We’re Ghana miss you

They clearly deserved a lot better than going down 3-0 today.

Too bad Essien was not on the field : the lack of skilled shooters on Ghana’s part (and an horrendous call by an otherwise pretty good referee) doomed what could have been a tremendous upset.

Here’s hoping Spain or France send this cocky, overrated Brazilian team back home next Saturday.

World Cup: Furor Yugoslavica

Yugoslavia used to have a hell of a team. They were regular visitors to the World Cup, advancing to the elimination rounds more often than not. They went to the quarter finals in 1990, and there are plenty of Serbs and Croats who will tell you that they actually came within a whisker of winning it all. They got knocked out by a wildly erratic and penalty-prone Argentine team that went on to lose the final against Germany. If they’d beaten Argentina… well, you have to believe that the Yugoslavs could have gone on to beat both Italy and Germany. This seems unlikely, especially given that Germany had whipped them 4-1 a couple of weeks earlier. But 1990 was a deeply strange year, so who knows.

Yugoslav football was on a rising arc all through the 1980s; rising interest in the sport, plus rigorous state-sponsored training programs, produced a “golden generation” of players starting around 1985. Unfortunately, Yugoslavia imploded just as these guys were reaching their peak. They ended up scattered among half a dozen different countries, with several of the best trapped behind sanction walls and unable to compete in international play. If the country had stayed together, the Yugoslav team would surely have been a serious contender in ’94, ’98, and ’02.

Anyway. Yugoslavia used to be quite something. How are the successor states likely to fare?
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Change in Germany

John Kornblum, former US Ambassador in Berlin, knows a thing or two about Germany from his forty years’ acquaintance with the country.

In a nation traumatized by violent upheavals, voters seem to demand an emotional insurance policy before accepting change. This insurance must promise that new methods will not undermine the social and economic stability, which is so important to their special postwar sense of self.

New ideas must be sold as not really changing anything. Change must be seen as a method of strengthening stability, not as a new way of doing things. German politicians have become adept at making new ideas sound like old ones. In the words of Konrad Adenauer: ?No experiments.?

A current example of this phenomenon is the tone of political and economic writing in Germany. With a few notable exceptions, authors focus on the inevitability of collapse. Germany?s economy is destined to decline, the Chinese will rule the world, and America is finished as a great power.

There are few grand visions for a new future. Instead, readers are warned that if they do not move quickly, their comfortable world will collapse around them. Motivation is negative rather than positive.

However strange this discussion may sound to outsiders, it seems to be serving an important purpose within Germany. Belief in the old stability is wearing away. As 2004 comes to an end, the most important question is not whether there is going to be change, but how it will come and which direction it will take.

The whole essay is here. I think the part about undertaking significant change while maintaining the whole time that nothing is changing is particularly accurate.

When I was doing more transatlantic bridge-building, I used a sports metaphor.
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Nationalism, regionalism and Spanish football

The Independent has an interesting article today entitled ‘Why will a quarter of Spain be supporting England tonight?’ (for those of you who aren’t aware, there’s an international football friendly tonight between Spain and England in Madrid) which looks at how the Spanish national football team is not supported by many of the people of Spain because of the strong currents of regionalism and nationalism.

In so far as Catalans will be taking an interest in tonight’s Spain v England game in Madrid, they will be – most of them – supporting England. Should England score, the whole city will know about it. It happens every time, just as it does when Bar?a score a goal: in every neighbourhood there will be someone guaranteed to set off a celebratory firework or two.

Now, admittedly, things could get a little complicated this time around. What if Owen or Beckham score for England? The spontaneous reaction will be jubilation, but a moment’s reflection will yield the alarming truth that they play for the most detested enemy of them all, Real Madrid.

At which point the mental systems of Catalan football fans everywhere may dangerously short-circuit. Or not. Love for England may momentarily trump loathing for Spain. Whatever the case, it will yield an interesting new twist on the complex tribal impulses that animate the otherwise sane and impressively civilised Catalan people.

The Catalans are not alone. The Basques are at least as zealous in their desire that the Spanish football team be beaten. And as far as tonight’s game is concerned, because they haven’t got as much of a thing about Real Madrid as the Catalans do, they’ll be cheering on Beckham and Owen with as much abandon as the rest of the England team.

There are other, smaller nationalist enclaves in Spain where they’ll be rooting for England too. A number will in Galicia, in the Celtic-rooted north-west (they play the bagpipes out there, the fields are green and they look Irish); some diehards will in the Valencia region; and the Balearic islanders (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza) will be happy for the most part to see perfidious Espa?a defeated.

Update: Unfortunately, the match was marred by some pretty despicable racist chanting from an element of the Spanish fans – see this discussion on Crooked Timber for more.

UEFA: Home of the cliche

Earlier today, the draw took place for next year’s European Football Championships (Euro 2004), placing the sixteen teams into four groups:

Group A: Portugal, Greece, Spain, Russia
Group B: France, England, Switzerland, Croatia
Group C: Sweden, Bulgaria, Denmark, Italy
Group D: Czech Republic, Latvia, Germany, Netherlands

The BBC Sport website has a good page detailing all the fixtures for the tournament.
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Anyone Want to Play Ball With Me?

Even though it may appear that this post runs along much the same lines as my last two or three, I should warn you: appearances are sometimes deceptive. The origins of what I want to say here stretch back in time two or three days to some comments I made on an earlier post and a subsequent piece which I have entitled the ‘Pele-Ronaldo’ effect. Surprising as it may seem, the topic here is only tangentially football. The real topic is the so-called brain drain, and how our initial intuitions may mislead us. The aforementioned effect is associated with the apparent detail that all those Brazilians ‘heading the ball’ here in Europe have not notedly had a detrimental effect on the rate at which Brazilian football produces outstanding new stars. In fact quite the contrary.

Now here’s the rub: just think of all those Indian IT ‘stars’ working at NASA, Microsoft and the like, and try to imagine the consequences back home in India. Well then try to imagine the consequences of the secondary effect in India on the employment situation in the US and now increasingly in Europe, and we get to the point of all this. We are experiencing a phenomenon which some are calling ‘hollowing out’. This has been noticed in the first place in the US, but with the EU structural reforms, and the relatively high euro, this tendency is going to make itself felt more and more over here. So this is the purpose of the post. To find out what people think.
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