Friday, June 30, 2006

Today I Became More Brazilian

I now hate Argentina. As every good Brazilian should. I hate them. I will never forgive them for what they did today.

I entered a World Cup pool along with 101 other people. As of this morning I was in second place. First prize is a little bit more than R$3,500, and second prize is a little bit less than R$1,000. And thanks to Argentina (with an assist from the Dutch) I now have no chance at all of winning. All I have to do now is develop an irrational fear of rain, eat beans for lunch every day, and I'll be halfway to citizenship.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Brazil 3 Ghana 0

It wasn't pretty, but Brazil advanced. And they passed one of the most difficult tests in doing so. Ghana plays with more speed and physical power than any other team in the tournament. Brazil was harrassed on the ball all day in a manner that they won't see again. Brazil faced the fastest counterattack in the Cup. And if Ghana had had a decente forward, well, Ghana might still be playing and there might have been an existential crisis in Brazil. But Ghana, land of Abedi Pelé and Tony Yeboah, doesn't have a decent forward.

Tostão was unhappy with Parreira (and the sun rose in the East, and water remained wet, for how many days in a row now?) for withdrawing the midfield and counterattacking. Tostão said that it was difficult to tell which was the "big" team and which was "small." He didn't feel that any injustice was done by the result (despite the obviously offside goal Adriano scored). But Brazil has to play better on Saturday against the French (Brazil's first strong opponent, according to Tostão).

If Robinho is healthy on Saturday then Brazil should play a better game. I will make it clear yet again: I don't think Robinho is a very good player. He has lots of nice little tricks with the ball, and no idea what to do with them. Andrew Downie, writing on Soccernet, called Robinho the most complete player to leave Brazil for Europe since Zico, which goes to show that the drugs are better in Rio than they are in Recife. Robinho looks thrilled to receive the ball, but then he looks like he doesn't know what to do with it. Experienced defenders can herd him to the sidelines where he has to pass the ball to someone else. But Robinho doesn't help the team with his dribbling. Robinho helps the team with his running. Both Ronaldão and Adriano are almost stationary forwards. Robinho is in constant movement, pulling defenders with him and opening space for Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Kaká to enter. When the midfielders enter that space, the defenders have to react, and that leaves Ronaldão free to receive the ball in front of the goal. Without even touching the ball Robinho makes Brazil a better team. But that doesn't mean he's ever going to be a world-class player...

France is up next, and France was horrendous in the group stage. They played better yesterday, but the Spanish players seemed to lose their way in the second half and made it easier than it should have been. It will be nice to see a rematch of the 1998 final (which the vast majority of Brazilians are convinced was bought), and this time Brazil should come out on top. Brazil is talented enough to have the luxury of playing poorly and winning against most oppositiong. Let's hope they play well in their victory over France.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The First Real Test

Last Thursday Brazil finally played well, people finally started using positive adjectives to describe the team, and attitudes turned, in but two hours, from "I hope we don't embarrass ourselves too badly" to "We should be able to win this easily." The truth is probably somewhere in between, but Brazilians aren't fans of moderation, at least not when the subject is the World Cup.

Robinho's activity had everything to do with the drastic change in style on display, but he won't play today. He didn't even travel with the team. We can hope that Fred plays in his place, and we can be disappointed. I'm sure we'll see Adriano's return. There's more of a chance the Juninho will keep his place in the starting lineup, but at this point it's hard to have a lot of confidence in Parreira.

There's no point in translating Tostão's latest. That's a shame -- it's a funny column, but there's not information in it. Tostão throws up his hands and says, who knows? He loved Brazil's performance against Japan, but wonders if it would have been just as good with Adriano, Zé Roberto, and company. And maybe it would have been. He dedicates his column to a discussion of the lack of certainty in soccer and in life.

Any game against Brazil is the World Cup final for the opposing team. The players know that, every time they take the field. Today will be no different. Ghana is a good team, but they might give Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Kaká too much space. They might destroy Brazil. With Robinho on the field it would have been guaranteed to be a very entertaining game. Without him, it should still be better than watching Switzerland against Ukraine, but that won't satisfy many people in Brazil.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

No, He Isn't Really Fat

Not at all. Nope, he looks like he's in perfect physical condition. How could anybody suggest that Ronaldão is fat after looking at that photo? (Click on the second link on the right, the one that says "Galeria de Fotos". The question is "Ronaldinho: A little bit fat or a little bit chubby?", although to be fair the second part of the question could be translated as "a little bit strong.")

I guess we all have to believe the trainer now.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Game, and What Tostão Said About It

Tostão was thrilled yesterday. Tostão did not hold back in his praise for Brazil's performance. He said, "With the new players, who had never trained together, the team became quicker, less predictable, and more talented. It looked like a great Brazilian team and not like a European team, as it did in the first two games."

Tostão mentions that at the end of the game the tv showed Parreira and Zagallo looking very serious, and he's sure that they were considering the problems that the new players have posed. He loves Juninho, as has been mentioned here before, and thinks that Juninho (and Robinho and Gilberto Silva) should stay in the team for Tuesday's game against Ghana.

And Tostão, as usual, is right. Let's start with Robinho. I have never liked Robinho, and I probably never will (although I still have hope). He is all style, no substance. But that's fine when he is on a team this good. Adriano is a much better forward (granted, Adriano is in the middle of a terrible slump), but he is too static a player. Robinho runs, and the defense has to pay attention. Even when he runs with to no particular effect, it opens space for Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Kaká, and Ronaldão. Robinho's presence, if not his actions, make the team better.

Juninho is, first and foremost, from Recife. His career began with Sport. Right there we have two excellent reasons to support his continued inclusion in the starting eleven. He is an intelligent player who runs and passes well, and who can also support the defense. When the crowd at the bar saw him in the starting lineup they cheered almost as loudly as if Brazil had scored a goal. When Juninho, our "neighbor" scored, the bar exploded. And then the Sport fans started chanting as if we were at the Ilha do Retiro watching Sport play. And then the Náutico fans responded, only to be shouted down. The Santa Cruz fans were strangely silent, but then again, if my team were likely to go until 2007 without winning another game, I would be silent, too.

Gilberto Silva is a more than capable defensive midfielder, and he seemed better on the ball than Emerson. But I think Emerson is good enough, and I wouldn't complain too much if Emerson came back. (Even better would be Zé Roberto in Emerson's position and Juninho in Zé Roberto's old position, but that will never happen.)

Tostão compared Ronaldinho Gaúcho to two of his teammates from the 1970 World Cup - Gerson and Roberto Rivellino, and said that when he plays for Barcelona he is a combination of Gerson and Zico. High praise, indeed, and well deserved. With Robinho opening spaces in front of him, Ronaldinho Gaúcho had the chance to show what he can do. We should all hope that Robinho stays in the starting lineup against Ghana.

"Courage, Parreira," says Tostão.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

What the Brazilian Media is Saying

Tostão, hero of the 1970 World Cup, writes in the Folha de São Paulo that he has lost all hope. He says that no matter what happens today, even if Robinho and Juninho enter and Brazil suddenly plays the way we all know it should, Parreira will say that Japan made it easy for Brazil. Parreira will say that Japan had to attack because they had to win the game. And no matter what happens, the team that takes the field against Ghana will be the same team that started the first two games. Tostão says that under Parreira there is less joy in Brazil's participation in the World Cup. And who can disagree with Tostão?

Tostão goes on to say (and I can attest to the fact that he has been saying this for at least three years) that as well a Zé Roberto has played, the team would be better with Juninho on the field. He praises Zé Roberto but says that Juninho brings something extra to the game. He fails to mention that Juninho is from Recife and began his career at Sport, but Tostão is old and can be forgiven this oversight.

In an interview with Spanish radio, reports giant (and evil) Rio newspaper O Globo, Diego Maradona says that Brazil can only get better. And that he's sure they will. He says that Brazil has only shown half of what they are capable of doing, and that Brazil has a tendency to get better during the course of a tournament.

According to Brazil's head trainer, reports the Jornal do Comércio, Ronaldão is half a kilo above his ideal weight. A month ago he reported to pre-tournament training five kilos overweight, but he's almost fit now, the trainer apparently said with a straight face. Furthermore, the newspaper printed the entire story without a single winking emoticon.

The mood is generally one of doom and gloom, especially for the opinion Tostão expressed regarding Parriera's selection. People have no confidence in his ability to adapt, to identify and take advantage of hot players, or to identify and limit the damage done by slumping players. If Brazil manages to defeat Japan 5-0, the gloom might lift for a while, but people are less confident in this team than I have ever seen them.


The US-Ghana game is on cable here in Brazil. And I don't have cable. Neither do any of the restaurants here. So I can't watch. The game between Italy and the Czech Republic is nice, I'm sure, but I really wanted to see Ghana...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Ark Arrives in Twenty Minutes

I have discussed the rain in Recife before, and I stand by what I said. But today has been ridiculous. Really it started yesterday afternoon. With the exception of the occasional respite of ten or fifteen minutes it has been raining cats and dogs for almost twenty-four hours now. Normally I have no fear of the rain, but today I delayed even taking the trash out because the result would have been equal to taking a shower with my clothes on.

Normally I am a big fan of rain on Wednesday afternoons. I play soccer every Wednesday night, and rain depresses turnout. Which means that when it rains there's a good chance that I will get to play the full ninety minutes. So, I'm happy about the rain today, but it's still over the top.

Recife has a very poor storm sewer system. When the tide is high and it rains heavily, streets all but close down as three of the four lanes become unusable. The city itself is about three or four feet above sea level, and when it rains like this people in the poorest neighborhoods sometimes lose their homes.

Fortunately, so far I haven't heard any reports of any rain-related tragedies -- my afternoon date was cancelled, but I can't call that a tragedy. I'm just glad that there's a World Cup going on to give me something to do at home while cães and gatos fall from the sky outside.

Update: O Diário de Pernambuco (South America's oldest continually published newspaper) reports that two people died as a result of yesterday's rainstorm. Not as bad as the storms two years ago, but still pretty bad.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Who I Like and Why I Like Them


Italy is the vanilla ice cream of soccer. Italy is the missionary position of soccer. Vanilla ice cream isn't the best flavor, not by a long shot, but it's the base of every other flavor of ice cream that exists. The missionary position is nobody’s favorite, but everybody uses it because it's the most versatile position.

Italy has a reputation, a deserved reputation, for playing defensive soccer. (In the last five or six years that has changed, to an extent. This year Italy is playing with three forwards.) But even when Italy plays defensively, they play very well. The Italian players are always technically excellent. Italian players never dribble the ball out of bounds. They always trap passes perfectly and pass with precision. When Italy is playing you are guaranteed to see an extremely well played game. And I would much rather watch a well played but defensive game than a poorly played game that features one scoring opportunity after another.

This is also why the Italian Serie A is the best league in the world. All of the players play with such precision. There are more long runs, passes, interceptions, and so on in college football – but the NFL has a superior product. Don't confuse “excitement” with quality.


A man from Argentina once took a vacation in Italy. When he returned to Argentina, his friends asked him what Italy was like. He told them, “It's a great country. And you wouldn't believe how many of them have Argentine names!”

Argentina is the only Italian colony in the New World. They play a similar style to Italy, but closer together. Argentina plays with the same precision, but with shorter, quicker passes. Watch the way Argentina passes through a defense. They are like a more attack-minded Italy – the same technical excellence with a different (and more attractive) philosophy.

The Netherlands

You have to love a country whose people genuinely demand attacking soccer – winning with an ugly, defensive strategy is not an option for them. They control the ball (60% of the possession is not out of the ordinary for them), they attack, they always play with three forwards. The Netherlands play a beautiful game – fast paced, but based on slick passing, with wingers opening the whole field and stretching defenses. They are playing a more pragmatic style this year, but they are still fun to watch.

Saudi Arabia

No, I'm not joking. I like Saudi Arabia. They are the anti-Italians: Their technique is deplorable. They have no chance of winning. But they never give up. I love that. When Germany beat them 8-0 in 2002 they never stopped attacking. Even though they know they don't have the talent to play with the bigger teams, they never play with seven defenders, they never play to limit the damages. They play to win even when they have no realistic hope. I admire that never say die spirit.


The obvious choice. But I live here, so I have an excuse, a good excuse. I'm not going to explain, except to say that Ronaldinho Gaúcho is one of the greatest players of all time and you should take every chance you get to watch him play. He will amaze you on a regular basis.


Here we go.

Brazil's coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, said “What makes the difference is not the system but how quickly and effectively you can get seven, eight men into forward positions and then get the same number back to defend. The team which switches best from defense to attack and vice versa will win.”

That's Ghana. From what looks like (and is) an all-out attack quickly becomes a full compliment of defenders back to stop the counterattack. With this kind of speed and stamina Ghana can afford to play a much more open style than most, if not all, of the teams in the tournament. Everyone needs to watch Ghana.

Italy beat them 2-0 in the first game, but I have never seen a team look so good in losing 2-0. Ghana doesn’t have a decent forward, and that will be their undoing this year. Ghana should have beaten Italy, but couldn’t score one. Ghana should have beaten the Czech Republic about 8-0, but could only manage 2.

Ghana is the revelation of this World Cup. Ghana is the most fun to watch of all thirty-two teams in the tournament. Ghana plays an exuberant, joyous ninety minutes every time they set foot on the field. Ghana’s players are so fast (and so well conditioned) that the field looks twice as big whenever they have the ball. Ghana makes me happy, and Ghana will make you happy if you give them the chance. Ghana shows why this sport is called the beautiful game.

Another Unimpressive Victory

Brazil played better than in the first game, which is an almost meaningless statement. Ronaldão ran more in the warmups before the game than he ran against Croatia. Both he and Adriano were more active, which gave more space to Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Kaká, which brought the offense closer to life. And Zé Roberto was very good.

I watched the game at a local "Mexican" restaurant. I have never been to Mexico, and the owner (a great guy) has. But that said, I know the type of "Mexican" food that the restaurant sells, and it's a poor imitation of Chi-Chi's. They don't put cilantro in ANYTHING, which makes all the food taste just a little off. The salsa tastes like slightly, ever so slightly (and of course, the Brazilians complain that it's too hot) spicy spaghetti sauce. But the atmosphere is nice, and it's only two block from my apartment. And convenience trumps damn near everything.

Sundays are family days in Recife, if not all of Brazil. People go to the beach (except during the winter, when it rains every day), and otherwise they stay home with their families. So the restaurant wasn't too crowded. I had been hoping for a packed house, but that will have to wait for the next round.

People screamed and yelled at the tv, at the players, and we all complained about Ronaldão. We drank beer, ate "Mexican" food, and in the end Brazil managed an easy win, so we were all at least content.

Brazilian nachos are eaten with spoons. Who knew?

Still, it was a subdued crowd. As much as we drank, this Brazil team is sure taking it's sweet time getting into gear. There's a nervous edge to the party atmosphere in Brazil right now. Everyone keeps hoping that things get better, but after only two games (and a guaranteed place in the second round) people are starting to lose hope. Brazil has been a dominant force since the mid-nineties, and still has the talent to dominate. But you have to wonder what Ronaldão was doing in the last month, because it certainly wasn't preparing for the World Cup.

Maybe it's good for the game if Brazil takes a little break from dominating. Let Argentina join the tri-campeão club, or let the Netherlands win a World Cup, finally. But what I want to see is the national party that is a world championship, and I don't think I'm going to see it this year.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Bussunda 1962 - 2006

The Brazilian comedian Bussunda died yesterday of a heart attack. He had been in Germany to "cover" the World Cup with the rest of his comedy show, Casseta & Planeta. He and his friends were playing soccer when he felt dizzy. He was by far the funniest actor on the show.

I don't know that much about him, other than what I read on wikipedia. He was a fanatical soccer fan, and a very funny man. It's all in Portuguese, but here's what YouTube has:

Bussunda on YouTube

In particular, even if you don't speak a word of Portuguese, look at this one (and pay attention if you get the chance to hear the real Ronaldo speak!):

Ronaldo's message for Brazil

Saturday, June 17, 2006

(The US and) Ghana! Holy Shit! Ghana!

First of all, great game by the US. The red cards all looked deserved to me, but according to the commenters on Steve Gilliard's (and Jen's) Newsblog the ref was obviously bought, the whole damn tournament is crooked, who can ever trust FIFA again, and so on. Look, people, it's a fucking miracle that the US didn't lose by three. I have been planning a post about the national teams that I like and why, so you can wait a few days to hear why I love watching Italy play, but face the fact that they are GOOD. The US held them despite being down a man, and that will earn the US a lot of respect. Appreciate that. I was playing futsal (a five-a-side variation of soccer) and the Brazilians were relentless in making fun of my lack of confidence in the US. Most of them gave the US more of a chance than I did in the World Cup pool. The US tied the game, but won an important battle. Unfortunately, Ghana is next.

Ghana. What can I say? If you want to know why I love soccer so much, watch Ghana. If you have a friend, relative, coworker, acquaintance, enemy -- anybody -- who doesn't like the game, suggest that they watch Ghana. Ghana makes me happy. Ghana shows why it's called the beautiful game. If you can stomach watching the US get their heads handed to them, watch Ghana. Quit your job, if you have to, Ghana is just that much fun.

More on Ghana later.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Galvão Bueno

Galvão Bueno is the Al Michaels/Brent Musberger/Bob Costas of Brazilian sports. He does Formula One, all Brazil matches, important Brazilian Serie A games, Olypmic volleyball, and so on. (On the wikipedia page there is a link to his page on the Globo site, which includes a photo of him from ten or fifteen years ago.) Except that whatever positives the three North Americans might (or might not) bring to the broadcasts, Galvão Bueno brings absolutely nothing positive.

He is convinced that he knows more than the ex-professionals he is paired with. He is more of a homer than the smallest of small town announcers. Every few minute he sees a foul committed against a Brazilian that no else can see. He demands that his partners affirm the injustice of the referee's decision, and nine times out of ten they tell him there was no foul, the foul didn't merit a card, etc. And he gets upset with them for disagreeing.

Nobody wants a boring, uninterested announcer, but Galvão goes too far. Everyone shares his joy when Brazil scores, and it's nice to hear the lack of enthusiasm in his voice when Brazil gives up a goal. (It goes something like "goool, goool," as opposed to "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!") My friends and I will, along with everyone else at the bar, complain about how the referee favors the other team. We neither need nor want the announcer to do it for us.

Now that I think about it, he may need another North American analog -- Howard Cosell. Galvão Bueno is convinced that he is bigger than not just the game, but the games. All of them. He knows that people love soccer, he knows that they like Formula One, but he seems to think that people value his opinion and wouldn't pay as much attention if he weren't there. And he openly doubts other people's knowledge. Casseta & Planeta, the long ago very funny and these days sometimes funny Brazilian equivalent of Saturday Night Live (except that it's on Tuesday nights, has no musical guest, and isn't broadcast live) traditionally travels to whatever country hosts the World Cup and performs skits based on, or at least referring to, what takes place during the tournament. This has been going on since the 1994 World Cup. But on Tuesday Galvão Bueno (the target of some very funny sketches) mentioned that again this year Casseta & Planeta would be broadcasting from Germany. And he said, "We know they're funny, but now we'll see if they know anything about soccer." As if any serious fan could know less than him.

Apparently in years past Globo, the biggest network, showed all the games, but every network showed the Brazil games. Not so this year, at least not yet. Maybe in the knockout rounds. But for now we're all stuck with Galvão Bueno.

Happy Bloomsday to All!

I hope you all find time to read at least a page or two of Ulysses today. Feel free to use the comments to this post to discuss the great work.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Lost Equilibrium

I was going to write something about the Al Michaels of Brazil (I don't mean that in a good way, if meaning it in a good way is even possible) and how he tries his damnedest to ruin the World Cup for all Brazilians, but my sensitive equilibrium was upset by this.

Sometimes I think I would like to write another blog, in character, making fun of the way the right wing "thinks." And then I read a compendium of quotes from Jeff Goldstein and I realize that there is no way to parody these people. Unless "Jeff Goldstein" and "Michelle Malkin" are pseudonymous liberals perpetrating the greatest hoax ever. Which, when you think about it, is possible. Could anyone really think like this? And if that's the case, does that mean that
Tbogg and the General might actually be conservatives "flying under the radar", so to speak? I feel like I'm in a Lem novel.

Brazil's very own Al Michaels will have to wait until tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Cup Started Yesterday

In Devil's Advocate there is a scene, near the end of the movie, where Keanu Reeves leaves the hospital after his wife has killed herself, and the streets of Manhattan are empty. In the middle of the afternoon there is no one on the sidewalk, no cars on the road, no sign of human movement. That's what the streets of downtown Recife look like forty-five minutes before Brazil kicks off the World Cup.

A friend picked me up at three. We went past the giant (probably ten feet by eighteen) screen tv set up on the beach. Traffic was pretty heavy, as the last people to leave work at three were hurrying to someone's house or some bar to watch the game. All street level businesses were closed. Every bar and every restaurant we passed was packed. About ten minutes later we were in one of very few cars on the street. When we got into the neighborhood where we were going to watch the game, we were the only car on the road. The whole way, there were a few stragglers on the street -- about one pedestrian every three blocks, and a few people at some of the busstops, all dressed in yellow and green and hoping to get somewhere before the game started.

We stopped at a gas station on the way in order to buy a case of beer. The store was almost out of cold beer. Actually, it was out of cold beer. They had chilly beer, which was, of course, unacceptable in that form. My friend started talking about how Americans don't drink cold beer, they just like it a little bit chilly (which is better than most Brazilians, who for some reason think that Americans drink beer at room temperature -- because it's always so cold in the US). I tried to correct him, but some people just don't want to be corrected.

We arrived at the apartment (his friend's girlfriend's) only to put the beer in the freezer and then to be sent out again to buy ice. If possible, the streets were more deserted. My friend, who is a competent driver at the best of times, was speeding through winding roads, turning left from the right lane and right from the left lane. We arrived at the gas station, and it was packed. Everyone was buying whatever it was that they needed for the game, the two women working the cash registers were hurrying through every transaction, and in their haste dropping money, hitting incorrect keys, and generally taking more time than they would have had they not hurried.

On the return trip my friend was a man possessed. He didn't stop for a single red light, and yelled out the window at drivers who did. "Retarded whore's son whose wife cheats with farm animals, don't you know the game is about to start?!" is the family version. At one point he ran a red light as a bus was making a perfectly legal left turn into the road in front of us. He put his hand out the window, showing the bus driver his palm and yelled "You're very angry! You need to calm down!" The bus driver smiled and stopped the bus to let us pass. Nobody wants to be responsible for someone missing the beginning of the World Cup.

The firecrackers, lots of them, let us know that the game had started. As we got out of the car and went running to the building, people all over Brazil began screaming and yelling. Apparently we missed a good chance on goal in the early minutes. We ran up the stairs and into the apartment, dropping two bags of ice in the kitchen and sitting on the couch in front of the tv. And then everything turned sour.

Brazil was horrible. Ronaldão played the worst game of his life. At least, I hope that was as bad as he's ever been, because it would be difficult to play worse. He looked like he didn't even want to be on the field. Parreira has already declared that Ronaldo will start the next game, but don't be surprised if he has a face-saving "injury" in practice on Friday or Saturday. Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Kaká played well, but Ronaldão and Adriano played so badly in front that it was easy for the defense to pressure the man with the ball. Fortunately, Kaká doesn't waste chances, and his goal was enough to secure the win.

But nobody in Brasil feels good about the team right now. They comfort themselves byt saying things like "this will give them something to think about, something to motivate them," and "it's still early -- they have time to get better before they come up against better opposition." But I'm not optimistic. The first day was fun, but I think I'm probably going to be chronicling a national disappointment here.

Monday, June 12, 2006

If Ghana Only Had a Forward...

I was one of three people in a pool of over one hundred to pick Australia over Japan. I was the only one to pick the score 2-1 (the other two had 1-0), and it looked to give me a nice boost until Japan really broke down at the end and gave up a third goal. Nonetheless, it was a nice way to start the day. Australia will surprise a lot of people.

I went to a restaurant to represent the US in public, but the game went poorly. Maybe it's my fault for wearing the most "American" shirt I have -- a LaVar Arrington Redskins jersey. It's tough to give up a goal so early, but I still felt alright until the second one. At that point the focus shifted to avoiding embarrassment. Which the US did, I guess. But it still felt bad. I didn't expect anything more than a tie, but when the game ended, I felt the way I did when I was a little kid and the Cowboys beat the Skins. Like the day couldn't end fast enough. Like the only thing to do was wait for tomorrow, when it would hurt less.

Ghana is something else. They don't have a decent forward. Or, if they do, they have hidden him well. They mark well, they close down the midfield -- and that is surely more difficult against Italy than against most teams, and when they attack they make the field look twice as big as it is. I'm ready to forget about the money I bet on the Netherlands and become a full-time Ghana fan. Except that if Ghana finishes second in Group E, they will play Brazil in the second round. I guess I'll just enjoy the four games they are likely to play, and wish them well next time.

I think it's interesting that the two best games so far have been between Italian teams (Italy, Argentina) and African teams (Ivory Coast, Ghana). Italy-Ghana has washed away the bad taste of the US debacle. This is the way the game is supposed to be played. Now, even though the US lost, even though Ghana lost, I am in a good mood again. Now I'm ready for the World Cup to really start tomorrow.

A Sense of Disappointment

That's what the Brazilian women are giving off these days. They seem disappointed, some of them a little bit, some of them a lot. It's like they think that I'm the one, the man who won't spend the entire World Cup watching the games. They're wrong. The woman Saturday afteroon, who wanted me to miss the Argentina-Ivory Coast game to see her, was disappointed that I, too, place a higher priority on the World Cup. And the woman yesterday, who offered to "keep me company" while I watched the games was disappointed that I actually wanted to watch the games, even while she was in my apartment. Fortunately, there was an hour between games, and then time unlimited after the second game, and ultimately we were both satisfied.

The US plays today, and tomorrow Brazil kicks off. Which, of course, marks the real beginning of the tournament. From what I hear, even the busses stop running when Brazil plays. I know Brazilians, not just the two women mentioned in the first paragraph, who don't like soccer. At all. I wonder what they do when Brazil plays. Stores close. Offices close. Maybe I'll call one of these friends tomorrow to find out what they are doing. But I can only call during halftime.

It's like heaven, having three games per day. But it's tough to get anything done. (It would be easier if I didn't insist on watching every game, I know.) I do my grocery shopping late at night, buying only food that I can cook quickly in the hour between games.

Anyway, halftime is over, and I need Australia to score two in the second half.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Another Day, Another Three Games

Three games is my limit. I already knew that, but yesterday reconfirmed it. By the end of the third game, which was the best of the tournament so far, I was a little antsy. When I had cable tv, sometimes when I had nothing to do on Sundays I would watch an Italian game, a Dutch game, a Brazilian game, and then a Spanish game. And I would always be squirming on the couch during the fourth.

A friend called me at the beginning of the Argentina-Ivory Coast game, asking me to meet her in the center of the city. I explained, with all the patience I could muster, that she would have to wait until the game was over, because I was not going to miss a minute of it in transit. She understood, but I think she was disappointed that even the foreigners are taking the Cup so seriously.

All good Brazilians became hardcore Ivory Coast fans yesterday. When Drogba scored a late consolation goal one of the apartments upstairs from mine erupted in cheers. It made me happy, too, but for a very different reason.

My own World Cup experience this year has been corrupted by my participation in a pool. Normally I would have been squarely in the Ecuador camp, but I picked Poland to win the game. Normally I would be (and really, this one is stronger -- I still am) a hardcore fan of whatever team is playing against England. But this time I really wanted that 2-1 England victory I predicted. Worse still was watching Trinidad & Tobago play Sweden to a standstill. Normally I would have been thrilled, but I had predicted a 2-0 Sweden win and there's no telling how badly that hurt me.

I didn't go out last night, because I wanted to get up at 10 to watch the Dutch play. They have always been one of my favorite sides to watch (and in the pool I picked them to win it all, so there will be no feeling of conflict unless they play the US or Brazil). Yesterday, and again today, there were three games, with one hour between each game. It is going to be very difficult to get normal things done during this phase of the tournament. The grocery store near me is closed for renovations, so to buy food I need to take the bus. Getting my grocery shopping done during the one hour interval between games is going to be difficult. And as long as there are 10am games, I'm not going to be going out much at night. But what can you do? The Cup only comes around once every four years.

I'd write more but the second half is about to start...

Friday, June 09, 2006

One Day into the World Cup

I went out to eat a quick lunch at a restaurant before returning home to watch the first game, but I ended up staying to watch the first half. Unfortunately there was no goat on offer today, but the feijoada was excellent as always. My lack of discipline always comes to the fore when I am in a self-service restaurant, and today was no exception. In addition to the feijoada I had escondidinho de charque (baked macaxeira purée with cheese and charque, which is like beef jerky) and some roast pork. The restaurant has always had a tiny little tv on the wall inside, but now they also have a big-screen tv outside on the corner of their patio. So I sat in front of the tv and enjoyed my lunch, finishing just as the match started.

The male diners, and some of the women, stayed to watch the first half. Some of the people sitting at the tables hadn't ordered anything. At halftime they all walked off to return to their jobs. I went to the butcher around the corner, only to discover that the butcher shop had closed permanently. I bought some food from the produce stand in front of where the butcher had been (that guy must be worried now). The cheapest banana option was two reais for a bunch of fourteen bananas. I live alone. How am I going to eat fourteen bananas? I have eaten five since I bought them, but I'm still doubtful that I will beat the clock and eat them all before they go bad. I also bought the cheapest carrot option, since the carrots looked very good. What am I going to do with a kilo of carrots? Actually, I have less than a kilo. He was going to put two or three more in the bag to make it an even kilo when I told him, "Let's just call this a kilo, okay?" I like carrots, but now I have nine in my refridgerator.

So I went home and watched the rest of the match. Germany is decent going forward, but their defense is laughable. Costa Rica has one good player. A game between a bad team and a horrible team wasn't the best opening the tournament could have had.

Globo (the Brazilian network that is the equivalent of ABC, CBS, and NBC combined) showed a novela during the hour between games. That's Brazil for you, right there. Football and novelas.

I watched the first half of the second game at home. At the start of the second half a friend called, saying he was waiting in his car in front of my apartment ready to go to a bar to watch the game. (It turned out he thought the game was just beginning.) So off to a bar we went, and at five in the afternoon the bar was packed with people. And it occurred to me that the World Cup is a lot like Carnaval. It's a party, one that you want to go on forever. It's like the first two or three hours of a particularly good acid trip. If it could only go on forever...

The Cup Starts Today

And Recife has responded with a steady drizzle that is sure to depress the spirits of the city. No matter, Brazil doesn't play until Tuesday.

The World Cup dominates the consciousness of this country. Other topics of conversation arise only to be dispatched in favor of burning, important questions like "Other than Brazil, who do you think is the favorite to win the Cup?" After-sex conversations frequently run along the lines of "Where are you going to watch the games?" When a woman wants to know what the recent experience means for her relationship with the man, she asks, "Who will you watch the games with?"

On the main street in my neighborhood (which is one of the main commuter arteries in the city) there are two billboards (one is Johnnie Walker, I forget what the other one is advertising) counting down (days:hours:minutes:seconds) until Brazil's first game kicks off.

Brazil doesn't play until Tuesday, so I still have a few days left to prove my patriotism by purchasing a pirated Brazil jersey. I'm not being facetious -- buy an illegal copy would, in this case, be the patriotic thing to do. First of all, whatever shirt I buy will have been made in China, or Vietnam, or Indonesia. So there's no difference there. If I buy the official jersey the money goes to Nike, and to a big store, neither of which need my money. If I buy the illegal jersey, the money goes directly to some independent businessman (or woman). And the official jersey costs five or six times as much as the illegal one. And bargain-hunting is always patriotic, isn't it? It will leave me with that much more money to spend on Brazilian beer while I watch the games.

The whole city is a little bit giddy with anticipation, but not so much for the World Cup itself. It is Brazil's participation that matters. People care about the tournament and want to watch as many games as possible. But even though the it officially starts today, for the people here it starts on Tuesday afternoon. People tell me that when Brazil plays the streets empty, all businesses close (banks, stores, movie theaters, everything except bars and restaurants), and everybody sits glued to the TV. Except for one neighbor of mine, who told me that she gets too nervous to watch, and goes for walks for the duration of the game.

This should be a particularly interesting World Cup, because Recife is a tourist destination for Germans. In fact, this month there are probably fewer Germans in Recife than there have been at any time in the last several years. People mistake me for a German all the time, so I guess I will have to follow Germany's progress closely so as not to disappoint my public.

Note: I know updates have been nonexistent lately. But the World Cup is here, and that should change. Expect updates at least once daily until at least the end of the tournament.)