death is a natural part of life

"Qatar World Cup chief Nasser Al Khater on migrant worker casualty: ‘Death is a natural part of life, at work or in sleep’"

Adam Crafton reports for The Athletic.

The Qatar World Cup’s chief executive Nasser Al Khater responded to a question about a recent migrant worker casualty by telling reporters that “death is a natural part of life”, as well as saying journalists shouldn’t “bang on” about the topic....

Earlier on Thursday, FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura refused to answer questions on the incident.

Samoura said she did not think the question was “appropriate” when she was asked to comment on the death.

“We’ve already elaborated long interventions on what we are doing with Qatar,” she said.

“I don’t think that’s appropriate when people are coming here to learn things, that we are talking about things that we’ve already discussed months and months and months and time and time ago.”

one story at the world cup

What Alex Shultz wrote last week is still true, even as we enjoy the matches:

"Qatar's World Cup is an unparalleled disgrace"

Having made itself outrageously wealthy with the world’s worst pollutant, Qatar’s ruling class is on the doorstep of completing the dream of authoritarian regimes throughout the region: diversifying beyond fossil fuels by carving out highly lucrative, heavily restricted tourist playgrounds. “Sportswashing” means hosting sporting events to improve a reputation damaged by abuses in other realms. It’s not a sufficient term for what happened here. This is a sports tsunami that has killed thousands to date.

day one

I found a way to watch in 4K, which meant I watched an English-language broadcast, missing out on Andres Cantor. It reminds me of a few Cups ago, when HD was new, and the Spanish-language network hadn't gotten HD yet, so I watched in English. Not sure how this will play out over the course of the tournament ... there are multiple 4K options on replays. (Back then, I used two televisions, one with an HD picture on mute, a second without HD but tuned to the Spanish-language channel with the sound up, syncing the audio and video as best I could.)

If I don't have a rooting interest in a sporting event, I often don't know who I will support until a game has begun. So I'll be rooting for the U.S., and for Spain, and then for CONCACAF teams in general (Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica). I tend to root for Spanish-speaking countries, meaning anyone from South America except Brazil (and Brazil are pretty hard to root against). I probably assumed in advance that I'd take Ecuador's side in the opener, and I did, but not for the reasons I thought of beforehand. No, when Ecuador scored a goal in the third minute (that was disallowed), I threw my hands in the air ... because I want Qatar to lose.


Group A:

Senegal-Netherlands. Senegal will be missing the great Sadio Mane, the African Footballer of the Year, who is out for the tournament. Senegal captain, center back Kalidou Koulibaly (check out his essay on The Players Tribune, "You Are Welcome to Be a Senegal Fan, Too"), is familiar to fans of Chelsea, where he joined this season. The Netherlands are loaded (Cody Gakpo, Virgil van Dijk, Frenkie de Jong), and they are the best team in this group. They are a possible opponent for the United States in the next round.

Group B:

England-Iran. England (Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka) should have no problems with Iran (goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, FC Porto's top player Mehdi Taremi).

USA-Wales. I think the U.S. will finish second in this group. They need a good start. Look for young players Yunus Musah and Gio Reyna. Gareth Bale is known for rising to the occasion ... this is his first chance to do so in a World Cup, as Wales returns for the first time since 1958.

human rights soccer 2022

I did this four years ago. Might as well do it again, given that the Cup is being held in Qatar.

Can't decide who to root for in this year's World Cup? Here's a list that can help you feel good about yourself: all 32 teams, ranked by "degree of civil liberties and political rights". The list is dodgy ... the primary source is the annual Freedom in the World report, which is not perfect ... none of these lists are, they are all susceptible to one extent or another to ideological biases. But I admit I was being lazy, and just checked out the most available report to go by. I adjusted for "ties" using the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index. All to be taken with a large grain of salt, but I decided, why not? So here they are, the 32 World Cup teams, ranked first to last in terms of civil liberties and political rights.

1 Netherlands
2 Canada
3 Uruguay
4 Denmark
5 Australia
6 Belgium
7 Japan
8 Portugal
9 Switzerland
10 Germany
11t Wales (UK)
11t England (UK)
13 Costa Rica
14 France
15 Spain
16 Croatia
17 Argentina
18 South Korea
19 United States
20 Poland
21 Ghana
22 Brazil
23 Senegal
24 Tunisia
25 Ecuador
26 Serbia
27 Mexico
28 Morocco
29 Qatar
30 Iran
31 Cameroon
32 Saudi Arabia

No one doing these things seems to want to split up the UK, so Wales and England's ranking are actually the UK ranking. Also note that the opening match, between Qatar and Ecuador, will be the worst match of the first batch of matches. Finally, perhaps nice guys finish last ... the best country using these rankings in 2018 was Sweden, who did not qualify this time around.

fever pitch

People like to look at sports as a beacon of hope in a world that feels hopeless. But I tend to see athletes as belonging to another world entirely. The same English fans cheering on Sterling at the World Cup are perhaps the same ones who voted for Brexit in 2016. Lukaku is now adored in Belgium, where he was born 25 years ago. But it wasn’t that long ago that he would come on the field as a youth player and be confronted by the parents of the opposing side, demanding to see his ID.

As Europe faces an identity crisis, it needs to accept the fact that there are countless Lukakus and Sterlings among us, contributing to every level of society. Embracing immigrants for three weeks when the World Cup comes knocking every four years is just not good enough.

-- Felipe Araujo

One thing I know for sure about being a fan is this: it is not a vicarious pleasure, despite all appearances to the contrary, and those who say that they would rather do than watch are missing the point.... When there is some kind of triumph, the pleasure does not radiate from the players outwards until it reaches the likes of us at the back of the terraces in a pale and diminished form; our fun is not a watery version of the team's fun ... The joy we feel on occasions like this is not a celebration of others' good fortune, but a celebration of our own; and when there is a disastrous defeat the sorrow that engulfs us is, in effect, self-pity, and anyone who wishes to understand how football is consumed must realise this above all things.

--Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

best ever?

Today, in my morning paper (San Francisco Chronicle), Ann Killion's World Cup article began, "Is this the greatest World Cup ever?" Part of her answer can be found in the title of the column: "Let’s enjoy it while it lasts because changes are coming soon". She notes that the next World Cup in Qatar will be different enough that if nothing else, the World Cup will never be the same. (Case in point: it will take place in November and December.) But that's not an answer to if this is the best Cup ever, just a prediction about where it is heading. As Killion writes, "It seems inevitable that history will look back on the 2018 tournament as the last great World Cup."

She then asks, "What makes a great World Cup? Close games, surprises, drama. And the 2018 World Cup has all of that."

If I had to list the best features of this World Cup, I would put, at the top of the list, that I have rarely been annoyed or grumpy. I have admittedly been a grouch in the past ... maybe I'm just mellowing out in my old age.

There has only been one scoreless draw in the first 63 matches. That's a good thing.

There have been some very good matches. Spain had a poor tournament, but they had a couple of entertaining group matches, a 3-3 draw with Portugal and a 2-2 draw with Morocco that came down to a stoppage time goal that required VAR to decide it was good.

In their first match, finalists France needed a late own-goal to defeat Australia, 2-1. Sounds better than it was ... two of the three goals were from penalties. France took part in one of the wildest matches, their 4-3 win that eliminated Argentina:

The final day of Group D matches was dramatic, including this goal:

Serbia-Switzerland eventually decided which of the two teams would advance:

Eventual semi-finalists England got off to a shaky, if excited, start against unfancied Tunisia:

Their last match was also something, as they crashed out to Croatia, who were playing their third straight 120-minute match:

In the quarter-finals, Croatia broke the hearts of the home team:

And I shouldn't forget Belgium, who had some exciting moments in the knockout phase. They beat Brazil, but the most amazing match came against Japan, featuring the best second-half of the tournament:


today's matches: fair play

It was an odd day, when the most important things happened just to the side of the actual events.

Group H went first. The live table as the matches began: (Senegal 5 Japan 5) Colombia 4 Poland eliminated.

In the 59th minute, Jan Bednarek scored to put Poland up 1-0 against Japan. SEN 5 (JPN 4 COL 4).

In the 74th minute, Yerry Mina scored to put Colombia up 1-0 against Senegal. COL 6 (SEN 4 JPN 4).

Senegal tried for an equalizer, but Colombian keeper David Ospina made a couple of saves, and, to be honest, Senegal didn't show much. Colombia ended atop the table with 6 points, Senegal and Japan with 4. Which led to tiebreakers.

The first two tiebreakers are Goal Differential and Goals Scored. Both teams scored 4 and allowed 4.

Next is head-to-head. (I'm skipping some that don't seem necessary to me, important only if more than 2 teams have tied.) When the two teams met, they drew, 2-2, in one of the more entertaining matches so far.

Which leads to the "Fair Play" tiebreakers. The team with the best record in yellow and red cards finishes ahead of the other team.

In three games, Japan received 4 yellow cards. Senegal received 6. Japan advances, Senegal goes home.

You might say Polish star Robert Lewandowski, who had a disappointing tournament, was as crucial as anyone. In the 66th minute of today's game, he was fouled by Tomoaki Makino, leading to a yellow card. In the second half of the match between Senegal and Poland, the African team received two yellows for fouls on Lewandowski. In a group where Fair Play mattered, Lewandowski drew three yellows from the teams in question.

Of course, Senegal had two more yellows than Japan, so Lewandowski wasn't the only reason Japan advanced. But I'll put him forward as the Forgotten Man of this World Cup thus far, for his mediocre play, and for his ability to draw yellow cards.

Group G

Here's how important Group G action was today: I'm writing this at halftime, because the only match that matters is largely a sham. As I type, Panama leads Tunisia, 1-0, at the half. Both teams are already eliminated, and the only goal of the match was an own goal. Meanwhile, England and Belgium are scoreless at the half. The crucial stat in that game: Belgium has gotten two yellows, England none. If the teams finish the game tied, this one will also go down to Fair Play, and in the "Live Table", England is leading the table. (In fairness, Belgium just scored, so it won't finish 0-0.)

It gets better/worse: there is some debate whether either team actually wants to win the group. The winner faces Japan in the next round, the second place team takes on Colombia. But it's what might come down the road that has people wondering. If the winner beats Japan, their likely next opponent would be Brazil. If the second place team beats Colombia, their next opponent would be Sweden or Switzerland. So, all else being equal, the Group G winner would face Japan and Brazil, the second place team would face Colombia and, say, Sweden. Some people think this means the second place team is in better shape than the winner.

Should I wait until the matches are over to post this? Nah.

there's no stopping big soccer

Andrew O'Hehir with a solid article: "Donald Trump, America’s isolation and the World Cup: There’s no stopping Big Soccer".

World soccer in the 21st century represents the opposite of everything Trump appears to stand for, in every respect but one. (That would of course be the money.) Indeed, the story of how soccer escaped its gritty, clannish, working-class roots and became an enormous global industry is a central cultural and economic parable of our time. That happened through essentially the same processes of globalization, commodification and “financialization” that have led to widespread resentment and right-wing backlash in much of Europe, as well as the election of You Know Who in the United States....

If Big Soccer still tries to cash in on nationalism, especially during the quadrennial pageantry of the World Cup, the dynamic has shifted immensely. It might be more accurate to say that soccer now tries to commodify nationalism -- as a charming anachronism useful for marketing purposes, its bombs and bullets replaced by one-liners in a Volkswagen commercial. Mostly this is the inevitable logic of capitalism at work, that revolutionary force under which “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.” But it also clearly represents a strategic marketing effort to pivot away from the darker episodes in soccer’s past....

There’s also what might be called the immanent contradiction of Big Soccer, which is marketing the distinctive, peculiar intensity of the European game to a global audience, and in the process making it less distinctive and peculiar. Once upon a time, a London “derby” match between Arsenal and Chelsea was an urban, tribal event, pregnant with the possibility of violence. Today everyone in the stadium understands that it’s a global spectacle, and they are performing the roles of passionate London fans for an audience of millions. The whole event has become a “simulacrum,” to use Jean Baudrillard’s term, a self-consciously artificial representation of itself.

landon donovan speaks about mexico

Landon Donovan talks El Tri support, USMNT and more

Matt Reed with the interview:

MR: Just speaking about unity, and the relationship you’re aiming to help build between the U.S. and Mexico. The United Bid received the rights to host the 2026 World Cup, which will be the first time three nations have co-hosted a tournament of this magnitude. What’s the overall importance of hosting again, and even more so doing it with our neighbors to the north and south?

LD: Let’s just put aside the soccer aspect for a second. From a political and global perspective this shows the rest of the world that we have three massive countries coming together to do something really great. Especially amidst our political climate and some of our leaders and their feelings towards our southern neighbors, I just think it’s a massive message of positivity and unity when we desperately need it. I’m really proud of the efforts that everyone involved put in to achieve this and I think it’s big for society as a whole.