Notes Before the World Cup Final
So we’re going to have a first-time World Cup champion. Either Holland or Spain is about to enjoy the greatest moment in its sporting history. I’m jazzed for that. Hope you are, too.
I have some notes from the soccer hate between Brazil and Argentina. The day after Brazil was eliminated (2-1 to the Dutch), the Argentines also went out in much more lopsided fashion (4-0 to the Germans). Supposedly Brazil’s newspaper Globo Esporte reported on the latter result with a story simply headlined “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” Sadly, I’ve been unable to find visual proof of this childish and very funny headline.
Like most other Argentines, Coach Diego Maradona hates the Brazilian soccer team and wants them to fail almost as much as he wants Argentina to succeed. However, he has also frequently expressed his love for the country of Brazil and its people. A few years ago he caused a stir in both countries by appearing in this ad for guaraná-flavored soda (a traditional Brazilian beverage). The spot begins with a dream sequence in which Maradona appears in the starting lineup for the Brazilian team before a game, wearing the famous yellow jersey, singing their national anthem, and lining up alongside Brazil legends Ronaldo and Kaká. Then he wakes up, having sweated through the Argentina jersey that he wears to bed, and says he’s drunk so much guaraná that he’s turning Brazilian. It’s just another example of Maradona’s sense of humor and taste for shocking his followers.
(By the way, if you’ve never had guaraná, it’s wonderful stuff — light like ginger ale, but with an intensely fruity flavor. I know that Central Market carries it on occasion. I’m sure there are other specialty stores that stock it. Readers?)
Coach Maradona has been one of the breakout stars of this tournament, as various outlets have critiqued his sartorial style, savored his competitive swagger and his lusty man-hugs for his players, and compared him to Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World. Some American writers have been clamoring for him to come to this country. One problem with that: Maradona hates America, and likes buddying up to other high-profile America-haters like Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro. (Like I said, the guy lives to shock people.) Still, if somebody could entice him over, he’d make a highly entertaining addition to our sports scene.
Meanwhile, the German press has been all a-tizzy over Paul the Octopus, who correctly predicted the winners of every Germany game: their victories over Australia, Ghana, England, and Argentina; their group-stage loss to Serbia; and their semifinal loss to Spain. That last one upset people in Deutschland even before die Mannschaft (which sounds like a gay porn title but only means “men’s team” in German) actually lost. Something tells me that octopus is going to be sushi this time next week, but Paul’s perfect record is intact.
Hockey fans will want to read this: Amid the English self-flagellation over their latest tournament loss comes this provocative piece in which the author says English soccer should be more like the NHL. I’m not sure that the writer’s Wayne Rooney-Sidney Crosby comparison really holds up — neither their styles of play nor their personalities match — but it seems like hockey’s infrastructure might hold a few lessons for how the English bring up their emerging talent.
In Paraguay, Larissa Riquelme says she’ll run naked through the streets of Asunción after all. Viva La Albirroja! Meanwhile, a Dutch porn star has promised to perform oral sex on all 60,000+ of her Twitter followers if Netherlands wins the final. Another reason to follow the result on Sunday.
As for the good old USA, ESPN’s Patrick Hruby argues persuasively against the prevailing idea that we’d kick ass at soccer if only our elite basketball and football players went into the sport. Hruby’s right; too many soccer skills are only specific to that sport and don’t translate to other sports. I can’t help but think, though: Even medium-sized NBA players are taller than the biggest soccer players, and they already play a sport that requires them to jump high in the air. Let’s say we’ve got a failed 6’7” swingman who can’t shoot or rebound because of his bad hands. How difficult would it be to teach him to head a soccer ball, either toward goal or away from goal? Someone should try this.
The New York Times ran this cover story a few weeks ago, but it seems more appropriate than ever now. Michael Sokolove visits the legendary Ajax Academy in the Netherlands and details all the ways the Dutch train their soccer players that differ from the way we train them. What I like about this article is that it shows the shortcomings of our system without going overboard and saying that everything the Europeans do is great and should be copied. Food for thought as we prepare for 2014 and beyond.