A Cup of Russia

Obscure Blogger Breaks
Silence About World Cup

Many readers – ok, three – have asked about Colltales’ lack of World Cup coverage this year. Flattered that they even care to ask, I can only offer that I’m a lazy bone by nature. Deep down though I could come up with a corollary of excuses to justify my apathy.
Like, this team doesn’t make my heart beat faster (a lie); it doesn’t hold a candle to past Brazilian soccer players (that’s actually relative); their win will boost a terrible government (it always does). The reality, however, is that when they step on the pitch, I lose my mind.
I’m sorry that Germany is out, after what they did to the game, and to us, four years ago in Brazil. Their fine display of football had the rare quality of matching their generosity off the grass. The community that hosted them won’t forget their dignity, and donations, for long.
Also, despite my little faith, I’d hoped for a rematch of their 2014 7×1 thrashing of the home team. The upside for Brazilians, though, is that their premature exit represented a big relief: Brazil’s unmatched five-times world title record will remain unchallenged for another four years.
Apart from them, all teams expected to get this far, have made it into the round-robin stage. On its twisted way, the cup is a predictable affair. Past champions Argentina, England, France, Spain, and Uruguay are still pretty much alive, at least until next week. Can’t wait.

THE TEAMS, THE GAME & EVERYTHING
By far, everybody’s sentimental favorite seems to be Mexico, this time around – albeit there’s a place in my heart for Japan too. They’ve been playing with gusto, and Sweden aside, are hot for a first title. Plus, they play next, and are always reeling to beat, Brazil. You’re on.
Up to now, the best game was the early thriller Portugal 3×3 Spain. And Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo has the edge over Argentine Messi and Brazilian Neymar as MVP. That can change but it’s unlikely. It may not be feasible but a Portugal versus Mexico final would be great.
Speaking of coverage, the media has been predictably biased and disappointingly sparse. News organizations, which have spend lots of ink demonizing Russia, seem set on not showing the country’s so-called human side, as it’s customary in this sort of world class sports event.

THE MYSTIQUE OF THE YELLOW JERSEYS
Disgusting displays of hate and racism happened too, but none from host Russians. Scenes of ugly sex abuse of female fans and reporters, burning of country flags, and xenophobic celebrations went viral and caused the appropriate repulse around the world.
But I daydream, sort of. Despite FIFA’s ingrained corruption, referee mistakes, fake injuries, and some boring games, the cup always manages to thrill those, like me, helplessly hooked on its appeal. My, I even consider those world titles my own personal achievements.
I grew up with Pelé, Garrincha, Gerson, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Sócrates, Zico, Falcão, Renato Portalupi, Careca, Romário, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Kaká, – and now, the pickings become slim – Marcelo, Dani Alves, and, fine, Neymar, and Coutinho.
I can’t help it, I’m lucky that way and yes, you may hate me for it. So when friends say they’re rooting against Brazil, I tell them (more)
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You May Cry Now, Argentina

Germany Beats Messi & Co.,
Takes World Cup #4 to Europe

Mario Goetz came out of the bench to score one of the most beautiful goals of the tournament – and certainly the most meaningful – to give Germany a win over stunned Argentina and its thousands of fans, who simply can’t believe how close they’ve got and still lost it all at the end.
It happened at the 113th minute of July 13th, for those keeping track of that sort of thing, and it did establish the Germans as the best football squad in the world. To Argentina, and Messi in particular, the 28 years wait for a third championship just got extended, and new questions will surely arise about his performance with the Albiceleste.
World Cup 2014 LogoIn a typical final, tense, nervous-wrecking, and unpredictable, Germany prevailed at the precise moment when the Argentines seemed to be getting psychologically ready for a penalty shootout. A number of misses throughout the game did corroborate such assumption, which obviously, proved to be tragically misguided.
For everything they’ve done during this World Cup, and for the extensive, ground-up efforts they’ve invested in soccer at home, the Germans more than deserved to win. Such efforts contrast dramatically with the almost chaotic state of the sport in many South American nations, including Argentina and Brazil.
Just so not to wrapped up this quick review with the mention of the hosts, Germany has won everything they’ve set to win in this cup, not just for the sheer discipline and rigor of their style of playing, but also by the sportsmanship they’ve displayed on the field and outside of it, as witnessed by the local press and through social networks.
They were exceedingly dignified and gentle with those they’ve defeated (everyone on their path, by the way, and you know who you are), and one of the teams that committed the least amount of faults too. So much for nice guys finishing last. Good job, Germany, we all have a lot to learn from you.

Continental Divide

Argentina Faces Germany
For World Cup Supremacy

So it comes down to this: two equally storied world class soccer nations will decided on the field of Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, which one is the best World Cup team, version 2014. They’ve both been there before and either Argentina will add its third title or Germany its fourth.
No matter how many errors referees have made throughout the tournament, or whether this or that result was or wasn’t fair. As it happens, the competition does tend to pick the best teams, and it’s no coincidence that either one of these two has reached the final.
World Cup 2014 LogoThey’ve also met before, splitting decisions in 1986, when Maradona lifted the trophy, and 1990, when Germany got it back, coached by former champion Beckenbauer. Apart from that, the Albiceleste has a chance to equalize the record between Europe and South America wins, now standing at 10X9.
It’s out of the question to pick a favorite. Germany, with its fluid style and a lethal strike line of Muller, Klose, Kroos and Ozil, may hold the numeric edge. But with the world’s best player Messi in top form and seeking his first championship, all bets are off and Argentina may be the one to come on top.
A word of caution to the 3.5 billion expected to watch the final today: these games are not very entertaining and tend to be a context of wills and skills, with the former often prevailing over the latter. Nervous of steel and the methodical search for the opponent’s weak spot are what usually carry the day.
All one should hope for is a couple of goals right at the start, to set the pace to an urgent, feverish pitch. That should get things going fast and ignite the explosive passions we all have come to expect from football. It’s also what turns it into a beautiful game.
If that happens, it’ll be a fitting tribute to the fallen hosts of the tournament, Brazil, who burned their tickets to the final, but so many times before have gone to faraway lands and conquered somebody else’s castle. Just what Argentina and Germany plan on doing today.

The Final Insult

Netherlands’ Three-Punch
Knockout Finishes Brazil

The last possible achievement of the Brazilian national team, in the World Cup ending in Rio, was rudely snatched away by the Dutch: it gave Brazil yet another beating, 3X0, and once again left millions of fans, and a cast of players saddled with shame and sadness.
There were no redeeming qualities in the Seleção’s last stand, thoroughly trounced by a superior squad. The same that’d failed to defeat its biggest rival, Argentina, which will be playing the final against Germany. Brazilians do brace for the worst possible scenario.
World Cup 2014 LogoOnly in nightmares the country that so ambivalently embraced the cup, would have envisioned such a possibility of not being present at the big closing game, and also watching its neighbor stand a decent chance of being crowned right in its own backyard.
The Brazilian team now bidding farewell has amassed a miserable catalog of catastrophes in this edition. In a record for a semifinal game, it lost to Germany by the largest score in its history, suffered the most goals in a single tournament, and handed to them two coveted prizes: the most wins and the top scorer, Klose. More than a record, this looks like a rap sheet.
It’s now is expected to enter a long, dark night of disappointment and pain, as a new generation of brilliant players, as well as a new direction for its soccer model, will have to be nourished and nurtured long before it’ll be able to compete as an equal against other, better organized, teams. Would its five championships be next on the auction block?
Or, if you must, the beatings will continue till every point is driven home. It surely won’t happen next week, next year, and probably not even in the 2018 edition of the World Cup, in Russia. In the meantime, a little humbleness would go a long way, and it’d be useful to stop calling Brazilian football the best in the world, at least for a while.

The Forgettable Game

Brazil & Netherlands,
Would-Be Champions

Some say it’s a match for honor, but it feels more like the game to save face. Every World Cup has one of these, and every four years, it serves only as the place and time to stage the deflated feelings of 22 men whose dreams were destroyed way too close to becoming reality.
As they drag themselves to fulfill a commitment, only the die-hard and the emotionally nearsighted will believe that there’s any purpose at stake. The Dutch may have been there one too many times, and Brazilians always equated third place to a shot at being last.
World Cup 2014 LogoNevertheless they will soldier on, bless their bleeding hearts, and many a time it’s been an entertaining clash. Something to do with nothing being worth anything any longer, or really, the last display of their fighting spirit, triggered by sheer sportsmanship.
It’s doubtful that anyone in the Netherlands takes the sobriquet, ‘best nation to have never won the cup,’ with any sense of pride. Which is a pity because they really have earned it. And this time they did started it all with a bang, thrashing the world champions, Spain. It was downhill from there.
As for the Brazilians, oh they’re still hurting alright, still reeling too much to care. The moving pictures that circled the world, of fans copiously weeping after Tuesday’s massacre by Germany, are still too fresh in everybody’s mind for them to be able to wipe the slate clean and put up another battle today.
The agony that both teams endured throughout the tournament will surely last even longer, as an entire generation of brilliant Dutch players will be retiring soon, and a whole set of assumptions by Brazilians about themselves, pulverized for good, will have to be replaced by a more realistic vision for the future.
Let’s hope, though, that at least for half an hour, players will rediscover the joy of football just for the sake of its beauty, and produce if not drama, then at least a few great moments to remember. After all, it’s the last time anyone will see them playing together as such. So it’ll be fitting for them to create a dignified farewell.

Have a Ball

The World Cup Next
Door & From Far Afield

Brace yourself for withdrawal symptoms; it’ll be all over in just a few days. Even after all agony, nail biting till none was left, and much cursing at the TV, one can’t help it but start anticipating the crush of the end, which is nigh. The World Cup has spoiled us rot.
It may not have been the same since Team USA bowed out. It’ll be hard to see the whole U.S. so completely taken again by the explosion of cheers, jeers and untimely heartbreak, flags galore and packed bars all around. But we’re not quite done yet.
World Cup 2014 LogoWhat a difference a few cups have made. From 1990, when the sole network showing the games would break, American football style, for commercials, to now, when U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard was rumored for a possible renaming of the Reagan Airport, in Washington, DC, it feels almost like another country.
The Super Bowl would never command such an arrested crowd, but this is nothing new around the world. Even in the middle of sparsely populated regions, in public plazas and shantytowns, by desert nomads and war refugees, people still found the time to watch the games.
In Europe, such gathering by the thousands rivaled in numbers big mass rallies, but the comparison must stop right there: while those taking the streets to demand social change may get beaten, football fans risked only disappointment. Thank goodness, no hooligans to report so far. Good riddance too.

For sure, not all is like a sweet block party, plenty of cake and no guns allowed. While those are now rare in America, the World Cup still feels like an extended holiday. Disgracefully, our team won’t be at the final, but even if yours will, you’re unlikely to be spared from feeling empty either, coming Monday morning.
Thus enjoy it while it lasts. Heaven knows that people in Bagdad, in Gaza, in Damascus, and in Mogadishu, Continue reading

National Tragedy


Germany Humiliates
Brazil at Home: 7X1

To say that this was a loss would be an insult to all teams that have lost during this and previous World Cups, despite fighting their hearts out and carrying their nations’ hopes. To say that it was about Brazil is also unfair to the great German squad. It was their win to celebrate.
But what did happen on this sad afternoon in Brazil was that reality has finally caught up with the Seleção Brasileira. Not just for what it’s shown during the tournament but for past decades of completely lack of preparation from the ground up, to protect its soccer traditions.
World Cup 2014 LogoFor since it has won the World Cup only 12 years ago, not a single Brazilian club has climbed the rankings among the world’s best, despite a few wins in the Intercontinental Cup, and the state of organized sports in Brazil has only got even more appalling, from the foundations of its business model to the very own field of games.
In fact, to watch a regular Brazilian league soccer game has become one of the most unpleasant and dangerous experiences for the fans, as well as a pathetic display of incivility, with so many illegal tackles and ugly bumps, to disgust even the most fervent supporter. And the state of the stadiums only enhances such perception.
So guess what team had the record number of faults in the World Cup? Even though it isn’t alone in allowing its players to fake injury to gain benefits from the referee, Brazil has been a shameful adept of the brutality on the field, and arguably the serious injury Neymar suffered was an involuntary payback by the Colombians.
The league is also one of the unfairest, forcing well supported teams to compete, and play, in under par fields all over the enormous country, for great part of the year. Many a time, a club simply refuses to be downgraded to a lower division, using political influence and the courts in lieu of the lack of quality of its soccer.

INGRAINED UNACCOUNTABILITY
Brazilian clubs also fester with mismanagement, corruption, traffic of influence, and behind-the-scenes deals with empresarios, who treat promising players like commodities and reap considerable, and mostly unreported, wealthy out of trading them to foreign leagues.
Finally, for a sport that mobilizes obscene amounts of money, club management in Brazil is mostly a cash and carry structure, with no accountability even as it’s supported by taxpayer money. Fans have little saying on the financial decisions of the clubs they support.
So, no wonder that when Brazil was chosen to host the World Cup, the first thing that was done by the Brazilian federation, CBF, was to map where the games would be played, not on the basis of infrastructure or tradition, but according to political favors owned and paid back to local bosses.
No wonder either that some of these extra multimillion dollar stadiums (at least three) that were built for the competition went over budget and will probably slowly decay Continue reading