Choices, choices

July 6, 2010

The World Cup will be over in a week, and I just can’t (or don’t want to) believe it. Although my body will be better off without the chips and beer that football-themed evenings (and weekends!) have consisted of, I will definitely miss the anticipation, the excitement and let’s face it, the shenanigans. In fact, let me share two of my favourite Internet picks that characterise these shenanigans before the World Cup ends and it’s too late:

in reference to the uncounted goal in  England’s match against Germany

Ex US pres Bill Clinton with US Team captain Bocanegra, chilling in the changing rooms after the USA v. Algeria match. I will let the photo speak for itself.

But back to today, or rather tomorrow, and the big match that opposes Uruguay and The Netherlands. Two small countries, one ambition: to make it to the final. Not coming from either country nor having a particular affinity for one or the other, who to support?

Luckily, a Gawker writer helps us make such a difficult choice. Here are a few sample arguments for each team:

1. Uruguayans are surprisingly hot.

Check out star striker Diego Forlan, a ridiculous blond Adonis whose midriff isn’t so much a six-pack as a symphony-grade xylophone.

2. Cheering for villains is always perversely enjoyable.

Sure, sure-we all convinced ourselves that if Ghana made the semifinals, everyone would get their own personalized Nobel Peace Prize in the mail. Enter nasty Uruguay. Sinister Uruguay. As you may have heard, Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez “saved” a last-second Ghananian shot with a seventh-grade-girls-volleyball punch off the goal line. Some people now consider Suarez a war criminal for snuffing out Africa’s World Cup hopes. Meanwhile, the culprit and his mates areexquisitely unrepentant about the whole affair. You know what? Screw Ghana. Get into it.

3. They basically took a time machine to get here.
Uruguay won the first World Cup ever, in 1930. Uruguay also won the 1950 World Cup. Retro cool.


1. They wear orange (and make it work).
Only the Dutch can pull off eye-bleeding orange, and make it seem totally appropriate.

2. Wesley Sneijder might secretly be the best player in the world.
Wesley Sneijder, the Netherland’s stubby, 5-foot-7-inch midfield generalissmo, is just bossing the scene. He just knocked in two goals to eliminate Brazil. He leads the World Cup’s only unbeaten, untied team. The dude is an undervalued stock.

3. They all look like World War II resistance fighters.
Shaved heads. Starved countenances. Overall, a steely approach coupled with some crafty, old-school Dutch flourish.

Hmm, this journalist definitely gave us something to mull over, and I think I’ve made my choice. Have you?

(p.s. I’m not trying to influence you or anything, but how great would a Germany v. The Netherlands final be??)


The Real v. Fake debate

June 30, 2010

To those of you who were worried that I had gone on a writing strike since Italy got kicked out of the World Cup, fear not. Despite the inevitable disappointment with my favourite team followed by another upset when my number 2 (England) got kicked out too, I haven’t decided to take it out on my blog. I have simply been a bit busier, including enjoying the first few days of REAL summer heat with a visitor from college (hi, Frenkel). It’s always lovely to have visitors… in fact, the number of people that have come to visit me or “swung by Paris” since I moved here 2 years ago is really incredible, I never knew Paris was such a crossroads! And weekend visits are the best; I enjoy playing tour guide and re-exploring Tourist Paris, which every Parisien knows is just as beautiful, though much more crowded than the Real Paris, the one only the locals know. More on this topic soon.

One of the highlights of my weekend (apart from assisting an awesome Gay Pride parade, watching Team USA’s deserved defeat and nervously stuffing my mouth with chips through the horrible referee errors in the England v. Germany and Argentina v. Mexico games) was watching Portuguese football fans go absolutely crazy on the Champs Elysees on Friday night (after their tie with Brazil which led them safely to the knockout round). (Note: Currently, they are being  surpassed by Spanish fans, who are causing an impressive ruckus on the streets after making it to the quarter finals).

One of the first things I thought when I witnessed a swarm of Portugal fans stop traffic, dance in the middle of the Champs and jump on moving cars (crazy!) was wow, these people must be real fans, they’re dressed head to toe in Portugal gear. Although the picture below only shows a (very adorable) fraction of the crowd that night, you still get the idea of the sea red-and-green in which I found myself.

Call me crazy, but my next thought was this: how much of this sports gear is real? (official jerseys v. marketplace knockoffs)

According to an entry in the US Chamber of Commerce blog, not much of it is real.  In fact, to date, the South African government has confiscated roughly $2.5 million worth of knock offs.”

Big deal, you might say. Official team jerseys are expensive, and it’s not buying a counterfeit hurts anyone. Well, the blog entry contains some pretty straightforward replies to such questions. Here is an excerpt:

As soccer fans gather in South Africa and around their TV sets for the 2010 FIFA World Cup…, more than just the hearts of nations and the pride of the teams are on the line. Corporate sponsors have invested three years and millions of dollars in preparation for what is the biggest international sporting event outside the Olympics. In fact, the last World Cup, which was held in 2006 in Germany, had a combined record of 26.29 billion total viewers.

An event of this scale takes thousands of hours of planning and large sums of money. FIFA gets a large part of its funding from the many corporate sponsors who hope to profit from the advertising and merchandise sales.

As such, the counterfeiting of World Cup merchandise—like hats, jerseys, souvenirs, etc—and the illegal online streaming (when viewers watch the match via the internet) of the tournament threaten the foundations of this great event. The streaming of games through illegal channels not only steals jobs from the very people who work in the advertising business but this practice discourages the innovation and creation of new technologies which enable consumers to legally stream the games. U.S. content companies have invested over $100 million dollars to bring the World Cup to the living rooms of Americans this year and in 2014, and illegal streaming impacts the everyday employee who goes to work at these companies each day.

Counterfeiting is not only illegal, but it robs the Cup’s sponsors of their investment, cutting into any revenues they hope and need to make on the games in order keep employees and create new jobs. And not only do workers in these companies suffer, but so does everyone else involved in the design, production and distribution of team and World Cup products. These are people just like you and me, trying to make a living based on our hard work, good ideas, and time invested in these efforts.

Fake team jerseys are available for pennies on the dollar in comparison to the genuine article…Often the counterfeit jerseys are poorly made and won’t last nearly as long as a professionally made jersey. Mementos of a once in a lifetime event are not only cheap shams that don’t last, but are stolen goods that steal jobs.

This illegal activity is serious business, and the repercussions are felt here at home. Thanks to the internet, counterfeiters can sell their fake products without ever leaving the comfort of their home – fooling unaware consumers with seemingly legitimate web sites.

As noted numerous times, the problem of counterfeiting is not a victimless crime. The true victims of this criminal activity are the authorized workers who make, package, distribute, and sell these products.”

Before going any further, I should say that in my mind, buying a knock-off jersey and watching a soccer game online are two entirely different things touching upon different issues and legal implications, so it’s best not to get them confused (not least because I have well-developed position on counterfeiting but am still ambivalent about illegal downloading and streaming).

So Internet issues aside, I would like to hear your thoughts on counterfeiting during the World Cup. Do you agree with the reasoning behind in the article? Should we care about the investments FIFA has made in the World Cup? Or do you think that is a bunch of crap made up to protect the interests of sports and advertising corporations? Do you agree or disagree that counterfeiting is not a victimless crime?

Looking forward to getting some replies, especially since I know some of you feel very strongly about this topic…

…which is not all that surprising. There has been much talk about real v. fake at this World Cup, especially now as Sepp Blatter prepares to reconsider the possibility of letting referees’ use of video during matches. Here too, many people argue that relying on video footage would dehumanize the game, removing all spontaneity and authenticity and turn it to a 3D video game. To be perfectly honest, I think we should leave things as they are, or how they’ve always been, with soccer being a real game of skill and fitness and surprises and, let’s face it, luck. I would be sad to see soccer lose its charm and become more robotic for the sake of standardized fairness. I’ll take a soccer player crying real tears of frustration to watching boring televised post-match debates anytime (people will have nothing to complain about if the game suddenly becomes fair!)

In any case, I look forward to hearing your opinion on those fake jerseys. In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m not a knock-off supporter (and with good reason). But despite the origin of their gear, I couldn’t take my eyes off of this gorgeous Portuguese family the other day. They may not have been wearing authentic jerseys but they were die-hard Portugal fans nonetheless! Wonder how they’re feeling tonight after their Iberian neighbours woke them up from their World Cup dream.

Don’t say it’s over

June 25, 2010

Long day, going to sleep. Also, feeling morally shattered because of Italy’s elimination.

Haters gonna hate

June 24, 2010

Dear Azzurri,

Please don’t mess up today.

Your game against Slovakia is in six hours. Are you ready? Calm? Confident? Style that hair however you like and come and show us a good game.

Unfortunately, this year being Number 1 is not enough to be respected. I’m sorry to tell you this Azzurri, but you’re one of the most despised teams of the World Cup. Really, just ask the Germans. Or anyone else. I am sure the French would be especially happy if  you went down with them.

Judging by past experiences (which savvier football fans will be able to cite), your game tends to slip a little bit when under pressure. Despite what the haters day, I believe you play with your heart, and as soon as something goes wrong you let the situation spiral out of control. So try and avoid that today, please. Yes you need to win, and yes Slovakia shouldn’t give you a hard time, but that is no reason not to give 150% from the very start. Don’t wait until they score to do something amazing. Real concentration and effort pays off, just look at Team USA.

All in all, don’t let what people are saying get to you. Jealousy is an evil, penetrating emotion that I hope you have been shielding yourselves from. Whether you win or lose, people will say negative things about you, so just push it all aside and play your best today. You deserve to be in the final 16!!



That’s more like it

June 24, 2010

Today, Wednesday June 23rd, was a great day for soccer, and not only compared to yesterday’s disaster.

It included Terry’s head-first dive to block a shot by England’s opponents, Slovenia….

… Fabio Capello’s jubilant pride when England won…

… the pay-off for USA’s unfaltering determination…

… Ozil’s fantastic goal for Germany…

… and Ghana’s qualification despite defeat.

Thank you, soccer gods, for a great day of real football, suspense, motivation, and hard-earned victories. Sounds like the American Dream is live and kicking in the soccer world too.

Let me tell you a story. It is a very recent story that will become legendary,  told from generation to generation….

“Once upon a time, there was a football team called Les Bleus, or “the blues”, a reference to the colour of their jersey, but curiously enough, in 2010 this name came to define their performance quite adequately.

Given their noteworthy result in 2006 and one World Cup title on their CV, Les Bleus were considered as one of teams most likely countries to win the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. But sadly, it was not meant to be. With a widely disliked coach, a near-sighted (and aging)  national football federation and categorically unsupportive countrymen, Les Bleus were crippled from the start.

One day, the players themselves started going crazy.

After a tie and a defeat in the first round of the World Cup, one of Les Bleus, Anelka, turned against his coach, taking his frustration out on him the team’s locker room by telling him to ********************,**********************.

Someone in the locker room at the time (a very mean villain, the meanest villain this whole story) then leaked these words to the press. The newspaper L’Equipe needed money, so they printed the phrase in its graphic entirety on their front page the next day.  People were shocked. To make matters worse, French fast food chain Quick even canceled an advertisement campaign featuring the controversial Mr. Anelka. The situation had taken a fatal turn.

Because of the gravity of Anelka’s words and his refusal to apologize, the coach decided to send him off the team. The plane took off from South Africa, and back to Europe he went. This profoundly irritated the other Bleus, who by this point had started acting much like a bunch of teenagers with authority and ego issues. As  a show of support for their teammate, they decided to go on strike on their last day of training before their final match (their last chance at the World Cup) against Bafana Bafana, the South African football team.

Unsurprisingly, the game was disastrous for Les Bleus from the very beginning. After letting in one goal in, heart breaker Gourcuff elbowed an opponent in the throat and received a red card, leaving Les Bleus one man short.

After that, there was little hope for victory. Bafana bafana scored another goal, making Malouda’s neat and only goal for the French team during the World Cup utterly useless. The match ended as  miserably and disgracefully as it had begun.

To make matters worse,  coach Domenech proved to be a very bad loser, refusing to shake the hand of the South African coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira. The scene, pitiful to say the least, had every French fan covering their eyes in shame.

And that is the story of how Les Bleus’ World Cup dream quickly crashed and burned in 2010. In a rare show of correctness, the French football federation decided that the players will not receive their bonus, and the money will instead be given to amateur football associations. Maybe justice exists after all? Ireland will certainly argue it does…

Sadly, Les Bleus’ defeat was not enough to allow Bafana Bafana to continue their World Cup dream. Their bittersweet victory was the final touch to a long day of failures that will have sports pundits and and Frenchmen talking for generations to come.

La fin.


What, in your opinion, is the moral of this story?

Music in the air

June 22, 2010

Between the copycat vuvuzelas, honking on the boulevards, sound blasting from the cars, and huge cheers I think I can hear from the whole west coast of Europe (both Spain and Portugal are celebrating their World Cup victories tonight), it is easy to forget that today is La Fête de la Musique!

La Fête de la Musique is one of my favourite days of the year, and as it is on Summer Solstice (June 21) it falls on a different day each year, this year, a Monday. This is really unfortunate for me because there’s really nothing better than a street music festival in Paris, and I wasn’t able to catch any of it today because of work. Dommage.

The whole concept of la Fête de la Musique is really great: it is a entire day in France devoted to promoting the work of amateur and professional musicians and making such music available to the public. Free concerts are organized all over the place, and a stroll around Paris allows you to sample tons of different types of music, from jazz to rock to electro, etc. The clubs organize special, (mostly) free-entry nights, the metro runs all night and the streets are swarmed with people dancing and having a good time. Some of my greatest memories of my time in Paris are from the two Fêtes de la Musique that I have attended, and if it weren’t unseasonably cold and I didn’t have to wake up an hour earlier tomorrow, I would be out there dancing right now.

So, how are our favourite miserables doing today?

Well, apparently, some of the players regret not training before their match against South Africa tomorrow. Crocodile tears, I say! Starting tomorrow we have one more game a day, or rather, two simultaneous matches per day, so I hope the media will have more to cover than France’s childish bickering.  Today, Portugal’s seventh heaven and Spain’s well-played game weren’t enough to shelter me from the media frenzy surrounding les Bleus. Enough!

Off to bed now, car horns on the Champs Elysées permitting. They say everyone in Portugal has a cousin in Paris, and seriously, it sounds like they all decided to gather near my house tonight.

France strikes again…

June 21, 2010

…. but not at the goal. Just in general. It’s so crazy, I don’t even know to begin. I wanted to write a proper weekend round-up but there’s too much to cover! And plus, I’m sure you’ve read all the details in the press.

Ah, the press. A lot of people in France think that it is mostly to blame for what’s happening with the French football team. There’s a taupe, they insist (in English, a mole) who went and told the press what was said in the locker room during the France v. Mexico match. A team’s changing room is sacred, the players say, and regardless of the gravity (and obscenity!) of Anelka’s words to the coach, those words should never have left the room.

A fair point to some, but not to others. I mean, yes, I agree that the media is partly to blame for the situation spinning out of control (there was not need for L’Equipe to publish such sensational and shocking headlines), but aren’t we missing the point here? If Anelka insulted his coach as quoted, shouldn’t he deserve to get sent home? As noted in an article on Eurosport-Yahoo!, “the fact that the row should not have left the four walls of the dressing room is neither here nor there” (much like in 2006, as the journalist remembers, where instead of acknowledging Zidane’s mistake in head-butting Matterazzi, the French spent weeks investigating which member of the family Materrazzi had insulted and how).

Details, details, I feel like we’re getting lost in them. What I will remember from these last few days is not the football played, but the fight between Evra and Duverne,  followed by the French doing of the things they do best: going on strike. During the World Cup. I can barely believe it. If I were a French team supporter I would be thoroughly ecoeuré et degouté too (that means nauseated and disgusted, and I am directly quoting the managing director of the French football federation, who resigned today).

So what matches will we remember from this weekend of distracting drama? The Netherlands’ decisive match against Japan? Denmark’s surprisingly good goals? Yes, maybe. Unfortunately, with time we might forget about Ghana, Cameroon, and Ivory Coast’s attempts this weekend, during which we inched closer to the possibility of a World Cup in Africa without a single African team. What a real shame.

Italy v. New Zealand is a match that I personally wish I could forget, although according to the AFP the Kiwis couldn’t be happier. And rightly so! How many times has a team with only 4 World Cup matches behind it challenge and control a 4 time World Cup winner? As much as it pains me to say this, this was a deserved tie; Italy was motivated but lacked the quality necessary to push it forward. Oh and what is happening to Cannavaro? He is partly responsible for letting that Kiwi goal go through, and his quality is definitely slipping. Can we just cut out his cameo in the Nike “Write the Future” commercial, please. It’s much less funny now…

In any case, thank you to those who voted in my poll, especially to those who believed in the Italian team, even just a little bit.

Another week of World Cup games begins soon.  Hope we can just turn over this page of soap opera worthy drama in the press and focus on what really counts, le foot.

Last minute predictions

June 20, 2010

Photos and video with Interview magazine:

Letterman on USA v. Slovenia: