We are the Champions! But, have we learned the lessons?

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Reggae Boyz, victorious in the Caribbean Cup, and the coach is happy

They did it. The Jamaican men’s national team, aka the Reggae Boyz, won the Caribbean Cup last night. The flat facts are that the game ended 0-0 are normal time, and no goals were scored in extra time, so the match went to a penalty shoot out. Jamaica started well, scoring its first two penalties. Trinidad missed its first. All looked set till Jamaica missed its third kick, putting some drama into proceedings. But, Trinidad (FIFA rank 49) did not seem as comfortable, and when their kicker skied their fifth shot, the cup was Jamaica’s by a 4-3 margin.

Pandemonium followed as the relatively small crowd got the win they had hoped for. The coach, Winfred Schäfer was a little overcome with emotion immediately after the match, but had breath enough to utter that the team benefited from its preparation.

The simple profundity of that point may be lost on some. But, I am one of those who have wondered why the national team had been on a path set to fail rather than succeed, with a series of friendly matches notable for the lack of time to prepare. Off to Europe, long flights, tight schedule…results showed that very good teams have little sympathy with mediocre teams who are not up for the game. The result that stood out was the 8-0 drubbing by France (FIFA rank 7). I don’t know if Jamaicans were really shocked rather than embarrassed.

More recently, the team schlepped off to Japan (FIFA rank 52), and reportedly had half an hour to practice before the match. The ‘narrow’ 1-0 loss is not the thing to focus on, but the fact that having taken two days to reach a destination then try to play a high-level match is the action of the suicidal. Jet lag. Climate difference. Cultural difference. Away match nerves. Name many other things that were working against a team. Then, to practice as long as most people spend on dinner is a travesty.

If I were a serious Jamaican, I would have called for the head of someone, and I did in an indirect way. But, this is the fault of the Jamaican Football Federation, which needs money so badly it cannot put its players into a national training camp and find opposition to play at home or nearer than in Asia, and present the country with stale excuses about why the team is losing.

Jamaica’s FIFA ranking slumped badly as a result of the farcical venture and the string of losses, and sat at 113 coming into the Cup competition. To me, that alone should have been a humiliating outcome of a period of ‘rebuilding’. The nonsense was best summarised by the fact that they were ranked lower than Antigua and Barbuda (#70).

Many people looked at the ranking without understanding that the placement matters. Players cannot get into the major European leagues if their national teams are ranked outside the top 75, so Jamaica’s development could be hurt by that unnecessary slip.

The country has an abundance of talented players. We are not spoiled by the riches that Louis van Gaal has to manage at Manchester United–are any of his subs Jamaicans? But, we have a small crop of players capable of holding their own in the premier divisions around Europe. We could have more and that should be the aim. The current coach understands that locally-based players cannot compete well enough against seasoned internationals in much better teams, who are almost all playing in the top leagues in Europe or Latin America. National pride is not really hurt because the team has only 4 locals in the squad. Antigua– a tiny nation–has realised this, and had only two (if memory is right).

Much of the discussion about football that goes on locally is not about the national team: it’s about schoolboy football. That really sums up one of the major dilemmas. Local football at the professional level is not that good. That has to change. We would be laughed out of the room if we went around touting how well Jamaica College had been doing in the Mannings Cup and wondering if STETHS would again haul in the Dacosta Cup, and who were the real close rivals. Truth is, though, that professional football is at least the second class citizen in that conversation. Few have resources as good as the schools on which to play.

Talk has moved, recently, towards how the local professional game can be developed and the many ideas all have some merit. Will any of it materialise? Well, the chances are improved by a better performance this past week. Backers like winners. It’s a better platform on which they can build.

Let’s hope that Coach Schäfer can get enough time with his players to run good camps before each set of fixtures. The Captain (Horace Burrell) should know that to bake well, the ingredients need to given time to rise before they are put into the heat of the oven.

Things came to a head: Germany win the World Cup, but at what cost?

All good things come to an end, and this one came to a good end. Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in the World Cup final, with a sublime goal from Götze, who’d come on to replace ace striker, Klöse. 20140714-065432-24872150.jpg The German coach looks like a genius with that single stroke. His legacy is set, as is that of his team. On the other side, Lionel Messi will have to abide the view that his legacy is incomplete because he has not won a World Cup champions medal. That’s a bit of rubbish, in my view, because one player can rarely determine the result of a team match, certainly, it’s hard in football. Messi did not play a spectacular game, but Germany knew what they had to do and managed to corral his runs well, though he nearly slipped the net once.

Germany had few weak links. On the contrary, some players gave up too much body and soul. Christioph Kramer took a shoulder to his head early in the first half, and looked knocked out. As happens all too often, a trainer came on, and the player was led off the field for a cursory amount of ‘treatment’, and then returned to play. Within 10 minutes, Kramer had fallen down, and was then led off the field, looking and walking like a zombie, and was substituted. During the match, the commentators we had did not give any update on his condition. I have not yet seen any reports, either. But, it showed starkly something terribly wrong in football. Head injuries and the risks from concussions are not taken seriously. 20140714-063457-23697244.jpg FIFA has a protocol for dealing with such injuries, but unlike in American football, where the NFL applies it’s rules rigidly, the round ballers repeatedly let the ball drop on this matter. I honestly think it will take a player dying on the field or soon after a match for the issue to be addressed seriously. It was Kramer’s first start during the tournament, and it was a sad end. But, his was not the only instance of dangerous head injuries during the match. Higuaín got a heavy hit from German keeper, Neuer. Also, Schweinsteiger was punched in the eye by Aguero, resulting in a nasty gash to his eye.20140714-064217-24137589.jpg

I noticed on Twitter that the topic got a lot of attention from well-respected football commentators, including former US national player, Taylor Tweelman. But, several mainstream media houses, such as ESPN and Fox Sports seem to be highlighting the issue and FIFA’s negligence. See one scathing piece by Slate. Let’s hope that national federations and professional clubs see the wisdom of protecting players from a needless injury and brain damage.

The consistent negligence regarding head injuries was the one real blight on the tournament, which showcased some simple innovations in match management. We can all understand coaches’ reluctance to rapidly switch their line up, but in the end they have a squad for a reason.

No doubt, Germany proved to be the best team over the whole series of matches. They were nearly derailed twice by African teams, and had Ghana taken a 3-1 lead in their group game, we’d still be wondering what had happened to Germany. But, they showed their mettle by dodging those upsets. Algeria took them to extra time in the round of 16, but quality rose to take that match, eventually. Neuer partly redefined goalkeeping to show its range to include a sweeper role, but he also showed the value of solid shot stopping and ball clearance. Germany was also the most clinical in front of goal. Brazil felt that worst of all. They also showed how to pass fast and accurately all over the field.

This was my third time seeing Germany reach a final game while I was in the host country, and they lost the previous two times. At least, I’m not a complete jinx.

Credit to Brazil, for pulling off the organization. Debt headaches aside, it was a good-looking job. Social issues were not far from the surface, and the amount of security personnel visible on the way to Maracana made clear that the government was not going to risk any mishap, whatever the core merit of grievances. That’s no big surprise. Those issues can’t be removed by demonstrations, but much can go wrong with such demonstrations.

Rio airport was filled with departing fans. Most got to watch the final before leaving, like we did. Almost, timed to perfection. I have to get my head ready to think about another trip to Rio for the 2016 Olympics. Then, Jamaica will have some direct interest, not having to live vicariously.

No rest for the wicked: From Rio, reggae sounds tinny

Yesterday and today are rest days before the last two matches in the World Cup. The final will be at football’s Mecca, Maracana Stadium. Many fans made their trek to the venues for those matches, and Rio was awash with Argentina fans, who seemed more numerous than Germany fans. No surprise, given relative distances. I presume Brasilia saw an influx of Dutch fans; Brazilians can leave travelling it till later. Those fans I saw were in good mood, mostly decked in shirts other than team colours. They were helping the economy a little more by shopping and taking taxis. The rains did not let up, and drenched Rio all day and throughout the night.

We took it lazily and found our way to a fabulous restaurant, named Aprazível, in the Santa Teresa area of Rio, up a step hill near to Corcovado.

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Santa Teresa, Bohemia maybe

The area has lots of older buildings, and the hills make the area seem more like a European town. It’s become a place for arty types, and has a bohemian feel, with narrow, cobbled stone streets. We just enjoyed some nice Brazilian fare

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Dished to please, galinhada caipira

as my wife and her friend and daughter celebrated The Bahamas 41st anniversary of Independence. We then went to help the economy, too, to dodge the rain and be somewhere less gloomy and cold–a mall in upscale Leblon.

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Bookstore and cafe in the mall

It made for a long day, and we did not get home till well past 9.30pm. My little daughter got to stay up really late, playing cards with one of her sisters.

Rio has been blessed with a lot of technological investment from its hosting of mega events, and free wifi internet access is widespread. So, when we have downtime, it’s easier to do some surfing rather than leaving it all till day’s end. (We are not alone, and the mall was awash with people sitting in groups doing the same. International roaming charges are no joke.) I took the opportunity while my ladies shopped to read up on Rio and some elementary Portuguese. As I caught up with the day, I read, as usual, news from Jamaica. It makes for interesting contrasts to the heavily football-centric focus now in Brazil.

Here, even the not sports news is related to football. The budding ticket scandal, where a FIFA-affiliated hospitality company official, Briton Ray Whelan, has been arrested for selling complimentary tickets and match credentials. Latest news was he’d ‘escaped’ and was on the run. My older daughter wondered if he’d headed to The Amazon rainforest.20140711-065746-25066430.jpg

A blooming ‘would have, could have’ story is coming from the British press, asking if the first penalty kick by Holland, which was initially saved by the Argentina keeper, actually crossed the line. Read and watch a replay. This could just brew into a little more embarrassment, who seem like fly paper in that regard. With much-touted goal line technology, it seems that match officials are still in the trigger whistle mode and not accustomed to waiting and getting a conformation of near incidents. The fans and IT mavens will have a little field day.

In Jamaica, the news has been much about the parched conditions are the drought now biting. For over half a century, that little island has shown how the curse if riches works. Resource rich, but application poor. We have water coming at us from all possible angles, but cannot get it to where people are. Or, we squander nature’s abundance like children and splash and dash away valuable rain water. “No problem, man!” You better sing another song, if the Weather Service predictions of little rain throughout the coming months are correct. What Rio has had for the past 48 hours would do us a treat. I bet people are begging for a tropical storm to come lash the island. I read a few days ago about fields catching fire in St. Elizabeth, the island’s bread basket, then saw a report yesterday about the government ‘implementing’ a J$30 million drought mitigation project (or maybe just recycled news) island wide . 20140711-075112-28272216.jpgHi, Lily, hi low. Oh, the plight of the beggar! What’s that passage about reaping the fruits of our labour? We work at not working, so our basket must stay empty.

The stories swirl about the Commissioner of Police’s sudden resignation and retirement. Just in his 50s, and giving every sign of being ready to sail on into the sunset of 10 more years. Then, brap. Just so,he says “Nah! I want to go fishing.” Was he jump or was he pushed. He doesn’t seem the jumpy type. Let’s leave it there. But, read Mark Wignall’s column from last week, which puts the skeptical case well.

Eyes have also focused on the latest exchange rate developments. My reading is that the central bank governor did something normal, but some want to see it as extraordinary. He intervened in the market to maintain ‘orderly conditions’. Governor Wynter reportedly said the rapid rate of depreciation within the last few weeks was not justified by any fundamentals in the market. Jamaica just got a kiss and hug for being teacher’s pet from the IMF MD, and successfully launched a US$800 million bond. That would suggest that speculative pressure on the exchange rate should lessen, and it’s rate of depreciation slow. The Gov did something extraordinary by announcing the intervention. That could be a classic ploy of signaling to the market that enough hanky panky has gone on. Forget about the rate having reached a bottom. Jamaica doesn’t have the dosh to slosh into the market and defend a level, and Mme Largarde won’t accept it, either. So, keep on with end Lamasse breathing.

Jamaica is over twice the physical area of Rio, with about half the population. It’s not been blessed to sit within a huge land mass, or to have seen years of intense economic and social change. It’s a place with hopes but woeful vision. Rio and Brazil are almost the opposite of great hopes and too much vision. It wouldn’t take the wit of many people to fix Jamaica’s woes. But wit we use to be twits.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (June 29): Suárez defence edition

No, the ‘Suárez defence’ is not a chess gambit, but it is a way of stifling an opponent. Luis Suárez, now almost less famous than comic portrayals of himself, reportedly told FIFA that he did not bite Chiellini deliberately, but lost balance and fell onto the man’s shoulder. I have to stop there. I’ve seen the replays enough times to know that Luis might have lost his mental balance and thought he was next to a shoulder of mutton.

Internet jokers, of whom I am one occasionally, lit into this near-ludicrous argument and lit up Twitter. Famous sporting philandering was now seen as ‘falling into the wife’ of a teammate. Zidane clearly stumbled and his head fell into Materazzi: it was not a deliberate head butt.

The problem I see is that some officials in Latin America may believe this arrant nonsense.
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This World Cup has done much to put a little shimmer on international football, with a goal fest, and so-called underdogs pushing over big guns. It has also given us absurdity. Cameroon delayed their arrival over money. It was paid and they came and played like a bunch of 9 year olds. Ghana went on strike over appearance fees. US$ 30 million was paid, then the team played against Portugal like they had been paid off. They lost narrowly 2-1 but they lost heavily in self respect. Their home coming should be interesting. Their Suárez defence? They fell under an Obeah spell?

Referees have found the power of a can of white foam. Players are entranced and dare not move. But, the refs are still too often scapegoats for apparent bad decisions. FIFA may yet accept video review. The question is what or who will trigger a shift? My own speculation is that national associations have to feel badly wronged when review could have corrected wrongs. Many other sports use it and their future hasn’t dimmed. I also have a notion that sponsoring companies may tip the balance. Reviews mean stopping play and would give more potential advertising slots. Football is already difficult in that regard. Many viewers do not like banner ads on screens. Plugs during commentary are really silly. The sound of cash tills may do it.

We are now at the knock out stages. Two teams were packing yesterday, Chile and Uruguay. They added much excitement and caused much drama. Thanks. Brazil roll on. The organizers are happy. Cue Pharell.

Accepting change means overcoming fear: the beautiful game (Brazil 2014 edition) is a good teacher

I believe it is better to be hopeful rather than hopeless. My French host went for a job interview yesterday, in Paris; the train operators were still on strike. He travelled to Paris for free, because he was unable to buy a ticket. That’s a win-win, because the interview went well.

It’s good to correct mistakes early. I like to think that those who really want to change, look at what has happened and use the information to avoid a repetition. I am less hopeful about FIFA changing, but now and again I feel optimistic. A Jamaican paper reported: ‘FIFA said Friday it has withdrawn Colombian linesman Humberto Clavijo from World Cup match duties after he flagged in error for two offsides in Mexico’s 1-0 victory over Cameroon. Two goals by Mexico’s Giovani Dos Santos were ruled offside in Friday’s Group A game. FIFA did not give details of the incidents ruled errors.’ That is rare corrective action, in terms of speed and decisiveness. It would be nice if FIFA could bring itself to explain what went wrong, but I can imagine the men clutching their jackets and already feeling nausea over what they have done. Let them have some calm.

Small is beautiful in the beautiful game. Admitted, the world is mostly about small countries, but very small ones are kicking butt at this World Cup: Ecuador, Costa Rica, Belgium, Netherlands are riding higher than expected. The ‘superpowers’ have never dominated football, and we will see how the USA and Russia fare in coming matches.

Hairstyles seems to have gone wild. I have to laugh and the way that professional athletes try to get an edge. The shoes? The clothes? The supporters? They all count. But, the hair? It must matter. Why else all the bizarre designs? Read this lovely summary. Some look like they were done in the dark and with less than a steady hand. The French team alone seemed to have gone wilder than most in their match against the Swiss, who also had their share of ‘hair heads’.

People love to watch football. FIFA is ecstatic that during the first week all sorts of TV viewing records were smashed. Read their bumph. Great news for them now and going forward with the sale of future TV rights. The USA market may at last be on board. See that train roll. Most of my American friends are football (soccer) fans of long-standing. But, it’s the only place I know where during big international football events major celebrities seem to fall over themselves to gloat that they don’t get it, or find it boring, etc. I’m not going over the silly arguments with people who will spend hours watching baseball, which I love, too, but please put away the ‘boring’ card.

If FIFA could guarantee lots of goals. Most football fans will take matches without goals, but we all love to see the ball make the net bulge. We know that scoring is very difficult, so when it happens it is a big achievement; Hence, the mad reactions of scorers and supporters. Those dances are justified, though some need much more rehearsal: France, you have time to work on that as much as set piece plays; call the Colombians.

Time was that players focused on their golf and video games in their spare time. On the goals, rather than the celebrations, they are raining in. France and Swizerland served up seven yesterday. The average number per match is just under 2.9, on track to be the highest since the 3.8 in Sweden 1958. Why? Here’s a brief analysis. Robin van Persie’s ‘flying Dutchman’ is still the favourite and has spawned the craze of ‘Persieing’, based on his flying pose. But, Australian Tim Cahill’s volley was special, too. Those two nations served up a festival of good goals, so lap all of them up, here.

Let’s take sports health seriously. The inaction by officials during the match over the concussion of a Uruguayan player has so far been matched by the silence of FIFA on the incident. I wrote on this yesterday. If the player had died or suffered an obvious brain injury, FIFA officials could not find enough distance between themselves and lawyers and media baying for someone’s head. But, it need not get to that stage. Enough experience and expertise exists for FIFA to draw on. The notions that govern football are rooted in the 19th century. The world has moved far from that point. Use the progress. The world’s players’ union has called for an investigation of FIFA’s concussion protocol. Hydration issues are now well-known, but football matches did not take stoppages to ensure this happened. Instead, players use breaks in the action to get bottles thrown at them to suck on quickly; goalkeepers tend to keep some fluids in the goal for themselves, or share with players who come nearby. Americans have rolling substitutions for youth-through-college players, so leaving the game to get a drink is easier. Not so, the pros in most leagues. But, wait. Some have had enough. A court in Brazil has issued an injunction on FIFA for it to have mandatory water breaks during matches played in high temperatures. This is really forcing FIFA to enforce its own norms. They seem to just be dysfunctional as functionaries!The breaks are now mandatory when temperatures reach 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 Fahrenheit) in the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature index, which takes into account factors such as time of day, cloud cover, wind, humidity and location. Anyway, FIFA must pay 200,000 reals (about US$90,000) for each match in which the ruling isn’t enforced.

We are reaching the point in the matches when caution gets you nowhere. That’s good for excitement. The albatross that is FIFA will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to accept that many things about football must change. It nearly died before and its revival is better sustained with regular massaging. Is being in Zurich really the reason FIFA is so dull? Maybe, they should move the HQ to Rio.

 

Brazil 2014: What a week taught us and decades wont change

Social media is full of information. I don’t track everything that interests me, but I tend to share that when I see it. Football fans have been in heaven during the past seven days, since the World Cup matches started. Bags of goals and many of them stunning. Fast, furious action. Of course, controversies within the matches.

But, beyond the goals, and fouls, and cautions, and ejections, and massive crowds, what has been of interest on the soccer field and in the stadiums? (I have not quite understood the Chilean fans’ invasion of the media centre at the Maracana Stadium.)

The Japanese see sport differently. Japan is astonishingly clean. So, Japanese fans want to show that off to the world. That’s why they stayed behind after a match to clean up the stadium. Though their team lost 2-1 to Cote d’Ivoire at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Japanese spectators armed with bin liners patrolled their side of the stadium and gathered up discarded litter. That is class. Social media filled up with praise for this.

Japanese fans clean up in Recife
Japanese fans clean up in Recife

FIFA is run by madmen. I came to that conclusion when I watched England lose to Uruguay last night. Raheem Sterling’s knee caught Alvaro Pereira in the head, and knocked him out cold. (Watch the incident here.) He looked dead at first. Once he was revived, officials tried to escort him from the field. He protested. Next thing, he’s running around and getting hit and heading the ball again.

Pereira, pole axed. Moments later, running around like a kid. Madness!
Pereira, pole axed. Moments later, running around like a kid. Madness!

FIFA has a concussion protocol (see here). By contrast, the NFL begin assessing head injuries long before training camps, and players seen or suspected of having head injuries MUST leave the field for medical assessment. Not in football. A bunch of macho know-it-alls look on idly. The NFL also monitors conditions after a match. FIFA? Hello? Anyone there?

Trying to watch television coverage of matches is like trying to win a lottery. I’m quite savvy about possible alternatives to broadcast or satellite or cable transmission of live sporting events. However, when TV rights have been sold for billions of dollars, what can one expect? FIFA are due to make US$ 6 billion in revenue and US$ 2 billion profit from this World Cup, almost all of that from selling TV broadcast rights. Remember, the rights are sold to individual countries or groups of countries. The buyers are not always national broadcasters, but may often be subscription services, so watching freely may not be an option. At home, in Jamaica, SportsMax have the rights and it’s subscription cable. On vacation in France, the rights are shared between public broadcasters and private cable companies. I have to see which is showing a match: my hosts do not subscribe to the cable channel. Frustrated, sometimes, I scour known sources to find a free online streaming provider. Those I know are good and have feeds in English, but I would take any for the visual coverage; I do not need the prattle. They have drawbacks, whether annoying pop-up ads or links to services I do not want, but overall offer great options.

The mute button is my friend. I really need little when I watch sport other than the event. I like helpful background information about the contestants, but not too much. I do not need a screen filled with statistics, especially ones that do little more than count things that may not really matter.

TV football stats make it like a video game
TV football stats make it like a video game

But, I understand the trend and I think that football needs to use what technology now offers to make it fuller in many ways. But, I wish I could choose my pundits. I get mostly inane commentary thrown at me: in Jamaica, it comes from people wearing very brightly coloured shirts–that’s how it’s done. Branding matters. In France, I was pleased to hear and see Arsenal’s manager, Arsene Wenger, as usual, in a suit and tie, talking little but making much sense; with his wonderful perspective as a successful manager. Often, all I get is what I can see for myself, or ranting and with little value. I so wish that I could choose which pundit to hear. Time to develop an app.

Jamaican TV broadcasters are branded
Jamaican TV broadcasters are branded

National values are not international values. The four yearly caravan of football, like the Olympics, offer good opportunities to sample other cultures. Many things are common; many are not. TV exposes much but explains little. Brazil’s racial history is not the USA’s and should not be made to fit into the  American narrative. African countries are not all the same. Latin American teams are not all capable of playing like Brazil in 1970. Social pressures and preferences are not suddenly forgotten when players enter the field. Fans have voices that are not the social barometers of their countries. We will see and hear things we deem racist. We will see and hear behaviour that treats women badly, as seen from our viewpoint. If our stereotypical view of Italians is right, then they will be pleading their innocence even as the blood drips off the boot that kicked the man in the eye. English players are very skillful and can pass as well as most others. Not every nation thinks that faking injuries is right: more players earning their keep in a few countries has had mixed benefits in showing new tricks to old dogs, but also showing those dogs that old tricks don’t go down well everywhere. Diving is an Olympic sport and should be kept there. 🙂

 

Everyone loves to hate referees. The honeymoon lasted only minutes and after that, no love was lost on the men in black sometimes. FIFA has moved with the times a little bit, and brought the profile of referees up during this World Cup, so now you get little thin bios. But, players and fans may know all of that already. They only care, though, if the men do not stink up the place with their ‘bad’, ‘biased’, ‘racist’, ‘home-team-favouring’, ‘scared’, ‘idiotic’, ‘blind’ decisions.

It began well for Brazil, but Croatian coach Niko Kovac accused Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura of being partial to his side  after it lost the opener at Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo last Thursday: “I had a feeling that the referee had one set of rules for us and the other for Brazil. I don’t want to talk about referees but everybody saw how he did his job. He didn’t have respect for Croatia. He’s not good enough to be a referee in such an important game,” read one quote from Kovac in an interview to Croatian Television after the match.

Let's be friends?
Let’s be friends?

Football is full of controversy as far as decisions are concerned. The game has too few officials and decisions are mostly interpretation. The FIFA hierarchy like it that football is full of errors. Referees are human: they make mistakes, and that’s part of the fun; Sepp Blatter thinks. Who would get upset about a goal scored and seen by everyone except the match officials? Where’s your sense of fun? Ask Steven Gerrard. Who would get upset about a clear foul that is given, but no caution given because the referee realises that it would mean the expulsion of a key player? C’mon, man! It would only change the balance of the game, totally. Let’s give the man the chance to throw another elbow or kick the living daylights out of an opponent a little later.

De Jong checks if his boot fits Alonso's chest. It does. Referee Webb agrees.
De Jong checks if his boot fits Alonso’s chest. It does. Referee Webb agrees.

I guess we should ask Howard Webb, who seemed perfectly placed to see De Jong plant his boot into another player’s chest. Play on! Man down!

Need I mention 1986 and England-Argentina? Well, what’s a little handball into the net between friends, or enemies?

See what? Maradona became a hero for his country. His team went on to win the World Cup. At the post-game press conference, Maradona facetiously commented that the goal was scored “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios” (“a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God“). What of the real villain, Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser? He gained 6th position in the top 10 worst refereeing decisions of all time (see here). Bravo, my boy!

FIFA, not yet a swear word, loves to keep referees out of the limelight. Referees, sometimes, hog the show. How about making them more accountable to the viewing and playing public? No. That would undermine their authority. Dissent. Yellow card. It would also show them as being human and fallible; that wouldn’t do. Have to love them as we hate them. (disclaimer: I am a qualified referee, and my decisions are final.)

The good, the bad, and the ugly (June 15, 2014): Brazil 2014 World Cup edition

I will look for myself at evidence of social unrest in Brazil. It wont be exhaustive, but I prefer to check my own sentiments. Before that, what has the week that includes the start of the latest edition of this four-yearly football carnival brought us?

What was bad? I personally did not find a nerve stirred by the opening ceremony musical performance by Pit Bull, Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte. I think that somehow mega-stars performing at events such as these (or Super Bowl) are more about themselves than about really pleasing an audience and making them feel a part of something significant. Just my view.

J-Lo, Pit Bull, and Claudia Leitte, get something on in Rio
J-Lo, Pit Bull, and Claudia Leitte, get something on in Rio

Anyway, that was a rather dull start to the tournament, but once games got underway later the same day, the magic of the World Cup was really with us. It has been very good, so far. Brazil won their opener against Croatia, without a stellar performance, but ‘star boy, Neymar, came good with two goals. But, the hosts know that looking pretty and not winning is not what top-level football really likes. No game, so far, has been dull. Some matches have definitely not gone to plan and shown that football is a game of two halves. We saw the reigning Champions, Spain, get absolutely drubbed 5-1 by the Netherlands, after being tied at half-time. But, the real talking point of the match was the Superman-like leap of Robin van Persie to head the go-ahead goal, the like of which I have never seen before.

Costa Rica shocked Uruguay with a 3-1 win yesterday, their first ever against a South American team. Ivory Coast came back from one down to beat Japan 2-1 last night. England-Italy was the drama that it was billed to be, with the Azzurri winning 2-1.

Van Persie in full flight to head his goal
Van Persie in full flight to head his goal

What else, though? Goals have been going in at a rate of knots. So, fans shouldn’t complain about being bored and matches being dull.

Referees have already been the centre of controversy about penalty decisions given or denied, as well as goals denied. I have not held back in my ridiculing of any concerns about referees and calls they make. FIFA has set its face against using television evidence to help officials during matches, since 1970. FIFA does not permit video evidence during matches, although it is permitted for subsequent sanctions. The 1970 meeting of the International Football Association Board “agreed to request the television authorities to refrain from any slow-motion play-back which reflected, or might reflect, adversely on any decision of the referee” Moreover, in 2008, FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, said: “Let it be as it is and let’s leave [football] with errors. The television companies will have the right to say [the referee] was right or wrong, but still the referee makes the decision – a man, not a machine.” That’s the official position. So, fans, get over it! If you don’t like it, better find a way to shift FIFA’s thinking.

We’ve seen other things. FIFA has bowed to the god of new goal-line technology, to determine whether the ball crosses the goal line between the posts. It was embarrassed enough by the goal that was not seen when England’s Gerrard put the ball into the net, except that the referee was at his eye exam and his pupils were still blurred and he waved play on. What a total jackass he must have felt when he saw the replays at home with Mrs. Referee. But, FIFA, have not stopped there. They have dealt with the annoyingly childish practice of players creeping forward at free kicks to encroach on the required 10 yards from the ball. Referees now have some disappearing foam, which they can spray to make a really neat circle or line where the ball should be, and then make a line where the players toes should be. You can see some bewilderment amongst the players, as the referee bends down to resist the temptation to sign his name. But, let’s spray begin.vanishing spray

We cannot get the full flavour of the matches on television. Seeing the drumming fans of Cote d’Ivoire is not the same as having them right next to you. The arm-waving Chilean fans look fanatic, and probably are. The tearful faces of Costa Rican fans needed to be seen up close. In Jamaica, we also suffer from just poor reception. I’m not going to tackle it much here, but CVMTV has a substandard product that the country need not have had to tolerate. The warning given to them by our Broadcasting Commission made me wonder why they were allowed to win. Surely, eligibility should have screen out a problematic provider. But, in Jamaica, we like to be exceptional. Interestingly, a plethora of links to streaming sites have started to spread on social media. I have not checked any yet, but it will be interesting to see if they are better quality, or what features make them popular. Portability may be one. As I will be in airports much of the next days, that may be a relevant consideration. I know, though, that coverage in England and France will not be substandard.

I have been underwhelmed by the goal celebrations so far. We had Daniel Sturridge doing his thing when he scored for England, but most celebrations have been about players piling on top of each other, or running madly towards their coach and teammates on the side. The best collective effort so far has been Colombia’s, led by Pablo Armero.

Well, I’m pulling for Ghana, who have to right the wrongs of 2010. My daughter is American, so we will be sleeping with our backs to each other after the match between Ghana and the USA on Monday.

Jamaicans are true waggonists, and I look forward to seeing how the displays of ‘support’ change in coming days. Spain got dumped. Will orange be the new black in Kingston? I’m really looking forward to seeing how committed fans are behaving in Europe. I’ll be there in a few hours and will share happily.

 

The good, the bad, and the ugly (March 23, 2014)–Football Edition

Good

Wayne Rooney? This is your life. He scored a sensational volleyed goal yesterday against West Ham United.

Of course, immediate comparisons will be made with David Beckham’s long distance lob against Crystal Palace.

My vote goes to Rooney, who never controlled the ball, but volleyed it, after a lovely little nudge on his opponent. Becks had the ball at his feet and was under no pressure, waltzing in midfield. “Incredible!” “Astonishing!” That’s what the commentators said. F****** brilliant! Oh, but not on the telly can that be said.

Bad

Arsenal will be seen as English Premier League Champions-pretenders this season for one reason. Against other top four teams they have been given a royal tonking by the other three when paying at their grounds. Yesterday, they suffered 6-0 to Chelsea, but had been roasted 6-3 by Manchester City and 5-1 by Liverpool. That big loss spoiled Arsene Wenger’s 1000 EPL game as their manager.

But, the match was also memorable for a refereeing howler. Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dived and handled the ball on the goal line, but a bizarre case of mistaken identity meant that his team-mate Kieran Gibbs was sent off instead. Referee Andre Marriner pointed to the spot for a penalty, but sent off Keiran Gibbs, rather than Oxlade-Chamberlain, who could be seen on television vainly telling the official: “Ref, it was me!” Do I really want ‘to go there’ and say, “We know they all look alike?” No, I’ll let Marriner stew on the skewer for a bit first.

Kieran Gibbs
Kieran Gibbs (“I’m not Oxlade-Chamberlain”)
Oxlade-Chamberlain
Oxlade-Chamberlain (“I’m not Gibbs”)

Ugly

Refereeing decisions. I may have to start a petition to see if FIFA will review refereeing decisions in a transparent fashion. But, the no-men of Zürich are not easily persuaded to do things that are sensible for ‘the beautiful game’. They argue that ugly is pretty, in the sense that “mistakes are part of the game”. Well, yes, if you allow them to be and do not use simple means to correct them.

A report from last year, highlighting refereeing incompetence, could easily have been written this past weekend. I’ll keep hammering this topic, hoping that like many a real person, FIFA will feel the sting of shame. But, I wont hold my breath. After all, we’ve got the murky World Cup bidding process to occupy them. What is it about organizations based in Switzerland that makes me feel a bit queasy when thinking that transparency is not high on the agenda?

"What, me? No way, ref!" Gibbs gets the mistaken identity card and an early bath
“What, me? No way, ref!” Gibbs gets the mistaken identity card and an early bath

The good, the bad, and the ugly (February 23, 2014)

Good

Back to Sochi we go. Jamaica’s two-man bobsled came in 29th out of 30 teams. That was no ‘flop’ as one of our national papers, the Jamaica Observer, headlined it. They qualified by entering races and getting enough points. They funded themselves by having friends with imagination who helped raise money through crowd-funding. They competed even though they had difficulties getting their equipment to the Games site on time. They raced very well–without qualifying their performance–ending 4.41 second behind the leading Russian pair, after three rounds. Think of that, over three runs on a 1365 meters course. Measure the difference between first place and the Jamaican time and you will find a minuscule difference. Meaning? The Jamaican team was very competitive, in a highly competitive and tight field. I could talk more about equipment, facilities, support, etc., but why bore you with what you know already in principle as the impediments they faced? The real flop? The sloppy journalism of taking a report from Agence France Presse and just dropping it onto the pages of the nation of the bobsledders, with little more thought that it takes to watch 4.41 seconds tick off a clock.

Bad

FIFA is not far from being considered a dinosaur in terms of its willingness to embrace technology to make football better in terms of quality of decisions at the highest levels of the sport. I am biased because I think certain changes are long overdue. I applauded the acceptance of goal-line technology this season, which has avoided many repetitions of egregious mistakes of goals not given (or even ‘no goals’ happening). Just this Saturday, we saw a crucial goal given to West Bromwich in their English Premier League draw with Fulham, after the ball barely crossed the line–all that’s needed. Mistakes are costly in many ways–monetarily, standings, etc.

Lampard scores past Neuer but referee 'saw' no goal
Lampard scores past Neuer but referees ‘saw’ no goal

This week, I again saw the case for instant replays in matches, especially to review decisions that concerns goals or goal-scoring possibilities. Liverpool lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup, but were denied what seemed like a clear penalty kick. Review would have at least given the officials the chance to see what they missed in the blur of action. Barcelona were awarded a penalty against Manchester City during this week’s UEFA Champions League. Let’s just focus on where the foul took place. I say outside the penalty area, definitely: no penalty. Some, even former referees, talk about ‘continuation’ and ‘second touch’. Guff, if ever I heard it. You handle a ball twice, one hand outside, one inside, it’s not the second touch that counts.

I’m not convinced by any arguments about losing flow of matches or time lost. The flow of games is broken more by many other things, and the importance of some decision argue against wanting to just ‘keep the game flowing’ above other considerations. My argument is simple: referees are asked to do something that is humanly very difficult–see everything clearly, even when at high-speed and from bad angles. Replays give officials the chance to look again. They can have their decisions confirmed or denied. It’s that simple. The use of replays has been good in removing much uncertainty from the minds of players and officials–fewer simmering arguments for decades. If FIFA wants to pretend that officials are superhuman, good for them. The world increasingly knows an ass when it sees one.

Ugly

I don’t know which is worse: the alleged sexual assault on a woman in the care of the St Mary Infirmary, or the case of cover-up on the part of administrators at the Infirmary. Both are disgusting. Desmond McKenzie, Opposition Spokesman on Local Government condemned the matter, and said that the incident took place on the February 9, but following what is suspected to have been a case of cover-up on the part of administrators at the Infirmary, was only officially brought to the attention of the St Mary Parish Council Wednesday at a meeting of its Poor Relief Committee. Add to this reports that the perpetrator was allowed to ‘clean himself up’ before fleeing. Jamaica has some people who are desperate. But, we also have a desperate shortage of people running institutions who are capable of making good decisions.