four years later, he was the undisputed starter.
He saved penalty kicks against host South Korea and Poland in the first round, becoming the only ‘keeper to accomplish that feat since Jan Tomaszewski during Poland’s run to third place at the 1974 World Cup. Friedel’s performance against Korea included three saves of shots from inside 10 yards–without those, the U.S. doesn’t survive with a 1-1 tie and doesn’t advance out of its group. Then, Friedel doesn’t post his 2-0 shutout of Mexico in the second round. And in the quarterfinals, maybe there’s a call on Torsten Fring’s goal line handball on the shot by Gregg Berhalter, maybe the U.S. takes the game beyond overtime to penalty kicks, and maybe Brad Friedel . . . .
Filed under: ISIS executes boys for watching soccer, Uncategorized | Tags: 1972 Munich Olympics, 2015 Asian Cup, Al-Yarmouk, Australia, Black September, Brisbane, Doha, FIFA, FIFA Executive Committee, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel, Japan, Jordan, London, Madrid, Mosul, New York, Persian Gulf, Qatar, South Korea, Sydne, Tokyo, U.S., Zurich
ISIS militants executed 13 teen-aged boys in Islamic State-controlled Mosul for watching the 2015 Asian Cup first-round match between Iraq and Jordan.
The youngsters were caught in the Al-Yarmouk district taking in the match being televised from Brisbane, Australia. Accused of violating Sharia law, they were rounded up and, after their crime was announced over loudspeaker, machine-gunned to death in a public execution. Family members did not immediately recover the bodies out of fear of murder by ISIS gunmen. [January 12]
Comment: The 2022 World Cup will be held in Qatar. The tiny Middle Eastern state on the Persian Gulf was selected host nation in a vote of the FIFA Executive Committee in 2010 that had a strong odor to it and left runners-up the U.S., Australia, Japan and South Korea dumbfounded. Since then, concerns over the heat in Qatar in June and July–the traditional World Cup months–have stirred speculation that the event would be shifted to December-January for the first time ever, a move that would turn many of the world’s club schedules upside down. And, most recently, the release of the report of an investigation into suspicions that the Qataris bought the Executive Committee has been stonewalled by FIFA. But if matches played in 107-degree temperatures and bald corruption aren’t enough to prompt FIFA to reconsider its decision to risk its prime jewel (a.k.a., its prime cash cow), perhaps it’s this heinous execution in Mosul.
As the Qatari delegation asked of the Executive Committee in its final pitch to become the ’22 host nation, “When?” When would a World Cup be awarded to a region that is as passionate about soccer as any on the planet? But the turmoil in that part of the world continues to grow, and with it the fear that if ISIS is ultimately defeated over the next few years, another extreme Islamist force will take its place. And, as these ISIS monsters demonstrated, while soccer is blithely called a religion around the world, to a few on the edge of sanity, to them it’s an anti-religion.
That raises the formerly unthinkable prospect that a World Cup could be a prime target of terrorists–namely, Qatar ’22. Previously, it was easy to believe that the World Cup was immune to any sort of attack because of soccer’s sky-high popularity. The Black September massacre of Israeli wrestlers at the 1972 Munich Summer Games shattered the image of the Olympics as a joyous festival of global goodwill–and turned the planet against the terrorists behind it. But today’s terrorists doesn’t care. We’ve seen through the beheadings and the summary execution of boys that they have no public relations department and don’t want one. If they enrage soccer fans around the globe, they’ve made their point in the strongest possible terms. Worse still, they may be able to reach New York, London, Madrid, and Tokyo, but striking in their own backyard is so much easier. And that should be cause for concern at FIFA headquarters in Zurich. This latest atrocity was committed in Mosul. That’s only 910 miles from Doha, the capital of Qatar.
For the record: Iraq, whose soccer triumphs have united the country like nothing else, beat Jordan that day, 1-0, and later finished second in its Asian Cup group to advance to the quarterfinals, where it edged arch rival Iran on penalty kicks, 7-6, after a 3-3 draw. The Iraqis succumbed in the semifinals to South Korea, 2-0, in Sydney.
Filed under: Uncategorized, World Cup tickets sold to U.S. | Tags: 125, 2007 Women's World Cup, 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, 2010 World Cup, 2011 Women's World Cup, 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, 2014 FIFA World Cup, 2018 World Cup, 2022 World Cup, 465 tickets sold to U.S., ABC, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, CONCACAF, England, ESPN, FIFA, Fox, France, Germany, Ghana, Group "G", Group of Death, Italia '90, Italy, Manaus, Mexico, Natal, Portugal, Recife, Royal Bafokeng Stadium, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sunil Gulati, Telemundo, U.S. National Team, U.S. Soccer, U.S. Soccer Supporters Club, United States, Univision
With nearly four months remaining before kickoff, the United States has the highest number of allocated tickets among visiting countries for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Though its odds of getting out of the so-called “Group of Death” and winning Brasil ’14 are a daunting 100-to-1, the United States, on every level, has become a significant part of the planet’s most-watched sporting event. That’s a far cry from the beginning of its World Cup run at Italia ’90, when a U.S. team of current and former college standouts needed a miracle to qualify for the first time in four decades, then crashed out in three games, supported by a smattering of American fans, many of whom were already in Italy on vacation and decided, on a whim, to have a look.
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.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1996 Atlanta Games, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Ali Daei, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, David Beckham, Denmark, England, Europe, Far East, Ferenc Puskas, FIFA Women's World Cup, FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, France, Gatorade, Germany, Harrison NJ, Holland, Italy, Japan, Johan Cruyff, Kristine Lilly, Lauren Cheney, Marco Van Basten, Megan Rapinoe, Mia Hamm, New Zealand, Nigeria, Nike, North Korea, Norway, Pele, Red Bull Arena, Scandinavia, South Korea, Sweden, U.S. National Women's Team, World Cup
Abby Wambach became the most prolific goal-scorer–male or female–in international soccer history when she scored four goals against South Korea in a friendly at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, as the U.S. rolled to a 5-0 victory.
All of Wambach’s goals were scored in the first half. Her third, which came in the 29th minute, gave her 159 for her career and put her past former U.S. teammate Mia Hamm.
The 33-year old scored the record-setter with a trademark diving header off a corner kick by midfielder Megan Rapinoe. A bench-clearing celebration followed as the crowd of 18,961 roared. She exited the match to another long ovation 13 minutes into the second half.
Wambach also passed Hamm in another category: The two had been tied at 38 career multi-goal games.
Wambach got even with Hamm with goals in the 10th and 19th minutes, both set up by Lauren Cheney. She capped her historic evening in first-half added-on time on a selfless pass by Alex Morgan.
At the moment, Wambach stands alone at 160 career international goals, followed by Hamm at 158. Among the men, Ali Daei of Iran (1993-2006) is on top with 109 goals in 149 appearances. Among European/South American males, Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas (1945-56) remains No. 1 with 84 in 85 matches, nearly a goal-per-game average. [June 20]
Comment: So who’s better, Abby Wambach or Mia Hamm, who retired in 2004 after 275 international appearances?
Hamm, of course, was an attacking midfielder, not a pure striker with the 5-foot-11 Wambach’s aerial ability in the penalty area. Hamm probably passed up several more goals, as her career assist total–144–suggests. (Wambach has 62; second on the U.S. list is the retired Kristine Lilly, 105). And while Wambach’s sheer drive, power and talent with her back to the goal are tremendous, Hamm could do it all in the attacking half, embarrassing a generation of would-be defenders in the process. In another country, Holland, among men, this would be a comparison between strike master Marco Van Basten and one of the most complete players of all time, Johan Cruyff. (For the record, Van Basten scored 37 goals in 73 games for the Dutch, Cruyff, 33 goals in 48 before his premature international retirement.)
And from a cultural standpoint, Hamm, thanks to her considerable skills, her two World Cup winner’s medals, her two Olympic gold medals, her two FIFA World Women’s Player of the Year awards and the marketing geniuses at Nike and Gatorade, remains the best-known American female soccer player in the U.S.–despite Wambach having won a FIFA World Women’s Player of the Year award of her own last year. Heck, among this country’s millions of non-soccer fans, Hamm may be the best-known soccer player, period, with all due respect to David Beckham and Pele.
On the other hand, perhaps it’s a wash. When Hamm made her U.S. debut in 1987, she was 15, and the women’s game was only beginning to be taken seriously in the U.S., Scandinavia, pockets of western Europe and the Far East–while it was frowned upon in macho Latin America, Africa and most of Asia. The first FIFA Women’s World Cup, won by the U.S., was four years away. The first women’s Olympic tournament, won by the U.S. at the Atlanta Games, was another five years away. It all seems like ages ago, and with the women’s game evolving at breakneck speed, the threats to U.S. hegemony aren’t just China, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Japan of Hamm’s day but Brazil, France, England, Canada, Australia and North Korea, while early powers like Italy and Denmark and Nigeria and New Zealand have faded into the second tier. Wambach’s is a different world, one a whole lot more crowded–crowded with better teams with better defenders.