Saturday, June 12, 2010

Review of England-USA: Once Again, Football Isn't Coming Home

Read it here.

Harrison and Steven Stark Preview the Cup on WNYC's "The Takeaway"

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Harrison and Steven Stark on the World Cup on "Here and Now" on WBUR and NPR

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Steven and Harrison Stark's Book Talk at Gibson's in Concord NH

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Stark Reality

Harrison Stark on the Cup at the Boston Phoenix.

Steven Stark on WGBH on the Cup -- Part IV -- The Prediction

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Group B Wrapup: Argentina and South Korea Look Solid

2-0 A Deserved Result for Flashy South Korea

This was a real mismatch, more so than anyone thought. Although known for its gritty offensive tactics and stalwart defensive line, this Greek side was thoroughly outclassed by a South Korean side that played with both purpose and flair. As predicted, the South Koreans' pace caused tremendous problems for a slow, aging Greek backline, with Park Ji-Sung in particular tearing them open on several occasions. The way in which the team relentlessly attacked was highly reminiscent of its 2002 run to the semi-finals. Although South Korea fouled often - 14 times - Greece was unable to use its trade-mark free kick counter attack: it didn't even register a shot on target until the 70th minute. It is indicative that playmaker and captain Georgios Karagounis was withdrawn at the interval after a miserable first half.

For more, read here:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Previews of Saturday Games: South Korea-Greece, Nigeria-Argentina, and USA-England

Read them all here.

Group B: South Korea v. Greece Preview

Read it here:

Khune Heroics and Mexican Tactical Mistakes Lead to Fair 1-1 Result

Read it here:

Group A: France v. Uruguay Preview

Europe's biggest underachiever faces off with the South American team of the same distinction. On paper, France - as usual - looks the much better side, and Uruguay may struggle to contain France's wide players. Uruguay plays a traditional 3-5-2, with two very hard-working wingbacks - Alvaro Pereira on the left, Maxi Pereira on the right (no relation) - covering the wide positions, meaning that these two players must shoulder both the offensive and defensive burdens on the wings entirely on their own. France has a plethora of wide players, all recently given even more license in its new 4-3-3 formation. On the right there is Sidney Govou and the attack-minded defender Bacary Sagna, and the left there is the dangerous Franck Ribery supported by Patrice Evra (Florent Malouda, a natural left-winger, is deployed out of place in central midfield, but has a tendency to drift wide into his preferred wider position too). France will want to use its numerical advantage on the wings to supply the striker - Yoann Gourcuff, the typical central playmaker, is likely to be tightly man-marked by Walter Gargano and will struggle to find space.

To read more, go here:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Opening Match Preview: South Africa v. Mexico

Either of these teams could be a dark horse to make a run in the tournament, if only it can get out of the group. This first match is key. Mexico's very fluid formation will likely allow it to dominate possession against a technically inferior South Africa, and, having experience at playing at altitude, will maintain a physical presence the entire game. Mexico has had trouble finishing in the pre-tournament run up, and so will finally have to translate superior possession into results in the final third - Carlos Vela in particular will have to step up his finishing if they are to take 3 points from this game.

For more, read here:

Brazil Is The Team to Beat: Ranking the Teams From 1-32

Please note: This is not a prediction of how teams will finish but an assessment of their chances of winning the Cup. That's because two strong teams may meet in an earlier round and some teams have to get out of much tougher groups than others. Moreover some teams such as South Africa, Argentina, France. Mexico, and Italy could completely flame out but if they don't and get out of their group, the potential to go far is there.

So with that caveat in mind, the envelope please:


1. Brazil. This improved team has got the presence, the pedigree, and the personnel, plus a new tactical approach that will make it very difficult to break down on defense. Sure it's not invincible, but it's also the only team ever to win the Cup outside its own continent - save Argentina that won in a Mexico that wasn't much different culturally. Brazil is also in the easier half of the draw so if it wins its group, it likely avoids Argentina, Spain, or Germany until the final. Its first round group isn't easy but if this team can't get by Portugal and Ivory Coast, it likely will have trouble winning the Cup anyway.


2. Argentina. Is Maradona a mad genius or just mad? We obviously incline towards the former. Skeptics will point to a weak qualification campaign, but every time Argentina has won the tournament it has struggled to qualify. This time around, a ridiculously easy first round group and a probable weak second round opponent means this team can take its time getting its act together before facing a serious quarterfinal opponent. If things have gone right up until then, it will be formidable. Of course, with Maradona at the helm, nothing is ever that simple so this team could also self-destruct long before that too. But we don't expect it.

To read more, go here:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Predictions From Some Experts (and not-so experts)

Tomorrow you'll get our predictions. Today, we hear from others, experts and otherwise:

EA Sports 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa: Using the game - which apparently even measures for altitude -- Brazil wins it all, defeating Spain in the final. We have our doubts: The game also has England in the semis.

VIP Communications Customer Survey: 32.2% pick Brazil; 23.5% pick Spain; 12.3% pick England.

Rome Hartman, Executive Producer, BBC News America: Brazil to win.

Piers Edwards, BBC: Brazil over Argentina in the final. Also thinks the Dutch may do well.

For more, read here:

Grant Wahl, SI: Spain tops, Brazil 2nd, Netherlands 3rd in power rankings.

Steven Stark on WGBH on the Cup -- Part III

Listen here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How Playing at Altitude Might Transform the World Cup

Everyone is talking about how holding the first Cup in Africa could affect the results. But one of the under analyzed aspects of every World Cup is the effect of climate and altitude on both the play and outcomes. This World Cup will be the first held in the southern hemisphere - and thus during winter - since 1978 in Argentina. South Africa is sub-tropical for the most part, so the temperature shouldn't be much of an issue for most squads. But altitude might well play a significant role since many games, including the final, will be played in a Johannesburg roughly a mile above sea level, much like Denver.

The weather has been a factor since the first World Cup match in Montevideo in 1930, when it snowed the night before and the Mexicans blamed the climate for their 4-1 loss to France. Weather is a major reason why European countries - accustomed for the most part to cooler temperatures and sea level conditions - don't play well outside their continent. At the Cups held in Asia in 2002 and the U.S. in 1994 - both played in temperatures usually 80 degrees or higher -- several teams noticeably wilted in the heat, while the hosts and "hot weather teams" such as Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria in '94 and Senegal in 2002 excelled.

To read more, go here:

Steven Stark on WGBH on the Cup -- Part II

Listen here.

The Authors on New Hampshire Public Radio on the Geopolitics of the Cup

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Steven Stark on WGBH on the Cup -- Part I

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Could Countries With A Tradition of Racist Fans Underperform in South Africa?

It's been well-documented how extensive racism is in European soccer - with catcalls and "monkey chats" often directed at black players by fans. None of that is expected in South Africa to be sure. But it all raises an intriguing question: Could countries known for having trouble dealing with racism in soccer - most notably Spain, Italy, Slovakia, and Serbia - be more intimidated by playing in Africa and suffer as a result? It's not an outlandish conclusion.

Though Americans aren't exposed to it, racism sadly permeates world soccer. The black players on England's national teams have faced abuse in Croatia and Spain; Lazio's fans in Rome have been known to greet black players with "ooh, ooh" monkey chants whenever they touched the ball. This past year, Inter Milan's Mario Balotelli, born in Sicily to Ghanaian parents, has been greeted by opposing fans with the chant, "A Negro cannot be an Italian." In Russia, fans have turned on their own black players, shouting at them, "Russia for Russians" and throwing bananas on the field.

The reasons are complex why soccer stadiums can become Europe's "theaters of hatred," as one writer put it. Soccer crowds across Europe -- at least in the cheaper seats -- seem to include a disproportionate number of the supporters of the right-wing political parties that have sprung up across the continent.

To read more, go here:

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Are Premier League Players More Likely to Get Hurt At the World Cup?

Players are dropping like flies, particularly the leading ones. In the past two days, we have seen a slew of World Cup stars go down with tournament-ending injuries: England's captain Rio Ferdinand, Cote D'Ivoire's talismanic Didier Drogba, Nigeria's Jon Obi Mikel, and today Slovakia's star defender Martin Skrtel and Holland's s Arjen Robben look set to join the ever-expanding list. Germany's Michael Ballack and Ghana's Michael Essien have also been ruled out in the last two weeks.

Is there a pattern? It's interesting to note how many of these stars ply their trade in the English Premier League - of the recent list only Robben plays his club football somewhere else, at Germany's Bayern Munich. Much has been written about the Premier League's grueling schedule - with teams forced to compete for the league in addition to the FA and Carling Cups, not to mention European competition, the season drags on - even the mid-table club Fulham played 59 matches this past season. With no real break before the World Cup begins, players may be at their limit.

For more, read here.

The Authors on Fox News TV

Watch it here!

Harrison Stark on the Total Football Soccer Show

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Surprise Selections (and other news) from Group H -- the Spanish Speakers (Plus Switzerland)

This is the Spanish-speaking group plus Switzerland, or the offensive-minded group, plus Switzerland, but no matter how you slice it or dice it, it's Spain with everybody else fighting for second. The latest news, in the approximate order of finish:


On paper, Spain is the favorite to win the whole tournament but Cup aficionados know that something always goes wrong for the Spanish and that subsequently they've never gone past the quarters. Historians tend to attribute the team's lack of good fortune to its traditional lack of unity, which reflects the nation's atomized regions. (Hence the European joke, "Three Spaniards, four opinions.")

The talk beforehand was that with a side dominated by Catalans, this wouldn't be as much of an issue this time. Think again: Pedro (Barcelona) is unhappy because he had to draw lots with Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao) as to who would get stuck with the unwanted Number 2 jersey and lost - not that anyone on the Spanish team is superstitious of course. Then coach Vincente Del Bosque cracked the whip and banned his players from Twitter and Facebook during the Cup, which leaves much of the team wondering what to do with all the time it now has on its hands. Other than squabbling, of course.

For more, read here:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Does Germany's Eurovision Victory Tell Us Anything About the World Cup? Probably

Occasionally, victories in international competitions come all at once. One need only look back to 2008 to see Spain's Euro triumph coincide with Spanish domination of tennis and cycling the same year, not to mention Penelope Cruz's Oscar.

Although not quite the same thing, Germany - shockingly - won the annual Eurovision Song Competition on Saturday, courtesy of Hamburg's 19-year-old Lena Meyer-Landrut. For those unfamiliar with the competition, you're missing out: essentially an infinitely more absurd American Idol that involves all of Europe, the competition is an all-night affair where countries perform musical routines and then a winner is decided by phone-in vote (voters are not allowed to vote for their own country).

How big is it on the continent? Absolutely huge.

To read more, go here.

US Opponent Watch: Why England Needs A Tactical Makeover

England's recent 3-1 victory over Mexico was an extremely flattering result. England chased the ball for much of the game, out-passed and out-paced by a technically superior Mexico side, and owed their victory primarily to Peter Crouch's height advantage over a small Mexican back line and Carlos Vela's woeful finishing (he is capable of better and will have to step up in South Africa if Mexico is to advance). If England is truly to be a title contender, a comprehensive tactical re-think is needed.

For more, read here:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On the eve of South Africa 2010, a father-and-son writing team parse the multivolume epic that is world soccer into a guide for uninitiated Americans.

A profile and interview with the authors at Gelf Magazine.

Surprise Selections (and other news) from Group G, the Mini Group of Death With One Pariah -- Brazil, Ivory Coast, Portugal, and North Korea

This is a mini-group of death since one very good team among Brazil, Ivory Coast, and Portugal will be eliminated. Then there's North Korea, which, as we all know, is unpredictable in a multitude of ways. In the predicted order of finish, more or less:


Once again, the cliché holds true: Brazil is so loaded that a team composed of the players who didn't make the squad could make a Cup run. It's old news that coach Dunga (Portuguese for Dopey, after one of the Seven Dwarfs) has Brazil playing very defensively - at least for Brazil - and chose to drop many of the senior "bohemian" members of the squad who performed poorly last time in favor of younger players. Thus, the squad features no Ronaldhino, no Ronaldo, no Adriano, and no Roberto Carlos. Dunga also left at home Neymar - the brilliant 18-year-old striker (watch for him next time) - not to mention future stars under-20 midfielder and captain Sandro (Internacional - Brazil) and 20-year-old striker Alexander Pato (AC Milan).

The only surprise, really, was the inclusion of Wolfsburg striker Grafite, who's shown in the Bundesliga that he can handle a more rough and tumble style.

For more, read here.