I enjoy watching the world’s greatest sport on its grandest stage otherwise known as the World Cup. It is wonderful to see so many nations vying for the crown as World Champion. In the United States, we crown the champions of the NFL, the NHL, the NBA, and the MLB as world champions; however, with all due respect to those winners, crowning them as world champions is an oxymoron. The nations of the world do not compete for the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup, the World Series, or the NBA. The winners of those competitions should be called “National Champions” or “US Champions” rather than World Champions. It is a distinction that may cause grief to some of my fellow Americans. Anyway, this is besides the main reason for writing this article. Let me get down to brass tacks.
This year’s World Cup Tournament takes place in the South American nation of Brazil. If there is one nation who most people identify with soccer or “the real football,” then it is this one. The world famous Pele won three World Cups for Brazil, and he became its most famous star athlete. Is Brazil the only nation who lives and breathes “real football” or soccer? No. They are one nation out of hundreds, which embrace this sport like a religion. Emotions run high within countries during football games, which sometimes leads to criminal activity. In the US, we see the same thing at collegiate football and basketball games and at the professional level. Sports has a way of being a window into a nation’s psyche and condition. There is both good and bad with sports.
Like any championship tournament, the first game usually has the distinction of being the ugliest in terms of performance. When it comes to the World Cup, the expectations and nerves rise to an astronomical level as the entire world watches two teams vying for their nation’s pride and honor. Yesterday, the World Cup opener pitted Brazil, the home team, against Croatia. On paper, no soccer prognosticator expected Croatia to win or even to make it a game. Would a small Eastern European nation be able to handle the pressure of playing against Brazil in their backyard? If anyone saw the opener, Croatia not only played the game of their life, but they had Brazil on the ropes. Many believe that the referee robbed Croatia of a tie and a point for its effort. I call the attention of my readers and followers to the articles here, here, and here in order to learn more about the actual match and its flow.
How does corruption fit into the World Cup of 2014? The main issue concerns with the referee disallowing Croatia’s equalizing goal in the second half, which would have tied up the match at 2-2. In football or soccer, those teams that advance out of group play and into the one game, elimination stage do so by earning points. Victories are worth three, but ties are worth one. There are four teams in each group of the World Cup tournament, but only the top two go on to the elimination stage. Brazil is the same group with Mexico, Croatia, and Cameroon. The whole world knows that Brazil’s single greatest threat to finishing atop its group is Mexico. The latter beat Cameroon 1-0. Because this game occurred earlier in the day, Brazil knew what they had to do in their match: beat Croatia by at least one goal, if not two. The world media understood this, too.
Back to the match between Brazil and Croatia…the referee disallowed Croatia’s game tying goal on a noncall. A good friend of mine characterized it as a phantom penalty. I think he is right as do the sportswriters of the articles that I linked above earlier in this piece. Instead of the game potentially ending in a 2-2 draw, and earning only one point for Brazil, the score remained 2-1 in their favor. This means that they remained in line to receive three points; consequently, this referee’s call was a game changer in favor of Brazil, who won the game 3-1. The third goal was a garbage time one, but the outcome had been decided earlier in the match. Earlier today, Mexico defeated Cameroon 1-0, but they had two goals disallowed on questionable calls. Both Mexico and Brazil sit atop Group A with three points, but the home team (Brazil) has the better goal differential in case the two clubs tie for first place. Do you see where this leads? Is it only a coincidence that the World Cup tournaments first two matches had bad calls, which adversely affected Croatia and Mexico even though the latter won their match?
Sometimes folks roll their eyes over allegations of corruption in sports. In fact, it is so commonplace in all sports to cry foul over bad officiating that it has become an integral part of the atmosphere. Instead of ensuring winners and losers, sports leaders, sports media, and the private sector use their influence to color the outcome. No matter how alarmist my words may sound, no matter how conspiracy theorist they sound, the fix is in to crown Brazil as the World Champions. Does anyone in their right mind expect them to lose this year’s World Cup in their backyard? The last time this nation hosted the World Cup was back in 1950. Brazil lost in the final to Uruguay. It is conceivable for history to repeat itself…given the way Brazil’s match went against Croatia and Mexico’s against Cameroon, I think it is safe to say, put all your money on Brazil. It is a safe bet. The powers that be will see to it that Pele’s nation sits atop the soccer world for the first time since 2002.
[update: Apparently, bad officiating could not assist a Brazilian side in their semifinal debacle against Germany. In the third place match, the Netherlands jumped all over Brazil, too. The South American hosts lost their last two matches by a combined score of 10-1. The operative word for Brazil is comeuppance.]