AfricaWorld Cup

Our Latest Belated Podcast Discovery: Howler Radio

July 10, 2014 — by Suman


We didn’t discover the Guardian Football pod until just after WC2010, and didn’t become a GFOP until 2012. Those two are now top our to-listen lists on a weekly basis throughout the year (and have been in daily rotation over the past month), and we regret we didn’t start listening to them earlier.

The latest podcast discovery that we regret we didn’t come across earlier: we came across Howler Magazine‘s podcast (Howler Radio, but cross-posted to Slate’s HUAL for the WC) until yesterday.

Here is their last episode, which in addition to regular David Goldblatt (author of “The Ball is Round” and most recently “Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil through Soccer“), host George Quraishi talks to New School professor Sean Jacobs about the African teams/FAs in this Cup (Jacobs is founder of the blog Africa Is a Country, a subblog of which is Football Is a Country):

On today’s episode of Howler Magazine’s Dummy, David Goldblatt, Danny Karbassiyoon, and George Quraishi discuss Dutch diving, conflicts faced by African teams, whether crowds are representative of Brazil’s typical soccer-watching demographics, and more.


Their magazine is also a nice piece of work. They’re up to their 5th episode, after launching a couple years ago via a Kickstarter campaign.  Take a look at their back issues here.

CommentaryEuropeGermanySpainThe AmericasUnited StatesWorld Cup

Klinsmann, Rainforest Conditioning and the 1953 Hungarian Golden Team

June 17, 2014 — by Rob Kirby


[Extreme conditioning, cribbed from 1950s Communist Hungary? After last night’s 2-1 victory over Ghana in the coastal heat of Natal, that’s the ideal method for Klinsmann and the U.S. team as they stare down the barrel of the Ruffhouse in Manaus, heart of the Amazon, against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. Enjoy the Cult Football at Large article here in excerpt or over at]

It’s no secret that the U.S. Men’s National Team is not a favorite going into the World Cup in Brazil. The media has panned the team’s chances, pointing to its unfavorable inclusion in Group G—what some call the Group of Death, with some justification. The U.S. faces three big opponents in the group: Ghana in Natal on June 16, Portugal in Manaus on June 22 and Germany in Recife on June 26. Ghana has knocked the U.S. out of two straight World Cups. Portugal boasts Cristiano Ronaldo—probably the best player in the world—and always shows up in big tournaments (semifinalists at the 2006 World Cup, and the 2008 and 2012 Euro Championships). And Germany reached the World Cup finals in 2002, and the semis 2006 and 2010.

What’s more, America will endure a travel itinerary of almost 9,000 miles between the three group stage matches, kicking off in the far northeast of the country, the heart of the rainforest, then back to the far northeast of the country. None of their games take place near base camp in São Paolo (where the team will return after each match), and all of them hug the most extreme equatorial heat and humidity zones of Brazil.

For the USMNT, there are a lot of factors they couldn’t control: group selection, World Cup layout, the humidity of the Amazon. But prepping for climate extremes, now there’s something that could have been addressed in training.

Way back in January, USMNT head coach Jürgen Klinsmann organized a two-week training camp (of mainly Major League Soccer players) in air-conditioned, five-star facilities in São Paolo. The May training camp was in Stanford, California—hardly known for oppressive conditions. The team then played friendlies in California and New Jersey before confronting some actual humidity in Jacksonville, Florida, against Nigeria (Ghana’s neighbor and stylistic analogue) and winning 2-1.

If he really wanted to prepare his players, Klinsmann should have sent them to the Amazon, confiscated their passports and stranded them in the 80 percent humidity of the rainforest. To acclimatize, players need to swelter for long stretches, training in the muggiest midday heat available, rather than being strapped to electrodes in climate-controlled sports laboratories. Live in huts, not hotels. Yoga, but Bikram. Pull on the humidity like a second skin. The World Cup commences and the players leap through the gate as if on endorphin rushes, ripping through defenses at top speed.

So now what the U.S. needs is an alternate plan—and preferably an out-of-nowhere checkmate. Klinsmann could steer the USMNT out of its hellish World Cup group in Brazil and into the knockout stages, provided he gets dictatorial at the helm. He just needs to incorporate some Cold War Communist management tactics and perhaps jam some treadmills into the sauna.


Jürgen Klinsmann had a clinical soccer pedigree. He won German footballer of the year in 1988 and set controls for world domination. He won the World Cup with West Germany in 1990, the 1996 European Championships with unified Germany and two UEFA (Union of European Football Association) Cups—one with Internazionale and one with Bayern Munich. As a player, he barked orders like any authoritative striker, and his stats gave him automatic street cred.

As a manager, Klinsmann led Germany to the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup, and later managed Bayern Munich, only to fall out with the board. His “führer factor” had come under question due to his relentless optimism, yoga advocacy and his residency in Southern California. People sometimes doubted the tanned man in après-ski casual could be the cold-blooded dictator fans expect in a coach.

But when you don’t have superior force (as is the case with his current U.S. squad) psychological warfare and conditioning are your two best hopes. The horse has bolted on conditioning, but regarding mind games and subterfuge, Klinsmann may yet have some chops. Klinsmann goosed Cristiano Ronaldo a good half-year ahead of the World Cup in the FIFA Ballon d’Or voting. When ballot choices became public, people saw that Klinsmann had not only left Ronaldo off his list, but he also nominated his nemeses: Franck Ribery, who deprived Ronaldo of the UEFA player of the year award; the “New Ronaldo,” Gareth Bale—Real Madrid teammate and therefore enemy within; and Radamel Falcao from the smaller club in Madrid that knocked Real out of last year’s Copa del Rey, and handed the team its first city derby loss in 14 years.

The devious placement of the World Cup qualifying match versus Costa Rica in high elevation Colorado in March 2013—and the ensuing snowpocalypse against the group rival in zero-visibility blizzard—was another example, and showed some promising diabolical tendencies. Finding a way to present Ronaldo with a mirror palace built in the jungle would prove an even bigger coup; like Narcissus trapped by the beauty of his image, Ronaldo might miss training sessions or group stage matches entirely.

But yet, Klinsmann brought 26 American players to Brazil in January and let them all leave. That was his biggest mistake. Jürgen should have embraced his inner Iron Curtain coach; in particular, his inner Gusztáv Sebes. By cribbing from the 1953 Hungarian Golden Team’s shocking 6-3 victory at fortress Wembley, and the autocratic advance measures Sebes took in adaptation prep, Klinsmann could have concocted a modern-day heat-tolerance strategy to get America into the knockouts.


Back in newly nationalized 1949 Hungary, the Ministry of Defense appropriated the Budapest-area Honvéd team as the army team, whereupon Sebes, as deputy minister of sport, installed himself as coach, appropriated the team for international competition purposes and started conscripting the best players in the country to Honvéd. Conveniently, the club already possessed the deadly left foot of star player Ferenc Puskás, who went on to score 83 goals in 84 games for Hungary (357 in 354 games for Honvéd).

Honvéd doubled as club side and national team, winning the league title five times between 1949 and 1955. It shared trophies with MTK Budapest, the secret service team, because even a ranking deputy minister doesn’t provoke the secret police unnecessarily. MTK also held the final key players for when the operation went full Voltron into the aggregate entity, the Aranycsapat (the Golden Team).

Emerging from the darkest days of Stalinist repression, the Golden Team (also known as the Magical Magyars) fused full-court pressure with fluid interchangeability of roles, a precursor to 1970s Dutch total football. Sebes subjected his national team to a full-time fitness and dietary regimen to ensure their conditioning would deliver high tempo for the full 90 minutes—they were Communist soldiers, after all. (The English media called Puskás, in actuality a lieutenant colonel, the “Galloping Major.”) Sebes focused on technique across the board, so players could change position seamlessly, scoring at will.

After the Golden Team won the Olympics in 1952, England, which historically held up its nose at foreign opposition—having codified the rules 90 years previous, cementing their superiority—deigned to invite the actual world No. 1 team to play at the vaunted Empire Stadium at Wembley. England had never lost to continental opposition at home, and a wet late-November day would offer classic English home turf conditions. England needed a boost. After having declined part in any of the first three World Cups, they got dumped out of their first, the 1950 World Cup, in a stunning 1-0 loss to the lowly U.S. team, which did not qualify for another for 40 years.

Here’s where Klinsmann could have learned a thing or two. As if marshaling forces for something outlandish (you know, like a match in a rainforest), Sebes prepared for the 1953 match against England by importing every aspect of English football to Budapest. He resized a training pitch to the exact oversized dimensions of the Wembley field. He considered the different-style English leather ball that got waterlogged as the game went on; especially with the all-English conditions of a cold, wet November day, it would take on weight quickly. Sebes obtained some English soccer balls and instituted training with them on the replica pitch immediately. He also compelled opposition players in the league to play in an “English style,” in order that the team get used to the different formation the British employed.

Sebes tested the English ball as the match ball in a slightly concerning 2-2 draw with Sweden 10 days before the so-called Match of the Century. A final calibration of shot settings with the gradually heavier ball, in a 18-0 blowout against a patsy Renault factory worker side in France, got Hungary fully acclimated. And on the day at Wembley, Hungary scored within the first minute and destroyed England 6-3. Six months later at the return fixture in Budapest, Hungary inflicted an even more brutal 7-1.

Famously, no Communist nation has ever won the World Cup. Hungary won the Olympics in 1952 and dominated the 1954 World Cup tournament, including a group stage 8-3 rout of West Germany, until suffering a crushing loss to those same Germans 2-1 in the final. (But, somehow, not the same Germans–a totally different lineup, as if the Germans had initially played possum.)

Although Hungary’s Golden Team scored a World Cup record 27 goals in the tournament, logged the famous 6-3 and 7-1 victories over England and went 31 straight games unbeaten between 1950 and 1956, they lost that crucial match in 1954. They’re called the best team to never win a World Cup, though the Dutch team of the 70s also has a claim on that title. In 1956, the Soviets invaded to crush an uprising against Communist rule, and Puskás and several others defected while Honvéd toured South America on exhibition. After that, the national team slowly disintegrated.

Imagine Jürgen had stationed his players in Manaus ever since that January training camp, and all the clubs, agents, sponsors and litigators had miraculously allowed this to happen. Not in plush São Paulo, but in maximum acclimation Manaus—capital of the rainforest. The players willingly submitted to six months straight of Amazonian boot camp, with full focus on their Arena da Amazônia showdown with Portugal, the Ruffhouse in Manaus. Jaunts to the marginally less oppressive coastal Natal and Recife would have seemed like destination vacations. While Cristiano banged in all the goals in Spain and the Champions League, posed in various stages of nudity for magazine covers and photo spreads, and opened a museum about himself in his own honor, U.S. players would have explored new realms of heat exhaustion and emerged reformed, rebuilt and steeled for heat-tolerance in the group stage and beyond.  …

Full article: The Communist Guide to Winning at Soccer  at


World Cup 2014: The Ads

June 6, 2014 — by Suman


Generally we’re skeptical of modern corporate football, but the marketing creatives are good at what they do. These ads–which are really short films–are getting us hyped for the tournament to begin:
The new 5min Beats video (AdWeek: “Did Beats by Dre Just Out-Nike Nike With This Incredible World Cup Ad?“):


The Nike one, which you’ve prob seen since it came out at the end of April (via AdWeek: “Nike Reaches High and Low in Perfectly Gleeful 4-Minute World Cup Spot”):

In contrast with those cameos by current stars, this ESPN ad features a bunch of historical “cameos”:

Another ESPN segment–trying to get the the US public to believe in the USMNT:

Finally, Nike does a fun one featuring the host country’s celebrated Seleção–“Dare to be Brasilian”:


World Cup 2014: Fixture List and Viewing Guide

June 3, 2014 — by Suman


Nine days until it all starts. In case you haven’t bookmarked this (or an equivalent), here is ESPNFC’s table of all 48+16=64 WC2014 fixtures (group stage+knockout rounds), including kickoff times, venues, and (US) TV coverage:

Actually we’ve copied and pasted the table in below, but we’ve also done you the service of choosing one match per day (from the group stage) that you should plan your day around:

(all times ET, and all games on ESPN unless otherwise noted)

Thursday, June 12: Brazil-Croatia (4pmET)

Friday, June 13: Spain-Netherlands (3pm)

Sat, June 14: England-Italy (6pm)

Sun, June 15: Argentina-Bosnia (6pm)

Mon, June 16: Germany-Portugal (and also Ghana-USA later that day, at 6pm)

Tues, June 17: Brazil-Mexico (3pm)

Wed, June 18: Spain-Chile (3pm)

Thurs, June 19: Uruguay-England (3pm)

Friday, June 20: Switzerland-France (3pm)

Saturday, June 21: Germany-Ghana (3pm)

Sunday, June 22: USA-Portugal (6pm, again on ESPN–why not put this one on ABC??)


For the last 4 days of the group stage, there are 2 games played simultaneously at 12pmET and 4pmET each day. Which ones to actually watch will eventually depend on group standings and scenarios for who advances; here are some preliminary picks:

Monday, June 23: any/all?

Tuesday, June 24: Italy-Uruguay (12pm)

Wednesday, June 25: Nigeria-Argentina (12pm)

Thursday, June 26: USA-Germany (12pm)


Tell your wives, hide your kids, plan your long lunches, clear your DVRs. it’s going to be busy month.

ESPNFC’s full fixture list:

Player ProfilesUnited StatesWorld Cup

Get To Know Your USMNT: Who is Fabian Johnson?

June 2, 2014 — by Suman


Fabian Johnson’s name recognition with the semi-casual US soccer fan (i.e., the sort of fan who has watched few if any of their matches since 2010, but might tune in for a WC tuneup) shot up yesterday, as he scored a fantastic goal in the USMNT’s World Cup tuneup match against Turkey yesterday at Red Bulls Arena in NJ. Here’s the video, ICYMI:

So who is Fabian Johnson? He’s one of Jurgen’s numerous German-American imports, and especially after yesterday’s performance, he’s likely the US’s starting right back in Brazil.

(Note: the pattern of importing Germans with American parentage predates Klinsmann. Jermaine Jones joined the USMNT in 2010, a full year before Klinsmann took over, but the trend has definitely accelerated under the former German NT manager and legendary striker, to the point that a site like AmericanSoccerNow recently ran a listicle a year ago titled “The 10 Best German-American Soccer Players” (which Jones and Johnson ranked 1 and 2, respectively).  Their intro: “The rise of German-Americans has dominated the United States men’s national soccer team picture the past few years, especially since the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann in July 2011. Influential players such as Jermaine Jones, Timothy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, and Danny Williams have injected a Teutonic influence on the team, altered depth charts, and raised expectations.”)

(Question: Were there other German-Americans who made the move to the USMNT before Jermaine Jones? Although not German, Earnie Stewart was an early import who fits the pattern: the son of an American serviceman who had been stationed in Europe, was raised in the country of his birth–Netherlands in Stewart’s case–and starts his professional club career there before deciding that the USMNT gives him the best chance of playing in the World Cup.)

Coincidentally SoccerAmerica ran a short profile of Johnson a couple weeks ago, and contains this remarkable fact:

There’s a very good chance that Fabian Johnson will start at right back for the USA at this summer’s World Cup. But he can also play left back, or on either side of midfield. 

When he started for Germany in a 4-0 win over England in the 2009 U-21 European Championship final, he played wide right in a midfield that included Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil.

Unfortunatly (or fortunately, from the USMNT perspective) his career stalled a bit after that.  After the U21 Euros, he moved from 1860 Munich–the club in his hometown that he’d joined at age 17 (via wikipedia)–to defending Bundesliga champion Wolfsburg, but he made only 16 appearances for them over the following two seasons.  Again via the SoccerAmerica article:

In 2011, Fabian got a call from Jurgen Klinsmann and an invitation to the U.S. national team. When he told his parents of the offer, there was no controversy about changing allegiance. 

“I told them that Jurgen wants to invite me in and they said congrats,” Fabian said. 

At that point, Johnson’s chances of playing for Germany, which he had represented at each age group from U-17 to U-21 from 2003 to 2009, had evaporated. He had been part of the golden generation — the U-21 Euro 2009 team that, in addition to Khedira and Ozil, included Manuel NeuerMats Hummels and Jerome Boateng. But during the time that the full national team became a world power again Johnson languished at Wolfsburg. 

“After the European Championship, it was quite a hard time for me,” he said. “In two years, I played only 16 games, and that’s not enough for a player who wants to play in the national team.” 

A transfer to Hoffenheim revitalized Johnson’s career and caught Klinsmann’s attention. Now Johnson, who moves to Borussia Moenchengladbach next season, is likely to face his former German teammates on June 26 in Recife.has played with Hoffenheim the last few seasons, moving to Borussia Monchengladbach this August.

So we’ll be able to see him at a toppish-tier Bundesliga club in the fall, but before that we’ll be looking for him to make an impact in Brazil this coming month.

(H/t to MightMighty.US for the photo of Fabian Johnson featured above–from their infrequent “tHERsday” series of US Soccer salaciousness. They posted the one above in Dec 2012: “die Hitze! This week we present you ladies with German-American (but American when it counts) Fabian Johnson and his crazy-sick tattoo sleeve.”



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.