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Posts Tagged ‘World Cup’

Offsides, Part 1

January 23, 2013 | by

Mirko Vučinić showed up to the first day of soccer season this summer with a mustache. It was a thin one, and it made him look like a character out of an Italian neorealist homage to the dignity of the working class—handsome and proud, and heroic because ultimately he is up against forces that are far too great for him to succeed. Vučinić is the starting striker for Juventus, Italy’s Serie A defending champion. To date, though, he may be most famous for dropping his shorts, placing them on his head, and running around the pitch in his underwear after he scored a goal in an international match against Switzerland in 2010. You likely wouldn’t see that in an Italian neorealist film. But that’s all right, because Vučinić isn’t Italian. He’s Montenegrin, and Montenegro has a story of its own.

The country, once a part of the former Yugoslavia, is one of the tiniest in all of Europe. Incredibly, its population of 657,000—about the size of Baltimore’s—is the same as the number of registered soccer players in Poland, Montenegro’s first opponent in its 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, which began in September. In order to automatically qualify for the World Cup, Montenegro has to finish first in its group of six, or make it to a playoff match and finish second. The team’s other opponents in the group include Ukraine, whose population of forty-five million is a mere seventy times larger than Montenegro’s, and England, whose team is ranked sixth in the world and is the group favorite. Read More »

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A Week in Culture: Caitlin Roper, Editor, Part 2

July 15, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Roper's culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

11:30 A.M. John Waters interview. He’s in Provincetown for the summer, so we have to talk on the phone. I’m disappointed not to meet him in person, but still excited to talk. Waters is a charmer. I’m instantly enthralled and never want to hang up1.

1:00 P.M. My friend Max sent me some images of paintings by Walton Ford2, whom we both admire. I think Ford is my favorite contemporary painter. He paints gigantic, detailed watercolors. There’re sort of Audobon, naturalist illustration-inspired, with a dark, anti-colonial, anti-industrialist twist. I spend about fifteen minutes looking at all the Ford paintings I can find online. This is an example of a kind of culture that is not best delivered via computer screen. I long to see some Ford paintings at full size.

4:15 P.M. "Puritan, Inc.," a review of Making Haste From Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History on TNR’s The Book written by my friend and colleague David Wallace-Wells3.

5:00 P.M. Max sent me this video, probably captured by a security camera, of a guy strolling down the street in a track suit and a pair of sunglasses. He does a double-take, and nearly gets hit by a car careening down the sidewalk. He leaps to safety, missing death by inches. I find it so alarming I watch it over and over again. The way the guy looks up, jukes to one side, then leaps expertly out of the way—I cannot believe it.

6:45 P.M. The Kids Are All Right at the Loews Village 7. I liked Lisa Cholodenko’s High Art. I saw it in college. I know little about this one, which is my ideal4 movie-going scenario. As soon as the movie starts, I’m engaged5. This is the best movie I have seen in a theater since Joon-ho Bong’s Mother. Also, Mark Ruffalo is hot.

9:15 P.M. Kickstarter and Rooftop Films teamed up for a film festival. The roof in Park Slope is vast. We slink in during a film and settle in folding chairs. The film shorts are projected on a screen hung on a brick wall. It’s a warm night, but there is a gentle, steady breeze. I watch two shorts and find my eyes drifting back to the horizon, where a herd of clouds makes its way across the plains of the blue-black sky. Read More »

Annotations

  1. We talk for about twenty minutes and the transcript of our conversation is twenty-four pages long. Waters: “I am astounded by the behavior of people that think they’re completely normal, and can act so insane and not realize it.”
  2. I first saw Ford’s work in person at the Brooklyn Museum in 2006. I was there to see Ron Mueck’s impressive, wacky hyperrealist sculptures, but it was the last day of the Annie Leibovitz show, and the place was mobbed. I snuck away from the masses and found myself in an empty room, each wall had just one vast Ford painting. I spent about an hour in there staring at the detail in a painting of a tiger.
  3. He didn’t show me this piece, but I came across it myself (I was looking for Philip Roth’s 1958 review of The Bridge On the River Kwai). I’m impressed, as usual, with David’s intellect. I’m lucky to know and work with someone I genuinely admire. When I tell him I liked it, he says, “I should've cut the second paragraph."
  4. I never read reviews before I see a movie if I can help it.
  5. It’s set in California, and the characters are appealing and real in a way I have rarely seen on film. Most important: the writing is excellent. Lisa Cholodenko, wow.

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Zero Hour in South Africa

July 9, 2010 | by

There are two games left. The third place playoff takes place on Saturday, Uruguay against Germany in a game often described as one nobody wants to play in. It can be well worth watching though—teams have been known to forget about tactics and play with something approximating wild abandon, which in this World Cup will come as some relief.

Then on Sunday, it’s Spain against Holland; one of two favorites going into the tournament against the perennially-highly-fancied World Cup bridesmaids. Neither team has won it before, so whichever way it goes, there will be a new name on the list. It will be the first time a European team has won in another continent, a particular triumph for Old Europe, after the continent as a whole was dismissed following the group round, the commentators agreeing that the new champion would inevitably come from Latin America.

Both teams play the same formation, the 4-2-3-1 that uses the holding midfielders to prevent the other team from attacking. But oh, they do it so differently. Holland plays with two thugs there, Mark Van Bommel and Nigel de Jong to break up the attack and to do so by any means necessary or at least invisible. Once they have won possession, their only job — one they do very well — is to give the ball to Wesley Sneidjer, the conductor of the Dutch attack.

The leader of the pair is Van Bommel, who has managed to somehow commit 14 fouls, some of them proper horrors, whilst only getting one yellow card for dissent. Over the course of the tournament, Van Bommel’s star has risen in exact relationship to the amount of opprobrium heaped on him by fans. He is nasty, sly, always the first to complain to the ref about some perceived injury done to him—quite often when he was the one dishing out the punishment rather than the other way around. There is something reptilian about him; nasty eyes and an absolutely massive jaw. Without him the Dutch would never have gotten this far; he is a beast. Read More »

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And Then We Came to the End

July 9, 2010 | by

In the World Cup, as in any tournament, half of the field is eliminated in the first round, and half again in each succeeding round—a method of crowning a champion devised by Zeno and guaranteed to bring the whole thrilling spectacle to a buyer’s-remorse anticlimax. (You can see the diminishing interest in the now-trickling coverage in outlets both mainstream and semi-pro.) Whichever second-rate European nation triumphs on Sunday—if they can control the midfield as smugly as they did against Germany in Wednesday’s semifinal it will surely be Spain—will look a lot less truly top-dog than simply last-man-standing.

In his Winner-Take-All Society, the academic Robert Frank famously described the American economy as such a tournament, devoted to the production of champions at the expense of the welfare of many many losers; in South Africa this summer we will have thirty-one of them to one likely-uninspiring winner, a fairly devastating ratio. But it’s not only the partisans of those thirty-one countries that’ll be left bewildered, wondering what might have been, all the rest of us will, too, indeed anyone who paid any attention to the opening of the tournament and its round-the-clock stream of giddy action and deluded, infinite-horizon expectation. The games played in those early days were often stilted by deliberative tactics, player caution, and coaching prudence, and their outcomes were rarely decisive. But they embodied what another academic, Barry Schwartz, might’ve called the paradox of chance—we want each game to contain all the possibilities and promise of the entire cup, to unfold as though the shape and character of the whole month-long tournament hangs completely on its outcome, but we don’t want any particular result to disclose the possibility of any other. On this score a tournament is designed to disappoint. But those early games offer, always, the best of both worlds, yielding perhaps less quality of play than the contests that follow but making up for it, many times over, in volume. Or, as I like to call it, abundance.

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Deutschland Über Alles

July 6, 2010 | by

The semi-finals of this World Cup have led to an earth shattering cosmic twist: everybody now likes Germany.

Most of the credit for this goes down to the way they play. Germany was dazzling to watch, especially in the crushing of Argentina and England. They lost their captain, big star and only member of the team to play outside Germany, Michael Ballack1, a month before the finals began. The team they brought to South Africa is made up of young players who mostly came up through the German youth system (and many of whom helped the country win last year's European youth championship). They’re a marvelous spectacle—they keep their shape, looking to play on the counter attack. And when they do, the ball moves so swiftly and intelligently from one end to the other that no one can keep up with them. They also seem largely free of the diving, grandstanding, and waving of imaginary cards. Unlike so many other teams in the tournament, they get on with things.

Speaking of diving and imaginary card waving, Spain came into the tournament as the European favorites, with ball movement and a promised redemption for previous failures. But even if they win, they will leave with their haloes gleaming a little less brightly. We have been denied the glory of Xavi and Andres Iniesta running the midfield at a tempo and geometry they dictate. Instead we have been forced to watch the odious Sergio Busquets collapse in a heap every time someone looks at him funny, while Xavi and Xabi Alonso get in each other’s way. Up front, Spain has been entirely dependent on goals from David Villa. Fernando Torres, who came into the tournament as the Spanish golden boy, has had so bad a time of it that The Guardian—in a misguided attempt to salvage his reputation—called him a more talented Emile Heskey. Perhaps worse, it turns out he dyes his hair. Read More »

Annotations

  1. He was injured in a tackle (and I use that word in its loosest sense) put in by the Ghanaian midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng, whose half-brother Jerome is the German left back. The Boateng brothers apparently no longer speak.

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Don’t Doubt Diego

July 2, 2010 | by

Diego Maradona. Photograph by Juan Manuel Robledo.

Over the past year, Diego Maradona has had Argentinians scratching their heads. Why wouldn’t he pick a settled team for the qualification campaign? Instead he chopped and changed his lineup, running through seventy-five players. For a time, it looked like they wouldn’t qualify and when they did, Maradona faced the doubting press corps and told them “they could suck it and keep on sucking it.”

Even then there were doubts. Messi and Maradona were said not to get on, and Diego was thought to prefer his son-in-law, the pint-sized and prolific Sergio Aguero. His final squad did not include Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti, who had both just orchestrated Inter Milan’s Champions League victory. He had too many strikers, not enough midfielders—in short, the Albicelestes were in big trouble.

All of these concerns have turned out to be irrelevant. Argentina is one of the teams of the tournament. They have scored loads of goals, including this monster from Tevez. Messi has been utterly mesmeric, not scoring yet, but regularly drawing not just a double- or triple-team but what quite often looks like the massed ranks of the Napoleonic Guard to defend him, opening up acres of space for his teammates.

On the sidelines, looking like Tony Montana’s best friend, with his diamond earrings, shiny suit, and mullet, has been Diego. He is fantastic to watch, not as potent as when he sliced England apart single-handedly in 1986, but still so involved, kicking every ball alongside his players, and then when forced to substitute them, consoling them with a hug and a kiss. Read More »

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