Did you know that the biggest sports tournament in the world is going on right now in South Africa?
What? You haven't heard the vuvuzelas?
OK so the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa has been kind of hard to miss since it kicked off on June 11th. It's the first World Cup ever to be held in Africa so it is a big, big deal!
Football is, of course, a global game however and if you're looking for an international perspective on the tournament or just trying to understand what all the fuss is about, our friends at Lonely Planet are collecting together posts by their global band of bloggers to highlight the best of the World Cup around the world on their website.
Now, if someone can just tell me how to watch the England game this afternoon at my desk without anyone noticing, I'll be set...
Sports / January 26, 2010
BBC Sport has unveiled a rather wonderful 40 second animated trailer for their coverage of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics featuring "the story of Akiak and his quest to find the missing head of Ilanaaq, a stack of rock in human form, which sits on the mountain above Whistler, where the skiiing and sliding events will take place":
LOVE & BLOOD: At The World Cup With The Footballers, Fans, and Freaks is the new book by Jamie Trecker, senior soccer writer for Fox Sports.
In 2006 Jamie, based in Chicago, Illinois, travelled with fans, footballers, journalists for the world's biggest spectacle: The FIFA World Cup. With the kind of tragedy that can only be found in soccer and Shakespeare, LOVE & BLOOD is an irreverent and intensely readable account of the finals in Germany, examining the passion, politics, controversies and economics of the beautiful game. And drinking a lot of beer...
Dan W: What surprised you most at the 2006 World Cup?
Jamie Trecker: The overall quality of play in the first phase of the Cup was poor and the hard corporate sell that surrounded the Cup was at an all-time high . Both were a bit off-putting and detracted from what is the greatest spectacle in all sport. The former showed just how overworked the players really are in today's hyper-competitive global soccer market and the latter showed why the global soccer is so hyper-competitive.
DW: Who was your player of the tournament?
JT: Fabio Cannavaro of Italy. Zinedine Zidane was a close second.
DW: At the 2002 World Cup, the US reached the quarterfinals. Why did a seemingly better-prepared US team under-perform in 4 years later?
JT: Well, they weren't better prepared - as it happened, they were pretty poorly prepared. The difference is that the USA was sold as "being better" and that just wasn't true. In 2002 the USA benefited from being a) an under-rated "unknown" and b) playing on neutral ground. They were well-known by the time 2006 rolled around and the USA have historically struggled on European soil. Fact is, getting that single point against the champs was a major achievement, but because of all the overblown hype, it felt to many fans like a failure. But the team is not able to handle true tactical football, and that's a failure of development and the American training system.
DW: Can you see the day that a North American team will win the World Cup?
JT: Yes, but it may not be in my lifetime. Certainly both the USA and Mexico have the population bases and interest to produce top-level athletes, but whether either of them can is an open question. I think Canada, with the emphasis on hockey and its smaller population, is far less likely to be competitive outside of the CONCACAF region.
DW: Soccer is a popular sport for young kids in North America, but this hasn't apparently translated into a successful adult game in the US or Canada. Why do you think this is?
JT: I think soccer is successful in both countries, actually; it's just not a "major" sport. North America is such an inflated market because of the huge revenues from baseball, basketball, NASCAR and the NFL, so it's easy to overlook the fact that getting 15-20,000 a night is pretty good for any sport.
Why is it not a major sport? For the same reasons boxing, horse racing and tennis aren't--you didn't have a league for a number of years and that took it out of the public eye. Boxing and racing were the two big sports at the turn of the 20th century, but they faded--the same thing might well happen to any one of the top sports today.
One thing that has contributed to it is that soccer has been thought of more as a pastime for kids than an actual "sport." That's slow to change.
DW: England recently played Russia on a controversial artificial turf instead of grass. The surface has been approved by FIFA and many MLS teams (including Toronto FC) use it, despite widespread disapproval within the game and fears over injuries. Should FieldTurf be used for soccer matches?
JT: I don't like it, personally. Having said that, there is a need for some surface for very cold and very arid climates. FieldTurf seems to be the best of a bad bunch right now, and soccer players are going to have to get used to it.
DW: What is holding the MLS back from reaching mainstream success?
JT: Bluntly, the quality of play. Americans demand the best in sport, and it's pretty obvious that just about anyone that cares to can see top-quality soccer--for free or the cost of a cable connection--virtually every day of the week thanks to networks like Fox, TSN, ESPN, Rogers et al.
MLS has done a good job building up its infrastructure, but a poor job actually building up the player base. Salaries are paltry, rosters are thin, and good young players from Latin, South and Central America are not being tempted to come and play here as a result. It's very disappointing.
DW: Has the arrival of David Beckham at the LA Galaxy been a good thing for the MLS?
JT: It was illuminating, but no, I think it proved to be a public relations disaster. MLS rushed him out too early, on an injured ankle, and the folks in LA were woefully unprepared to deal with the pressure and attention they got as a result. It's interesting that as soon as the hub-bub died down in LA that the Galaxy started to win again, isn't it?
DW: How would you evaluate Toronto FC's first season in the MLS?
JT: I think it went as well as one can expect, honestly. Anyone who has followed MLS knows that it's very difficult to assemble a team via a dispersal draft, and it became very clear that many of the Canadian internationals were not ready for this level of play. But TFC's fans have stuck with the team, and the stadium has the best atmosphere in the entire league by my reckoning so I think that they've laid down a real solid base for next season.
DW: Would the MLS benefit from more Canadian teams?
JT: Absolutely. I'd love to see a team in Montreal, myself and I think Vancouver could be a good addition. Canada has been a great host for pro soccer at every level, and I can't see why that wouldn't continue.
DW: Thanks Jamie! I can almost forgive you for being a gooner....