Monthly Archives: May 2014

2014 Fifa World Cup: Guide to Argentina’s Group F

“Style & formation: Argentina often fielded a bold 4-3-3 formation in qualifying, although a more conservative 5-3-2 was deployed for tricky away fixtures. The former system allows Lionel Messi to play as a classic number 10 behind two strikers – typically Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain – who stretch play. But with Angel Di Maria deployed as part of a midfield three, the formation offers little defensive protection.” BBC – Argentina, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Iran, Nigeria

World Cup 2014 Tactics: How will Argentina set-up at the 2014 FIFA World Cup?
“The two-time winners topped the South American qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and, as ever, will go into the tournament as one of the favourites. An Albiceleste victory on Brazilian soil would be the perfect way to rub salt into the wounds of the hosts and Alejandro Sabella’s men will be desperate to repeat the feats of ’78 and ’86.” Outside of the Boot


Five Refs Who Will Ruin Your World Cup

“No World Cup would be complete without a heavy helping of missed hand balls, blown offsides calls, unpunished loogie-hocking, and sharp, flying elbows. This year will be no different: FIFA recently released the list of referees who will be officiating the tournament and, because all referees make mistakes and they’re usually shown on television, we were able to find several highlight reel-worthy howlers. Here, in no particular order, are some of their greatest hits.” Fosion (Video)

Coaching, Portuguese Style

“The coaches of the World Cup are more invested in the outcome of the match than almost anyone else on the planet. Players return to their league club between national-team matches—coaches don’t. They simply grit their teeth and bear the weight that comes with carrying an entire country’s sporting expectations on their shoulders. ‘Your biggest question before you take the job is not, do you put them 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1,’ Slaven Bilic, the former coach of the Croatian national soccer team, said, referencing different soccer formations. ‘The biggest question is, can you cope with the pressure?’ One of the great World Cup coaches of all time was César Luis Menotti, the manager of the 1978 Argentina championship team. El Flaco, or “the thin one,” as he was known, had a long flop of side-parted dark hair and thick sideburns, and he routinely used nicotine to help him cope with the pressure—he was rarely seen without a cigarette.” The Paris Review

Nothing Can Stay Buried

“VEDAD IBISEVIC ACCELERATES his black Mercedes-Benz into Stuttgart traffic, almost outrunning the memory of his family crammed into an overcrowded bus, fleeing another home. His memories are always there, exerting both lift and drag. Today he is a star striker in the German Bundesliga. Twenty-two years ago, in a four-month period, the following things happened to him and his Bosnian family: Serb neighbors invaded his mother’s village, Pijuke, and called out familiar names on a bullhorn, promising that no one would be hurt. They murdered everyone who emerged. The ethnic-cleansing militia tortured and killed as many Muslims as they could find, burning down every house. They split his grand­father’s head open and carved a cross into the chest of a local shop owner, a man who kept chocolate in his store for children like Vedad. Eleven of the estimated 100,000 killed in the Bosnian civil war died on May 8, 1992, in a little town surrounded by rolling green hills and grazing white sheep.” ESPN (Video)

What makes the perfect World Cup shootout penalty?

“1. 204 and counting. ‘All you need to do is walk 50 yards, take a penalty and score,’ wrote former England defender Stuart Pearce in his autobiography, but it is not always so easy. Of the 204 shootout penalties at World Cups, 60 have been saved or missed and Italy’s talisman Roberto Baggio said his penalty failure in the 1994 final affected him for years. Often cruel, always captivating and for some the precursor to huge celebrations, the first shootout took place on 8 July 1982 when West Germany defeated France 5-4 in a semi-final in Spain. Since then penalty shootouts have decided two finals and become a source of huge debate, with Baggio himself arguing that he will never accept a defeat on penalties. …” BBC

Ten players who proved the World Cup is not a good ‘shop window’

“The ubiquity of televised football over the past two decades has resulted in foreign teams losing the sense of exoticism they carried in the 1970s and 1980s. It would be impossible now for players such as Teofilo Cubillas and Roger Milla to sneak under the radar and take the World Cup by storm. The increased knowledge of football outside of British shores has resulted in an unstoppable influx of foreign players into the Premier League. Most of these signings are undoubtedly based on months of careful scouting, however, when the World Cup comes round, it can be tempting for managers to take a punt on the talent on show, even if it is only exhibited over three games against often mediocre opposition. These ten players are examples of why it is perhaps a little foolish to judge on the basis of tournament performance alone.” backpagefootball

The war against the World Cup and the Olympics

“It must be strange for people who are used to see Brazilians as a smiley and youthful nation, proud of its country’s sporting exploits, to learn that most of them are hating to host the Olympics and the World Cup. While the costs are astronomical and no one knows for sure who actually benefits from these soulless mega-events centred on big business, very few countries get the privilege of hosting them and doing so usually is a matter of big national pride. Brazil seems to be an exception, and the question that comes to mind is why. Ask the average Brazilian and he will give you the standard answer: The anger is because the government decided to throw money on these useless events instead of investing in hospitals, schools and infrastructure.” Lost Sambista

Beyond samba, sex and soccer: The World Cup riots in Brazil
“Only 22 years old, the footballer known simply as ‘Neymar’ is far more than the ‘face of Brazilian soccer’. Since donning the iconic, canary yellow and blue kit for the first time, Neymar has sidestepped defenders as if dancing the samba, and raced up and down the pitch with the cavalier and carnival spirit definitive of Brazilian football. As Neymar sprints into his prime, Brazil is primed to host its first World Cup in 64 years. This year’s tournament, furnishes the Brazilian government with a rare opportunity to showcase its greatest export on its home soil. Brazil and football are synonymous: A conflation the state has engineered to carry forward its policies inside and outside of the country. Its iconic lineage of soccer stars, starting with Pele and ending with Neymar, provide the state with single-named ambassadors known and loved all over the world.” Aljazeera

Brazil’s evicted ‘won’t celebrate World Cup’
“Every four years, Brazilians decorate their streets in green and yellow, celebrating the arrival of the most anticipated sports tournament in the country. With the kick-off for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil less than one month away, the country’s passion for football should be pulsating more than ever. But there are some signs to the contrary. ‘World Cup for whom?’ read the words painted on a wall on a street in Sao Paulo. Many in Brazil’s middle class are unhappy with the effects the World Cup has already had on their lives. The cost of living has risen in the cities hosting the games, traffic jams have worsened, and a construction boom aimed at improving urban mobility has only compounded problems, they say.” Aljazeera

Eric Cantona: Fifa’s corruption divides Brazilian football from its roots
“It will surprise precisely no one who has taken even a passing interest in his life and career, but Eric Cantona is no great fan of football’s governing bodies. Having recently returned from Rio de Janeiro, where he has been making a documentary about Brazilian football and politics that will receive its UK premiere at Amnesty International’s Sidelines film festival next month, he has a jaundiced view of Fifa’s modus operandi.” Guardian (Video)

Police Repression of Indigenous Protest Against Brasil’s World Cup
“Hundreds of indigenous people and thousands of supporters peacefully marched towards the National Mane Garrincha Stadium in protest of the upcoming World Cup in an effort to block the roads. They were met by riot police and Military Cavalry Police of the Federal District on the afternoon of Tuesday the 27th. The demonstration, which had the support of hundreds of Indians left the Pilot Road, but was surrounded by police personnel about 100 meters from the arena to receive seven games of the World Cup 2014. Police blocked the march and soon were using tear gas, sound grenades and rubber bullets on people to violently disperse the protest march.” Revolution News!

Brazil Is Tired of Being Scolded
“By now, Brazil should probably have been grounded for life, without video games or dessert. Last month, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee, John Coates, said that Rio de Janeiro’s preparations for the 2016 Summer Olympics were the worst he had ever seen. Before that, Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA — the International Federation of Association Football — claimed that Brazil was further behind in its preparations for this summer’s World Cup than any previous host nation, even though it had had seven full years to prepare. Then, in March, FIFA’s secretary general, Jérôme Valcke, declared we could risk being ‘the worst organizers’ of the ‘worst event.’ He had previously said that Brazil needed “a kick up the backside.” Well, that was harsh.” NYT: The Opinion Pages

Can Goldman’s economists predict who will win the World Cup?

“The economists at Goldman Sachs apparently can’t wait for the beginning of the World Cup next month. They issued a 60-page report — billed as ‘an unnatural mix of football and economics’ — with detailed analyses of each team and a forecast for outcome of the tournament. Now we know what they’ll be doing once the matches begin in Brazil. Brazil, the host country, is strongly favored to win the championship, according to Goldman’s predictions. These predictions are derived from a formula that estimates the number of goals a team is likely to score in a game based on its past performance as well as on a few other factors, such as whether the team is playing at home. Brazil’s home-field advantage is a major reason why Goldman expects it to do so well.” Washington Post

[PDF] The World Cup and Economics 2014

Bosnia: Divided by war, united by football

Žilina, Slovakia, September 2013. Slovakia’s third largest city is close to the Low Tatras Mountains, the natural border with Poland. The cold wind and rain hint at snow and winter’s early arrival. On the pitch, the Bosnia national football team is training in silence ahead of their next World Cup qualifier against Slovakia in 24 hours’ time. Their coach, Safet Sušić, buried deep in a thermal jacket and hood, is being soaked by a nagging drizzle. The 50 or so Bosnian journalists watching in the stands shuffle their feet and chain-smoke to keep warm. But they, too, watch in silence. No one – not the players, the coach or the journalists – looks as if they want to be here. Which is strange. Bosnia are currently top of Group G in World Cup qualification.” CNN – James Montague

Brazil 2014: Got, Got, Need — how stickers took the World Cup by storm

“Obsession often brings joy and sorrow in equal measure. Inside that thin, shiny packet giving off a mystical glow sits five stickers — five faces of five men whose very presence can turn lives upside down. Welcome to the world of World Cup sticker collecting. … While most relationships survive the sticker phase, Blazer is not alone in his infatuation with the shiny adhesives which smile back at those dreaming of the holy grail — the full sticker album. Some are relentless in their pursuit of that holy grail, setting up spreadsheets and even calling in their spouse to increase the odds of successful swapping.” CNN

World Cup 2014: Guide to Switzerland’s Group E

“Style & formation: Switzerland’s perfectly-timed rise to become one of the seeded nations for the World Cup is founded on a resilient defence, with two central midfielders shielding the back four. Nonetheless, coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has responded to previous criticism of his defensive tactics and rigid 4-4-2 formation by integrating creative young players into a 4-2-3-1 line-up well suited to a counter-attacking approach.” BBC – Switzerland, Ecuador, French, Hondurans

How Soccer Used to Explain Brazil

“Beginning in 1938, when Brazil sent its first integrated team to the World Cup, the players chosen to represent the Seleçao have also represented the country in terms of its ethnic, social, and religious makeup. The current crop of stars still mirror changes to Brazilian society, but in certain ways they have also come to represent the country’s upper class—the very target of Brazilian protestors.” Fusion

WC2014 Expert Interview: Why are expectations low despite Nigeria being African champions?

“A lot of Nigerian’s ply their trade in Europe. Do you think that doing so brings them an unfair share of attention, and hence greater chances of selection? Or is their experience in Europe deserving of a spot in the World Cup squad? The truth is that playing in Europe will more often than not give you a better chance of catching the attention of the national selectors. This has been more the rule than the exception over the years. However, coach Stephen Keshi has been bold enough in his three years in charge to give players from the domestic league a more decent run in his team so much so that the home-based players are no longer just mere ‘training materials’.” Outside of the Boot

Soccer in Solitude

“I’ve drunk too much coffee. I do this every time. It’s forty-five minutes to kickoff and I’ve got nothing to do with my hands, and so I drink another cup. I’ve got nowhere to put my body. I am not at a bar. I am certainly not at the stadium. I’m not even with my friends. I am sitting, and now standing, and now pacing, and now sitting again, in my apartment. It is a half-hour to kickoff. I am chewing the inside of my cheek. Fifteen minutes. I wish someone would bring me a beer. They’re playing the national anthems. Time to shut the window, set the phone to silent. Someone, somehow, please grant me some other passion. This one is wearing me out. Quiet, please. I am a soccer fan.” Roads and Kingdoms

Portrait Serial Winner Luis Suarez Soccer Most Beautiful Player

“BEFORE GETTING TO the alleged mob hit or the mystery of the missing referee, there should be an explanation about how this quest began. An assigned profile of Luis Suarez led to a stack of things to read about his past. Whether it was a tabloid calling him Cannibal! or The New York Times calling him Luis Alberto Suarez Diaz, the portrait is of a cheat and a lunatic. If someone breathes on him near the goal, he falls down like he’s been knifed. He has bitten an opponent. Twice. And, back in his childhood in Uruguay, there’s an oft-reported incident that serves as explanation, or maybe proof, that he is, in fact, batshit crazy. When Suarez was 15, overcome with anger, he headbutted a referee and received a red card in a youth match, making the man’s nose bleed ‘like a cow,’ as a witness said.” ESPN (Video)

The War on WAGs

“The biggest threat to the World Cup is not Brazilian protestors, FIFA greed, or shoddy infrastructure—it’s women, at least according to the English press The wives and girlfriends of the world’s elite soccer players are about to descend on Brazil, eyes asparkle with the unmistakable glint of women plotting to destroy something we menfolk hold dear. The tabloids of Great Britain will cover these ladies as though they’re the ones down on the field, losing for England. And the tabloids are on the right track, because the WAGs constitute a threat, not just to on-field performance but to the very survival of the game we love. Think about it: before the rise of WAG culture, was soccer beset by melodrama, vanity, copious materialism, TV money, egotism, financial bankruptcy, and exploitative labor practices? No.” Soccer Fusion

Tactician’s Corner: Atlético runs out of steam in heartbreaking CL loss to Real Madrid

“Finals don’t often come down to pretty football, especially those that go into extra time. That doesn’t mean the tactical battles are any less compelling, as Real Madrid’s 4-1 win in the Champions League final over Atlético showed. Both managers made strange decisions in their starting lineups. Diego Costa, supposedly fit after his horse-placenta hamstring treatment, didn’t even last 10 minutes for Atlético, while Sami Khedira played a rather ineffective hour in just his third appearance for Real since recovering from a serious knee injury.” SI

Atlético reaches its breaking point as Real Madrid claims La Decima
“It turns out there was a breaking point for Diego Simeone’s magnificent Atlético Madrid side, and it came with 10 minutes of extra-time remaining. The club had won La Liga and was within two minutes of winning a first ever Champions League. Even after conceding to Sergio Ramos, there was still a chance it could cling on through extra-time for penalties, but once Gareth Bale had headed Real Madrid into the lead, it collapsed — physically and emotionally shattered. Marcelo’s late drive and Cristiano Ronaldo’s even later penalty added an unrepresentative one-sidedness to the scoreline, but there was no shame in defeat.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid (aet): Tactical Analysis | Game changing substitutions from Carlo Ancelotti
“The Champions League is always a very exciting competition, but this season provided a few more edge of the seat encounters than most others. After a season of incredible football from many teams across Europe, we got to the final in Lisbon last night, which like almost every other game in this season, was exciting from start to finish. Atletico as always, worked had, fought till the end, and made things very difficult for the opposition, but at the end of the day, the sheer determination and energy from Real made the difference, as the Galacticos 2.0 made history by reaching La Decima.” Outside of the Boot

Sizing up the Real vs. Atletico tactical battle
“Big clubs have a nasty habit of ruining their little city rivals’ celebrations. When Everton finished above Liverpool for the first time in years back in 2005, beating them to the final Champions League spot, the Reds went out and won the European Cup. When Manchester City’s 35-year wait for a major trophy ended with their 2011 FA Cup final win, Manchester United clinched the Premier League title on the same day.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Know Your Enemy: Ghana winger Andre Ayew

“For Andre Ayew to exhibit weariness when talking about his career is understandable, considering the status of his father — brilliant Marseille and Ghana attacking midfielder Abedi Pele. ‘What my father achieved in Ghana is huge,’ Ayew said. ‘He brought a lot to the country. I’m very proud of what he has done, but this doesn’t have any bearing on my game. Sometimes people may make useless comparisons. I suppose it’s normal, but I had to learn to live with that. Some people thought that maybe I would take the ball and dribble past ten players then score. There was a huge expectation.'” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Before Pelé there was Andrade

“Colette, the ‘Grand Dame of French literature’, lived with fame and scandal throughout her life. The novelist and performer caused a riot at the Moulin Rouge in 1907 when she simulated sex with another woman on stage. She seduced her stepson when he was 16, telling him: ‘It’s time you became a man.’ She had three husbands, two messy divorces and a string of lovers, both male and female. In 1924, when Paris hosted the Olympic Games, Colette met, and was captivated by, one of its participants: José Leandro Andrade. Their upbringings could not have been more different: Andrade was a Uruguayan footballer who had slept on a dirt floor in his childhood and spent little time at school. But Colette was not the only famous Frenchwoman smitten by Andrade.” Guardian

Brazil’s World Cup training starts amid protests

“Brazil’s national team has started its World Cup preparations amid protests in Rio de Janeiro. A bus bus carrying the players to its hilltop training camp was surrounded by striking teachers chanting slogans against the tournament. Later, upon arriving at Granja Comary, players were greeted by fans – and more protesters. Thousands of people have protested against the cost of staging the tournament beginning next month.” BBC

Key Battles: How to Defend

“How can defenders like Spain’s Sergio Ramos even hope to shut out the world-class strikers they’ll see in Brazil? It all starts at training camp with a clear strategy and a willing body double. Heading into the World Cup, most of the focus has been on the tournament’s large group of elite goal scorers: Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, Suarez. All told, 14 goal mongers expected at this year’s Cup scored at least eight times in qualifying — and that doesn’t include the best from Brazil, which qualified automatically as host. But history shows it’s the team with the stingiest defense that hoists the trophy. Of the past five champions, all but one had the best goals-against average among the quarterfinalists. (Brazil was second to runner-up Germany in 2002.)” ESPN

‘The Greatest Victory’

“Elmo Cordeiro is 80 now, but he still stands ramrod-straight, with a ready smile and eyes that shine under a set of bushy gray eyebrows. It isn’t hard to turn back the clock and imagine him 64 years ago, his white hair a darker shade, his skin wrinkle-free, his compact frame darting around the edge of a soccer field chasing down errant balls. In 1950, Cordeiro was a ballboy at the Estádio Independência here in Belo Horizonte, Brazil—stationed yards away from the historic goal itself—for perhaps the most famous upset in the 84-year history of the World Cup.” SI (Video)

The Landon Donovan Decision

“So Landon Donovan is not going to the World Cup. We’ve had a night to reflect. Does it make sense yet? No. Yes. No, because he’s Landon Donovan. Yes, because he’s Jurgen Klinsmann. Klinsmann had always seemed to regard Donovan’s much-publicized sabbatical from the game with barely tolerant bemusement. The player himself may have believed he was back in the fold, after a typically Donovanesque Gold Cup, and his return to the team during late-stage World Cup qualifiers, but Klinsmann always maintained an equivocal cool. It was as if he were mulling over when, and how, to use the entire Donovan episode as a teachable moment. He chose the eve of the World Cup.” Grantland

Bank Robber, Assassin, War Criminal, Football Club Owner

“Sixteen years ago, FK Obilić Belgrade became national champions of Serbia. Quite a remarkable feat when you consider it was their first ever season in the top flight, and the only time that the title has been held by a club other than Red Star or Partizan since the break-up of Yugoslavia. They remained amongst the country’s elite until their relegation in 2006, which was the start of the kind of tail-spin the poorly run clubs in Britain have got nothing on. After suffering another five more relegations over the six seasons that followed, a team that drew 1-1 with eventual finalists Bayern Munich in the 1998/99 Champions League qualifiers, now reside in Serbia’s seventh tier.” In Bed With Maradona

Atlético Madrid – welcome interrupters

“‘If you believe and if you work, you can do it.’ Diego Simeone’s words were clear on Sunday evening. They were simple, they were true. Speaking at an enormous celebratory parade in the wake of Atlético Madrid’s attritional league-winning draw, away at Barcelona, Simeone extolled humble virtues often lost in the din of modern professional football That Atlético are now triumphant is genuinely significant. Setting aside Rangers’ spectacularly grubby fall from Scotland’s top tier, the last decade had seen Spain develop its own high-end version of an Old Firm hegemony.” backpagefootball

Fascism & Football: The political history of Spanish football

“Spain had been a notable absentee from the 1938 World Cup. The country was being torn apart by Leftist Republicans and a coalition of Nationalist Forces led by General Francisco Franco. The Spanish Civil War was instrumental in bringing three most powerful Fascist leaders together. In 1937, Mussolini sent a considerable number of men to support his Fascist ally. German involvement in the War began immediately as Adolf Hitler immediately sent powerful air and armoured units to assist Franco and his Nationalist forces along with considerable economic loans. By 1939, Franco was successful in curbing the last outbursts of his Republican resistance, including and importantly, the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona. In one week alone in the last year of struggle, 10,000 members of the anti-Franco brigade were executed in Barcelona. A further 25,000 were shot after the ceasefire in the city.” Outside of the Boot

Fascism and Football: How Italy won the 1934 and 1938 World Cup
Outside of the Boot

Fascism & Football: When Germany were the inferior team
Outside of the Boot

Mussolini’s Football
Soccer Politics

Duel: Is the World Cup a poisoned chalice?

“To describe the World Cup as a ‘poisoned chalice’ for the host nations is to ignore the fact that its value goes beyond the economic—it brings people and nations together. It’s also a fantastic platform from which to spread the message that racism and homophobia in sport are wrong. I’m not denying that it costs a huge amount of money to host the World Cup but Brazil currently has the seventh largest economy in the world, is rich in natural resources and has a population of over 198m people. It is a nation that loves football and has a strong tradition of excellence in the game; this event has forced them to upgrade their stadiums and ensure they maintain a world-class standard. It has also made it essential for the Brazilian government to improve the nation’s infrastructure. Brazil is supposed to be this new country coming out and showing the world how powerful they are. I believe that hosting the World Cup will, in the long term, be a huge benefit to Brazil’s economy and global status.” Prospect: Sol Campbell and Simon Kuper

2014 World Cup in Brazil

“This summer, 32 countries will compete in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Although each country has distinct histories, customs, and cultures, soccer ties these countries together and bridges their differences. Thus, soccer acts as a mode of universal language or, perhaps, even transcends language, due to its simplicity and global appeal. As a ubiquitous sport, soccer appeals not only to players, but also to millions of fans—some of who play soccer and others of who have never played. For four years, these fans wait anxiously for the quadrennial World Cup, which attracts more fans than any other sporting event in existence. This blog page is a background and travel guide for all of those fans who plan to travel to Brazil to witness the spectacle firsthand. It is also a useful resource for those fans that will witness the event on television and might want additional insight into the Brazilian culture and history that make this summer’s World Cup so meaningful. We hope you enjoy our guide and find it useful in answering any questions you may have. Enjoy Brazil, savor the exhilarating soccer matches that are sure to take place and, for those of you making the journey, safe travels!” Soccer Politics

The Fight For 23: Crowded U.S. midfield makes for heated World Cup roster competition

“In the fight to make the 23-man U.S. World Cup squad, any discussion about the midfielders has to begin with Michael Bradley. The rock of the central midfield is at the height of his powers at age 26, and he knows exactly how the U.S. should look on the field in Brazil when the Americans are playing at their best. How can you tell when that’s the case? When, as Bradley puts it, ‘tactically we’re organized, and defensively every guy is committed to closing down and being aggressive and pressing and making the game hard on the other team. It means that when we win balls we’re mobile and dynamic and showing how athletic we are and how quickly we can go forward.’” SI

The (Midfield) Engine That Could

“There are eleven positions on a soccer team, each with its own character. None is more glamorous than the striker, whose job is to score the goals in a game that has so few of them. None is more romantic than the goalkeeper, who stands alone as the team’s last line of defense, the only player who can use his hands in a sport that depends on the use of the feet, the head, and every part of the body but the hands. None is more celebrated than the Number 10, known sometimes as the fantasista, the team’s playmaking superstar who’s asked to supply the creativity that can undo the most rehearsed and structured defense. Yet despite the spotlight that shines on those players, the midfield position situated just in front of the team’s defensive backline is perhaps the most critical of all. ” The Paris Review

A National Team Without a Country

“The 18 Eritrean refugees arrived in this picturesque, blue-collar Dutch city 20 miles east of Rotterdam earlier this month looking for safety, security and, finally, after 18 months of fear and uncertainty in two refugee camps on two continents, a home. Refugees are not an uncommon sight in the Netherlands. More than 500 are granted legal status every year in the country’s municipalities, towns and cities, often in groups of two or three, though a huge number of economic migrants arrive, many illegally.” NY Times

Soccer Players You Need to Know Before the World Cup: Thomas Muller

“Thomas Muller gets more tangible results from intangible skills than any player in any sport on the face of the planet. Usually, when we talk about intangibles we talk about players who do the little things: glue guys, clubhouse guys, guys who are willing to put in the dirty work other players won’t. But that’s not Muller. Thomas Muller scores goals. He scores them all the time; he’s regularly a top goal-scoring contributor on perhaps the best club team in the world, Bayern Munich, and one of the best national teams in the world, Germany. But exactly how he gets them? That’s the intangible.” Grantland

2014 Fifa World Cup draw: Guide to Group D

Argentina Uruguay Soccer WCup
“Gary Lineker’s verdict… Style & formation: As qualifying went on, coach Oscar Tabarez settled on a pragmatic 4-4-2. The industrious Edinson Cavani leads the line, with Luis Suarez given licence to roam. Tabarez, however, is not afraid to switch formations, doing so in away matches and during the Confederations Cup to counteract the opposition, including playing 3-5-2 and 4-3-3. Expect him to vary it up in Brazil.” BBC: Uruguay – England – Costa Rica – Italy

La Liga power balance shifts: Has Barcelona lost its soul?

“In Madrid and Barcelona, they will be talking about this for many years to come. Of all the ways to break Barca’s monopoly on Spanish league titles, going to the home of the champions and robbing them of their crown in their own backyard takes some beating. In the Catalan heartland Saturday, unfashionable Atletico Madrid produced a storybook ending to one of the most enthralling seasons Spanish football — or indeed any European league — has ever produced. But as Atleti celebrated, the soul searching began in Barcelona.” CNN

Bayern’s double allows Pep Guardiola to exhale after suffocating first season

“Don’t read on if you still want to view the box set, but season one of Breaking Pep, a fish-out-of-water tale about a clever man trying to come up with the winning formula in an alien world of unreliable underlings and a grilled meats-empire boss who hides a dark secret, finished with a big cliffhanger on Saturday night: THE. MOLE. IS. STILL. OUT. THERE. Guardiola had first embarked on a hunt for the informer inside his own ranks in November, when Bild had revealed Bayern Munich‘s long-ball tactics for the away game at Dortmund before kick-off.” Guardian

Serie A season signs off with ding-dong battle for Europa League berth

“The Serie A season ended as these things usually do: with contrasting images of joy and despair. In one stadium, champagne bottles were uncorked and grown men were tossed up in the air. In another, an Italy forward wept inconsolably. His failure to convert a last-minute penalty had cost his team everything. Instead of sealing a triumphant sixth-place finish, Alessio Cerci had condemned Torino to disastrous seventh.” Guardian

League Focus: Ligue 1 2013/14 Review

“As Paris Saint-Germain closed their season in typical style with a 4-0 win over Montpellier, it seemed like an eternity since the reverse fixture on the opening day of the season, when La Paillade had held Laurent Blanc’s side to a draw at the Stade de la Mosson. It was also an extraordinary feeling to consider that Montpellier were the last team to deprive PSG of the Ligue 1 title, in 2012. There will be no repeat in the near future, with the prospect of even getting into the table’s upper reaches severely compromised by the imminent exit of Rémy Cabella, the left midfielder in WhoScored’s Best Xi of the season.” whoscored

UFWC World Cup Classics: Argentina vs Netherlands, 1978

“The Netherlands had beaten Italy 2-1 to reach their second consecutive World Cup final, and to deprive the Italians of the UFWC title. Dutch defender Ernie Brandts had scored for both sides in that game, with Arie Haan getting the winner. The Oranje were looking impressive despite the fact that they were without star man Johan Cruyff, who had stayed at home to consider his priorities following an alleged kidnap attempt on his family. The hugely experienced Dutch team still featured the likes of Jonny Rep, Johan Neeskens, big keeper Jan Jongbloed, and troublesome twins Willy and Rene Van der Kerkhof.” UFWC

Body Politic: Contemporary Art and Culture In Rio

Gondola lift, Complexo do Alemão, Rio de Janeiro, July 7, 2011.
“FOR THIS ISSUE’S Dispatch, Artforum goes south, to Rio de Janeiro—a city as defined by myths of sensualist extravagance as it is by horror stories of yesterday’s military dictatorship and today’s slum violence. Yet one does not have to subscribe to cliché to recognize that Rio is somehow singular; that, in the past half century alone, it has been a place of extraordinary innovation and devastation alike, from the decadent inventions of bossa nova and Tropicália to the human-rights abuses of the postwar period and the unsettling rise of the modern favela in the 1970s. Such paradoxical histories are still with us: This year, as Rio prepares to host the World Cup in June and gears up for the Summer Olympics in 2016, spending astronomical amounts on infrastructural changes and in many instances attempting to eradicate portions of the favelas, it also observes (without celebrating) the fiftieth anniversary of the 1964 coup that brought the military to power.”

England’s performance at Italia 90 World Cup is venerated too much

“Perhaps, given England’s perceived lack of success, it’s only natural that we should hark always back to 1990, that we should be forever trying to recapture what made that tournament so compelling. Yet it is a little odd. It doesn’t take much of an examination of England’s World Cup record to see how fine the margins sometimes are. In the last eight World Cups, England have reached the last eight (in 1982, the second phase comprised four three-team groups; so for the purposes of this stat I’ve counted the teams who finished second in those groups as losing quarter-finalists) on five occasions. Put like that, England’s World Cup record doesn’t sound too bad – in fact, only Brazil and (West) Germany can beat it.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

The Rebirth of Colombia

“Teams in the World Cup are generally split among three tiers. The top one consists of those that year in and year out field the best squads in the world—including most of the previous World Cup winners and finalists, such as Brazil, Germany, and Argentina. The bottom tier consists of those from whom no one expects much, other than that they show up on time for matches. Among that group this year are Iran, Australia, and Algeria. But most teams fall somewhere in that second tier, where fans begin the tournament holding out hope that—through a perfect storm of lucky bounces, mistaken calls, beneficial match draws, and brilliant overachievement—their team will cobble together a World Cup championship. Colombia, who have qualified for the World Cup for the first time in sixteen years, is one of these teams.” The Paris Review

2014 Fifa World Cup draw: Guide to Group C

“Gary Lineker’s verdict. … Style & formation: Coach Jose Pekerman is a tactical chameleon who favours attack-minded variations on 4-4-2, 4-2-2-2 and 4-2-3-1 formations. Napoli pair Pablo Armero and Juan Zuniga provide width as adventurous full-backs, with Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado and Monaco’s James Rodriguez the key creative influences. Rodriguez plays his club football alongside striker Falcao, and the duo have a deadly understanding.” BBC Colombia, Ivory Coast, Greece, Japan

Fear the Underdog?

“Atlético Madrid is the third-most successful club in the history of Spanish soccer, which is a little like being the third-most famous khan in the history of the Mongol horde. Good job by you, but you’re never going to stop hearing about Genghis and Kublai. Atleti has won nine titles in La Liga, Spain’s top division, which is great, except that Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have combined for 54. And when you start running the math on that, and realize there have only ever been 82 champions crowned in La Liga, and add in that Madrid and Barcelona have collectively finished second an additional 45 times (versus eight for Atlético), and further consider that Atleti isn’t even the biggest team in its own hometown (that would be Real) — well, you get a clear picture of a tough little club that’s been overshadowed by its planet-conquering, culture-altering rivals.” Grantland – Brian Phillips

Brazilian anti-World Cup protests hit Sao Paulo and Rio

“Riot police in Brazil have fired tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro who marched against the cost of hosting the football World Cup. Some demonstrators hurled stones while other burned tyres and blocked roads. They say they are angry that billions of dollars are being spent on next month’s football tournament, rather than social projects and housing. Protests also took place in many other cities, including the capital Brasilia.” BBC

2014 Fifa World Cup draw: Guide to Group B

Sergio Ramos
“Gary Lineker’s verdict. … Style & formation: Spain’s possession game, coupled with their determination to quickly win the ball when they don’t have it, has been wearing down the opposition for over seven years. Spain typically play 4-3-3, with full-backs Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa attacking like wingers and centre backs Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique often joining in play beyond the halfway line. Strikers only tend to enter the box at the last minute for the element of surprise.” BBC – Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Brazuca: Secrets of the new World Cup ball

“It’s one of the stars of the World Cup – the paintbrush with which the world’s greatest footballing maestros must create their art. But is it up to the task? The Brazuca, the official ball of Brazil 2014, is the 12th ball created by Adidas for the World Cup. The company came under fire four years ago for the Jabulani, the official ball at the 2010 competition in South Africa, which was heavily criticised.’It’s trajectory is unpredictable,’ claimed Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, while Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano branded it ‘supernatural’. Adidas claims the Brazuca has improved touch and accuracy.” BBC

Tactical trends of 2013-14 Premier League season

“The Premier League isn’t generally considered a division that places a great emphasis upon tactics, but this season was different. With a variety of new managers in place, there were some genuinely fascinating developments, particularly in terms of formations. Here’s a tactical review of the 2013-14 campaign.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)

World Cup 2014: police will wear ‘Robocop’ style suits of armour to protect themselves

“World Cup police in Rio de Janeiro will be kitted out in a ‘RoboCop’ style suit of armour to protect officers in the event of violent protests during the tournament. Members of a special unit set up for the World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Rio received 200 sets of the special 22lbs (10kg) protective equipment, which is flame resistant to up to 427C.” Telegraph

Liverpool & Roma’s job is only half-done. Consistency & sustainability now key

“7th place with 61 points. 6th place with 62 points. That is what Liverpool & Roma’s 2012/13 league position spelled. The unpleasant factor in that is that it wasn’t even a surprise. Both these traditionally competitive clubs had fallen well off their high horse and into uncharted territory, with the risk of near perpetual mid-table obscurity. Both have now found their feet, and certainly the club’s ideology, as they rescued themselves from a faltering status and emerged as shock contenders, league leaders and eventual runners-up in their respective leagues. But while fans and management can certainly chuckle at their success, their happiness should be no more than that. To have achieved their remarkable league positions is quite incredible, but the job is only half done. The rest test begins now to ensure this season’s efforts weren’t in vain.” Outside of the Boot

Europa League final an historically charged affair

“The Europa League final makes its way to Italian shores for the first time in its current guise this Wednesday, although the showpiece is tinged with disappointment for the host city. The Mayor of Turin has been trumpeting the slogan ‘scegli lo sport, sorridi!’ (choose sport, smile!) in the build-up to the game, but Torinese grins are through gritted teeth. Hometown heroes Juventus — the dominant force in Italian football for the past three years — fell at the penultimate hurdle, a semifinal defeat to Benfica denying the Bianconeri a chance to extend their record haul of three titles in the competition.” ESPN

2014 Fifa World Cup draw: Guide to Group A

“Gary Lineker’s verdict. … Style & formation: The flicks and tricks remain second nature, but this Brazil side is also resilient and well organised, moulded by the pragmatism of 2002-World Cup winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. They press the opposition high up the pitch, while midfielder Luiz Gustavo acts as an auxiliary third centre back – allowing the full-backs and the likes of centre-back David Luiz to venture forward. Brazil usually adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation and are not afraid to be direct, often seeking out the flamboyant Neymar on the left with long balls from the back. …” BBC – Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Game of two halves: the ugly side of Brazilian football

“In 1958 a Brazilian team starring the black teenager Pelé and several other dark-skinned players won the country’s first World Cup. After the victory, wrote the playwright Nelson Rodrigues, ‘I saw a small black woman. She was the typical slum dweller. But the Brazilian triumph transformed her. She walked down the sidewalk with the charm of Joan of Arc. The same was true for black men, who – attractive, brilliant, luxurious – seemed like fabulous Ethiopian princes.’ Brazil, said Rodrigues, ‘was no longer a mongrel among nations’. Football has helped Brazil construct its national identity. The game also functions as a lens on to this poorly understood country. Football helps us see Brazil’s beauty, its ugliness and the usually ignored lives of the Brazilian poor. Admittedly, most accounts of Brazilian football omit women but so, for much of history, did Brazil’s public sphere. So what does football reveal about Brazil?” FT – Simon Kuper.

Liverpool’s season is shiny but hollow

“The dream is over. The romance is dead. The glory will have to wait.  Liverpool’s season is not mathematically at an end, of course, but the nature of their spectacular collapse will have drained the impetus from their title challenge with as much speed as it has animated Manchester City, once thought adrift from the summit of the Premier League table.  Given the 25 years of heartache linked to the Hillsborough disaster, the souring of a dream which captured considerable public sympathy is especially hard to take. There is been more than a hint of misty-eyed destiny in the accomplished way that Steven Gerrard has carried his teammates to the pinnacle but, in purely sporting terms, their fall is not completely surprising. If Liverpool’s intense, fast-paced attacking style provided us all with some kind of illicit high in recent months, then their disregard for the game’s core principles surely represents the wicked comedown.” backpagefootball

In a season decided by small moments, City emerges with the crown

“It was all over before it was over — In the end, Championship Sunday followed a predictable course. Manchester City, needing just one point, barely broke a sweat as it beat visiting West Ham 2-0. Liverpool struggled but beat Newcastle, which finished with nine men, 2-1 to stay two points back. Chelsea fought back to win 2-1 at relegated Cardiff to end four points behind City. City was a deserved champion. It defended far better than Liverpool. It attacked far better than Chelsea. It had as many really good days as either of its rivals and fewer really bad ones. It’s a better, deeper all-round squad. You’d expect that with the money it has spent.” SI

Bundesliga 2013/14 End of Season Awards

“The readers of Outside of the Boot have cast their votes across Europe’s top 4 leagues across 10 different award categories with 4 nominees under each to pick the players who they believe deserved recognition the most. The Bundesliga 2013/14 End of Season Awards were the most closely competed one, with most categories lacking a clear winner. Note that no club has more than one representative in a particular product category.” Outside of the Boot

Points per game record versus top half and bottom half shows why Chelsea lost the title, and why Sunderland survived

“If there’s one result that sums up the crazy, unpredictable end to this Premier League season, it’s Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat at home to Sunderland. That was Jose Mourinho’s first home league defeat as Chelsea manager, after 78 games, and proved crucial at both top and bottom. Chelsea’s chances of winning the league title took a huge blow, while Sunderland continued their great escape. However, to a certain extent that result was typical of their campaigns, because Chelsea and Sunderland are the two sides in the division that have collected more points against top half sides, than against bottom half sides.” Zonal Marking

World Cup 2014: Super Eagles can be the best of Africa

“If there has been a consistent theme in these World Cup columns – and there has been at least one, honest – it is that the Ivory Coast are not as good as people think. Given they have vied with Egypt as the best African team of this century but have a much higher global recognition factor because so many of their players play in the major western European leagues, that’s perhaps understandable – but support for them goes against the evidence of the last Africa Cup of Nations. In South Africa, the Ivorians looked what they are: an ageing squad. Yaya Toure, of course, remains an exceptional player and his influence can still turn games, but with Didier Drogba now 36, he is increasingly having to do it alone.” Betting – Jonathan Wilson

PSG’s dramatic rise to European giants

“Paris Saint-Germain’s success in winning the French football league for the second year in a row represents a dramatic transformation over the last three years in the club’s fortunes. This season they have also won the French League Cup and, as in 2013, once again reached the quarter-finals of the Champions’ League. For the first time Parisians are beginning to feel they may have a team to shout about. In the beginning there was a little club from Paris called Paris FC and another little club from the suburbs called Stade Saint-Germain. In 1970 they got together and became Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).” BBC