Ouch! (Not Really...)

How Effective Are Those World Cup “Injuries”?

People use mobile devices to take pictures of an advertising placard showing Uruguay's striker Luis Suarez flashing his teeth, Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, June 26, 2014.


Anyone watching the World Cup is familiar with the head-knocking, pushing, elbowing and even biting that occurs on the field — and how players on the receiving end of those maneuvers sometimes react in dramatic, seemingly exaggerated ways.

But do those histrionics, real or faked, actually help teams to win?

Read more from VOA’s Adam Phillips here.

Football's Final Four

What’s At Stake

After nearly a month of non-stop soccer, the 2014 World Cup championships are in sight. Four teams in particular have their eyes on the prize: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and the Netherlands – the last four teams left.

Obviously, all four are playing to win. But what’s their motivation? What are the specific elements that are pushing them towards a win?

Brazil: Win for Their Country

Brazil seeks to win its sixth title on home turf.
Brazil is the most successful country in World Cup history, winning five titles since 1958. But perhaps the most memorable Cup for Brazilians is one they didn’t win – in 1950, when Brazil last hosted the World Cup, the home team lost to rival (and neighbor) Uruguay by 2-1. Over 60 years later, the Cup is back on Brazilian soil – and Brazil is hoping it can win the title on home turf.

Germany: Close it Out

Germany: always the World Cup bridesmaid.
The last three World Cups have not been kind to Germany. In 2002, they were the runner-up to Brazil. In 2006 and 2010, they came in third place, losing to eventual champions Italy and Spain (respectively) in the semi-finals. This year, Germany is hoping to break that streak, and break the conception that they’re always a World Cup bridesmaid, never a World Cup bride.

Argentina: Do It for Messi

Messi hopes to win his first World Cup.
Lionel Messi is arguably the most popular and successful soccer player in the world today. But with all of the titles, the awards, the praise, there’s one prize that’s alluded him: a World Cup title. A contender for the Golden Boot award, given to the player who scores the most goals, Messi’s surely hoping to score not only the award, but a title for Argentina.

Netherlands: Avenge their Loss

Netherlands hopes to avenge their 2010 loss against Spain.
The Dutch came within one match of winning the 2010 World Cup, falling to Spain in the final 1-0. But with the defending champions knocked out in the group stage of this year’s Cup, the Dutch are hoping that they can avenge their loss and finish the job they couldn’t four years ago.

Giddy Fortune's Furious Fickle Wheel

Football And The Game of the Gods

The Hand of God seems to control all of football.

As we come down to the final four teams in the 2014 World Cup, VOA’s Bagassi Koura looks at the invisible hands controlling the kicks, passes, and shots:

I used to think that football was 60 percent skill and 40 percent chance. But as this World Cup shows, I’m way off: this sport is entirely controlled by the Gods of Football.

How else can we explain some of the favorite teams – the dynasties – surviving the direst of situations? Brazil comes within one penalty shot of losing in the Round of 16, but manages to survive. Mexico dominates the Netherlands for nearly the full 90 minutes, only to lose after the winning goal comes in the 94th minute.

At the same time, how else can we explain the other outlandish upsets that no one saw coming? England, Portugal, and defending champions Spain going out in the first round? Greece into the Round of 16 and Costa Rica into the quarterfinals for the first times? And then there are the moments in the matches that have seemingly come through fate, whether kind (van Persie’s spectacular header); cruel (Neymar’s Cup-ending back injury); or a little of both (Tim Howard’s miraculous saves in the United States’ loss to Belgium).

True, you do need the skill to get to – and succeed at – the World Cup. But it takes more than skill to win. Perhaps Maradona was onto something when described his famous goal in the 1986 World Cup as being guided by “the hand of God.”

Based on this year’s Cup, it seems that the beautiful game indeed sits squarely in the hands of the Football Gods.

(this post courtesy VOA’s French World Cup blog. check it out at http://football.lavoixdelamerique.com)


You Can Still Like Belgian Waffles

5 Important Questions That Juergen Klinsmann Must Answer

Dear Mr. Klinsmann,

Concerned US football fans and players would like to pose several questions to you in your capacity as head coach for the U.S. men’s team and the overseer of their noble but failed bid to advance in Brazil beyond the Round of 16.

1) Why did Michael Bradley stay in the entire game?

For that matter, why did Michael Bradley anchor the midfield for this entire run in Brazil? Bradley showed himself to be sporadic and inconsistent, giving more passes away arguably than any other player on Team USA. He has flashes of glory, I grant you that. South Africa, for example. And yes, the pass that set up Julian Green in the 108th minute was pretty, but flashes of beauty do not make for a solid, well-rounded performance. He should have been substituted at half time. (And there is a line of thinking that he should’ve been left off the roster altogether, and Landon Donovan should’ve been included instead, but we won’t go there)

2) Why tout Jozy Altidore’s return to fitness if you’re not going to play him?

Altidore’s speed and size was sorely missed, first and foremost by Clint Dempsey who fell into the role of sole playmaker at the front of the formation. Dempsey’s good, but not that good. Klinsmann (and US Soccer) was spinning Altidore’s return to fitness almost as a panacea or a shining ray of light to lead the Americans to victory. But then he sat on the bench the whole time. What’s that all about? I don’t fault Jozy; he was injured. Full stop. But why make a big deal out of it the day before the match if you’re not going to use him at all? Are you saving him for the next round, Herr Klinsmann? What good is that if THERE IS NO NEXT ROUND?

3) Why is the US defense so amateurish?

Much was made about Klinsmann’s constant shuffling of the defensive line in the run-up to Brazil. The recurring theme was doubt, and that showed itself in spades against Belgium, and in the opening round matches. Gonzalez, Besler, Beasley and Cameron showed themselves to be a disjointed and sloppy, allowing rank amateur defensive mistakes against Portugal and Germany. Belgium’s first goal by De Bruyne was pretty, no question, threading the needle to edge it past Howard’s right foot into the far left side netting. But it wasn’t Messi-ish. It wasn’t Ronaldo-ish. It was happenstance skill that could’ve been shut down by effective defense. (Of all the defenders deserving praise, it was clearly Beasley who was making runs down the left side repeatedly, even into the extra time. In a hot stadium after 1 1/2 hours of play, that’s determination. Beasley should be showered with praise).

4) Why didn’t Howard getting pulled forward at the end?

A lot of viewers– particularly neophyte American fans– were surprised to see a day-glo yellow jersey flitting around the box of the Argentine-Swiss game earlier on Tuesday. As it happened, the Swiss, down by a goal and facing elimination from the tournament, sent Diego Benaglio into the field of play and even into the opposing penalty box to press an 11-on-10 11-on-11 attack against the Argentines. This is a tactic used all the time in ice hockey; not so much in football. It sometimes makes for comical scenarios, but it’s a sign of a team’s perseverance and motivation. As for Team USA, Klinsmann could’ve sent Howard forward in extra time, particularly after the side got a jolt of inspiration from Green’s goal. But no. Howard stayed put. In the knockout round, a loss in a loss, no matter how many goals it is. You have to double down and move your goalie forward in this setting. Full stop. Klinsmann should be faulted for not.

5) Why don’t you consider cloning Howard? Or cryogenically freezing him so that he can play in 2018 in Russia?

Howard was a god against Belgium. Fifteen saves is unheard of for a World Cup goal keeper, and may well be a record. He batted, and whacked, and deflected, and turned away, and blocked, save after save after save after save. He was otherworldly against Belgium. If you weren’t aware already, the Twitter hashtag #TimHowardForPresident was trending for quite some time in the evening Tuesday. Everton FC in the Premier League should be offering Howard a bajillion dollars to stay with them because the match against Belgium showed how he is quite possibly the world’s best goal keeper (with Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa a close second).

Hey, at least look on the bright side: now you can calmly watch Messi work his magic and watch the Argentinians humiliate the Belgians in the quarterfinals, instead of Team USA….