Judging by interviews, neither Wayne Rooney or Lionel Messi seems like the smartest tool in the shed, but they both possess a keen mind for football as Simon Kuper explains. Messi, who appears to listlessly sandbag his way through the early part of matches, is actually using the time to size up his opponent:
It was a puzzling sight. The little man was wandering around, apparently ignoring the ball. The official explained: "In the first few minutes he just walks across the field. He is looking at each opponent, where the guy positions himself, and how their defense fits together. Only after doing that does he start to play."
"Part of my preparation," he told the writer David Winner for ESPN The Magazine in 2012, "is I go and ask the kit man what colour we're wearing, if it's red top, white shorts, white socks or black socks. Then I lie in bed the night before the game and visualize myself scoring goals or doing well. You're trying to put yourself in that moment and trying to prepare yourself, to have a 'memory' before the game. I don't know if you'd call it visualizing or dreaming but I've always done it, my whole life."
A footballer's exceptional visual memory was on display recently when FC Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez was quizzed about 5 particular goals he's scored out of 57 total across almost 500 matches for his club:
He gets them all correct, even what the scores were when they happened, the final scores, who else scored in each match, and even the team's position in La Liga.
Plainly put, Messi is a shadow of his former self. He's much more cynical, more selfish and power-hungry. How else can the departure of Martino and friction with Enrique be explained? It's a power play by a man who feels his powers waning. Consider: after Barcelona's 5-0 victory against Levante, Messi had only managed 37 goals and 18 assists in all competitions. A far cry from the player who once scored 82 goals in one season.
At 27 years old, we might be witnessing the twilight of Messi's career. It's a shame for a player who seemed to be on a tear just a few years ago.
It was a weirdly cynical take that contained a kernel of truth. A little over a month later on Mar 23, Jeff Himmelman wrote a piece called Lionel Messi Is Back On His Game.
But in the new year, Messi has finally started to look like himself again; he has been on fire, racking up hat tricks and leading the league in scoring. His legs and his extraordinary bursts of energy -- the engine of his game -- are back, and a move to the right flank from the congested middle has freed him to do what he does best: making slashing runs at defenders with speed, creating space and chances.
On the evidence of the last week, it has become possible to wonder whether Messi might actually be better than ever. The best reason to think so was the first half of Barcelona's game against Manchester City on Wednesday, in the round of 16 of the Champions League European club championships. From the start, Messi spun passes into tight spaces and flew up and down the field with a boyish abandon that was nowhere to be found last year.
In that Man City game, Messi nutmegged both Milner and Fernandinho:
A Euro 2016 qualifying match between Albania and Serbia was abandoned today after a drone flying a banner with a map of Kosovo and the Albanian flag on it hovered over the pitch.
Tensions increased further when the flag was snared by Serbia's Stefan Mitrovic, who then pulled on the strings connecting it to the drone. He was immediately confronted by Albanian players, and a shoving match ensued.
The match was abandoned after a lengthy delay. At the recommendation of UEFA, no Albanian fans were allowed into the stadium for the match in Belgrade due to tensions between the two nations. Kosovo, where the population includes both ethnic Serbs and Albanians, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, a declaration that the Serbians dispute. Nick Ames wrote a soccer-centric take on the tensions between the two nations.
It comes down, really, to Kosovo -- and that is a phrase that can be applied as shorthand for Serbian-Albanian relations as a whole. As Tim Judah writes in his seminal history, The Serbs: "So poisoned is the whole subject of Kosovo that when Albanian or Serbian academics come to discuss its history, especially its modern history, all pretence of impartiality is lost."
Kosovo, situated to the south of Serbia and the north-east of Albania, declared independence in 2008 having previously been part of Serbia. The Serbs still regard it as their own, but it is recognised by 56 percent of UN member states and its ethnic makeup is, depending on which side you refer to, overwhelmingly Albanian. (It's worth noting that figures vary wildly.)
The emotional significance goes as far back as 1389, when the Serbs were defeated by the Ottoman army in the Battle of Kosovo, which took place near its modern-day capital, Pristina. It has been much-mythologised in Serbian history. Far more recently, memories of the 1998-99 Kosovo War -- an appallingly brutal fight for the territory from which it has not really recovered -- still run deep.
FYI: the YouTube embed above was recorded off of a TV...if you're in the US, the ESPN story has better video.
As I've written before, after the World Cup in 2010, I wanted to keep watching soccer but didn't quite know how club soccer worked or anything about the various teams. I wish I'd had this book then: Club Soccer 101. It's a guide to 101 of the most well-known teams from leagues all over the world.
The book covers the history of European powerhouses like Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid; historic South American clubs like Boca Juniors, Corinthians, Penarol, and Santos; and rising clubs from Africa, Asia, and America, including such leading MLS clubs as LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, and Seattle Sounders. Writing with the passion and panache of a deeply knowledgeable and opinionated fan, Luke Dempsey explains what makes each club distinctive: their origins, fans, and style of play; their greatest (and most heartbreaking) seasons and historic victories and defeats; and their most famous players -- from Pelé, Eusébio, and Maradona to Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, and Ronaldo.
The irony of that goal against Getafe, in retrospect, is that he's not the next Maradona; he's nothing like Maradona. Maradona was all energy, right on the surface; watching Messi is like watching someone run in a dream. Like Cristiano Ronaldo, Maradona jumped up to challenge you; if you took the field against him, he wanted to humiliate you, to taunt you. Messi plays like he doesn't know you're there. His imagination is so perfectly fused with his technique that his assumptions can obliterate you before his skill does.
He has always seemed oddly nonthreatening for someone with a legitimate claim to being the best soccer player in history. He seems nice, and maybe he is. (He goes on trial for tax evasion soon; it is impossible to believe he defrauded authorities on purpose, because it is impossible to believe that he manages his finances at all.) On the pitch, though, this is deceptive. It's an artifact of his indifference to your attention. He doesn't notice whether or not you notice. His greatness is nonthreatening because it is so elusive, even though its elusiveness is what makes it a threat.
Messi is only 27, holds or is within striking distance of all sorts of all-time records, and I'm already sad about his career ending. This is big talk, perhaps nonsense, but Messi might be better at soccer than Michael Jordan was at basketball. I dunno, I was bummed when Jordan retired (well, the first two times anyway), but with Messi, thinking about his retirement, it seems to me like soccer will lose something special that it will never ever see again.
If you enjoyed the World Cup but don't know how to proceed into the seemingly impenetrable world of soccer, with its overlapping leagues, cups, and tournaments, this guide from Grantland is for you.
Just because the World Cup is over doesn't mean soccer stops. Soccer never stops; that's one of its biggest appeals. There are so many different teams, leagues, club competitions, and international tournaments that, if you want to, you can always find someone to cheer for or some team to root against. It can also be a bit daunting to wade into without any experience. Luckily, you have me, your Russian Premier League-watching, tactics board-chalking, Opta Stats-devouring Gandalf, to help you tailor your soccer-watching habits. And now I will answer some completely made-up questions to guide you along your soccer path.
This was basically my situation after the 2010 World Cup, a soccer fan with nowhere to direct his fandom. What I did was:
1. Picked a player I enjoyed watching (Messi) and started following his club team (FC Barcelona) and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the league that team played in (La Liga). I know a lot more cities in Spain than I used to.
2. Watched as many Champions League matches as I could every year, again more or less following Barcelona.
3. Got into UEFA European Championship, which is basically the World Cup but just for Europe. It's held every four years on a two-year stagger from the WC and the next one is in 2016 in France, which, I'm realizing just now, I should try to attend.
I also watched a few Premier League matches here and there...it's a great league with good competition. What I didn't do is follow any MLS or the USMNT, although after this WC, I might give the Gold Cup and Copa America tournaments some more attention. And qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup start in mid-2015...soccer never ends.
By now I've studied nearly every aspect of Messi's game, down to a touch-by-touch level: his shooting and scoring production; where he shoots from; how often he sets up his own shots; what kind of kicks he uses to make those shots; his ability to take on defenders; how accurate his passes are; the kind of passes he makes; how often he creates scoring chances; how often those chances lead to goals; even how his defensive playmaking compares to other high-volume shooters.
And that's just the stuff that made it into this article. I arrived at a conclusion that I wasn't really expecting or prepared for: Lionel Messi is impossible.
It's not possible to shoot more efficiently from outside the penalty area than many players shoot inside it. It's not possible to lead the world in weak-kick goals and long-range goals. It's not possible to score on unassisted plays as well as the best players in the world score on assisted ones. It's not possible to lead the world's forwards both in taking on defenders and in dishing the ball to others. And it's certainly not possible to do most of these things by insanely wide margins.
But Messi does all of this and more.
The piece is chock-full of evidential graphs of how much of an outlier Messi is among his talented peers:
One of my favorite things that I've written about sports is how Lionel Messi rarely dives, which allows him to keep the advantage he has over the defense.
A groundbreaking work -- named one of the five most influential sports books of the decade by Sports Illustrated -- How Soccer Explains the World is a unique and brilliantly illuminating look at soccer, the world's most popular sport, as a lens through which to view the pressing issues of our age, from the clash of civilizations to the global economy.
Watch as two players from the Japanese national soccer team try to score against 55 kids.
The kids had two opportunities to stop the pro players, once with 33 players and the second time with 55 players. This didn't turn out how I expected, given how a similar stunt involving fencing ended.
This was posted on Marginal Revolution a few days ago and garnered several interesting comments about how much better professional athletes are than us regular folk. Here are a few:
Rugby: I played against an international player once. Watching him play, I'd seen a chap who ran in straight lines, a strong tackler with a weak kick. Playing against him revealed him to be skillful, agile and possessed of a howitzer kick.
Back in the 1980s a friend was watching a pickup basketball game in Boston and reported what happened when a player from the Celtics showed up. He was so much faster, more athletic, and more agile than the other players that it seemed like he was playing a different sport. The player turned out to be Scott Wedman, who by that time was old and slow by NBA standards, and mainly hung around the 3-point line to shoot outside shots after the defense had collapsed on Bird, McHale, et al. But compared to non-NBA players, he was Michael Jordan (or LeBron James).
My U-19 team (we were very good by local standards) had a practice with the New Zealand All Blacks, who were on some sort of tour. It was like they were from a different planet. I stood no chance of containing, or conversely getting past, the smallest of them under almost any circumstance.
Back in the olden thymes I was a pretty good baseball player. Early in my high school career I got the chance to catch a AAA pitcher. I went into thinking I would have no trouble. The first pitch was on top of me so fast I was knocked off balance. It took a bunch of pass balls before I got used to how to handle his breaking stuff.
For a Visa commercial, Errol Morris gathers a number of Nobel Peace Prize winners and nominees (including Lech Walesa) to talk about how important it is for their countries to beat the crap out of the other countries in the World Cup.
Two quotes in the video caught my ear:
Sport is a continuation of war by other means.
Look, football isn't life or death. It's much more important than that.
The first is a riff on Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz's aphorism "War is the continuation of Politik by other means". Clausewitz also devised the concept of "the fog of war", which Morris used for the title of a film. The second is a paraphrase of a quote by legendary football coach Bill Shankly:
Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.
What exactly is a good shot in soccer? The nascent field of soccer analytics is hard at work trying to figure that out. It won't surprise anybody to learn that closer is better, and using your feet is much, much better than using your head. So, much like getting into the lane is of paramount importance in basketball, getting the ball at your feet in front of the goal is just about the best thing you can do in soccer. Getting to the byline (baseline) in the corner of the penalty areas (like where Maicon was in the above video) is a hot destination. That's where you can cut the ball back for a teammate to have one of those coveted close shots. Hey, look at that - it's like basketball again: Get to the goal or get to the corners.
For the World Cup, the managers of Mexico, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Spain, Germany, and Chile have all banned players from having sex for the duration of the tournament. France and Brazil's players have to slow down, too:
Usually normal sex is done in balanced way, but there are certain forms, certain ways and others who do acrobatics. We will put limits and survey the players.
-- Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari
"Barry Sanders is my new idol," Bo Jackson said after a Raiders-Lions game in 1990. "I love the way the guy runs. When I grow up, I want to be just like him."
The Raiders won that game, and the Lions were 4-9 at the time, but it didn't even matter.
All anyone could talk about afterward was the "little water bug" who "might rewrite history."
This wasn't necessarily a metaphor for Barry's entire Lions career -- he was on more playoff teams than people remember -- but it definitely covers about half the years he spent in Detroit. Even when the Lions were awful, Barry would still have a few plays every game that would keep people gawking afterward.
Bo Jackson had a similar effect on people, which is part of what makes that old quote so cool. The Bo Jackson combination of speed and power is something we'd never seen before and haven't seen since. He was a cult hero then, and the legend has only grown over the years.
I've always been an atypical sports fan. I grew up in Wisconsin rooting for the Packers & Brewers but switched to being a Vikings & Cubs fan sometime in high school. But despite following the Vikings at the time, my favorite player in the NFL was Barry Sanders. For my money, Sanders was pure symphonic excellence in motion, the best running back (and perhaps player) the NFL had ever seen and maybe will ever see. I wonder if one of the reasons why I like Lionel Messi so much is because he reminds me of Sanders; in stature, in strength, in quickness, in skill. Compare and contrast some of their finest runs:
For Howler Magazine, Sam Markham writes about Diego Maradona's second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal, aka Probably The Best Goal of All Time. Markham focuses on how a pair of radio commentators -- one English, the other from South America -- called the goal.
Morales's ecstatic commentary of Maradona's second goal is itself iconic in Argentina, and his lyrical expression "Barrilete cosmico!" (Cosmic kite!) is now shorthand in Argentina and much of South America for Maradona. His narration is a frenzied mix of poetry, yelling, and sobbing that ends with a prayer: "Thank you, God, for football, for Maradona, for these tears, for this-Argentina 2, England 0."
Even if you don't care about soccer, you should give this a listen...the dude absolutely loses his shit:
An alternate view of the spectacular goal has recently been found. Oh, and my favorite weird thing about this goal: Lionel Messi is considered by many to be Maradona's heir (both are small, Argentinian, and otherworldly talented) and in 2007, at the age of 19, he scored this goal against Getafe:
As you can see in the side-by-side comparison, it's extremely similar to Maradona's goal. Even the commentator loses it in a similar manner.
The teams for the 2014 World Cup are almost all set (one qualifying game remains) and there are a lot of world-class players who won't be playing in the tournament. ESPN FC has compiled a team of the best players who will miss out:
Bale, Lewandowski, and Ibrahimovic. That's an amazing front line. If not for his hat trick yesterday, Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps the best player in the world right now, would have made the roster in Ibrahimovic's stead.
Football as Football is a collection of American football team logos in the style of European football club badges. Here are badges for the Detroit Lions (in the Italian style) and New England Patriots (in the Spanish style).
Richard Swarbrick makes these great impressionist animations of sports events, mostly soccer but also cricket and basketball. Here's one to get you started...the 5-0 drubbing FC Barcelona handed to Real Madrid during a 2010 Clasico:
It's amazing how much Swarbrick's illustrations communicate with so few strokes...Mourinho's face is my favorite. Here's the actual match for comparison purposes. And here's Maradona's sublime goal against England in the 1986 World Cup (original video):
"Bend it like Beckham" has given way to "knuckle it like Ronaldo" in European football. During free kicks, players like Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Tottenham's Gareth Bale put little or no spin on the ball, which tends to give it the unpredictable movement of a knuckleball in baseball. Bale recently explained his technique:
So where does the 'knuckling' effect come in?
Well, as we've said, if the ball is struck without spin, it is more susceptible to movement as it flies through the air.
If there are imperfections on the ball, such as specks of mud or grass, then random movement is more likely. Bale would be well served to rub the ball around in the grass as he places it.
Even the seams of the ball's panels can generate a degree of unpredictable movement.
Bale is not the first exponent of 'knuckleball' in the game, of course. Ronaldo has a subtle variation that has wowed fans the world over, while the former Lyon player Juninho Pernambucano did much to perfect the style in the noughties.
YouTube is crap for finding good soccer highlights in HD (FIFA, the European leagues, and their broadcast partners are fanatic about yanking footage) so there's not a great view of Bale's technique, but you can kind of see it in this video of his two goals against Lyon earlier this year. The knuckler is also in evidence in this Ronaldo compilation, particularly with goals #7 and #3. Especially #7...Ronaldo hits it right at the keeper, who looks completely baffled by the speed and movement of the ball.
Abel Rodríguez waxes floors for a living in Los Angeles and takes two weeks of vacation a year to work gratis for Real Madrid when the European football club trains in Los Angeles every summer. He had always dreamed of seeing Real Madrid playing their Spanish rivals Barcelona in Madrid, so his family persuaded him to go. He went. With no hotel or ticket to the game, he sat outside the club's training complex for hours until manager José Mourinho spotted him as he was leaving..."Stop! It's the guy from Los Angeles." Thus began Abel Rodríguez's magical journey.
You never know when karma will come back and reward you for something. For seven summers Rodriguez worked for free for Real Madrid, even when the club was willing to pay him for his efforts in Los Angeles. Now he was about to experience the thrill of a lifetime.
Tim Jahnigen has always followed his heart, whether as a carpenter, a chef, a lyricist or now as an entrepreneur. So in 2006, when he saw a documentary about children in Darfur who found solace playing soccer with balls made out of garbage and string, he was inspired to do something about it.
The children, he learned, used trash because the balls donated by relief agencies and sporting goods companies quickly ripped or deflated on the rocky dirt that doubled as soccer fields. Kicking a ball around provided such joy in otherwise stressful and trying conditions that the children would play with practically anything that approximated a ball.
"The only thing that sustained these kids is play," said Mr. Jahnigen of Berkeley, Calif. "Yet the millions of balls that are donated go flat within 24 hours."
You can buy one online and for every ball that you buy, one will be donated to a community in need.
The next time people in Rosario heard his name, he was a star. "It is difficult to be a hero in your own city," explained Marcelo Ramirez, a family friend and radio host who showed us text messages from Messi. "He didn't grow up here. It's like he lost contact with the people. He is more an international figure than a Rosarino."
The Argentine national team coaches found out about him through a videotape, and the first time they sent him an invitation to join the squad, they addressed it to "Leonel Mecci." In the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, playing outside the familiar Barcelona system, he struggled, at least in the expectant eyes of his countrymen. His coaches and teammates didn't understand the aloof Messi, who once went to a team-building barbecue and never said a word, not even to ask for meat. The people from Argentina thought he was Spanish, and in the cafes and pool halls, they wondered why he always won championships for Barcelona but never for his own country. They raged when he didn't sing the national anthem before games. In Barcelona, Messi inspired the same reaction. People noticed he didn't speak Catalan and protected his Rosarino accent. He bought meat from an Argentine butcher and ate in Argentine restaurants. "Barcelona is not his place in the world," influential Spanish soccer editor Aitor Lagunas wrote in an e-mail. "It's a kind of a laboral emigrant with an undisguised homesick feeling."
The statue, entitled "Headbutt," is by the Algerian sculptor Adel Abdessemed, and coincides with an exhibition of his work in the museum. "This statue goes against the tradition of making statues to honor victories," said Phillipe Alain Michaud, who directed the exhibition. "It is an ode to defeat... Zidane's downward glance recalls that of Adam, chased from paradise."
But as Michaud knows, and surely as Abdessemed intends, it is both not so simple and much simpler. It is an ode to more than defeat; but it's also a representation of very basic feelings complicated by literary analogy. The Headbutt was full of anger, stupidity, and recklessness, but beneath them lay a damaged sense of honor. This makes it hard for even the calmest football fan to wholly begrudge Zidane his actions.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but this video of a soccer player picking up a piece of garbage and casually throwing it off the field COME TO FIND OUT IT IS SOME SORT OF EXPLOSIVE DEVICE THAT EXPLODES WHEN HE THROWS IT is crazy. I didn't want to bury the lede on that one. The game was an AFC Champions League match between Iran's Sepahan and Saudi Arabia's Al-Ahli at Foolad Shahr Stadium, and the lucky player was Sepahan midfielder Adel Kolahkaj.
Here's another version with some more detail/slow mo. I'm not wrong, right? That was totally crazy and not something you would expect during a soccer match? And it's not fake, is it? (via cosby sweaters)
Lionel Messi's and Cristiano Ronaldo's league matches will disappear from the television sets of many American soccer fans, starting this weekend.
That's because the U.S. television rights to Spain's La Liga have switched from GolTV to the new beIN Sport USA network, launched this week by the Al-Jazeera Sport Media Network and available in only about 8 million homes to viewers of DirecTV and DISH Network.
And it's not just Spain's soccer that is affected.
Italy's Serie A, France's Ligue 1, England's second-tier League Championship and England's League Cup also have moved to high-spending beIN Sport, which is taking over all of them from News Corp.'s Fox Soccer.
"The ratings are going to be so low that they will be almost unmeasurable," said Marc Ganis of the Chicago-based Sports Corp. Ltd., consulting firm. "Considering the push that European soccer is making in the United States, taking additional money and losing exposure becomes fools' gold. They need to have a long-term strategy, not short-term."
Howler is a new magazine about soccer. It's a big, glossy publication that will come out four times a year with distinctive, original writing about American and international soccer, as well as some of the most striking art and design you'll find in any publication being made today. (We know that's a bold claim, but we really believe it's true.) We've been working on Howler for months, and issue one is nearly ready to be printed, shipped, and in your hands by late summer.
Lionel Messi has scored 234 goals in his short career (he's only 24), making him the top goal scorer in all competitions for FC Barcelona. Here are all of them.
What strikes me about this video, aside from the crappy quality, is that the type of goals Messi scores are not generally what you see from other top scorers. Think of the booming balls of Ronaldo for instance, which may break the sound barrier on their way into the back of the net. Many of Messi's goals often don't look like much. They're chips and slow rollers and even the fast ones aren't that fast. But what's apparent in watching goal after goal of his is that what Messi lacks in pace, he more than makes up with quickness, placement, and timing. It's a bit mesmerising...I can only imagine how it feels as an opposing keeper to watch the same thing happening right in front of you. (via devour)
Barcelona start pressing (hunting for the ball) the instant they lose possession. That is the perfect time to press because the opposing player who has just won the ball is vulnerable. He has had to take his eyes off the game to make his tackle or interception, and he has expended energy. That means he is unsighted, and probably tired. He usually needs two or three seconds to regain his vision of the field. So Barcelona try to dispossess him before he can give the ball to a better-placed teammate.
Ever since the World Cup in 2010, I've been watching a fair amount of soccer. Mostly La Liga, Premier League, and Champions League but a smattering of other games here and there. As my affection for the game has grown, I've mostly made my peace with diving. Diving in soccer is the practice of immediately falling to the ground when a foul has been committed against you (or even if one hasn't) in order to get the referee's attention. To Americans who have grown up watching American football and basketball, it is also one of the most ridiculous sights in sports...these manly professional athletes rolling around on the ground with fake injuries and then limping around the pitch for a few seconds before resuming their runs at 100% capacity. I still dislike the players who go down too often, lay it on too thick, or dive from phantom fouls, but much of the time there's only one referee and two assistants for that huge field and you're gonna get held and tackled badly so how else are you going to get that call? You dive.
Except for Lionel Messi. It's not that he never dives (he does) but he stays on his feet more often than not while facing perhaps the most intense pressure in the game. Here's a compilation video of Messi not going down:
In recent years, efforts have been made on various fronts to apply the lessons of Moneyball to soccer. I don't think diving is one of the statistics measured because if it were, it might happen a lot less. Poor tackles and holding usually occur when the player/team with the ball has the advantage. By diving instead of staying on your feet, you usually give away that advantage (unless you're in the box, have Ronaldo on your team taking free kicks, or can somehow hoodwink the ref into giving the other guy a yellow) and that doesn't make any sense to me. If you look at Messi in that video, his desire to stay upright allows him to keep the pressure on the defense in many of those situations, creating scoring opportunities and even points that would otherwise end up as free kicks. It seems to me that Messi's reluctance to dive is not some lofty character trait of his; it's one of the things that makes him such a great player: he never gives up the advantage when he has it.
He discovered a manuscript of accounts from King James IV of Scotland that showed he paid two shillings for a bag of 'fut ballis' on 11 April, 1497. More evidence came with we came across several diary accounts of football being played in places like Stirling Castle, Edzell Castle and Carlisle Castle. The games were played on pitches smaller than the current regular football field, and featured between 10 and 20 men on each side.
In the next two and a half weeks, Spain's two best soccer teams -- FC Barcelona and Real Madrid -- play each other four times. There was today's regular season La Liga game, April 20's Copa del Rey final, and then two semifinal games in the Champions League, the European championship. As Mike Madden said on Twitter:
Barça-Madrid 4 times in 18 days. Would be like if Michigan and Ohio State played every week for a month, and everyone in U.S. was an alum.
Much of the village on the Thai island of Koh Panyee is actually floating; the island is too rocky to build much of anything on land. So when a group of kids wanted to start a soccer club, they built themselves a floating soccer pitch...which led to some interesting advantages once they started playing against other teams.
Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, more commonly known as Ronaldo, retired from soccer today as one of the most decorated players ever: he won two Ballon d'Ors, three FIFA player of the year awards, was on two World Cup-winning Brazilian teams, and scored the most goals in World Cup history. The video is a bit fuzzy, but here are ten of Ronaldo's greatest goals:
That backheel in #8 is just otherworldly, as is the spin move in #5. See also Ronaldo's skills.
Lionel Messi won the inaugural men's 2010 FIFA Ballon d'Or today, given to the best soccer player in 2010. The award was created for 2010 by merging France Football's Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award, both of which Messi won last year as well.
FIFA also named the World XI team, the best eleven players in the world by position (kinda like the NFL's All-Pro team). Amazingly, six of the eleven are from a single team, Spain's FC Barcelona. (All three of the finalists for the Ballon d'Or were from Barcelona as well.)
I've been watching Barcelona this year and I'm not sure professional American sports has seen anything like what this team is1. On paper, they're the best team on the planet by a wide margin (and that includes the World Cup-winning Spanish team, where several players -- but not, notably, Messi -- overlap) and in practice they're almost as good. Many of the players coming off the bench could start on just about any other team in Europe. But they still have to play the games and having six of the best eleven players on the planet doesn't guarantee wins, especially in a strongly team-oriented sport like soccer. Still lots of fun to watch them play, though.
 Maybe the Yankees in the 30s or 40s. Or the Celtics in the 60s. But neither of those teams had the three best players in the world on their rosters. ↩
For a well-struck soccer ball, the researchers estimate, one might expect a gentle arc followed by a sharp hook at about 50 meters -- in rough agreement with the distance of Roberto Carlos's free kick. In other words, if a soccer player has the strength to drive a ball halfway down the field with plenty of velocity and spin, he or she can expect to benefit from an unexpected curve late in the ball's trajectory.
But really, this is just an excuse to show you Roberto Carlos' amazing free kick against France in 1997:
Pure awesometown. But it might not be even be better than this one:
Ultimately, he says, he'd love to make a go of playing football professionally. He's being deadly serious. One of the perks of being Usain Bolt is that sporting stars love to meet him, so whenever he's travelling and there's time, he tries to train with a top football team. Last year it was Manchester United, a few days ago it was Bayern Munich. He's still carrying a copy of the French sporting newspaper L'Equipe, which features a spread on his football skills and praise from Bayern manager Louis van Gaal. He shows me a photo of himself with his arm wrapped round the dwarfed 6ft German forward Miroslav Klose. "If I keep myself in shape, I can definitely play football at a high level," he says.
"With his physical skills, I reckon he could play in the Premier League," Simms says.
Professional American football would be even more of a no brainer...Randy Moss with Darrell Green speed++.
In blind soccer, there are five on each side, a goalie and four outfield players. The goalie can be sighted or visually impaired and must stay in his designated goalie box. His teammates, meanwhile, wear eye shields so as to take away any competitive advantage from those players that may have limited vision over those who have no sight whatsoever. There are no throw-ins, as there is a wall surrounding the shrunken (at least, by typical soccer standards) playing field, and each team has someone calling out instructions from behind one of the goals. The players can call each other either by name or by shouting "Yeah!" And when you're approaching to engage another player to steal the ball, you must shout "Voy!" -- Spanish for I'm here! That means that you've got to discern the voice of your teammates -- since everyone on the pitch is yelling "Yeah!" -- and have a sense of where you are with the ball (which contains ball bearings, to help with tactility on the foot) in relation to the goal.
I've been meaning to post these since the beginning of the week. Here's Ezequiel Calvente's penalty kick for Spain from a U19 game against Italy. He runs up to kick with his right foot, but just before making the kick, Calvente pushes the ball into the other side of the goal with his left foot. Fantastic.
And a bonus amazing sports play. Spiderman in center field.
The broadcast of live games had been banned to avoid national embarrassment, but after the spirited 2-1 defeat to Brazil, state television made the Portugal game its first live sports broadcast ever. Following ideological criticism, the players were then allegedly forced to blame the coach for their defeats.
What's annoying, beyond the obvious totalitarian issues, is that they played really well against Brazil, the top-ranked team in the world at the time.
"Soccer," by the way, is not some Yankee neologism but a word of impeccably British origin. It owes its coinage to a domestic rival, rugby, whose proponents were fighting a losing battle over the football brand around the time that we were preoccupied with a more sanguinary civil war. Rugby's nickname was (and is) rugger, and its players are called ruggers-a bit of upper-class twittery, as in "champers," for champagne, or "preggers," for enceinte. "Soccer" is rugger's equivalent in Oxbridge-speak. The "soc" part is short for "assoc," which is short for "association," as in "association football," the rules of which were codified in 1863 by the all-powerful Football Association, or FA-the FA being to the U.K. what the NFL, the NBA, and MLB are to the U.S.
Congratulations to the Dutch for reaching the World Cup final. To celebrate, here's a great Dutch moment from a past World Cup...Dennis Bergkamp's epic goal vs. Argentina in the 1998 WC. Turn the speakers up...the sound is everything.
Congrats also to Spain, but I couldn't find a Spanish WC highlight as entertaining to match.
Messi simply does things -- little things and big things -- that other players here cannot do. He gets a ball in traffic, is surrounded by two or three defenders, and he somehow keeps the ball close even as they jostle him and kick at the ball. He takes long and hard passes up around his eyes and somehow makes the ball drop softly to his feet, like Keanu Reeves making the bullets fall in "The Matrix." He cuts in and out of traffic -- Barry Sanders only with a soccer ball moving with him -- sprints through openings that seem only theoretical, races around and between defenders who really are running even if it only looks like they are standing still. He really does seem to make the ball disappear and reappear, like it's a Vegas act.
I've watched just enough soccer to realize that despite having scored no goals and having, by FIFA's reckoning, only a single assist, Messi is having a great World Cup. He attracts so much attention on the pitch -- two or three defenders swarmed him on every touch in the Mexico game -- that he should get an assist on nearly every play for opening up the rest of the field for his team. It's one of those things that the new soccer fan (as many Americans are) doesn't catch onto right away. (thx, djacobs)
This spring, we recruited Aleksandar Hemon to write a monthly column about soccer and encouraged him to write without pandering to a broad audience. And that's the same spirit that we've embraced for this enterprise. Our cast of bloggers is filled with many eminent novelists and journalists (and a Deputy Mayor of New York City). They will write about the spiritual and metaphysical aspects of this tournament, I'm sure. But they will also write about tactics and players and coaches. They have a green light to be as wonky as they want.
If I was a fan of England, this wouldn't make me feel too confident. J.P. Morgan's quant team used FIFA Ranking, historical results, and something called "J.P. Morgan Team Strength Indicator" to predict the winner of the 2010 World Cup. Their results:
Ultimately our Model indicates Brazil as being the strongest team taking part in the tournament. However, due to the fixture schedule our Model predicts the following final outcome: 3rd: Netherlands, 2nd: Spain, World Cup Winners: England. Alternatively, we point out that the 3 favourite teams (from market prices recorded on 30 April of 3.9-to-1 for Spain, 5-to-1 for Brazil and 5.4-to-1 for England) represent a 52.5% probability of winning the World Cup.
World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup! World Cup!
1. All 64 matches will be broadcast live. 2. In high definition. 3. On either ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC.
Of those 64 matches, 52 will be simulcast online at ESPN360.com. Which means many many Americans with be able to either secretly or not so secretly watch games at work 100% legally and in high quality (although the service is only available via certain internet providers).
Some of the games will also be broadcast in 3D, which...I don't even know what to say about that.
MyFootballClub has about 31,000 members/owners from all over the world (including the author of this article), all of whom pay an annual subscription of about $60 to be a member of the nonprofit trust that owns "the Fleet." The club is run on the principle of one person, one vote for every decision, major or minor. Ebbsfleet recently made headlines in the British press when members voted to sell John Akinde, a talented young striker, for about $250,000, the first vote of its kind.
In what was probably the weirdest soccer match finish ever, Barbados tied their match against Grenada with an own goal to send the match into overtime where they won by the 2 goals needed to qualify for the finals in the 1994 Shell Caribbean Cup.
Needing to beat Grenada by two clear goals to qualify for the finals in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados had established a 2-0 lead midway through the second half and were seemingly well in control of the game. However, an own goal by a Bajan defender made the score 2-1 and brought a new ruling into play, which led to farce. Under the new rule, devised by the competition committee to ensure a result, a match decided by sudden death in extra time was deemed to be the equivalent of a 2-0 victory. With three minutes remaining, the score still 2-1 and Grenada about to qualify for the finals, Barbados realised that their only chance lay in taking the match to sudden death. They stopped attacking their opponents' goal and turned on their own. In the 87th minute, two Barbadian defenders, Sealy and Stoute, exchanged passes before Sealy hammered the ball past his own goalkeeper for the equaliser.
The Grenada players, momentarily stunned by the goal, realised too late what was happening and immediately started to attack their own goal as well to stop sudden death. Sealy, though, had anticipated the response and stood beside the Grenada goalkeeper as the Bajans defended their opponents' goal. Grenada were unable to score at either end, the match ended 2-2 after 90 minutes and, after four minutes of extra time, Thorne scored the winner for Barbados amid scenes of celebration and laughter in the National Stadium in Bridgetown.
In celebration of Euro 2008, public prankster and more-than-fair soccer striker Rémi Gaillard made the following video of himself using the urban landscape as a soccer pitch. Gaillard scores goals into police vans, trash cans, open windows, etc. to the annoyance of his oblivious goalies.
Something about the video seemed familiar and after a bit of searching, I discovered that the same fellow was also responsible for one of my favorite links from a few years ago, Rocky Recreated. There are tons of his videos on YouTube, most of them centered on Gaillard's brand of graffiti-esque performance art. I can't condone some of his actions but he's certainly amusing to watch. (via memeticians)
There is still some faint resistance to the notion that a kicker could ever really do anything great. Brett Favre can throw 10 more game-ending interceptions and fans will still cherish his moments of glory. Reggie Bush may fumble away a championship and still end up being known for the best things he ever does. Even offensive linemen whose names no one remembers are permitted to end their days basking in the reflected glory of having been on the field. Kickers alone are required to make their own cases.
Maybe soccer goalies can identify with NFL kickers?
The Daily Mail, with corroboration from the Times, has some information on what Marco Materazzi said to Zinedine Zidane to provoke the latter's career ending headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final (more info on that here). They both hired lip readers to decipher Materazzi's dialogue before the incident and this is allegedly what he said (translated from the Italian):
Hold on, wait, that one's not for a nigger like you.
We all know you are the son of a terrorist whore.
So just fuck off.
So it might be fair to say that Materazzi got what he deserved, as did Zidane when he got sent off. Not that two wrongs make a right. Even so, I agree with these thoughts from That's How It Happened:
[Zidane's] willingness to headbutt Materazzi makes him more of a hero, not less. Admittedly, since France went on to lose, he's something of a tragic hero, but a hero none-the-less. If someone insulted my race, or my religion (if I had one), I wish I'd be as ready to attack them, no matter what the circumstances. Zidane's action highlights for the world the fact that the racial unity of France is more important than winning the World Cup.
If the lip reader is correct in what Materazzi said, I may like Zidane even more than I did before the match. (via wikipedia)
I held his shirt for a few seconds only, he turned to me, looked at me from top to bottom with utmost arrogance (and said): "if you really want my shirt, I'll give it to you afterwards". I answered him with an insult.
One of the theories about Zidane as a player is that he is driven by an inner rage. His football is elegant and masterful, charged with technique and vision. But he can still erupt into shocking violence that is as sudden as it is inexplicable. The most famous examples of this include head butting Jochen Kientz of Hamburg during a Champions League match, when he was at Juventus in 2000 (an action that cost him a five match suspension) and his stomping on the hapless Faoud Amin of Saudi Arabia during the 1998 World Cup finals (this latter action was, strangely enough, widely applauded in the Berber community as Zidane's revenge on hated Arab 'extremists').
By the way, I've been watching the World Cup for four weeks trying to decide which NBA players could have been dominant soccer players, eventually coming to three conclusions. First, Allen Iverson would have been the greatest soccer player ever -- better than Pele, better than Ronaldo, better than everyone. I think this is indisputable, actually. Second, it's a shame that someone like Chris Andersen couldn't have been pushed toward soccer, because he would have been absolutely unstoppable soaring above the middle of the pack on corner kicks. And third, can you imagine anyone being a better goalie than Shawn Marion? It would be like having a 6-foot-9 human octopus in the net. How could anyone score on him? He'd have every inch of the goal covered. Just as a sports experiment, couldn't we have someone teach Marion the rudimentary aspects of playing goal, then throw him in a couple of MLS games? Like you would turn the channel if this happened?
Not to go on and on about it like the stupid announcers on American TV, but this passage from Jeffrey Toobin's New Yorker piece (sadly not online), may explain why the American team did so poorly in the World Cup:
Every kid in the American suburbs, it seems, owns a pair of shin guards. Soccer accords nicely with baby-boomer parents' notions about sports: every kid gets to play, no one stands out too much, there's plenty of running and trophies for all. If [John Robert's] children are typical, they will play neighborhood soccer for a few years, with enthusiastic but inexperienced parent coaches, and then wander away from the game by adolescence. Great high-school athletes tend to migrate to football and basketball, where they can play in front of big crowds and perhaps qualify for college scholarships. Soccer in the suburbs serves mostly as a bridge between Barney and Nintendo; it's a pleasant diversion, not a means of developing brutes like Jan Koller, to say nothing of the magicians who stock the Brazilian team.
This dovetails nicely with what my friend David wrote during a discussion about the disappearance of the US from the World Cup:
Our best athletes go to basketball, football, and baseball, roughly in that order. Soccer gets the dregs, sadly. Don't you think Terrell Owens would be a better striker than Landon Donovan? Even a 50-year-old Darrel Green might be faster than the fastest player on the US Soccer team, and so on.
We know these guys are smart players, and they may have the same instincts that even the Brazilians and Ecuadorians do. But they're just not nearly as good. Watching Brazil decimate Japan yesterday, even briefly, it was obvious how much stronger they were than the US team.
Over IM just now, David and I were musing about Allen Iverson's possible greatness as a soccer player; so creative, quick, and fearless. I bet if some the NBA's best players grew up playing soccer the way they played basketball, the US would have a pretty great team.