Dictators and Soccer Short: Hitler Fandom Rejected by Schalke

July 10, 2014 — by Rob Kirby


Germany in the Brazil World Cup 2014 finals. The Brazilians are all rooting against the Argentinians, so there’s a core fan base. But then word gets out Hitler once supported the German national team. Then people bring up the old taboo of Nazis hiding out in Brazil and then counter allegations of Nazis in Argentina. Public opinion sways rapidly against Germany (amnesia or foolish forgetful forgiveness had set in at some point over the last 60 years) and the country’s PR department has to act fast.

[Editor’s note: The ongoing Dictators and Soccer series includes other installments on Kim Jong-il of North Korea, the Military Junta of Argentina, Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania, Pope Benedict XVI of the Vatican and Mobutu Sésé Seko of Zaïre.]

The German spin doctors swiftly publish incontrovertible evidence that Hitler never actually supported the German side. Far from it. In fact, in the one known Fürher appearance at a soccer match, the 0-2 defeat to Norway at the Berlin Olympics, humiliation at his own doorstep, he left at halftime muttering one choice obscenity or other, a distasteful experience that put him off the sport for good.

This is fact. May the press conference enter into evidence Exhibit A. [[shuffled papers]]



Fun fact about Adolf Hitler and soccer, also true (the PR machine and the German press conference, not true). Word on the street and a 1998 article “The 50 Worst Famous Football Fans” in The Times had it Adolf was a fan of Schalke 04, six-time German/Austrian champs during the Nazi era. Modern-day Schalke went so far as to launch an investigation and issue formal response that no photographic evidence whatsoever existed linking him at any club matches. The letter to The Times from Schalke PR is hilarious for the use of “bugger,” if nothing else. Exhibit B:



Formal refutations of previous past unassailable der diktator fandom. Now that’s up-to-the-minute unpopularity.

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The Real Group of Death

June 12, 2014 — by Rob Kirby


[Editor’s note: The good folks at asked for an article on the Real Group of Death, and Rob from the Cult Football crew gave it his take. Check out the excerpt below and the full article on the Vocativ site. Another article on Klinsmann and lessons to learn from the Hungarian Golden Team of 1953 to follow.]

Fans salivate over the Group of Death that every World Cup inevitably thrusts upon unlucky heavy hitters cage-matched in the same group. This year, however, regional factions are debating which group qualifies as the real Group of Death for Brazil 2014.

American media says Group G—Germany (FIFA rank: 2), Portugal (4), the U.S. (13) and Ghana (38)—holds the title, hands down. In England, tabloid headlines sound a different alarm: English Premier League high-scorer (and convicted biter) Luis Suárez leads Uruguay (7) with canines bared against Italy (9), England (10) and Costa Rica (28) in Group D. But the real Group of Death, in our humble opinion, features a rematch of the 2010 final and allows no margin for error.

The insidious nature of Group B means that coming second equates to a stay of execution. In fact, think of Group B as having only one actual qualifying spot. Spain (1), Chile (14), the Netherlands (15) and Australia (62) will all have to bare-knuckle for first, because the group runner-up plays the winner of Group A, and as sure as Pelé talks about himself in the third person, Brazil will top its group.

You could argue that Brazil winning isn’t a sure thing, but consider this: Host countries almost always perform over the odds, and Brazil is already a super heavyweight. The team has the goal-scoring exploits of Golden Boot contender Neymar (Barcelona), Hulk (Zenit St. Petersburg) and even defenders like Dani Alves (Barcelona).

Host nations have won five of the 19 World Cups. In recent years, France won France 1998, South Korea got to the semis of South Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany reached the semis at Germany 2006. Anything less than a Brazil World Cup victory will amount to a national tragedy—not unlike the 1950 final in which Brazil lost to Uruguay in the dying minutes on home soil, one of the darkest days in the nation’s collective memory, even 64 years later. Desperate to rectify that loss, the Seleção need no motivation.

What our position comes down to, essentially, is that the other groups saddled with the Group of Death label will still send on two teams to live another day. So while Group D has three top-10 teams, Italy will take the top spot, leaving Uruguay and England with an eminently dispatchable Costa Rica and a fair fight between themselves. Uruguay barely qualified for the World Cup; England bottles it at big tournaments. May the best team win.

All four teams in Group G would normally emerge from their group, but Germany could potentially win the tournament, and a Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo fundamentally has the firepower to progress even if the defense leaks goals. Still, both the U.S. and Ghana have the quality to beat Portugal, so ultimately after a fair fight, the best two progress from a tough group.

In Group B, however, either Spain, Chile and the Netherlands will miss out, and then one lucky non-loser must play Brazil. So after Brazil likely slaughters Croatia June 12 amidst the opening day pandemonium, Spain and Holland face off in Group B—two returning finalists drawn in the group stage for the first time. And those two progress, yes? Not so fast. … [continued]

Full article: The Real Group of Death (


The Late Great Socrates

December 19, 2011 — by Suman

Belatedly, a roundup of links regarding the passing of Brazilian great Socrates a couple weeks ago:
Remembering Brazil’s Soccer Philosopher King, penned by Gabriele Marcotti, appeared in the WSJ the day after his death:

Sunday [December 4] morning marked the passing of Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, better known simply as Socrates. The Brazilian midfielder was 57. He is survived by his wife and six sons.

Brazilian midfielder Socrates, seen during the 1982 World Cup. (European Pressphoto Agency)
Sometimes greatness is measured through intangibles like leadership and personality, sometimes it is gauged through empirical achievement, like statistics and championships. Sometimes it’s a combination of all those things. But Socrates stood on an even higher plane: Soccer will probably never again produce anyone like him.The 1982 Brazilian team that he captained was perhaps the greatest never to win the World Cup (along with Hungary in 1954 and Holland in 1974). It was also one of the last Brazil teams to fully embody the romantic stereotype that comes to mind when we think of the green-and-gold. Sublime touches, languid pace, creativity … the sheer joy of what they call “jogo bonito,” or the beautiful game. Zico was probably the best player on that Brazil side, but Socrates was its philosophy made flesh.

Via Twitter, we came across this: “@philosophybites: Socrates discusses the aesthetics of football in this video by @susakpress“:

Also via Twitter, we’d come across this blog post on Five In Midfield earlier this year, about Socrates And The Corinthians Democracy Movement: How Football Helped To Change A Country

In searching for more on Socrates and the CDM, we came to a more academic discussion of it–an article from the Spring 1989 issue of The Wilson Quarterly titled “Socrates, Corinthians and Democracy“, by one Matthew Shirts (“Editor-in-chief of National Geographic Brazil, author of O jeitinho americano, editorial coordinator of Planeta Sustentável, and chronicler at VEJA SP.”)

Before I am charged with unfair labeling, let me make clear that I am talking not about ancient Greece but 20th-century Brazil. The Corinthians under discussion rarely, if ever, travel by boat, and this particular Socrates, while given to philosophizing, is a popular soccer player.

“Corinthian Democracy,” to come directly to the point, refers to a political movement conceived by team administrators and soccer players in an attempt to alter the managementllabor relations of the “Corinthians,” a club in Siio Paulo, Brazil’s great southern industrial city. The movement seized headlines for the first time in 1982, on the eve of elections for the club presidency. It did so because of the soccer stars involved and also because of certain resemblances between the club’s internal politics and the larger Brazilian political arena

But we’re still working on tracking down the full text of that piece–it’s behind The Wilson Quarterly’s paygate (or if any of you academics that have access to JSTOR want to pass it on, it’s also available there).
In the meantime another academically minded blog treatment of Socrates and the CDM came to us via our resident philosopher, humanist and technologist Frank. He passed on the link to a post on NewAPPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science titled Sócrates: making political history with football, written by a philosopher of Brazilian origin:

 The importance of his political activism cannot be overestimated. One must bear in mind that, in the early 1980s, even though the most violent phase of the military dictatorship was over, Brazil was still not a democracy (in fact, the first real elections for president took place only in 1989!). Football had been widely used by the military regime to promote their own interests, in particular the 1970 World Cup victory in Mexico. The Corinthians Democracy went in the opposite direction; by establishing a democratic structure within the club, the players (led by Sócrates, Wladimir, Casagrande and Zenon) were clearly also making a statement against the authoritarian state of Brazilian politics in general, and demanding democracy and political openness.

I was 6 years old in 1982 (ok, so now everybody knows how old I am!), and have been profoundly marked by these events. My father was a communist*, a medical doctor and a Corinthians supporter, and together with friends who shared the same attributes (and thus felt the additional ‘doctor’ connection with Sócrates), believed that something novel and deeply moving was going on with the Corinthians Democracy. Plus, Corinthians was on a roll with championships and cups, as it had not been for decades! Sócrates was our hero both for his football and for his politics. Indeed, the 1982 election that is referred to in the quote above (not for president, but for state governor and parliament) is one of my most powerful childhood memories (there I was, standing by one of the voting sites and distributing flyers for candidates at age 6), as is the Corinthians victory in the state championship of 1982 – and sadly, also the defeat to Italy in the 1982 World Cup… Sócrates is part of each of them, and I can only thank him for being such a unique and inspirational role model for me and millions of others at such a crucial time in Brazilian history: he was making history with football.

(We should include the author’s footnote: “* In those circumstances, being a communist actually amounted to being pro-democracy and against the dictatorial regime.”)

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U.S. Best Brazil in U-17s

December 5, 2011 — by Rob Kirby


The U.S. Under-17 team took on Brazil in Lakewood Ranch, FL, and never looked outclassed in the slightest, defeating Brazil 3-1. Having drawn 2-2 with France midweek and beaten Turkey 2-1 on Friday, they won the Nike International Friendlies trophy with three first-half goals and an impressive second-half defense.

As for witnessing the emergence of the “next Neymar” or “next Clint Dempsey” in the crop of U-17 players, the latter certainly seemed more the case. (“New Pelé” Neymar played in the tournament in 2008.) U.S. attacking midfielder Junior Flores displayed outstanding playmaking abilities and looks a huge prospect for the future. Involved in each of the U.S. goals, he outmaneuvered defenders at will, as Rubio Rubin charged down the right flank, providing excellent service to forwards Corey Baird and Wesley Wade. Meanwhile, right back Shaquell Moore and centerback Tyler Turner looked solid, both in attack and defense. Rubin, Flores and the back four played in every match of the tournament, consistency evidenced in the group’s chemistry and cohesiveness.

Kellen Gulley, former U.S. U-17 standout, sat beside this intrepid reporter in the stands in the second half and said, “The Brazil team two years ago would have killed this [Brazil] team. And last year’s was almost as good.” Gulley, 17, scored the equalizer against Brazil in the 2009 tournament for a 1-1 draw. He currently plays for the Chicago Fire youth team.

Brazil’s number 10 Gabriel repeatedly put in dangerous crosses on which forwards Joanderson and Bruno failed to capitalize. However, captain and center half Eriks definitely seemed one to watch in the coming years. Going against type, though, the side produced more fouls than flair. And when themselves fouled, the theatrics came out, eliciting jeers such as “Get him a binky” and “Get him a pacifier” from the capacity crowd. Right back Abner, in particular, made a meal of every challenge, prompting even Eriks to bark at him to get up and on with it as they chased to close the goal gap in the second half.

Right winger Rubin knocked in a back-to-the-goal strike at just two minutes in, the first shot of the game. Off a free kick from the dynamic Junior Flores that got headed his way, Rubin flick-volleyed the ball over his right shoulder to the surprise of everyone, not least Guilherme, the Brazilian goalie.

In the 12th minute, Brazilian midfielder Matheus Queiroz attacked a poor clearance and blazed in a power strike into the upper right corner to level the proceedings. On a night when the U.S. served up the majority of the ball control and goal-scoring flair, the strike had Samba written all over it.

U.S. captain Turner picked up the ball and created space after a scramble from Flores’ delivery into in the six-yard box in the 31st minute, striking to make it 2-1. The celebration between players and fans actually resulted in a section of ad placards and pitch barriers getting knocked over. The goal was Tyler’s second of the tournament (third, if you count the own goal in the France match-up).

As half-time approached, Flores weaved through midfield and centered for Wesley Wade, who beat his defender and sent the ball past Guilherme into the far corner, doubling the lead and Wade’s tournament goal tally, making it 3-1 at the break.

Brazil pressed for a second goal in the second half, to no avail. Despite firing off many shots, most attempts proved easy saves for Paul Christensen, the U.S. ‘keeper. On the other end, Flores nearly scored in the 75th minute, only to hit the outside netting.

In the earlier match of the day, France drew 3-3 with Turkey to take third.



WWC: Erica Turns on the Style

July 8, 2011 — by Mark1

Sure, Copa América has Messi, Forlán, and Neymar.  Yes, it will be a very interesting test for Mano Menezes.  Yeah, it’s nice to see the young Brazilian and Argie talent that’s been shining in leagues around the world.  And I’ll grant you that, despite lackluster performances from Brazil in its first game and Argentina in its first two, there are good reasons to expect both to put on an offensive show in this Copa America.  Both Brazil and Argentina are using very offensive schemes, and both have players who can make things happen. Plus the third traditional power in South American soccer, Uruguay, has a pretty good team, the one that went farthest in the last World Cup and the one with the best player from that tournament.  And we can’t forget Chile or Colômbia, both of which bring some interesting players.  There are lots of reasons to watch this Copa America.

But the best goal you will see this week has nothing to do with the umpteen forwards on Argentina’s roster or the other offensive stars playing in Copa America.  It’s from the Women’s World Cup, up in Germany where it’s warm (it feels weird writing that).

Specifically, from the Brazil-Brazil… er… Equatorial Guinea – Brazil (about 2/3 of the EqG players on the field were Brazilians) game played yesterday.  Not surprisingly in a game between two teams with Brazilian players, this goal was scored by a Brazilian.  It was a real Brazilian Brazilian wearing Brazil’s colors.

Oh, OK, you say.  It must be Marta.

Surprisingly, no.

Just watch what Erika does to score the first goal.

Then watch it again and marvel at how natural she looks doing this unbelievably difficult thing PERFECTLY without having time to plan or prepare for it.  Oh. Mah. Gahd.

If anyone beats that at all in either of these tournaments, it’s likely to be Marta, but I doubt even she will do it.  She was involved in both of the other goals in the EQG-BRA game, both scored by Cristiane.  She had a nice assist on the second goal and was fouled in the area, leading to the third on the PK.  She let Cristiane, who hadn’t scored in the tournament before the second goal in this game, take the PK and get to two goals.  If I understood correctly, if Marta had taken it and scored, she would have become the all-time highest goal scorer in WWCs, like Ronaldo is in the men’s version.  I guess she figures she’ll still have time to get there.

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What to Watch This Weekend

June 3, 2011 — by Suman

We took a few weeks off from our guide to the upcoming weekend’s televised matches.  It’s perhaps an odd time to resurrect it, just after the climax of the European club season–but actually perhaps it’s more necessary now that we’re asking ourselves–what exactly are we supposed to watch, now that they’re done playing in Europe?

Well, for starters, they’re not done playing in Europe–there’s a full slate of Euro 2012 qualifiers this weekend.  Though to be honest none of the matchups qualify as must-see.  We’re more interested in a pair of international friendlies that will end up being a tasty doubleheader on Saturday: Brazil hosting the Netherlands in a rematch of last summer’s shock World Cup quarterfinal upset, and USA hosting the World Cup winners, Spain.

(TV listings below pulled from the Washington Post’s SoccerInsider post of comprehensive TV listings for the weekend.)

Saturday, June 4 (all times ET)

England-Switzerland 11:30 a.m. FSC: We thought we should pick at least one Euro qualifier–and although we did have the intention of listing today’s Germany-Austria and Belgium-Turkey matches (both of which turned out to be interesting), we didn’t get around to writing this up in time.  So we’re left with Saturday’s slim pickings, and so we’ll go with the cliche: England hosting Switerland.  Just check any of the English papers for too much coverage from an Anglocentric perspective.  We don’t know too much about the Swiss squad–the two most recognizable names for us are defender Johann Djourou, who really came into his own with Arsenal this past season; and 26-year old Swiss captain Gökhan Inler, who starred in the midfield for the exciting Udinese squad that finished 4th in Serie A.

Brazil-Netherlands 3 p.m. Univision, Luckily our man in Sao Paulo has stepped in to our recent posting void with a nicely detailed preview of the Seleção going into this friendly with the Netherlands.  No doubt the Brazilians will be looking for revenge after they were dumped out of the World Cup by the Dutch last July.  On the other hand, the brilliant Oranje haven’t let up since their run to the final last summer–their currently undefeated in their Euro qualifying group.  It seems like the Dutch will be without a number of their established players–Wesley Sneijder, Mark van Bommel, Rafael van der Vaart, Maarten Stekelenburg are all out of the squad, due to injury or just fatigue after the long club campaign.  But Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt, Nigel de Jong, and Arjen Robben are all in the squad, and we’ll also be looking for exciting up and coming Dutchmen like Ibrahim Affelay (Barcelona), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax), Eljero Elia (Hamburg), and Luuk de Jong (Twente).

United States-Spain 4:30 p.m. ESPN, Univision,

USA hosts world champions Spain in Foxborough, MA–apparently US Soccer is close to selling out the 68,000-seat Gillette Stadium!. For a full preview, we’ll point you over to the Shin Guardian. As they remind us, the last time these two met, in the 2009 Gold Cup, the US shocked with a 2-0 victory; in fact, they include a link to a column from May 2010 by tactical guru Jonathan Wilson praising Bob Bradley’s tactics against Spain in that match.

We’re wondering who Spain will play?  Xavi, Puyol, Cesc aren’t in the squad, but the rest of the big names are.  Though we can’t imagine Spain will field their top XI, at least not for all that long, or that they’ll be putting forth full effort–especially the Barcelona players that were playing Man U just a week ago in London.

Actually, it will be interesting to see some Spanish players not from Barcelona or Madrid play–we’re pretty sure Joan Capdevila the only such player who featured regularly in the WC last summer. Here is the squad that has travelled to Boston–there is certainly a bit of footballing talent in Spain:


Two Seleção friendlies, a farewell to Ronaldo, preparations for Copa América 2011, and the accompanying roster intrigue

June 2, 2011 — by Mark

The Brazilian national team will play two friendlies in Brazil over the next week. First, on Saturday in Goiânia, a rematch of the quarter-final game with Holland that ended Brazil’s campaign in last year’s World Cup. And then on the following Tuessday, Ronaldo’s farewell game, against Romania, held at the Pacaembu stadium in São Paulo.

Ronaldo at World Cup 2002
This man really had quite a career. The Seleção has important business to do, but Ronaldo deserves his send-off

On the 19th of May, Brazil coach Mano Menezes announced the roster for those games and gave us a decent idea of the team he’ll use for the upcoming Copa América in Argentina. The list includes 28 players for the two friendlies, plus Ronaldo, who will only play for some part of the first half of the second friendly. The plan is for Ronaldo not to be a starter in that game, but to come on as a substitute some time before the first half ends. There will be some kind of celebration at halftime, and then Ronaldo’s time with the Seleção will be over. Another player will take his place in the second half of the Romania friendly, and the Seleção’s post-Ronaldo era will officially begin.


Part 3 of What To Watch Over the Interlull (Sunday March 27)

March 27, 2011 — by Suman

We’re past the halfway point of the Interlull.  We saw some interesting matches Friday and Saturday.  There’s less to watch today–then no games tomorrow, but a whole slate of interesting ones on Tuesday.  Here are the two we choose for today,

Sunday, March 27:

The one getting all the attention is Scotland hosting A Seleçã London (?):

Scotland-Brazil at Emirates in London (ESPN2, 9amET): See our Sao Paulo-based correspondent’s rundown of the newish Seleção here.  We don’t much about the Scottish side.  If you really want a preview of them, listen to the segment on this week’s Guardian Football Weekly Extra pod, wherein they get Scotsman Ewan Murray on the phone in order to discuss the match.

But we’re equally intrigued by this match in Brazzaville–we’re just not sure if we’ll get to watch it:

It's not often you get to see this national team play--and you probably won't today


Congo-Ghana in Brazzaville (no US TV): An interesting Cup of African Nation qualifier. Ghana may be looking past the Congo to Tuesday’s match against England at Wembley.

Note that this match is being hosted by the Republic of Congo in the capital city of Brazzaville.  As Wikipedia points out the Republic of Congo is “Not to be confused with the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.”  Which is exactly what we did at first, thinking we’d refer you this post we did on TP Mazembe back in December, when they surprised the footballing world by advancing to the finals of the Club World Cup.  But TP Mazembe is of course in the DR Congo.  So all we can do on Congo is excerpt’s match preview:

Congo are a team under construction hence a lot of young players with few experience faces. Captain Christopher Samba of Blackburn Rovers would have a lot on his shoulders as they meet the ever popular Black Stars. They are just a point adrift the west Africans and a little effort from his troops coupled with the home support could do the trick for them.

Coach Camille Ngakosso would also rely heavily on striker Ibara Franchel, the 2007 CAF Young Player of the Year award winner and Switzerland-based Matt Moussilou to frustrate the current Africa best team at the Alphonse Massamba Debat Stadium.

For info on Ghana see our copious coverge of the Black Stars: here (for the Ghana starting XI vs Uruguay in the World Cup last July); here (for video of the Asamoah Gyan Dance); and here (for background about young up-&-coming striker Andre Ayew–son of the greatest Ghanaian player of all time, Abedi (Ayew) Pele).  We may see Gyan and Ayew partner up front in an exciting Ghanaian strikeforce (if not in Brazzaville, then maybe in London on Tuesday).

Ghana is clearly the highest profile side on the continent, after their inspiring showing in South Africa last summer.  They boast a squad filled with players playing club ball at the highest levels: Michael Essien, Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari John Painstil, John Mensah, Richard Kingson (all Premier League); youngsters Kevin-Prince Boateng, Kwadwo Asamoah and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (all Serie A, the latter two at Udinese); ; Isaac Vorsah and Anthony Annan in the Bundesliga (Hoffenheim and Schalke 04, respectively); and Derek Boateng in La Liga (Getafe). See here for a list of the full squad.

Since there doesn’t appear to be any US television coverage (not sure about Europe?), one way to follow the match is via @GaryAlSmith’s Twitter stream–he is all about African football, and it appears he’s actually in Ghana.  Here is his Twitter bio:

garyalsmith: AFRICA = African Football Remains In Corrupt Administration….but…All Football Remains In Correspondence Always.