I chatted about the 2014 World Cup with Assumpta Oturu on KPFK Pacifica Radio‘s Spotlight Africa program.
We analyzed Brazil’s historic collapse, Germany’s youth development policies, club versus country loyalties, African teams’ performances and what can be done to improve their results in global football.
Radio talk show host, author, and political analyst Eusebius Mckaiser spoke with Robin Petersen, CEO of the South African Football Association’s development agency, about what is going wrong and what needs to be done about the future of Bafana Bafana—the South African men’s national team.
Peterson has an unusual background for a South African football administrator. He owns a construction company and holds a PhD in Religion and Ethics from the University of Chicago Divinity School. Since 2001, Peterson has held important positions, including as CEO of SAFA and the domestic Premier Soccer League. In his new role at the helm of SAFA’s Development Agency, Peterson’s job is to ensure that the football development plan known as SAFA Vision 2022 is implemented.
In conversation with Eusebius and his listeners, Petersen touches in general terms on a 7-point plan that includes a national football philosophy; youth teams and academies; coach education; football infrastructure; and sports science. The complete absence of a sense of history in his remarks underscores a serious problem within South African football: an unwillingness to deal honestly and productively with what has already been said, tried, and failed in the two decades since the end of apartheid and the birth of democracy. (For two different, but complementary, critiques of South African football development, click here and here).
Despite Petersen’s best intentions and SAFA’s more sophisticated packaging, it seems that, once again, the latest development plan amounts to little more than a public relations campaign.
I recently returned from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It was a remarkable experience in a beautiful country. Everywhere we went people were gracious, joyful hosts. We ate fantastic churrasqueira (the Brazilian barbecue that will fuel my dreams for months) and drank among friends. The games were tremendous, the colorful visiting fans (with special mention to the dancing, chanting, singing, drinking Argentine throngs) made the World Cup the event that it is. The protests were more intermittent than expected. But the issues raised were as valid as ever.
I was based in Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande do Sul on Brazil’s southern border with Uruguay and Argentina. I attended four matches in Estadio Beria-Rio, the home of Sports Club Internacional: France-Honduras, Algeria-South Korea, Argentina-Nigeria, and the round of 16 match pitting eventual champions Germany against the Algeria. With 32 teams competing, the first two weeks of the World Cup are an unparalleled Carnival of Nations. Porto Alegre was in the midst of a Brazilian winter, hardly freezing, but occasionally raw and damp. The bikinis and swimming shorts that many of you saw as the regular going-to-commercial interludes on ESPN were many hundreds of miles north.
The tournament, which equaled the most goals (171) ever scored in a World Cup, was spectacularly entertaining and Germany is certainly a worthy champion. But once the confetti cleared, the last drinks were downed, tourists returned home, and Brazilians shook off the shameful way the Seleção flamed out of the tournament (and I do not for one second believe that the presence of Thiago Silva and Neymar against Germany and the Netherlands would have made much difference—Brazil’s problems were systemic) a familiar question looms: Was hosting the World Cup worth it? (more…)
36 hours have passed since millions of Italians watched the national team get eliminated from the World Cup after a 1-0 loss to Uruguay.
Here in Italy, the media and the pundit class have joined ordinary fans in criticizing the team. First in the line of fire is Cesare Prandelli, the coach, rightly taken to task for dubious roster selection, poor match management, improvised tactical changes, and an inability to bind together a group of “senators” (i.e. veterans) and relatively inexperienced youngsters. His resignation in the aftermath of the Uruguay loss, came not a moment too soon for many Italians.
Balotelli, the only player in the squad with potential to be a game-changer, has also come in for plenty of criticism. Reading the papers, watching endless debates on TV, and talking with fans, it appears that many Italians, including vocal defenders of Super Mario, are disappointed with the star striker’s weak performance. Sadly, some racist Italians have taken to the web and social media to insult Balotelli for his blackness.
But I wouldn’t go so far as saying that Balotelli is being blamed for the World Cup debacle. Honest observers recognize that the failure of Italy’s 2014 World Cup campaign has multiple causes, not least the pathetic 0-1 loss to Costa Rica last week. As historian John Foot explained in an excellent column, there is a structural rot in Italian football that needs to be addressed. From corruption and mismanagement to suffering youth systems, club rivalries, and outdated stadiums; the list of major problems is quite long and vexing.
While this analysis is legitimate, there seems to be a consensus among Italians (and not a few neutrals) that the loss to Uruguay was an outright robbery perpetrated against an ordinary team.
The first half of Tuesday’s match was played evenly, with Italy rarely in trouble. Pirlo had a dangerous free kick saved by Muslera and Verratti distinguished himself as the best player on the pitch, weaving in and out of Uruguay’s workman-like midfield with creativity and dynamism. With a draw enough to see the Azzurri through to the next round, Italy was in control.
Then, a few minutes into the second half, the Mexican referee, Rodriguez Moreno, decided the match. In an inexplicably absurd decision, he sent off Marchisio with a straight red card for a normal tackle that showed no malice and, at best, deserved a yellow. What made this refereeing decision so outrageous is that previous Uruguayan fouls of a similar ilk had not been punished with any cards.
Moreno’s call transformed the match. With nearly the entire second half still to play in the heat of Natal, the Azzurri were a man down, less able to deal with fatigue, and psychologically shaken. Uruguay, on the other hand, seized on the opportunity and began dominating the match. Even so, only two goal-scoring chances came out of this advantage.
Perhaps dissatisfied with the outcome of his earlier outrage, Moreno then took center stage again. Suarez, the recidivist, sunk his fangs into Chiellini’s shoulder and then fell to the ground, theatrically, as if felled by a sniper’s bullet. The referee awarded a free kick to Italy, but did not send Suarez off despite Chiellini showing Suarez’s dental mold chiseled into his shoulder area. Surprisingly, the assistant referee provided no assistance.
Two things happened at this point. Instead of playing the final 12 minutes or so 10 vs 10, the Azzurri had to labor on a man down with players cramping and visibly tiring. Then, 100 seconds after the Suarez bite, the Italians lost their concentration defending the corner kick that produced Godin’s winning goal.
Most Italians recognize the 2014 national team was an ordinary one. Fans and pundits admit that Balotelli, Immobile, Cassano, Thiago Motta, De Sciglio and others put in sub-par performances. But people also know a robbery when they see one. And the culprit was Rodriguez Moreno. Curiously, another referee named Moreno (from Ecuador) also sent the Italians home from the 2002 World Cup. He is currently serving a long prison sentence in the United States for smuggling drugs.
The text message came through as “URGENT.” Sylvers Owusu, a former student and player, wrote yesterday: “We just received a city permit to block off Ghanaian Way in Newark for today’s GHA vs. USA match. Please join us for a watch party! DJ Albert will provide music to entertain the crowd. Let’s go Ghana!”
The plan was now hatched: first half in Newark, and the second half a few miles away in what has been called “the cradle of American soccer.” I watched several games at the Scots American Club in Kearny in 2010, including the Algeria match punctuated by Donovan’s last-ditch winner. (I also watched Ghana knock the USA out there).
Back at the Scots Club there was a much more joyous celebration to Dempsey’s early strike [click here for video.]
Ten minutes later the Ghanaian congregation began singing a song, unrecognizable to my ears. Sylvers whispered to me: “It’s a gospel song. We need God now.” Ghana grabbed control of the game, but the USA threatened on several occasions to double the lead. It was an intense, physical start to a must-win match.
At the half-time whistle we headed outside and took in the street scenes. DJ Albert had the place jumping and after some dancing and chanting we got back into the car and headed for the Passaic River. Kearny, home to American stars (John Harkes, Tab Ramos, and Tony Meola), the Scots Club, and the second half beckoned.
We arrived ten minutes into the second half as parking was scarce around the Scots Club, but the USA still had that slim one-goal lead. The bar-end of the social club formed in 1932 was packed with people in red, white and blue. “USA” chants rang out as well as repeated frustration about how the Stars and Stripes couldn’t hold on to possession.
After Ghana leveled the score in the 82nd minute it seemed that they would go on to find the winner, but against the flow of the second half John Brooks powered home a precisely-placed Graham Zusi corner. Understandably, there was bedlam inside the Scots Club once again. Hugs, high-fives, chants, and more hugs. It was a major victory in “The Group of Death” that sets up an epic battle against Portugal on Sunday.
*Tom McCabe is an historian at Rutgers University-Newark where he teaches surveys in U.S. History, History of Newark, and History of Soccer. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccabe5. This post was originally published on his new blog Soccer Brains.
The day before the magic kingdom opens in São Paulo, WKAR’s “Current State” host Mark Bashore interviewed me about the politics of the World Cup. We discussed FIFA profits and institutional reform, special World Cup laws and extraterritoriality, nation-building, development, civic protests, and what the future holds for Brazil, on and off the pitch. Originally broadcast live on June 11, 2014. Take a listen!