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.
More and More, I Talk to the Dead--Margaret Renkl
NASHVILLE — After my mother died so suddenly — laughing at a rerun of “JAG” at 10 p.m., dying of a hemorrhagic stroke by dawn — I dreamed about her night after night. In every dream she was willfully, outrageously alive, unaware of the grief her death had caused. In every dream relief poured through me like a flash flood. Oh, thank God!
Then I would wake into keening grief all over again.
Years earlier, when my father learned he had advanced esophageal cancer, his doctor told him he had perhaps six months to live. He lived far longer than that, though I never thought of it as “living” once I learned how little time he really had. For six months my father was dying, and then he kept dying for two years more. I was still working and raising a family, but running beneath the thin soil of my own life was a river of death. My father’s dying governed my days.
After he died, I wept and kept weeping, but I rarely dreamed about my father the way I would dream about my mother nearly a decade later. Even in the midst of calamitous grief, I understood the difference: My father’s long illness had given me time to work death into the daily patterns of my life. My mother’s sudden death had obliterated any illusion that daily patterns are trustworthy.
Years have passed now, and it’s the ordinariness of grief itself that governs my days. The very air around me thrums with absence. I grieve the beloved high-school teacher I lost the summer after graduation and the beloved college professor who was my friend for more than two decades. I grieve the father I lost nearly 20 years ago and the father-in-law I lost during the pandemic. I grieve the great-grandmother who died my junior year of college and the grandmother who lived until I was deep into my 40s.
Some of those I grieve are people I didn’t even know. How can John Prine be gone? I hear his haunting last song, “I Remember Everything,” and I still can’t quite believe that John Prine is gone.
Jan. 30, 2023