Taking their cue from Jürgen Klinsmann’s evaluation of “the worst of the worst” for the American schedule, fans are assuming the U.S. will get ushered out of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil without winning or drawing or maybe even scoring.
Having covered the past eight World Cups, I would like to note that the matches have yet to be played – and that group play is always full of revelations.
Why not be one of those teams that upset the favorite? Why not make your own luck? Why not catch players before they are acclimated? Why not be better than anybody expected? It has happened. Every four years it has happened.
The first thing to remember about the World Cup is that the best teams come into the tournament with the most players chewed up by the insatiable club schedules, including the Champions League. Outsiders can have fresh legs and fresh attitudes – very often worth a victory in the first round.
Without even discussing the American team here, let’s look at a few weird and wonderful things that have happened in the first match of group play:
In Spain in 1982, Algeria stunned West Germany, 2-1 – still one of the great upsets in World Cup history. The West Germans used a disgraceful 1-0 waltz victory over their friends from Austria in the third match, so both teams could advance past Algeria. FIFA later tightened the rules against manipulation like that, but Algeria will always have the pride of that upset.
In Mexico in 1986, in the opening match in Azteca, Bulgaria tied the defending champions of Italy, 1-1, in the 85th minute. Then again, Italy almost always has a wretched first round – part of its charm.
In the very first match in Italy in 1990, Francois Omam-Biyik of Cameroon outjumped Roberto Sensini of Argentina for a header goal in the 67th minute for a 1-0 victory. (The Argentina coach yanked Sensini two minutes later.) Was this a huge upset? Not really. Ancient Roger Milla helped Cameroon become the first African team to reach the quarterfinals, and Argentina reached the finals.
In 1994, Ireland beat Italy, 1-0, in Giants Stadium in the first match. Once again, Italy had to stagger into the knockout round, eventually losing the final when two injured stars missed in the shootout.
In 1998, in France, talented Spain sauntered into a first match against Nigeria, and was out-run, 3-2, by Bora Milutinovic’s team. Spain did not reach the knockout round, its glory still a generation away.
In 2002 in South Korea, Zinedine Zidane pulled a thigh muscle in an exhibition against the aggressive Reds, and the lethargic defending champion, France, was stunned by its former colony, Senegal, 1-0, in the opening match, and did not survive the first round.
In 2006, Trinidad & Tobago, in its long-delayed World Cup debut, held Sweden to a 0-0 draw in the first round in Germany. When bonuses did not materialize, the Soca Warriors did not score in two straight losses.
In 2010, France, England and Italy all staggered to draws in their first matches in South Africa, and only England made it into the knockout round. All three were exposed as weary, disinterested or, in France’s case, mutinous.
From my eight World Cups, I have learned that national teams are all-star aggregations, thrown together a few weeks before the opening match. Very often, African teams have talent but struggle with financial and logistical issues. The U.S. cannot think about the losses to Ghana in 2006 and 2010 and must get 3 points from the first match. Then it will have to hold Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal to a draw, somehow. After that comes Germany, always talented and never nonchalant.
The U.S. will have to hope the other teams chew each other up in the first round. In the most recent World Cup, four teams advanced with 4 points.
The great thing about having a former champion like Klinsmann as coach is that he can, without boring his players, remind them of disasters and upsets he has seen in the World Cup. The first match is vital. The schedule:
Now if the U.S. can arrange a transplant of its back line.
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.