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Posts Tagged ‘Croatia’

Laid Bare

June 19, 2014 | by

The fall of Spain; how Croatia got its groove back; four degrees of surprise from Australia.

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Croatia’s team relaxed in the buff, causing a scandal at home.

The same day that, in Chile, more than twenty previously unknown works by Pablo Neruda were discovered in the most unlikely of places—a drawer—Spain thought it was a good idea to continue their monarchy by changing the constitution so the prince could replace the abdicating king. I rejoiced at one and shrugged at the other. Fittingly, Chile beat Spain 2-0 yesterday.

Chile showed the extent to which Spain is past its sell-by date. Spain has become a product, a collection of starry names to sell to a depressed populace. The sales pitch used to work: they won the Euros in 2008, the World Cup in 2010, and the Euros again in 2012, an unprecedented streak. But what worked then never evolved into what will work now. Most of the players from 2008 were in Brazil in 2014: the goalkeeper Iker Casillas was benched by his club team for the majority of the past two seasons, yet started in this World Cup. His place was barely questioned. Of course he wanted to play: Spain has more than 50 percent unemployment for adults twenty-five and under; the players stood to win a bonus of 720,000 euros each if they won this World Cup. But yesterday their gaps on the field expanded like an opening wound. The players—and soon after them the ball itself—rolled around more and more slowly. They seemed to be playing uphill.

But there will be more than enough elegies and eulogies for Spain. Let me instead sing the praises of Chile, a team that’s been on the upswing for some time now. Their next and final match in the group stage will be against the Netherlands, with the two thus far undefeated teams vying for the top spot in the group. Coincidentally, both teams played Spain in the last World Cup, with Chile losing what was, like yesterday’s game, a must-win scenario, 2-0. Both Chile and the Netherlands have already qualified for the knockout rounds, so Monday’s game should be a formality—but one of them will likely end up playing Brazil in the next round. But given the way Brazil has been playing, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Read More »

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Out of Joint

June 13, 2014 | by

The opening ceremony; Brazil and Croatia.

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When I switched on last night’s World Cup opening ceremony, it first appeared that some São Paulo carnivalesque version of Macbeth was in production and Birnam wood was on its way to Dunsinane. A number of figures masquerading as trees were making their way around the field shaking their branches and twigs. But soon the trees had exotic birds for companions and then some children in white bounced on a trampoline while mechanical leaves unfolded and, of course, we were not in Scotland but a virtual rainforest, where the uncontacted tribe appeared to consist only of JLo, Pitbull, and Claudia Leitte. Luckily for them, the Amazonian jungle on display was the Disneyfied version, significantly denatured: there were no carnivorous plants in evidence or shamelessly sexual banana fronds. Two years ago, scientists discovered in a Brazilian river a new species of blind snake that looks like a penis. I do not believe it was represented during the opening ceremony. The tribe of three sang “We Are One (Ole Ola),” plucked from the Songbook of Truly Awful Tunes Written for Grand Occasions. The message held up until the twenty-sixth minute of the game that followed, between Brazil and Croatia, when Neymar received the tournament’s first yellow card for slamming his forearm into Luka Modrić’s throat.

We all know that Nature, even when significantly denatured, abhors a vacuum—so as soon as the rainforest had left the field, on came the teams. The Brazilians walked out with their right arms extended on to the right shoulder of the player in front, as if only their leader could see.

Not seeing, as it turned out, was a theme of the game. The Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura, for example, failed to see that the Brazilian striker Fred had not been fouled by Dejan Lovren, which led to Neymar converting the game-winning penalty. Nor did the ref see that Julio Cesar, Brazil’s goalkeeper, had also not been fouled when Perisic had a goal disallowed. Or that Oscar’s clinching third goal came after Rakitic had been blatantly fouled. Read More »

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Croatia, a Work in Progress

June 5, 2014 | by

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Darijo Srna, Croatia’s captain and all-time most capped player. Photo: Fanny Schertzer, via Wikimedia Commons

Next Thursday, Croatia has the privilege of playing the World Cup’s opening match against Brazil, the host nation. The Eastern European country gets to take on a team that has won the World Cup a record five times—and is this year’s favorite—before nearly 70,000 people in São Paulo’s brand new Itaquerao stadium. The game is the first World Cup match to take place in Brazil since 1950, when the country last hosted the event. Brazil was the favorite that year, too, but it lost in the final in a shocking upset to Uruguay—and the country has never forgotten it.

Croatia, on the other hand, didn’t even become a nation until 1991. Its population of four and a half million is forty-five times smaller than Brazil’s. This World Cup is only its fourth appearance in five tries, and the team has had only two generations of players. It might seem that Croatia is absurdly overmatched. But you can also see the game as simply the next step in the development of their national soccer identity.

Croatia was born out of the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia, whose soccer team had made it to the semifinals and the quarterfinals of the World Cup twice; the team enjoyed a reputation as the Brazilians of European soccer. More than any of the other former Yugoslav republics, Croatia has continued that tradition, most notably at the 1998 World Cup, its first, where it shocked the world by finishing third.

That year, Croatia got a taste of what it’s like to face a host nation at a major tournament when it played its semifinal match against France in St.-Denis. Croatia’s star striker Davor Šuker, currently the president of its national soccer federation, scored the game’s first goal, just after halftime. “At that [moment] there were 80,000 people in St.-Denis and only a few thousand Croatians,” said Slaven Bilić, who played as a defender on that team and later coached the Croatian national team. “It was like when music is playing and someone comes in and presses the mute button.” Read More »

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