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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Why Iran Lost Today to Mexico and Other World Cup Rants

Read all about it here.

Apparently the Mexicans were in better shape.

It can't help the Iranians that they got roundly booed inside the stadium (although I wonder what the response will be to the U.S. team tomorrow when it takes the pitch against the Czech Republic).

It could have been worse for the Iranians -- in the bizarre (and perhaps corrupt) world of FIFA bracketing, they could have been pitted against the U.S. in the first round. Would they have boycotted that matchup the way an Iranian judoist forfeitted his first-round match against an Israeli, thereby costing him any chance of a medal?

Interesting question.

Some had argued that the #1 seed that Mexico received should have gone to the U.S. which has dominated the Mexicans in recent years; had that happened, would the U.S. have been bracketed with the Iranians in a first-round grouping? Or does FIFA's brand of politics cater so much to the soft bigotry of low expectations that the FIFA people gave the Mexicans a lifetime acheivement award in order to avoid a public temper tantrum from the Iranians (this, by the way, is a knock on FIFA and the Iranians and not the Mexicans, who have traditionally played well on the international stage) and a serious controversy before the World Cup even began? Before you shake this off, there is precedent. FIFA has pandered to the Arab world by putting Israel in the much tougher European bracket, thereby compelling the Israelis to beat traditional soccer powers (instead of teams like Iran and Saudi Arabia) in order to make the World Cup. This year, the Israelis almost embarrassed Sepp Blatter and his cronies, coming in ahead of Ireland, but they failed to beat out the Swiss and, as a result, are sitting home this year.

Let's hope that FIFA didn't rig its groupings in order to cater to Teheran. Given Europe's (but not England's) overall wishy-washiness over international politics, I can't be so sure. And, by the way, had the logical groupings put the U.S. with Iran and then the Iranians threatened to walk, so be it. Much has been made of the civil war in Cote d'Ivorie stopping so that the national team can play in the World Cup. If that's the case, then what grounds would the Iranians have had to stand on?

In addition, the U.S., which is ranked fifth in the world, finds itself in a group with #2 Czech Republic and #13 Italy. Why is that the case? Why are the Americans grouped in such a difficult foursome. By the way, if the U.S. somehow finishes in the top 2 in this grouping and, say, finishes second to the Czechs, guess who they'll have to play in the round of 16?

Brazil. Look at the same rankings -- the Brazilians, in case you haven't watched soccer of the past several decades, are ranked #1 in the world (heck, their backups probably would be rated in the top 15).

Okay, so the U.S. can't win everything, and, yes, the U.S. didn't invent soccer, and, yes, the U.S. cannot dictate the rules about who plays whom. Fair enough. But prove to me that whoever created this brackets isn't related to the refs who presided at the finals of the U.S. Olympic's men's basketball game in 1972 between the Soviet Union and the Americans?

Because that's how much sense that grouping makes.

The U.S. deserved a much better deal. Now they have to show the rest of the world that they deserved that deal.

All that ventilating aside, there was some compelling soccer this weekend. The home Germans got off to a good start, but I think that the Dutch are a better team and would love to see the orange-clad neighbors to the west win the Cup on the soil of their German archrivals. The Dutch looked quick today, and midfielder Arjen Robben is a special player. Trinidad and Tobago surprised everyone in drawing with Sweden, and the English look like that had better get turbocharged if they want to go deep into the tournament. Argentina looked formidable, and Cote d'Ivorie woke up a little too late. Striker Didier Drogba played with a lot of heart, but his teammates didn't play well together until it was too late.

How will the U.S. fare on Monday? The Czechs play well together, and in Pavel Nedved and Milan Baros they have two outstanding players. Goalie Peter Cech also is one of the best in the world. Few expect the U.S. to win tomorrow, and the pundits believe they need a draw to have a chance to advance to the second round. It's hard for non-European teams to win in Europe, and despite the presence of American fans I would expect the bulk of the crowd to be hostile to the Yanks, given that this will be Europe's chance to boo George Bush. All that said, the U.S. team has some good players in their own right, including a handful who are ready to break out on the international stage. They play the games for a reason -- go to the FIFA top-20 list for May and you'll see that several outstanding teams -- Egypt, Nigeria and Denmark among them -- failed to qualify for the World Cup. If the U.S. wins tomorrow, they'll provide great ammunition for the argument that they should have had a #1 seed. If they lose, well, the international soccer cognoscenti will dismiss the Yanks as a bunch of wannabes without the soccer tradition to propel their national team into the international elite.

It should be an interesting day.


Anonymous shihab said...

Mexic was just too good, but Iran will do well on the next games I assume..

11:59 AM  
Anonymous akin said...

The WC draw is done in a manner which doesn't allow two Euro teams in the same group (just like teams from the same college bball conference are separated), or more than one team from any other continent to share a group. Also, the host always gets put in position 1 of its group regardless of rank (usa '94). Those rules force atleast 1 top eight team to be paired up with another top 8 team. BTW, the draw is done live in fornt of a few thousand people, and several million watching on TV, so I don't think it's worth it for FIFA to rig the draw...Also, the US's group is considered the second thoughest (ARG/HOL are title contenders, S&M is better than USA and Ivory Coast is better than Ghana). And yes, if we had MEX's seed we would've played Iran, and they would've shown up, soccer is huge there, and the Mullahs would court disaster if they pulled out.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous vintage said...

Mexic was just too good, but Iran will do well on the next games I assume..

6:54 PM  

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