Mexico Wages a Psychological Battle Against Its World Cup Demons

June 7, 2018

“It is a legacy of World Cup consistency, but one in which Mexico no longer wants any part. For six straight World Cups, Mexico has sent a team to the tournament. And for six straight World Cups, it has cheered its heroes through the first round only to see them crash out in the second. One coach after another has tried to break the streak. A few emphasized hard work. One appealed to national pride. One even sought a new mind-set, and a different kind of ending, at the top of an ancient pyramid. As Mexico arrives at the World Cup in Russia, it will be with the country’s most promising lineup in decades.” NY Times

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North American Bid for World Cup Gets High Marks, but Still Needs Votes

June 2, 2018

“The organization that controls soccer’s World Cup released a report Friday that raises serious concerns about Morocco’s ability to host the 2026 event, but the country’s bid was not disqualified. The assessment by evaluators for FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, could have essentially delivered the World Cup back to North America for the first time since 1994 had it outright rejected Morocco’s bid on technical grounds. Instead, Morocco’s survival sets up a furious two-week chase for votes against the other remaining bid, a combined entry from the United States, Mexico and Canada. …” NY Times


Paolo Guerrero’s Fight to Reach World Cup Spurs Protests in Peru

May 23, 2018

“LIMA, Peru — The thousands of fans arrived at the Estadio Nacional as a sea of red and white. For more than an hour, they had paraded through the avenues of central Lima, dressed in their national team jerseys, blowing their vuvuzelas and pushing their children ahead of them in strollers. Now, after filing inside Peru’s national stadium, they sang Peru’s national anthem, waved Peru’s flag and hoped — against the longest of odds — that their festive display of national camaraderie would not be in vain. For a week, their energies, and much of Peru’s attention, has been focused on the case of Paolo Guerrero, the star striker who helped lead his nation to its first World Cup in 36 years but now seems all but certain to miss the tournament because of a doping ban. …” NY Times


Zinedine Zidane Has the Wins at Real Madrid. Where Is the Praise?

April 29, 2018


“MUNICH — Unlikely as it seems, it may be time to consider the distinct possibility that Zinedine Zidane — winner of the Champions League in each of his first two seasons as a manager, and now on the brink of guiding Real Madrid to the competition’s final for a third year in a row — may be quite a good coach. That his brief managerial career has thus far delivered eight trophies in not quite 30 months should have made that perfectly obvious, of course; by this stage, the fact that he could steer his team to a 2-1 victory at Bayern Munich in the first leg of a Champions League semifinal should barely be worthy of note. Zidane the coach, not unlike Zidane the player, has known nothing but success. …” NY Times


Mohamad Salah Stands Tall, but Liverpool Cracks Door for Roma

April 29, 2018

“LIVERPOOL, England — Of all the teams Mohamed Salah has claimed as his victims this season, of all the defenses Liverpool’s irrepressible striker has shredded, A.S. Roma had a head start. After all, Salah spent two years in the Italian capital before moving to England. He trained alongside Roma’s defenders every day, played alongside them every week. When they came face to face with Salah in the first leg of a Champions League semifinal at Anfield on Tuesday night, they would know all of his tics and his tells, his flaws and his foibles. …” NY Times


The Players Are Retired. But Try Telling Them the Games Don’t Matter.

April 25, 2018


“LIVERPOOL, England — As soon as he hit the pass, Xabi Alonso stopped dead in his tracks, and raised his hands to his head in horror. He had picked up possession on the edge of Liverpool’s penalty area, directly in front of the Kop. He was under no pressure. He turned elegantly toward his goal, ready to build yet another attack. He has done it thousands of times over the years, and this time, too, he looked a picture of calm — right up until he played the ball directly into the path of a slightly startled opposition striker. Liverpool, a few minutes before, had been three goals ahead. Now, thanks to Alonso’s momentary mindlessness, it was 4-3 down. …” NY Times


Anticipating Anthem Protests, Spain Braces for ‘Verbal Violence’

April 25, 2018

“BARCELONA, Spain — A long hail of whistles and jeers from a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands might not be the most articulate way to express a political opinion, Arnau Pans acknowledged with a shrug. But, in his eyes, it can serve a purpose. Pans, 24, is a die-hard fan of the soccer club F.C. Barcelona and, like many such fans, an active supporter of the Catalan independence movement. On Saturday, for the fifth consecutive year, Barcelona — the most high-profile of Catalan institutions — will appear in the final of the Copa del Rey, the oldest soccer tournament in Spain. And for the fifth straight year, that means questions about free expression and the boundaries of political etiquette are being debated as vehemently this week as questions about team tactics and lineups. …” NY Times (Video)