How many black, Gypsy, and Japanese friends do YOU have?

Dude, seriouslyAhead of today’s Spain – France Round of 16 matchup, the press have asked Spanish coach Luis Aragones — who famously referred to France superstar/ one of the coolest footballers ever Thierry Henry as a “black piece of sh*t” last year — if he would like to rescind or apologize for those comments.

Makes sense, right? Easy chance to make amends for an earlier indiscretion? Especially at the World Cup (“A Time To Make Friends ™”)?

Nope. What he said:

“No, no, don’t go down that road. Henry knows through Reyes, through everything [how I feel]. I won’t talk about it for another second. It’s a topic that isn’t worth talking about. Why? Because it’s not like that. I have black, Gypsy and Japanese friends, including one whose job is to determine the sex of poultry.”

I can’t even begin to understand what that sex of poultry thing is about. Must be some sort of cultural subtlety.

Aragones will not say sorry [The Guardian]

The Patriotism Of Your Average War

Party Time at the Berlin Fan Fest

After two and a half days, some very late nights (seriously, Berlin doesn’t really close), and an extremely good time, we have departed Berlin. We’re en route to Nuremberg, where we’ll take in tomorrow’s USA-Ghana match. Two thumbs enthusiastically up for Berlin – gorgeous city, lots to do, lots to soak up. Very glad we made it there.

Going to try to drop a little seriousness on you, and forgive my World Cup naivete. I’m American; we’re new to this.

We’ve been chatting a bit of late about the identity/ nationalism/ tribalism question here at the World Cup. I suppose the conversation started before the USA-Italy game, when we figured out we’d be sitting in the Italian section. A couple of us are half-Italian, and still have a bunch of family who live there. In other World Cups I’ve found myself pulling for the Italians, but it was clear that if they were playing against the USA, my allegiances were solidly with the Stars and Stripes. It doesn’t mean I don’t like Italia as a place, people, or culture; just a football match (“Solo calcio!”), and I was rooting for the team in white over the team in blue.

Of course, in the wake of that match, I will never root for an Italian team again. They were a disgrace, and I will cheer their eventual defeat at this tournament. But again, those are just sports feelings. And I’m a lot more comfortable with this whole thing remaining sports-focused.

I think we all had a little anxiety about being Americans at this event and having to absorb the occasional politically motivated taunt. So far, we haven’t heard a peep. Not a word. And for that, we’re very grateful.

But if politics have mostly been absent from the event, there’s still the odd undercurrent of tribalism that pervades the whole thing. When we shout our songs and chants, what are we rooting for? Are we rooting for teams, or are we rooting for nations? Or is it a culture that we’re rooting for? A people? Or even a corporation? We met some German girls last night who were enthusiastically rooting for Sweden (outfits and face paint included) – because they worked at Ikea. As for the German team, they only seemed interested in Klose and Podolski – because they are both ethnically Polish, like these girls.

How seriously do we have to take the group of drunk Aussies at the Irish Pub in Europa Center in Berlin last night who were singing songs about how they hate the English? That’s different from us hating the Italian team for cheating, right? Or from me harboring resentments against the German team for eliminating us four years ago – despite the fact that almost everyone we’ve met in Germany has been kind, friendly and welcoming, and I hope I can repay their hospitality at some point? But at the same time, we’ve also heard (from Germans) that they fel a bit awkward being so openly patriotic in public; for a while, that had been frowned upon here. And what of the obvious kinship we felt with the Irish dudes we met last night, who are probably the only folks in Europe whose default isn’t to hate America? With pro sports, it’s all a bit easier: hating the Cowboys as characters in the sports drama doesn’t mean I wish ill on the people of Dallas. But when nations are involved, it all gets a bit dicier.

We all want it to be only about the games (“Solo calcio!”), but it obviously isn’t. (I think the line of choice here is that these games “contain the patriotism of your average war.”) As Americans, though, it almost has to be, and it actually feels pretty liberating to be able to express yourself as an American in a nonpolitical context. We actually are underdogs at this event, and that feels nice; when we chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” it doesn’t have the phony triumphalism that it sometimes does at other sporting events (especially Olympic Games held in the continental US). And mercifully we haven’t caught anyone chanting “G-D-P! G-D-P!” at any of our opponents. Just the games, please.

Be careful riding in the sunroof

But Are They As Hard As The Lads From F.C. Camena?

I like how this photo obscures their little hooligan miensAnd now for the quadrennial hullaballoo in re: hooliganism and poor behavior that inevitably attends the coverage of the World Cup: “Soccer fans are just a bunch of unemployed thugs who are only interested in the games as an excuse to get drunk and fight.” (That’s at least half wrong.) Isn’t this all just a bit cliched at this point? Sure, there are going to be some jerks who cause some trouble, but don’t they burn down Detroit every time one of their teams wins? Oh wait. They burn down Detroit every October 30th. My mistake.

The angle this year appears to the World Cup debut of, wait for it, Eastern European thugs, many of whom are getting their first big chance to fight with veteran hooligans from England, Holland, and Germany. (According to this dude we talked to at the Japan World Cup, the key to good fighting at the World Cup is being able to fight with up-for-it locals — who were in short supply in Nippon.) What, the nice Polish boys haven’t seen the ESPN commercials with the stopping the wars and the frolicking children and the women in burkas playing keepy-uppy (note: said image not actually true)? Don’t they know this is supposed to be fun?

On a positive note, I did find some pretty cool sites about hooligans. See below.

Eastern European thugs pose World Cup threat [Yahoo! Sports]
This Hooligan Site From The Czech Republic []

Our Far-Flung Correspondents

Click for a link the larger imageAs much as we sometimes get a bit wrapped up in soccer as media event/ TV show, we’re also big believers in footy as one of the few things pretty much the entire world can get behind. So we’re natually predisposed to smile when we get e-mails from our friend who’s serving in Iraq about a friendly the U.S. army and Iraqi police played this week. The match report from our amateur correspondent/ dude who hadn’t played much soccer since he was 10:

“After practicing it became apparent that the only place I could really contribute as a starter would be as goalie. This was because the US team had various players of African and South American descent who had played soccer their whole lives and were very good- far eclipsing my old youth soccer league skills!

I figured that 3rd base and goalie are kind of similar and it worked out well as I actually stopped some pretty tough shots in the first half and
went on to shut them out. The first picture is of one of my better saves — showing off my mighty 10″ vertical leap!

It was a good time though and one of the few times everyone completely took their mind off their work.”

To which we can only say, hells yeah. F.C. Camena salutes you.

Eto’o to Leave Racism Behind

According to a report on the Asian Football Confederation’s official website, Barcelona star striker Samuel Eto’o is set to leave European football in his prime (he’s 29) and move to Saudi club Al Ittihad.

Eto'o at Al Ittihad press conference in the U.A.E.

The reigning African Footballer of the Year, Eto’o has endured numerous episodes of racist abuse during his time with Barca, in both Spanish League and UEFA Champions League play, culminating in Eto’o walking off the field in the middle of a match against Racing Santander a few weeks ago. It’s only logical to presume Eto’o is making the move to Asia to escape the pervasive racism in European football, sacrificing money and the highest level of competition for happiness and a higher quality of life.

Racism in European Football has (thankfully and finally) come to the forefront as the #1 issue for FIFA and Sepp Blatter in the last few years. It’s been a problem for years, from National Teams to Clubs to Sponsors to Fans. FIFA has enacted rules to stop the European-African youth labor trade, where scores of young African footballing teens would be brought to European clubs to train (cheaply), with the best being promoted to the first team while the rest were cut loose to fend for themselves in a foreign country with no job and no support. But still problems with fans persist.

Superstars like Eto’o and Thierry Henry have been outspoken about the problem, and Nike has backed them with the “Stand Up, Speak Up” campaign. But what can be done to reach the level of the average fan?

The Eto’o decision to leave it all behind will hopefully be the Tipping Point. The racist fans and their supporting clubs and federations are the true a**holes in all of this. But we as football fans are the losers, as we’ll be deprived of regularly watching the genius of a great player in the midst of his prime footballing years compete at the highest levels of competition.

The great winner in all of this is Eto’o. Despite the constant abuse, he has handled all situations with grace and dignity. And he will hopefully be remembered as the man who initiated the final movement to stamp racism from the Beautiful Game.

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