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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


Fleet of Foot

Baseball Players Are Lazy. Football Players Are Not.

Professional athletes are in excellent physical shape. But how far do they run in different sports? We compared the distances that different athletes run during a game.

How far do pro athletes run (km) in different sports?

Sport Kilometers
Baseball .5
Basketball 4.4
Football 15

For more sports coverage, check out VOA’s sports blog, the Sonny Side of Sports.

Africa: After The Fall

Africa’s World Cup Performance: To Mourn or Celebrate?

Let’s call it what it was: Africa’s performance in Brazil was a debacle.

It took me some time to get over my emotions and stop looking for evidence where none is needed: Five teams, two in the second round, a total of 32 goals conceded, including nine for Cameroon . This is not to point fingers or rub salt in the wounds but rather to better understand what other teams are doing that Africa clearly is not.

Compare African teams to those Western teams that have had success in this World Cup.

Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Algeria at the World Cup.


Penalty Success

In terms of successful shots and success in the box the Western teams out-maneuvered us. Take Holland as an example. Statistically it is the most successful team in terms of conversion of shots made in the box into goals. Despite its success, the Dutch had a lower success rate than Algeria, which counted an average of nine shots per match.

Shot Number
Scored 7
Missed 9
Shot Number
Scored 3
Missed 15
Shot Number
Scored 12
Missed 27

Goals Conceded Goals Against

Here, the statistics speak for themselves. But I just want to add the fact that there is a lack of finishing. One thing that the percentage of success has shown is that Africa has the know-how, but lacks discipline and creativity especially in attack, which prevents it from capitalizing on opportunities.

Allowed Scored
4 Netherlands 12
Allowed Metric Scored
7 Algeria 7
5 Côte d’Ivoire 4
6 Ghana 4
5 Nigeria 3
9 Cameroon 1

Ball Possession

Overall, the ball is part of a set of criteria to understand the health and tenacity of a team. Consider passing, assists, shots on target and total possession during the game. The team with the highest percentage of possession per game is Argentina with 65 percent on average. By comparison, only Cote d’Ivoire manages to rise above 50 percent.

Country Possession
Argentina 65.6
Country Possession
Côte d’Ivoire 56
Nigeria 49
Ghana 47
Cameroon 42
Algeria 40

We have the numbers. So what must we remember? Two things. First, African teams have more talent than the Western teams. You can see that in the numbers. Second, African teams have a chronic, and I mean chronic, shortage of creativity in the execution of their game plans.

Simply stated, there is a lack of finish. Teams manage to create opportunities, but not to score. They parry attacks, but the rebound does not follow. When we look more closely at the ratio between the number of assists and the missed shots on the one hand, the goals of each other, we realize that this is a correlation that does not exist in Africa . African players do not pass in the penalty area. However, the other teams are doing this. France, for example, scored 68 percent of their goals with a decisive pass in the penalty area.

The numbers tell us, we must listen.

Your Team Is Out? No Worries!

The Final Eight: Who to Root For

We’re finally down to the last eight at the 2014 World Cup, and there’s a distinctive theme: four teams are from Europe, and four are from South America. But what if you’re from North America, or Asia, or Africa? Who do you root for now. VOA Football tells you who you should root for…


If you want suspense: Support Brazil

Yes, Brazil. Brazil never seems to live up to the public expectations, the Cup is hosted on their home turf, and they were a penalty shot away from elimination in the Round of 16. Add these together, and it’s clear that Brazil is the perfect team for all lovers of the soap opera that is soccer: suspense, surprises, and shock.


If you love “the beautiful game”: Support Colombia

The beauty of soccer – the collaboration between players, the confidence, the technical skill – can all be found in Colombia’s game. Their style of play is far removed from the days when it was called “El Toque,” or “the touch,” a short, utilitarian style of play. Today, a more accurate name might be “El Toque Bonito” – “the beautiful touch” – for the ease with which they seem to play.


If you love Africa: Support France

It may be controversial, but France is the best “African” team still in the competition. Many of the French players are from Africa, including such countries as Senegal, Algeria, Mali, and Congo. Even if some do not want to admit it, this team is not a French team, but a team of immigrants who are representing France.


If you want to see attractive players: Support the Netherlands

While Neymar of Brazil and James Rodriguez of Colombia are often mentioned among the most attractive players, the Dutch team seems to be especially stacked in the looks department. Just look at the legions of female fans in the stands cheering on the Netherlands.

(This post courtesy VOA’s French language World Cup blog. Check it out at


Tim Howard: The Man, The Myth, The Meme

Even though the US lost to Belgium 2-1, there was arguably one US player who came out of the match a winner: goalie Tim Howard.

Howard’s impressive play against 27 shots on goal – the most faced by a goalie in the World Cup in nearly 50 years – earned him fans both in the US and abroad. And it earned him a World Cup meme of his very own: #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave.

Naturally, Howard was inserted into other World Cup scenes (and inspirations for memes):

Could Tim Howard have stopped Suarez’s bite?
Tim Howard save.
Perhaps he could have stopped the Netherlands’ Arjen Robben from taking a dive.
Tim Howard save.
Or Maradona’s famous “Hand of God” goal.
Tim Howard save.

Howard makes appearances in other sports, too:

But he’s not only limited to athletics – Howard is seen making historical saves:

Howard saves the Titanic.
Tim Howard saves.
Keeping the Leaning Tower of Pisa from falling.
Tim Howard saves.
If only Tim Howard was around during prehistoric times.
Tim Howard saves.

And pop culture saves – think of the movies that would’ve been changed if Tim Howard was in them:

He could’ve saved Private Ryan.
Tim Howard saves.
Bambi would’ve been a very different movie if Tim Howard was there.
Tim Howard saves.
Star Wars too.
Tim Howard saves.
With Tim Howard around, it’s safe to go into the water again.
Tim Howard saves.

But perhaps the best thing to come out of this meme for Howard? If he ever decides to retire, he’ll have other career options:

Tim Howard saves.
Tim Howard saves.