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5 Essential FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 Reads

Today marks the beginning of the second week of the World Cup. And what a week it has been. Even though it’s only seven days into this tournament it’s already shaping up to be one of the most entertaining tournaments in recent memory.

Goals, red cards, penalties, upset, weird sprays, goal line technology and even more goals. That’s been The World Cup 2014 story so far.

APTOPIX Brazil Soccer WCup Croatia

 

Speaking of goals, during this World cup we have been spoilt rotten so far. They have been all kinds of goals. As of day 7 of this World Cup at least 50 goals had been scored. 5 of those coming in one thrilling encounter in which the defending champions Spain were totally annihilated by Spain. *chuckles*. The highlight of which was Robin Van Persie brilliant interpretation of The Flying Dutchman. I am pretty sure Robin Van Persie did it for the vine.

My other early contender for goal of the tournament is Tim Cahill’s sublime volley 70s after the Dutch had scored. The timing amnd the technique was perfect and it is a goal that is no doubt going straight into his career highlights reel. Tim Cahill, he from the land down under who has played in three world cups, the same as Ronaldo, Rooney and Messi and who has now got more World Cup goals than all three combined. Marinate on that.

But, the biggest story so far has to be the elimination of the once invincible La Roja, the Spanish national team. Who after only two matches of the World Cup are booking their flight home and leaving the World Cup trophy behind. It’s the end of an era. Come July 13th we will have a new World champion. Since circa 2008 the tika taka style of football synonymous with Spanish teams has reigned supreme. Many have tried and failed to combat it but it seems six years later the rest of the game has finally figured out how to neutralise its influence on the final result of games.

As an avid follower of the beautiful game I am not at all surprised at this. One thing I have learned is that the game is always evolving. There is no one way of winning football games. Spain have often been criticised for not having a plan B and they paid for it in the most humiliating of ways during this World Cup. Although I must hasten to add that I was completely blindsided by the manner in which things fell apart for the Spaniards. But hey, the game must go on.

Sidebar: My two dark horses for the tournament Chile and Belgium have impressed so far. Brazil my favourites are still on track and Ghana my African team despite being impressive in their game against USA are still to get going. So not not a bad tournament for me so far regarding my picks.

During the tournament I have hardly had time to get any writing done. If I am not watching the games I am voraciously reading any World Cup related articles I come across on the ‘internets’. And they are quite a few gems out there. I would like to share some of them today. The articles range from dealing with the racial complexities in Brazil to why some countries call it soccer and others football. The articles have helped me appreciate the world outside of the football pitch. In the process I have learned quite a few things I wouldn’t have otherwise. I hope by sharing these articles you too can also learn something new.

1. Neymar and The Disappearing Donkey – Africa is A Country

This is a fascinating and enlightening read on the complexities of race in Brazil. The article focuses on Neymar who like many Brazilians is mixed race and how issues of race in Brazil differ from the rest of the world. Make sure to read the comments section as well as they are even more insightful additions to this illuminating article.

You can read the full article here

2. The Burden of Being Messi – The New York Times

This articles looks at how despite dominating Eurpoean football and winning every club trophy and also being named World Player of the year a record four tImes, Lionel Messi arguably of the greatest players the world has ever seen is still not appreciated by his fellow Argentinians. The articles tries to answer the question Why? And the answers is summarised by this quote from a an Argentinian Taxi driver
“We’ve always liked how Messi plays,” the driver, Dario Torrisi, told me, “but we don’t know who he is.” Everybody throughout the Americas loves Diego Maradona, Torrisi said, but “it’s not the same for Messi.”

You can read the full article here

3. The Little Countries That Could – Foreign Policy

This article by Musa Okwonga looks at two countries regarded as dark horses for this World Cup in Belgium and Uruguay. Despite their relative small size and their history as geopolitical doormats they remain competitive on the footballing global stage. The author attributes much of their success not just to a passion for football but also to the inclusiveness of its culture. Uruguay for example had one a black player as their captain as far back in 1950.

You can read the full article here

4. Why Americans Call Soccer “Soccer”- The Atlantic

Looks at why different countries refer to the beautiful game as Soccer or Football respectively and the history the game was started.

You can read the full article here

5. Drogba Shows His Clout On and Off The Field – Al Jazeera

This articles looks at the role of athletes such Drogba and the legendary Brazilian Socrates as activists.

You can read the full article here

Bonus read: Soccer Fan’s Dream Job Has A Catch : No Peeking – The New York Times 

You can read the full article here

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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So You Think You Are Maradona? My Brazil World Cup 2014 Preview

Feel it. It’s here.

Football and arguably the world’s biggest sporting jamboree is finally upon us. The football World Cup starts in Sao Paulo, Brazil tonight. This marks the return of the World Cup to one of football’s grand sentimental heartlands. Brazil, the greatest footballing nation on the planet takes on Croatia at the spiritual home of Brazilian football, the imposing Maracana stadium. 64 years after Brazil lost the World Cup final at the same venue to Uruguay their quest for a record breaking 6th World Cup title begins. This will be the first of 64 games involving 32 countries over a month long period. For football aficionados everywhere this is as hedonistic as it gets.

This World Cup in Brazil is going to be the eighth World Cup to take place in my lifetime. The first was Mexico World Cup ’86. I wasa toddler. Whilst Diego’EL Diego’ Maradona was dribbling his way into football folklore on the pitches of Mexico in 1986, first with the infamous ‘hand of god’ and then with the most brilliant individual goal ever scored at a World Cup tournament, halfway across the world I was kicking my first ever football. My father a lifelong football fan had begun sowing the seeds of what was to grow into a lifelong passion and love for the beautiful game. Maradona went on to single handily win that World Cup for Argentina.

So You Think You Are Maradona? Your truly  learning to kick a football in 1986. I was two years old.

So You Think You Are Maradona? Your truly learning to kick a football in 1986. I was two years old.

Despite getting this early start I wasn’t exceptionally talented when it came to dancing with the ball around the ankles of other kids. I was no Maradona. Not by a long shot. But I loved the game. I followed the careers of my favourite players religiously. The fact that I wasn’t the most gifted kid on the playground did not diminish my appetite for the game. On the contrary it fuelled it. Mine became more and more of a vociferous involvement, albeit at a televisual distance. My limited talent gave me an even greater appreciation for all those great players who used the football pitch as the canvas on which they painted their masterpieces.

My second World Cup, Italia ’90 is one I vaguely remember. It is the World Cup in which a 38 year old Cameroonian, Roger Miller announced the arrival of African football on the World Cup stage by flamboyantly dancing around the corner flag every time he scored on his way to leading Cameroon to the Quarter finals, the furthest any African team had gone. Cameroon had also opened that tournament with a win against the defending champion’s Argentina. They would bow out controversially to England in the last eight. FIFA subsequently went on to offer African teams an extra place at the next World Cup. Italia ’90 was won by West Germany.

By the time USA ’94 came around I was 10 years old and had become psychotically absorbed by the beautiful game. I had fallen truly, madly and deeply in love with a certain Manchester United. This would become the vehicle which would drive my passion for the game for years to come. The ’94 World Cup is the first World Cup that I remember clearly. This is the tournament in which I was first captivated by the flare and free flowing Samba style of Brazilian football. I remember watching the likes of Captain Dunga and Romario as they dazzled in the butter yellow and royal blue colours of Brazil. I had never seen anything like it. It was like watching poetry in motion. It was love at first sight.

Brazil went on to win that World Cup. The first and only World Cup to date to be decided by penalties. A certain pony tailed Italian Roberto Baggio face down, arms akimbo; possibly reflecting on a glorious but doomed soliloquy as the Brazilian players celebrated wildly in the background is one of the lasting images of that World Cup. Despair and disbelief poignantly juxtaposed against unbridled joy and celebration.

When the France ’98 World Cup rolled around I was now a pimple faced teenager in my second year of high school. I was in boarding school at the time and the atmosphere in the TV room during the games is one of the most electrifying and intoxicating atmospheres I have ever experienced during a World Cup. It was as rowdy as it was jovial. Hundreds of teenage boys huddled around the TV, shouting, singing and dancing as they urged their heroes towards World Cup glory. It was like being in a stadium. Unfortunately for me the Brazilians lost that World Cup final to the mercurial Frenchman Zenidine Zidane’s Les Blues, the host nation. That final was also notable for the dismal performance of one Ronaldo who had in he build up to the final been Brazil’s star player. It is widely reported that the striker had suffered a seizure earlier in the day and this no doubt affected his performance in the final.

Ronaldo would however get a chance to redeem himself and cement his legacy at the next World Cup co-hosted by Japan and South Korea in 2002. In the final against the Germans he would score both goals in helping Brazil win their fifth World Cup title. The most by any nation. And Brazil’s last World Cup win.The was also the last World Cup I would watch in boarding school.

Fast forward to the World Cup hosted by Germany in 2006. I am now in my early twenties and studying down under, my love for the beautiful game as strong as ever. My memories of that tournament are of having to get up between 2am and 4am just to watch the games. My Singaporean housemate and I would make our way to our Italian football coach’s houses in the wee hours of the morning and watch the games with some of our other teammates. It wasn’t quite the same atmosphere as the two World Cups during my high school days but we did just share the same passion for the beautiful game. Italy went on to win that tournament. Our coach made sure we never forgot that.

When the World Cup came to the Motherland for the first time in 2010 I had since graduated and was by now working in Melbourne. Unfortunately because of circumstances outside my control I would not make it to South Africa 2010 as had been the plan all along. I consoled myself with the purchase of a big flat plasma screen HD TV and a state of the art home theatre system. This was the first World Cup I watched in high definition. It was only the loneliest World Cup experience Ihave had to date. For most of the games which again were in wee hours of the morning it was just me and my TV. My saving grace was Facebook which provided a platform for me to engage in some banter with my football loving friends. But it just wasn’t the same. And that is why South Africa 2010 is not high up on my list of the most memorable World Cup tournaments. Spain went on to win that tournament whilst the Brazilians unfortunately were a pale shadow of their former glorious selves.

This brings me to Brazil 2014 World Cup, my eighth world cup. I have since left my twenties behind, earlier this year. This is my first World Cup as an adult that I will get to experience with my father, the man who fostered the love of the beautiful game in me. In many ways it feels like I have come full circle and I intend on Indulging myself to fullest on this year’s football fiesta in Brazil.

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My World Cup Picks for Brazil 2014

Brazil are my favourites to lift the World Cup trophy come the 13th of July. They play the beautiful game just the way I like it. With panache. They are also playing in their own backyard which I believe will give an added advantage, not that they really need it. This Brazilian squad is a young but experienced one but with Neymar Jnr a thrillingly nimble footed inside forward with gossamer touch, a conjurer’s skills to beat a man and, best of all, an air of being entirely unfazed by the rapt attention of the Brazilian populace as their talisman they have a good a chance as anyone to go all the way. Defending Champions Spain on paper are the best team at the tournament and on their best day there are virtually unplayable. The usual suspects, Germany, Italy and Holland should also be in with a chance. If both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have decent tournaments for their respective teams then expect Portugal and Argentina to also be in with a shout.

A mural depicting Brazil's Neymar, Fred and Hulk near São Paulo, where the World Cup begins on Thursday. Photograph: Shuji Kajiyama/AP

A mural depicting Brazil’s Neymar, Fred and Hulk near São Paulo, where the World Cup begins on Thursday. Photograph: Shuji Kajiyama/AP

The team that my heart wants to win the tournament is Ghana. Ghana, under Kwame Nkrumah was one of the first African countries to gain independence in the early sixties. Their first president Kwame Nkrumah was one of the early pioneers of Pan Africanism. It would make a for a beautiful story if Ghana went on to become the first African country to win the World Cup. The odds though are heavily stacked against the ‘Black Stars’ after being drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ alongside European powerhouse Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and the USA. But hey, if you want to be the best you have got to beat the best. Also after coming a penalty kick away from reaching the semi finals in South Africa four years ago I believe they are due more than just a date with Lady Luck this time around.

Belgium are my dark horse to win the tournament. They had undefeated run to this year’s World Cup finals and boast one of the most talented albeit inexperienced squads at the World Cup. This is definitely Belgium’s golden generation.The neutral in me would to see them win the World Cup. Chile if things go their way are another dark horse. They play a free flowing and dynamic style of football that is a pure joy to watch. A win for Chile would be a win for beautiful football.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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My Top 5 Brazil World Cup 2014 Commercials

1. Nike Soccer – The Last Game

Of all the world cup ads I’ve watched this is the only one that’s in animation. And it’s awesome. It stars the original Ronaldo as Nick Fury. That alone is worth watching the ad for. The ad also features animated versions of Christiano Ronaldo,Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Franck Ribery among others taking on evil clones to restore the unpredictability in football.

 

2. Adidas – The Dream : all in or nothing ft music by Kanye West

This is a call to arms from the team at Adidas. ‘Destiny is not fate. You have a choice. Fear or be feared. Hunt or be hunted. Evolve or die. Now or never. It’s black or white. all in or nothing.’

Sidebar: Bastian Schweinsteiger has the coolest name in world football. If I was German and I was good that good at football my name would definitely be Bastian Schweinsteiger. Just feels awesome saying it. Bastian Schweinsteiger.


3. Beats by Dre – The Game Before The Game ft Neymar Jr, LeBron James, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Rio Ferdinand, Serena Williams, and Thierry Henry.

This ad plays out like a trailer to a major Hollywood blockbuster. Narrated by Neymar da Silva Sr the ad looks at the behind the scenes preparations of the world’s most elite football players … ‘Before the goals, before the glory, there is an unseen game played in the locker room.’


4. MacDonald’s GOL! FIFA Brasil World Cup 2014

Despite fitness and McDonald’s not exactly being the best of friends, the fast food giants have come up with a very tricky ad involving some of the coolest moves ever performed with a football. Highlights include one man kicking a ball from a moving truck, over a bridge and into a bucket two metres in front of him.

 

5. Nike Soccer: Winner Stays ft Ronaldo, Neymar Jr, Wayne Rooney etc

A great ad that involves a bunch of kids having a game of football and imitating their idols before literally turning into their idols.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Defiant

Most people who know me well will testify to my great love for football, and one team in particular Manchester United. Excluding the relationship I have had with my immediate family that has been the longest and most rewarding relationship I have had in my life. This relationship dates back to the early 90’s when the the irresistible panache of one particular Frenchman turned out to be the catalyst to a relationship that has lasted the better part of the last two decades. That Frenchman is non other than Eric “The King” Cantona. Cantona was an eclectic and enigmatic character both on and off the pitch. He was also Manchester United’s talisman when they began their dominance of the English game. A dominance that has spanned almost the entire period I have supported the club. Today I won’t bore you with the details of the genesis of that relationship and how it has evolved over the years. Besides I have already written about before HERE.

For many years Manchester United the team have been synonymous with a consistent culture of having a ‘never say die’ attitude , winning against the odds and conjuring up those late and most dramatic of comebacks. This culture has in no small part been due to the stewardship and influence of one manager who was at the helm for 26 years. This man is Sir Alex Ferguson. During his reign as manager of Manchester United football club , the club witness unprecedented levels of success. As a result most of us, the supporters of the club have been relatively spoiled, only having to fleetingly deal with disappointment. The rest of the time it was glory after glory every other season. As a result for most supporters their loyalty or commitment to the club was never tested. The closest were the emotional roller coasters that characterised most of Manchester United’s biggest matches. During the course of 90 minutes you would often find yourself cussing and biting your nails one moment and the next screaming in ecstasy. But even then they almost always won in the end, often leaving right to the very last kick of the game. It had all the hallmarks of those intense relationships that give us our greatest moments of joy as well as take us to our lowest ebbs. It was a tumultuous relationship in the most beautiful and gratifying way. Things always worked out in the end.

This season has been the most challenging that Manchester United have had in a long time. At the end of last season Sir Alex Ferguson retired. At that point no one imagined the depths the club would sink to after he had vacated the manager’s position. The team is pale shadow of itself. It has lost more games than I care to remember and often in humiliating and humbling fashion. That “never say die” attitude seems to be a thing of the past. As a supporter this has proved tasking. It’s an unfamiliar position and there has definitely been a shift in the dynamic of the relationship. Manchester United is no longer just a source of unbridled joy and bragging rights come Monday morning. Of late it has only served to heighten the traditional existential angst of Monday.

Like is often the case when the is a shift in a relationship dynamic introspection has been necessary. And I have surprised even myself with the conclusions that have arisen from that. Like I mentioned earlier because of the success the team has enjoyed over the years it has been relatively easy for most supporters to continue investing their time and resources on all things Manchester United. So much so that other supporter’s of other teams have accused Manchester United supporters of being glory hunters. Whilst I agree that this season has been emotional taxing and disappointing there is one caveat. It has only served to remind me how much I love the team . They have been a source of so much joy over the years and now it’s time to stand by them even more now. There is no guarantee that things will get better, or that we will return to our former glory. But I do know this as in an serious and committed relationship we have in our lives you never walk away at the first sign of trouble. You stick through it. You never stop believing. And sometimes when you just need to clear your head and get some clarity you write about it.

It has been tempting to try and put on the blame on the new manager. And a case can be made against his ability to lead the team back to it’s form former glory but for me this has been purely about learning to love my team in difficult times something I haven’t always been able to always do in all my other relationships. It’s a necessary evil and hopefully I will be able to apply the lessons I am learning in other areas of my life.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Who Needs Batman When You Have Got Robin Van Persie?

I am a life long Manchester United. Well, technically since 1992. That feels like a life time ago though. Last season when we lost the league to Manchester City with Aguero’s goal with the last kick in the last minute, and the last second of the season I was absolutely gutted and heartbroken. Not so much by the fact that we had been beaten to the title on goal difference. No. It was the manner in which we lost that title. For all of a minute, it looked like what had seemed improbable at the start of the day had become a reality. We believed we were champions once again. Then in the most dramatic fashion possible we lost. It was cruel. That Aguero goal and the celebration, in which he gleefully ran around swinging mine and millions of other United heart’s over his head has haunted me since. I also remember the spilt screen shot of delirious Man City fans celebrating juxtapositioned against an image of Sir Alex Ferguson and Phil Jones looking dejected.

Thankfully that memory was exorcised from my memory’s museum last night. All thanks to a sensational hat trick from Man United’s talisman this season Robin Van Persie. His second goal on his way to his 33min hat trick was a master class in the art of volleying a football. It was audaciously awesome. You are more likely to see that playing FIFA on Playstation than in real life. Last night Robin Van Persie toasted his first ever league title in his 12 seasons as a professional footballer with a stupendous goal in the Theatre Of Dreams … Poetic justice. Now that is a memory that will be displayed front and centre in my memory’s museum.

Manchester United winning the league again despite what many might suggest has nothing to do with luck. It was a display of the character that is required to be champions consistently over a period of 20 years. It also is classic example of how to comeback from a setback. Legend has it that after that game on the trip back to Manchester SAF gave a rallying cry on the team bus. He told his players to remember the pain of that loss. He vowed that he will never let it happen again. In that moment of defeat he was already looking plotting how to wrestle the title back from the noisy neighbours. Boy did they not only respond but they channeled that pain into an absolutely dominant premier league campaign. In the process turning around a loss on goal difference to winning the league with 4 games to spare and a healthy 16 point margin. That was the first step towards reclaiming the title from the noisy neighbours.

His second and most inspired decision was snapping up the attacking talents of Robin Van Persie. This was in line with Sir Alex’s declaration that he would never lose the title again on goal difference. He said “The one thing I said to them at the start of the season was: ‘Make sure you do not lose on goal difference again’. Last season was the first time we’ve ever lost on goal difference. We’ve always had a superior goal difference to all our opponents. That was the point where I realised that was the challenge: our goal difference must be better than theirs across the road.” That plus the resolve to reclaim the title propelled United to a record 20th title in the English league. This was Sir Alex Ferguson 28th trophy as coach of Manchester United.Dethroned as champions six times in his Old Trafford rule, he has now brought the title straight back on five occasions. No wonder he has a whole stand in Old Trafford named after him as well as a statue erected outside the stadium. Legend.  Also a player who has been with him since his first triumph is 39 year old Ryan Giggs  who now has 13 Premier league titles the same number as Arsenal (Robin Van Persie’s former club)  have won in their entire 127 year history. Giggs was also the architect of two of Van Persie’s goals on the night.

On winning the tittle last night Sir Alex had this to say

“The players’ focus was fantastic this season. “They didn’t get themselves annoyed by what happened last season. A lot of teams – most teams in the country – would have melted. But not this bunch.

“They went on and did what Manchester United expects of them and raised the bar. You could go on and on and on about losing a title, and we’ve had to do that in my time. I think our consistency for the last 20 years has been unbelievable. It’s been a marvellous performance. We’ve got 84 points with four games left – fantastic.”

Now to the man of the moment Robin Van Persie.

"Fergies new Van" ... Robin Van Persie and Sir Alex Furgeson

Rob Van Persie and Sir Alex Ferguson

He has been a professional footballer for 12 seasons (8 of which he was starved of success at Arsenal). His time at Arsenal became untenable last season when he was the standout player of the league, winning the Player of the season award and the Golden Boot award for the top goal scorer in the league. That was only enough to single handedly lift Arsenal into 3rd place. Unfortunately that was not in line with his ambitions. Subsequently he made bold decisions to take his match winning talents to Manchester.  As in the movie Matrix, when Keanu Reeves’s Neo had the choice between the “red pill” and the “blue pill”, Robin Van Persie chose the former to become “The One”. He reportedly rejected a £300 000/week salary from Manchester City to “Listen to the little boy inside him. “A decision that didn’t go to well in the blue half of Manchester but one that was vindicated when he won his first ever  title  with the red half of Manchester. To Manchester United’s credit they did not hesitate in forking out £24 million for his services. With 34 league games played already this season Van Persie has been the only player to feature in all those games. In the process his goals have earned Manchester United 20 points on the way to their record 20th English title. In the immortal words of the legend that is Charlie Sheen “Winning!”

Robin has been no side kick. Robin Van Persie has been  “The One”. Who needs Batman when you have got Robin Van Persie?

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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