Archive for June, 2010
The itinerary is set. I’m almost finished packing. The weather in Cape Town and the Southern Cape looks fantastic for the next 5+ days. I’m leaving the rain gear at home as it’s the dry season in our other destinations (Kruger & Johannesburg). Sunny with highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s for most of the trip.
With the security concerns in South Africa, and warnings not to bring any bling or otherwise show signs of wealth, it has been a challenge packing so I can still take the best pictures and videos for this space. I managed to rig up a ratty old REI messenger bag to discreetly carry all of my good camera equipment. I’ll be wearing my oldest, understated and generally frayed clothing. I haven’t cut my hair or trimmed the beard for well over a month to look as homeless/wookish as possible.
Unfortunately, the U.S. heroes are out, but I couldn’t be more excited looking forward to attending Germany vs. Argentina on Saturday in Cape Town. So far, these have been the two most exciting and quality sides in the tournament. I’m guaranteeing at least one Messi goal and predicting an epic 4-3 extra-time result in favor of Germany. I’ve got some German blood in me, so rooting for them based on heritage must be done.
I’m taking off bright and early at 6a tomorrow from Portland, and then 5+ hours in Atlanta before embarking on the monster 15:30 non-stop flight to Johannesburg. I’ve got plenty of reading – still trying to finish The Ball is Round, and I just purchased Soccernomics as well. I’m pretty sure Delta has wifi on their long-haul flights now, so I may be posting something mid-air if I have some thoughts or just because it’d be super cool.
Off to Africa!
Mark June 23, 2010 as a pivotal day in U.S. soccer history. If we get the bid for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup and our best chance to win the whole thing, we will point back to that day as the turning point when Americans really started to care. Even if you dislike soccer and watched that match just as another sporting event, you are a soulless traitor to the stars and stripes if you weren’t yelling at your TV, pulling out your hair, and then screaming in pure jubilation at the end.
That match exemplified tension and release. So many chances, close misses, and another valid goal taken away by the officials. None of that matters now, though, because Landon Donovan’s fairytale rebound-strike in extra time gave the U.S. its first World Cup group win since 1930.
Not only that, but we now stand a legitimate fighting chance of making the semi-finals. If we can defeat Ghana on Saturday, we would face the winner of Uruguay and South Korea in the quarter final. There are obviously no easy matches in the World Cup, but after seeing the quality of play this team is capable of achieving, defeating any one of those opponents is entirely possible.
The reaction from Outlaws HQ in Lincoln, Nebraska:
The Univision call from San Antonio, TX (2 angles):
Around the world:
I’m not sure who took this, but it is fantastic:
We live in an age of obsessive technological wonder. Over a million people placed pre-orders for the new iPhone 4 this week. Some waited in line for hours just to put a name in so they could wait for hours again on launch day (seriously?). I received a good tip, stayed up until 1a PST, and got my pre-order in through AT&T’s website with few problems. The phone will be delivered to my door on the 24th – plenty of time to play around with it for a week before heading down to South Africa. So, there will be HD video on this space during my trip, pending internet access at our guest houses (it’s $20 per megabyte for international data roaming otherwise- big ouch).
Why hasn’t this tech obsessiveness been applied to sport? After the travesty of a call denying the U.S. side a spectacular second half comeback victory and with the inexplicable FIFA rules that don’t require the official to specify exactly what the foul was or who committed it, I started thinking about how this situation could be avoided in the future. The technology is there to make sure bad/questionable officiating calls become a thing of the past.
First, addressing yesterday’s situation: the official should be required to call a specific foul on a specific player at the moment of the whistle. This is a simple, logical necessity. There are no valid arguments that secrecy in officiating is a good idea. FIFA supposedly enjoys the controversy bad calls create. If true, it’s a shame that the world organizing body of the most popular sport on the planet condones and embraces ineptitude. Ultimately, all anyone wants is a fair match and the U.S. were inexplicably denied that chance.
Along those lines, why is there only one official out on the pitch? The NBA has three officials on a playing surface about a tenth of the size of a soccer field. It is impossible for one guy to watch 22 different players at once. The official may spot a potential foul in his periphery or from a distance, and his entire basis for determining if it was valid, how severe, and whether to hand out a card depends on how guilty the offender looks and how well the fouled can act (if flopping). Multiple officials actually on the field would ensure more accurate calls.
Second, for critical situations – when a goal is at issue, a hand-ball or diving in the penalty area – instant replay is the obvious answer. The official already has a mic/earpiece, so link that up to a FIFA panel reviewing the play at issue from every HD angle available. This might take a bit of extra time, but getting the call right outweighs any potential delay.
Third, embed microchips in the ball and each player’s boots. This would all but eliminate bad/missed off-side calls, accurately detect whether the ball crosses the goal line, goes out of bounds, and when and by whom it was kicked. Give the linesmen headsets that inform them when a specified event occurs; i.e. if the ball is kicked and an attacking player’s feet are farther down the field than two defenders’ pairs of feet, have the speak-and-spell guy say “offside” in that particular linesman’s native language. This isn’t particle physics.
Organizations like FIFA have an old boys’ club mentality and entrenched traditions that ultimately reflect poorly on the sport. What use is tradition when it produces bad results that can be avoided? There are plenty of purists out there who argue human error is part of the game. This is a ludicrous statement. If cheap and readily available technology is available to make each match as fair as possible, that is the true representation of sport in its purest form.
After watching every single match of the World Cup so far and studying up on the sport as much as humanly possible, there are two things I simply cannot get past: diving, and intentional scoreless draws.
Excuse my language, but Cristiano Ronaldo is a little bitch. I don’t care if he scores 15 goals and most of them are bullets from 40 yards out that bend around half of the other side and go in the upper 90. Anyone who flops that embarrassingly does not deserve to be considered among the best players in the world. It is an enormous blemish on the sport that most of these pitiful acting jobs go unpunished. I hope one of two things happen to this guy: either one of the officials gets the balls to call him out and give him yellow cards for flopping, eventually forcing him to miss matches, or one of the players on the opposing side gets fed up, goes Zidane on him, and knocks him out of the tourney. If you want to get Americans (who, by the way, DO NOT DIVE) to watch the sport, this type of play must be eliminated.
Second, I dislike the intentional scoreless draw. Yes, I understand how group play works and Dave’s Football Blog has a great article explaining draws, but Portugal vs. Ivory Coast today was supposed to be this epic confrontation between potential title contenders. Granted, Drogba is injured and didn’t come in until the 65th minute, but watching these teams play to a scoreless 0-0 tie to strategically position themselves within the group was a waste of 90 minutes of my life. After the surprising extra time equalizer by New Zealand today, seeing the Ivory Coast short a corner seconds before the final whistle instead of going for the win made me want to throw my remote through the TV.
End of rant.
On a more entertaining note, check out this reenactment of the U.S. vs. England using legos.
Also, I’m sure those of you watching have developed an opinion on the vuvuzela – the horn that anyone can play, but no one can play well. There are valid arguments on both sides. On the pro-vuvuzela side are those who say the cultural norms of the host country should be respected. On the anti-vuvuzela side is France (who whines a lot anyway), anyone who enjoys hearing fans’ reactions, the songs/chants of various nations, and who doesn’t want to go deaf while attending a match. Whether it gets banned or not, I have taken precautions by purchasing these – highly recommended for all concert goers because they attenuate evenly across all frequencies, and because they allow you to talk to the person next to you at a normal volume.
What do you think about diving, draws, and vuvuzelas? Please leave your comments below.
Whether it’s ramping up the production value to Olympics-level quality, making every match available in high-definition and online, hiring top-notch commentators, or actually treating Americans like knowledgeable soccer fans, ESPN is sparing no expense attempting to get us up to speed with the rest of the world.
In the U.S., soccer is a sport that nearly everyone plays growing up, but few of our best athletes actually progress to its highest echelons. The two primary reasons for this are money and a lack of club systems on par with those in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Imagine if our top NBA and NFL athletes were groomed from a young age to play soccer instead. In nearly every other country on Earth, this is exactly the case. The quality of play in the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga, and Italian Serie A puts the MLS to shame.
You may think we’re late entrants to the game, but we actually had a thriving soccer culture in the earlier part of the 20th century. Through a mix of factors, including baseball’s entrenchment as our national pastime and the evolution of our own football, we are now playing catch-up with everyone else. Don’t fret though, this probably won’t be the case forever.
Before our next generation of great athletes decide to kick the ball around and stick with it, we have to start tuning in first. It’s a chicken and egg problem of sorts. Without top quality play in the states, there aren’t an overwhelming number of reasons for young athletes to idolize players, watch on TV, attend professional matches, and raise revenue for MLS clubs to draw top-notch talent.
However, ESPN’s World Cup efforts coupled with a deep run (quarter finals) by the U.S. side could significantly increase the trajectory of soccer toward a top-tier sport. Especially considering such a run would all but guarantee our bid for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup to be held in the states— the sky is the limit from there. Or maybe we Americans simply find the sport too boring and low-scoring to ever give it a chance.
The Slate has ideas about how to fix this:
I don’t know about all of you, but I’m wearing my U.S. jersey morning, noon, and night from now until we’re out of the tourney. It’s looking like 80 and sunny this Saturday in Portland, so the prospect of watching the match in some dingy sports bar doesn’t seem too appealing. Luckily for us, there’s a viewing party outside at the newly-finished Director Park on a 12′x17′ truck-bed-mounted LCD screen. Regardless of where you end up watching the match, get a bunch of friends together and get excited for one of the most important sporting matches in U.S. history! There’s probably a viewing party near you.
But before Saturday, I think it’s appropriate to discover exactly how we made it to this point. OneGoalUSA put together a detailed and informative feature (with a healthy dose of good ‘ol patriotism) to fill us all in:
After I landed World Cup tickets to the quarter final in Cape Town and the final in Johannesburg, my thoughts immediately turned to making travel plans. What else would we do? Where would we go? How would we get there? Through a solid referral, we managed to get in contact with a travel agent in South Africa. I had some basic ideas: a safari, the world’s higest bungy jump, golfing, the best restaurants in the country, wine tasting, and of course a bit of the usual touristy stuff. After a lot of research, planning, and working with our travel agent, the final product is without a doubt the trip of a lifetime. But first, we have to get there.
International flights can be a huge pain. The ultimate goal is to minimize connections in non-destination countries as much as possible. Coming from Portland, OR, the distance to Johannesburg is approximately 10,500 miles – pretty much the exact opposite end of the planet. Many of the flights I was researching took us through Europe and involved well over a full 24 hours of traveling. No thanks, especially given the recent eruptions of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano (click on the second audio pronunciation for a good laugh) in Iceland crippling air travel in Europe. Luckily, Delta has a non-stop route from the continental U.S. – Atlanta to Johannesburg – fifteen hours and thirty minutes in the air on a 777. Given that my father and I are both about 6’2″ and 225 pounds, coach just doesn’t cut it on long-haul flights for us big boys, not to mention any unfortunate people in our vicinity, so we snagged seats in business class.
Traveling in style is all good, but why not keep that theme going throughout the trip? Two factors make this prospect much easier: a strong dollar and the relative inexpensiveness of South Africa. Rooms at five-star guest-houses run $125/night. Multi-course meals at top restaurants go for under $50, including wine-pairings. Because we will be doing a fair amount of imbibing in South Africa’s top-notch wine (and beer at the matches), we arranged drivers for each and every occasion where drinking is involved. It goes without saying that the last thing anyone wants is to end up in a foreign prison. On all other occasions, we will have our own rental car. This should provide no shortage of hilarity, even when completely sober, considering they drive on the left side of the road down there. Over-under on how many times one of us makes a turn directly into oncoming traffic?
Here is the full itinerary:
Thursday 01 July:
Friday 02 July:
Self- drive into the city. Visit Table Mountain by cable car.
Lunch at Five Flies Restaurant.
Saturday 03 July:
Make your way to the stadium for the World Cup quarter final match at 4:00pm this afternoon.
Sunday 04 July:
Monday 05 July:
Afterwards drive to The Look–Out Deck for relaxed supper with wonderful views.
Tuesday 06 July:
After breakfast this morning, drive yourselves to the seafront for your Ocean Safari viewing whales, sharks and dolphins from the boat.
Driver will transfer you to Tsala Treetop Lodge for dinner.
Wednesday 07 – Saturday 10 July:
Drive to Port Elizabeth Airport in time to return the hire car and depart on your flight to Johannesburg. Take onward connecting flight to Hoedspruit Airport.
Two game drives daily.
Saturday 10 July:
After a last morning game drive and breakfast, you will be transferred back to Hoedspruit Airport. Depart Hoedspruit Airport for Johannesburg.
Walk into the village for dinner tonight at The Loft Restaurant.
Sunday 11 July:
After breakfast, walk up the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve for scenic views of the city.
Lunch at The Service Station.
Driver transfer you to the stadium for the World Cup Final match at Soccer City, Soweto.
Monday 12 July:
You will be driven on a scenic drive to the magnificent Legends Golf Resort.
You will be transferred from here back to Johannesburg’s O. R. Tambo International Airport in time to depart on your flight back home.
I had a blast just going through and linking all of that. Epic is an understatement. Here’s the map:
View larger map
For all of you world travelers: do you have any suggestions on what else we can’t miss while we’re down there? Please leave comments below.
I hate going into something unprepared. So, after scoring quarter finals and finals tickets to World Cup 2010 South Africa, I decided to educate myself. The extent of my soccer (football) knowledge could accurately be categorized as in the total noob category. Other than playing in AYSO from the ages of 5-12, I haven’t followed the sport closely outside of watching the World Cup every four years.
Necessary tangent: I suppose that begs the question, why even try for World Cup tickets, much less travel to the other side of the planet to see a couple of soccer matches? The short answer is that I love sports and travel. It is certainly a lifetime goal of mine to attend each of the highest level sporting events on the planet. World Series, check. U.S. Open (golf), check. Kentucky Derby, check. So, when I saw the “World Cup tickets on sale” headline last March via my BBC News RSS feed, I decided to give it a go.
After all, the World Cup final is the culmination of the single biggest sporting tournament on Earth. Most Americans like to compare it to the Super Bowl. In reality, that is a massive understatement. In 2006, an estimated three-billion people watched the final. This time around, that number may approach four-billion. It will be, quite literally, the largest simultaneous collective experience in human history. Aside from everything else, who wouldn’t want to be one of the lucky 0.00225% of those actually witnessing it live?
I decided to begin buffing up my knowledge by asking soccer-inclined friends for reading recommendations. The first was How Soccer Explains the World – An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer. It is a fascinating read just for the cultural and historical knowledge that lends to a deeper understanding of how our world works. For those after a bit more action, the tales of hooliganism and gangsterism make Al Capone look like Mother Theresa. Highly recommended even if you don’t care about soccer in the least.
After whetting my appetite for historic knowledge, I decided to go big and start in on The Ball is Round – A Global History of Soccer by David Goldblatt. At this point, I’m about a third of the way through this 900+ page behemoth. Not having read a history book in a few years, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised to get a general refresher on world history in addition to learning about the origins of soccer and it’s evolution into the most popular sport on the planet.
Those are both great background/history books, but what about this year’s World Cup and the teams involved? ESPN Soccernet has a supremely informative series going called World Cup 101 -101 features in 101 days leading up to the start of the tourney on June 11. You’ll obviously have some catching up to do to read them all, but the articles range from awesomely geeky statistical breakdowns of the Groups by Nate Silver (yes, that Nate Silver who spot-on predicted the results of the U.S. Presidential election), to hilarious team ballads, the best rivalries, top 50 players, 10 most controversial moments, and even a feature on hair. If you’re more of a video watcher, I scored a goal is a brilliant series that puts a personal touch on World Cup history.
Last, but certainly not least, are a couple fantastic articles breaking it down for us World-Cup-knowledge-starved-Americans:
All of that should give you a more than a fair shot at impressing your friends by dropping some erudite knowledge during the upcoming matches.
After years of reading others’ blogs and hounding from friends to start my own, the day has finally arrived. The impetus for pulling the trigger mainly stems from my upcoming trip to South Africa for the World Cup and the general feeling that anything less than full documentation of this once-in-a-lifetime experience would be a mammoth fail.
Other than that, I plan to use this space to highlight all of the things I love: music, travel, photography, food, beer, geekery, and general hilarity.
In these first few weeks, you will likely see a lot of cosmetic changes to the site as I learn what domain hosting and wordpress are all about, so bear with me while everything is under construction.
Please comment freely and enjoy!