The 2014 FIFA World Cup is over, but it has left a series of indelible images on the tapestry of the game. Van Persie’s diving header. The sad passing of Alfredo di Stefano. Tim Cahill’s wonder goal. The death of tiki taka. Suarez’s bite. The coronation of James Rodriguez. Germany 7 - 1 Brazil. Götze’s goal. Lahm receiving and lifting the trophy. These words read like snapshots brought out of memory in flipbook form: hearing them unfurls a reel of memories and associations. 

This was the game at its peak. An orgy of goalscoring in the group stages provided a nice precursor to the tension and suspense of the knockout rounds. France 98’s goalscoring record barely stands, but, as Müller noted in Bavarian last night “who cares about that bullshit” (his comment was re: Golden Boot). 

It was a counter-example to the constant eulogization of “true football”. The purity of the game is certainly tarnished to a degree when it comes to the modernization, money, and inequality of club football, but when one sees the tears in the eyes of David Luiz and James Rodriguez, the pride of Keylor Navas, and the ecstasy of the Germans, it’s easy to see why football continues to be the most popular sport in the world: the funny old game means more to the people that play and watch it than anything else. 

The tournament was also a celebration of unity. “The Team” won the trophy in the end and succeeded throughout the rounds. Costa Rica, Netherlands, Germany, and Colombia played the most cohesive football and that’s why they impressed so much. Understanding and organization, at any level of the game, are the building blocks of success. The Germans pressed and passed magnificently. They operated as a unit, moving forward and backwards in unison and occupying the pitch like a fortress. It wasn’t merely controlled possession, sitting in a defensive shell, counter-attacking, or high-pressing liquid football, it was a little bit them all. And the players always seemed to be on the same page as to the best time to exercise a particular element of the gameplan. This served as a sharp contrast to the Brazilians, who, in the tournaments seminal 7-1 drubbing, seemed to be divided into little groups of autonomous selecao members doing whatever they thought best. Those that play together, stay together (or something like that). The Germans won for a reason.

June 12th to July 13th also represented an important month in my life. I underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum on the 18th. I suffered the injury while playing basketball and dislocated and fractured my shoulder in the process. The cup, the love of family and friends, a few painkillers, and a lot of beer, has me back at a point where the sling is off and I can write again. The recovery will be slow and the physical therapy is like a medieval torture rack, but I’m on my way and I couldn’t have picked a better or worse time. It sucked to not have been able to provide content to the readers of A Football Report, FIFA, or The Unseen Game in the most important month of the new decade, but I’ll be posting more often now and hope that you’ll find something interesting to read. It’s the low points where you need content to occupy the holes of boredom anyway.

Much love,

John

days away. 

this world cup will be bigger than we know. 

it’s hard to take a moral stance, considering that I love both the game in brazil and the country’s people. these two ideas are becoming increasingly irreconcilable as extreme poverty and a lack of beneficial government structure has made the country one of the prime examples of “haves and have-nots”. 

lets see what happens. 

Great illustration from Grantland

Great illustration from Grantland

PSG owner Nasser Al Khelaifi after Demba Ba’s late goal sent his team out of the Champions League.

PSG owner Nasser Al Khelaifi after Demba Ba’s late goal sent his team out of the Champions League.

A pin drops. The ball drops. Zizou catches it…mesmerizing everyone but himself, perhaps including himself. The planets align, the spin of the ball is countered by the position and gracefulness of the foot. And he’s off. 

The Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto (most known for Y-3) has built his name on clean, listless, dark, and technically superior designs. Many of his gliding works evoke a samurai aesthetic by incorporating form and flow into a single piece, a jacket with a trailing back, for instance. The wearer looks like he’s moving while he’s standing still. Motion is both perpetual and nil.

Adidas has recently announced that Yohji will be doing the newest special-edition Adizero f50 and the results are like nothing I’ve seen from the designer before. After seeing the name on the collaboration I was worried that we would get a boot that reflected what his Y-3 (also an Adidas collaboration) was built on: being aesthetically and technically sound, but a little boring for my taste. Luckily, and as you can probably gather from the images above, these boots are anything but clean and dull. 

Yamamoto, freed from the construct of a personal line or label, has elected to choose a bold Miyazaki-esque design to print on the boots and tell a brief story about their performance by pairing the animal and the technological. Like all f50s, these boots come with a micoach chip that monitors performance and distance to give feedback to the user and suggest ways to improve compared to teammates, but this inclusion comes at no expense to form as the boot is one of the lightest on the market at a sprightly 165 grams. 

2,000 pairs of the special-edition boot will be made available globally on Monday, October 28th. If you’re a collector or just someone looking to find some new and unique boots to wear on the pitch look out for a drop near you. 

Paul Lambert wanted to spruce up the old tunnel at Villa Park. This beautiful claret and blue carpet is the result. 

Paul Lambert wanted to spruce up the old tunnel at Villa Park. This beautiful claret and blue carpet is the result. 

Leaves are falling and seasons are changing here in the United States, but in Panama, closer to the equator, things rarely change. It either rains a lot or it doesn’t. Mexico was a country who had qualified for every World Cup they were eligible for and Panama had not qualified for a single World Cup they had entered. For roughly 8 minutes the change seemed like a possibility.

In the process I saw the happiness and ecstasy that sport can provide in a scope that I haven’t witnessed before. The crowd erupted into absolute rapture the second that Luis Tejada’s go-ahead goal entered the back of the net. Objects flew across the screen. Hats, debris, hands, and many unidentified objects entered the foreground of the image. The crowd became an amorphous object of emotion, no longer comprised of individual atoms. And I was happy too. With the United States having little to gain from a result, positive or negative, I was taken out of my traditional lens and able to fully empathize with the Panamanian people.

8 minutes later that empathy was taken to another level. When Graham Zusi decided to score because, what the hell right? “Always go for the win!”, as I have been told over and over in the past few hours. And I wish I could agree, but I see the look on the eyes of Tejada and Chen as they leave the pitch more than gutted, bereft of confidence and self-belief, and I feel more Panamanian than American. The way that the tenor of the Estadio Rommel Fernandez changed I could tell I was witnessing a national tragedy.

The Five: Matches Worth Your Time

“Can you do it? When the time comes? When the time comes there will be no time. Now is the time. Curse God and die.”

That line, from Cormac McCarthy’s work The Road has come to define this stage of World Cup Qualification. The time is nigh. Who can do it? Who will die? Everything is on the line as proper qualification is wrapping up and the pressure is at an all time high. The rain pours, the temperatures drop, and the season changes from Summer to Fall like their teams fortunes. Some will stave off demise for another week by earning a playoff bid, while some will not be so fortunate. Whatever happens, the end of the road is near. Here are the five matches that might dramatically shape the tenor of the world cup.

Ghana v. Egypt (First Leg, 12:00pm EST)

            Accra is a city booming at the prospect of their Black Stars back in the World Cup. Unlike other African countries like Senegal and South Africa that have competing pastimes (wrestling and rugby/cricket respectively), it is all about football in Ghana and they’ve got an excellent team to showcase that passion. In-form players Andre Ayew and Kwadwo Asamoah will look to dominate the flanks tomorrow, but the game will be won or lost in their energetic midfield’s ability to neutralize Egypt’s excellent counterattack. The counter is a feature of Egypt’s tactics that many United States supporters will remember fondly as Bob Bradley has installed his system as coach of the unsettled state. The Egyptians will be physical and compact in defense and wide and energetic on the break. This should be a good one and a result away from home would be massive for Egypt’s chances.

Holland v. Turkey (2:00pm EST)

            The score line read Holland 8 – Hungary 1. The football match was recontextualized from a linear event into a patchwork collage of sublime moments, a touch, a sculpted ball, an incisive pass, a brutal tackle. The images melted together into a Platonic form of domination. Robin van Persie was the man of the hour that night, bagging a hat trick and breaking Patrick Kluivert’s scoring record, but the entire team put in a performance for the ages. Tuesday’s fixture against Turkey, a team hanging onto their playoff spot with white knuckles, will not be so easy. Turkey are more or less safe if they can win, but a draw or loss will almost certainly spell their demise as Romania are level with them on points and playing a thoroughly mediocre Estonia side. Fortunately for the Turk’s, they are at home, where they are excellent, and the Dutch have little other than greatness to play for. Burak Yilmaz, Arda Turan, and Gokhan Tore will need to perform up to their abilities for their country to progress.

Bulgaria v. Czech Republic (2:15pm EST)

            Anything could happen in Group B. Four teams sit within a point of each other. Denmark, at home to group punching bag Malta, are the favorites, but if Bulgaria win at home against the Czech’s they will secure the playoff spot. These are two evenly matched sides that have had a lot of turnover in the past couple years and now bring fairly young and inexperienced sides into the final match-day. Will Bulgaria’s home advantage, where they are undefeated in qualifying, make the difference? Or will their young guns crack up under pressure? This should prove to be a spectacle. Watch for the performances of Aston Villa’s Aleksandar Tonev (Bulgaria) and Chelsea’s Petr Cech (Czech Republic).

England v. Poland (3:00pm EST)

            I’m sure the English tabloids have told you that this has happened before. If you need a brief reminder here’s a fact sheet

  • The Year: 1973
  • The Teams: England v. Poland
  • The Stadium: Wembley
  • What happened: Sir Alf Ramsay’s England improbably denied a spot in the 1974 World Cup by Poland on the last day of qualification.
  • Who did it: Jan Tomaszewski

            To be honest, there aren’t many similarities this time around: Poland have already been eliminated, an English manager neglected to call a Polish player a clown, it’s not do or die for England, but Poland could still play spoiler to England’s World Cup hopes and force them to qualify through the playoff round. England is a team that is still reliant on its aging and fragile legs in midfield putting in a workman like performance. If they put in a good shift this should be relatively comfortable, but the likes of Błaszczykowski and Lewandowski will pose a problem if England cannot get a good grip on the match. I’ve seen weirder things than a Joe Hart howler proving the difference.

CONCACAF: The embargo of Mexico (all matches 9:30 EST)

            In a case of international espionage and sabotage could the other CONCACAF nations have colluded to keep Mexico out of the playoff? I’ve heard from a good source down in Costa Rica that their manager is expected to pick a full strength side at home and really go for it despite having already qualified. The alleged reasoning for this is that they’ve been in poor form and want to get a final win in order to boost their form and confidence in their last competitive match before the tournament, but it all smells a bit fishy to me. Especially when you consider that the United States has withdrawn most of its best players and look to play a B-Team in Panama despite rolling out a full strength squad against Jamaica just four days prior. I’m not issuing indictments here, I’m just asking questions….

The reality of the situation is that Mexico controls their own fate, but won’t be getting any favors from their greatest rival and teams that they have leapfrogged and patronized over the years to get to the tournament. A 1-0 victory for both Costa Rica and Panama sends the Panamanians to play New Zealand. That’s not a preposterous outcome and these matches should be fascinating for the fan and the neutral alike.