Tag Archives: World Cup

Gone (World Cup) Blogging

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Here’s a panel I did with friends a few weeks ago. For my daily World Cup musings, click on TIME.com’s 2010 World Cup Special. And you can also follow my relentless footie and political babble on Facebook and Twitter… Continue reading

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Has Globalization Stolen the World Cup Magic?


Who is this kid? Pele terrorizes Sweden in 1958

Nobody outside of Brazil had heard of the 17-year-old who exploded onto the international stage in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden with a display of skill, audacity, guile, vision and sheer exuberance that was to make Pele a global household name for the next half-century.

His status as the global symbol of football excellence was all the remarkable considering that the world only got to see him three more times at the quadrennial World Cup tournaments, culminating in 1970. Pele, after all, played his weekly club football for Rio De Janeiro’s Santos, whose games weren’t available on satellite TV.

There are many reasons why World Cup 2010 won’t surprise us with a new Pele, but the first should be obvious: today any teenager even half as talented would likely be on the books of Barcelona or Arsenal already, and therefore a familiar face to European club football’s massive global TV audience. Continue reading

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Who ‘We’ Are When the Whistle Blows


Chelsea’s Drogba and Kalou fly the Ivoirian flag. But Kalou was very nearly a Dutchman…


The fleet-footed Chelsea forward Solomon Kalou might permit himself a wry smile as he stands at attention for L’Abidjanaise, the national anthem of the Ivory Coast, when Les Elephantes face Portugal in their World Cup opener on June 15.

Were it not for the stubbornness of former Netherlands immigration minister Rita Verdonk, Kalou would have turned up at the World Cup in the other orange shirt – as a Dutchman. By turning down attempts by the Netherlands football authorities to fast-track citizenship for Kalou in time to pick him for the 2006 World Cup, the conservative Verdonk actually spared his parents a major headache: the Dutch that year played a group game against an Ivory Coast squad that included Solomon’s older brother, Bonaventure.

But the episode is simply a reminder that international football often demonstrates just how fluid and fungible the notion of nationality can be. In the same 2006 World Cup, when Croatia played Australia, three players in the Croatian squad were actually Australian, while seven of the Socceroos were eligible to represent Croatia. Continue reading

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The World Cup as War by Other Means

‘Just don’t mention the war” was the cardinal rule when hosting German guests at Fawlty Towers, the eponymous hotel in the ’70s British TV sitcom. But it has never applied to England football fans: whenever their team plays Germany, they taunt the opposition with a ditty (to the tune of The Camptown Races) with the lyrics: Two world wars and one world cup, dooh-dah, dooh-dah …

The English are hardly alone in linking football and war. When Holland beat Germany in a Euro ’88 semifinal, literally 60% of the Dutch population took to the streets to celebrate, many of them chanting “Hurrah, we got our bikes back!” That was a far larger crowd than the one which celebrated Holland’s victory over the Soviet Union in the final of the same tournament days later, but the bicycle reference said it all: Dutch people had had their bikes confiscated when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands 48 years earlier. Those who fell/rose cheering from their graves, wrote Dutch poet Jules Deelder, while a veteran of the underground resistance enthused: “It feels as though we’ve won the war at last.”

Payback for wartime humiliation was also the Argentine narrative for Diego Maradona’s notorious “hand of God” goal against England at the 1986 World Cup (and the “goal of the century” he added later in the game). Sure, Maradona used his fist to prod the ball over Peter Shilton for the opening goal, but for a country still smarting from the wounds of the Falklands/Malvinas War four years earlier, England had to be beaten by any means necessary. As Maradona said afterwards: “We knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys (in the Malvinas), killed them like little birds. And this was revenge.” Sure, Maradona had cheated, but so had the British, in Argentine minds, by sinking an Argentine warship outside the zone of exclusion around the islands, killing some 323 sailors. Jorge Valdano, who was on the field that day, knew Maradona had cheated, but said “at that moment we only felt joy, relief, perhaps a forced sense of justice. It was England, let’s not forget, and the Malvinas were fresh in the memory.” Continue reading

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