“The Training Ground” is a feature where first time writers or readers who want to express a thought or opinion can submit articles for consideration.
For my Father:
When I was young I remember my father jumping up in his chair when Maradona would score. My father would ramble on about the left-footed genius that, in his words, was “a gift from the futbol gods”.
Pacing back and forth with a pile of nervously chewed finger nails in the ashtray was a norm on World Cup days. What I remember most was the joy in his eyes, something I didn’t quite understand yet.
For this to mean anything one must understand that at no time was my father the one to show emotion. That is why we were never really close.
Fast forward to 2009. My father was diagnosed with cancer at the same time I fell in love with the beautiful game. I watched Leo Messi, my generation’s left-footed genius.
I quickly realized that Messi was a gift from the futbol gods and at that moment I truly understood my father’s unconditional joy with the beautiful game. Just one game and I was hooked.
I ordered FSC and began an internet assault on futbol education. My next phone conversation with my father was the longest pitch rant in history.
Now we get together on the weekends and watch Rooney’s ups and downs, Mourinho’s antics, and Messi’s magic.
My father and I are closer than ever and I just want to thank the futbol gods for the gift.
The World Cup Finals is the most popular single sport event in the World. In 1998 it increased to 32 competing teams at the finals stage – is time to almost double that number?
Expand the current format of 32 teams to 63.
Continental Zone/ Spots
Europe (UEFA)/ 28
South America (CONMEBOL)/6
North/Central America (CONCACAF)/6
Cup Holders (Reigning champions)/1
Total # of countries represented/63
Final Group Stage of Qualifying
5 Groups (A to E), winners and runners-up qualify
5 Groups (A to E), winners and runners-up qualify
11 Groups, winners and runners-up qualify, top 3rd place team qualifies. Remaining 10 third place teams playoff (draw for home and home matchups) for the 5 remaining spots
2 Groups (A and B), winners and runners-up qualify, playoff (Home and Home) between 3rd place group A and 4th place group B, also between 3rd place group B and 4th place group A. Playoff winners qualify
3 groups, winners and runners-up qualify
Current world cup champions
In total 63 teams will take part in the tournament, including the opening ceremony and festivities. All teams will be guaranteed at least one game in the tournament.
The host country would automatically qualify for one of the 32 final places in the main tournament.
The other 62 teams would play single elimination games for the final 31 places in the main draw. Brackets with groups and host cities would be attached to all 31 games in the first game elimination.
Example: Host team starts the tournament in City A. City A will host 3 other teams decided in Games 1,2 and 3 in the single elimination draw. City B will Host the 4 winners of games 4,5,6 and 7. City C will host the 4 winners of games 8,9,10,and 11. Etc until all the brackets are filled.
Should eventually work out to 8 groups of 4 teams (as the current world cup)
Match-ups in this first round would be based on FIFA ranking (giving them finally some relevance) at a certain date (example December of the year preceding the world cup.), as the main draw is done currently.
That way, teams would know in advance of whom they are playing and what city they will start the tournament.
Example: Top ranked Team according to FIFA ranking would play Lowest Ranked qualifying team in FIFA ranking.
2nd ranked FIFA team would then play the second lowest qualifier and so on. (1 plays 62, 2 plays 61, 3 plays 60 etc until you have the 31 vs 32 match-up.)
An example of a match-up would be the #1 FIFA ranked Italy would play the 110 ranked El Salvador.
This does create some lop-sided match-ups, however as we have all seen in the past, when it comes the world cup, anything can happen. Some countries will be happy with their first opportunity to participate regardless of the opponent.
Chances are, we will see the same usual teams in the main tournament draw however the chances for upsets will always be there.
What do you think of this idea?
Let’s say July 4
This was the year in which Scotland nearly beat the World Champions Spain. On October 12, Bonnie Scotland came back from 2-0 down at Hampden and hauled themselves back to 2-2. They were one goal away from what would have been their most famous victory since they beat some other world champions 3-2 in 1967. It didn’t happen. Spain scored again and besides, who can claim a sporting memorable moment spent scrutinising a feed on a computer at 8am?
Moving closer to home, the USA’s second favourite side Fulham, provided us with the greatest finish ever to an EPL game. Brede Hangeland had just scored a clumsy own goal four minutes from time to hand Manchester United a 2-1 lead with 5 minutes to go. Their self-destructive tendency re-emerged in the remaining time as Damien Duff handled the ball to allow referee Peter Walton to give United a penalty and the chance to go 3-1 ahead. In goal for a disorganised Fulham was young David Stockdale, in for Mark Schwarzer who was said to have been mentally out of sorts after a very public pursuit for his services by Arsenal. Fulham seemed to have been ganged up on by the giants of the English game, picking on one of England’s most likeable clubs.
In the end, Nani pushed himself in front of the more experienced Ryan Giggs and Michael Owen to secure the win. Well that wasn’t quite the end, Far from it, in fact. Stockdale produced an excellent save and handed Fulham a lifeline. Deep into injury time, the scorer of United’s go-ahead goal Hangeland put his head on a corner and nodded home the equaliser for his side. It was the first of many games United were to draw away from home this season. But few will ever be as dramatic.
Given Fulham’s close connection to the USA, the fightback seemed partly American, although only Clint Dempsey played that day in a Fulham squad drawn from eleven nationalities. Nonetheless, everyone discussing the match seemed particularly delighted.
But a great fightback that nearly happened, and a great one that did only combine to my moment number five which is more a feeling than a moment.
It is a collection of moments, a compendium of conversations, something generic, something that had began to surround me from the minute the World Cup draw was made. My best moment of 2010 actually, I believe, came as a result of an event in 2009, when the football gods answered my prayers by sticking Bob Bradley’s boys in England’s group.
It was the draw football in the USA wanted most and it created an environment in which you could openly talk soccer with a stranger and there was a better than even chance you wouldn’t get a blank look. Everyone can relate to the principle of beating someone at their own game, but this fixture just seemed not so much to capture the imagination but baste it, season it, cook and devour it at one sitting.
Initially the thought persisted that this might just be a Seattle phenomenon. After all, there are hardcore pockets of soccer activity in the city, where you are more likely to see a Sounders jersey than a Mariners hat, and I happened to live in one. When I leave the house, it’s to talk or watch soccer. Gradually it dawned on me what was happening outside.
The size of the 2010 American soccer bubble only began to dawn on me osmotically. Watching Jon Stewart’s Daily Show on the Comedy Channel, every mention of the tournament seemed to be welcomed by an enormous cheer as if audience members were realising for the first time that other people cared, and were overcome with emotion as a result. Liking the World Cup and giving a hoot about the fate of Team USA was the new patriotism. It was harder to find someone who didn’t know and who wasn’t talking about soccer.
Former Congressman Joe Scarborough was next. He made soccer the talk of the light news shows. Of course, the commercial world wasn’t to be left out. Football tops from the world’s top international sides littered the shops. Channels other than dedicated sports channels featured adverts with soccer players pushing their products. Local radio stations usually more concerned with politics and the arts invited pundits like me onto the air to explain it all.
Most of all, it wasn’t just those who always believed, the loyal, that were excited. New fans of the game, and of international soccer, were arriving en masse – America gave us its ‘tired of other sports,’ hungry for information about soccer.
Will it last beyond 2010? 2011 will tell us. Locally, the sport is set for an ‘aftershock’ as two new clubs with big potential enter MLS. The American soccer dream is set to explode even further in Cascadia.
It would be great if that Earthquake sparked another Revolution that extended beyond the Galaxy – though not perhaps into the Cosmos.