BrazilCommentaryEnglandEuropeGermanyItalyWorld Cup

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 (


Newish Look Brazil Meet Scotland on Sunday

March 23, 2011 — by Mark1

International qualifiers and friendlies upon us, we look to the wit and wisdom of our Brazilian correspondent Mark Gannon to sort through the samba boys selection vs Scotland for this Sunday, and answer the question, why no Robinho?

Yet another chance to display gratuitous bare torso/boobage.

FWIW, Mano says he’s letting Robinho rest now, but that he’ll be counting on Robinho for Copa América. And he made a point of reminding everyone that Robinho has been on every one of Mano’s previous lists.

I wouldn’t mind seeing Mano go wild testing players for a few games, but I also wouldn’t mind if he started to settle on a group of starters. Either way. I don’t see what he sees in André Santos, but finally Marcelo is getting some love, even if in Mano’s mind he’s just André’s backup. If I were Marcelo, I probably would have gone postal early last year when people were talking about Roberto Carlos (ferchrissakes) on the squad for the World Cup, and they weren’t joking.

I was just saying yesterday that Maicon is somebody who could still help the team. It’s really too bad there’s no way to have two right wingbacks. Call it the US journalism formation or something. I don’t care. It would put Dani Alves and Maicon on the field at the same time for the same team. Dani is versatile enough to play either wingback position or a midfield position, but his natural and best position is the same as Maicon’s. This is a good kind of problem to have.

It’s kind of entertaining that there are two players called Lucas on this list. There’s the young attacking middie from São Paulo (DAMN HIM) who played really well in the U20 South American championship and there’s the volante Lucas y’all prob’ly know from Liverpool. I don’t know much about the Liverpool Lucas. I’ve seen him play for the seleção a few times, and I caught part of a Tottenham game once. I was never overwhelmed, but I assumed there was a reason he was getting paid well to play in England and why he was on the seleção several times.


Intrigue! Passion! Brazil!!!

September 24, 2010 — by Sean

From our man beneath the Southern Cross comes the skinny on the impetuous Brazilian phenom Neymar and the storm he’s kick up around him. Plus, World Cup 2014 plans with a sinister undercurrent? Big thanks to Mark Gannon for keeping us all in the loop.

Step back, for I am Neymar.

In the game against Atlético Goianiense in Goiás on Wednesday of last week, the coach of Santos, Dorival Júnior, wanted a different player to take a PK.  Neymar had a fit, cursed out the coach, and supposedly continued his tantrum in the locker room.

Dorival did not put Neymar on the list of players for Santos’s next game, against Guarani over the weekend.  But then when he refused to put Neymar on the list for yesterday’s (Wednesday’s) game against Corinthians, he was fired.

Mano decided to leave Neymar off the seleção for the two upcoming as-yet-unspecified friendlies in Europe, but made it clear that when Neymar starts getting attention for the way he plays instead of other things, he’ll be back.  Mano said Neymar’s return depends only on Neymar.

It was reported that Neymar didn’t speak during a Santos practice today (after Mano’s latest list was released), and was consoled by a teammate after the other players had left.

Just to add a little extra spice, Andres Sanches, the president of Corinthians, suggested that São Paulo FC was somehow involved in Dorival’s removal, because SPFC wanted to hire Dorival.  I’m not sure what SPFC could do to force the ouster of a coach at Santos, but this should generate some interesting talk.  It’s a shame I missed the lunchtime soccer discussion show on TV BAND and the late-lunchtime sports show on Globo today.

It’s interesting to me that Andres dislikes SPFC so much.  The traditional arch-rival of Corinthians has been Palmeiras, but Andres seems to have some kind of “thing” with São Paulo.  He was involved in making sure SPFC’s stadium wouldn’t be used for the World Cup, especially the opening ceremonies.  The last I heard is that Palmeiras’s new stadium, on which construction has just begun, will be one World Cup venue and Corinthians’s new stadium, on which construction has not yet even started, will be another.

There has been talk about changing the Corinthians stadium (“o Fielzão”) to give it enough seats to host the opening ceremony.  I’m not sure where the CBF currently says it intends to have the opening ceremony.  It might end up being somewhere other than São Paulo, which would be a shame.  I’m still not in favor of holding the final in the Maracanã, but I don’t think any other stadium was even really considered.  I’ll be willing to let it slide if one condition is met: if Brazil is not champ in 2014 with the final in Rio, no carioca can ever again be in the CBF.


Remember Adebayor?

September 9, 2010 — by Sean1

It’s tough to care much about the beginning of the european footballing season. After the buzz of the world cup and the always fun transfer drama, club football’s jerky starts seem less urgent. Then comes this international break, and we’re only now really getting started. (By the way, Neymar and Ganso are both injured and not playing for Santos at the moment, and with Robinho gone too I have a hard time wanting to tune in.)

So I went strolling around for a bit of news about this weekend’s matches, and came across this little piece about Emmanuel Adebayor. The article is a couple of weeks old, and has ripened with age. Adebayor has to fight for his position at City, but he’s acting like the starter’s role is owed to him. He sits on the bench, not with a hunger in his eye, but with a pissy look on his face. And when he doesn’t get to play he starts talking about a transfer. Kudos to senior football administrator, Brian Marwood for laying down the law.

“These players need to realise that if you are paying them, they are salaried, contracted and have obligations to their football club. They are part of the squad. They have to work hard to prove they are worth a place in the team. We are trying to create a very competitive environment at Manchester City. “


Neymar Drama Ends

August 19, 2010 — by Sean

From Globo and the Federative Republic of Brazil, we bring you what should be the end of the Neymar transfer shimmy. Once again from our friend and neighbor to the south, Mark Gannon.

Neymar: “I hope I’ve been an example for other young players”
Forward says it’s not the right moment to go and play football in Europe, but admits that making the decision was quite difficult: “My head was like a cloverleaf”
By Adilson Barros,, Santos

Neymar carries the weight of Pelé.

There was a time when a young player, whenever asked about his greatest dream, would respond in the following way: “to be a starter on my club and reach the Seleção.” After football became a machine that moves unimaginable fortunes, with European clubs going down below the equator to take valuable and relatively cheap “merchandise,” the discourse changed: “My dream is to play in Europe.” But on Thursday, Neymar subverted what seemed to be the natural course of his career.

The Santos “gem” said no to Chelsea. He refused a salary of around €4MM (R$9MM) per year, plus a signing bonus, to stay at Santos. He wants to establish himself as a Santos idol, win titles, solidify his position on the Brazilian national team, and only after that, when he’s more mature, transfer to Europe. He hopes other promising youngsters follow his example.

“I think I stand out in a positive way in Brazilian football for having refused a very good offer. I hope to be an example for other players, that they’ll think carefully and stay more time with the clubs they love, that they’ll score more goals here, that they’ll develop.


Santos Want to Keep Ganso & Neymar

August 17, 2010 — by Sean

Even more great stuff from Mark Gannon on the ground in Brazil. Following quickly from the Neymar news comes this next piece that also includes fretting over Ganso. Santos is bleeding offensive weapons, and are looking to staunch the flow. Follow the link for the original from Globo Esporte.

Mano and Zagallo advise Neymar and Ganso to stay in Brazil
Current and former coaches of the Seleção ran a sort of “Stay, Neymar and Ganso” campaign during an event on Monday
By Leandro Canônico and Marcelo Prado, São Paulo

Is Neymar going off to Europe?  Is Ganso following the same path?  If it depended on the opinions of Mano Menezes, coach of the Seleção, and Zagallo, four-time world champ with Brazil, the answers would be the same: no.  On Monday afternoon, in an event held by a CBF sponsor (translator says: from the pics, it looks like it was Gillette), both defended the idea of the two Santos stars staying longer in “the football country.”

“I think it’s really early for a 17, 18, 19 year old player to leave Brazil.  The base has to be built here.  Obviously, the players always want to go for financial reasons, but in Neymar’s case, he would be going to an environment that isn’t good for his body type.  He needs to gain more weight.  So it’s better to wait and leave when he’s 21 or 22,” declared Zagallo, talking about Chelsea’s proposal to the player.On the same stage with Zagallo, the “Boys of the Vila” (young Santos stars) and world champs Cafu and Bebeto, coach Mano Menezes also spoke about the subject.


Neymar to Chelsea: Not So Fast

August 17, 2010 — by Sean

Fantastic stuff from Mark Gannon, our correspondent in Brazil. The papers are abuzz with the seemingly imminent move of Neymar to England, or will it be as smooth a transition as the European press would have us believe? Read on for Mark’s translations of the Brazilian angle (follow the links for the original articles).

Neymar will meet with Santos officials on Tuesday (Photo: Ag. Estado)

Pelé, Robinho, and Sports Minister called upon to convince Neymar

The Fish” (Santos) sets up a task force to try to keep the prodigy in the Vila Belmiro.  The King of Football has already made himself available to talk to the player’s father
By Adilson Barros, Santos

Santos is trying its last gambits to convince Neymar to reject Chelsea’s offer and stay in the Vila Belmiro.  The club is setting up a task force that will include Pelé, Sports Minister Orlando Silva, and forward Robinho.  According to two members of Santos president Luis Alvaro de Oliveira Ribeiro, the three offered to contact the young Santos star and his father, Neymar dos Santos Silva, to try to talk them out of the idea of leaving the country at this moment.

NewsUnited States

USA v Brazil through Brazilian Eyes

August 11, 2010 — by Sean

Last night’s friendly gave Brazil fans something to cheer about again. After Dunga’s stifling tactics robbed the Canarinha of their usual flair in South Africa, the country demanded the return of joga bonito. TV outlet Globo (the largest commercial television network of Latin America and the third largest in the world) recapped the game with a to-be-expected nationalistic slant. Huge thanks to Mark Gannon, our correspondent on the ground in Brazil, for the translations.

For the original article in Portuguese click over to globoesporte.

Football is joy!  New Brazil attacks with strength and beats the United States

In the first friendly of the Mano Menezes era, the Seleção won 2-0 in New Jersey.  Neymar and Alexandre Pato scored the goals in the win. By Leandro Canônico, Direct from New Jersey (

Speed, dribbling, “pedaladas,” joy… the ingredients that were missing from the Seleção are back.  At least in the first friendly of the Mano Menezes era it went that way.  Well-organized defensively and offensive like in the good times, Brazil didn’t have much work to beat the USA 2-0 on Tuesday.

New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey, full of fans wearing yellow shirts had room even for shouts of “olé” for the canary-colored team with Paulo Henrique Ganso, Neymar, and Robinho on the field.  And that trio that shone at Santos in the first semester was still reinforced by Alexandre Pato.