Must-Follow World Cup Pundits: Men in Blazers

If you’re not following them already — and if, as I’m assuming, you love everything about the World Cup and the U.S. team — be sure to follow Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, a.k.a. Men in Blazers.

The two pundits, Brits who are long-time U.S. residents, combine in depth knowledge of the sport with an immigrant’s love for U.S. soccer.

They are especially well informed about the transformation in style and attitude that U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has brought to the American side. (For more on that topic, see this WSJ interactive from earlier this month.)

Also, they are delightfully silly.

While I also follow The Guardian‘s World Cup Football Daily podcast and occasionally BBC 5 Live’s World Cup Daily, Rog and Davo, as they’re known, are so enjoyable because they’re lighthearted: They frequently weave in cultural references and inside jokes, and do not at all take themselves seriously.

Here are some of their recent podcasts.

You can also find their ongoing videos and other contributions on ESPN FC here.

They’re on Twitter at: @meninblazers.

Sample Tweet:

Embedded above and online here: their recent take on the U.S.-Germany game, and an audio podcast after the U.S.-Portugal match.

On England and the World Cup

Snips from “A Soccer Empire, Deeply Confused,” David Winner‘s contribution to the New York Times‘s feature on the World Cup and national playing styles:

Soccer has long been a bastion of a peculiarly 19th-century conception of Englishness the nation seems reluctant to relinquish. The game was born during the era of empire when the country’s elite public schools adapted earlier forms of violent folk football for the purpose of education.

Typical rustic folk games involved hundreds of drunken men from rival villages rampaging through streets and fields, trying to drive, say, a casket of beer (the proto-ball) into the crypt of a church (the proto-goal). The schools distilled such testosterone-fuelled rituals into new formats involving smaller teams, sober boys and sodden leather balls. Codified by the Football Association and later disseminated to the world, this style of soccer was never the so-called beautiful game; the original purpose of educators was to instill manly and martial virtues into future imperial soldiers and administrators.

And:

Just as adapting to their diminished, post-imperial status in international affairs has been a struggle, so the English are taking a long time to abandon the fantasy that, having invented the game, they should still expect to win the World Cup.

The truth — as everyone elsewhere noticed long ago — is that the nation has only once gone further than the quarterfinals of a major tournament played abroad (it reached the semifinals in Italy in 1990).

English soccer confusion, delusion and cloying nostalgia have become tedious. The time for the national team to adopt a bit of modesty and modernity — and to move to embrace change — is long overdue.

Read the whole thing.

(Via Amy Lawrence.)

Euro 2012: English Commentary on GMM Grammy

For the record:

I wrote, in a earlier post, that the GMM Grammy Euro 2012 broadcast doesn’t offer English-language commentary.

But it does.

Simply click the button labeled “audio,” near the bottom of the remote*, two or three times to alternate between Thai and English.

Thanks to @tonygjordan for the tip.

(*The remote and AV cables are tucked under a flap in the GMM Grammy satellite box. I missed seeing these items at first.)

TrueVisions Subscribers and Euro 2012 Games

The Bangkok Post reports today:

Cable television operator TrueVisions has failed to resolve its dispute with Euro 2012 Football Championship broadcast rights holder GMM Grammy.

About 2 million True subscribers saw Euro 2012 broadcasts from Channel 3, Channel 5 and Modernine TV cancelled last night during the tournament’s opening match between Poland and Greece at 11pm, and again for Russia versus the Czech Republic at 1:45am this morning.

The matches could be seen on terrestrial television but True blocked those stations’ broadcasts through its cable and satellite platforms. True showed alternative programmes instead.

We’re TrueVisions subscribers but got the GMM Grammy satellite box up and running prior to kickoff, thankfully. As I Tweeted on Thurs.:

Richard Barrow also has a tutorial, if you’d like to implement a similar setup.

Indeed, it turns out there’s no English language commentary or HD service. But the picture is decent, for standard definition.

More soon on this topic.

Off Topic: My Soccer Team Won Our League!

2012 03 21 team celebrations

Allow me to quickly boast about share the news that my soccer team here in Bangkok, BFC D’Pelican, beat a good Royal Bangkok Sports Club team 1-0 last night.

The victory took us into first place on goal difference on the last day of the season, and we were crowned the 2012 Chang International Football League champions.

It was a hard-fought game, but we got the clean sheet — always important to a goalkeeper like a me — and the win.

The achievement was all the more sweet for me given the great group of guys on the team and the fact that this was my first trophy-winning season in more than five years (!) of playing amateur soccer here in Bangkok.

The picture above shows us after the game.

Here I am with the trophy:

2012 03 21 np cup

And embedded below is a 12-second video of our post-match celebrations (also available on YouTube).

(Thanks to A for the pics, video, and ongoing support.)

Normal programming will resume shortly.

World Cup qualifier: Thailand 3, Oman 0

2011 09 07 thailand oman

The Bangkok Post reports on Thailand’s surprise win over Oman last night in a World Cup 2014 qualifier here in Bangkok:

Thailand beat Oman 3-0 in a World Cup qualifier last night in their finest moments in football in recent memory.

Two first-half goals from strike duo Sompong Soleb (35) and Teerasil Dangda (41) and an own goal by Rashid Al Farsi in injury time gave Thailand their best win for years.

The victory at Rajamangala National Stadium keeps alive Thailand’s dreams of securing their first-ever World Cup berth.

Thailand have one win and one defeat in Group D after their 2-1 loss at Australia in Brisbane last week.

Oman have only one point after a scoreless home draw with Saudi Arabia in their opener. Saudi Arabia were at home to Australia later last night.

The top two teams from each of the five groups advance to Asia’s final qualifying stages (last 10 teams) for the 2014 World Cup.

Next up: Saudi Arabia, coached by one Frank Rijkaard, visit Bangkok on Oct 11.

(Image: Bangkok Post.)

Could ASEAN bid for the World Cup? (cross posted to Siam Voices)

Note: This post originally appeared on Siam Voices, a collaborative Thailand blog at Asian Correspondent. I have added an update.

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Yesterday’s Bangkok Post:

Asean kicks around plan to host World Cup

Asean foreign ministers have agreed to propose to the grouping’s leadership that the region host the World Cup in 2030 as a group, diplomatic sources say.

The foreign ministers, who are meeting in Lombok, Indonesia, would submit a formal and detailed plan for approval by the Asean leaders when they meet in Jakarta on May 7 and 8.

The idea of the region jointly hosting the World Cup in 2030 was first proposed by Malaysia at the annual foreign ministers’ meeting in Hanoi in July last year.

Yesterdays’s Jakarta Post:

2030 World Cup in ASEAN? Why not?

In an attempt to boost integration among its people, ASEAN will propose to FIFA that the 10 member countries jointly host the 2030 soccer World Cup.

Foreign ministers of the ASEAN countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar — gathered here Sunday for a retreat meeting agreed to table their candidacy this year to jointly host the world’s biggest sporting event.

As we know, the 2014 World Cup will be in Brazil. Then it’s Russia for 2018 and Qatar in 2022.

A few thoughts:

1. Southeast Asia is geographically large, and — as touched upon in the Jakarta Post item — travel between countries as far-flung as Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines presents logistical challenges.

2. If a bid were to materialize, would the FIFA Executive Committee be put off by political instability here in Thailand — a country at the heart of the region, and perhaps ASEAN’s biggest tourist draw? Or perhaps tensions will have eased by then? What about Myanmar, as a member of ASEAN? Would Myanmar host matches?

3. Infrastructure in Southeast Asia is lacking. The Bangkok Post story says: “By the time the international football association, Fifa, decides on the 2030 World Cup host, all Asean capitals are expected to have built international standard sports and football stadiums, said one of the sources.”

I would be interested to hear more about these plans.

4. Speaking of FIFA’s executive committee, what about the fuss over Thailand’s Worawi Makudi and England’s failed World Cup bid? Would England support an ASEAN bid, given Thailand’s failure to deliver for the Three Lions?

5. This is not the first time the idea has been floated, as the Bangkok Post piece notes. The Post ran this shot Oct., 2009 item: “Asean eyeing to host World Cup.”

6. Interestingly, there is already an ASEAN 2030 Facebook group that has been “liked” by 478 people. It contains this interesting passage, which seems to encapsulate the “why not?” spirit that would presumably need to be part of any potential bid:

The astounding decision last week by FIFA, the world’s football federation, to award Russia and Qatar to host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022 respectively gives hope that ASEAN should seriously aspire, as a Community, to host this quadrennial sporting event, with the largest worldwide audience, in 2030.

Image: ASEAN 2030 Facebook page.

UPDATE: January 18 — The Bangkok Post has a new story today: “Worawi: Joint Asean World Cup unlikely.” There’s also this piece, “A kicking idea: using sport to forge an Asean identity.”

England-Thailand friendly officially cancelled

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The backstory is here. From today’s Bangkok Post:

The England football team has confirmed the cancellation of its friendly match against Thailand in Bangkok in June.

It was to have been the first time the England national side had played in Thailand.

The English Football Association cited scheduling concerns for the withdrawal, but the British press has speculated it is retribution for Thailand’s football boss breaking a “promise” to back England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

The Thailand-England fixture would likely have proved a highly lucrative event and was supposedly agreed in return for the support of Worawi Makudi, president of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT).

But Mr Worawi, also a Fifa executive member, chose another candidate at a Fifa committee members vote on Dec 2.

FAT secretary-general Ong-arj Kosinkha confirmed yesterday the English FA had informed Mr Worawi of the cancellation in a letter dated Dec 22.

In the letter, English FA general-secretary Alex Horne said: “I have been informed by [English FA chairman] Sir David Richards that the England national team is not ready to come to Thailand according to the programme that was set earlier.”

(Emphasis mine.)

World Cup bids, England, and the (apparently) cancelled Thailand friendly

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As you’re probably aware, the 2018 and 2022 World Cup host countries were announced on Thursday. Russia won 2018 and Qatar was awarded 2022. There are many fascinating issues to discuss, but given the focus of this blog, I wanted to zero in on one interesting element: the Thailand connection.

Some background: Prior to the vote, much of the Western European media echoed the notion that the front runners for 2018 were Spain/Portugal (home of the scintillating world champions, Spain) and England (home of robust infrastructure and the world’s most popular domestic league).

But Russia — considered by some to be an outsider — won, of course. This may not have been as big an upset as it seems, but it was still surprising to many observers. It’s worth noting that, as I understand it, many within Russia considered their bid to be the strongest all along, chiefly because the World Cup has never been held in Eastern Europe.

The process by which World Cup bids are awarded has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in recent years. Here’s how it works: A 24-man panel — the FIFA executive committee — decides, behind closed doors, which countries will be allowed to host the world’s most-watched sporting event.

Votes are secret, and are cast in an exhaustive ballot system, with several rounds of voting until a winner receives a majority. There is no official transparency, though reports usually emerge, afterward, regarding who voted for which countries.

Allegations of corruption — the idea that votes are bought — have been raised in the past. And significantly, just before this year’s winners were announced, the BBC program Panorama ran a show called “Fifa’s dirty secrets.” So the selection process is murky, confusing, and said to be tainted by back room deals.

On to the Siam connection: Thailand’s Worawi Makudi sits on the FIFA Executive Committee. Competing countries are often thought to secure votes by courting — legally — the loyalty of individual committee members.

In May, England’s Football Association (the FA) announced that the national side would be playing a friendly here in Bangkok in June 2011 — a first-ever meeting between England and Thailand. This remarkable match, combined with the fact that British coaches Peter Reid and now Bryan Robson have coached the Thai national team, have been seen as efforts to curry favor with Thailand in order to secure the vote for England’s 2018 bid.

The England-Thailand game would have drawn a large crowd given the great popularity of the English Premier League among Thai fans and would have presumably been commercially lucrative. But it would have exacted a physical toll on the Three Lions’ players given the long flights in each direction.

So what happened on Thursday?

England finished dead last, receiving just two votes, one of which came from their own representative. The other vote? It didn’t come from Thailand’s Worawi. It’s unclear who he voted for, but it apparently wasn’t England.

The fallout: The Telegraph reported yesterday that England has cancelled the Thailand friendly. Mind you, the story says the FA had received indications some time ago that Worawi wouldn’t be voting for England, so one wonders how much of a shock this really was.

In addition, a word of warning regarding sources: The Telegraph story says that “the FA intends to cancel the fixture,” but there is so far no news of this on the the FA Web site. However, the match is not listed on the fixtures page, though this may be due to the fact that it is — was? — a friendly, not a competitive game.

The Bangkok Post also ran a short piece about the possibly cancelled fixture, but it appears to be merely a summary of the Telegraph story.

For the record, I am not suggesting that anything inappropriate occurred between England’s FA and Thailand or Worawi. But I think the episode illustrates the kind of efforts that FAs undertake to try to secure the backing of executive committee members — and just how tricky and unpredictable the voting process can be.

Issues for another post: Qatar‘s winning 2022 bid (the country’s population is estimated at 840,000, and it covers an area about the size of Connecticut); the prospect of a winter World Cup and/or cooled, open-aired, “carbon neutral” stadiums (don’t miss the artist renderings) to beat the heat; and the U.S.’s failed 2022 bid.

World Cup: USA beats Algeria in injury time

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I’ve been busy — and won’t be blogging much in the days to come — but given my previous posts, I felt compelled to comment on yesterday’s breathtaking U.S. win over Algeria in injury time. A few thoughts.

  1. I watched the game with some friends at an English pub here in Bangkok. The England-Slovenia game was on in the main bar area, and the US-Algeria game was on in a separate room.

    I cannot describe the anguish I felt when England went a goal up, and when the US continued to miss chance after chance after chance. If England had won, and the US had tied or lost, our World Cup campaign would have been over. To make matters worse, another seemingly good goal was called back that should not have been called back.

    And then, when all seemed lost, finally — finally — in injury time, when I must admit I thought we were finished, Landon Donovan slotted home:

  2. Speaking of which, Donovan has really shown his quality in this tournament. To get down the length of the pitch and be there, at the right moment, after playing hard for 90 minutes, and then to have the focus to score a goal like that…well, it’s just top-notch. Michael Bradley has also been exceptional in midfield. As so has Tim Howard in goal. Clint Dempsey has been very good going forward, as well.
  3. In terms of US soccer successes, the only other American victory that I can compare this to in my lifetime1 was Paul Caliguiri’s goal against Trinidad and Tobago in 1989. The U.S. qualified for the 1990 World Cup — the U.S.’s first World Cup appearance since 1950 — because of that long-distance effort.

    When I watched that game, as a 14-year-old, I was simply astounded by the outcome. And I was similarly astounded — and so, so happy — when the U.S. team won last night.

  4. And finally, let me ask you this: When the World Cup draw was announced many months ago, who would have predicted that Group C would end up like this?
    group_c.jpg

Up next: Ghana on Saturday…

  1. Yes, the U.S. team made it to the quarterfinals in 2002, but yesterday’s win was more dramatic. []