On the 12th anniversary of the Great Soccer Scam, the World Cup ended Group Play, which sounds like something in kindergarten.
However, FIFA ain’t no child’s play.
The reason this World Cup is in Qatar (and was based in Russia in 2018) is because Sepp Blatter, the head goniff of the time, presided over a fixed election – based on packets of $100 bills being distributed to delegates-on-the-take, on Dec. 2, 2010.
As a result, we have just had two weeks of group play in stadiums plopped up all over Qatar—not exactly a scenic and historic World Cup where stadiums are based in, let’s say, Rome-Florence-Milan-Turin-Naples-Cagliari-Genoa-Bari-Udine-Verona-Bologna-Palermo, as in 1990.
One match Friday was held in Stadium 974 –sounds like some ticking desert once used for atomic testing.
That said, Group Play in Qatar had its moments, and now the U.S, is playing the Netherlands at 10 AM Saturday in some stadium. The Yanks have a chance to win, according to Jaap DeGroot, famous Dutch sports columnist. (Jaap once fixed me up with an interview in Genoa with Ruud Gullit, magical Dutch player, so I say he knows his stuff.)
The hopes of the U.S. depend on Christian Pulisic recovering from a pelvic bone bruise (this hurts even to type) suffered Tuesday in a goal-line collision after he had nudged in a crucial goal.
The progress of the U.S. might be one of the major themes of change in the World Cup, even though the U.S. has not been overly impressive – Eleven Players in Search of a Striker.
One of the best results in Group Play is the total of seven victories by African teams; the previous total was four. Senegal and Morocco made it into group play and Cameroon, Tunisia and Ghana all had their moments. Cameroon beat Brazil, 1-0, on a late goal Friday but it was not enough to move into the knockout round.
Overall, African fans made this World Cup buzz with their upbeat rooting and bright costumes.
I loved every view of Senegal’s coach, Aliou Cisse, (he’s got Richard Pryor eyes), the star of the 2002 surprise team, and Cameroon’s coach, Rigobert Song, with his long black sport coat on the sidelines, looked like a latter-day Johnny Cash (“The Man in Black.”)
Another high point has been the pair of JP Dellacamera, longtime American broadcaster, and Cobi Jones, the all-time American leader in caps (international matches). Other pairs talked too loud and too much, with overkill of professorial intonations – TMI -- but JP and Cobi maintained conversational level and did not overload with details.
Cobi never, never, brought up his 164 caps, but he could pick up subtle changes on the field – how Luka Modric, field leader of Croatia, shifted gears, moved the ball around, played offense and defense.
One favorite moment: Among the cast of thousands in the Fox broadcast team was Carli Lloyd, recently retired star of Women’s World Cups and Olympic Games. In a halftime blather-fest, the screen showed a player totally missing a wide-open goal, and Lloyd blurted, “I’d knock that in.” Her male counterparts howled at her proud-jock comment, but nobody disputed her.
After a while, the games tended to blur. Germany and Belgium both seemed to be running in quicksand, and are gone. Japan and South Korea showed game poise and heart. Our esteemed regional neighbors, Mexico and Costa Rica, were way past it, and Canada did not look anything like the squad that cuffed the U.S. around during qualifying.
Brazil and Argentina, France and Spain are still around.
I miss the Azzurri and the Italian anthem. Is it really a World Cup without Italy?
Then again, maybe they’ll qualify in four more years. Heck, everybody qualifies. The current boss of FIFA, the shifty Gianni Infantino, has engineered a change from 32 qualifying teams to 48 teams in North America in 2026. Y’all come.
As I type this, 16 hours before match time, the United States is still in the World Cup.
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.