Tag Archives: Brazil

VIFF 2017 Review: Friendly Beast (O Animal Cordial)

friendly-beast-3

A restaurant owner (played by Murilo Benicio) and his waitress (Luciana Paes) provide a night of chaos and madness in Friendly Beast.

The VIFF is a chance for some eccentric ideas to come across on the big screen. Friendly Beast is a Brazilian film that allows insanity to go wild.

The film begins at a nice small restaurant in Brazil. The owner Inacio takes pride in his business and appears to have things cool and under control. He may be nasty to some of the lesser workers, but what restaurant owner isn’t? Waitress Sara seems to be the one who most helps him without question.

During the night, Inacio is dealing with a couple that appear to be like any other. Then a robbery happens. Instead of letting the two take what they need, Inacio attacks them and holds them captive. It doesn’t stop there. Inacio then makes his ‘lesser’ workers captive too, and then the dining couple! Sara willingly goes along.

Inacio uses his time to antagonize and even torture the people he holds hostage. He even accuses kitchen-hand Djair of planning this robbery. We learn that Sara also has the same diabolical urges as Inacio and she takes the same pleasure in inflicting torture, especially in the female diner. It goes from one thing to the next, from torturing one person to killing another. Whatever Inacio commands, Sara follows along. Inacio even comes across as threatening to her, too. However Sara gets even with him in the end and turns the tables. Inacio is not so much the man in control!

What we have here are common things we’d find in a horror film. They’re also things that can parlay into one of those horror movies that come off as dreadful. We have a restaurant owner who appears to be in control on the inside. He appears no nastier and no more controlling than your typical restaurant owner. That all changes after the failed robbery. Son he terrorizes the robbers, then his coworkers, then the dining couple. Then the waitress joins into his sinister plan, only to be the one who overtakes him in the end.

Yes, the making for something dreadful. However what keeps it from being dreadful is that the film is well-written and well-acted throughout. In order for Inacio to suddenly become sinister when the robbery happens, the transfer to madness has to work well. It also has to work for Sara when she too becomes part of this mad scheme. If you saw the movie, you’d see that it worked out well. Inacio first making victims of the robbers and them making everyone in the restaurant captive, including the couple dining out, worked out in the film and did not come off as ridiculous. Sara suddenly controlling Inacio also worked too, and it added for a surprise twist for an ending.

A film like this even has to have some dark sick humor added to this as well. There are elements of that too, like stealing a dead person’s earrings to seduce someone, or flirting in the presence of a man who’s bleeding out. There’s also that scene where Inacio makes a phone call to his wife trying to sound cool and collect and that it’s just another day at the place, when it couldn’t be further from the truth!

Gabriela Amaral did a very good job in writing and directing a bizarre and darkly humorous horror movie that’s big on thrills and intrigue, but puts the right limit on the gore. Betcha didn’t think a woman director/writer can create a good horror film, did you? Murilo Benicio did a very good job with the character of Inacio in turning him from a typical restaurant owner to a Charles Manson-like madman. Luciana Paes also did a very good job in making Sara go from a regular waitress to sinister to being the one who overtakes Inacio. The other actors in their minor parts also did well and contributed greatly to the film.

Friendly Beast is a surprising horror film. It’s well-written, well-acted and does not come across as cheesy and ridiculous like so many horror films.

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Brazil’s Olympic Legacy

Brazil Olympic

Brazil’s athletes have won a total of 108 Olympic medals in 14 sports.

 

Whenever an Olympic Games happens, I usually publish a blog relating to the host city or the host country. In this case, I’ll be focusing on Brazil’s past Olympic success and it has a lot. Brazil has won a total of 108 Olympic medals: 23 of them gold. That ranks them 33rd for all-time medals at the Summer Olympics. That’s also the most of any South American nation.

OFF TO A START

The very first Olympic Games Brazil sent an Olympic team to was the Antwerp Games of 1920 and they debuted with a bang, literally. Brazil won a gold, silver and bronze in various shooting events. The gold going to Guilherme Paraense in the rapid fire pistol event.

After the Antwerp Games, Brazil’s Olympic results consisted of woes up to World War II. They sent a 12-athlete team to Paris in 1924, a 67-athlete team to Los Angeles in 1932 which I will focus later on, and a 73-athlete team to the Berlin Games of 1936. All of which resulted in not a single medal won. Nevertheless there were some rays of hope. The biggest being from swimmer Maria Lenk. Just after finishing out of the final at her event in Berlin, she would set a world record in her event. She made history as the first Brazilian swimmer ever to hold a swimming world record. The Maria Lenk Aquatic Centre which was built for the 2007 Pan Am Games and will host three aquatic sports for Rio 2016 was named in her honor.

HARD TIMES FOR 1932

One of Brazil’s most famous Olympic stories is not exactly a positive one. It involved their Olympic team in 1932 as the world was going through the Great Depression at the time. Brazil was also hit hard during the Great Depression and their Olympic team were also feeling the heat. In order to raise funds for the team, the athletes would sell coffee beans at every port their ship, the Itaquicê, would dock at. Once the shipped docked at San Pedro, the authorities at the Port Of Los Angeles charged Brazil $1 for each athlete they let off the ship. The Brazilian team first let off the athletes with the best medal chances and swimmer Maria Lenk who would become the first Brazilian female to compete at the Olympics. However it wasn’t all over. The Itaquicê then sailed to San Francisco to sell more beans to fund the other athletes. It was successful enough to give the water polo, rowing and athletics athletes enough funds to compete. However the lack of funds meant 15 athletes could not live out their Olympic dreams and thus sail back to Brazil on the Itaquicê. The best result for the team was a 4th place in rowing.

SLOW BUT SURE IMPROVEMENTS

Adhemar

Brazil’s first Olympic great: triple-jumper Adhemar Ferreira da Silva.

After World War II, Brazil would get better in sports at the Olympic Games but it would mostly go unnoticed for decades. The biggest notice came in the men’s triple jump. Even before the Helsinki Games in 1952, Adhemar Ferreira da Silva held the world record in the men’s triple jump. In Helsinki, winning was an ease for da Silva as he won by almost 10 inches and set a new world record in the process. Da Silva would repeat as Olympic champion in 1956. Da Silva would prove himself to be one of the greats of triple-jumping as his career would not only include two gold medals but he’d also break the world record five times in his career. Da Silva would prove to be inspiring to Brazil as there would be two other male triple jumpers who would win Olympic medals and break the world record too.

Unfortunately for Brazil, Da Silva would prove to be Brazil’s only Olympic champion up until 1980. With the exception of a silver in the triple jump in 1968, Brazil’s Olympic teams after World War II would come home with nothing but bronze in that meantime. Sure they’d always have at least one medal but a single silver and the rest bronze was pretty much it from 1960 to 1976. It’s not to say it was all bad as Brazil would expand its abilities to win medals in other sports like basketball, swimming, sailing and judo.

A BREAKTHROUGH IN 1980

The boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980 may have kept other nations at home but Brazil didn’t cave into the pressure. Their participation at the Moscow Games boosted its sporting confidence. The team won its first gold medals since Da Silva: two in sailing. These Games would later open the doors to Brazilians in sailing as success would continue. Brazil has won a total of 17 medals in sailing: six of them gold. The team in 1980 would also win bronzes in swimming and triple-jumping.

1980 would prove to be a boost of confidence to their Olympians as more success would follow. Los Angeles in 1984 would be the stage for Joaquim Cruz as he won gold in the 800m: Brazil’s first gold in a running event. Brazil would also win an additional five silver and two bronze at those Games. Possibly making amends for 1932. Medals came in judo, volleyball, sailing, swimming and their first-ever men’s football medal: a silver. Up until 1984, professionals weren’t allowed to compete at the Olympics which meant Brazil could only send ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which kept them out of the medals. Professionals were allowed to compete at the Olympics for the first time in 1984 and it opened the floodgates to Brazil–although not completely– to send better football teams to the Olympics. Dunga was part of the silver medal-winning 1984 team.

The Seoul Games of 1988 would give Brazil additional success as the team would win a total of six medals including their first ever gold in judo to Half-Heavyweight Aurelio Miguel Fernandez. This would open the doors to other judokas of Brazil as Brazil has won a total of 18 Olympic medals in judo including three gold. Brazil having the biggest Japanese diaspora outside of Japan may have a lot to do with it. Additional medals came in sailing, football (featuring greats Bebeto, Careca and Romario) and athletics. One noteworthy medalist was sprinter Robson da Silva. He’s considered to be the best South American sprinter ever. His bronze in the 200m in Seoul came just five days after running in the 100m dash: considered by most to be “the dirtiest race in Olympic history.” Robson was actually one of two with the most justifiable cases of being clean athletes. I like what he’s always said: “Sure I didn’t dope and I didn’t win all that much, but I sleep well every night.”

1992 would only be a case of three medals in three different sports but it was still a good showing for Brazil as it was their second Games where they returned home with two golds: in man’s volleyball and in judo. The volleyball gold would be key as it would pave the way for future success for the Brazilian team at the Olympics.

1996 AND THE BRAZILIAN BREAKTHROUGH

As Brazil’s economy would grow over time, so would their athletic prowess. Ever since the 1996 Games in Atlanta, the Brazilian Olympic team would always leave each of the last five Games with at least ten medals or more. In fact 70 of the 109 total medals Brazil has won before the Rio Games were won in the previous five Summer Olympic Games. Atlanta was the very first sign of the Brazilian sports boom. The nation won a best-ever total of 15 medals including 3 gold. The introduction of beach volleyball led to Brazil taking the top 2 spots in the women’s category. They also had continued success in sailing, judo, football (featuring Ronaldo) and swimming but they also won their first ever equestrian medals as well as their first medals ever won by female athletes.

Scheidt Grael

Sailors Robert Scheidt (left) and Torben Grael show off their gold medals from Athens 2004. They are Brazil’s most medaled athletes. Both men have won five medals each, including two gold.

2000 was a case where Brazil didn’t win a single gold medal but still left Sydney with a total of 12 medals. Success continued in swimming, track, volleyball, judo, equestrian, sailing and volleyball. They sure made up for their no-gold disappointment in Athens in 2004 with five golds of their ten medals: their most golds ever. Actually it was originally four golds but a bizarre doping situation led to five. In equestrian show jumping, Rodrigo Pessoa finished second to Ireland’s Cian O’Connor. However it was later revealed months later that the doping sample from O’Connor’s horse went missing and was finally tested in November of 2004 resulting in a positive test. That bumped Pessoa up to Olympic champion: Brazil’s first ever equestrian gold medalist. Bizarre but glad it was finally set straight. Another example of Brazilian sportsmanship came in the men’s marathon. Vanderlei de Lima was leading the race when out of nowhere, an Irish defrocked priest hounded him and disrupted his run. Fortunately de Lima was able to get back to running and finish third. When he received his bronze medal, he was also given the de Coubertin award for fair and courageous play.

2008 in Beijing saw their Olympic prowess taken another step further as they won three golds and a best-ever 16 medals. First-ever golds for Brazil came from swimmer Cesar Cielo Filho and long jumper Maurren Maggi in women’s athletics. This was also the first Olympics where both the men’s and women’s football teams won medals: silver for the women and bronze for the men. London 2012 was another increase in the medal haul with a best-ever 17 medals including three gold. The women’s volleyball team repeated as Olympic champions but the biggest gold-medal surprise came from gymnast Arthur Zanetti on the rings as he won Brazil’s first-ever gymnastics medal: gold on the rings. The team also won three medals in boxing–their first since 1968–and Yane Marques became the first Brazilian to win a modern pentathlon medal when she won silver.

A footnote to ad: Brazil has competed in every winter Olympics since the Albertville Games of 1992. Their best result is a ninth in snowboarding back in 2006.

No kidding Brazil wants to give their home country something to be proud of. They will field a team of 465 athletes in 29 sports and they hope to give Brazil its best-ever medal total. The men’s football team has brought Neymar–who was part of Brazil’s silver medal-winning team in 2012– on the squad. Marta is back on the women’s squad. And a unique situation in sailing where two of Torben Grael’s children–Marco and Martine– are competing in the sailing events.

As the athletes in Brazil compete in Rio de Janeiro, they will compete with a sense of pride. They will also compete having a set of heroes they’ve grown up admiring and idolizing and hopefully create new heroes for the next generation. The stage will be set.

DISCLAIMER: I know the Olympics have been going on for a week and a half and Brazil has won a lot of medals but I chose to exclude the results in Rio for the sake of keeping this blog ‘evergreen.’

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Brazil At The Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Brazil At The Olympics>

WIKIPEDIA: Brazil At The 1932 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Brazil at the 1932 Summer Olympics>

Rio 2016: Fourteen To Watch

London Flame

The Rio Olympics is coming our way. Of course the media being what it is, it chooses to focus on all the bad news with the bad construction problems and the Zika virus and the slow ticket sales. The story of the Russian track team being systematically doped added to the fire and has led to scrutiny of the whole Russian team in recent weeks. However there have been tales of woe before past Olympic Games and they’ve gone off excellently so it would be fair to give Rio a chance. So without further ado, here’s my focus on thirteen to watch–eight individual athletes, a duo, and four teams:

Rio 2016

The Rio 2016 logo features three characters in the Brazilian colors in a triple embrace resembling Sugarloaf mountain.

-Katie Ledecky/USA – Swimming: You all thought Michael Phelps would be the top swimmer of focus in my blog, right? Wrong. He will be looked into in a focus on another swimmer later in my blog but now the swimmer of top focus here is the US’s next big swimming sensation: Katie Ledecky. As a 15 year-old, she competed in London as the youngest member of the US Olympic team. She won gold in the 800m freestyle and broke the American record along the way. Since then, she has become a distance freestyle ace with world records in the 400, 800 and 1500m freestyles along with World Championship golds in those events as well as the 200 free. She is poised to win gold in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles in Rio: a feat only achieved once before by American swimmer Debbie Meyer in 1968. Katie can even add a bonus gold with the 4*200m free relay. Her chances are good as her best time in the 800 this year is 12 seconds faster than the second-best and her top 2016 time in the 400 is 1.5 seconds faster than that of American teammate Leah Smith. However the 200 will be her toughest event to win as Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom’s 2016 best is less than .1 faster than Katie and just .12 behind her is Italy’s Federica Pellegrini: 2008 Olympic champion who finished fifth in London. Nevertheless it will be a brave attempt from the 19 year-old.

-Simone Biles/USA – Gymnastics: Women’s gymnastics has become a complicated sport ever since it was revolutionized by ‘pixies’ like Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci. It seems a gymnast’s career at the top is very short. It’s very hard to develop consistency especially with time encroaching. However one gymnast who can beg to differ is 19 year-old Simone Biles. She has shown a consistency in World gymnastics not demonstrated since Ludmilla Tourischeva back in the 70’s. In the past three World Championships starting in 2013, Biles has won fourteen medals including ten gold. She has also won the last three World all-around titles. Biles appears invincible but she does face rivalry from her own teammates Gabby Douglas (defending champ from London) and Laurie Hernandez as well as Russia’s Angelina Melnikova. Rio could just be the arena to crown her greatness in the sport.

-Ashton Eaton/USA – Athletics: There have only been two decathletes who have won back-to-back Olympic gold medals: The US’s Bob Mathias and the UK’s Daley Thompson. Ashton Eaton looks poised to become the third. He first burst onto the scene at the 2011 Worlds as a 23 year-old when he finished second behind his American teammate Trey Hardee. Hey, the US is known for their decathletes as they have won a total of 28 medals including thirteen gold. The following year, Eaton beat Hardee at the US Olympic Trials with a world record points total. Eaton went on to win gold in London as well as the last two World Championships. Eaton appears invincible having the year’s best result at the US trials but he does have rivals in Germany’s Arthur Abele and Canada’s Damian Warner who finished behind Eaton in second at the Worlds. Rio could just be the arena for a great to deliver.

-Usain Bolt/Jamaica – Athletics: What can I say? The ‘Lightning Bolt’ has proven himself to be the biggest thing in athletics since Carl Lewis. He has an unmatched streak at dominating sprinting in major events. It all started when he won the 100, the 200 and the 4*100 relay in Beijing in 2008 all in world record time. Since then every Olympics or Worlds he entered, he’d leave with golds in all those events each time with the exception of the 100 in 2011 where he received a false-start disqualification. Already people are ruling Bolt to achieve the triple-triple here in Rio. However it’s not 100% guaranteed. Bolt had to pull out of the Jamaican Olympic trials because of a pulled hamstring injury. He has since recovered well and even won a major 200 in London a few weeks ago. However the 100m has three runners that have a faster year’s best than Usain. Topping the list is 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin. The 200m features four runners who ran a faster time this year than Usain’s 2016 best. Topping that list is American LaShawn Merritt: 2008 Olympic 400m champion. Win or lose, chasing Olympic history will make for an exciting show from a legend.

-Mo Farah/Great Britain – Athletics: Seven male distance runners have won both the 5000m and 10000m runs in the same Olympics. However one–Finland’s Lasse Viren– has done it twice back in 1972 and 1976. Mo Farah, A Somali who moved to the UK when he was eight, appears poised to duplicate Viren’s feat. Farah’s last loss of a major 5000 or a 10000 came at the 2011 World Championships. Since then he has taken gold at the 2012 Olympics and both the 2013 and 2015 World Championships in both events. There will be rivals trying to block his path like Ethiopian Muktar Edris, American Galen Rupp, his Portland training partner, and Kenyans like Caleb Ndiku, Paul Tanui and Geoffrey Kanworor. Whatever the situation, Farah’s pursuit will be one to watch.

-Cate and Bronte Campbell/Australia – Swimming: Admit it. You get intrigued when you see a pair of sibling athletes either competing together or against each other. Enter the Campbell sisters from Australia who are at the top of the world in sprint freestyle. 24 year-old Cate is the one with Olympic medals–two bronze in 2008 and a relay gold in 2012–along with 100 free gold at the 2013 Worlds. 22 year-old Bronte won the 2015 World Championship in the 50 and 100 free with Cate winning silver in the 50 and bronze in the 100. However Cate that this year’s fastest times in the world in the 50 and 100. Bronte has the second-fastest in the 100 and fifth-fastest in the 50. Ah, don’t you wish sibling rivalry was this civil? However the Malawi-born Campbell sisters are not alone at the top. They will face challenges from Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom who also made the 2015 Worlds podiums in both events and 2012 Olympic champion from both events Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands. The Rio stage should provide for some fun drama. And after all that rivalry, the two could just team up for a gold in the 4*100 free relay!

-Laszlo Cseh/Hungary – Swimming: All eyes will be on Michael Phelps. He may have won it all with 22 medals over three Games including 18 gold but he’s making a comeback after a troubling time since London which included his second DUI arrest. Who’s also worth looking at is 30 year-old Hungarian Laszlo Cseh. When Phelps won six golds and two bronze in Athens, Cseh won 400 individual medley bronze. While Phelps won eight golds in Beijing, Cseh won three silvers. While Phelps won four golds and two silvers in London, Cseh won 200 IM bronze. In all cases, Phelps was the Olympic champion. Here in Rio, we have a different scenario. We have Phelps trying to get back his old form while Cseh appears to be in the best form of his life. Cseh has the world fastest times this year in both the 100 and 200 butterflies. Cseh is a heavy favorite for the 200 but he does face rivalry from Phelps, American Tom Shields and Poland’s Konrad Czerniak in the 100. Cseh has never been called ‘Phelps’ Shadow’ in his career but Rio could become the first Olympic arena to finally beat Phelps and win Olympic gold.

-Majlinda Kelmendi/Kosovo – Judo: 75 nations competing in Rio have never won an Olympic medal. Two nations–Kosovo and South Sudan– will be making their Olympic debut. Kosovo’s team will consist of eight athletes in five sports. Leading the team is 25 year-old judoka Majlinda Kelmendi. Back in 2012, Kosovo was not officially recognized by the IOC and Kelmendi opted to compete for Albania. Since then Kelmendi has won gold at the World Championships in the lightweight category in 2013 and 2014. She missed out on the 2015 season because of an injury but is poised for a comeback in time for Rio. She has already won this years’ European championship. She faces rivalry from Japan’s Misato Nakamura and Brazil’s Erica Miranda. Whatever the outcome, be sure she’ll do her country proud. She will also be the flagbearer during the opening ceremonies.

FROM THE HOST NATION:

Rio 2016

Vinicius, seen left with Rio Paralympic mascot Tom, is the 2016 Olympic mascot. Vinicius is a mix of Brazil’s mammals. Both mascots are to represent Brazil’s diverse people and culture.

Of course there is to be some focus on athletes of the host nation. I make it a priority as it makes some of my favorite Olympic moments with athletes winning gold or a medal in front of their home crowd. And in Rio, Sports Illustrated predicts Brazil to win 20 medals including six gold. The most medals Brazil has won in a single Olympics is 17 back in London. The most golds, five in Athens in 2004.

Focus on the two teams later. Here are the duo and individual of focus:

Isaquias Queiroz and Erlon Silva – Canoeing: Brazil has won Olympic medals in thirteen sports but canoeing isn’t one of them. In recent years, Brazil has fielded a canoeing duo who have emerged at the top of the world in the 1000m event. Isaquias won the Worlds in 2013 and 2014 in the individual 500m. Erlon was part of the bronze medal-winning 200m pair in 2014. However both were competing in events that won’t be contested in Rio. Leading to last year’s Worlds, the two were paired together and trained for the 1000m pairs event. They entered that event at the Worlds and won. They will face challenges from the duos of Hungary and Poland. They could just make Brazilian Olympic history here in Rio.

Fabiana Murer – Athletics: Brazil is not expected to win any medals in athletics, according to Sports Illustrated. Overlooked must be pole vaulter Fabiana Murer. She’s a 2011 world champion and she finished second at last year’s World but is known for Olympic choking. In 2008, she finished 10th. In 2012 she failed to qualify for the finals. 2016 looks to be a good year for Murer as she set a new South American record back in July. However she faces challenges from London Olympic champion Jennifer Suhr of the US, last year’s World champ Yarisley Silva of Cuba, last year’s World bronze medalist Nikoleta Kyriakopolou of Greece and American Sandi Morris who’s the only vaulter to have a higher 2016’s best than Murer as of now. Whatever the situation, the home country has her back.

TEAMS:

Refugee Olympic Athletes Team: In the past, you had to have some citizenship ties in order to compete at the Olympic Games. Refugees in the past have been overlooked as they were believed to have bigger problems than sports to deal with. Some would have to wait many years to represent the nation they’ve been adopted into. At the last Olympics in London, some refugees participated as Individual Olympic Athletes. IOC president Thomas Bach has taken note of the current worldwide refugee crisis by trying to break barrier for refugee athletes who want to compete at the Olympics. In March of this year, Bach announced his intention to create a team of refugees to compete in Rio taking into account the athletes’ sporting ability, personal circumstances and United Nations-verified refugee status. A $2 million fund created by the IOC was used to help train the athletes for Rio. At these Olympics, there will be ten athletes competing as Refugee Olympic Athletes. Five are runners from South Sudan who reside in Kenya. One is an Ethiopian marathoner who sought refuge in Luxembourg. Two are Congolese judokas living in Brazil and two are Syrian swimmers who have sought refuge in Belgium and Germany. They may not have much of a medal chance but they will already achieve victory by just competing at the Olympics.

United States Women’s Football Team: If there’s one team that one can call the class of the field, it’s the American women’s football (soccer) team. The US Women have won three of seven Women’s World Cups and four of the five Olympic gold medals. Those who saw last year’s Women’s World Cup know about how well the American women continue to play brilliantly. Here in Rio, fourteen women from last year’s WWC squad are part of the Olympic squad including stars Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo. There are also four newcomers including Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn. Since their WWC win, the team has won all but three of their matches since, losing only once to China 1-0 in a friendly back in December. WWC finalists Japan may not have qualified but it’s not to say the US won’t face some tough rivalry from China, France and even hosts Brazil. Nevertheless if they’re as brilliant together in Rio as they were in Canada last year, magic can happen again.

TRIVIA: Being WWC-holder is actually bad luck for the Olympics. In the previous five Olympics, no team that was the WWC-holder at the time has won Olympic gold. They’d make the Olympic podium, yes, but never the top step. Can the US break this bad-luck spell?

FROM THE HOST NATION:

Brazil’s Olympic Volleyball Teams: Football may be Brazil’s #1 sport. It’s safe to say volleyball is Brazil’s #2 sport. Ever since the men’s team won Brazil’s first ever court volleyball medal, Brazil has been on a roll winning a total of nine Olympic medals including four gold. They’ve also won 11 of the 30 Olympic medals awarded in Beach Volleyball including two gold medal-winning duos. Brazil is expected to dominate here. In beach volleyball, Brazil’s pairs won five of the six medals with only the men’s silver conceded to a Dutch pair. Brazil is not as dominant in court volleyball at the Worlds but the teams have what it takes to deliver as the women have won Olympic gold back in 2008 and 2012. Here in Rio, the women will face tough competition from the US and China who finished ahead of them at the 2014 Worlds. The men appear heavy favorites to win but they will face challenges from 2012 Olympic champs Russia and 2014 Worlds champs Poland. It could be possible the home crowd’s cheering could propel them both to win gold.

Brazil’s Olympic Football Teams: You’d figure Brazil, a country that has won a total of five World Cups, would have at least one Olympic gold in football, right? Wrong! It’s all because of eligibility rules in football over the years. Before 1984, footballers couldn’t even make a penny off their sport if they wanted to compete. That would allow the Eastern Bloc countries to field their best for the Olympics and propel them to the podium while World Cup-winning countries like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy could only field ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which would finish in a shabby ranking or not make the Olympics at all. Brazil was able to qualify for six Olympics in that period but failed to win a medal.

In 1984, the Olympic door was open to professionals despite some restrictions or two. In 1992, professionals as long as they were 23 or under could compete. Since 1996, each squad had to have all but a maximum of three footballers under 23 with the other three being anyone they wanted. The opening of the floodgates to pros has boosted Brazil’s men’s team as they’ve qualified for six of the eight previous Olympic competitions and have stood on the podium five times. What they want here in Rio is to stand on the top step for the first time. In London, Brazil fielded a kit featuring a 20 year-old Neymar Jr. and won silver with Mexico taking the gold. Here in Rio, Neymar is back and the other 17 members of the Olympic squad are part of pro teams from Brazil, Spain, France and Italy. The Olympic squad may have finished third at the 2015 Pan Ams but the team has been consistent in friendly play over the last two years losing only to Nigeria back in March. Most of all, the team wants to return the football spirit to the country that left the nation broken-hearted at the 2014 World Cup and achieving shabby results at the last two Copa Americas. Whatever the situation, Brazil may just lift the spirits of their country.

Oh, did you think I’d forget the women’s football team? I didn’t. Women’s football isn’t as restrictive as the men’s competition. Every woman that competed at last year’s WWC is eligible to compete in the Olympics. As for Brazil’s women’s team, they have two Olympic silvers from 2004 and 2008. However they have had difficulties in the last major tournaments with losing in the quarterfinals at the 2012 Olympics and losing to Australia in the Round of 16 at the 2015 WWC. The team has since had their ups and downs with losses to the US, France, Canada and New Zealand they’ve trained hard under coach Vadao and have had mostly wins. Stars Marta, Formiga and Cristiane will be there. Hopefully the Brazilian women will be as victorious as their men and these Olympics here could be the arena for it.

And there you have it. Some of the athletes who to look out for at the Rio Games. Remember the gold medal does not go to the hardest worker, the most deserving, the most talented, the one with the most pre-Olympic accolades or even the best athlete. The gold goes to the one that’s the most there. And Rio will be the arena to decide the Olympic champions. These seventeen days will allow the athletes to “live their passion.” My review of Canadians to watch was printed the following day. Just click here.

Movie Review: Boy And The World (O Menino E O Mundo)

Boy And The World

A boy goes looking for his father and encounters a world both colorful and dark in Boy And The World.

I was lucky enough to see Boy And The World when it was in film theatres in Vancouver. I’m glad I had the chance to see it.

Cuca is a small boy who lives in a village of a distant world. Cuca has all the imagination of a child his age. One day his father leaves to find a better job. As he says goodbye, he gives him a reminder of him. Cuca buries it near a tree. Over time Cuca is impatient and then goes on a search for his father.

Cuca’s search takes him to various worlds. One of farmers, one of cotton pickers, one of construction workers. Each world is magical and musical and tells its own story. The villagers are often seen celebrating in the streets. However each world is threatened by the greyness of lifelessness. One day Cuca meets a man whom he believes to be his father. He keeps on following him to the jobs he pursues in the various worlds he visits. Then one day Cuca makes it to the big city and is disgusted with what he sees. The film doesn’t end on the happy note we hope for but it does end with a message of hope.

This is a very unique 2D animated film. The film is very colorful and very mesmerizing while keeping one focused on the main story at the same time. There isn’t much dialogue and the Portuguese doesn’t have subtitles added to them. However it’s not needed because all the visuals with their actions and patterns tell the story and send the message. Hard to describe the film’s best quality. All too often when I look back, I remember how the film dances and comes alive with colors and music. Almost every scene that tells a story or sends a message turns into a colorful musical splendor.

The film also has a lot to say about the negative elements of society depicted in the film. Even without saying much or without saying a word at all, you can tell the differences when you see the common people in the ‘world of color’ and the world of the city and of industrialization in ‘black, white and grey.’ That scene near the end where Abreu focuses on corporations and industrialization and its dehumanizing effects in Brazil is also set to music just like with the positive parts. The dreary music that comes with it also sets the mood. That was the key quality of the film: the use of music and colors to tell the story and deliver a message.

Top acclaim should go to writer/director Ale Abreu. He is an animator who has a short but merited list of animated films and shorts to his credit. Most of which have never been seen outside of Brazil. Boy And The world is probably his first film or short seen outside of Brazil. Actually the film’s first release outside of Brazil was at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. The film won an Honorable Mention for Best Animated Feature because according to the jury: “it was full of some of the most beautiful images we’ve ever seen.” If you’ve seen the film, you’d understand why. I believe Abreu created a masterpiece.

Since Ottawa, the film has done a very good job at creating an impression at film festivals over time. In Brazil, it won two Cinema Brasil awards for Best Animated Film and Best Children’s Film and the Best Brazilian Film at the Sao Paulo Film Festival. Further accolades include Official Selection feature at the Shanghai Film Festival, the One Future Prize for Abreu at the Munich Film Festival, Best Screenplay at the Cairo Film Festival and Best Feature at the Annecy Film Festival. Bigger acclaim just came months ago as it won the Annie Award for Best Independent Animated Feature.

Before the Oscar nominations were announced, the nominees for Best Animated Feature were expected to be given to films that fared better at the box office like The Good Dinosaur, The Minions Movie or The Peanuts Movie. Instead the animators branch of the Academy decided to show some favoring to some artsier films including Boy And The World. I will admit if it weren’t for its Oscar nod, I would not have seen it.

Boy And The World is a different type of animated film and for the better. It has its own style, its own feel and its own charm despite also delivering a socially-conscious message. A rare gem of a film.

2015 Copa America: Group C Focus/ Grupo C Enfoque

Today’s the day the Copa America opens in Chile. For those of you who didn’t see my reviews of the first two groups, click on the links below:

That now leaves me with one last group to review. Here’s my review of Group C. Once again, thank you Google Translate for the Spanish and Portuguese translations:

GROUP C:

Brazil-Brazil (5): Okay, we don’t need an explanation. We all know the story of how they all fell apart at the World Cup. What most don’t know is how much Brazil has improved since. After the World Cup, Dunga returned as coach of the national team and it seems like the games since have been a case of Brazil getting its groove back. They’ve won every game since including winning 3-1 against their traditional ‘Achilles heel’ France. They appear in good shape to redeem themselves at this Copa. This will be the first major tournament to redeem themselves. They could win it. However rebuilding a team doesn’t happen overnight. Even if they don’t win, as long as they show the world they’re getting back on track, that should matter.

Ok, nós não precisamos de uma explicação. Nós todos sabemos a história de como todos eles se desfez na Copa do Mundo. O que a maioria não sabe é o quanto o Brasil melhorou desde então. Após a Copa do Mundo, Dunga voltou como treinador da equipe nacional e parece que os jogos desde ter sido um caso do Brasil recebendo de volta seu sulco. Eles ganharam todos os jogos desde incluindo vencer por 3-1 contra a sua tradicional “calcanhar de Aquiles” da França. Eles aparecem em boa forma para redimir-se neste Copa. Este será o primeiro grande torneio de redimir-se. Eles poderiam ganhar. No entanto reconstruir uma equipa não acontecer durante a noite. Mesmo se não ganhar, desde que mostrar ao mundo que eles estão recebendo de volta aos trilhos, que deve importar.

Colombia-Colombia (4): This is the time for Colombia’s best era. Even though they only made it to the quarterfinals at the World Cup, they impressed the world with their fair play and immense talent like striker James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado who have since gone on to be the hottest new talents of the year.

Since the World Cup, Colombia has only lost to Brazil and have scored key wins against the United States and Costa Rica. They could top Group C but it all depends how well they play against Brazil. They could even win the Copa. It all comes down to playing like a top notch team. They already have an excellent reputation happening and whatever happens in Chile can add to it.

Venezuela-Venezuela (69): Venezuela is the only CONMEBOL country never to have qualified for a World Cup. Venezuela is possibly the one CONMEBOL country whose favorite sport is not football. They take better to baseball and basketball. However Venezuela has shown improvement in recent years. They finished fourth at the Copa in 2011: the first time they ever made the Top 4 at the Copa. They didn’t qualify for the 2014 World Cup but they did finish sixth in the CONMEBOL playoffs. Venezuela hopes to add to their reputation in Chile but they face a stiff challenge. Their only wins in the past twelve months came to Peru and Honduras. 2015 is another chapter for a team seeking their first breakthrough.

Peru-Peru (63): Some South American teams consistently rank the best in the continent and among the best in the world. And there are some teams that have an ‘up time’ and a ‘down time.’ Peru had their ‘up time’ back in the 1970’s that included two Top 8 finishes at two World Cups and winning the Copa in 1975. They’ve had a down time since with their last World Cup being in 1982. It’s not fair to say Peru is completely down. They did finish third at the last Copa in 2011. However the current lineup lacks players playing in European leagues and they’ve had recent losses to Chile and Paraguay. Nevertheless don’t count Peru out. Like Pele keeps saying: “Football is a box of surprises.”

PREDICTION:

This will be a tight one between Brazil and Colombia. I think Colombia will top the group with Brazil second and Venezuela third.

And there you have it. My third and last review of the Copa America groups. Tournament begins today and I’m sure it will be exciting. It may compete for attention against the Women’s World Cup but it should have a lot of fanfare nonetheless and a lot of excitement. My next blog on the Copa will come after the quarterfinals. Stay tuned!

Hoy es el día de la Copa América se abre en Chile. Para aquellos de ustedes que no vieron mis opiniones de los dos primeros grupos, haga clic en los siguientes enlaces:

Que ahora me deja con un último grupo de revisión. Aquí está mi opinión del Grupo C. Una vez más, GRACIAS traductor Google para las traducciones al español y portugués:GRUPO C:

Brazil-Brasil (5): Muy bien, no necesitamos una explicación. Todos conocemos la historia de cómo todo se vino abajo en el Mundial. Lo que la mayoría no sabe es cuánto Brasil ha mejorado desde entonces. Después de la Copa del Mundo, Dunga volvió como entrenador de la selección nacional y parece que los partidos desde haber sido un caso de Brasil conseguir su ranura espalda. Han ganado todos los partidos desde incluyendo ganar 3-1 en contra de su tradicional ‘talón de Aquiles’ de Francia. Aparecen en buena forma de redimirse en esta Copa. Este será el primer gran torneo de redimirse. Podrían ganar. Sin embargo la reconstrucción de un equipo no sucede durante la noche. Incluso si no ganan, siempre y cuando muestran el mundo que van a obtener de nuevo en marcha, que debería importar.

Colombia-Colombia (4): Este es el momento para la mejor época de Colombia. A pesar de que sólo llegaron a los cuartos de final en la Copa del Mundo, que impresionó al mundo con su juego limpio y el inmenso talento como el delantero James Rodríguez y Juan Cuadrado que han pasado ya a ser los mejores nuevos talentos del año.

Desde el Mundial, Colombia sólo ha perdido ante Brasil y ha anotado victorias clave contra Estados Unidos y Costa Rica. Podrían rematar el Grupo C, pero todo depende de lo bien que juegan contra Brasil. Incluso podrían ganar la Copa. Todo se reduce a jugar como un equipo de primera clase. Ellos ya tienen una excelente reputación sucediendo y lo que sucede en Chile puede agregar a ella.

Venezuela-Venezuela (69): Venezuela es el único país de la Conmebol que nunca se ha clasificado para una Copa del Mundo. Venezuela es posiblemente el país uno CONMEBOL cuyo deporte favorito no es el fútbol. Toman mejor béisbol y el baloncesto. Sin embargo Venezuela ha mostrado una mejora en los últimos años. Acabaron cuarto en la Copa en 2011: la primera vez que jamás se ha hecho en el Top 4 en la Copa. Ellos no califican para la Copa del Mundo de 2014, pero lo hicieron sexta final en las eliminatorias de la CONMEBOL. Venezuela espera agregar a su reputación en Chile pero que se enfrentan a un duro desafío. Sus únicas victorias en los últimos doce meses llegaron a Perú y Honduras. 2015 es un capítulo más de un equipo en busca de su primer gran avance.

Peru-Perú (63): Algunos equipos sudamericanos clasificar sistemáticamente los mejores del continente y entre los mejores del mundo. Y hay algunos equipos que tienen un “tiempo de” y un “tiempo muerto”. Perú tuvo su “tiempo de atrás en la década de 1970 que incluyeron dos Top 8 acabados en dos Copas del Mundo y ganador de la Copa en 1975. Han tenido un tiempo de inactividad ya que con ser su última Copa del Mundo en 1982. No es justo decir Perú es completamente. Hicieron tercera final en la última Copa en 2011. Sin embargo, la formación actual carece de jugadores que juegan en ligas europeas y han tenido pérdidas recientes a Chile y Paraguay. Sin embargo no cuentan Perú cabo. Al igual que Pelé sigue diciendo: “El fútbol es una caja de sorpresas.”

PREDICCIÓN:
Esta será una apretada entre Brasil y Colombia. Creo que Colombia va a liderar el grupo con Brasil y Venezuela segundo tercio.
Y ahí lo tienes. Mi tercera y última revisión de los grupos de la Copa América. Torneo comienza hoy y estoy seguro de que será emocionante. Puede competir por la atención contra la Copa Mundial de la Mujer, pero debe tener un montón de fanfarria, no obstante, y mucha emoción. Mi próximo blog en la Copa vendrá después de los cuartos de final. Manténganse al tanto!

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group E Focus

I’m sure that when some of you hear me talk about a controversy about this World Cup, it’s about the recent bombshell about the arrests of FIFA members. It’s not. I’m going to save that for another blog just like I’m saving the topic of women’s football for a separate blog. In this blog, here’s my review of Group E with another stadium focus and another issue focus:

GROUP E:

Spain Fixed-Spain (14): This will be Spain’s first Women’s World Cup. Spain’s women are relatively inexperienced to  major competition. They’ve never played in an Olympics before either. Nevertheless ‘La Roja’ do have some accolades like a third-place finish at the 1997 Women’s Euro and a quarterfinals finish at the last one in 2013. They’ve also had an impressive play record in the past two years with only a single loss to Norway in 2013 and wins against Italy, the Czech Republic and Belgium. Spain may just be a future power in women’s football.

Brazil-Brazil (7): When women’s football started making a name for itself in the 1990’s, it was North America and Asia that were the leaders. Countries from South America and most European countries still thought of football as strictly a man’s game and had lackluster women’s teams to show for it. Since then the continents have been taking women’s football more seriously. If there’s one country that has shown the most progress, it’s Brazil.

The Brazilian men without a doubt have the biggest legacy of any football country. The Brazilian women have really made strides to become one of the best in the world these last 15 years. They were finalists at the 2007 World Cup and achieved 3rd place in 1999. They also have two Olympic silver medals and have won the Copa America Feminina all but once. They even produced a player that can be called ‘The Female Pele,’ Marta, with five FIFA Women’s World Player Of The Year awards.

Even though Brazil has become one of the best in the last couple of decades, they still have some noticeable ‘weak spots.’ For starters, they’ve never won against England or France. Secondly, they lost to Germany twice this year. Nevertheless Brazil has been impressive these past twelve months. They’ve ties the U.S. and they’ve had wins against China, Sweden and Switzerland. Canada will be both another proving point for Brazil and a learning experience for Rio 2016.

Costa Rica-Costa Rica (37): Another of the two debut teams of this Group E. True, Costa Rica have never played in a world Cup or an Olympics before but they are a team whose cred is growing slowly but surely. They’ve been impressive during the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup with three semi-final finishes and were finalists at the last one in 2014.Despite their lack of experience on the world stage, they do have a promising team with four players playing for either American professional teams or American colleges.

I know I’ve talked a lot about countries here to learn. We shouldn’t forget women’s football is still growing, especially in continents where play has been denied a lot in the past. We should keep in mind Costa Rica is the first Central American country to qualify for the Women’s World Cup. Like the other ‘learning’ teams, Costa Rica really has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Korea-South Korea (18): South Korea’s men are the tops of Asian countries in football. South Korea’s women have long been relegated to second-fiddle to China and Japan but they’re seeking to improve over the years. They’ve never qualified for an Olympics and they’ve made only one previous World Cup appearance back in 2003. However they have some accolades of their own like four semi-final finishes at the AFC Asian Cup and bronze medals at the last two Asian Games.

Their play has been 50/50 this year as they beat Russia and tied Belgium but lost to Canada and Scotland. 2015 should help boost the team for a brighter future.

MY PREDICTION: I predict Brazil to win Group E with South Korea coming in second. Third-place was a tough prediction. I predict Spain, based on their experience. Mind you anything can happen.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

-EDMONTON: Commonwealth StadiumEskimos

Year Opened: 1978

World Cup Capacity: 56,302

World Cup Groups Hosting: A,C,D

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Quarterfinal, Semifinal, Third-Place

The Stadium was opened in 1978 in time for the Commonwealth Games Edmonton hosted. Since then it has served as the venue for the Edmonton Eskimos football team and occasionally the FC Edmonton soccer team. The Stadium is the biggest of the six hosting matches for the FIFA World Cup which explains why Canada’s first two Group Stage matches will be held here. The stadium has undergone two renovations: the first in 2001 in time for the World Athletic Championships which included a new scoreboard, an enlarged concourse and a new track. The second in 2008 which experienced a reconfiguration and a turf replacement. Outside of their main sports teams, the stadium has hosted many concerts and has also hosted many soccer friendlies for both Canada’s men’s and women’s teams.

THE TURF ISSUE

The World Cup may be building in excitement but hard to believe a year ago there was a controversy brewing with threats of boycotts. The reason was because all six stadiums will be using some form of artificial turf. why does it matter? Many believe artificial turf makes players more prone to injuries. 50 players protested the use of turf on the basis of gender discrimination. Seems odd to me to think that getting them to play on turf is a form of discrimination. Keep in mind it’s FIFA regulation that the men’s World Cup matches all be contested on grass.

There was even a lawsuit claiming FIFA would never have the men play on ‘unsafe’ artificial turf and is a violation of the Canadian Human Rights Charter. The suit filed in October 2014 in Ontario even pointed how FIFA demanded stadiums in the United States to replace the artificial turf with grass even if it meant extra millions in expenses. The lawsuit had supporters like Tom Hanks, Kobe Bryant and U.S. men’s team goalkeeper Tim Howard. FIFA’s head of women’s competitions Tatjana Haenni made it firm: “We play on artificial turf and there’s no Plan B.” The lawsuit was eventually dropped in January of this year. All the stadiums have kept the turfs they had.

Despite its firm stance, FIFA has not hesitated to discuss the issue. In fact FIFA.com did an interview with Professor Eric Harrison. Harrison, who was assigned by FIFA to inspect the pitches of the six stadiums between September 29th to October 8th of last year, was given a Q&A about his findings, the various football turfs and even injury rick. He gave his answers on why Canadians stadiums have artificial turf (Canada’s extreme weather conditions), the various turfs classified by FIFA and if there’s any difference int he frequency of injury (Harrison claims there’s no real difference). For the complete interview, click here.

And there you go. My focus on Group E and bonuses. That only means one last group to review. Coming Sunday.

WORKS CITED:

FIFA.com Staff. “Harrison: Football Turf is Integral to Canada 2015” FIFA.com. 23 October 2014<http://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/news/y=2014/m=10/news=harrison-football-turf-is-integral-to-canada-2015-2461003.html>

WIKIPEDIA: 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_FIFA_Women%27s_World_Cup>

World Cup 2014: Now That It’s All Over

Netherlands v Spain: 2010 FIFA World Cup FinalOkay, the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil ended two weeks ago. After 64 matches over a total of 32 days, the winner of this year’s Cup has been determined and crowned. Meanwhile there were a ton of surprises, delights, disappointments and shocks along the way. With it over, the 32 teams had their experience for another tournament with Germany coming out as the winner.

The German players are of course celebrating with the whole country. All the players however are now taking a break from their international teams and are mostly focusing on the upcoming club play. But the crazy thing about the end of the World Cup is the reminder that the next one is four years away. And the focus shouldn’t begin the year before the World Cup begins but as soon as international team play resumes again, like as early as this September.

Anyways here are my cheers, disappointments and neutrals for this year’s World Cup teams. Also I may offer some unprofessional advise of my own for them for World Cup 2018:

World Cup Winners

CHEERS:

Germany- Germany did it! After 24 years, they found themselves back on top with their fourth World Cup. Germany owes its success to a restructuring of its program following their disappointing Group Stage exit during Euro 2000 with innovative focusing on their youth system. It has obviously paid off, and with a team full of young players. Nine of which including five-time goal scorer Thomas Muller were under the age of 25. Germany has an additional 12 players under 25 that have been called up to represent Germany internationally in the past twelve months. So there’s no doubt that Germany has a future in football.

This comes especially handy as World Cup captain Philip Lahm has announced his retirement from international play and 36 year-old scoring sensation Miroslav Klose has left a big question mark for World Cup 2018. Another recent question mark is coach Joachim Loew announcing his plan to step down as head coach of Germany after Euro 2016. Whatever the situation, it’s going to take the same team unity that gave Germany its success here in Brazil. Yes, they have the Cup now and they should celebrate but the celebrating will have to stop soon and they will have to get their team focus back. Let’s not forget rival countries could be copying Germany’s success method soon to give themselves their own success. Four years may come sooner than you think.

Argentina- Most teams believe you should only truly be happy if you win the World Cup. Argentina may have won it twice before but they should also be happy as this is only their fifth time ever in a World Cup final. The disappointment of not winning the Cup will bite for a while but Argentina and all thirty other teams that didn’t win the Cup will have to focus again. Coach Alejandro Sabella announced the day before the World Cup final he would step down as coach of Argentina. Nothing whether it be of Sabella’s resignation or a successor signed on has been confirmed as of yet. A successor will have to be found in time before international play resumes, with a September 3rd friendly rematch of the World Cup final in Dusseldorf.

The line-up will also be in question. The youngest player of Argentina’s World Cup roster, Marcus Rojo, was 24. Sure veterans like Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi, Sergio Romero and Angel di Maria look like they may be strong enough to play for World Cup 2018 at ages 30-31 but Argentina will have to look to its younger talent for its future and especially pay close attention to their national age-group teams for potential rising stars if they want to win in Russia.

Netherlands- They didn’t make it to the final this time around. Nevertheless this is a big improvement from a team that in recent World Cups have become to be known as the Dirty Dutch. Back in 2006, their Round of 16 match against Portugal resulted in the most carded game in World Cup history with sixteen yellow and four red cars between the two teams. Then in 2010, the Dutch again made World Cup infamy by helping make the final between Spain to be the most carded World Cup final ever with fourteen yellow cards and one red. Even I considered it the ugliest World Cup final I’ve ever seen. This year, the Dutch did amass eleven yellow cards in total but no red. Also none of their matches resulted in more than six cardings. Quite the difference.

This World Cup they not only had to focus on their play behavior but also on their world ranking. We should remember the Netherlands had a big disappointment in Euro 2012 with losing all their Group Stage games. They did the right thing in hiring Louis van Gaal. However van Gall has since resigned and has brought back Guus Huddink who led them to the 1998 semifinals. We’ll see how that works out in the future.

Colombia- Here in 2014, Colombia finally had its breakthrough with its best ever performance, breaking through to the quarterfinals for the first time. Extra icing on the cake was James Rodriguez being the only player at the Cup to score six goals. Excellent since the team is full of young talent including six players born in the 1990’s. Colombia has a lot of potential to go further in the future but it’s going to take the right guidance and the right team chemistry in the future. However coach Jose Pekermans should now congratulate himself for a job well-done and a Colombian comeback well overdue.

Costa Rica- Hands down Costa Rica was the Cinderella team of the tournament. The World Cup ‘minnows’ that went further than anyone expected. Their Cinderella success however should not be dismissed as luck. They were in the toughest of the eight groups being paired up against past World Cup winners like Uruguay, Italy and England and they came out on top without a loss and leaving the others wondering what went wrong. They followed it up with a Round of 16 win against Greece on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw and even bringing the Netherlands to a scoreless draw in their first-ever quarterfinals before losing on penalty kicks. So a team from a small country in Central America is deserving of nothing short of respect, especially for proving itself a tough adversary to some of the biggest powers in football. The future looks very good since six of the players are under 25. However recent news is that Jorge Pinto has stepped down as head coach. We have yet to see if Costa Rica can take it as far, if not further, with a new coach. Only time will tell.

Belgium- This World Cup is the comeback of Belgium for their first World Cup appearance since 2002 and their best World Cup finish since 1986. Signing on Marc Wilmots, who played for Belgium in three World Cups, as coach in 2012 was the best thing for the team as it helped propel the team to achieve World Cup qualification in 2013 in convincing fashion and go straight wins at the World Cup before falling 0-1 to Argentina in the quarterfinals. There’s no doubt that Wilmots will be kept as coach; he’s actually assigned to stay as coach until 2018. The team also shows promise of continued success as seven members of the World Cup roster are under 25. These next four years will define how further Belgium can take their new-found success. Anything can happen in the next four years but for now, the Red Devils are back!

Chile- Not too many people would consider going as far as the Round of 16 worthy of a ‘cheer’ but Chile deserve it. It’s not just advancing past the Group Stage for the fourth time in their ninth World Cup appearance but also bringing Brazil to a 1-1 draw in the Round of 16 before succumbing to a penalty shoot out. The simple draw showed that Chile is a team competent enough to expose Brazil’s weak spots on a World stage. Chile just keeps on getting better and better. However you can bet they not only want to qualify for the next World Cup but hopefully not meet up with Brazil in the knockout stages. It must be annoying having Brazil bring their World Cup trip to an end after happening all four times they’ve advanced. Chile has a bright future and next year they’re hosting the Copa America. Another chance to improve over time.

Algeria- Another ‘cheer’ for a Round of 16 team has to go to Algeria. After three previous World Cup appearances being eliminated in the Group Stage, it took a 4-2 win against South Korea and a 1-1 draw against Russia to help Algeria advance for the first time ever. Even though they lost to eventual World Cup champions Germany 2-1 in extra time, they gave them a great challenge keeping the game scoreless in regulation time. Algeria along with Nigeria made World Cup history by making this the first World Cup where two African teams advanced past the group stage. The team shows promise for the future as eight players are under 25.  One thing is that Algeria’s coach Vahid Halilhodzic has stepped down since the World Cup and has been replaced by Frenchman Christian Gourcuff who is very experienced in club coaching but will be a national coach for the first time. Only the next four years will tell.

Goal-Line Technology- There were new technologies introduced at this World Cup. The most notable one being one that was a long-time coming: goal-line technology. This came through popular demand as a goal from England in a Round of 16 match against Germany that was shown on countless replays to be a legitimate goal wasn’t counted. For years, FIFA president Sepp Blatter was against goal-line technology, believing calls should be done by ‘a man, not a machine.’ At last year’s Confederations Cup, goal-line technology was finally introduced. Here at the World Cup was featured the Goal Control system consisting of fourteen high-speed cameras with seven directed to each of the goals and data sent to an image-processing centre to accurately determine if a goal or not. A watch owned by referees only that vibrated if a legit goal was also part of the technology. It proved to work at it was necessary to declare France’s second goal against Honduras. That you Blatter for finally doing something right!

NEUTRALS:

France- You may feel that a country like France that has won the World Cup in the past should do better than the quarterfinals. That may be true but their finish should be respected as well. If you remember World Cup 2010, France was the team that collapsed the biggest as infighting with the players, federation and the head coach led to the team to just fall apart. France has since rebuilt itself hiring Didier Deschamps, captain of France’s World Cup-winning 1998 team, after Euro 2012 and the results have been successful. France was successful in the group stage winning their group, winning their Round of 16 match against Nigeria 2-0 before losing to eventual champions Germany 1-0 in the quarterfinal. A major factor of France’s comeback is not just with Deschamps’ guidance but with its wealth of young talent. Nine players on the World Cup roster were under 25 and Paul Pogba won the FIFA Young Player award and Raphael Varane an additional nominee. Their future looks bright but the next four years will tell the tale.

Mexico- Up to 1986, the only times Mexico ever made it past the group stage what when they hosted. Since 1994, they’ve made it past the group stage every World Cup they’ve been in including this one.Mexico continued to impress in this World Cup by winning against Croatia and Cameroon as well as bringing Brazil to a scoreless draw. Mexico also gave Netherlands a great play in the Round of 16 and could have tied or possibly won in extra time had that controversial dive from Arjen Robben not happened. Mexico is on the right track with coach Miguel Herrera. A relief since they went through a multitude of coaches before sticking with Herrera just before qualifying for the Cup. The team also appears in good shape with a good amount of young players. However it will take consistent play from them to qualify again and possibly have their best World Cup ever in 2018.

United States- It seems like with every World Cup, it’s another chapter for the American national team. With each passing quadrennial, the US is being taken more and more seriously. Hiring former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann was a huge boost to the team. Even with Landon Donovan being dropped from the 2014 line-up, the US accomplished a lot of feats. Firstly, they became the second consecutive American team to advance past the group stage. Second there’s Clint Dempsey scoring in the first 30 seconds against Ghana: the fasted goal of the 2014 World Cup and the fifth-fastest World Cup goal ever. Third there’s goalkeeper Tim Howard  who made sixteen saves against Belgium, the most ever in a recorded World Cup game. Fourth there’s 19 year-old Julian Green whose goal against Belgium made him the youngest goal-scorer at the 2014 World Cup.

The U.S. shows potential for World Cup 2018. Seven members of this World Cup’s team are under 25 and Klinsmann plans on staying on as coach. However with the World Cup being held in Russia, they have to overcome their ‘Europe Curse.’ It’s a fact that the U.S. has never won a World Cup game held in Europe. It’s very possible that the curse can be broken as they’ve become a lot more competent since Germany in 2006. Russia will be another proving point for the Americans.

Nigeria- None of the African countries here got further than the Round of 16.  Nigeria deserves some acclaim. Firstly because their trip to the Round of 16 made them the first African team to achieve that in a total of three World Cups. Secondly for playing with dignity for their country while the Nigerian Football Federation was under FIFA investigation as many top members are to be prosecuted in Nigeria’s high court which would mean Nigeria’s national teams could be banned from playing. Thirdly for playing in a Round of 16 match against France where the American referee appeared to show favoritism to France possibly resulting in their win 2-0. The ban has been lifted a few days ago and the federation’s membership has not been determined. However this will be questionable how Nigeria’s teams will do in the near future. Hopefully a controversy like this should not appear during international play or even World Cup qualifying as controversies in the past have led to teams being banned from upcoming World Cups.

Bosnia-Hercegovina- Bosnia may have expired in the group stage but they actually have nothing to apologize for. This was their first ever World Cup. Sure they did well in qualifying for their World Cup berth but you should remember Bosnia is a very young team. They’re a team that had to recover from a brutal war that ended in 1995. Bosnia is already very experienced in playing against European teams but they lack experience playing against teams from other continents. In fact they’ve only ever played against 22 non-European teams. Bosnia is a team that will grow in knowledge and experience over time. The World Cup was an excellent learning experience for them and they can only get better over time. Also it’s easy to feel for Bosnia after the disallowed goal by Dzeko which could have been a draw and allowed Bosnia to advance past the group stage. I’m confident they will have their time.

Ecuador- It may not be easy being the only South American team that didn’t advance past the group stage and sure, Ecuador did do it in 2006. Nevertheless Ecuador did deliver a performance worth admiration. Firstly for competing in the honor and memory of their teammate Christian ‘Chucho’ Benitez. Secondly for delivering a great effort that included winning against Honduras, bringing France to a scoreless draw and scoring first during their loss to Switzerland. It’s not fair to call Ecuador’s performance in 2014 as the ‘Enner Valencia show,’ despite how great he was. The team itself did an excellent job as a whole. Nevertheless the national team is awaiting a new coach in preparation for the next World Cup and for next year’s Copa America.

Croatia- Ever since Croatia finished third at the 1998 World Cup, they’ve been struggling since to prove they’re no World Cup ‘minnows.’ 2014 was another continuation of the struggle as they only won one game: against Cameroon 4-0. The other games to Brazil and Mexico were both 3-1 losses. However this is the big improvement since 2006 back when they had a single draw and two losses. Croatia will be keeping coach Niko Kovac and the team possesses a lot of good young talent. Also Croatia is familiar on the European circuit but has only played sixteen teams from other continents. Croatia should get better over time.

Brazil: As Host Country- There was huge debate whether Brazil was doing a good job as host country. Construction of venues and infrastructure were behind schedule and of huge concern to FIFA. The expense of $14 billion was also a huge concern and much of the heat was placed on President Dilma Rousseff. However when the World Cup started, it was the party it was hoped to be. Games were very well-attended if not filled to capacity. The FIFA Fan Fests set up in cities’ locations just outside host venues drew huge crowds. Even the final at the Maracana was well-attended despite Brazil not qualifying. The Brazilian tourism authority reported that the Cup generated $15 billion in incoming tourism money which will be used to create 1,000,000 additional jobs.

DISAPPOINTMENTS:

Brazil: As Host Team- I am not going to go into the number of ignominious records Brazil set during their last two games of the World Cup. Enough is enough. We should remember last World Cup’s hosts South Africa failed to advance past the Group Stage. And Germany had a substandard team when it hosted the World Cup back in 2006 but was able to go as far as the semifinals.

Brazil has always had successes throughout the decades. They have also had their ruts over the years but would find a way to shine through over time. To put it subtly, the biggest thing Brazil’s losses proved is that it needs to change its ways to get back on top.  This will require not only an improvement of the national team, whether it being hiring new members or improving members kept on, but also of the whole Brazilian Football system. It’s not to say it can’t be done. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, Brazil had to deal with the fact their best players were offered big money to play for European clubs and that would cause problems in the team unity. Brazil was able to overcome it in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Now it’s dealing with the new situation of young talents taken and trained by those clubs at an early age: an increasingly common and increasingly global practice over the years. This is a new challenge to the Brazilian team. I’m sure there are more challenges ahead like newer training methods and newer talent spotting. I’m confident Brazil will be back on top but it will have to take the right moves to make it happen.

Spain- If you thought Brazil’s big loss was a shocker, how about Spain’s ouster from the Group Stage.  This comes after an impressively stellar record of wins and losses over the four-year period between the two World Cups. Even coach Vicente del Bosque couldn’t answer how a team that consistent can suddenly choke at the World Cup. Whatever the situation, del Bosque has not been dropped as coach. Most of the team from the World Cup are still members of the national team. The team however will have a lot of proving to do in the wake of their debacle. The friendlies start again in September and Euro qualifying will start around that same time. Competing as world champion is one thing but competing after such a humiliation is another. Only time will tell if Spain will come back.

Uruguay- The disappointment shouldn’t come simply because of the insane actions of one man. The disappointment should come upon the struggle to play after. Uruguay is not just Luis Suarez. It’s also Diego Forlan, Diego Lugano and Edinson Cavani. In the meantime, we’ll see what happens to ‘Chewy Louie’ and his ban. Will his ban hurt him as much as many experts predict? We’ll also see how well the national team does as a whole. Oscar Tabarez is going to be staying on as coach. In the meantime, it’s still great to see a comeback form one of the classic greats.

Cameroon- I usually would have at least one good thing to say about every team at the World Cup, even the worst, but not in the case of Cameroon. It finished last amongst the 32 countries and for good reason. It’s not just simply because they’ve really headed downhill since their quarterfinal finish in 1990 but they did it here in very violent fashion. The most noticeable was during their 4-0 loss to Croatia. There was Alex Song elbowing Croatian Mario Mandzukic in the back and getting a red card for it. There was also the infighting of Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Benjamin Moukandjo. In the end, they lost all three of their games and their only goal came in their last match against Brazil. No doubt if Cameroon want to get their winning form back, they should definitely improve and restructure their team. However there has not yet been any word of whether coach Volker Finke will be kept or dropped. Only time will tell.

Italy- It was a shock at first when Italy, the defending Cup champions, failed to win a game and advance past the Group Stage. It was a shock again this time around when Italy again failed to advance. And this comes two years after Italy made the finals at Euro 2012 and just a year after finishing third at the Confederations Cup. It’s not to say Italy is now fading in terms of their greatness. Mario Balotelli has become the latest new star of the Azzuri. And there are seven total players under 25 on the national team. It’s just a matter of restructuring the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) so that they can bring back Italy’s winning ways. Right now they have to find a new coach as Cesare Prandelli has resigned since the World Cup.

England- It’s interesting Group D was the ‘Group Of Death’ with three powerhouse teams and one ‘minnow’ who surprised them all. However it came as a shock that of all the countries, it was England that would succumb to the pressure biggest. Here in Brazil, England had what could be rightfully called their worst-ever World Cup performance. No question that the English team will have to improve over the years. One surprise is that Roy Hodgson has been kept on as coach. It’s interesting that while some countries that performed poorly have either dropped their coach or had them resign, there are countries like England and Spain that are keeping theirs.

Also there’s another possible factor to England’s poor performance this time around. A friend of mine mentioned that England had a team with a lot of young inexperienced players. That was a good point since England had eight players in their lineup born in the 1990’s and even two under the age of 20. It’s a wonder if they formed their 2014 team with World Cup 2018 in mind. Whatever the situation, the federations and coaches should know that any team formed for any World Cup is expected to deliver during that World Cup and not simply learn for the sake of the next.

Portugal- If any country has had a bigger-than-ever success run in this new century, it’s Portugal. Before the 21st century, it only qualified for the 1966 and 1986 World Cups. Portugal has since qualified for all four World Cups in this century including finishing fourth in 2006. However Portugal found itself back in 2014 where it started  in 2002: conking out in the Group Stage. Sure enough it was thanks to a 4-0 blitzkrieg from Germany. What it is about Portuguese-speaking teams getting a blitzkrieg from Germany this year? Whatever the situation, it was enough for Portugal to miss out on the second Group G berth for the knockout round to the U.S. upon goal differentials. However the big disappointments were not just the play but also the violent conduct of Pepe against Germany’s Thomas Muller and the egotism of Cristiano Ronaldo. Even Ronaldo’s game-winning goal against Ghana came too much too late.

The future of Portugal’s team comes in question as Paulo Bento will be kept on as coach. Also only three players on the World Cup team were under 25. That won’t be good as their star player Cristiano Ronaldo will be 33 come the next World Cup. Portugal has to work on its future if it wants to continue its winning ways.

Russia- You’d figure that after being dropped by England in 2010, Fabio Capello would have it easier coaching Russia to World Cup success, right? Actually not so as Russia not only failed to advanced past the Group Stage but failed to win a game. That was the first time as the Russian Federation that they failed to do so. This is especially frustrating after the critical final game against Algeria who advanced. Russia had to deal with spectators carrying laser pointers which are not allowed at FIFA games. Whatever the situation, Russia really have to train well for 2018 as they will host the next World Cup. Capello has not been dropped as of yet so it may be possible Russia will continue with him. However they will have to make things work. Already Russia had to deal with two Dutch coaches in the six years before hiring Capello. They might even have to rethink the hiring of foreign coaches as Russia have been criticized about the team being moulded ‘Italian style’ not just with Capello but two assistant coaches also from Italy. They also have to focus on their young talent too. Already their World Cup team had seven players under 25. Whatever happens, the world will be watching in 2018.

The Asian Teams- It’s not just that none of the Asian teams were able to make it past the group stage.This World Cup is the first since 1990 where not a single team represented under the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) were able to win a single game.Even Australia, which transferred to Asia’s confederation after being ruled too big for the Oceania Football Confederation, lost all their games. This is not just a case where all four teams need changes in their nation’s federation but the AFC needs revamping too in order to make the Asian countries a challenger on the World football scene again.

Brazil’s Construction Crews- I’m glad I’m writing this after talking to a Brazilian yesterday. The laxed construction works of Brazil is common place mostly because of corrupting and bribery which cause buildings to finish later than they should and also most triple their originally-estimated expense. Here Brazil’s stadiums took up a significant chuck of the $14 billion price tag. That can be blamed for it. Also to blame can be FIFA for placing such demands on Brazil. However Brazil itself can be blamed for the laxed time it took to finish the stadiums. Some were only completed within hours of their first World Cup contest. And the problems didn’t even stop there. There came with the infrastructure around it that was supposed to help not only the stadiums but the cities to make things easier in the future. That proved the opposite for Belo Horizonte as a piece of freeway collapsed just two days before the Mineirazo. Two people were killed and 23 others were injured. And now there’s the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio coming up and construction crews are so behind–IOC representatives are claiming Rio facilities are only 10% completed– the IOC is thinking of moving the Games to another city if preparations don’t improve. Did Brazil’s presidents know what they were in for when they had so many events to host from 2013 to 2016? All I can say is I hope all this construction doesn’t end up making white elephants out of the finished products or else Dilma will have a lot of explaining to do.

Well the next World Cup is four years away. No doubt the 32 teams will be focused on qualifying and hopefully winning the Cup. Teams that did not qualify also have goals and plans of their own. In the meantime, I wish all national football teams best of luck in qualifying and hopefully winning.

World Cup 2014: My Prediction For The Final

Netherlands v Spain: 2010 FIFA World Cup FinalWhat can I say about the World Cup? All I can say is that it starts with 32 teams, takes a month and at the end, only one country’s left smiling. And so after 62 games and loads of surprises, they’ve weeded out the thirty pretenders and gave us the two contenders: Germany who has won the Cup three times before and Argentina who have won it twice before. The Maracana will be the stage for deciding the World Cup winners. Here I’ll do a rundown of the two teams and even make my prediction on who I think will win the Cup.

First an interesting note I came about. Isn’t it ironic that both the final for the Cup and the 3rd-place match are both like rematches of quarterfinals of the last World Cup? Anyways I’ll get on with it.

World Cup

Past Head-To-Head Results:

Germany and Argentina have squared off against each other 20 times. Argentina has won the most often with nine times. Germany has won six and five were draws. Both Germany and Argentina have scored 28 goals against each other. Germany and Argentina have crossed paths at seven World Cups starting in 1958. Surprisingly this is the third World Cup in a row they both challenge each other. The previous two were in quarterfinals. In 2006 when Germany hosted, they tied 1-1 and it took a round of penalty kicks to decide Germany the winner. Last World Cup it was Argentina that had their own version of the Mineirazo as Germany won 4-0. Also as surprisingly, this is the third World Cup Final they both face each other: the most World Cup finals pairings ever. The first was in 1986 when Maradona and the boys won 3-2. The following World Cup they met again and it was German revenge 1-0. In both cases, that was the last World Cup either team won.

Argentina FootballARGENTINA: One word that can best describe Argentina here at the World Cup is consistent. They won all three of their Group Stage games: 2-1 against Bosnia, 1-0 against Iran, and 3-2 against Nigeria. They also won their Round of 16 match against Switzerland in extra time 1-0, their quarterfinal against Belgium 1-0 and their semifinal against the Netherlands in a penalty shootout.

There’s another word to describe Argentina’s play at this World Cup: lackluster. The phenomenal big play that Argentina has been known for was missing. Instead it looked like they were focusing on the conservative.  Sure, the conservative style worked for France last world Cup but this is not what you’d expect from Argentina. Sure Lionel Messi has been one of the stars of the tournament and has lived up to his reputation during the World Cup but other Argentinians like Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria have been playing rather modestly than what they’re reputed for. That scoreless draw should be cause for concern since it was mostly a contest of ball control and very little attacking. In fact I remember a scene near the end of regulation where it appeared Dutch players were lollygagging with the ball.

Whatever the situation, conservative play will not come in handy, especially against a team that annihilated the host country on Tuesday. That game has to be the biggest signal to Argentina that if they were to win the Cup, they will be pressed to pour it on like never before at this Cup. There’s no doubt Messi and Higuain have what it takes here. They have to be prepared for a similar attack like Germany gave Brazil on Tuesday. It’s evident that Germany can take full advantage of an opponent’s vulnerability and come down hard on them. They should know because Germany beat them in the quarterfinals at the last World Cup 4-0, just after winning every other previous game they played.

As for the team, I’m not worried about Messi. I think of him as Maradona without the ego. Especially since it’s evident he knows what he needs to do to deliver here and he’s done that. Sergio Romero has been an excellent goaltender as he has delivered each time and has only conceded three goals. The rest of the team will have to be prepared for anything from Germany whether it be conservative play or an all. And with Angel di Maria out, they will have to step up their midfield. Coach Sabella knows the job he has to deliver and I’m sure he’ll mean business, especially to bring Argentina back on top after 28 years.

Germany FootballGERMANY: What can I say? They are not called the Mannschaft for nothing. What we have is a team that is lacking in superstars and celebrity. Heck, Miroslav Klose has scored the most goals in World Cup history and he doesn’t have the star power as say Neymar, Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Instead we have a team full of players that are focused, know what they have to do and deliver. And they definitely know how to pour it on as evident in the Mineirazo and their opener of 4-0 against Portugal. You can bet Germany is a team that knows how to deliver.

Or do they? Sure, they had big wins against Portugal and Brazil but they have had their share of tight matches at the World Cup, like when they temporarily trailed Ghana before they tied 2-2. Or even going scoreless against Algeria in regulation before winning 2-1. It’s evident in those matches that Germany has weaknesses of their own and could be made vulnerable by Argentina. Argentina is a team very familiar with them and knows how to rival them. It’s also very possible Argentina will want to avenge Germany for the last two World Cup quarterfinals. Sure, Argentina has not been too spectacular but they could just pour it on when they have to. It’s happened before in major play.

One thing about Tuesday’s game, it’s that coach Joachim Löw doesn’t want that big win to make his team overconfident. Even Miro Klose stated that he doesn’t want the win to get to the team’s head. What they’ll have on Sunday is a new team and will need a new plan to win. It’s evident with each passing match, it’s all about knowing the rival, controlling them and monopolizing on your chances. And that’s what Germany will have to do on Sunday to win the Cup for the fourth time and for the first time ever as a unified nation.

MY PREDICTION: Okay. So here goes. My prediction for the winner of the 2014 World Cup. I believe it will be Germany 2-1 in extra time. Wow! I’ve been making a lot of predictions where the score is 2-1, haven’t I? But that’s what I believe it will be. Germany have that edge in terms of delivering goals and will continue to be the case if Argentina don’t step up their game. Argentina know how to defend and control opponents but they lack the ability to monopolize on their chances. So that’s why I give Germany the edge.

So there you go. It was fun making predictions for the World Cup. I hope to do football/soccer predicting again sometime soon. Maybe my next chance will be for next year’s Copa America. Provided if TSN or ESPN broadcast it.

2014 World Cup: Being Host Nation Could Be A Double-Edged Sword

Brazil 2014 hoped to make the 1950 World Cup final a thing of the past. Instead it created a new bad memory of a nightmarish 7-1 loss to Germany.

Brazil 2014 hoped to make the 1950 World Cup final a thing of the past. Instead it created a new bad memory of a nightmarish 7-1 loss to Germany in Tuesday’s semifinal.

 “We tried to do what we could, we did what we thought was our best and we lost to a great team who ended the match with four goals scored in extraordinary manner. I’d ask the people to excuse us for this mistake. I’m sorry we couldn’t get to the final. This is a loss. A catastrophic, terrible loss. The worst loss by a Brazilian national team ever, yes. But we have to learn to deal with that. Who is responsible? Who is responsible for picking the team? I am. It’s me. So the catastrophic result can be shared by the whole group, and my players will tell you we will share our responsibilities, but who decided the tactics? I did. So the person responsible is me. I did what I thought was best. This was only our third defeat in 28 matches, even if it was a terrible defeat. Naturally, if I were to think of my life as a player, as a coach, as a teacher, this was the worst day of my life. But life goes on.”

-Luiz Felipe Scolari,

coach of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup team

It was to be another proving point for Brazil. They made it to the semifinals. It was a long three weeks. The team known as the Seleciao had moments of glory like their opening 3-1 win over Croatia and 4-1 win over Cameroon. However they have shown their vulnerability with a 0-0 draw against Mexico and a 1-1 draw against Chile where they advanced by winning the penalty kicks. Their previous game, the quarterfinal against Colombia, was another win for them: 2-1.

However despite the win, there was concern as Thiago Silva, their top defender, was given a yellow card penalty which would prevent him from playing in the semifinal. Not to mention the sudden back injury to Neymar Jr. There was talk. Will Brazil win? Can they compensate from their sudden losses? There were many that were doubtful and predicted the win to go to Germany. There were some that were optimistic like Ronaldo and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. They still felt like Brazil had very good chances.

So the stage was set. Brazil was to play their semifinal against Germany at the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte. Just ten days earlier, they played Chile in their Round of 16 match in that same stadium. Just five days earlier, an underpass in Belo Horizonte specially created as part of a highway upgrade for the World Cup collapsed killing two and injuring 23.

The game began as expected with the two teams being led onto the field by Brazilian schoolchildren. The national anthems were played with the whole stadium engulfed in singing Hino Nacional Brasileiro. The team also gave a special tribute to Neymar who was still being treated for his fractured vertebrae.

Images of Brazil's heartbreak: (from top) young woman, young boy and a distraught  David Luiz.

Images of Brazil’s heartbreak: (from top) young woman, young boy, and a distraught David Luiz.

Then the kickoff happened. Play went as it normally did with Brazil having much control of the ball with the occasional steal from Germany. Then in the 11th minute, Germany had a chance to score via a corner kick from Toni Kroos. Thomas Mueller gave a header into the Brazilian net. Germany drew first blood 1-0. The opposing team drawing first was something Brazil was familiar with and has won matches before with that start. Then in the 23rd minute, and attempt at a goal was sent by Germany and Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar tried to stop it, only to have it  bounce off him and be in a clear path for Miroslav Klose to score the second goal of the match and a World Cup record 16th goal of his career. Ironically the old record holder Ronaldo was in the stand watching.

It was obvious something was wrong and the crowd was already silent but what would soon come would be like a nightmare to the Brazilian’s eyes. Just as things were about to settle again, the ball was immediately stolen by Germany and Toni Kroos scored another goal one minute after Klose. Then two minutes later, another goal from Kroos! And both from one-touch shots. Everyone from Germans to broken-hearted Brazilians were stunned. Then just as the game looked like it would settle down soon, along came Sami Khedira in the 29th minute and scored goal #5. No doubt it was all over by then. It would take a major miracle for Brazil to win this game. Fifteen minutes would pass with the ball being shifted possession to Brazil and then to Germany. You could tell by the look on their face and the errors the Brazilians were causing that the team was panicking. Then the half-time whistle blew. It was obvious Brazil was going to lose. Heartbroken fans were already leaving the stadium.

The first minute of the second half came with substitutions for both teams. Germany only substituted one player but Brazil substituted two: Hulk and Fernandinho for Paulinho and Ramires. Later on Brazil, obviously desperate to redeem itself, gave many good attacks and attempts on goals but they either missed or were saved by German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. At the 58th minute, Germany substituted Miroslav Klose with Andre Schuerrle. However it was only eleven minutes later when Schuerrle gave a tap-in to the Brazilian net to make the score 6-0. Several more desperate attempts to score from Brazil came but to no avail. Brazil even substituted Fred, who many described as giving the worst performance in World Cup history, for Willian at the 70th minute. Fred was given a hostile reaction from the fans as he walked off. Then right at the 79th minute, it was Schuerrle again and he gave a half-volley to beat Julio Cesar at the near-post to make it goal #7. And just when you think Germany’s given them enough, Mesut Oezil gives an attempt for goal #8 but his effort goes off wide. Then almost immediately after, Brazilian Oscar scores Brazil’s one and only goal at the 90th minute. But there was no celebrating from Oscar and very little cheer from the crowd. Even a television announcer described it as possibly the least celebrated home team goal in World Cup history.

Then Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez blew the final whistle. The score was official: Brazil 1 – Germany 7. Germany was going to the final for the Cup for a record-setting eighth time. Brazil however was just dazed and confused with what happened. Some were in tears. Some just lay on the field in humiliation and some even prayed. Some Brazilian fans booed the Brazilian team and gave them the thumbs down. Germany celebrated but kept its celebration modest. Then many German players went to the distraught players, consoled them and gave them comfort since they knew it was a moment of heartbreak for the Brazilians. That was probably the best display of sportsmanship at this World Cup and it was great to see since this World Cup had been plagued with a lot of unsportsmanlike behavior.

That game was unbelievable to say the least. Usually for a 7-1 result to happen at a World Cup game, it would be in a Group Stage match and usually between a strong team and lesser team. But 7-1 in a semifinal? And between the two countries with the biggest World Cup legacies? Even when I saw it at the Vancouver Alpen Club, I went from cheering the first goal to doubting what I saw after the second goal to having complete disbelief goal after goal. I’m sure there were lots of other Germany fans that were stunned silent like me.

No doubt this loss hit Brazil hard. This loss was also a big hit to the Brazilian National Team. No question this match resulted in some embarrassing statistics:

  • Brazil’s biggest loss ever in a World Cup match.
  • Biggest loss of any World Cup host nation.
  • Most lopsided semifinal in World Cup history.
  • Tied with a 6-0 defeat to Uruguay in 1920 for the biggest defeat of the Brazilian national team.
  • Brazilian national team’s first loss on home soil since 1975.

If there’s one thing that this match shows is that host nations face a pressure unique to other countries at the World Cup. Host nations of the World Cup have been big and small nations. Nations with a minor football legacy and nations that have a huge legacy. Some nations do very well and even win the Cup. However some have choked and some failed to live up to expectations. Below is a list of host nations and their results:

Host Nation ChartAs you can see six host nations have won the Cup. However three have hosted a second time and didn’t win: Italy and Germany both finished 3rd in their second hosting and France lost their quarterfinal 60 years before winning as hosts. South Africa had the misfortune not just to simply lose out in the Group Stage but became the first country in World Cup history to do so. Until then, every host nation advanced past the first round.

There have been a lot of cases where even amongst host nations that didn’t win the Cup, they would have their best ever World Cup result such as Sweden being finalists, Chile finishing 3rd, South Korea finishing 4th and Mexico making the quarterfinals on both occasions. Actually until 1994, those were the only two times Mexico advanced past the Group Stage.

However there have been cases before where host nations failed to live up to par like France in 1938 and Switzerland in 1954. Spain is another example. They were hoping being host in 1982 would break their reputation as being football’s greatest underachievers. Instead it saw them being ousted in the second round of group play.

However there were many times when even in defeat, it would mark a turnaround for the country’s football team. France became a better team after their 1938 humiliation, Brazil won five World Cups after the Maracanazo, Mexico has advanced past the Group Stage every year since hosting the second time in 1986, the U.S.A. has gone from being a joke in the football world to a major contender since 1994, Japan has seen football grow since hosting and Spain became World champions in 2010.

There’s no doubt that Brazil had a lot of pressure going into the game. Heck, there was a lot of pressure on the players even before the 23-man team was decided. It got to the point head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari brought in team psychologist Regina Brandao to assess the psychological profile of 50 players for Scolari to decide the cut. However pressure was so tense during the Round of 16 match against Chile which Brazil won after penalty kicks, sever players cried prior to the shoot-out. Scolari called Brandao in immediately after to try and ease the situation before the quarterfinal against Colombia, in which they won  2-1. Nevertheless the absence of Thiago Silva because of his accumulation of yellow cards was going to affect Brazil’s defense and they knew it. Neymar being hospitalized with a fractured vertebrae during the match was another blow. Nevertheless it appeared things might not hurt Brazil so much as they continued to play consistently without them.

However that was one match and the semifinal was another. The Brazilian team appeared confident at the start but it soon became evident that something was amiss. However it was evident after Germany’s four-goal streak in six minutes that something was direly wrong. Brazil just didn’t look like Brazil anymore. You could tell the sense of panic in the faces of the players and even in some of the blunders. The goal saving by Manuel Neuer made things even more frustrating especially since Brazil delivered some great chances. Overall Brazil was better than Germany in many other statistics: 52% ball possession, 18 shots taken compared to Germany’s 14, two more corner kicks and three less fouls committed. The shots on target statistic may not look like a big deal–ten for Germany and eight for Brazil– but the final score showed that Brazil definitely had their weaknesses exposed in front of the world and on home turf. Even thinking back to their past games and the glitches they had there, I sometimes think that the loss was a collapse waiting to happen.

You may remember from my blog on 1950 how heartbroken Brazil was to the point some committed suicide. I haven’t heard of any news of suicides yet. Nevertheless reactions have been mixed. There were definitely a lot of people crying. There were also a lot of angry people: some even going as far as calling Brazil ‘losers.’ A lot of negative tweets on Twitter. There was even flag-burning in Sao Paulo and a robbery at a party in Rio de Janeiro. Some even chanted obscenities at President Rousseff during the game. The media is also questioning whether she will be re-elected in the upcoming election this year. As for the media, Brazilian newspapers gave front page titles like The Disgrace Of All Disgraces, The Biggest Shame In History and Historical Humiliation. Just like the 1950 loss has since been called the Maracanazo, this game is starting to be called the Mineirazo. Oh yeah, it’s interesting to note that the German team had to be escorted out of the stadium by police. Also it was worth noting that former Brazilian player Cafu was denied access to the Brazilian dressing room, even though he went there to give words of comfort to the team.

There were however still supporters, both in Brazil and outside. The Brazilian team gave a simple post on their Twitter: “It is the union that is strength. Saturday we have another battle and we have to go on. Pain is all of us. Thank you!” There’s even a hashtag: #EuAindaAcredito Pele gave a well-wish: “We’ll get the sixth title in Russia.” Cafu sent an encouraging tweet: “Viva Brasil!  I am very proud to be a Brazilian is not a defeat that will bring us down. Come together!!” Even Germany gave words of support:

Germany Twitter

“”My nightmares never got so bad… As a supporter, of course, I am deeply sorry because I share the same sorrow of all supporters. But I also know that we are a country that has one very peculiar feature. We rise to the challenge of adversity. Being able to overcome defeat I think is the feature and hallmark of a major national team and of a great country.”

-Dilma Roussef

As for Brazil, this will remain a big question of how things go. No doubt the team is hurt and no doubt the nation is broken-hearted. Coach Scolari has accepted the blame for what happened. The players have their own feelings. However it’s not over for Brazil yet. There is still the third-place match against the Netherlands in Brasilia the day before the World Cup match will be played. Brazil could go out there and lose again. Or they could go out there and play for pride. Also I think if the fans truly love the Selecao, they’d gladly cheer them on during the third-place match. Heck, I saw fan passion from fans of Spain during their game against Australia even though they knew Spain was out of it.

As for the status of football in Brazil, I don’t think this match will hurt it. Brazil has a proud legacy of producing some of the finest talents and frequently creating winning teams. I’m sure that boys and girls across Brazil will still dream of playing for the national team and winning the World Cup. A defeat like that should not crush their dreams. As for reactions as devastating as what happened in 1950, we’ll have to wait and see. I just received word from my uncle that 250 people in Brazil were killed in football-related riots. Hopefully nothing tragic happens in the aftermath of this match. Also I look back at how the white uniforms in 1950 were considered bad luck. After this, will holding the World Cup in Brazil be seen as bad luck?

Isn’t it something how Spain’s early ouster inspired me to look at being defending champion more closely. Now it’s Brazil’s big loss to Germany that has me looking at the pressures of being the host team. Two unique pressures, both having its own weight and both being make-or-break. No wonder winning the World Cup is such a marathon full of drama.

WORK CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Brazil vs. Germany (2014 FIFA World Cup). Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_vs_Germany_%282014_FIFA_World_Cup%29>

World Cup 2014: Semifinals Prediction

Last 4Well it’s getting closer and closer. We’re down to the last four countries standing. Tuesday and Wednesday will decide Sunday’s finalists for the World Cup. It’s a pair of interesting pairings as both look like rematches of a World Cup final from the past. And in both cases, both teams have played each other well to give a sign who has the advantage. So without further ado, I’ll look into the two semifinals and make my predictions.

SEMIFINAL #1 – BRAZIL vs. GERMANY

Head-To-Head Stuff:

Brazil and Germany have played each other 21 times. Brazil has won 12 of those times, Germany 4 and drawn 5 times. They have played each other only once in the World Cup: in the 2002 Final which Brazil won 2-0. Brazil has scored 39 total goals against Germany and Germany has scored 24 against Brazil.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

Brazil FootballBrazil: Oh yes, the pressures of being the host nation. Many times it’s been a plus as six host nations would go on to win the World Cup. However it can backfire and sometimes the host nation can miss. Even teams like Italy and Germany that have won World Cups in the past–even once before as host country– would miss. Brazil has performed very well in play and has delivered stellar wins such as 3-1 against Croatia and 4-1 against Cameroon. They have also shown their weak side with a 0-0 draw against Mexico and a 1-1 draw against Chile where they advanced after penalty kicks.

Brazil's chances of winning the World Cup have been under huge question after Neymar's devastating back injury in Friday's match against Colombia.

Brazil’s chances of winning the World Cup have been under huge question after Neymar’s devastating back injury in Friday’s match against Colombia.

Their most recent match-up against Colombia ended with a good win of 2-1 but it was not without incident as Neymar had been injured terribly in the back. He was even carried of in a stretcher and is currently hospitalized at his home near Sao Paulo. Doctors say his spinal cord is broken but he is expected to make a full recovery within six weeks. They also said had it been an inch higher, he would have been paralyzed permanently. Not to mention Thiago Silva amassing two yellow cards and out of the semifinal.

With Neymar out and recovering and Thiago Silva sitting the semi out, Brazil is trying to get its team ready against Germany. Even Sports Illustrated have spoken about what Brazil needs to do. Brazil will face more pressure to win but it’s not to say they don’t have what it takes to do it. They have David Luiz, Hulk and Fred still active on their team. However David Luiz knows that he will have to step up his defense. Also coach Scolari knows he will have to make a wise choice for a replacement for Neymar. On a positive side, Brazil did demonstrate its defense after Neymar was injured and taken off with impressive results. So it shows it can be done.

Germany FootballGermany: Germany keeps on adding to their record of consistency. Their semifinal appearance here makes it their thirteenth time in their eighteen World Cup appearances they’ve cracked the Top 4. The biggest surprise of it all is that despite Germany’s consistency, they’re one of the least celebrated great teams of the World Cup. Sure, you’ll walk down the street and see a lot of people wearing jerseys of Brazil, Italy, England, Argentina, Portugal, Netherlands and  Colombia most of the time but how often do you see one wearing a Germany jersey?

Germany's feats, like Thomas Muller's hat trick, often go underexposed.

Germany’s feats, like Thomas Muller’s hat trick, often go underexposed.

Even now Germany continues to perform well and their achievements go quietly. Thomas Muller scored a hat trick against Portugal but that received less mention than the two-pointers from Neymar, Lionel Messi and James Rodriguez. Some may feel that it’s a bad thing but others, like possibly some Germans, may not feel that way. We shouldn’t forget that Germany has one of the most closely knit teams. Most of the players are less interested in individual glory and more interested in making wins happen. People like Muller, Miroslav Klose, Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger may have what it takes to be stars of the team but they’re top interest is playing.

Their unity as a team has paid off here in Brazil. They won 4-1 against Portugal and 1-0 against the United States. However it’s not to say they’ve had some strugglers here too. They did draw 2-2 against Ghana and had to go into extra time against Algeria after remaining scoreless in regulation. They did however win 2-1 in extra time. However a 1-0 win against France puts their chances of winning the World Cup, if not against Brazil, in question.

The German team appear confident after knowing of Neymar’s injury. Many people have already predicted Germany will win this match because of both Neymar’s injury and Thiago Silva’s expulsion. However it’s too soon to assume things. Brazil has won games before without their best players. Nevertheless this is a golden opportunity for Germany to seize.

My Verdict: Okay. This is a tough call since things can go either way. Some people will think this is a risky call for me but I’ll call it anyways. I think Brazil will win 1-0 in extra time. Brazil has performed well without their best players at times–heck, they won the 1962 World Cup while Pele was sidelined with injuries– but I’m confident they have what it takes to do it and a strong coach like Scolari to lead the way. Also let’s hope the spectators make it there safe and sound after the news of the freeway collapse in Belo Horizonte on Saturday that left two dead and 23 injured. One trivia note: whoever wins will set a World Cup record for the most finals appearances with eight.

SEMIFINAL #2 – ARGENTINA vs. NETHERLANDS

Head-To-Head Stuff: Argentina and the Netherlands have squared off against each other eight times in the past including three times during World Cup matches including the 1978 final for the Cup. Argentina was host that year and won in extra time 3-1. Surprisingly this was the only time Argentina has defeated the Netherlands. The Netherlands have won four times including a 1998 World Cup rematch in the quarterfinals 2-1 and there have been three draws. Netherlands has scored 13 goals against Argentina while Argentina have scored six against the Dutch.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

Argentina FootballArgentina: Argentina have not played as spectacularly as they have been known to do. They have won all their games but all their wins have been at a margin of just one goal: 2-1 against Bosnia, 1-0 against Iran, 3-2 against Nigeria, 1-0 against Switzerland and 1-0 against Belgium. Already this makes it the fifth time Argentina has made it as far as the Top 4 at the World Cup. This is especially relief for them since the last time they made it past the quarterfinals was back in 1990.  Argentina has been known to have a spectacular flavor about them but it appears missing this time around. One thing that is not missing is spectacular play from Lionel Messi. He came as one of the superstars with high expectations and he has delivered with a total of four goals and even delivered excellent supporting play. There has also been excellent supporting play from Gonzalo Higuain.

Here in Brazil, Argentina will have to pick up their game if they want to win. Sure, conservative play has paid off in the past like for Spain at the last World Cup. However it can be a risk as who knows how much the opposing team can score. And the Netherlands already delivered a big win with 5-1 against Spain. If Argentina want to have their first win against the Netherlands since the 1978 World Cup final, they have to pick it up and have all their players deliver more than what they delivered in the past.

Netherlands FootballNetherlands: The Netherlands is considered by many the greatest team never to have won the World Cup. Three times the bridesmaid including the last World Cup, never the bride. Before this World Cup, not much was expected of Oranje. They had a disappointing Euro 2012 and they appeared like they hadn’t proven any improvements. However Louis van Gaal had a message to send the world. The team had already been made up of a lot of young players–nine of which were born in the 1990’s–and had top veterans like Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. Boy did they prove a lot starting with their 5-1 win over defending cupholders Spain, a 3-2 win over Australia and a 2-0 win over Chile. They also continued well with a 2-1 win over Mexico in the Round of 16. Their 11 goals have made them the top scoring team of the Cup so far with both Robben and van Persie scoring three goals each and 20 year-old Memphis Depay a strong favorite for the Cup’s Young Player award.

However with all their spectacular play, they were given a reality check when they drew 0-0 against Costa Rica in regulation. Much to the teams relief, they won the penalty shootout 4-3 after substituting goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul. If the Netherlands want to win en route to their fourth World Cup final, they should not rely on the facts that they’ve beaten Argentina more often. They should know Argentina can deliver when they have to. Also Argentina is better conditioned than the Netherlands at playing in the hot climates as seen in many games this World Cup.

My Verdict: I have to go with Argentina on this with the score 2-1. They haven’t been as spectacular as the Netherlands but they’ve been showing a lot of team unity and have delivered whenever they’ve had to. Also they know how to play hot weather better than the Netherlands.

Well that wraps up another set of predictions. I like how a lot of you like the predictions I’ve been making with the Group Stage and the first knockout games. All that’s left to predict is the final. Stay tuned Friday.