Monthly Archives: June 2014

Brazil 1950: A Country’s Shining Moment Ends With A Country’s Heartbreak

The World Cup in 1950 was to be Brazil's shining moment. Instead it delivered a heartbreak that still haunts them to this day.

The World Cup in 1950 was to be Brazil’s shining moment. Instead it delivered a heartbreak that still haunts them to this day.

You may remember a while back I talked about Brazil’s football legacy but refrained from talking about 1950, the first time they hosted.  The first time they hosted was intended to be a grand moment for the country and especially their football team. In fact the Maracana was built to be the grand stage for Brazil’s win. Unfortunately the Cup ended with a heartache that still haunts the country to this day.

WAR IS OVER, THE WORLD CUP IS BACK

1950 was to be the fourth time the FIFA World Cup would be held. It started in 1930 but the 1942 World Cup had to be cancelled because of World War II. The 1946 World Cup was also cancelled as the world was still recovering from the end of that war just one year earlier. Just like 1948 was the year that brought the Olympic Games back to life, 1950 was the year the World Cup came back. However Germany and Japan were still part of the international sanctioned list and were banned from competing, just like they were banned from the 1948 Olympic Games. Brazil and Italy were given automatic berths: Brazil as host country and Italy as defending champions. The four British nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland returned to FIFA after seventeen years of ‘exiling’ themselves.

WE WANT OUT

The 1950 Brazil team. Before 1950, Vrazil's best finish at the World Cup was third in 1938.

The 1950 Brazil team. Before 1950, Brazil’s best finish at the World Cup was third in 1938.

Seven spots were allocated to European countries, six to American countries and one to an Asian country. If you think it’s hectic getting teams to qualify for the World Cup, you should hear about 1950. Not because of competitive play but more because of international politics and football politics. Iron curtain countries like the USSR and two countries that participated in 1938–Hungary and finalist Czechoslovakia– refused to participate. Argentina, Peru and Ecuador withdrew after the qualifying round, possibly because of a dispute with the Brazilian Football Federation. The Philippines, Burma and Indonesia withdrew leaving India to receive the Asian berth by default. Austria declined to participate in qualifying feeling its team wasn’t good enough and Belgium withdrew from the qualification tournament which allowed Switzerland and Turkey to qualify without playing their final round of matches.

With the qualification done, it was off to the World Cup, right? Scotland withdrew because the very prideful chairman of the Scottish Football Federation insisted Scotland would only travel to Brazil as winners of the Home Championship. When England showed up, Scotland withdrew, even though England planned to attend even without the Championship. Turkey withdrew because of the huge cost of traveling to Brazil. FIFA invited two European nations who failed in qualifying–Portugal and France–to fill the gap. Only France accepted.

Now with the fifteen teams set for Brazil, that should lead to straight competition, but that led to more withdrawals. First came the draw on May 22, 1950 in Rio de Janeiro. India was the first drawn team to withdraw because of travel costs. France then withdrew because of the cost and time to travel between the cities. That left the World Cup with a field of only thirteen teams. Just like 1930 again! After all that, here’s how the teams worked out:

  • Group 1: Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland and Yugoslavia
  • Group 2: England, Chile, Spain and the United States
  • Group 3: Italy, Paraguay and Sweden
  • Group 4: Uruguay and Bolivia

ON WITH THE CUP

After all that hassle, the World Cup finally began on June 24, 1950. This would be the first world Cup since the inaugural 1930 World Cup where group play would be contested and would be the only World Cup where group play would decide the winner. It was Brazil’s idea to do this because more games meant more ticket sales to help compensate for the expenses of the stadiums. FIFA at first rejected the idea but agreed when Brazil threatened to pull out as hosts. The matches were held in six stadiums in six cities: Rio De Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba, Porto Alegre and Recife. Four of the six stadiums were long into existence before the World Cup. There were only two that were build especially for the Cup: Estadio Raimundo Sampaio in Belo Horizonte and the Maracana in Rio.

Because of the uneven number of teams per group, it was decided that only the team that finished first advances. Group 4 had no problem deciding the advancer as that only required a single game, which Uruguay won 8-0 over Bolivia. In Group 3, Sweden was the winner with a win against Italy 3-2 and a draw against Paraguay 2-2.

Groups 1 and 2 were the two fully contested groups and they provided the most action. Group 1 was a no-brainer right from the start. Brazil delivered an attack style of play that would take them to the top of the group with a 4-0 win over Mexico, a 2-2 tie against Switzerland and a 2-0 win over Yugoslavia.

World Cup 1950 wasn't all Brazil, Brazil. It also was the stage for the American's 1-0 upset over England.

World Cup 1950 wasn’t all Brazil, Brazil. It also was the stage for the American’s 1-0 upset over England with Joe Gaetjens (right) scoring the winning goal.

Group 2 was not exactly remembered for its winner Spain or for Spain’s wins of 3-1 over the US, 2-0 over Chile or 1-0 over England. Instead Group 2 was known for one of the biggest soccer upsets of the time. The US vs. England match first appeared to be England’s for the taking since England, known then as the ‘Kings of Football,’ had the pros on their team while the American team was made up of part-time players who made their income from the jobs they worked. However the English and the 13,000 in attendance at the Estacio Independencia in Belo Horizonte were stunned when American Joseph Gaetjens, who was actually not an American citizen, scored the first goal in the 38th minute. Despite strong challenging play from both sides throughout the game, there were no other goals scored. The Americans’ 1-0 win over the English is still considered one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.

The aftermath of this was also interesting. It made huge news in World Cup countries and almost made huge news in England but was trumped by the news the English cricket team lost to the West Indies for the first time ever. The English were nitpicky about the win saying that the team ‘had arrived through Ellis Island,’ referring to the assumption most Americans on that team were children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. For the record, three members of the American team including Gaetjens were not yet American citizens. In the United States, the win only made sidelined news. The Americans were still disinterested in soccer as they still promoted their ‘all-American’ sports like baseball, football and basketball. The win would gain appreciation by the Americans over time and especially in the last 25 years with the Americans slowly welcoming soccer especially after hosting the 1994 World Cup and the formation and success of MLS (Major League Soccer). The game has recently been dubbed by the Americans as the ‘Miracle Match’ and even spawned a small 2005 film “The Game Of Their Lives.’

ANOTHER SET OF GROUP PLAY?

Because of the uneven numbers of the groups in the first round, it was not only decided that only those that finish first in their group advance but also that it be group-style play to decide the winner.Also that ticket sales thing also has a lot to do with it too. This would be the only time in World Cup history in which group play would decide the winner. In group order, the finalists were Brazil, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay. All of the games in the ‘winners group’ were played either in Sao Paulo’s Estadio de Pacaembu or the Maracana. All teams played all their matches on the same day and at the same time. Brazil’s matches in this round were all contested at the Maracana.

The group play of the winners started July 9th with a 2-2 draw between Uruguay and Spain. Brazil delighted a crowd of 139,000 with a 7-1 win against Sweden which included four goals from Ademir. On July 13th Brazil continued their winning ways in front of a crowd of 153,000 with a 6-1 victory over Spain which included the Cup’s only ‘own goal’ by Spaniard Jose Parra Martinez. Uruguay gained some boost with a 3-2 win over Sweden with the winning goal coming with five minutes to go. The two games on July 16th were still group games however many still believed they played the role as 3rd Place Final and Final because of the end result and the team’s overall placing. Sweden beat Spain 3-1 in Pacaembu with a measly attendance of 11,000 and would finish the World Cup in third place.

A FINAL GAME TO BE REMEMBERED

“Down through its history, only three people have managed to silence the Maracana: the Pope, Frank Sinatra and me.”

-Alcides Ghiggia

Okay, here it was. This was Brazil’s for the winning. They were in excellent position to win the World Cup. They’ve already proven to the world their greatness. Even if Brazil tied Uruguay, they could still win the World Cup because Brazil had two wins while Uruguay had a win and a tie. The general public were not the only ones claiming Brazil to be the victors days before the match even started. The specialized press were too. In fact the Brazilian newspaper O Mundo printed an early edition paper that day with the Brazilian team on the front page with the headline ‘These are the World champions.” There was a song composed days before the game entitled Brasil os vencedores (Brazil The Victors) and was to be played once Brazil won. Even Julie Rimet, president of FIFA and founder of the World Cup, anticipated Brazil would win and even had prepared a speech in Portuguese to congratulate anticipated winners Brazil after their win. Unlike now, medals were not awarded to teams at the World Cup who finished in the Top 3 but the Brazilian Football Confederation has already made 22 gold medals with the names of the players engraved on them.

On the morning of July 16th, the streets were already full of energy and there was even a ‘makeshift carnival’ with thousands of signs celebrating the world title and chants of ‘Brazil must win!” The Maracana was bustling in its own way. One thing we should remember is that the Maracana stadium consisted of two tiers of stands and much of the stands were standing area. This is the reason why unlike today they could field a capacity of over 100,000. At this match, the official paid attendance registered 173,380 attended while many estimate the actual attendance was over 210,000. This still remains as a world record for attendance for a team sports match.

As Brazil were in the dressing room, confident of victory in their spiffy white shirts and blue collars, Uruguay has other plans. Uruguay’s captain Obdulio Varela brought as many copies of O Mundo that had ‘These are the World champions” on the front page, laid them on their bathroom door and encouraged his teammates to urinate on them. In Uruguay’s locker room prior to the match, coach Juan Lopez informed the team that their best chance of surviving of surviving the powerful offensive line of Brazil would come through adopting a defensive strategy. After he left, Varela stood up and addressed the team himself, saying “Juancito is a good man, but today, he is wrong. If we play defensively against Brazil, our fate will be no different from Spain or Sweden”. Varela then delivered an emotional speech about how they must face all the odds and not to be intimidated by the fans or the opposing team. In response to his squad’s underdog status, the captain delivered the memorable line, “Boys, outsiders don’t play. Let’s start the show.”

The goal scored by Alcides Ghiggia (centre) in the 79th minutes stunned the Maracana silent and would break the hearts of Brazil.

The goal scored by Alcides Ghiggia (centre) in the 79th minutes stunned the Maracana silent and would break the hearts of Brazil.

As expected, the game began with Brazil playing aggressively and attacking against the majority of the Uruguayan defensive line for the first half. However unlike Spain and Sweden, Uruguay was successful in maintaining their defense and the first half ended scoreless.

First blood was drawn at the 47th minute when Sao Paulo forward Friaca shot low past the goalkeeper to give Brazil the first goal of the game. Captain Varela immediately took the ball after the goal and disputed its validity, arguing that it was offside. Varela’s argument was obviously intentional to the point he even forced the referee, Englishman George Reader, to bring out an interpreter. The protest was unsuccessful but it succeeded in calming the crowd down. Then Varela took the ball to the centre of the field and shouted to his teammates: “Now it’s time to win.”

Uruguay was able to find control of the game and Brazil soon had its defensive frailty exposed. Juan Alberto Schiaffino scored the equalizer for Uruguay in the 66th minute. Then in the 79th minute, Alcides Ghiggia ran down the right side of the field, dribbled past Brazilian defender Bigode and scored another goal. The crowd was virtually silenced; Uruguay was now the leader. The silence continued for the remainder of the play until Reader blew the final whistle. It was official: Uruguay won the Cup by defeating Brazil 2-1.

THE AFTERMATH: BOTH IMMEDIATE AND IN THE LONG RUN

“The maximum punishment in Brazil is 30 years imprisonment, but I have been paying, for something I am not even responsible for, by now, for 50 years.”

-Moacir Barbosa

When the sudden news was official, many said there was a ‘traumatic and disturbing absolute silence’ except for the celebrating by the Uruguayan team and delegation. In Brazil, many newspapers refused to accept the fact that their team had been defeated. Radio journalist Ary Barroso retired, albeit briefly. At least two or three people on the top tier of the stands of the Maracana were so distraught by the loss, they committed suicide. Yes, there were peole so distraught over Brazil’s loss, they committed suicide. One man in the stands even had a heart attack. The gold medals were immediately disposed of. The song Brazil the Victors was never played. The nation was just heartbroken over the loss. The game remains one of the biggest upsets in football history and Brazil commonly refers to that game as the Maracanazo, or “blow at the Maracana.” Even Pele talks of how his father cried saying: “Brazil lost!”

In the years to come, the game was influential for a lot of superstition. For one thing, Brazil refused to have a white-and-blue uniform and would soon adopt their famous yellow shirt with blue collar that still exists today. White is seen as bad luck in Brazil. The players of the time were vilified by the fans and were sometimes seen as bad luck. Many went into silent retirement while some never played for the national team again. Only two players that didn’t play in the final played for Brazil’s team in later World Cups. The defeat would weigh down on Brazil’s team so much, they brought a psychiatrist to the 1958 World Cup to remove the haunts of the memories of that game. Whatever the situation, the Brazilian team of 1958 which featured a 17 year-old Pele capturing the world’s imagination won the World Cup: the first of five total World Cups won by Brazil.

Brazilian goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa would be blamed and even vilified for Brazil's loss for the rest of his life.

Brazilian goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa would be blamed and even vilified for Brazil’s loss for the rest of his life.

However of all the players from Brazil, it was goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa that got hit the hardest. He received the biggest flack and biggest blame for the Maracanazo and it seems like Brazil never forgave him. He was still able to play professionally for another thirteen years and was even part of Brazil’s national team until 1953 but he was commonly shunned by the nation. There was even one time he was in a store in Brazil and a mother pointed at him and said to her small son: “Look at him, son. He is the man who made all of Brazil cry.” Little changed over the years. In 1993 the president of the Brazilian Football Confederation refused to let him be a commentator. In 1994, the Brazilian national team did not want him to visit them because they feared he would give them bad luck. If there was one good thing, his wife stayed married to him for a total of 50 years until her death in 1997. He managed administration at the Maracana but was always at a shortage for money after leaving. He did however received assistance from sources such as Brazilian football team Vasco da Gama and his wife’s friend after her death. The friend remembered his last years: “He even cried on my shoulder. Until the end he used to always say: ‘I’m not guilty. There were 11 of us.'” Moacir Barbosa died of a heart attack in 2000 at the age of 79. He was penniless at the time.

One interesting note is what happened to Alcides Ghiggia who scored that heartstopping goal. He would continue to have a prolific career as a professional player until 1968 and was even signed onto European teams like AC Milan and AS Roma during a time when it was extremely rare for South American players to play for teams outside their home country. As of today, the 87 year-old Ghiggia is the only surviving member of Uruguay’s World Cup winning team from 1950.

Interesting note is that on December 29, 2009, Brazil honored Ghiggia by celebrating that decisive goal by having Ghiggia plant his feet in a mould to take his place along greats like Pele, Eusebio and Franz Beckenbauer. The reception to Ghiggia was surprisingly warm and Ghiggia himself was overcome by emotion to the warmth. Ghiggia also made a return appearance to Brazil during the draw for the groups of the 2014 World Cup in December 2013. Each country that had won a World Cup in the past was allowed to send one of its great players to participate in the draw. Uruguay sent Ghiggia. There was however one negative thing as of recent. Ghiggia has been invited to the opening games of both the 2006 and 2010 World Cup but it was revealed by him that he was not on the guest list for this World Cup. I wonder who did it too? Whatever the situation, FIFA spokesperson Delia Fischer insisted the day before that Ghiggia and a guest will have at ticket. Ghiggia has also commented on this World Cup: “I hope Brazil become world champions, so they can all enjoy it here.”

The Brazilian team this year are hoping to finally make that bad memory of 1950 a think of the past. So far Brazil have been doing very well even if they’re not the most spectacular team out there. They opened with a 3-1 win over Croatia but left people shocked with a 0-0 draw against Mexico. They did reassure people that they will win with a 4-1 win over Cameroon to close out the Group Stage. They did win the Round of 16 match against Chile on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw. For those concerned since that, don’t be. There have been many teams in the last 28 years that had a match lead to penalty kicks before they played in the final for the Cup and won.

Brazil is often praised and even fancied in the way they treat football like a religion. However their reaction to their loss in 1950 is a negative side of that. Sure the loss to Uruguay was a shock but it’s a shame how they went about it. You know how when the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series and fans then showed a sign saying “We forgive Bill Buckner” in reference to Buckner’s Series-costing fumble in Game 6 of the 1986 Series? I hope that if Brazil wins the World Cup, there should be someone in the stands with a sign saying: “Nós perdoamos Moacir Barbosa  (We forgive Moacir Barbosa).”

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: 1950 FIFA World Cup. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1950_FIFA_World_Cup>

WIKIPEDIA: Uruguay v. Brazil (1950 FIFA World Cup). Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uruguay_v_Brazil_%281950_FIFA_World_Cup%29>

Bellos, Alex. “Obituary: Moacir Barbosa” THE GUARDIAN. 13 April 2000 <http://www.theguardian.com/news/2000/apr/13/guardianobituaries.alexbellos>

World Cup 2014: Predictions For The Knockout Rounds

Netherlands v Spain: 2010 FIFA World Cup FinalThe Group Stage was held these past two weeks for the same reason time and time again at each World Cup: to separate the contenders from the pretenders. There were some surprises both in terms of who qualified and who were ousted. The big name countries that were ousted were some of the biggest news. Nevertheless those that qualified got their moment in the sun.

Now begins the knockout rounds to determine the two teams in contention for the Cup. However the first round of the playoff stage will be the Round of 16. The Group Stage not only decided the two advancers from each of the eight groups but also determined who plays who in the knockout stage. Heck they’ll even go to the ever-dreaded penalty kicks to get a winner. One thing about this phase is that it’s organized so that neither of the two qualifiers from the Group Stage meet again until they are both lucky enough to both reach the final.

So without further ado, here are my predictions for the first set of the knockout phases. I will consider both their play exhibited in the Group Stage and their head-to-head play in past matches:

ROUND OF 16

-Brazil (Group A 1st) vs. Chile (Group B 2nd): Brazil and Chile sure have a habit of meeting each other at the World Cup. First time was in 1962 in the semifinals when Chile was host nation. Brazil won 4-2. Next time was in 1998 in the Round of 16: Brazil won again 4-1. The next time was in 2010 again in the Round of 16: Brazil won again 3-0. Look who play in the first Round of 16 match?

In terms of looking at the teams, Brazil has been excellent but has a habit of slowing down when they shouldn’t. Just ask Mexico. Chile has been very good and proved they can rise to the occasion against even the heavy favorites like Spain. Netherlands however gave them a reminder how they still have a ways to go.

My prediction for this round will be Brazil to win. No way is Brazil going to lose in front of their home country. Not with the memories of the Maracanazo in mind. Yes, I’ll post that flashback soon.

NOTE: One thing I’ve noticed is that every first-game of the Round of 16 begins on a good and often thrilling note. I still remember USA 1994 and seeing the first Round of 16 match: Germany vs. Belgium. Three goals scored in the first fifteen minutes. Also a bit of trivia. The first Round of 16 game has never gone to penalty kicks. Let’s hope it stays this way this year.

-Colombia (Group C 1st) vs. Uruguay (Group D 2nd): Funny thing about the first day of the Round of 16 is that it might make you think you’re watching the Copa America instead. Actually one thing about the South American countries is that they’re very thorough in their play against each other. While some continents contest a few countries against each other for a World Cup berth or even half the countries, all South American countries play each other twice to determine the qualifiers. Each of the countries know each other very well from the play. They know their strengths and their weaknesses. It’s possible that even the best South American team can be defeated by a South American team that doesn’t have the legacy or the higher FIFA ranking. Sometimes it makes you wonder if it’s harder to win a continental championship than the World Cup. Not just for South America but for all continents.

Both Colombia and Uruguay have played each other a lot over they years. They’ve both won some and they’ve lost some. Uruguay has won more but Colombia has won more in recent years. My pick for the winner will be Colombia. However don’t be surprised if the match goes to penalty kicks to decide the winner.

-Netherlands (Group B 1st) vs. Mexico (Group A 2nd): Most people at the beginning were writing the Netherlands off, especially from their three losses in the Euro 2012 Group Stage. They didn’t show much sign of improvement. That is, until they stepped on the field against Spain. There they reduced the defending Cupholders to size and continued with impressive wins against Australia and Chile. Orange magic was back. Mexico themselves had low expectations. However it took consistent play from them, and even proving to be a tough match for Brazil, to send the message they haven’t lost it.

My pick for the win is the Netherlands. They have been a scoring machine since the start of the Cup and they don’t show signs of slowing down.

-Costa Rica (Group D 1st) vs. Greece (Group C 2nd): Of all the pair-ups in this Round of 16, this is the only pair that has never played against each other even once before. Costa Rica has been the ‘Cinderella team’ of this World Cup so far with their wins against heavy favorites Uruguay and Italy. Greece has also had a ‘Cinderella’ moment here at the World Cup. With a loss and a tie, they appeared close to elimination before playing the Ivory Coast. However Greece had a surprise. And repeating their surprise from Euro 2012 when a win against Russia in their last Group Stage game, and also with a loss and a tie, helped them advance.

I’ll have to go with Costa Rica because they’ve been better at winning here at the World Cup. But don’t rule out Greece causing a surprise.

-France (Group E 1st) vs. Nigeria (Group F 2nd): France has impressed the football world with their comeback here at the World Cup. The 5-2 win over Switzerland sure showed Les Bleus are back. Nigeria is also another comeback team. They tied Iran, won against Bosnia and gave Argentina a good fight in their 3-2 loss against them. Nigeria advanced for the first time in 16 years and for the third time in their history, making them the first African nation to advance past the Group Stage three times.

I’m normally one to rely on head-to-head stats. If I did, I’d pick Nigeria as they won their one head-to-head match. However I give it to France for their brilliant play they’ve been showing.

-Germany (Group G 1st) vs. Algeria (Group H 2nd): Germany just keep on showing their consistency. The sixteenth straight World Cup where they advance past the Group Stage and the seventh straight World Cup where they finish the Group Stage #1 in their group. Algeria however are having their best ever World Cup. Their first World Cup where they advance past the Group Stage. It was a brilliant 4-2 win against South Korea that solidified their chances.

Now the hard part. Predicting the winner. Normally I’d pick Germany because of their consistency and the fact they’ve made the Top 8 every year since 1954. However I’m reminded at the FIFA site that Germany has played Algeria twice before and lost both times. I’ll say Germany but don’t be surprised if this takes penalty kicks to decide.

-Argentina (Group F 1st) vs. Switzerland (Group F 2nd): Argentina continue showing their consistency even though their wins have been lax. One thing is that Lionel Messi has come back and has scored four goals. Switzerland has been mostly consistent in their play and they didn’t let their 5-2 defeat from France bring them down.

I pick Argentina and not just because of their play. FIFA stats show that Argentina and Switzerland have met six times before. Argentina has won four timed and they drew twice. I don’t think this will be the place Switzerland will get their first win against Messi and the boys.

-Belgium (Group H 1st) vs. U.S.A. (Group G 2nd): Belgium is back. They’ve been questions whether they deserved their ‘seeded’ status during the draw but they’ve won all three of their games, even though with small results like 2-1, 1-0 and 1-0. USA keep writing new chapters for themselves. They deliver an impressive record in the Group Stage to qualify for the Round of 16 for the second time in a row. To think the USA used to be a joke in the football world. Not anymore.

I pick Belgium. yes, the USA has shown they can put up a great fight with even the best of them. However I will rely on the head-to-head stats where the USA has beaten Belgium one time in the five times they’ve met. The last game they played was a friendly less than a year ago which Belgium won 4-2.

QUARTERFINALS

For this part, I will assume the quarterfinal match-ups go with my Round of 16 winner predictions.

-France vs. Germany

-Brazil may not like this because they’ve had bad luck against France in the previous three World Cup meetings. I predict France because they’ve had better head-to-head play against Germany.

-Brazil vs. Colombia

I predict Brazil. At first many thought they’d crumble under pressure but they have poured it on against Croatia and Cameroon.

-Argentina vs. Belgium

Argentina’s won three of the four times they’ve played Belgium. It’s likely to stay that way here.

-Netherlands vs. Costa Rica

Oranje and the Ticos have never faced each other before. However Netherlands is skilled enough a team to bring Costa Rica’s ‘Cinderella story’ to an end.

Okay, I’ll save my actual predictions for the semifinals and finals once we learn of the true winners of the Round of 16 and the quarterfinals. My coarse predictions for the semis, should my predictions actually all turn out right, is Argentina beating Netherlands and Brazil finally beating France. Netherlands will win the 3rd-place match and Brazil will win the Cup. In the meantime, those Round of 16 and quarterfinals predictions are my actual predictions for now.

A Tale Of Two Godzilla Remakes

It’s funny that when the original Godzilla first took the world by storm back in 1954, who would have thought it would ‘inspire’ two remakes? One was back in 1998 and the other was just last month. But how do they fare as entertainment?

For the record, I have not seen the original Japanese version of Godzilla. This movie comparison is based from what I have witnessed in the two remakes and their entertainment value. In fact even as I read the story of the original movie, I won’t compare it to the stories of the other two on whether it’s ‘true to the original.’

The 1998 remake of Godzilla had a heavy hype machine behind it but was all action and no real story.

The 1998 remake of Godzilla had an over-the-top  hype machine behind it but it ended up being all action and no real story.

Some of you may remember the 1998 remake starring Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria and Michael Lerner. I remember it well too. One thing I remember most about the movie is that it relied too much on the special effects and action moments. That is probably the areas where it most delivered. Elsewhere it completely went downhill. At first it seemed like the right thing to hire Independence Day writer/director Roland Emmerich as director and co-writer along with Dean Devlin. However what the audience received as far as a story turned out to be a lot of ridiculous fluff. The story was typical and cliched. It stars off as a lizard-like monster is making its way to New York. A Japanese man knows it was warped that way by nuclear testing. Meanwhile in the Big Apple, Audrey, a news reporter who’s too nice to succeed over her backstabbing assistant meets her ex-boyfriend Nick, who’s now an agent. Once Godzilla attacks New York, everyone’s involved. Nick tried to get the case solved, the armed forces try to kill it, Audrey tries to get a big break out of it and win Nick back. The acting was very stockish and added to the ridiculousness of the movie. Even casting Maria Pitillo as Audrey turned out to be a bad choice because it made her look too ditzy and bimbonic, almost like a Minnie Mouse persona. Overall it was a ‘quantity not quality’ picture. It’s no wonder it was nominated for five Razzies including Worst Picture and won two including Pitillo for Worst Actress. Even today I cringe whenever I remember scenes from that piece of idiocy.

The craziest thing about it was its huge marketing campaign. The film featured a CD which hit platinum and spawned a #4 hit for P. Diddy (then known as Puiff Daddy) with Jimmy Page ‘Come With Me.’ It also featured songs from some of the top hitmakers at the time like Green Day, The Wallflowers, Rage Against the Machine, Jamiroquai and the Foo Fighters. Taco Bell contributed $20 million to the campaign and even featured a special meal advertised by the Taco Bell chihuahua. There were even Godzilla toys marketed by Trendmaster which included a 11-inch Godzilla and a 22-inch Godzilla. So overall it was an overly hyped up movie intended to content for top box office honors. The hype machine behind Godzilla was spoofed in a Sprite commercial the following year shown in movie theatres where Hollywood execs are discussing marketing the movie ‘Death Slug’ with the script not even completed. The movie did succeed in making the Top 10 box office hits of the year with $136.3 million but it was only slightly over the $130 it cost to make and market. Internationally was slightly better with an additional $242.7 million. Congratulations, boys. Your hype-machine paid off.

One thing to note is that the movie ended with a hint of a possible sequel coming. Fortunately it did not happen. Another couple things to note: Maria Pitillo retired from acting a few years later and Roland Emmerich would write and direct another piece of idiocy in The Day After Tomorrow.

This summer came with the release of a new remake of Godzilla. Funny how there are a lot of movie remakes done these past few years; some remakes of movies done just ten years earlier. Before it was released, I kept thinking to myself: “I hope it’s not like that hideous remake from 1998.” When I saw it was certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes (73% it cureently stands at), I decided to give it a chance.

The 2014 version of Godzilla impressed critics more with the story and action moments.

The 2014 version of Godzilla impressed critics more with the story and action moments.

This features a new story with Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Joe, the lead protagonist with Elizabeth Olsen playing his wife, Bryan Cranston playing his father, and Ken Watanabe playing the Japanese doctor. The story starts with a hydrogen bomb trying to kill a mutated creature in 1954. In 1999 a nuclear power plant in Japan ruptures which Joe’s father attemted to control. Fifteen years later, Joe, one of the sons of a rescue worker from that accident, is a naval officer living in San Francisco with his family because he was arrested in Japan for entering the disaster area trying to get the truth. Joe witnessed his father die as they discovered a large winged creature. It’s later learned from Naval officers the attempt to kill Godzilla forgot there were eggs and two hatched. One of the children has grown and is on the prowl. Not only that, two other large creatures names MUTO with the potential of mating. Godzilla first arrives in Hawaii and causes a devastating tsunami. The male mutant creature fights Godzilla temporarily while the female wreaks havoc in Vegas. The MUTO arrive in San Francisco and Joe is separated from his wife and son in the mayhem. Then a sign the two MUTO will mate as the two make a nest out of submarines and nuclear warheads in downtown San Francisco. However some in the military feel Godzilla might stop the MUTO. Once Godzilla hits Frisco, he battles the MUTO smashing the male and breathing fire into the female’s face. Joe is reunited with his wife and son.  Godzilla is thought to have died in the ocean but he returns to the sea with the media labeling him ‘king of the monsters.’

Unlike the 1998 remake, it doesn’t try to be a comedy-drama. Instead the story is much more dramatic, way more sensible and way better acted. Both the actors and writer Max Borenstein worked to deliver a movie that was very watchable for both the action scenes and the story lines. It actually worked in being a thriller. There were a few times in which I was waiting for a ‘fluff moment’ to happen. Okay, I’ll admit I hadn’t fully recovered from the phobia I had after the original remake. I found it very hard to remember a time during the film when I was left displeased. I won’t say that I was head over heels astounded with the movie but I was impressed with it to say the least. Oh, did I say that the Godzilla here looks way scalier too?

I will admit there were times in which I was confused by the story or wondered if it was getting confusing. Both previous Godzilla movies strictly focused on Godzilla the creature in which he’s killed at the end. This was bizarre as Godzilla was not the only mutant creature but there were two others. I thought that was awkward at first. However I will give the writers and directors credit for developing a new unique story to the Godzilla franchise. Also good to see is that this new take to the story didn’t come off as corny as it could have ended up as.

I won’t really say that this new Godzilla movie  ‘did Godzilla right’ in comparison to the 1998 tripeload. Mainly because I haven’t seen the 1954 original and also when looking back, I think of areas it could have been done better. Nevertheless I will say this remake ‘did Godzilla better,’ way better than the 1998 schmaltzfest. And the best thing is there was no hype-fest with a CD or with a restaurant deal. If you remember back in the late-90’s, it was common for fast food restaurants to take part in the summer movie hype-fest by promoting movies with special meals that included images and ads of the movies on the packaging. I still remember Burger King doing promotions for 1999’s Wild Wild West and 2009’s Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen: two over hyped dribblefests. Nowadays I don’t see restaurants hyping movies up anymore or not as often. That’s a relief. Let the summer movies sell themselves! As for the biz of this new Godzilla, it cost $160 million to make, was hyped up way less obviously and has done well at the box office so far with almost $195 million to date and still stands in the box office Top 10 at #9 with $1.9 million last weekend.

The most recent Godzilla movie is a much better remake than the 1998 fluff-piece in almost every way. Goes to show you that less can be more even during the summer movie season.

The Dolphin Theatre: Gone But Fondly Remembered

014On Tuesday, May 27th, the Dolphin Theatre located on Hastings Street in North Burnaby showed its last shows. It would make room for a planned condominium project. The Dolphin Theatre doesn’t have the same legendary status as recently closed theatres like the Hollywood or the Ridge but it did provide a place for a community.

The Dolphin Theatre was a small movie theatre located in North Burnaby by the corner of Hastings and Willingdon. It was opened in 1966 and featured two screens with a total seating capacity of 430. It started as an independent theatre and continued to be successful at operating for a long time. However during the last decade, the Dolphin Theatre had been under threat from problems commonly experienced by most smaller theatres in Greater Vancouver like land development issues, rising costs of rent, the changing forms of entertainment and the changing technologies of showing movies.

People young and old came to the last showing at the Dolphin.

People young and old came to the last showing at the Dolphin.

In 2010, Rahim Manji started operating the Dolphin Theatre. Manji also operated the Hollywood 3 cinema in Surrey and Pitt Meadows theatre. For a look at the Hollywood 3 theatres he runs, click here. He has shown a wide variety of films over t the Dolphin but he mostly had family films showing for someplace in the neighborhood to bring the whole family to. Since that time, other theatres have closed down like the independently-owned Hollywood, Ridge and Denman and megaplexes like the Granville 7 and Station Square. Last year it was decided that a four-story mixed use development would be built on the area of the Dolphin. The project includes commercial space, residential units, and 11 wheelchair-accessible units for people with disabilities.

The Dolphin Theatre isn’t one in which I have been loyal to for a long time. Actually I just started liking it over last summer. I just decided to see We’re The Millers there one time because I wanted to see what all the buzz was all about. There had been times in the past i wanted to go there but distance and timing were almost always an issue. Finally I had my chance. It was a good theatre for those who just wanted to relax. Nothing grandiose. Nothing too styled up. Actually I think most of it has remained unchanged since it opened. As for the screen, they’d have an advertising system before the movies different from that of Cineplex or the other chain theatres. One more set for local theatres much like the one for the Rio Theatre, one of the last independent theatres in existence. Anyways I enjoyed the show and hoped to come back to see more.

Funny how it was only until then I realized how close I was to the theatre. Took me that long to figure out? Since that time I decided to go whenever a movie I wanted to see was showing. I would return weeks later to see Gravity. I remembered before the film, there were no trailers shown. Days later when I saw nothing on the website about anything upcoming there, I wondered if it was about to close. I researched the news and saw a story from months earlier of its fate in city hall. Anyways I was relieved the next day to learn movies were still being shown there. I also went to see Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games. I also tried a $2 Tuesday, one of the theatre’s big highlights, and saw Frozen with a couple of friends.

Then I heard the news when a friend posted the news story on her Facebook page. I was unhappy about it and I decided to go on its last day  May 27th for its last showing: The Amazing Spiderman 2. I got there ten minutes before showtime but by then, I was too late. It was too long of a line and already it was filled with people who wanted to visit the Dolphin for the last showing. Rahim handed out passes for a free movie over at the two other Hollywood 3 theatres for those who couldn’t get in. Fortunately I was able to talk to Rahim. I told him I didn’t mind not seeing the show but I wanted to see the closing speech. He was willing to do so.

The crowd at the last showing was a mixed bag of people: young and old. I’m sure there were some that came to witness the last day of the theatre but for some in the audience, they came to be part of a theatre that they were appreciative of. I’m sure there were many from the neighborhood of North Burnaby who came that night, appreciative of a place that helped keep the local kids off the streets. Just before The Amazing Spiderman 2 was about to start, Rahim and his other co-workers stood at the front and he thanked the audience for coming to the last showing at the Dolphin. There were times he had to hold himself back. However he ended his speech mentioning that independent theatres in Vancouver are a dying breed. There are only three left. That was a hard truth but necessary to be mentioned at that time. I talked to him after his speech and I wished him well with the other two theatres.

It’s true about the problem of independent theatres in Vancouver. I already mentioned the problems at the beginning and of some that have closed down. However it’s not the only problem. Two years ago Burnaby had three movie theatres to go to: the Dolphin, Station Square and SilverCity at Metrotown. Station Square had to be closed down because of a land development taking place. Actually all but a few businesses on that chuck of land that was part of Station Square that included a Future Shop and a Save-On-Foods had to relocate themselves and make way for the whole area to be torn down for the development. They’re still doing construction to it right now. It’s almost two years. Now with the Dolphin closed there’s only the SilverCity at Metrotown. It’s a shame only one right now.

I actually found out there will be a new movie theatre opening up in the redevelopment of the Brentwood Town Centre. I consider that to be a plus for the city as it gives the kids someplace to go to. However Rahim saw it through an independent theatre point of view and is unhappy it will be one of those chain theatres. That was a good point. I only know of the Rio and the Dunbar being the only independent ones still standing. Sure there’s the VanCity and the Cinematheque but they are involved with film on a higher scale and have their own offices there.

It is a shame that I was only able to know the Dolphin Theatre for not even a year. Too bad it closed recently. Nevertheless I’m glad I had the chance to visit it when I did. Sure I wish I did it sooner. Sure I wish I could do it now. But I’m glad I had the chance.

Goodbye Dolphin Theatre. Thanks for the entertainment you’ve given the neighborhood over the years.

The Dolphin Theatre: 1966-2014

The Dolphin Theatre: 1966-2014

World Cup 2014: Group Stage With One Game To Go

Netherlands v Spain: 2010 FIFA World Cup FinalWell here we go. Each of the teams at this year’s World Cup have played two of their three Group Stage opponents. Over the next few days they will all play their last opponent and the group results will be official. Two countries from each group will remain in contention and move onto the knockout rounds. Two others will have their World Cup dreams end right there.

Already there have been some clear results over these past two games. There are some that already achieved their guarantee to move on. There are some that already have been determined it’s already all over. And there are some that will have to rely on the last match as a last chance. Here is a group-by-group breakdown of those who made it (with countries who are guaranteed to advance in bold), those who will be leaving soon and those who still have a chance:

Group A

I’ll bet most of you thought that Brazil would be the first country to be guaranteed a berth in the Round of 16, right? So did I. The scoreless tie against Mexico still keeps things uncertain between three countries. The one certainty is that Cameroon will not move on even if they won against Brazil, which would highly be unlikely.

The way it looks for the three teams in contention is this. With Mexico playing Croatia, Mexico can qualify by simply tying. Croatia needs nothing less than a win. Brazil can simply qualify by tying but do you think they’d want to do that after their scoreless draw to Mexico?

Group B

This is the one group where both advancers have already been decided. Both the Netherlands and Chile have two wins guaranteeing them a spot in the Round of 16. It’s also guaranteed it’s all over for Australia and defending champs Spain with two losses each. Even if one of them won in their match on Monday, it would all be just for pride. That’s all they can muster now. I’m sure Spain will most likely want to win it as a last message about themselves.

The match of Netherlands vs. Chile on Monday will be a case where it decides which team finishes first and which finishes second. Netherlands can end up #1 just by simply drawing against Chile because of better goal differentials. Chile must win this if it wants to claim the #1 spot in Group B. Besides I have a co-worker who’s Chilean and he wants Chile to win. He feels if Chile loses, they’ll end up facing Brazil in the Round of 16. And Brazil has cut Chile’s World Cup dreams short in the Round of 16 twice before: in 1998 and 2010.

Group C

Colombia’s two wins over Greece and the Ivory Coast have guaranteed them a berth in the Round of 16: their first since 1990. The other three countries still have a chance. Japan could do it by winning against Colombia and Greece could do it if they win against the Ivory Coast. However it’s a case for either of those two nations that they have to win in order to qualify. And even if both win, it would depend on goal differentials to decide who qualifies with Japan having a two-goal advantage over Greece. Ivory Coast could advance just by simply tying Greece but it’s best guaranteed by a tie between Colombia and Japan.Ivory Coast could lose their chances if they tie and Japan has a win with a two-goal advantage. Or Ivory Coast could be out if they lose to Greece. So it’s not out for any of the four and the last games in Tuesday to decide it all.

Group D

Admit it. When you’ve been looking at this group all these months, you were probably guessing which of the three: Uruguay, England and Italy will qualify. And I’m sure with good reason. All three have a World Cup legacy and all three have proven to be strong challengers today. Even I was fixated almost strictly on those three. I’m sure hardly any of us payed much attention to Costa Rica. I’m sure we all thought Costa Rica was the odd one out and wrote them off. They don’t have the same legacy of the three and even now they rank low in the world. Well guess which of the four in Group D is guaranteed to advance?

Another definite thing is England will be out. This makes it the first World Cup since 1958 that England will fail to advance after the First Round. It’s possible they could win against Costa Rica on Tuesday for the sake of pride but we’ll see. So the match of Uruguay vs. Italy will settle who the second advancer will be. Winner of course advances but if it’s a draw, Italy advances because of better goal differentials. So Uruguay has to win if they want to advance. Quite something how it will be two former World Cup winners from this group who will not advance.

Group E

If there’s one country that wanted to make past embarrassments a thing of the past, it’s obvious it’s France. I’m sure most of you remember their embarrassments in 2010. The two wins from France–and big wins with 3-0 against Honduras and 5-2 against Switzerland–show that Les Bleus are back and have an exceptionally strong chance of advancing. The only way I can see France not advancing is if they lose badly to Ecuador (a minimum of 4-0 Ecuador) and Switzerland have at least a 5-0 win over Honduras. That’s how comfortable France’s chances are, though nothing is set in stone right now.

The other option is which of the other country’s will advance. Both Ecuador and Switzerland have a win and a loss each with Ecuador having the advantage with even goal differentials. Ecuador could qualify with a simple 1-0 win over France. If Switzerland were to win too, its win would have to be over three goals at least. The only way Switzerland can advance with something as little as a 1-0 win is if Ecuador loses or ties France on Wednesday. Honduras has slim chances of qualifying but the chance is there. They would have to have a big win over Switzerland–like 4-0 or 5-1– and Ecuador would have to lose to France. No ifs, ands or buts.

Group F

Argentina’s two wins may be unspectacular but their 2-1 win over Bosnia and their 1-0 win over Iran guarantee they will advance to the Round of 16. Bosnia unfortunately is out. So the most they can do in their match against Iran on Wednesday is win for pride.

Nigeria and Iran both still have a chance with Nigeria having the advantage with a win and a tie. Nigeria could advance by simply tying Argentina on Wednesday. Iran not only needs a win but Nigeria has to lose to Argentina completely for Iran to advance. Plain and simple.

Group G

This is one group where all four still have a chance to qualify.

Germany and the US are the two most likely due to them having both a win and a tie. Portugal has the slimmest chances but they’re still there. They have to have a big win against Ghana and for either of the other two to lose badly in their match to have a chance. Ghana can also make it in with a win but it would have to come at the US losing. They only way Ghana could advance with Germany losing is if Germany loses to the US 5-0 or 6-1. Germany and the US can simply advance just by tying. The US’s chances are good but not solid. As I mentioned before, they could be out if they lose and Ghana has a win. Thursday is the day everything will be decided.

Group H

Belgium is the one country right now that’s guaranteed a berth in the Round of 16 with their wins of 2-1 against Algeria and 1-0 against Russia.

While the other three countries still have a chance ,the country with the best odds is Algeria upon their 4-2 win over South Korea. Their win was big enough so that they could advance by simply tying Russia. Only if South Korea won over Belgium 3-0 or 4-1 would that ruin Algeria’s chances. However Russia can still have a chance. They have to have nothing less than a win over Algeria for them to advance. It would only take a big win from South Korea to prevent Russia from advancing upon a win over Algeria on Thursday.

TRIVIA FACT:

Wonder why all four teams play their last Group Stage game simultaneously? It had its origins at the 1978 World Cup. It didn’t happen in the First Round Group play but in the Second Round of group play. This was when the Top 2 from each group advanced to a second round of group play. Winners of both groups played in the final for the Cup. Second-place in both groups played for third-place. Brazil played their last match 2 1/2 hours before hosts Argentina was to play theirs. Brazil won over Poland 3-1. That sent the message to Argentina they’d need to win over Peru by at least four points to qualify for the final. And they did it: 6-0. Argentina eventually won the Cup. That led FIFA to pass a ruling that all teams in a group play their last Group Stage match simultaneously.

And there you go. That’s what’s needed in terms of advancing to the Round of 16 starting on Saturday. I’m sure it will be crazy shifting your attention from one game to the other but don’t worry, the other will eventually get replayed.

 

Brazil’s Football Legacy

Brazil has a football legacy like no other nation and its legendary player Pele is commonly regarded as the epitome of its greatness.

Brazil has a football legacy like no other nation and its legendary player Pele is commonly regarded as the epitome of its greatness.

We all love Brazilian football because at its best, Brazilian football is the paradigm of how we want football to be played. We want it musical, we want amazing skills but we want the kind of friendship and the teamwork also beautifully mixed and working together.

-Alex Bellos, author

Remember back when I did my blog on Russia’s Winter Olympic Legacy I mentioned my naive belief as a kid that if a country had a big sporting legacy, they deserved to host an Olympics? Anyways I would also have that naive belief for hosting the World Cup too. It’s not that embarrassing since every country that’s won the World Cup has hosted in the past. If I thought that now, it would be kind of embarrassing because of how expensive it is.  Whatever the situation, you can’t deny Brazil’s legacy.

BEFORE THERE WAS A WORLD CUP

So the question is how did a British sport like football become almost religion-like in Brazil? Well there are some beliefs but no real conclusion on who first introduced it. Some believe it was introduced to Brazil by a Scottish expatriate by the name of Thomas Donohue. In fact the first ever football match contested in Brazil was played in a pitch marked out by Donohue near his workplace in Bangu back in April, 1894. Some believe it was introduced to Brazil by Charles William Miller, son of John Miller who worked on a railway construction project in Sao Paulo in the 1870’s. Charles not only learned football while studying in Southhampton but when he return home from his studies in 1892, he brought with him some football equipment and a rule book. He introduced it through the Sao Paulo Athletic Club. Miller was a great coach to the team and he was even able to get two English teams to play against the Athletic Club and other teams in Sao Paulo. You could say the rest is history.

Eventually Brazil would get its own national football federation–the Brazilian Football Federation–on June 8, 1914 and their first international match was a match between a team combined team from a club from Rio and a club from Sao Paulo against English club Exeter City shortly thereafter.

A SO-SO START

Those who are into World Cup trivia may know that Brazil has been in every World Cup since it started in 1930. It’s not to say that they began with a bang. In fact the BFF was not the best at organizing national teams for quite a while. In 1930, organizing national teams was a relatively new idea at the time so you can imagine getting a team for the very first World Cup would be through the same thought process today. In fact only thirteen countries, including Brazil, though the inaugural World Cup was worth competing in. Back at the first World Cup, there was only one group of four teams and three groups of three teams. Brazil faced Yugoslavia and Bolivia in their group. They lost to Yugoslavia 2-1 and won against Bolivia 4-0. Despite finishing second, they did not advance as only the #1 team from each group advanced and Yugoslavia finished #1. Their next World Cup, Italy in 1934, was also lackluster as the whole tournament was a last-team standing competition–no First Round group play at all–and Brazil lost its opening match: against Spain 3-1. That ended their World Cup run fast.

However things were really starting to look up for Brazil in France in 1938. Their team was much better and it featured the legendary Leonidas. As in 1934, it was a last-team-standing format from start to finish. Brazil won its opening match against Poland 6-5 with Leonidas scoring a hat-trick and won its quarterfinal against Czechoslovakia. Actually they needed a second quarterfinal to play as they tied the first 1-1. Brazil won the second 2-1. However they were stopped in the semifinals by eventual winner Italy 2-1. Brazil did win the third place match against Sweden 4-2 and Leonidas was the top scorer with 7 goals. Too bad the Golden Foot award wasn’t awarded back then.

Brazil hosted in 1950. I’ll actually save that competition for another blog as I will tell about the infamous Maracanazo and the crazy aftermath that happened since. Few players from 1950 returned in 1954. Brazil was ousted in the quarterfinals by Hungary 4-2.

THE GOLDEN ERA

The era from 1958 to 1970 has to be Brazil’s most treasured because that was when the Brazilian national team was at its best and enchated the world. It all started in 1958 when coach Vicente Feola coached the team and even gave them a list of forty things not to do including smoke in front of journalists. They even brought a psychiatrist to the team. Whatever the situation, Brazil was brilliant in group play with two wins and a draw, winning their quarterfinal against Wales 1-0, their semi against France 5-2 and then winning their final against hosts Sweden 5-2. The top goalscorer may have been Just Fontaine but it was the second-highest scorer–a 17 year-old Brazilian named Pele–that captured the imagination of the world. Even in the group stage, he dazzled crowds with his flare and his goal-scoring ability. Another key note is that Pele wore the number 10 at that World Cup it’s been since common trait that most national teams designate the number 10 to their best players. Pele however won the FIFA Silver Ball award for being the second-best overall player at the World Cup. The winner of the Golden Ball was another Brazilian, Didi, who actually scored a single goal but delivered the best midfield efforts of the tournament.

Pele’s fame grew as did his football playing prowess and the whole Brazilian team garnered fame with him. In Chile in 1962, Pele was back and expected to star again. He did score in the first game but was sidelined with an injury during the second game. That would cause him to miss the rest of the tournament. Nevertheless Brazil performed well as his replacement Amarildo scored three goals and two players, Garrincha and Vava, scored four goals each. Garrincha was considered to be the top player of the tournament. The team also did a noble thing after defeating hosts Chile in the semifinals. They carried the Chilean flag out on the field.

In England in 1966, it appeared success was starting to get to Brazil. They began well with a 2-0 win against Bulgaria that included a goal each by stars Pele and Garrincha but it was all downhill after that with 3-1 losses against Hungary and Portugal. That left Brazil 3rd in the group and out of the tournament: the second of five instances when the defending World Cup champion failed to advance past the Group Stage.

Then came Mexico in 1970. Mario Zagallo, who played for Brazil during its World Cup wins in 1958 and 1962, was assigned coach by the president of Brazil. The president also demanded that many players including the aging Pele be put on the team. Pele first seemed uncomfortable with his role but things changed once the contest started. Brazil won all their Group Stage matches, won their quarterfinal against Peru 4-2, their semifinal against Uruguay 3-1 and then their final against Italy 4-1. Jairzinho was the top goalscorer of the team with 7 goals but it was Pele who won the Golden Ball award for being the best overall player with a performance that included four goals. And to think Pele thought at the beginning he wasn’t good enough for the team. Pele also won the FIFA fair play trophy for not receiving a single yellow or red card. Pele also has the distinction of being the only player to play for three World Cup winning teams. Zagallo made history by becoming the first ever to win the World Cup both as a player and as a coach. Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer is the only other one to do so. On top of that Brazil was given the distinction of being allowed to keep the Jules Rimet trophy for winning the World Cup three times. The 1970 team for Brazil is still considered by many to be the best team ever in World Cup history. The odd irony is that it was only a matter of months until the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen. It was never found.

THE DRY SPELL

After 1970, Pele was no longer part of Brazil’s national team and there was a brand new World Cup trophy that made its debut in 1974 and is the current trophy today. It seems like those marked the end of Brazil’s magic at the time because Brazil would struggle to regain its winning sense. 1974 and 1978 World Cups consisted of not only group play for the opening round but also for a second round for the eight that qualified. The top teams at the end of the second round of Group Play played in the final for the Cup, the second-place teams played for third place and the other four teams headed straight home. In both cases, Brazil came second. Brazil again found itself out of the competition because of second round group play in Spain in 1982. In 1986 started the current format of Group Play and the last-team-standing format that started with a Round of 16. Whatever the situation, Brazil was brilliant in Group Play wining all their games and even winning their Round of 16 game against Poland but drew 1-1 to France in the quarterfinals and then lost the penalty kicks round. 1990 added further insult as Brazil again won all three of their group play games but fell to Argentina 1-0 in the Round of 16.

It was a question to many of why. Was it the format of play? Was it the change of system where Brazilian players were now mostly playing in Europe instead of playing with Brazilian clubs as was the case in Pele’s day? It’s still a wonder.

CALL IT A COMEBACK

These past twenty years have actually seen a resurgence of Brazil’s greatness and even write a new legacy for them. It first started at the 1994 World Cup. This time they came packed with stars like Romario, Bebeto, Taffarel, Dunga and Jorginho. The group were very good, if unspectacular, being very solid in the rounds leading up to the final. The final was a classic rematch against Italy. The game was an unspectacular 0-0 which led to a penalty kicks contest. Brazil won 4-3 and became the first country to win the World Cup four times.

1998 saw the emergence of another young Brazilian with the potential to become a great, Ronaldo. He and the Brazilian team were very good leading up to the final but it was the home country French team that really caught the world’s attention at that World Cup. France has commonly been known as Brazil’s ‘achilles heel’ and they gave Brazil their loss 3-0. Under the guidance of coach Luis Felipe Scolari, Brazil came back in 2002 with the help of the three R’s–Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho– and won the World Cup without a loss. Ronaldo won the Golden Boot award for his scoring of eight goals, the most goals scored in a single World Cup since 1970.

Brazil has continued to maintain a record of consistency since the 2002 World Cup and has continued to produce new stars. Even manager Carlos Alberto Ferreira formed a playing system known as the ‘magic square’ that proved very successful in competitions leading up to the Cup. The ‘square’ appeared to work well in the first rounds of the 2006 World Cup despite the underperforming of star Ronaldinho at the time but they fell in the quarterfinals to their traditional top rival France 1-0. To the surprise of most, Brazil was out in the quarterfinals. Brazil continued to be favored leading up to the 2010 World Cup and even won their ‘group of death’ albeit unspectacularly but fell again in the quarterfinals. This time to the Netherlands 2-1. Further disappointment came at the 2011 Copa America when Brazil lost in the quarterfinals but a major upper came when they won the Confederations Cup against World Cup winners Spain 3-0. Here at this World Cup, Brazil tried to attempt the one football feat they don’t own: winning the World Cup on home soil. They brought Luis Felipe Scolari back to help them win it. They’re also relying heavily on the young great Neymar who has already scored two goals in World Cup play. The remaining three weeks will decide.

Brazil has had a football legacy and it has had its downsides too. You can understand why a country this passionate about football believes that a win of the World Cup is the only acceptable result. You can understand the pressure that the current Brazilian faces leading into this World Cup. You can also understand why a country like Brazil has won more World Cups than any other country and continued to churn out legend after legend. It’s no wonder no country has delivered more football magic than Brazil.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Brazil National Football Team. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_national_football_team>

WIKIPEDIA: Football In Brazil. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Football_in_Brazil>

WIKIPEDIA: Brazil at the FIFA World Cup. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_at_the_FIFA_World_Cup>

2014 World Cup: Is Being Defending Champion Bad Luck?

Spanish player Sergio Busquets is devastated after Spain's loss to Chile. That loss prevents Spain from advancing past the Group Stage.

Spanish player Sergio Busquets is devastated after Spain’s loss to Chile. That loss prevents Spain from advancing past the Group Stage.

It was something nobody saw coming. Spain entered this World Cup as the reigning champions. Ever since their win of the Cup, they’ve had an impressive record with winning Euro 2012, Runners-up to Brazil at the 2013 Confederations Cup, and an impressive streak of 39 wins, eight draws and six losses in the games they’ve played since World Cup 2010.

However something went wrong in their game against the Netherlands on June 13th. At first, it looked like Spain would command an early lead with a penalty goal scored by Xabi Alonzo in the 27th minute. Then things turned for the worse as the Netherlands, whom Spain played against in the 2010 World Cup final, came back first with a goal from Robin van Persie in the 44th minute, followed by four more goals from the Netherlands including a second from van Persie and two from Arjen Robben. The score 5-1 was Spain’s biggest loss in a World Cup game since 1950.

Coach Vicente Del Bosque reassured fans that Spain will be ready in their next two games. Spain’s next opponent was Chile in the Maracana Stadium. Chile already had beaten Australia 3-1 in their World Cup opener. You’d expect Spain to be hungry for a win after their big loss to the Netherlands. However things went completely unexpected for Spain. Chile’s Eduardo Vargas drew first blood by scoring in the 20th minute. Then just before the first half was about to end, Charles Aranguiz gave Chile another goal to give them a 2-0. There was no more scoring in the second half. As the final whistle blew, Chile not only won the match against Spain but found themselves advancing to the Round of 16 through acquiring their second win. Just hours earlier the Netherlands won their match against Australia 3-2. With that being their second win, the Netherlands were guaranteed a spot in the Round of 16 too. Spain found itself with two losses and with only one game left in the Group Stage, all chances of qualifying for the Round of 16 had fallen out of their hands.

Spain’s situation is actually not that uncommon for a defending World Cup champion. Of the nineteen defending champions in the history of the World Cup, only two have successfully defended their title: Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962. An addition two were successful enough to make it to the finals. If you want the full details of how defending World Cup champions have fared, here’s the chart:

Chart

As you may have noticed in the chart, five defending champions in the history of the World Cup have failed to advance past the opening Group Stage, with Spain being the latest. The craziest thing about this is that Spain’s incident is actually the third time in the past four World Cups that the defending champion would face the end of the road in the Group Stage.

Seeing a defending champion of a major sports event falter is very common in sport. I’ve seen it happen many times before in terms of the professional sports scale and even in the Olympic arena. The World Cup is no stranger to that, obviously. I myself witnessed the struggle of the defending World Cup holder first in 1990 when Argentina lost to Cameroon 1-0. Cameroon finished on top in their group while Argentina finished third and was able to qualify to the Round of 16 because the World Cup consisted of 24 countries and third-placers were eligible for wild card berths. Argentina then came alive after that and went on to qualify for the finals. The second time I noticed was back in 1994 when Germany was the defending Cup holder. For the record, Germany is the team I cheer for at the World Cup. They too had an excellent record of consistency. Then it was their quarterfinal against Bulgaria. they scored first but Bulgaria came back to win 2-1. Bulgaria went on the semifinals while Germany packed sooner than expected.

I’ve watched many more World Cup since and I’ve payed close attention to how the defending champion would do. It’s interested that of the eighteen times the defending champion competed at the World Cup, only twice were they successful to repeat. Even now seeing how Spain is the fifth defending Cup holder ever and the third in the past four Cups to be eliminated in the Group Stage makes me wonder if there’ starting to be a curse with the defending Cup holder. I mean it’s no question the defending Cup holder would face the pressure to win. You have the World spotlight and the adoration of a nation behind you. Not to mention your #12 ranking on FIFA’s chart at stake too. It’s easy to see in situations like those in which the reigning champions would falter. Sometimes it could be overconfidence. The team might think they’re #1 and sometimes forget to play well and pay for it in the end. Or it could be that the team was not all there mentally. That could happen. Even though Del Bosque has been coach of Spain since 2008 and hugely responsible for its success, it is possible for even the best teams to falter.

Whatever the situation, Spain will return back home after they play Australia in what will be their last Group Stage game. They may play badly or they may play spectacularly as if they have one last thing to prove. Whatever the situation, Spain will have to regroup and train again as a national team from scratch. It’s highly likely Del Bosque will be dropped as head coach. Who will replace him is a big question right now. Spain’s first chance to prove itself after the World Cup will be September 4th in a friendly match against France whom themselves choked in 2002 as defending Cup holders.

Winning the World Cup may be everything for the football players in Brazil. However for those that win on July 13th, it could be a bad omen for the next World Cup. I don’t want to get superstitious but it is tempting right now.

UPDATE: For my 2018 update, click here.

2014 World Cup: All Eyes On Brazil

Netherlands v Spain: 2010 FIFA World Cup Final

DISCLAIMER: Before I begin my blog, I want to give you all a quick reference post for my Group Stage predictions for this year’s World Cup. Title will open the link to my predictions:

As for predictions for the knockout rounds, I’ll wait until the qualifiers are decided. Meanwhile I will give a prediction for the final for those curious: Brazil vs. Argentina which Brazil wins. Let’s see if it hold up. Anyways enough of predictions! On with my blog!

“For any country, organizing a cup is like playing a game, sweating and often suffering, with the possibility of extra-time and penalty kicks, but the final result and celebration are worth the effort.”

-Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil

The 2014 World Cup opened on June 12th with a spectacular opening ceremony at 3pm  in the newly built Arena de Sao Paulo. The competition started with the opening game of hosts Brazil vs.  Croatia. Each team by now has played at least one match to get things rolling. Even in the months and years leading to the competition, the World Cup made headlines and continues to make headlines now for all the activity on the field and off.

NOTHING LESS THAN THE WIN

Football is a matter of life and death in Brazil. Literally. I’ll get to the Maracanazo in one of my future blogs but you will understand why Brazil has to win. And nothing less. Brazil has won the World Cup five times, more than any other country. They’re one country with such a legacy in football that anything less than the World Cup is unacceptable. In fact it’s the Maracanazo that Brazil no longer wears white. Brazil comes to this tournament not ranked #1. Actually they’ve been ousted in the quarterfinals these past two World Cups. However hosting the World Cup in a country that treats football like a religion would consider the loss of the World Cup like a stab at the heart. They have coach Luis Felipe Scolari who coached Brazil to win the 2002 World Cup heading the team consisting of veterans like Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, Jefferson and Frad as well as newcomers like Oscar, Bernard and rising phenom Neymar. Will they deliver to the challenge or will they choke under pressure? Already they started with a good win against Croatia 3-1 but just yesterday they had a 0-0 draw against Mexico. Makes me wondering if they found Mexico too much of a challenge or they were saving themselves for later. We’ll see. There isn’t a single team in the world Brazil can’t beat. However it is possible for some teams to beat them. Hope it’s not here.

CONSTRUCTION OBSTRUCTIONS

As you may have noticed when I did  my blogs about the stadiums, I made comments about the construction problems that happened along the way. There were even construction fatalities like back in November when a crane inside the Arena de Sao Paulo toppled and killed two workers. This bad planning is nothing new in Brazil. Brazil has a habit of building things slower than expected. However it was already noted by FIFA as far back as 2011. Stadium expenditures were originally expected to cost $1.1 million. Instead stadium works cost $3.6 billion. Some of you may remember from the Confederations Cup that Brazil had six stadiums ready for that competition. There still six more remaining. FIFA gave Brazil a deadline of December 31, 2013 to have all the stadiums completed. Six were incomplete by that time. As you may have noticed in my group blogs, there were many stadiums that took until April or May for completion. Even the condition of the Arena de Sao Paulo was in question just 24 hours before it was to host the opening ceremonies and opening match.

It wasn’t just the building of new stadiums that was the problem. Airports in many of the cities needed upgrading to cope with a huge influx of tourists coming in. Thirteen needed upgrading and it was predicted in 2011, ten would not be ready. That led to Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff to auction off many of the airports to the private sector. There were even monorail projects planned for many of the host cities  but many were not completed. Some even had to be downgraded if they wanted to finish on time. In May 2014, FIFA reported that only 36 of the 93 major projects had already been completed. However FIFA secretary Jeroma Valcke did make note that many of the projects were meant to continue after the World Cup including ‘legacy projects’ sponsored by FIFA costing $20 million and coming completely at FIFA’s expense.

The slagging preparations of Brazil has garnered criticism from all around. FIFA has expressed their disappointment, even many journalists have dismissed this as the most trouble-plagued or the worst-organized World Cup in history. Even Brazil’s legendary players of the past had things to say about Brazil’s preparation problems. Romario, now a political figure, criticized Brazil’s handling of the preparations but said: “FIFA’s requirements were excessive.” Ronaldo spoke of his embarrassment of the country’s infrastructure and how: ” a series of investments were promised but won’t be delivered – only 30% will be delivered.” Pele however has been the most outspoken in his disappointment but he especially focused his disappointment on the expense of the World Cup: ”It’s clear that politically speaking, the money spent to build the stadiums was a lot, and in some cases was more than it should have been. Some of this money could have been invested in schools, in hospitals. … Brazil needs it.”

FORGET ABOUT THE PRICETAG?

Brazilians continued their protesting around FIFA's World Cup over its huge expense.

Just like during last year’s Confederations Cup, Brazilians continued their protesting around FIFA’s World Cup over its huge expense.

After Pele’s quote, you may be asking how expensive is this World Cup going to cost? Well, not as expensive as the $51 billion Putin and his Russia spent on the Sochi Winter Olympics but high enough. Brazil’s World Cup comes at an estimated price tag of $14 billion: close to the $15 billion spent on the past three World Cups combined. $3.6 billion were spent on either building new stadiums or fixing them for FIFA regulations. The other money was spent on the infrastructure and transit projects that I just talked about.  With them being unfinished, you may wonder what’s to blame? The spending or the poor planning? There was even an additional $900 million spent on security. It planned to have one police officer for every 50 spectators. Totals include 150,000 public security professionals and military along with 20,000 private security personnel. Other security innovations include facial recognition systems and unmanned security robots. Sure FIFA promised that they’d give $2 billion to the event but that can only go so far. Even Romario has described this World Cup as ‘the biggest theft in history’ which he believes expenditure will total $100 billion in the long run.

The projects, both successful and incomplete, and the costs that came with it sure did a lot to the opinions of the Brazilian public. A Brazilian polling company published results that stated the approval rating from the Brazilian public to the World Cup had dropped from 79% back in 2008 to only 48% back this April. 55% of respondents believed the event will give more harm than good to Brazil. Even FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitted: “Brazilians were a bit discontented because they were given a lot.”

Funny that this was not the case when Brazil hosted the World Cup back in 1950. Back then, they only needed six stadiums to contest the match and only two new ones were built. Funny how times change, especially in terms of huge sports events.

PROTESTS PART TWO

You may remember I posted a blog about the protests happening around the time of the Confederations Cup. The protests were successful in bringing changes to Brazil in most areas, if not all. Back in the original blog I pointed out that Brazil is a developing country that has made a lot of developments and improvements in the quality of life in the past 30 years. I still stand by that belief however I won’t deny that there are still a lot of problems in Brazil still outstanding. The most notable being health care and rampant crime. In fact I saw a news story around the World Cup about growing up in the slums of Rio. Crime and gang problems are so bad even the police are afraid to go in to install law and order. It’s exactly like it was depicted in the 2003 film City of God. Brazil being a developing country determined to succeed does get reminders how they’re lagging in some areas and I’m sure will over time. The big protest focus around the World Cup has been about the government’s financial management of the company. I’m sure with a World Cup as expensive as that, you can’t blame them for being disappointed.

One thing about the Confederations Cup is that both President Rousseff and FIFA president Blatter were booed before their speeches. Because of that there were no speeches at the World Cup opening ceremonies. Last years protests not only made news for them happening around the time of the Confederations Cup but also that the protests reached the stadiums. Protests leading up to the World Cup led to organizers stepping up its security. The security this time have been successful from preventing protests from reaching the stadium. It’s not to say it’s without noticeable incident. In fact two CNN journalists who were covering the protests around the June 12th opening game, Shasta Darlington and Barbara Arvantidis, were injured.

Reaction to the protests has been understandable but still disapproving. Rousseff came to the defense of the expenditures saying: “the federal money spent on the stadiums is in the form of financing that will be duly repaid by the companies and governments that are exploiting these stadiums.” She also reiterated that all the construction and infrastructure were for long-term benefits for Brazilians. We shouldn’t forget in two of the stadiums I profiled, there will be extensive land development plans for two of the new stadiums so it’s not just about having bigger stadiums. Sepp Blatter has spoken his disapproval saying the protesters “Should not use football to make their demands heard” and that expenditures were “on items that are for the future, not just for the World Cup.” Pele himself, though understanding of the protesters’ anger, but is critical of them: ”Some of this money could have been invested in schools, in hospitals. … Brazil needs it. That’s clear. On that point, I agree (with the protests). But I lament what protesters are doing, which is breaking and burning everything. It’s money that we will have to spend again.”

FIFA’S BLATTER UNDER FIRE

FIFA's president Sepp Blatter has come under fire under allegations of bribery.

FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter has come under fire under allegations of bribery and corruption.

It’s not just the World Cup that’s facing the heat. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has come under fire for corruption. Back in 2011, Qatar won the rights to host the 2022 World Cup. Lately there have been reports that Qatar paid for votes. It’s a wonder too for the World Cup to go to a country only 4,500 square miles wide and with a population of just over 2 million people. Qatar has denied any wrongdoing but the British paper The Sunday Times is insistent in their allegations. Already there’s talk within the FIFA membership with the most vocal opposition coming from head of the Dutch Football Association Michael van Praag and FIFA has conducted an investigation into the matter headed by FIFA investigator Michael Garcia. However it will not be handed to a FIFA jury until just days after the World Cup and Blatter says no decisions will be taken until September or October. The 78 year-old Blatter who has been president of FIFA since 1998 has always maintained that this term will be his last but already the media and certain members of FIFA want him to resign soon in the wake of the scandal and even five of FIFA’s six major corporate sponsors are demanding a thorough investigation of the allegations. FIFA has claimed it’s racism behind the accusations and Blatter himself has described the outcry as the “storm against FIFA” and “discrimination and racism” as most of those accused of accepting bribes are from African countries. The response to the scandal is something that will only be defined over time.

So there you go. This is a taste of what’s in store for the World Cup. Sure there are the pressures on the field but lots off the field too. How those get managed are bound to get some healthy media attention. Some will even require time to decide its fates. You can guarantee even after the World Cup is finished and the winning team is crowned, neither FIFA nor Brazil will stop making headlines.

WORKS CITED:

Grelard, Phillippe and Talek Harris. “FIFA’s Blatter urged to stand down” Agence France-Presse afp.com 10 June 2014 <http://sports.yahoo.com/news/fifas-blatter-urged-stand-down-214645012–sow.html>

Uncredited Author. “Pele critical of Brazil’s World Cup organization” AP- Sports Associated Press. 20 May 2014 <http://sports.yahoo.com/news/pele-critical-brazils-world-cup-172944083–sow.html>

Woolard, Rob. “World Cup poised for troubled kick-off” Agence France-Presse afp.com 11 June 2014 <http://sports.yahoo.com/news/world-cup-poised-troubled-kick-off-113730515–sow.html>

WIKIPEDIA: List of 2014 FIFA World Cup controversies. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_2014_FIFA_World_Cup_controversies>

World Cup 2014 Preview: Group H

Funny how people refer to ‘Groups Of Death’ to groups packed full of the best talent in the world. Group H consists of four teams that are not considered major threats to the World Cup but any of the two can move to the Round of 16. Also don’t count any of them out as possible challengers for the cup. So for my final group rundown, here’s my take on Group H:

Belgium-Belgium (12)- If you thought it was a surprise to see Switzerland among the seded team in FIFA’s World Cup draw, it should have been just a surprising to see Belgium. Even though Belgium was in the FIFA Top 8 at the time, Belgium is a country one would not normally expect to see as a seded team. Their best World Cup finish ever of the eleven previous World Cups they’ve played in was fourth in 1986. The last World Cup they played in was 2002 and they didn’t even qualify for Euro 2012. However that all changed in 2012 when they hired Marc Wilmots as head coach after being assistant coach for three years. Wilmots himself had played for Belgium in four World Cups and even scored five goals in World Cup play. Belgium was placed in possibly the most difficult European qualifying group for 2014 but they played like magic. They won eight games and tied the other two en route to coming first in their group and automatically qualifying with just one game to go. The spirit of the Red Devils was felt again in their homeland as the country greeted them upon their return in big fanfare. Their success helped put them in FIFA’s Top 8 around the time of the draw which led to them classed as one of the seded teams. Their performance in qualifying was so impressive, Wilmots was signed on to be coach for another four more years. However Belgium’s play in friendlies have not been so spectacular as they’ve lost to Romania, Colombia and Japan. They do have impressive wins against the U.S.A. and Sweden and even tied France. Nevertheless their lackluster friendly play has dropped them from the Top 8 and now stand 12th. Nevertheless this is a big boost for country as this will be their first World Cup in 12 years. Half the team play for top European teams like Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid. Whatever the situation, no doubt they’ll send the message that Belgium is back.

Algeria-Algeria (25)- Algeria is another team coming to this year’s World Cup hoping for a breakthrough moment. They’ve competed in three World Cups before: in 1982, 1986 and 2010. They have had better luck defining themselves at the Africa Cup of Nations where they’ve made it as far as the semifinals five times and even won back in 1990. However they’re hoping this World Cup to finally progress past the Group Stage. Their squadron is coached by Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic who coached the Ivory Coast at the 2010 World Cup. Top players include Madjid Bougherra, Islam Slimani and Sofianne Feghouli who’s already being called ‘the New Zidane.’ Algeria won their opening group in qualifying for the World Cup. They would then face Burkina Faso for the berth. The first game ended with a 3-2 loss but Algeria came back 1-0 to clinch their trip to Brazil. They’ve also not lost a friendly in the past two years and would include wins against Slovenia and Romania and ties to South Africa and the Ivory Coast. If they play consistently, Algeria could have their best ever World Cup here.

Russia Fixed-Russian Federation (18)- Russia is a team that has struggled to prove itself since the breakup of the USSR back in 1991. Back during the days when the USSR did well by advancing past the Group Stage in all but one of their seven World Cup appearances and even finishing fourth in 1966, the majority of Soviet players were Russian. Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Russia has continued to shell out remarkable talents in the years since. However the national team has always fallen short of making a statement of their prowess. They’ve only qualified for two World Cups–1994 and 2002– and only went as far as the Group Stage in both cases, even though Ukrainian-born Oleg Salenko set a World Cup record in 1994 with the most goals in a single World Cup game: five. They did however have a moment of glory by finishing third at Euro 2008. However they come to Brazil looking for more as they will have the task of hosting the next World Cup in 2018. No doubt they want to create an impression here. Although all the players play for Russian League teams with many playing for Dynamo Moscow, their coaching staff is almost all Italians and the head coach is Fabio Capello who has coached AC Milan, Real Madrid, Juventus and England up to 2012. Russia performed well enough in qualifying to win their qualifying group over heavily-favored Portugal. They’ve showed their abilities by scoring wins against Portugal, Slovakia, South Korea and Morocco. They’ve also tied countries like the U.S.A. 2-2, Serbia 1-1 and Brazil 1-1. It’s make or break for the Russian team here in Brazil. They come to play well and learn.

Korea-South Korea (55)- Isn’t it interesting that Group H has two teams named The Red Devils? There’s Belgium, where the Belgians call them les Diables Rouges or de Rode Duivels, and there South Korea who also go by the name the Taegeuk Warriors. South Korea has traditionally been the best team in Asia. None of the other Asian countries here in Brazil have as much of a track record as South Korea who will be playing in their eighth straight World Cup. Their best finish ever was a fourth-place finish in 2002 when they co-hosted with Japan. Much of their prowess has to be with the K-League that was started in 1983 and has really taken off since. However South Korea appears they don’t have the prowess they’re used to showing. They’ve had wins against Greece and Switzerland in the past two years. However they’ve had to endure losses to Brazil, Croatia, the U.S.A., Russia and Mexico. Since qualifying for the World Cup, they’ve changed coaches to Hong Myung-Bo who’s had experience coaching in the MLS. They’re hoping he can make an improvement for the team and he’s already helped Korea move up to 55th from 59th a month ago. It’s quite possible they might prove in Brazil those low FIFA rankings are just bad estimates.

And now my prediction for the two advancers: I predict Belgium and Russia with Algeria the one most likely to upset.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Okay, I’m done reviewing the last World Cup group. Now time to focus on the last two World Cup stadiums. My final Stadium Spotlight focuses on the two stadiums in two of Brazil’s biggest cities. One is a new stadium, the other is old and legendary. On will be hosting the opening ceremonies and opening match. The other will be the stage for deciding the winner of the Cup, just like it did 64 years ago.

-SAO PAULO : Arena de Sao PauloSao Paulo

Year Opened: 2014

World Cup Capacity: 61,606

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, B, D, H

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (F1 vs. E2) & a semifinal

Sao Paulo’s new stadium came about as Estadio Pacaembu was too small to host World Cup games and was getting too old. Also the much bigger Estadio de Morumbi was judged by FIFA as unsuitable to hold World Cup games. Thus the creation of the Arena de Sao Paulo. However creating the stadium came with difficulties. First, national funding for the stadium was delayed for two years. Secondly, the Arena originally planned to hold 72,000 for World Cup games. Relocation of TV Equipment and VIP seating reduced the capacity to 61,606. Even though the stadium has officially been opened on May 10th, it was noted modifications were still underway two weeks ago and people are still unsure if the stadium has been finished. They better be ready June 12th because they’re hosting the opening ceremonies and first match: Brazil vs. Croatia. After the World Cup, the seating will be reduced to 48,234 and will be managed by the Corinthians football team who will have the stadium renamed Arena Corinthians. The stadium is also a venue for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

-RIO DE JANEIRO : Estadio do Maracanamaracana 1

Year Opened: 1950

World Cup Capacity: 78,838

World Cup Groups Hosting: B, E, F, H

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (C1 vs. D2), a quarterfinal & final for the Cup

If many people view football as a religion, then the Maracana has to be one of its prize temples, especially for Brazilians. This stadium was opened in 1950 to host the World Cup. The final game of that World Cup set a world record that stands today of the largest attendance of a soccer game: official count at 199,854 but actual attendance is estimated around 210,000. Since the World Cup, the Maracana has continued to attract large crowds to games for clubs like Vasco da Gama, Botafogo, Flamengo and Fluminese. The latter two still have the Maracana as their home stadium. However the capacity was greatly reduced in 1992 when an upper stand collapsed, killing three and injuring 50. Remember there was a time when stadiums allowed for both seats and standing area which allowed for such big totals I talked about. The Maracana was converted into an all-seater stadium since the accident. A bit of trivia: The Maracana can never be demolished as it was classified as a national landmark in 1998. Maracana 2

For the 2014 World Cup, major preparations and changes had to take place. The irony being the stadium had already underwent major renovations starting in 2000 just after it celebrated its 50th anniversary and completed in 2007. The original seating bowl that had a two-tier configuration was demolished and made way for the construction of a one-tier seating bowl. New seats in colors of yellow, blue and white form among the green match of the field to create the national colors of Brazil. The renovated Maracana played host to the Confederations Cup last year. After the World Cup, the stadium will return to being the host venue for Flamengo and Fluminese, continue to host major concert and will be the stage during the 2016 Summer Olympics for football games and the opening and closing ceremonies.

And that wraps it up. I’m done predicting World Cup groups and I’m done reviewing World Cup stadiums. All that needs to be done is let the show begin. I’m sure it will be a memorable one.

World Cup 2014 Preview: Group G

Group D has been most lauded as the ‘Group Of Death’ not just because of three country’s current prowess but because of their past World Cup legacy. Group G could rightfully be called the ‘Group Of Death’ because there are four teams that rank amongst the world’s best and it can be any two of the four making it to the Round of 16. Here’ s my rundown:

Germany fixed-Germany (2)- Brazil may be the country with the biggest World Cup legacy but Germany is a close second. They have stats and feats of their own to brag about too: competed in all but two World Cups, has made the Top 8 every year since 1954, qualified for the final seven times like Brazil and won the Cup three times. The Mannschaft know how to make a power of themselves and create a legacy but they also have their own glitches too. Like there have been two Euro tournaments this century when they failed to advance past the Group Stage. Even in World Cup play within the past twenty years they have lost to underdogs like Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia.

The current German team is in good hands with Joachim Low who has managed Germany since the 2006 World Cup. He has guided Germany to the 2008 Euro finals and to the semifinals in the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. Germany also has their stars too like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, Thomas Muller and Miroslaw Klose who is just one goal short of tying Ronaldo’s World Cup goal record of 15. Germany already shows solid play as they’ve lost only once since Euro 2012, to the U.S. 4-3 and I’ll get to that later. They’ve also had good wins to England, Sweden, France and Chile. However they did have a 1-1 draw against their traditional ‘achilles heel’ Italy. Low and the boys will have a lot of proving to do in Brazil. No doubt they have the talent and skill to do it. It’s just a matter of them delivering.

Portugal Fixed-Portugal (3)- Before this century, Portugal had only competed in two World Cups: 1966 where they finished third and 1986. Ever since the World Cup has expanded to 32 teams in 1998, Portugal has qualified all but once and they’ve shown their talent off in grand style. Their best World Cup performance this century was a fourth-place finish in 2006. Their biggest moment to shine was in Euro 2004 which they co-hosted with Spain and made it to the final.

Even now they show themselves to be a formidable team full of talent like Cristiano Ronaldo, Simao and Helger Postiga. Right after Portugal lost out in the Round of 16 back at the last World Cup, they appointed Paulo Bento who already had a proven record with coaching Sporting CP. Bento has organized the team well and helped guide them to the semis at Euro 2012. Since then, Portugal has had excellent play with key wins against Croatia and Sweden and a big 5-1 win against Cameroon. They’ve only had three losses in that time to Brazil, Ecuador and Russia. Portugal has the consistency and the ability to go at this World Cup. Possibly even make the finals for the first time. Will they deliver? Brazil’s the stage that will decide.

-GhGhanaana (38)- Ghana has proven themselves to be top African team as of late. They made it to the Round of 16 in 2006 and the quarterfinals in 2010. However while most African teams would consider their quarterfinal performance a feat as Ghana was only the third African team in history to advance that far, it was a disappointment as Ghana almost had a sure semifinal berth in their play against Uruguay. Even though the handball by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez was cheating, Ghana were unable to recover from it. We should remember with the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa, African teams had expectations on them unlike previous World Cups and Ghana was the only one of the six African teams to advance past the Round of 16.

Ghana still continues to perform well including fourth-place finishes at the last two African Cups. James Kwasi Appiah is the head coach after being assistant coach during the last World Cup. Gyan is back as captain and AC Milan’s Michael Essien as vice-captain. However Ghana has a lot of proving. They have not won a game against a non-African team in the past two years and their FIFA ranking has dipped a lot in the past four years. It could be either a case of a team in decline or a team that just hasn’t been proven. This World Cup is their proving point.

-UUSA.S.A. (14)- Before this century, the U.S. men’s team was a joke in the football world. When you think the U.S.A., you don’t think football, or ‘soccer’ as they call it. You think baseball, basketball and American football. A last-place finish at the 1998 World Cup sure didn’t help much. This century, the U.S. have really developed a stronger reputation and are seen as a joke way less tan ever. The existence and success of MLS has helped a lot. Making the quarterfinals in 2002 and even finishing #1 in their Group Stage group in 2010 also made the football world see the U.S. men’s football team as an actual contender in world football superiority.

However the last four years has been a yo-yo. For one thing, they had their lowest FIFA ranking (36th) in August 2012. They’ve also endured losses in the lats two years to Brazil, Jamaica, Belgium, Ukraine and Costa Rica. They’ve also had some great wins like 5-1 to Scotland, 2-1 to Mexico, 2-0 to South Korea and 4-3 to Germany (and I’ll get to the juicy bit soon). Part of their recent success has to do with hiring Jurgen Klinsmann who coached Germany in the 2006 World Cup. In addition is the talent and play of players like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, rising young gun Julian Green and goalie Tim Howard. 2014 looks like to carve another chapter for the U.S.A. and their quest for soccer supremacy that was once considered a long shot.

Note: Spain vs. Netherlands may be the most eagerly anticipated Group Stage match of this World Cup but the second-most should be Germany vs. U.S. A. Why? First because the U.S.A.’s coach Jurgen Klinsmann played for Germany when the last won the world Cup back in 1990. Secondly because while Klinsmann was coach of Germany from 2004 up to the 2006 World Cup, Joachim Low was assistant coach and became head coach after Klinsmann’s departure. Already Germany got a taste of the U.S.A. in a friendly a year ago with the Americans winning 4-3. The rematch in Brazil should be full of intrigue.

And now my prediction for the advancers: I believe it will be Germany and Portugal. The U.S.A. looks like the one most likely to upset.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT Now that I’m nearing the end of my World Cup preview, my Stadium Spotlights are now moving towards stadiums that are more like Brazil’s prized jewels. And this is definitely a grand one. A brand-spanking new jewel for Brazil, especially for its capital city.

-BRASILIA : Estadio Nacional (Mane Garrincha)Brasilia

Year Opened: 1974 World Cup Capacity: 70,042

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, E, G

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (E1 vs. F2), one quarterfinal & third-place match

The stadium already had a big reputation in Brasilia with it being the stage for home games for Brasilia FC. However the stadium had to be demolished to have a newer bigger stadium in its place in time for the World Cup. Changes involved dismantling the lower tier, retaining the upper tier into the new rectangular bowl, adding a roof and pillars and reducing the size of the field into a football-only field. The changes made the stadium second to the new Wembley Stadium as the most expensive in the world. Nevertheless all the changes were ready by the Confederations Cup and for Beyonce’s concert last September. The venue will continue to be important after the World Cup as they will be home to Brasilia FC and will be a football venue for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

And there you go. Another group review and another stadium spotlight. Last review to come on Sunday.

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