There was a week in March of 2013 when the USA survived Costa Rica in a snowstorm outside Denver and four days later played a gritty scoreless draw also at altitude in Azteca.
Nobody was calling the hideously-named Concacaf region The Group of Death. More likely, it was the group of schnorrers, run by long-time FIFA insiders like Jack Warner of Trinidad and Chuck Blazer of New York, who had their personal siphons into the exchequer, until banished in disgrace. That scandal has been Concacaf’s biggest notoriety under the laissez-faire regime of Sepp Blatter.
Currently, that unheralded confederation from North and Central America has produced three teams making extreme trouble in their groups in the World Cup tournament in Brazil. (The fourth regional team, Honduras, is just about done after losing to Ecuador on Friday.)
The United States under Jürgen Klinsmann has 3 points from Ghana and goes against vulnerable Portugal Sunday.
American soccer fans are obsessing over the real stuff of World Cup life -- Portugal's injuries and a suspension, potential changes in the U.S, lineup, players like Alejandro Bedoya who have come a long way to start in this World Cup.
Mexico, revived under its fourth coach in a year, stunned the host team with a 0-0 draw the other day, helped by the keeper Memo Ochoa, who has made Mexico forget Jorge Campos and his gaudy soccer wardrobes and saves.
And now Costa Rica. The Ticos, coached by the Colombian, Jorge Luis Pinto, who never played professional soccer, outmaneuvered and outhustled Italy, 1-0, on Friday, to qualify for the Round of 16. They had more heart and more tactics than Italy, which reverted to the jaded outfit of 2010 that went nowhere but home. Italy lacks even one Gennaro Gattuso-like firebrand (Mario Balotelli’s temper does not count.) And can I just drop the name Roberto Baggio one more time? Do Italians appreciate Il Codino a bit more now?
Costa Rica deserves to move on, after figuring out that Andrea Pirlo was testing the back line. Late in the half, Costa Rica bombarded aging Gigi Buffon until the ball got past him.
Costa Rica always plays tough against the USA. So does Mexico. That is the charm of life in Concacaf, with its memories of incursions by American troops and corporations. It is always a Group of Peril in those stadiums – batteries and bilingual insults flying from the fans toward the Yanks. But at the moment, Concacaf is also its own little Group of Death – death to England trouble for Uruguay and Italy in Costa Rica’s Group C, danger to Croatia in Mexico’s Group A, and who knows what the Americans might do.
My own memory of Costa Rica is of happy, noisy fans. I tell that story in my new book, how back in 1985, a thousand or two fans romped over the hill in California, blowing horns, chanting and rooting Costa Rica to a 1-0 victory that knocked the USA out of qualifying in the second round. The next generation was in Recife, Brazil, on Friday, dressed in red, enjoying new status -- members of a regional Group of Death.
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I will be taking the show on the road in a few days, speaking at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Monday, June 23, and the Midtown Scholar book store in Harrisburg, Pa., on Tuesday, June 24. Then on Wednesday, June 25, I will be part of presentation at the Museum of the City of New York, talking about the new anthology, For the Love of Baseball, in which I have a chapter on Casey Stengel. I suspect I will drop a word or two about the World Cup and be available to sign any books you might want to bring, or just talk about these two great sports.
For information, see Book Appearances on the left or press this link.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.