World Cup Preview

I’m finally done with finals so its time for a bit of fun. I love the World Cup and I have been looking forward to this one since the last one in 2010. I love not only the football but also the mixing of cultures and the general sense of world unity that comes out of the tournament. It’s in Brazil this time, a country rich in footballing history and culture. I am confident that Brazil will provide a fantastic stage for some exhibitions of world-class footie. I do also hope that the Brazilian government resolves all the problems favorably for both sides so that civil unrest not mar the tournament.

If nothing else, at least the annoying vuvuzuelas at the matches will be replaced with kick-ass samba drums.

The domestic seasons are over or almost over. The teams have qualified, the group stages have been drawn, and now most of the players have been selected. Let’s play some footie! I’m not going to talk about all 32 teams here, mostly because I don’t know enough about all 32 teams to provide decent analysis of their chances this summer. Plus, ain’t nobody got time to read in-depth analysis about all 32 teams. I am only going to do a few. Lets do the Americans first since most of my readers are Americans.  

USA

Before I discuss the current squad, I want to recognize the massive strides forward the Americans have made as a national side and both as a footballing country. The sport has never been more popular in this country, and I think more and more Americans are following football than they used to. 25 years ago the Americans were a joke of a national side, but that is no longer the case. There is still a long way to go before they are realistic challengers for the World Cup, but any team who dismisses the Americans do so at their own peril. The Americans have a good manager in Jurgen Klinsmann and a solid overall tactical plan. One little gripe: I refuse to call the American national team “USMNT”. That looks like US-Mutant Ninja Turtles, not US-Men’s National Team. The acronym is dumb. Get rid of it and go with Team USA or something. 

Anyway, let’s talk about their chances in Brazil. Once again, the luck of the draw did not help the Americans. Similar to what happened in 2006 in Germany, the Americans got drawn into what’s known as a Group of Death. Included in the Americans group are perennial favorites Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and one of the better African teams, Ghana. Now, the chances of the Americans getting a victory against Germany or Portugal are rather slim, given the quality of those two teams. A winning result against Ghana will be key. If the Americans beat Ghana and scrap a draw from either Germany or Portugal, they have a small shot at getting out of the group.

The play of the American veterans, such as Dempsey and Donovan, will be of the utmost importance. It is likely the last World Cup for the both of them, and if they want to go out on a high note they are going to have to play their very best. Michael Bradley will also be a key player, as he is America’s best box-to-box midfielder and will have to be in charge of trying to slow down silky Portugal and the buzz-saw death machine that is Germany. The American back four (defense) worry me as well. There is a shortage of options for them at right back, something players like Ronaldo and Tomas Muller will be happy to exploit. The Americans should park all 11 men in front of the goal and then try and hit those two teams on the counter-attack. Some fast wingers will be key for that strategy. Even with that strategy tho, I don’t realistically see the Americans progressing out of the group stage.

But here’s something about Americans that I don’t think many Americans realize. Whether it’s going to the moon or winning a football match, Americans always have this belief about themselves that they can do something. No matter how tall the odds are, Americans always believe they can achieve what they want to achieve. This is not some patriotic, wave-the-flag bullshit because I live in America. This is something I and non-Americans that I talk to have observed. Self-belief can be the difference between victory and defeat in a closely-contested football match, and truth be told I wish England shared that same mentality. 

Anyway USA, keep up the good work. You guys are halfway up the mountain and I fully believe the Americans will become World Cup contenders in my lifetime. 2014 just may not be your year. Keep watching and keep playing, and you will see your national team become better and better.

England

Oh boy. I don’t even know where to start. England has the opposite problem America has. We’ve got bags of fantastically talented players but the national mentality, which is dictated by the English press, is overall very negative and expectations could not be lower for England this summer. We got robbed of a goal against Germany in the last world cup in South Africa and our already-pessimistic attitude got even worse. We also had a mediocre showing at Euro 2012, losing once again on penalties. The people of England are desperate for a bit of success at a World Cup, since the last and only time we won it was almost 50 years ago. Here’s an analogy to help Americans understand England’s problems: think of England and its supporters as the Chicago Cubs and its fans. Neither team has won anything for a very long time and as a result the fans of both teams are crying out for anything positive. 

England is also in a bit of a group of death of it’s own, having to contend with Luis Suarez and Uruguay, Andrea Pirlo and Italy, and a Costa Rica side eager to play spoiler to the bigger countries. We will also have to soundly beat Costa Rica and fight for a draw against Uruguay and Italy, then hope we get out of the group. England’s biggest problems, to me, are 1) a lack of a sound overall tactical plan, and 2) everyone reacting so negatively every time England lose. If we solved either one of those problems, our chances of doing well at tournaments increase dramatically.

There is a silver lining to all of this pessimism. England, at this point, likely cannot sink any lower. The manager Roy Hodgson knows this and he has wisely chosen young, energetic, and talented players for the squad instead of going with more experienced but less in-form players. Playing younger players is a gamble, but its a gamble worth taking since we have nothing to lose.

I say we unleash our youthful attacking talents like Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Daniel Sturridge, and Danny Welbeck and just let them run at Uruguay and Italy’s back four. Uruguay can score a lot of goals to be sure, but they also allow in a lot of goals. I hope to see Gerrard as a holding midfielder who plonks himself in front of the back four and distributes the ball to the wingers who can get at opposing fullbacks. Put the big target man Lambert in the box with Rooney in behind him and let the wingers ping crosses in all day. That’s what I want to see. 

If England does anything at all positive this World Cup, it will be considered a success. The bar is that low at this point. I think they’re chances of progressing out of the group are only slightly better than the American’s chance of getting out of theirs. 

Brazil

The hosts and favorites to win the whole thing. They’re playing Brazilian-style football again thanks to their manager Luis Felipe Scolari, and they have a superstar in Neymar to run their attacks through. Brazil has suffered a relative dip in form at the past two tournaments, a “dip” in the sense that they didn’t win them. Brazil hold the record for most World Cups won and I think in 2014 they are back to that standard. The whole country will be rocking and Brazil will be very very difficult for anyone to beat once the goals start flying in. Scolari has picked a young, dynamic side with creativity in midfield and solidity in defense. There are some question marks over the goalkeepers, but that’s really about it. Brazil are a very good side and it will take something special to knock them off their high from winning the Confederations Cup last summer. They should have little to no trouble taking down Cameroon and Mexico (a team that is a complete enigma at this point). Croatia will be a more difficult task, but still well-within Brazil’s capabilities. 

Spain

The defending champions and the main threat to Brazil, along with Argentina and Germany. Vincente Del Bosque has gone the opposite route of Brazil and England, opting for experience over youth. Spain will be sour after losing the Confederations Cup final to Brazil, but as the current World and European champions everyone will be gunning for Spain. Everyone likes to take shots at the throne and Spain will have to be at their very best to win this World Cup. Along with the usual blockbuster midfield players like Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Busquets, and Juan Mata they have also brought a world class centre-forward with them this time in Diego Costa who will provide exactly what Spain were missing at the Confederations Cup. Sometimes all the passing around the midfield works, but Spain have figured out sometimes you just need a big dude in the box to cross the ball into. Special shout-out to Manchester United’s own David De Gea for being called up to play!

The Spanish do have to contend with 2010 runners-up the Netherlands and an energetic Chile side in their group which makes their group harder than Brazil’s. Again though if Spain come out and play their game like they know how to then they should have no problem challenging for the World Cup for a second time. 

Other Favorites to Watch – Germany, Argentina

Dark Horses – Belgium, France

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. World Cup 2014 kicks off on June 12th!!!!!

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Free Speech, Donald Sterling, and Racist Assholes

Knocking out two birds with one stone here. I have my Con Law II final to study for, with free speech being one of the main subjects I have to know. I wanted to take some time to clarify what “freedom of speech” means because I don’t think most Americans fully understand.

Let’s clear this Sterling nonsense up first. In my opinion, the bigger scandal is his repeated mistreatment of the minority tenants in the buildings he owns, but that’s an issue for another time. Let’s focus on the more recent scandal. While Sterling has been almost universally condemned by everyone as a racist, there are still some uneducated elements out there claiming his right to free speech has been violated. Put simply, that is wrong. A First Amendment, freedom of speech violation is only actionable under the Constitution if a government body is the one violating the speech. Adam Silver and the National Basketball Association are not associated in any way with the federal/state/local government, so Sterling receiving a lifetime ban for saying racist things is perfectly allowable under the Constitution. Sterling may have a cause of action under the NBA by-laws or California statute, but Constitution-wise he’s got nothing.

Yes, Sterling does have freedom of speech like every other person in America. However, while freedom of speech guarantees your right to say certain things, it does not save you from facing backlash if you say something unpopular. Sterling can say what he wants (more or less), but he must also realize the consequences of saying certain things.The most relevant case to note regarding Sterling is Virginia v. Black, which essentially says that racist statements/conduct are permissible as long as there is no “true threat” accompanying the racist statement. That of course is a bit of a gray standard, but I really want to drive home the fact that it is not a crime for a private citizen to be openly racist in America. Europeans might have a hard time understanding that, mostly because many European countries (UK, Germany, Spain, France) have laws that ban racist statements and racist speech. In Europe, you can be criminally charged with racism, something I think to be a very radical concept. If Sterling had said what he said in a country in western Europe, he not only would have been banned and fined, he likely would be arrested too after the appropriate investigation.

There’s a bit of irony within the free speech laws. I find it highly interesting that if it weren’t for racist assholes like Sterling in the past then our free speech laws would likely be very different. For example, your right to openly advocate for the overthrowing of the American government is now protected thanks to a racist asshole named Clarence Brandenburg, a KKK leader who challenged an Ohio statute that banned talking about overthrowing the government. His case became Brandenburg v. Ohio and is now a leading free speech case. The same thing happened with Barry Black, an ironically-named KKK leader from Virginia who challenged the state statute on cross burning. The Court upheld his right to burn as many crosses as he wants, as long as there is no intent to intimidate anybody by doing it. Justice Thomas disagreed with that standard in his dissent, but that is still good law and it comes from the aforementioned Virginia v. Black. One more racist asshole example: the petitioner in RAV v. City of St. Paul. I couldn’t find his name, but the plaintiffs in that case were teen-aged wannabe KKK members who burned a cross on a black family’s lawn. The Court didn’t like the St. Paul statute against cross burning because it banned a specific practice, and the Court does not like viewpoint restrictions.

Whether you think these rulings are wise or not, you can thank assholes like Brandenburg, Black, and the petitioners in RAV for being the loudest proponents of freedom of speech in the past few decades. In fact, I hate to write it but I probably owe a little bit of thanks specifically to Brandenburg, as I have openly advocated for overthrowing of the federal government in the past. Had his case not gone to the Supreme Court, it’s possible I might have gotten into some hot water for making those statements. Of course he and I would incite rebellion for vastly different reasons, but the idea of advocating for rebellion is more or less protected thanks to him. Racist prick.