Stuck in Soccer Limbo, in the Shadow of the World Cup

July 4, 2018

“An odd thing happened in December when soccer fans in Crimea, the disputed Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, began trying to buy tickets to the World Cup. Some ticket seekers trying to make purchases through FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, encountered error messages on their computers. The problem, the president of Crimea’s soccer federation told reporters, was that FIFA still recognized Crimea as part of Ukraine. Fans on the peninsula feared that World Cup tickets had joined cellphones and credit cards on a list of imported items banned by international sanctions.” NY Times

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Europe And South America Are Growing In Soccer Power — That Wasn’t Supposed To Happen

June 20, 2018


“If there’s been a dominant trend in the first week of the 2018 World Cup, perhaps it has been how well European nations from beyond the continent’s traditional giants have performed. Iceland, Switzerland, Serbia, Sweden, Croatia and Russia are all off to a strong start. This should be no surprise. Only two nations from outside Europe and South America have made the World Cup semifinals (the United States in the inaugural competition in 1930 and South Korea in 2002). In 20 previous World Cups, only 12 countries have reached the final — all from Europe or South America — and only eight sides have won the tournament.” FiveThirtyEight


Fifa’s Gianni Infantino hits rocky ground on 2018 World Cup eve

June 12, 2018

“The World Cup in Russia has sailed into view with a new Fifa captain at the helm, two and a half years since Sepp Blatter’s presidency crashed on the rocks of corruption and ethics breaches. Gianni Infantino seemed a callow, unlikely president when he was elevated to succeed the banned Blatter in February 2016 as, his tie slightly askew, he tapped his heart in wonderment at winning the vote of the Fifa congress.” Guardian


Nations League: The back-door route to Euro 2020?

January 26, 2018

“Is the Uefa Nations League a complicated irrelevance? Or, for some of the home nations, is it their best route to Euro 2020? England, Wales and Northern Ireland might baulk at that suggestion, given all three were at the finals in France in 2016, but would they all be entirely confident of finishing in the top two places in a five- or six-team group to earn qualification in the usual way? The Scottish FA is being more circumspect. With its focus sharpened by Hampden hosting four Euro 2020 tournament matches, it is selling Uefa’s new competition – one which will effectively replace most international friendlies – to sceptical fans as a way of ending what would be a 22-year absence from major finals. …” BBC (Video)


FourFourTwo’s 100 Best Football Players in the World 2017

January 19, 2018

“… No.26, Kylian Mbappe. Talk about bursting onto the scene: the teenager turned heads across Europe – and became the second-most expensive player in history – with his scintiliating performances in Ligue 1 and beyond. One football stats sage recently declared on Twitter that Kylian Mbappe is ‘the best teenager we’ve seen in the data era’. This is no time for another Proper Football Men vs Analytics Geeks debate – and in this case there’s no need anyway, as it’s a statement with which all parties can surely agree. …” FourFourTwo (Video)


FIFA’s Dirty Wars

December 21, 2017


“Toward the end of the 2010 World Cup, Julio Grondona made a prediction, or perhaps it was a promise, to a group of journalists in the gilded lobby of Johannesburg’s Michelangelo hotel, the five-star Italian-marble palace where FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, had established its tournament headquarters. Argentina had just been humiliated, 4-0, by the Germans, but Grondona wasn’t worried about the backlash. In 31 years as president of the Argentina’s national soccer association, he’d endured personal scandal, government turmoil, economic collapse, and the ardent passions of the beautiful game’s fans. ‘Todo Pasa,’ read the inscription on his big gold ring. All things pass—all things except, of course, Julio Grondona. ‘No one is kicking me out until I die,’ he told the reporters. …” New Republic


A Night in Belgrade With an Undercover Crowd Monitor: ‘Try to Act Casual’

November 7, 2017


“BELGRADE, Serbia — At the appointed hour, the man picked up his phone, sat down on the couch in his hotel, and dialed the number. ‘Yes, hello, I’m calling you on behalf of Fare,’ he said, dropping the name of a network based in London that fights discrimination in world soccer. ‘Just to inform you, I will be the matchday observer tonight in Belgrade. We have done some research. Of course, we all know it’s a high-risk match ….’ The match in question, set to begin a few hours later, was a Europa League contest last Thursday between Partizan Belgrade of Serbia and Skenderbeu of Albania. The person on the other line was the UEFA delegate assigned to supervise proceedings at the stadium. And the so-called risks? …” NY Times (Video)