After der Bruder saying he didn’t understand why die Weltmeisterschaft was exciting, and then getting into a heated argument with my dad about why offsides was a reasonable rule, I decided to write a World Cup scavenger hunt. So whether you like ‘footy’ or not, you can easily waste time following this thing around. Also, this isn’t a purely Wikipedia scavenger hunt, but it’s the same idea.

The 19th Weltmeisterschaft, aka the FIFA World Cup, is being held in South Africa from June 11th to July 11th, 2010. The tournament is composed of 32 teams representing 32 countries and 6 continents, initially divided into 8 groups, named Group A through Group H.

For the 19th World Cup in a row, no team from Antarctica will be participating. However, 6 of the 7 countries with territorial claims in Antarctica are participating (sorry Norway).

World Cup qualification begins up to 3 years before the actual event. The world is divided into 6 qualifying regions: Africa, Asia, North and Central America and Caribbean, South America, Oceania, and Europe. FIFA determines how many teams from each region are selected, based on the strength of the teams participating in that region. 204 teams began in the competition, dwindling down to the 32 that started play on June 11th, 2010.

Groups A through H are determined in a two-step process. First, the top 7 teams and the host nation are placed in one pool. The remaining 24 teams are placed in 3 other pools. Each group is composed of selecting one team at random from each pool. There cannot be more than 2 European teams in any group, nor can there be more than one team from any other confederation in any group. The groups then play a Swiss-style tournament AKA a Round Robin tournament. The top two teams in each group advance to the Knockout Round, which is a 16 team single elimination tournament, in which ties are settled by extra time, and if that is not sufficient, a penalty shootout. This year’s final will be played on July 11th, 2010.

South Africa was chosen as the host nation for this World Cup. The people of South Africa descend from just about everywhere, including Netherlands, England, and other African nations. There are 11 official languages, with South African English being the 5th most popular. South Africans has had some racial divisions, which lasted a long time and generally made a huge mess of things. Thanks to some people, laws have been repealed, but damage is still visible.

The host nation has won the tournament 6 times, most recently in 1998. Uruguay won the first World Cup in 1930, and is one of 5 nations to win multiple World Cups (Brazil, West Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, Italy).

Brazil has won the most World Cups with 5. That’s a lot. Many of the Brazilian players, past and present, go by one name. This is not due to a shortage of names amongst those with Portuguese descent. It is a convention in Portuguese culture to refer to people by their nicknames in all situations, even the president.

Many know the game played in the World Cup as ‘football,’ but football is a very ambiguous term. Some games known as football include Rugby, American football, Canadian football, Australian rules football, and Gaelic football.

Hurling isn’t a kind of football, but it is totally insane.

Estimates as to the number of World Cup viewers seems to vary, but needless to say, it’s a lot. That’s why I feel obligated to explain the offside rule, which my dad despises so much. In order for a player to be offside, he must fulfill the following three conditions: he is ahead of the ball; there are fewer than 2 defenders even with or in front of him (where the goalkeeper is considered a defender); the player is in the opponent’s half of the field. Also, for offside to be called, the player must be ‘active’, meaning he is somehow involved in the developing play.

Offside is hard to judge by one person due to this.

Offside is a fairly common rule in several games, including American football and ice hockey, although in football it is enforced for a different reason. Basketball has a form of the offside rule as well. In those games, the offside line is clearly established, although infractions are still determined by the human eye. The hockey and soccer offside rules were established to prevent players from standing near the goal, looking for long passes. Offsides promotes creativity in the creation of goal scoring opportunities, and in the case of soccer, defensive strategies to trap offenders into an offside position.

Without offside, there would not really be the game of American football.

My dad still found the rule to be pretty dumb. I explained that all games have rules that seem ridiculous to novice observers. Then I had to think of some examples. The infield fly rule in baseball supposedly prevents the defense from converting an easy double play on a pop-up, but really, it saves a batter who just had a really crappy at bat. Oakland Raider fans could identify at least one rule they wish didn’t exist. Basketball promotes a strategy of fouling at the end of a game to try to close a deficit (in what other game is this possible?).

I couldn’t think of a good one for ice hockey.

Anyway, watch a World Cup game. And if it’s on too early for you, you can always catch a replay.


Die Weltmeisterschaft!

June 11, 2010

Heute ist die Weltmeisterschaft! I’m up at 840 here in Orange County to watch the second half of Mexico vs. Republic of South Africa, the host country. The host country has never lost the opening game in 19 tries. That’s kind of a crazy stat.

If you’re tuning in and wondering why a pack of hornets descended on the game, they actually didn’t. They’re these noisemakers that FIFA did not ban, despite considering it. It’s impossible to hear any chanting, cheering, etc., which sucks.

But whatever, it’s Cup time.

freeroll n. – from gambling, a situation in which you cannot lose money but can win money.

Last night, I read a few articles about the Flyers loss, and I started to get a little sick. Definitely not as sick as I would have gotten prior to 2008, but I still got pretty sick. The reason?


That was the common theme of everything I read. Everyone agreed that while it was disappointing that the Flyers lost, they really had no business being there, but they were, and that the season will be remembered for years to come. Seriously, someone really said that the Flyers run would be remembered years from now, and that the Blackhawks would just be another name on a cup.

To take a brief detour, here’s why that won’t be happening. First, this broke a 49 year cup drought for one of the largest hockey markets on the planet, and one of the original 6. They led the league last year in average attendance. Approximately 10.8 billion Blackhawk jerseys were sold last night. It will be cool to be a Blackhawks fan again. They have a young team, they’ll be around for a little while, and more importantly for jersey sales, they have cool jerseys. So we definitely will be seeing a whole lot more Blackhawks, even if people can’t remember the exact year they won the cup in a few years.

The Flyers, on the other hand, will be forgotten. This is sad but true. They had no defining moment, like the Primeau goal, to make this a memorable run. They had a historic comeback, but it was in the 2nd round, and ultimately, they lost the last game of the season. Teams that lose the last game of the season are rarely remembered. Will they be part of trivia questions and round one Quizzo questions in the Philadelphia area? Sure. But that’s probably it.

That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy them. I had fun watching game 7 of round 2 in a bar at the Showboat while a band of drunk people cheered raucously. Obviously it’s always fun to beat the Devils, but to particularly dominate them was extra fun. And trouncing the Canadiens is like trouncing the Yankees.

Which brings me back to the original topic: freerolling. Blogumnists are consoling themselves with the fact that this was a freeroll, and that it’s OK to lose those, because we had nothing to lose. The odds were so high against the Flyers that it was impossible to imagine them winning anyway, so when they didn’t, nothing lost.

I think that’s bullshit. When the season starts, the odds are stacked against every team. There are 30 teams in the NHL. If every team had a random shot at winning the cup, you’re 29:1 against. We know it’s not like that though, so let’s say there are 10 teams that have a chance to win the cup at the beginning of the season. We’re still talking about a 10% chance. Want to say 5? That’s 20%. You’re not exactly betting the ranch on that.

In poker, the guy who wins the tournament wins those freerolls. He gets those couple extra breaks that put him over the edge. It’s the same with sports.

The Blackhawks were freerolling too. At the beginning of the season, did Blackhawk fans reasonably expect to win the cup? Antii Niemi started 2 games last year. Their leading point getter was Martin Havlat, who played for a different team this year. And in the ultimate albatross move, they signed Marian Hossa, who had played on the last two Cup-losing teams.

So basically, the same was true for the Flyers and Blackhawks. It was incredibly unlikely that either would win the Finals at the start of the season (<10% let's say, although I'd be willing to move that to <5%). The Flyers couldn't even be the most losingest losers in the Finals. Nothing like taking your 35 year drought up against a 49 year drought in a drought-off.

Ultimately, the Flyers curse prevailed. If you look at previous Finals losses, you'll see that when you beat the Flyers, you're on the road to great things. It's really uncanny. The Canadiens beat the Flyers to start a 4 year Cup streak in 1976. In 1980, the Flyers returned to the Cup Finals to get the Islanders started in their 4 year reign. They didn't start the Oilers dynasty, but they basically co-hosted it, losing in 1985 and 1987 to them. But this feels most similar to the 1997 loss, when they lost to the Detroit Red Wings, who hadn't won a title in 42 years. They've won 3 additional cups since then. Those other seasons had magical runs and freerolls, but ended with a loss. That seems to be defining the Flyers, and I feel like somehow fans are taking solace in losing in a more dramatic way, which is strange to me. And the organization will probably say that they've taken great strides this year, or that it was a great year which didn't quite end the way they wanted it to. But really, they haven't, because they've lost the Cup Finals plenty of other times. They've just figured out a different way to get close and lose again. That's like re-engineering the Pinto so that it explodes differently.

So yes, there was entertaining hockey played later than usual in Philadelphia, which was exciting, but ultimately, no dice. I can't think of a better way to end a story about freerolling than with no dice.

Discovery: das Bier

June 9, 2010


We bought some 24 ounce Bud Lights for our stay in Palm Desert last weekend. 24ozs is a lot of fluid, and sometimes takes me a while to get through. With Bier, especially das Light-Bier, you don’t want to be drinking it warm, hence das Bier auf Eis. The last sip was just as cold and delicious as the first.

Tough life

June 5, 2010


Life is hard in California.


June 4, 2010

Nick tells me that is now on the banned list at his ultrasecret government compound. I couldn’t be prouder.

Now just a moment to discuss East Coast Bias. I don’t watch much TV in California, but when I do, it’s usually sports. It’s so strange watching big time events before or during dinner. For instance, the Stanley Cup Finals start at 5PM out here. The good news is that it’s probably easy to go out somewhere and watch a game. The bad news is that when it’s over, it’s 8PM and you’re drunk.

For the SCF, with no West Coast rooting interest, that seems reasonable. But the NBA finals came on last night at 6PM. Think about that from the fan perspective of attending the game. KDawg went to SCF game 3, and probably dodged a lot of traffic due to the 8PM start. Not so if you went to. LA for the during rush hour Finals start.

Besides the potential traffic problems, and me being the only person who cares about the Stanley Cup and having to say things like, ‘why don’t we wait til 845 for dinner?’ I like it. Sports are done around 9 or 10 at the latest. Baseball is no different, except that sometimes your team plays at 4 instead of sometimes playing at 10. Monday Night Football kicks off at 530. The World Series would be late ending at 930. Gives you a chance to wind down from a big win and actually get some sleep.

Gonna post some new shirts as soon as I see some samples. Have some cool designs ready to go.

Back for June

June 3, 2010

With the semester over, I thought I’d start posting more regularly. Last semester was a bear, but I won’t be TA’ing any more, nor will I be taking any more classes. That makes me ABD in the PhD world. Just time to work on that D.

I had a thought about the Phils, who have been struggling mightily of late. It’s an ugly one, but still a thought. During a series with the Rockies in the middle of May (10th-12th), one of the bullpen coaches was caught with binoculars. That’s a major no-no in baseball, because binoculars could be used to steal signs. The Phillies initially tried to defuse the whole thing by saying it wasn’t a big deal, then Amaro said that it is inappropriate, and Charlie Manuel said that the Mets do it too. The whole thing faded away much more quickly than I thought it would, given that the Phils were in the World Series the last two years.

Now the Phils can’t hit the ocean from a boat. If you look at the schedule, they had some offensive outbursts against the Brewers and the Pirates shortly after that. A quick standings check will tell you that those teams are really bad, and the Brewers especially have some terrible pitching. Beyond that though, there hasn’t been much offense at all. There are a ton of stats out there about how bad it’s been for the Phils, but the short version is that it’s been bad.

Obviously it’s possible that the Phillies are in some kind of historic slump, and that they’re missing their ringleader, Jimmy Rollins, or any one of a number of other excuses they could come up with. But I think this sign stealing thing shouldn’t be overlooked. A couple of well-timed stolen signs can make a really big difference. And when you were caught in a pretty obvious way with binoculars, maybe you decide to lay low for a while. I don’t know, just a thought.