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The Not-So-Glorious Certainties of Football. May 31, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Football, guest.

Note: Arnold is guest writing on this blog. If you want him to join the Silly Point team on a full-time basis, please plead for him in the comments 😉

Football, any fan will be quick to assert, is a game of glorious uncertainties. I beg to differ.

Sure, there are upsets (like there are in every other sport), but if you look at the history of the World Cup, there have been far too many "certainties" for my liking. Let's take a look at just the finals for now, shall we? Here are some striking facts:

1. In 17 World Cups this far, we've had only 7 different countries lift the trophy. Even more surprisingly, the 34 teams that have competed in these 17 Finals have come from only 10 countries. I find this figure especially telling — not only are new teams not winning the Cup, they aren't even reaching the Final!

2. In the 9 Finals since 1970 (18 teams), there's been only one entry from outside the traditional powerhouses of Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy and the Netherlands. (The exception of course was France in '98.)

3. The last time a team made the Final for the first time (again excluding the French exception) was the Netherlands way back in 1974. The last time we had both Finalists appearing for the first time was in the 2nd edition in 1934!

So all the "glorious uncertainties", it would appear to me, happen in the early stages of the World Cup. But once it comes down to the games that really matter, we only see regular faces! When will the Senegals and the South Koreas of this world have what it takes in them to actually win the damn thing?

Another interesting point that one realizes is that home advantage plays a crucial role as far as the Football World Cup is concerned. Here are some more facts:

1. The two countries that have one the Cup once each — England (1966) and France (1998) — accomplished this on home ground. The only other team to have played in the Final only a single time — Sweden (1958) — also did so on home turf.

2. Countries seem to do well either in their own country or not too far from it. 6 World Cups were won by the home country and only Brazil has actually managed to win the Cup on a continent other than their own (Sweden '58, Mexico '70, USA '94 and Japan '02). When one adds to this the fact that no team from either North America or Asia could realistically be given too much chance of taking the Cup, the only real 'away-continent' victory remains Brazil in Sweden '58.

3. South Korea put their home advantage to good use in the last tournament and wound up reaching the semi-finals. I don't think any home team has been knocked out of the World Cup in the Group stages.

So why do teams have such a problem traveling away from home in this sport? And when will we have some new teams winning the Cup? Any answers?


“Jugo Bonito” or The Beautiful Game May 26, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football, Samrat, Sport.

The game captures the imagination and stokes the passion of people around the world like nothing else (hmmm. maybe s3x is a close second). The game is a bundle of contradictions; it can be ridiculously simple or be real complicated. It may be delectable and exotic like an elaborate Kashmiri Wazwan cuisine where savoring it requires patience, or a straightforward yet satisfying  Big Mac burger providing instant gratification. It may be synchronized like a philharmonic orchestra or may resemble a Bronx gang war slugfest; it can be an opera concert or a staccato rap song. All highly entertaining depending on your tastes.

It is a sport that is discussed fervently across continents, be it notorious drug dealers in a high security prison in Bogota (incidentally the Columbian goalkeeper Rene Higuita(1990-94) was also in such a prison), or slumkids  in a ghetto in Lagos, or suburban mothers "soccer moms" in US mid-west while watching their young girls kicking around, or executives in corporate boardroom meetings in Frankfurt, or a group of Kolkata collegians holding an animated conversation on Maradona vs Pele in "Adda"(gossip) sessions in the "Para"(locality) youth club.

The diversity of this game is mindboggling. This is a game that is played simultaneously in NATO bases and Taliban camps in Afghanistan. The fanatical following it enjoys, brings out the best patriotic feelings and the worst jingoistic emotions, example being the infamous "Futbol War" between El Salvador and
Honduras. In Marx's words Football is the modern Opium  of the Masses, it is a universal language and expression.

The Football World Cup is the greatest event and spectacle of the world beating even the Olympics hands down, the World Cup has played a stellar role for more than half a century in sustaining and also enhancing football's popularity all over the world. FIFA in my opinion has also done a commendable job in managing the sport competently and professionally.

In India also the game has tremendous following, though it is not apparent and in your face like cricket, but the World Cup is one of the most looked forward of all events, and this is not confined to the usual regional suspects Bengal, Kerala and Goa.

The game has evolved over time, cannot comment too much of the games in the 50s and 60s though have seen numerous snippets from those days on television, but nothing much can be inferred from those grainy and jerky frames; seem more like Charlie Chaplin, Laurel Hardy pictures. The movements seem contrived and cartoon like. But recently saw a few clips in slow  motion, especially few dribbles of Stanley Matthew who was renowned for them. The way he controlled the ball was impeccable, the feint he gave to defenders was remarkable. Though coming to feints and maneuvers (the hindi word "jhaasa" seems more appropriate) no one compares to Maradona. The way he could mesmerize was unparalleled, ask the leadenfooted English defenders in the 1986 QF. In the current crop Ronaldinho and Zidane come close in the "Jhaasa" aspect. Though overall I still consider Maradona as superior, but the way Ronaldinho is progressing he may also touch similar divine heights.

One thing I lament about current state of football is the similar playing styles of the teams. Due to increased heterogeneity and intermingling of players and coaches in the European leagues, more technology, greater intercontinental exposure etc all the styles have began to converge., As an example the styles of England and Brazil prior to the 80s were as different as chalk and cheese, but now in this decade they may only be as different as say, two varieties of cheese. Teams across the globe have adopted the "Best Practices" of other teams, say the slow build-up of Brazil, the Catenaccio defence of Italy, the combative mid-field of Germany, the uncomplicated British way of attack, Total football of Dutch etc.  So all aspire to be the same, but obviously the degree and capability of implementation varies. So in a sense the uniqueness and competitive advantages of the different teams and styles are being eroded. Even the African teams nowadays have an accomplished technical game, compare that to the raw unpolished talent and unbridled enthusiasm of the Cameroon team of 1990. So the lack of diversity in playing styles, has dulled the game somewhat, but it has taken the game to a higher level with teams playing with lot more nous nowadays, and adapting their gameplan accordingly. Games are more competitive, players are fitter, the results remain as unpredictable as ever. Ultimately the thrill and magic of football remains the same.