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Mid-July? Sports Scene Hits Bottom, Bounces Back Big

July 22nd, 2018 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers, Football, France, Golf, Motor racing, soccer, World Cup

The nadir was Wednesday morning, July 18.

As I rolled out of bed, this is what was in the “scoreboard” bar of the homepage:

–The final score of the baseball All-Star game.

–A result from an NBA summer league game.

–And two scores from the WNBA. Yes, which still exists.

And that was it. Those were your North American/global sports highlights, the hottest news out there. Making things worse? Nothing significant was scheduled for the whole of Wednesday, July 18.

Which left me sad and bored. And rediscovering, again, that the low ebb for the generic sports fan is not the week leading up to Christmas … it is the third week of July.

It was a day of realizing that several major events had recently finished, but it also could have served as a wake-up call for some big things about to amuse us.

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Your 2018-19 Lakers: LeBron and the Kids

July 19th, 2018 · No Comments · Basketball, Lakers, NBA

Hmm. Not sure it was supposed to work out like this.

Well, then again, maybe it was, once unrestricted free agent Paul George re-signed with Oklahoma City.

If the Lakers were intent on providing LeBron James with a superstar-level wing man for his debut season in Los Angeles, and they were trying, it was going to have to be a free agent.

Otherwise, it was going to cost them some of their rising stars and maybe a draft pick or two.

Rising stars? Talking Brandon Ingram. Lonzo Ball. Kyle Kuzma. Josh Hart. Some multiple of those four would have disappeared, in a world where the Lakers had to make a trade for, say, Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors yesterday, with San Antonio getting DeMar DeRozan and a first-round draft pick.

And that cuts short the notion that the Lakers can climb right back into contention for a championship … even with LeBron on the team.

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Day 2 of the Two-Star Era: France Celebrates

July 16th, 2018 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, France, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

No one will ever accuse France of not sufficiently celebrating its second World Cup championship.

Quicker than you can say “Kylian Mbappe”, every piece of national-team apparel seemed to have that second star on it.

For those not familiar with the “star” system in international football, a team is entitled to wear on the jersey, above the badge, a star for each World Cup championship it has won.

Brazil has five stars. It looks like a constellation. Germany and Italy have four each.

France now has two, and as of the final whistle in Moscow yesterday, you can buy a team shirt with dual stars on it, just above the national chicken. (OK, a cockerell.) You probably can assume it costs more than the one-star version of same.

France kicked out the jams today, going to great lengths to celebrate the 4-2 victory over Croatia.

Consider: When the day began, the team was in Moscow. When it ended, it was in Paris. Along with hundreds of thousands of ecstatic fans.

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Today’s List: The Five Best World Cup Finals

July 15th, 2018 · No Comments · Football, France, Lists, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

Russia 2018 is over. It was France 4, Croatia 2 in the championship match, and the final whistle had barely been blown before some pundits were suggesting it was the best World Cup final in the history of the event.

Granted, six goals is a good place to start. That is as many goals as were produced by eight teams over the previous four finals. But just because our soccer standards had been debased by a scoring drought doesn’t mean we swoon at 4-2.

Quantity does not always overpower quality, and saying this match was the best out of what now has been 21 finals … not ready to go there.

Which means it is about time for a list.

My Five Best World Cup Finals!

We will do this in reverse order, starting with the fifth-best and ending with the best.

Here we go!

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Croatia Needs to Get a Goal

July 14th, 2018 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, France, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

A twist on a post from last week.

I wanted a France-England final to the 2018 World Cup, and I think most soccer fans did, too, and I posted to that effect. The headline to that one was: Croatia Needs to Get Out of the Way

Since I went unheeded by Croatia, which came back from a goal down to defeat England 2-1 in extra time, let’s try this another way.

The headline, above, reflects my fear that France and its ultra-cautious coach, Didier Deschamps, could turn the final into the same sort of dreary event we saw in the semifinals: France 1, Belgium 0, Fans Forgotten.

After that match, frustrated and unhappy that France bunkered in after its one goal, Belgium’s Eden Hazard said: “I would rather lose with Belgium than win with France.”

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Soccer Blights: Diving and Referee Abuse

July 13th, 2018 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

Most of the 2018 World Cup has been entertaining. Or at least interesting. Not often we get to see the likes of Iceland, Morocco, Egypt and Panama in the tournament, and see what they are all about.

A case can be made that many of the traditional powers had crummy tournaments — and we are looking at you, Germany, Argentina and Spain. The inability of the teams from North America, Africa and Asia to compete evenly with the Europeans and South Americans … is an ongoing problem.

But the biggest concerns are more basic and more easily seen by even the most casual of fans: Abuse of referees, and the blight of “simulation” — that is, diving; that is, cheating — and Fifa does not seem interested in fixing those two glaring problems.

First, referee abuse.

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Croatia Needs to Get Out of the Way

July 11th, 2018 · 1 Comment · English Premier League, Fifa, Football, France, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

I have no personal beefs with Croatia.

I was there once, for part of a day, as a member of the U.S. journalists’ traveling party heading for the Sarajevo Winter Olympics, in 1984.

We flew from New York to Zagreb, and then organizers put us on buses to downtown Zagreb, where we were seated at a white-table-cloth restaurant in a fine old hotel that no doubt dated back to the Habsburgs.

Zagreb was dark and dreary, and dirty snow was in the gutters, but this was February 1984, and we didn’t expect much more from the place.  Zagreb and the rest of Croatia were part of Yugoslavia, at the time; the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

My recollection is that we had a fine lunch. (And also were under-dressed.) Then we were taken to the Zagreb train station to pick up “the Olympic Express”, which was to take us the final few hours to Sarajevo.

I don’t think it was the fault of Croatia that the train was hours and hours late, and that the waiting room sat about 12 people, all of whom were chain-smoking locals, and the journalists were forced to pace the platform to stay warm/alive. A train did show up, eventually, but many of my colleagues were stinking drunk by then and comported themselves with less dignity than usual, and perhaps we were lucky the authorities in Zagreb had not swept up all of us till everyone was sober again.

So, no. No real issues with Croatia. In fact, I would like to see Dubrovnik some day.

All I want from Croatia … is to see them go out of the World Cup tonight in their semifinal match with England.

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The Making of an American Soccer Guy

July 9th, 2018 · 1 Comment · Budapest, Fifa, Football, Newspapers, Russia 2018, soccer, Sports Journalism, World Cup

I never played soccer as a child. Never saw a match. Didn’t own a soccer ball. Never knew anyone who followed the game.

The extent of my pre-adult exposure to soccer probably was occasional videotape on ABC’s Wide World of Sports; presumably World Cup highlights; lots of Pele.

By the early 1980s, I was the sports editor of a newspaper, and for fun I occasionally mocked soccer and the failing North American Soccer League. I suggested the “spotted ball” game was (and always would be) for foreigners. “As American as borscht,” I wrote. “A game John Wayne would never play.”

Yet by 1989 I would be in a heaving soccer stadium in Port of Spain, Trinidad, covering The Shot Heard Round the World, a would-be expert and explainer of a game I had ridiculed only a few years before.

As we prepare this week for the semifinals of Russia 2018, for my own amusement I am going to attempt to remember how I got from soccer skeptic to (would be) soccer savant.

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England and World Cup Trophy: ‘Coming Home’?

July 8th, 2018 · No Comments · English Premier League, Football, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

England and its relationship to its soccer team has mostly been unhealthy since, say, 1966 — when England won its first and only World Cup championship.

During the 30 years that I covered international soccer, 1986 to 2015, I saw England and its team muddle through the same scenario every four years.

It was an arc of unrealistic expectations, many of them stoked by overly optimistic English journalists … followed by disappointment at a big event … which fermented into fan and media anger toward the players … followed by a search for a scapegoat or three (starting with the coach, generally) … followed by English fans/journalists vowing never again to let themselves be deluded into thinking England was anything but a fringe player on the world soccer stage … and England fans would never give a fig about them every again.

And then it would start all over again, and in four years all of England would have talked themselves around to winning it all again.

Which brings us to the current World Cup, Russia 2018, where England has advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 1990.

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Big Belgium Ousts Bitsy Brazil

July 6th, 2018 · No Comments · Brazil 2014, Fifa, Football, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

What a curious match Brazil versus Belgium turned out to be.

It was a sort of soccer experiment:

“What would happen if 11 crazy-fast Munchkins with elite technical skills … met up with 11 mostly big and beefy guys with decent technique but marginal speed and quickness?”

The soccer scientists perhaps could have chosen a less significant event than a quarterfinal match at the World Cup to answer the question, above, but since Fifa scheduled the thing, calling it Brazil versus Belgium …

And the answer is?

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