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Posts Tagged ‘Ghana’

Win, Lose, or Draw

June 23, 2014 | by

What next for Team USA?

Jermaine Jones in 2013. Photo: Erik Drost, via Wikimedia Commons

Jermaine Jones in 2013. Photo: Erik Drost, via Wikimedia Commons

Jonathan Wilson, from London:

Twenty years ago, I was in Giants Stadium watching the 1994 World Cup quarterfinal between Germany and Bulgaria. A group of cheerful German supporters unfurled a large banner that read, IT’S NOT A TRICK … IT’S GERMANY!!! This intriguing and challenging work of art (text, textile, mixed media, probably influenced by Joseph Beuys) baffled me for many years, right up until last night, when Jermaine Jones—the USA’s German-born, all-action midfielder—curled a superb “take that, Lionel Messi!” right-foot shot from the edge of the area into the far corner of Portugal’s net. Wowsers, I thought. It wasn’t a trick … it was Germany.

Last week, on Sports Illustrated’s Planet Futbol site, Grant Wahl reflected on the high number of dual nationality German American players on the U.S. team—there are five, and it’s common “to hear [them] speaking to each other in German.” Wahl speculated that if, in 1981, the year Jermaine Jones was born, the U.S. had had as many American servicemen in Brazil as in Germany (there were 222 and 248,000, respectively) we might have a really spectacular team by now. Improving your team by selectively locating your armed-forces bases: it’s an interesting Freakonomics- or Gladwell-type theory, but it might need some tweaking in light of the results so far at this year’s tournament. America’s long engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, I suspect, will produce negligible returns on the soccer field. These countries aren’t soccer powers, and we probably won’t hear anyone shouting across the field in Pashto, Dari, or Mesopotamian Arabic at the next World Cup. Certain teams, however, are clearly on the way up, and I’m thinking now that a base or two in Costa Rica, Algeria, Iran, and Mexico—where there are, at present, none at all—wouldn’t hurt. On the other hand, we might as well close those in Portugal, Australia, England, and Greece.

But what a game the USA played against Portugal yesterday. Tim Howard made one of the best saves of the tournament, and Clint Dempsey, with his badge-of-honor broken nose and black eye, chested in a goal that, until the very last kick of the game, looked to be sending the USA into the round of sixteen. Instead, defensive lapses—which appeared the result of miscommunication at the back; can the rest of the team please get on board with the German?—led to Ronaldo, who hadn’t really been much of a factor for the previous ninety-four minutes, sending in a perfect cross for Varela to head home and equalize.

So the U.S. must gather itself for one last go-round with—who else?—Germany. A draw is a likely result—a draw of the sort sometimes subtly engineered by teams for whom it’s mutually beneficial, as it would be in this case. Read More »

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Painkillers, God, and America

June 18, 2014 | by

Let us pray. Photo: Jason Wojciechowski, via Flickr

According to the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, Americans consume 80 percent of the world’s painkillers—more than 110 tons of addictive opiates every year. As a writer in The Guardian put it, the U.S. must be a very painful place to live.

How much of that pain has been caused by soccer? Not much, at least not to begin with: an unlikely and magnificent 1-0 victory over England in World Cup 1950 (held then as now in Brazil) featured a bunch of part-timers putting the boot to the “Kings of Football.” It didn’t require so much as a baby aspirin. Since then, working on the “no pain no gain” principle so beloved of hackneyed American high-school football coaches, the U.S. has enjoyed a steady climb up the world rankings and some encouraging advances in international tournaments, including a World Cup quarter-final in 2002. Still, in the last sixty-four years, there have been more losses and draws—a draw in the U.S. means, as we all know, a loss—than wins. But not many Americans were following the team during all that. I imagine only a fraction of a ton of painkillers were consumed.

Now, though, after this week’s stirring 2-1 victory over Ghana, the 80-percenters are getting on-board big-time, and The New York Times is reporting that a majority of Americans are convinced, unlike their coach, that the USA can triumph in Brazil. The team is clearly riding for a fall, isn’t it? They play Portugal on Sunday. One would think it’s pass-the-Tylenol time. Read More »

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Desire and Despair

June 17, 2014 | by

Germany vs. Portugal; Iran vs. Nigeria; USA vs. Ghana.

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Watching the World Cup in DUMBO. Photo: Rowan Ricardo Phillips

The greatest poverty is not to live
in a physical world, to feel that one’s desire
Is too difficult to tell from despair.
—Wallace Stevens

Yesterday, in a tunnel down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, a flatscreen floated in the light of an arch like the iris of a giant eye. Tables and benches of the sort you’d find at a picnic site were spread about; it was one of those rare times in New York that space was clearly not at a premium. The tunnel was shady and cool. Behind the flatscreen, at the end of the long arch where the noon light seemed irrelevant, a renovated factory glittered.

On the screen, we watched as Germany took apart Portugal. The Portuguese team exhibited their typical flaws: an overreliance on hierarchy and on their best player; a rash of madness by their most hotheaded player, which led to his ejection; a lack of belief against a team with a higher pedigree. The German team, on the other hand, exhibited their typical strengths: you know, German stuff. They won 4-0.

Soon afterward, the tournament saw its first draw, with Iran and Nigeria sputtering through a scoreless game. The big story of the match was probably Nigeria’s forest and key-lime-green color palette, combined with their fluorescent pink-and-yellow shoes. That, and that Iran had a Christian on their team. The world, like a football, is round and confounds. Read More »

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Empire of Sport

June 25, 2010 | by

The group stage of the 2010 World Cup ends today—the group stage of the first African World Cup, as we’re reminded again and again by the soccer salesmanship masquerading as studio commentary before, during, and after each game. And of the six teams drawn from what is being called the “home continent,” only Ghana has managed to advance. (They’ll play the U.S. on Saturday afternoon.) The bafana bafana of South Africa are the first host nation to get knocked out so early, despite delivering the tournament’s spectacular opening goal. That goal, we were told, ignited the hearts of fans from Gibraltar to the Cape of Good Hope. And the failure of Algeria, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and South Africa to advance has been called an “African tragedy.”

No one is talking about a “European tragedy,” though six European sides are already heading home. (Tournament favorite Spain are in danger, too: they have to beat enterprising Chile this afternoon to advance.) And no commentators would think to describe the early exits of France and Italy as disappointments for, say, Merkel or Zapatero—or to imagine the pubs of London in a state of mourning following a surprise loss by Germany. No one would believe it if they did, continents being things that are usually divided into, you know, nations—nations often made hostile by proximity and divided by borders typically set by, you know, wars. And soccer being the way Europeans litigate hostilities in the age of the Euro.

And yet the air is thick with something in Soccer City, the Johannesburg complex where (imported?) production teams have been preparing for us all those montages of cheetahs, primitivist graphics, and Jungle Book voice-overs we’ve been eating up all tournament. We don’t have a neat African equivalent for the term Orientalism, but how about vuvuzelism?

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