Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Narrative vs. Reality

Every World Cup a certain narrative emerges about a team that is not always in line with the reality on the pitch. So it is, I feel, about Spain going into the semifinals against Germany. They were obviously heavy favorites going into the tournament. Then they lose against Switzerland and everyone starts seeing chinks in the armor. But look at that game again. I've rarely seen such domination. Spain had 20-something shots and should have won it by 5-6 goals. Switzerland was numbingly defensive, but it paid off. And suddenly Spain was not the Spain of two years ago. Nevermind that they went on to beat both Honduras and media favorites Chile comfortably, with the games won inside the half hour. The way they then toyed with Portugal in the last 20 minutes after taking the lead was masterful. They did look off their game against the Paraguayans, who put a lot of pressure on Spain when it had possession, but could that not have been an off game?

Germany, on the other hand, has benefited strongly from taking early leads against England and Argentina. But Spain's defense is a lot more disciplined and, frankly, skillful and I think we'll see a completely different game if there is no early German goal against Spain. Yes, the Germans were outstanding against Argentina. But, again, look at the game (and I have, as they show every game at least 20 times on South African TV) -- Argentina created a dozen chances in the game from which it really should have scored. That they didn't was as much down to bad finishing as strong German defense. Messi's shooting was atrocious. Look instead at the German game against Ghana, where the defense looked very shaky and the Germans were lucky to get away with a win thanks to an Özil wonder volley. I'm not writing Germany off, but I'm picking Spain.

Will Soccer Change Africa?

Here is my NBC Sports story about the future of African football and the impact of the game on the continent. Please comment!

Friday, July 2, 2010

WC of Surprises

Holland knocks out Brazil. I think it's good. Now Brazil has to win it next time, at home -- and in style. The Brazilians won't stand for this Dunga crap anymore. All the Brazilians I've talked to here have downplayed Brazil's chances and said they don't like the team. Gotta love it when they start talking about the 1982 side. It's still the greatest and it didn't even make the semis.

Although Brazil was entertaining in first half and completely in control. They just imploded in second, inviting Holland in. This continues to be a World Cup of surprises. Who knows -- maybe what seemed to be South America's WC will turn out not to have any South Americans in the semis. One of these teams will be in the final: Holland, Ghana, Uruguay. Holland-Germany would be a classic. But come on Black Stars of Africa!!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Valiant U.S. Run Ends

The U.S. is out of the World Cup, but its run has to be considered a success. Here's my NBC Sports column.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Black Stars Make History

A thoroughly deserved win for Ghana over the U.S. Great game. This team can go far. Already it has matched the best-ever performance by an African team in the World Cup (Cameroon, 1994, Senegal, 2002). This is a side more than capable of beating Uruguay in the quarters. Come on, give us a Ghana-Brazil semifinal.

The African Coaching Problem

Here's Bill Rhoden's story in today's New York Times about what went wrong for Africa at this year's World Cup (where only Ghana advanced to the second round). So much has been made of the hiring of white coaches as one cause of Africa's footballing problem. While I agree that African football can only develop if indigenous coaching develops alongside it, I don't buy the argument that European coaches can't succeed because they don't understand the tribal mindsets that permeate multiethnic African teams. It is precisely because a European coach is not part of a particular ethnic group that a country like Nigeria hired a Swede, Lars Lagerbäck, as coach. He is seen as above the favoritism and nepotism that has influenced the selection of players for so long in Nigeria. The real problem is African coaches are not given the training or the resources to do the job properly in Africa, and they are left to work with a shrinking talent pool as the best African players continue to move abroad. The top players who are found in the African national teams are also all used to playing under white coaches in Europe.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nothing But Fear Mongers

About 300,000 people are visiting South Africa for the World Cup, way down from an initial forecast of 450,000. The smaller number of fans has been blamed on everything from the global recession to South Africa's cold weather. But surely all the media fear-mongering ahead of the WC about South Africa's terrible crime rate and the numerous terror threats apparently aimed at the tournament played a major part in dissuading people from coming.

As I just walked through Pretoria downtown after midnight, chatting with a stranger about Bafana Bafana's Cup exit, I remembered reading this preposterous article by Louise Taylor in The Guardian last year.