Cup Russia

The most ridiculous, but sadly, most serious World Cup-related story this week involved the United States and Russia trading legislative appeals to FIFA to sanction eachother in their tug-of-war for Ukrainian hearts, minds and territory.

The Republican senators Mark Kirk and Dan Coates (although it is remarkable that Republicans even acknowledge the existence of soccer) sought to have Russia removed as a participant in June’s 2014 World Cup in Brazil and as host for the following 2018 World Cup, while deputies in the Russian State Duma, presumably at the behest of Vladimir Putin, have responded by calling for the US’s membership in FIFA to be terminated, citing aggression over the last couple of decades against the likes of Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and even Syria.

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Interestingly, Afghanistan, which both countries have invaded in past decades, was not mentioned. The Russian letter seems a bit of a tongue-in-cheek ‘eye-for-an-eye,’ but the US senators’ request is of course getting traction in the notoriously loopy House of Representatives. Coates went so far as to compare Russia’s territorial ambitions to Nazi Germany.

FIFA has punished or cautioned both Russian AND Ukrainian teams and followers for racist and fascist behavior in the recent past. Also FIFA, and it’s head Sepp Blatter, are notorious for paying lip service to questionable reforms in the name of ‘the show must go on.’ — the 2022 World Cup award to Qatar is a big case in point as well as Blatter’s opposition to any boycotts of the Olympics in Sochi. However, FIFA and UEFA, whoich runs the European championships that are held every alternate two years, did ban the Yugoslavian national team in 1992 in the midst of their atrocity-laden civil war — Denmark, as runner up in their qualifying group, was allowed to go instead (and actually won the tournament!).

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Russia, as the next Cup host, is obviously a more complex situation. Also, the runner-up in their group was Portugal, which has already qualified via playoffs. If the show DOES go on, there is a slim chance Russia could end up playing the US in the first knockout stage.

In other news, the US and several other participating nations announced a final set of friendly matches in the run-up to the June 12 start of the 2014 tournament. As could be expected, much of the action is to take place in the South and East Coast, where the humidity should most closely approximate the worst of the Brazilian climate, although the US team will play a match against Azerbaijan at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on May 27, which, besides presenting Chris Wondolowski with another very convenient showcase for his goal-scoring skills, could be the final sporting event to take place at the close to 55-year-old venue before it’s demolition (some concerts are still being discussed, including one by Paul McCartney, who of course played there with the Beatles for their final full-on concert in August 1966).

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Spanish striker Diego Costa made a World Cup-worthy goal for Atletico Madrid in their Champions League Quarterfinal win, making a strong case for his inclusion in the defending Cup Champions team. France looked good in their friendly victory over the suddenly floundering 2010 Runner-up Holland, with Karim Benzema appearing to take on the role of French team leader with confidence. Meanwhile, a lack of confidence appears to be hindering German playmaker Mesut Özil both for club (Arsenal) and for country. To make matters worse he was subject to homophobic taunting from an Austrian group of fans at both the Gunner’s Champions’ League elimination loss.


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