Thursday, July 22, 2021

The hate engendered by football

The European Championships were great but unfortunately the tournament was accompanied by the eternal problem of bad fans, nationalism and racism. The fans that were most widely discussed were the English fans with their booing of national anthems, breaking into Wembley stadium for the final, and the racist abuse against England players following the final. This appears as just a continuation of decades, many decades, of problems with English football fans (for many years I had a problem supporting English teams at all, still do, mostly because I connected English football directly with the hooliganism of the 1980s, when I started watching football), so this should not be that surprising. However, the problem of these "bad fans" is hardly only an English problem; booing at national anthems happens in every stadium and racism continues being rampant all over footballing Europe, becoming more evident with social media. I am still convinced the vast majority of football fans, English and beyond, are decent people, even the ones that behave in this way!

What is the problem then?

Football is a simple game of kicking a ball in an "us-against-them" contest. While idiots exist in all societies, the simple premise of the game attracts a higher proportion of idiots among the population. Idiocy tends to be enlarged by emotional events such as a football match; add nationalism and a media that pours gasoline on a fire rather than building bridges (including social media, but certainly not excluding the traditional media), and you get the perfect cocktail for idiots to do their thing, while the rest of people wonder who the hell those idiots are!!!???

As a fan I understand the passion: I have also experienced moments of intense disappointment, of injustice, of hating the other team when they score a goal. However, a minimum level of intelligent human beings should realize that these are fleeting emotions that cannot define our lives. That would be idiocy!

I have had long periods of disappointment with football (as I have also shown in this blog), and these were mostly caused by the intensity of hate that I have repeatedly experienced in football: Hate towards other teams, players, fans, countries, races...  I still have a really hard time not seeing football as a sport of hate, but I do love the game, the passion and occasional fraternity between fans (that we fortunately also saw in this tournament, but is in my view all too rare), and have decided that I will try to ignore, as far as possible, all these idiots that are a scar not only on football, but to society at large.

Idiots.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Champions League qualifier for FC Midtjylland

 After a fantastic European Championship (which far exceeded expectation), football continues: the Gold Cup is currently taking place in North-, Central-America and the Caribbean, and some exciting women's football is to start in the Olympic games. More interestingly, leagues are quietly starting (the Danish Superliga having started this week, and other interesting leagues to start a new season in the following month) including Champions league qualifiers.

With Brøndby winning the Danish League they are to have a play-off match to qualify to the Champions League. In the meantime the runners-up from FC Midtjylland also get an option to qualify to the Champions league starting in the second round play-offs of the League Path (whose losers will get into either the qualifying or league stages of the Europa League). Last night I watched FC Midtjylland play the first leg of their attempt to qualify in an away match to Celtic in Glasgow.

1-1 was an excellent result for the team from Herning (even though the away-goal rule has been eliminated) against a Celtic side that nevertheless were the better team in the first half, were leading 1-0 on a goal by the young Israeli Liel Abada, but made it all more difficult for themselves when Nir Bitton received a second booking for reacting angrily to Anders Dreyer's apparent dive. During his participation in the match Bitton appeared way too angry; his first booking had been after an overly eager tackle after which he looked like he was going to murder someone, and the card was well-deserved when he should have kept his head cold. In the meantime Dreyer appeared only too happy to have provoked Bitton's card; he received a card for his dive, and in the second half received a second half for exactly the same reason in a situation that was surely not a dive, but the Swiss referee appeared too eager to punish him for something.

10 against 10 opened a bit more the match, but Celtic never became overly dominant in the second half, where Evander equalized on an excellent free-kick. The will face each other in Herning in one week.

Monday, July 12, 2021

The finals

I had a long trip from San Salvador to Denmark, but I managed to watch this weekend's two great football finals where the home teams, each in their own legendary stadium, lost to the away side.

The Copa America final on Saturday at Maracana Stadium between Brazil and Argentina, was won 0-1 by the Argentineans through an excellent first half strike by Angel di Maria. The Brazilians were not bad, and managed to put some pressure on Argentina in the second half, but in the end the Argentine defense stood strong and Argentina even had the biggest chances for a greater victory.

Argentina's first international title since 1993, and the first time Lionel Messi, losing three finals before this one, had taken a title with his national team, so in every way this was a special (and well-deserved) victory for the Argentineans.

On the European championship final: much of England had for days been prematurely announcing that football would come home, hardly aware that football is already home everywhere else in the world. And this kind of premature celebrations hardly win any sympathy: while the English were (understandably) disappointed most of the world (including myself) celebrated Italy's European Championship triumph.

Having watched the match, England should be disappointed: they went ahead 1-0 after only two minutes on a goal by one of the tournament's best players, Luke Shaw. England kept playing well, but slowly Italy got more comfortable on the pitch, while England, oddly, retreated more and more to defend their lead. One can only feel that they should have kept pressure, trying to close the deal, instead of more or less openly inviting Italy back into the match. 

The Italians do not say no to an invitation and Leonardo Bonucci's second half equalizer was fully deserved as England totally left the match to the splendidly unforgiving Italians.

As  extra time was approaching its end Gareth Southgate made some curious changes, clearly aimed at putting in the kickers for a nerve-wrecking penalty kick contest: Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho came in at the end, and it were exactly those two who missed for England after they had been put in a golden position by Pickford's save of Andrea Belotti's kick. Even though Jorginho missed another for Italy, the only 19-year old Bukayo Saka did not have the nerves to make a proper kick, which was saved by the best player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma (only 22-years old, he may well become one of the best goalkeepers in footballing history), giving Italy their second European champion's title, the first being in 1968.

The most talented young players from England were punished for their infinite talent, and that was the most heartbreaking thing in a final won by the best team of the tournament.

Italy was the best team of the tournament as a whole; a solid, attacking team, scoring most goals (alongside Spain) and with one of the best defensive records, they showed few weak points. All in all, a splendid team, and I reiterate that I find this the best Italy side I have ever seen.

England, in the meantime, won few friends: granted, they played the tournament with the cynical planning required to win a tournament; winning, but not impressing, with a strong defense and some extremely talented players. That said, they seemed too calculating, too careful, despite their immense talent, something that only became too obvious in the final. 

But more than the team, the English fans won no friends in the rest of the world. The vast, vast majority of English fans are good, decent hardworking people (like the vast majority of fans in the world), but they retain a greater minority of brainless hooligans than anywhere else in the world, and their society seems in total denial that they exist: booing at national anthems, using lasers against opposing sides, insults and spits, were sadly overshadowed by the fans storming Wembley before the match and most of all by the racist insults suffered by English players after the defeat.

Who the hell wants to win with supporters like that...?

I have never supported England and never will, but I understand the greatest disappointment that real English fans may feel (even in their denial): that their team's achievement of reaching a final will forever be overshadowed by the memory of the idiotic few ruining the party of the many.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

When winning is secondary

Today's semifinal match between England and Denmark was a dramatic fight between the English home-stars and the hard-fighting Danes. The result of 2-1 for England was perhaps not as surprising as how it happened: Denmark taking the lead on a spectacular free kick goal by the young Mikkel Damsgaard and then an own-goal equalizer by Simon Kjaer, before the game went into extra time, where a very weak penalty call gave Harry Kane the chance to score the winner for England after he caught the rebound from Kasper Schmeichel's save. 

Denmark lost with their heads held high. It is of course always disappointing to lose, but if this great tournament has shown anything, it is that winning is secondary. 

What happened to Christian Eriksen in the match against Finland should have underlined the forgotten truth in our post-COVID world: football is not why we celebrate, it is our excuse to celebrate together! Danish fans have every reason to celebrate and be proud of their team and of themselves; decent and hardworking people who just want to enjoy a friendly contest!

Just as the vast majority of fans all over the world.

Maybe it was not a penalty; maybe England did not deserve the victory (I think they did), but in the end it does not matter much, and I am just happy I have been able to enjoy this tournament and a Danish National team that in my view are as much champions as the legendary teams of 1986 and 1992!

For many people it will be impossible to support England in the final: it was disappointing that many English fans booed the Danish national anthem, and as often happens, English media appears only too happy to pour gasoline on the fire of nationalism that sadly continues to haunt football. I will certainly support Italy: I love how they are playing and the joy that some players (notably Chiellini) appear to have at playing.

I hope it will be a great final, and whoever wins will be a great winner (because just as there are bad losers, there are really bad winners), and that fans will celebrate the sport that brings us together, so that we can all be champions!

In the meantime I shall have a beer to celebrate the champions from Denmark!

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Emiliano Martinez' taunts

Argentina and Colombia played a good semifinal match in the Copa America tonight. Argentina went ahead 1-0 early in the game by Lautaro Martinez after some poor Colombian defending, but had few other chances in a close first half. In the second half Colombia dominated and got the equalizer on an excellent goal by Porto's Luis Diaz, and despite good chances for both teams, the match ended 1-1 and went directly to penalty kicks (Copa America has not been playing with extra time).

The curious thing about the penalty contest was that there were microphones very close to the players, and one could hear everything the goalkeepers and players said as the kicks were taken. Napoli's David Ospina was quiet, but the same was not the case for Emiliano Martinez, the Argentinean goalkeeper who plays in Aston Villa (and is apparently a close friend of Ospina from their time at Arsenal): he continually taunted the Colombians as they were going to kick, and it appeared to work! After Davinson Sanchez and Rodrigo de Paul had missed for Colombia and Argentina respectively, Yerry Mina missed following a heated exchange with Martinez, where the latter said "I know you, Boludo", and went on to save the kick. When Edwin Cardona made the last kick for Colombia Martinez continued heavy taunting, so much that the referee went up to him and said "no swearing" (which I find very amusing, as swearing is very common in football), but in the end he saved Cardona's kick, giving the Argentines the victory without needing to use their last kick.

Emiliano Martinez surely turned out as the star of the match, both for his goalkeeping skills, but surely also for his foul mouth!

Argentina will face Brazil in the final of the Copa America.