Posts Tagged ‘soccer’

Crônicas do Brasil: A Vida Brasileira

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro. When Jobim and Moraes wrote "Garota de Ipanema," this is probably what they had in mind.

I have now been in Spain for close to a month with BOSP Madrid. Posts on the Iberian Peninsula are in the pipeline. For the moment, though, I would like to present a cultural wrap-up on Brazil that I never had time to do while I was working in São Paulo this summer. If you are not yet excited for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, maybe this will get you started.

First, let it be known that São Paulo is not a conventionally beautiful city. Miles of concrete with few trees, vistas dominated by powerlines and graffiti, and a certain lack of cleanliness make it appear pretty bleak and inhospitable on cloudy days, of which there are a fair amount. Large parts of the city center are completely abandoned at night; there is one neighborhood called Cracolândia because its streets are literally full of crack addicts, who reside right next to the city’s most beautiful railway station. If you live any further than ten minutes by car from work, your daily commute is usually a pitched battle against jammed six-lane avenues, irregular U-turns, and the caprices of aggressive paulista drivers.

Yet São Paulo is unlike any other place I have seen, and I already miss it. The city has a cultural richness rivaling New York’s and plenty of charm if you know where to look. Its size is awe-inspiring. And to put it another way, São Paulo is the best answer to the question of what you would get if you stuck together 18 million Brazilians with a New York work schedule, an LA transit system, and the sensuality of Miami (which, coincidentally, has a large Brazilian population).

What’s more, São Paulo bears little resemblance to the rest of Brazil. The country is almost the size of the U.S. but far more regionalized, so that each state has its own traditions, holidays, food, dialects, and climate. Other Brazilian cities are magnificent in their own ways, and then beyond them is an ecological paradise with few parallels in the rest of the world. (more…)

Is it Okay to Want North Korea to Lose at Soccer?

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

This puppet commits severe human rights violations when he's not coaching his national soccer team via invisible earpiece.

North Korea is a terrible place for human rights, and there’s a macabre irony to their inclusion in the “Group of Death.” At the same time, however, they are the underdogs of the tournament: today they held steady against Brazil, the best soccer-playing country of all time, before falling 2-1. It’s really hard to root for a team representing a country that epitomizes much of what is wrong with the world, but it’s also hard not to root for a gritty team of soccer unknowns facing huge odds. What’s a political idealist/sports fan to do?

North Korea’s soccer team, like the country, is shrouded in secrecy. The team is ranked 105th in the world by FIFA, a mere ten spots higher in the rankings than Cape Verde, an archipelago country off the coast of Africa with 500,000 people and whose Wikipedia section on soccer lists all of the great players who did not play for the country and decided to play for European countries instead.

One of the reasons North Korea is ranked so low is that nobody knows anything about their team due to the complete isolation of the country. And despite the accomplishment of the team making it to the Cup for the first time since 1966, the people in North Korea will not see, hear, or know anything about what happens:

Unfortunately, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il has banned coverage of the World Cup in North Korea unless their team wins the tournament, meaning that even if they perform well against Brazil, the citizens of North Korea will likely never hear of their side’s performance.

But what about those North Korean fans at the stadium dressed identically and cheering loudly for the team? Those, it turns out, are actors from China. North Korea gave them tickets to pretend to be fans of North Korea.

The North Korean fans in South Africa are paid actors.

At the World Cup, the North Korean soccer team mostly reminds you of North Korea itself. They have essentially no contact with any other team. The team tried to add an extra striker by listing him as a goalkeeper; then, when FIFA pointed out the rule that players listed as goalkeepers can only play that position, the team claimed that the player wanted to play goalkeeper and the team was doing him a favor. And the coach’s answers to press conference questions included angrily rebuking a reporter who did not call the country “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” and answering a question about the team’s prospects against Brazil by saying:

This will bring a lot of joy to the Great Leader, it will show that North Koreans have great mental strength.

What’s more, six players play their club soccer for a team called FC April 25, the official team of the North Korean army and named after the day the North Koreans started a war against Japan.

The North Korean-ness of the North Korean team makes it fairly easy for me to root against the team. But despite all of these aspects of the team and the country, the players seem surprisingly non-North Korean and, dare I say it, likable.


Five predictions for this year’s World Cup

Friday, June 11th, 2010

How was that to whet your footy appetite? With two games already in the record books, the 2010 FIFA World Cup is upon us, and that means that everybody who doesn’t live in the United States is really excited. It also means that those soccer fans who are unable to make the trek to South Africa want nothing more than to share their World Cup predictions with you, which is why three soccer-obsessed writers–Charlie, Ryan, and Josh–have come together to share their predictions on the event that will render them completely unproductive for the next three weeks.

Prediction 1: A Stanford grad will step onto the field.*
*Disclaimer: A Stanford grad will not make it past the first round.

Josh: Sorry, Ryan Nelson ’01 (B.A. Political Science)—it’s just not happening for New Zealand this year. To reach the World Cup, Nelson and Co. defeated Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, and Bahrain—countries (except for New Caledonia, which is not even a country) whose existence I only know of because of Sporcle. New Zealand, did, however, land in Group F, which is far and away the easiest group. Italy, the name-brand soccer country of the group, is looking fairly washed-up these days; Paraguay and Slovakia, the other two teams, are not exactly teams you’d expect to waltz (or, for Paraguay, salsa) into the second round. The weaker competition, though, means that New Zealand might be able to score a point, which would save them from being the worst team in the tournament. That honor will go to North Korea, who have a painful three matches against Brazil, Portugal, and the Ivory Coast.

Charlie: I don’t foresee Paraguay and Slovakia pulling out of the tournament or getting kicked out, which pretty much means New Zealand will only have three group stage matches before heading home.  At least they can root against the Aussies in the knockout stages.  I wish Ryan Nelsen the best in the tournament, but I hope he can soak it all in quickly.

Prediction 2: Just like in the Revolutionary War, England won’t win its match-up with the United States.