17 June 2014

WC Diary 3: The Climate, the Asians, the Germans, the Americans and the Thugs

The Climate

I have never been to Brazil. But then the geeks invented this thing called Google Earth. So now I can fly to Brazil faster than the Concorde ever could; and the Concorde does not even fly these days, anyway.

The reason I say all these is that I used to teach during my high school Social Science classes in the old days that the seasons in the southern hemisphere are the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere.

Thus, my assumption was that it would be winter in Brazil; which it officially is, by the way. Only that we have seen tropical rains pouring like there was no tomorrow in certain televised World Cup matches and heard the commentators talk about the oppressive heat and humidity. Not to mention the unusual number of players getting leg cramps long before the endgame.

So I went to Google Earth to check. Ctrl+L conveniently brings up the longitudinal and latitudinal grids along with the imaginary equatorial line. Lo and behold, most of the World Cup stadiums are within the Tropic of Cancer; which therefore explains the tropical conditions.


Now the Hondurans in their match against the French, they were just bad examples of street level thuggery. Honduras also has fine examples of the male specie; but their tackling was beyond robust. They were downright malicious..
Picture me now giving myself a knock on the head with my knuckles for not knowing that. Duh! It is elementary stuff, after all. I guess I am not smarter than a fifth grader.

Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are almost at the southernmost edge of the Tropic of Cancer or almost inside the temperate zone. The cities of Curitiba and Porto Alegre, meanwhile, are already inside the temperate zone.

Why this is even relevant is because the faster-paced games were probably those played at the Maracana (Rio de Janeiro), the Arena de São Paulo, Estadio Beira-Rio (Porto Alegre) and the Arena de Baixada (Curitiba) because of the cooler climates. The more conservatively-paced games – not to mention the cramps – were probably those played under tropical conditions in stadiums located in northern Brazil.

Ask any high school boy and he will tell you that for the rain to suddenly fall during a game played under the blazing sun always brings blessed relief. Now if the sun suddenly comes out in a blaze of glory in a game earlier played in the rain...

This is probably why the teams are being moved all over the country during the group stages instead of having one city as base like it used to be done traditionally. My guess is that this is so that no team – not even the hosts Brazil – gets too acclimatised in one city then gain an advantage or suffer a disadvantage when the teams move around as a matter of necessity during the knockout stages.

How considerate; but what a logistical nightmare it must be for the organisers! Not to mention expensive!

The Asians

Now that all the AFC representatives have played their opening matches, it is not the Asian champions Japan who have looked the most likely to progress to the knockout stages. Instead Korea Republic, whose team as I understand it from the commentator is made up mostly of their successful Olympic team, looked lively and accomplished in their 1-1 draw with Russia.

One of the things I mentally criticise Asian teams for when I watch the Asian Cup is that, Japan aside, there has always been a tendency to be frantic rather than methodical as the Europeans and South Americans prefer to approach their games. However in this World Cup played at Maglev speed, being frantic has not been out of place at all.

In the Russia game, the Koreans showed the ability to be frantic as when they counterattacked at lightning speed; but also that they could be composed in possession. They might also have nicked the match because the pass leading to the Russian equaliser had a hint of offside. That said, the draw seemed a fair enough result.

At least from the camera pans, of all the Asian teams, Korea Republic seems to have the least amount of travelling support in Brazil. But maybe that is not so surprising because it is summer and half the country’s population is in the Philippines vacationing. Wink.

As for the Iranians, their goalless draw against Nigeria – the first of the tournament – ranks among the most exciting draws I have ever seen in my entire life. There was nothing cagey about the game at all. The game ebbed and flowed beautifully and play swung from side to side. It was just that both defences were on top of their games and it did not help that, on the day, both teams lacked spark in the attacking third of the pitch.

As for the western media gushing about how polite the eco-friendly Japanese were for cleaning up their section of the stadium, they did that in the 1998 World Cup in France and, I imagine, every World Cup since. Apparently, it is just a Jap thing; but the western media thinks it is newsworthy every four years.

The Germans

Two of the three teams that I support – England and Spain – lost their opening games; so my return of 33.3% is rather pathetic. At least by way of consolation, the third of my teams – Germany – came away with a 4-nil win over Portugal in Group G.

Diego Maradona gushed that the Germans played a game close to perfection; but after watching the replay last night, I wonder what little Diego was smoking when he saw the game. While the Germans played with their typical swagger, and their sporadic touch passing was lovely to watch, I have seen better German performances in the past.

If fact, the rout was probably due to a heady mix of good football, good luck and criminal defending by the Portuguese. I cannot even say that Portugal’s defending was schoolboy level. That will be insulting to the schoolboys. So perfection? Nah Diego!

There was also this moment of utter stupidity by the central defender Pepe. Since when did a head butt end up with anything but a red card? His counsellor should arrange a friendly chat over tea with one Zinedine Zidane.

Finally, it is somehow good to see that another player named Müller has scored a hattrick for the Germans. In my youth, Der Bomber Gerd Müller scored goals in the World Cup for fun. The current Müller (Thomas) is not even an out-and-out striker and certainly not your typical graceful German football player. How he gets the goals is just one of those things.

I used to have a player like that before. He did not have to really work hard to score goals. The goals fell at his feet. Thomas Müller is not unlike him.

The Americans

Citizens of the United States – not exactly your archetypal football country – have become educated in World Cup partying. Now they travel in numbers, bring their flags, paint their faces, dress up in costumes and loudly sing the Star Spangled Banner.

All they need to learn is to become more inventive with their chanting beyond the monotony of “USA! USA! USA!” In fairness, at least they do not bring chants from the basketball court to the World Cup like new Filipino football fans sometimes do. “Defence! Defence!” Epic fail.

Although the American team rode their luck to eventually eke out a 2-1 victory over Ghana, it is hard on the basis of their opening game performance to see them defeating Germany and Portugal in their next games and progressing onto the next round.

Perhaps it was due to Clint Dempsey’s first minute goal; but the Americans were so devoid of ambition after that. Only Honduras, which was reluctant to throw more than three men forward when they attacked in the game against France, has looked more negative.

There was an emotional twist to the USA-Ghana game when John Brooks rose in the 86th minute to nod in a corner for the match winner; but the Americans will be better served by not getting too carried away. The match stats do not lie. Only 41% possession and 8 shots compared to Ghana’s 21.

The Thugs

A former player, on Facebook, remarked how rough the Ghanaians played against the United States. Probably. I might have also thought the same of Côte d’Ivoire in the game they won over Japan.

On the other hand, the finest specimens of the male physique in this World Cup seem to all be in the African teams; and the tight shirts even flaunt these. It may just be a simple case of them using what they have; and referees from different continental federations have been interpreting the rules from diverse cultural perspectives.

We have all probably just become too used to BPL and La Liga matches where referees are continually blowing their whistles for sissy tackles that, in my day, were not even fouls at all. In fact, if I were to view the way the Africans play from the vantage point of the way rules were interpreted in my youth, I would say they play robust football; but not necessarily malicious.

Now the Hondurans in their match against the French, they were just bad examples of street level thuggery. Honduras also has fine examples of the male specie; but their tackling was beyond robust. They were downright malicious.

Devoid of ambition and malicious in their tackling, for me the least attractive team of what has been an extraordinary World Cup has been Honduras. If only they had the verve and desire of their Central American neighbours Costa Rica because I sincerely feel that the Honduran players are more talented.


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WC Diary 2: Messi and Argentina Looked Pedestrian Until the Goal of the Tournament
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