Friday, December 04, 2009

No Excuses in 2010!

Not that we have ever made any before . . . I didn't hear one American dismiss our failures in 2006 as being okay because we had a tough group . . . but we really have no excuses. In May 2008, a full strength US squad played a full strength England squad at Wembley and the US boys lost 2-0 with a little bit of starstruck look in their eyes.

From American Fooligan

Since that match, the US team has found their steel. A 1-0 loss in a full-strength friendly in Spain and then a 0-0 draw with Argentina put the US on the Road to South Africa (it was actually in England that the kit below made it's debut).

From American Fooligan

Here is my quick and dirty gut reaction of who will advance. A detailed analysis will follow in the coming weeks, but here is what I have off the cuff (bold team wins group, italic advances):

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France

Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece

Group C: England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia

Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana

Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon

Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia

Group G: Brasil, North Korea, Cote d'Ivoire, Portugal

Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile

For me, the only group that I really am not confident in picking any teams to advance is Group A. France, Uruguay and Mexico have all been very inconsistent. South Africa has been consistent . . . consistently terrible. But, the host country has always advanced and those vuvuzelas will be in full effect.

So, my round of 16 would look like this:

MEX vs. KOR - winner = MEX

USA vs. GHA - winner = USA

GER vs. ENG - winner = ENG

RSA vs. ARG - winner = ARG

NED vs. ITA - winner = NED

PAR vs. DEN - winner = DEN

BRA vs. HON - winner = BRA

ESP vs. CIV - winner = ESP

My Quarterfinals are a dream:

MEX vs. USA - winner = USA

BRA vs. NED - winner = NED (I might get killed and/or fired for that!)

ENG vs. ARG - winner = ENG (Beckham hits a free kick to win)

ESP vs. DEN - winner = ESP

Semifinals (a boy can dream, right?):

USA vs. NED - winner = USA

ENG vs. ESP - winner = ESP


USA vs. ESP - winner = didn't this match happen already!

God I love the World Cup!

From World Cup 2006

The Kookie Boyz in Germany!

My Command Center!

Live Feed

If anyone needs a live feed - here it is -

5 minutes!

Until we get to watch the entertainment! I am going to be more active on Twitter than here so follow me on Twitter - @rishisehgal

Draw Day: Does It Even Matter?


From American Fooligan

It's finally here. This is the day where 2010 fever really sets in. The 32 team field is set and now we just have to see where the chips fall.

But, before the hoopla begins in about 3.5 hours, let's think about whether it even matters?

I do not think the draw is as important as many others will make it to be. My earlier posts on the probabilities were more about me trying to play with numbers. The group that the USA faced this past summer was about as tough as you could imagine (USA, Brasil, Italy and Egypt) and we made it through.

I think the worthier teams generally advance from the groups and after looking back on the 48 group stage games, I think the 16 teams that advance to the knockout round are the 16 teams generally playing the best soccer. Since the field expanded to 32 teams in 1998 (let's call this the Modern WC Era), we have never seen a team earn 6 points yet improbably be eliminated while a team advanced from another group with only 3 or 4 points. In fact, only twice in the Modern WC Era has a team that was eliminated in the first round had a positive goal differential (Spain in '98 and Portugal in '02).

A more important factor is what second round pairings would look like. I don't think France were better than Germany or Argentina in 2006 but we didn't have the chance to find out. I don't think Korea or Turkey were better than England in 2002, but both got further because England had to face champions Brasil in the quarterfinals.

All that said, I think the teams the USA is least likely to get a result against are Brasil, Spain, Holland, Germany, Cote d'Ivoire and France (if they can solve their midfield woes, Anelka is lethal and has a penchance for striking when the US is most vulnerable - at the beginning and end of games). Those teams have styles of play, levels of discipline and the personnel with which the US could have great difficulty coping.

Here in Rio, O Globo, the main newspaper disagrees with me and claims that the most difficult group for Brasil would include the US, Cote d'Ivoire and France. Wow, now that would be a true Group of Death. One mistake and you would almost certainly be put out. What that also means is that the Brasilians rate the US higher than Mexico! Take that Mexico!

I will be live blogging and twittering during the draw. If you're not already doing so, follow me @rishisehgal.

I can't wait! Which teams do you not want to face until later in the tournament?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

World Cup 2010 Draw Revisted - Probabilities

Just today the South Africa 2010 Organizing Committee has confirmed what I predicted a couple weeks ago, with one exception. France is not seeded. Despite winning in 1998 and being a finalist in 2006, the SAOC and FIFA have not rewarded France with a seed. I wonder why. I don't really wonder - this was clearly the result of Thierry Henry's handiwork. (see what I did there?)

Here are the pots for the draw which will be held on Friday.

Pot 1 (Seeded Teams): South Africa, Brazil, England, Spain, Argentina, Netherlands, Italy, Germany (5 of 8 are previous winners).

Pot 2: (AFC, New Zealand and CONCACAF: North Korea, South Korea (...Marilyn Monroe - I am feeling humorous today), Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Honduras, Mexico, USA

Pot 3: (CAF and CONMEBOL): Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria, Ghana, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile

Pot 4: (non-seeded UEFA): France, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Denmark, Greece, Serbia, Switzerland)

So, from my prior predictions, the only differences are that France and Holland traded places and the numbering of the groups. Both of those changes are irrelevant to my prior analysis as I still rate France as Group of Death worthy (GoD) team. So, why post again? Well, as someone pointed out to me on BigSoccer, it would be extremely unlikely that the hosts are placed in a GoD. The host country has made it to the second round in every single World Cup. If I were a betting man . . . guess what I would bet on right now?

Okay, so assuming South Africa is not capable of being placed in a GoD, that means there is 7/8 chance that a Pot 1 team will contribute to a GoD.

Out of Pot 2, I rate the US.

Out of Pot 3, I rate Ivory Coast, Ghana and Paraguay as GoD teams. (3/8)

Out of Pot 4, I rate France, Denmark and Portugal as GoD teams. (3/8)

Now, let's reexamine what exactly constitutes a GoD. Is it that every team should have a reasonable shot at advancing? Or that 3/4 of the 4 would be feared. I think it's the latter.

Let's look at the GoDs for the last 3 World Cups. I wanted to include 1994 as well, but that tournament only had 24 teams so 3 teams could advance from any group - and the GoD there was Ireland, Italy, Mexico and Norway - and Ireland, Mexico and Italy actually advanced.

In 1998: Nigeria, Spain, Paraguay and Bulgaria. Nigeria and Bulgaria were stars in 1994 and Spain is Spain. Paraguay were not highly rated in 1998 having failed to qualify for either 1990 or 1994.

In 2002: England, Argentina, Sweden and Nigeria. Here, England, Argentina and Sweden were all highly rated. Nigeria were not rated so highly as the stars that carried them to the second round in 1994 and 1998 had aged by this point. In fact, they were pretty fruitless on the pitch as well, scoring a lone goal.

In 2006, we had: USA, Czech Republic, Italy and Ghana (USA, Czech and Italy were all top 15 teams per FIFA rankings) and Ghana was in its first world cup. Out of the 64 teams that made the second round in the four prior world cups, only 3 were debutants (Senegal '02, Saudia Arabia '94 and Costa Rica '90). In 2006, the group with Argentina, Ivory Coast, Serbia and Netherlands was also considered a GoD by some, but we had 2 debutants in that group - debutants are very unlikely to advance (again, only 3/64 teams that qualified for the 2nd round between 1990 and 2002 were debutants).

So, let's say a GoD is established if there are 3 teams that can be considered reasonably likely to advance to the second round.

I decided to be unlazy and have attempted to calculate this both if we assume the US is a GoD team and if the US is considered the weak team. In the case of the latter - we'll call that LEG (learning experience group). For clarity - I've included LEGs into the God calculations.

Anyway - if we draw a CONMEBOL team from Pot 1, then we have a 0.09% chance of drawing into a LEG and a 3.0% chance of drawing into a traditional GoD. So there is a 3.9% chance of at least a GoD.

If we draw a UEFA team from Pot 1, we have an 2.2% chance of drawing into a LEG and a 7.5% chance of drawing into a traditional GoD. So there is 9.7% chance of at least a GoD.

If we draw South Africa, then we have 0 chance of getting a GoD - based on the warm ball theory.

So, we have a 13.6% chance of being drawn into a Group of Death.

What does this all mean? Very little until Friday. That's the beauty of the game and these tournaments. No matter who we draw, we will need to win. And, if our group is like the Confederations Cup, maybe we just have to win once. (by the by, since 1990, the US has only picked up 9 of a possible 45 points in group stage games. And people wonder why we haven't been seeded).

Let´s hope we draw Argentina or South Africa.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why I do not cook down here:

This slop pile disappears for about 45 mins a week then magestically
reappears. To borrow an ochocincoism: child please! Smh

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Food For Thought

Those of you who know me well know that generally, when I wake up, my most pressing concern is trying to figure out what I am going to eat that day. This started about 5 years ago after I took a look in the mirror and was not happy with what I saw. Actually, my roommate and good buddy Vineet did me a favor and put a not so flattering picture of me on our fridge. It was a Sunday and I was carrying out my then routine, which was dominated by an NFL Sunday Ticket subscription, of starting the day off (at 11:00 am) with a fight against my resultant hangover from the prior night's evils. I poured myself a giant bowl of raisin bran and as I turned to the fridge to hydrate the flakes with some cold milk Sam's Adams Winter Lager (seriously folks, try it, it is amazing on every level), I noticed the photo on an otherwise barren fridge. I wish that I could reproduce that picture here. Sadly, it is long lost (the following is circa December 2002 but I think it serves the intended effect):

I made an instant declaration: that day would be the absolute last day that I would begin with beeraisin bran, followed by watching the 1:00 games, followed by a trip to Publix to grab an overstuffed hoagie, followed by the 4:00 games, followed by a trip to Chipotle/front door to collect some nasty Manny & Olga's pizza/kebab palace, followed by Sunday Night Football, followed by something disgusting, followed by TV.

Yeah, there is no way to just quit anything that delicious cold turkey (especially when there is cold turkey in the Publix hoagies). So, I began my journey to reduce my weight to a respectable level, and to get my fat ass in shape. I started working out on the regs and I gradually began to watch my diet. I even started reading about nutrition (okay, I just read the South Beach Diet) and I realized that if I was serious, I could no longer fill my body with crap. Thus began my problem of trying to figure out what I was going to eat each day. Since then, I have done a pretty good job of keeping myself in respectable condition, especially considering my affinity for the drink and my affinity for burgers - let's face it, they are the real NYC specialty.

There have definitely been a couple periods where I have recessed to old habits though - one troubled winter in NYC and this past summer leap to mind.

Okay - Where the hell am I going with this?

Succumbing to a bout of insomnia the other day, I watched a video essay (I refuse to call it a "documentary" as it definitely had a thesis) on the food supply and distribution network in the United States called "Food, Inc." It basically was watching my brain on film. There are several different themes covered in the essay, but the basic thesis is that the food supply and distribution networks in the US have been overrun by corporate interests and that corporate bottom lines have not been good for any of (i) human waistlines, (ii) human health, (iii) the environment, (iv) animals or (v) everyday farmers. I cannot tell you how much this essay resonated with my admittedly unresearched core beliefs about food.

My first trip to a grocery store in Brazil yielded the following immediate reactions: (i) Amazing! This looks exactly like a grocery store in the US - they have everything (I was even able to buy a towel there!) and (ii) Holy Shit! This crap is expensive. What I was looking at was a jar of salsa. It cost R$23 (US$13,50). I began to look at other staple foods and found them similarly expensive. I started to realize that my relief that the grocery store was better equipped than the franco-relics found in Madrid was quickly being replaced with dismay at the costs. Then I realized - everything I was looking at was processed food. I quickly high-tailed it to the produce section. Halleluja, I found the cheapness the Indian in me was looking for. I grabbed some delicious looking fruits and vegetables and made off for the proteins. OMG! Look at the seafood selection! AMAZING! The Meats were even more so. And everything fresh was so damn cheap! This is exactly the opposite of the United States where processed foods are cheap (because they are heavily subsidized) and fresh foods are expensive.

While Food, Inc. makes a heavy-handed point of criticizing mass Agri-business in the US, it does raise some valid points. Has anyone ever considered if it is actually a good thing to stuff cattle and farm-raised salmon with corn? Has anyone ever considered whether it is a good thing to stuff salmon into mud baths? Can eating chicken that comes from a modern, closed-in chicken house dangerous? What about e-coli? Who is in charge of oversight? And Most Importantly - WHY THE FUCK DO WE NOT CARE ABOUT OUR FOOD SUPPLY?

My guess to the last question is that it is certainly because our food is so plentiful and cheap. And because we have so little information about what is actually in it. One of the themes in the essay is that the Food Business has been so successful in fighting labeling requirements that people are simply incapable of knowing what they put in their bodies. I totally agree. Why withhold information? Oh, because "consumer will be too frightened if we have to put labels on the food." JESUS, frightend of what? You pompous bitch, provide the info and if the consumer doesn't like your product, then go sod off. That is what capitalism is all about right? Consumer Choice? Not out version of Capitalism - our version is all about protecting interests so that we can grow bloated systems that are doomed to fail (see, e.g. the American Auto Industry and the American Banking Industry).

For me, Food, Inc. is important because it highlights another way in which we fail to use democracy for our own benefit. We let tyrants grab the power and then let them control us by lining their pockets with cash while filling our pockets with shit. The answer is not to beg the government (we are the government in America, remember?) to put in place new policies (maybe adjust some current policies or remove certain ones), but to beat the corporations (Monsanto, Tyson, Smithfield & Perdue) at their own game. We need to show our love to farmer's and green markets and demand more transparency in the food production world. Why should there not be free viewing platforms for the public to view slaughterhouses at work (think glass-walled observation decks). Sure, it could make people a little queasy, but our current food supply makes me queasy.

Anyway, since being here and eating almost entirely only fresh foods, I have felt myself become healthier and happier. I am back on track to regain my respectable body weight and despite the fact that I am exercising on the regs again, I really think the food quality is playing a huge role.

So, since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, maybe now is the time to start thinking about what kind of food we spend our dollars on. One thing I know that I am thankful for this year has been the opportunity to spend time in three very different countries and cultures and to be able to compare and contrast them. There is no doubt in my mind that this continues to be the most educational year of my life.

Feliz Dia de Ação Everybody! (Now what the heck am I going to eat for dinner . . .)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Maracanã 5.0 and how I failed the USA

Last night was one of the most magical football environments I've ever experienced. 92,000 people packed into Maracanã to see the surging Flamengo take on Goiás in the third to last match of the 2009 Campeanato Brasileiro. Marcel, Gabor and I headed out on the subway mighty early to try and score some tickets from a tout as the match had long been sold out. Marcel and Gabor are both German, and if you're not familiar, Germans do not like to deal with touts. When I had an extra ticket to the Germany-Italy semi-final of the 2006 World Cup, I thought I'd be able to sell it a premium and secure a booty of bier tokens. Not. To. Be. Nobody would pay me more than face value (150 euros). When someone offered me 150 euros plus a ticket to the France-Portugal match, I gobbled it up faster than you can say Fahrvergnügen.

Anyway, as soon as we got off the subway, the swarms of Mengão fans around us went batty as Botafogo, one of Flamengo's inter-city rivals, took a lead against São Paulo. Going into the day, São Paulo led Flamengo by 2 points so a São Paulo loss coupled with a Flamengo win would see Flamengo go top with just 2 matches left. This was actually my first time arriving at Maracanã station as all other times I've been, the subway station has been closed for renovations. The view when you arrive is stunning:

From Drop Box

The immediate jubilation was short-lived as São Paulo quickly leveled. We found the touts easily enough and quickly parted with R$75 each to secure seats in the Arquibancada - the upper band of the stadium where the Torcedores (hard core supporters) are. We arrived about 1.5 hours early and with little refreshment and protection from the shade, our sweat glands were being put to the test. We quickly went Mike Mick on the situation and shed our shirts.

From Drop Box
(notice Barack Obama was there as well)

Getting there early turned out to be a great idea as the score reports coming in from the Botafogo-São Paulo match kept everyone entertained. São Paulo took the lead and then Botafogo duly levelled before Jóbson sent both the Engenhão and the Maracanã into complete pandemonium by knocking in a winner for Botafogo.

A number of the Torcidas (fan groups) of Flamengo organized the following tifo-mosaic display before the match. In a word, incredible:

The match itself was extremely frustrating as Flamengo were without key attacking midfielder, Claudio Maldonado, a Chilean international injured in a friendly with Slovakia last week. This left Flamengo to pursue a tired and predictable attack by driving down the wings and then forcing a cross to the double-teamed Adriano. Despite this, Fla managed a few quality chances and easily could have scored twice, but alas, frustration.

We had to make our best impression of lemmings as we made for the exits with the other 91,997 fans in attendance. An odd tradition is that members of the Raça, one of the torcidas, pretend that they in Pamplona and charge through the crowd like a pack of bulls to get to the exit quicker. Looks pretty hazardous on its face, but people get out of the way and seem to even have a laugh about it. I may join next time.

After the match, we met up with Sebastian and headed over to Baixo Tijuca for a massive chopp. This is where I embarrassed the USA. After several warm-up rounds, some Germans got to talking about how they are the best drinkers. Well, the Brazilians amongst us and of course the Americans took issue (there were two chicks who are studying abroad - one from the U and one from New Mexico). We went simple and kept it at a chugging race. In the first contest, I finished first or second to Pedro, one of the Brazilians. It was too close to call. In the second contest, another too close to call race between me and a Brazilian, this time Ben. In the final, the round of champions if you will, I was decidedly beaten by Ben. The Germans were nowhere to be found. Apologies USA, please let me back in. I will do better. I promise.

Here are some more photos:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

World Cup 2010 Draw Anticipation


So, since I like soccer-football-fútbol-futebol, I thought I'd drop something to think about as World Cup qualifying comes to a close today. In a few hours, the field of 32 will be set. We are just waiting on France/Ireland (France carries a 1-0 lead to Paris) - Portugal/Bosnia (Portugal leads 1-0 but must play away) - Greece/Ukraine (0-0 with a match in Ukraine) - Russia/Slovenia (Russia leads 2-1 but must now defend away in Slovenia) - Uruguay/Costa Rica (URU defends a 1-0 lead in Montevideo) and probably what will be the most heated - Egypt/Algeria in a winner-take-all tiebreaker on neutral ground in Khartoum.

I am predicting that tomorrow's match's will have little impact on the draw which will take place on December 4. Why? Because only 1 seed is at stake and I am confident that Uruguay will not lose to the Costa Ricans, who have been in a free fall, going 1-1-4 since August. However, as you will see below, the Uruguay/Costa Rica match is the most important, and conveniently enough, will the last played.


1) FIFA does not change the past seeding criteria
2) NO 2 teams from the same confederation, except UEFA teams, will be drawn together (i.e. Brazil will not be grouped with Paraguay, Chile or possibly Uruguay and South Africa will not draw another CAF team).

So, the following picture is courtesy of Marca, the Spanish sports daily that loves to sensationalize everything. They are already fearing that Spain will draw Holland, the Ivory Coast and the US - and the US is the only team to defeat Spain in the last 3 years.

From American Fooligan

Pot 1 is set with the question of France. If Ireland knock off France, then Holland will be seeded and Ireland will be in Pot 2.

Pot 2 is set pending the results of the qualifiers tomorrow, but the places are locked with the exception of Holland/France.

Pot 3 and 4. Here is where things get interesting. I think the unseeded CAF teams will be grouped with the CONMEBOL teams as it will be easier to control for Assumption #2 above. Because we know that South Africa will be in Group A, FIFA can just pick from the CONMEBOL teams during the first round. Then, after Brazil and Argentina are assigned groups, FIFA can pick from the African teams.

The tricky part comes down to the Uruguay/Costa Rica match. If Costa Rica wins, then, in order to avoid violating Assumption #2 (and assuming there is no further re-jiggering wanted), we obviously can't have Costa Rica in Pot 3 if all other CONCACAF teams go to Pot 4.

What to do then if Costa Rica advances? Simple, move New Zealand to Pot 3 and Pot 4 is a combination of AFC and CONCACAF Teams.

Confused yet? Revert back to the chart.

What does this all mean for the Stars and Stripes? Well, if my Assumptions hold true (and they will - no two non-UEFA teams from the same Confederation have been grouped together since 1970 when hosts Mexico were grouped with minnows El Salvador):

If Uruguay win, we know a few things to be true:
a) No CONCACAF team will be grouped with an AFC team
b) South Africa will face at least one UEFA team and one CONMEBOL team
c) Brazil and Argentina will be grouped with one UEFA team and one CAF team.

Then here is how the rest computes:

The US (and each team in pot 4 for that matter) would have a 37.5% chance of drawing a Mixed group (one team from each of CAF, UEFA and CONMEBOL), a 37.5% chance of drawing a UEFA/CAF group (two UEFA teams and a CAF team) and a 25% chance of drawing a UEFA/CON group (two UEFA teams and a CONMEBOL team).

If Costa Rica win, then things get much more complicated because if my Assumptions are correct and Pot 3 consists of the 5 unseeded CAF teams, New Zealand, Paraguay and Chile, then there are more ways to avoid violating Assumption #2. For instance, South Africa would draw from a pot including New Zealand, Chile and Paraguay - while Brazil and Argentina would potentially draw from pots including New Zealand and the 5 unseeded CAF teams. It gets complicated because there will be more manipulating of the pots (Unless South Africa draw NZ and Brazil and Argentina headline Groups B & C or vice versa).

I am not a math major so I am not even going to attempt to try and figure out those odds.

But, I think it is a safe bet that Uruguay will hold serve at home tomorrow and then we will see these chances for the US:

37.5% chance for a CAF/UEFA/CONMEBOL group

37.5% chance for a UEFA/UEFA/CAF group

25% chance for a UEFA/UEFA/CONMEBOL group



By my understanding of probability and statistics, going back a full 11 years here since I scored well enough on the AP exam to avoid taking it in college, this is a question of compound probability because we are trying to calculate the probability that a series of random events will occur. The probabilities in Pot 3 change though because depending on which Pot 1 team we are dealing with, they are drawing from a different pool in Pot 3 (back to Assumption #2).

The Group of death is the phenomenon that there is usually one group that is so difficult that each team in it would be a sentimental favorite to advance to the next round. The first step in determining this probability is rating what would be GOD eligible teams in the first 3 pots. Let's call these "GOD" teams.

For simplicity's sake, let's assume both France and Uruguay do the business tomorrow.

I think it is safe to say that all the seeded teams should be considered GOD teams (since 1998, only 3 of 24 seeded teams failed to advance).

Out of Pot 2, I rate Holland/Ireland, Portugal, Russia and Denmark as GOD teams. Out of Pot 3, I rate Ivory Coast, Ghana and Paraguay as GOD teams. As you can probably guess - there is no certainty that a Group of Death even forms.

So, this means there is a 50% chance that any Pot 1 team will draw a GOD team in pot 2. It gets a little trickier for Pot 3 because per Assumption #2, South Africa will only be drawing from CONMEBOL teams and Brazil & Argentina will only be drawing from CAF teams. So from Pot 3, South Africa has a 33% chance of drawing a GOD team, Brazil and Argentina each have a 40% chance of drawing a GOD team and the UEFA seeds each have a 60% chance of drawing a GOD team. (those odds will dynamically adjust as the draw takes place of course and one team draws a GOD team or does not . . . think of it like the change in odds that occurs after the flop, turn and river in poker).

For Pot 4, I think only 6 of the 8 teams will have a chance at making the Second Round - Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Australia, USA and Mexico. I do not rate Honduras or New Zealand very highly here. So we have 6 GOD teams. So a 75% probability of drawing a GOD team from Pot 4.

So, taking into account the above, there is a 49.975% chance that a Group of Death forms.

Now, we have the last step of calculating the USA's odds of drawing that Group - 1/8 = 12.5%

One more compound probability calculation = a 6.23% chance of drawing the Group of Death.

Okay, piss all over me now. Let's face it - any group we are in will be tough. It will take all 23 men on the squad and we will have to fight tooth and nail for every half-chance on goal.

Boy, playing with numbers is fun. Please leave some comments with your thoughts - especially concerning my math if it is way off somewhere. I cannot tell you how entertaining this was for me.

Este Pássaro Pode Voar! (This Bird Can Fly!)

Okay, so here something that is actually fun again! On Saturday, I went hang-gliding. After a raucous Friday night out that included a trip to Rio Scenarium and which saw the night end with an early-morning dip in the ocean (see picture from last post), I woke up on Saturday to an email from Anita alerting me that I had 25 minutes to get myself together to go hang-gliding. I have been skydiving and paragliding before. When I went skydiving, it was under similarly hungover still drunk circumstances. After a late night out in Vegas during my brother-in-law's bachelor party, a few of us passed out at the Hard Rock pool around 8am. We were the only ones there and claimed the beach chairs that were on the sand next to the waterslide. I can't remember who woke me up, but somebody shook me around 12 noon and said "Dude, it's time to go get this parachuting hootenanny on." Oh wait, that could be no other than my brother-in-law. I sprung to action in the blinding sun and exclaimed "You want me to jump out of a fucking plane!" Much to my surprise and theirs, the pool was then crowded with revelers and everyone had a good chuckle.

Anyway, I scrambled myself together and raced over to the hostel to meet Anita and Elizabeth. We made our way over to São Conrado, about 10 km west of Leblon, and met our pilots. At first, the head of the tour company tried to talk me into paragliding as they did not have any pilots who could handle someone my size. Not because I'm fat you dicks - because upon takeoff, if the passenger stops running, disaster can ensue. For that reason, they prefer the pilot to be stronger than the passenger so that the pilot can overcompensate if need be. If I were to stop running, we would have made a pretty sweet impression of a tumbleweed rolling down the hill. Although I had my heart set on hang-gliding, the paragliding pilot one me over by telling me he was the best paraglider in all of Brazil and that he would let me steer. A chance to put my own life in danger! Sign me up! Just as I got psyched for this, a hang-gliding pilot came out of nowhere and told me he could handle me so long as I kept running. Mild emotional roller-coaster there but I settled on hang-gliding.

After a quick drive and a tiny, but invigorating set of steps up through Parque Nacional da Tijuca:
From Paragliding in São Conrado

We arrived at the takeoff zone to find a veritable taxiway full of gliders:
From Paragliding in São Conrado

My pilot and I:
From Paragliding in São Conrado

Me getting suited up:
From Paragliding in São Conrado

The launchpad - you had to run right off the tin roof:
From Paragliding in São Conrado
- You can see São Conrado beach below and the Zona Sul in the corner past the hills.

Anita, Elizabeth and I with our backs to the sky:
From Paragliding in São Conrado

Anyway, the flight was spectacular. You fly over some beautiful houses and the canopy below looks like little florets of broccoli. You hear nothing but the wind, or in my case, you also hear your pilot instructing you to crane your neck to smile at the on-board camera every 49.6 seconds. The flight takes you out over the ocean which offers amazing views of the sparkling blue water below. You can see all the way from Pão de Açúcar to Barra da Tijuca. Amazing. Only downer of the experience was the weak tactics of the pilots to sell the photos to you after landing. They wanted R$60 for a cd with 25 of basically the same photo on it. Apparently my pilot did not get the memo that I am now a cheap bastard. When I informed him that it was too expensive for my tastes, he muttered the following phrase under his breath: "vai tomar no cu" which literally translates to: "go take it in the ass." Dick, next time I'm gonna stop running!

Anyway, awesome experience if you ever get the chance. If you come down here, I will arrange it because I want to go back and go paragliding with the best pilot in Brazil (read: I want to steer the chute)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Revised Invitation

If this blog is the only virtual medium that you follow me in, you may not have received my open invitation to come visit me in Rio. I am able to so readily throw that invitation out there not because I am lonely, I do miss people but I am certainly not lonely anymore (more on that in a bit), but because I genuinely love Rio and I want to share my happiness here with anyone and everyone.

- quick side note about my initial loneliness: When I first got here, I was instantly taken with the city. It probably started with the fact that my now friend Erick, a friend of Hans from Chicago - offered to drive 2+ hours from the city of Macaé and collect me from the airport. An amazing gesture to welcome me to this amazing culture. As the first few days unraveled and I began to explore the city more and more, I realized that there was so much this wonderful place had to offer that I would so easily enjoy - the only problem was that I did not want to experience this alone. I wanted nothing more to share my everyday experiences with someone but I had no one. I had heard so much of the warm culture of Cariocas - especially towards gringos like myself - but I had yet to experience any of it. I suspect that I received a more latent welcome because I do not look like the typical gringo. Every Brazilian I meet thinks I am Brazilian until I open my mouth. But alas, this isolation was only temporary. I now have a solid cadre of friends that grows weekend by weekend. -

Okay, back to regularly scheduled programming. So, I am modifying the open invitation. In Rio, I am extremely happy. I have found peace in many parts of my life. In many ways, Rio is like the methadone to my vices. What it offers complements me in many ways. (Maybe Rio is my rebound?) Anyway, when I say I love it here, I truly mean it. And when I love something, I will defend it with passion and will readily castigate any undue critics.

So consider this a warning - if you are the type of person who surrounds herself with negative energy, you are not welcome to visit me in Rio (or anywhere for that matter).

Life need not be as complicated as many of us make it. Life is short. There is no need to let the bullshit control us. When you feel a victim to your circumstances, take control of them. None of us have done this before (in our present consciousness anyway), so none of us can expect that we or others will get it right all the time. But that is no excuse to shy away from taking responsibility for our decisions. By taking responsibility, I think we empower ourselves to overcome negative energy and leading happier lives. But then again, I am no Dr. Phil and certainly, I am far from perfect. I do accept and appreciate my imperfections though . . . Just try.

Anyway, if you are open-minded, optimistic and secure with your insecurities, please come visit Rio. Just don't bring negativity with you. The flight is too expensive so just leave the shit back home. Here, you will find a place and a people who do not judge you and where you feel the ideals of democracy permeate everyday life. By no means is Rio a bastion of equality, more so of inequality than anything else, but its culture forces everyone to deal with a common level of humility, on one level or another.

Here's a picture that summarizes my happiness (I'm the black speck to the right):

From American Fooligan

Monday, November 09, 2009

Chasing Rainbows

Since last Monday, the weather in Rio has been amazing. It started with an amazing beach day on Finados (the Brazilian holiday to commemorate the day of the dead), and the weather consistently got better. Each morning, the thermometers on the beach would read 31C degrees - about 88F - and they would top out around 36C - around 97F. It's November folks - just the beginning of the summer. Can't wait for those 40C+ beach days in a month or so.

So this weekend my friend Anita came into town. She arrived on Sunday and after dropping her baggage off at the hotel, we met up with a French-Belgian guy she met on the bus as he was headed to Maracanã too. The match this weekend was between Fluminense and Palmeiras. As I have become a firmly entrenched supporter of Flamengo, I could happily root for Fluminense here because Fla is fighting Palmeiras for the Championship.

We meet Christian and his two friends from São Paulo and headed to Porcão - an amazing churrascaria. We had a quick meat fest and then scurried off to the stadium. Anita and I had to separate from our new friends as they had tickets in the upper deck and we could only find ones for the cadeira comum - the seats behind the goal.

The match itself was amazing as Flu, heavy underdogs, took the game to Palmeiras at every chance. They had one goal mistakenly disallowed and Fred knocked in a scrappy header.

As Flu protected their lead and full-time approached, the disbelieving crowd could barley control their emotion. A win would keep their feeble hopes of staving off relegation alive and provide them with some positive reflections after a season spent dwelling in the cellar of the league as they have excelled in the Copa Sudamericana (equivalent of Europa League).

While not matching the intensity of Mengão supporters, the chants of "Nehhhhn-sayyy, Nehhhhn-sayyy" were amazing. An elder gentleman in front of us could hardly contain himself and he started jumping up and down with the exuberance of a 6 year old. I am shocked if he didn't soil himself. Here is a video of him:

WARNING, if crappy videos make you nauseous, skip this. My first attempt at using my iPhone as a video camera. I will get better -

The Flu win over Palmeiras coupled with a Flamengo win and a São Paulo draw midweek has Fla sitting just 2 points behind São Paulo and 1 behind Palmeiras. With 4 matches left, it's anybody's for the taking.

During the meatfest, Anita and I were talking about life. I mentioned to her that it has taken me 30 years to realize how rarely we have days where we get it all right - those days where you wake up the next day and wouldn't change a single thing about the day before. I think those days happen like 5-10 times a year if we're lucky. But those are the days we all want. I am convinced you can't put the pressure on yourself to have those days as their are way too many uncontrolled variables. Instead, you just have to do your best and just accept and laugh off the rest. I likened it to chasing rainbows. It's not every day that you see a rainbow - and their is always something majestic about them. You get lucky when they make an amazing view even that much more amazing.

This is the view that we had when we left Maracaña.

From American Fooligan

Friday, November 06, 2009

Thursday, November 05, 2009


I promised to update this more frequently and I am now going to promise to live up to that promise. Thanks Asher and Mick for reminding me that I am about as worthwhile as Barack Obama these days. Although you guys probably just wanted something to read whilst dropping a deuce, you have re-inspired me. Might as well give me a Webby right now.

What I can tell you is that I have been without a phone since October 12. That will all change tonight when I make my triumphant return to the first world and get back on an iPhone. That means I can post pictures and videos on the fly to this puppy. That much I can promise to do because there are many worthy "sights" in Rio.

So what's this First-World / Fourth-World nonsense you ask? Well, Rio is a very diverse place in all facets of life. At times, things are very First-World (1W) - meaning they are on-par or better than their corollaries in New York City. In stark contrast, there are times when things are more impovershed and make less sense than the way they did in the India I knew 10 years ago - Fourth-World (4W). And then there are plenty of things that fall in between. You guessed it: (2W and 3W).

Full credit for this rating system goes to Ranjan and his Blue-State / Red-State comparisons over on his excellent blog - which also does not get updated with appropriate frequency.

So let's kick this off (albeit a little slowly - twill be much better once I am phone in hand):

Rio de Janeiro Busses: 4W - most of these things are rickety old pieces of solid steel that burn wholes in the Ozone Layer with each press of the gas pedal. I think they do this to help Cariocas work on their tan. Each bus seems to be privately operated so the drivers have an incentive to pack as many people on as possible. This results in people being packed in the aisles and since you enter at the front and exit at the back, you are constantly forced to play a g-rated bout of tummy sticks with countless passengers.

Bus Efficiency: 1W - contrary to the buses and the ettiquete of driving them, the efficiency is amazing. Every driver thinks he (yet to see a female) is a formula 1 pilot (they don't call them drivers). They weave through traffic and have a jam on the breaks at will. I am pretty sure I have been involved in 2 or 3 power slides (not really sure what that is, but Hans used to say this all the time). You can also just flag a bus down in much the same way you would hail a taxi. Great because if there is no hail, the driver is going to fly right past a stop.

In a word, busses are a system of organized chaos. I have found that you can have a great ab workout by standing and trying to balance through the busts lane changes and jarring stops and starts. It's almost like surfing.

Pictures will start rolling in tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Major injuries for Charlie Davies.

I love watching Charlie Davies play. He is a true athlete, he's energetic on the pitch, he plays with great skill and he has the heart of a lion. We all know about the car wreck by now.

Let's show Charlie how much we appreciate and believe in him by pledging to be there the first time he returns to the pitch.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Assault on Azteca 2009

So as any of you can gather from this blog, I have been to many US matches and a fair number of them have been away matches.  I went to every US game in World Cup 2002 and 2006 and also the games in Copa America 2007.  Something I always wanted to do was to go to an away match with my Dad.

My Dad has been to only one other US match before - a 1-1 draw with Haiti played in the unfriendly confines of the Orange Bowl back in 2005.  It was a lackluster match where we were 2 of maybe 20 US fans and I have always wanted to show my Dad what the real support was like.  Somehow, I was able to persuade him to come to Azteca with me.

My Dad has traveled a fair bit and after he and my Mom joined me in Spain during the summer, I think he was eager to see and experience more new things.  As expected, he did just that.

Because I was flying in from Chicago, and he from South Florida, we met at the airport in Mexico City.  I could not find a good meeting point online so I told him to meet my by a restaurant that I remembered eating at in 2005 (Note to all airport administrators out there - update your websites - something that should be universally included is a clear, detailed map that includes designated meeting points).  Dad arrived before me and could not locate the restaurant because it had since closed (despite still being listed on the website).  So, I began to wander around the airport when I noticed a McDonald's in the offing.  Sure enough, Dad thought the same thing . . . Let's meet at mickey D's (no, I did not go there for food).

We easily made our way into the city via the subway (at 2 pesos/15 ¢ per person, the DF subway is the cheapest in the world) and headed straight for the Galleria Plaza Hotel in the Zona Rosa.  We dropped off our bags and immediately headed out in search of our first tacos.  We then made our way to the ruins of Templo Mayor in the Zocalo to take in a bit of culture before meeting up with many familiar faces.

After the ruins, we returned to the hotel and met up with Superlimey and his wife, Dougie fresh and the ESC/NJB crew.   We had a few giant 32-40 oz beers on the roof and then headed out for a dinner where we ran into the Minnesota crew.  We also met Ashwin, who is putting this film together which I'm sure it's going to be a fantastic piece:

After dinner was what I was really looking forward to though as we went to Yuppies (horrible, we all know) to meet up with a ton of other US fans including, Bryan and Dante from the Venezuela trip, Mike from WC 2002 and 2006, Scott from Mexico 2005 and countless other matches since and Marco, my buddy who was in my program in Madrid.  Awesome time.

Game-day began with a hangover and did not begin ominously as my search for the now customary victory cigars for Ethan and myself went unfulfilled.  I could have picked up some Cohibas of questionable authenticity from Sanborne's, but I did not want to start the day by having the Mexicans being one up on me.  End result - no cigar (literally and figuratively).

About 75 of us made our way to Azteca on the Metro - Doug captured some great footage of this HERE - and we did not really encounter any problems.  We got to the stadium around noon for a 3 pm match so we had plenty of time to sample the delicious fare from the food vendors outside the stadium.  Critical miscalculation though in that we did not realize that it is prohibited to drink outside the stadium.  3 hours before kickoff and no beer = me not happy.

As more and more Mexican fans arrived, the atmosphere began to pickup with lots of jeering coming from every direction.  The police steered all the US fans toward a corner of the main gate and quickly shuttled us inside so they could keep the more aggressive fans at bay.  They marched us around the stadium and into the upper deck where we were immediately greeted with boos and whistles from the 1/4 full stadium.

With over 2 hours till kickoff and 1.5 hours till beer sales began, we kind of sat around and did nothing.  Every now and then, for no particular reason, the banter between us and the Mexicans would swell and the whistling and jeering would reach a peak before tapering back down.  It was very surreal to be part of this human wave of mutual hate (and don't kid yourself, inside that stadium, there was plenty of hate flowing both ways).

Finally, at 2:30 pm sharp, beer sales commenced and there was something to occupy our time.  The beer prices increased from 10 pesos to 30 pesos (though they also doubled in size) but this did not preclude our section from making our beer vendors very happy people again.  Another swell of hate arose just as the slew of Americans suckers who opted to purchase their tickets through arrived.  These jeers were nothing compared to the reception our national anthem received.  This was the first time that I could not hear a single note of our national anthem.  Mexico fans, I don't care how you want to defend yourself - that is classless.  Your inferiority complex rivals that of Red Sox fans.

Obviously, the match result speaks for itself.  What I found interesting is the behavior of the Mexican fans surrounding us.  When we scored, they fell silent.  After each of their goals, they erupted and started throwing everything imaginable over the 5'2" riot police with full force at our section.  Not at any one person in particular - these idiots were trophy hunting.  "Let me see if I can hit someone in the face with a full bottle of water, a rock, or maybe even a battery"  Complete muppetts.  Somebody could have been seriously hurt.  Some will say that we should have expected this - that is fucking retarded.  This is a sporting event that is heavily regulated by FIFA rules.  Somebody needs to turn their eyes to this behavior before it gets out of hand.  As they say - it's all fun and games till somebody loses an eye - and that very realistically could have happened.

With about 5 minutes to go, the idiot Mexican police (paging redundancy department) tried to persuade us to leave saying that they couldn't control the Mexican fans after the match.  Apparently the stadium administrators have never observed international protocol when it comes to the exit of away fans which long ago settled that all home fans should be dispatched first - and only after the home fans have cleared the are should the visiting fans be released.

No, these Mexican oompah-loompahs cops let us stay till the final whistle blew then promptly marched us out of the stadium.  One of the cops didn't take too kindly to the way I spoke to him and wanted to have some words with me.  Not wanting to entertain the corrupt idiot, I did what any intelligent person would have done and swapped shirts with Spliff to disguise myself.  Worked like a charm and I made it out of the stadium A-OK.  Dad was covered in beer and other liquids of questionable origin.

The cops led us on a Bataan Death March through a gauntlet of Mexican fans waiting to taunt us.  Many of them were trying to instigate a fight by reaching over the useless efforts of the police and touching our heads.  One idiot grabbed Tom Fina's hat off of my head.  However, nothing we had faced was as dangerous as the brick-sized blocks of ice being lofted on top of us from multiple directions.  Had this happened in the US, the cops would have responded in overwhelming force and pulverized the perps.  Not in Mexico . . .

The cops eventually corralled everyone into a few paddy-wagons to take the US fans to a subway line that was not connected to the stadium so that everyone could get back to town safely.  Not wanting to make it easier for the idiot cop to spot me, I dropped off from the group and grabbed a ride from some Mexican fans driving back towards the center.  Their seats were in the lower bowl.  They were genuinely nice - sharing beer and food with me.  They did not resemble the idiots we were placed near at all.  Thanks FEMEXFUT.

Anyway, I made it back to the hotel and was showered and changed before anyone else made it back.  We celebrated our survival and first lead in Azteca with many a shot of tequilla.  Dougie, Ashwin and I headed out late night to check out the clubs but were too tired to deal with it.  A day well spent.

The next day, Dad and I went out to Teotihuacan - an amazing site.

All in all, a worthwhile trip.  Mexico, we will come back and beat you there one day.  I will keep coming back until we do.   I love your culture, your food, your music . . . your people.  But when the US plays Mexico, I hope we kick the piss out of you every time.

An interesting thing at the airport on the way out . . . we had to pass in front of a full-body thermal scanner for a H1N1 check. Good thing tequilla sweats don't register.

Here are some pics:


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Where, oh where, has the fooligan gone?

What up? Que Pasa? Como vai?

Hmmm . . . It has been almost 1 year since I last blogged. There is a reason for that . . . the fooligan left the building. Well, the fooligan is back. Not really back, but at least back on the blog.

After going to every single qualifier in 2008 and a couple friendlies to boot, I dropped my plans to make it to every qualifier in a cycle. I have only been to one match this year! You know it, it was Azteca.

So what happened? Well, I left my job in New York and decided to pursue a passion . . . which predictably involves soccer. I returned to the classroom in pursuit of an LL.M in International Sports Law in Madrid, Spain. Leaving my life was a shock to the senses, as was leaving so many friends behind. However, it created the opportunity to make new friends from all over the world and to gain another perspective during this period of "change."

It also offered the opportunity to take the fooligan show on the road. A group of classmates and I were able to purchase an abono (pass) for the remainder of the temporada (season) for Atlético de Madrid. Not only was this great value (130 euros for 10 matches), but we were able to see some amazing matches - Atléti-Barca, Atléti-Valencia, Atléti-Villareal . . .

What made it extra-special was the amazing and exhillirating play of el uruguayo, Diego Forlán. Despite doing Liverpool for 2 goals when he was with the scum, Forlán, is one of my favorite players of all time because he is a constant threat and runs his ass off. You never see him taking a dive and he is more than willing to track back when needed. The combination of Forlán and Kun Agüero along with Atléti's incompetent defending ensured that each match was a nail-biter. The amazing atmosphere at the Vicente Calderón has inspired a true bond between me and the colchoneros.

While in Madrid, I also took the opportunity to see Real Madrid play at home thrice (though, stupidly, I was too cheap to spring for the stunner when Liverpool knocked off Real at home thanks to Yossi Benayoun's improbable header). The Kuschman and I took in the crosstown derby which saw Atléti cruelly be held to a draw (1-1). Kuschman and I then waited in line for 5 hours to get tickets to El Clásico in which Barcelona delivered one of the most dominating performances I have ever seen when they knocked off Real 6-2. Finally, Diane, Beth and I took in the 3-1 thrashing delivered at the hands of Mallorca which saw Cléber expose everything that was wrong with Real with a ridiculous golazo.

All in all, Real were terrible and their fans were worse. A bunch of fickle whiners who seemed more akin to Atlanta Braves fans (sorry Lloyd) than futbol fans. Atléti on the other hand offered up some exciting futbol and the fans are top class. The highlight for me was during the match against Barca and every single person in the Calderón was chanting "Muerta Dani, Muerta!" (Die Dani, Die) after Dani Alves exaggerated an injury.

We also got to see Spain take on Turkey in a World Cup Qualifier. 15 Euros for a great seat in the Santiago Bernabeu. How much are tickets to our WCQs again?

Anyway, my time in Spain was amazing and unforgettable. After being there for 6 months, I returned to the US and moved to Chicago for a couple months. Great city in the summer (I'll withhold my comments about the rest of the year).

I also got to make the trek down to Azteca with my Dad, which was an amazing experience that is worthy of its own post entirely (coming tomorrow, I swear, already have it written - just want to add some photos).

Now, I am working and living down in Rio de Janeiro. I know, I am one lucky sonofabitch. I love it here. Estou aprendendo portugués e surfar tambem. (I'm learning portuguese and how to surf). Moro quatro quadras da praia no Leblon. (I live 4 blocks from the beach in Leblon) The scenery is amazing and inspiring everyday. When I run on the beach, I run right past the canal that flows through the Jardim da Allah and have a ridiculous view of Corcovado and Cristo.

The other day, I went to the Maracanã for the Flamengo-Fluminense match and that is what really inspired me to revive this blog. The atmosphere there was the best I have ever witnessed and it got me thinking, hey, I am still fooliganing it up, why not keep blogging. Anyway, I will put up a short post on this as well with pictures and some videos.

The match at Maracanã got me thinking though. In 2009, I will have been inside the Vicente Calderón, the Santiago Bernabeu, the Camp Nou, the Azteca, the Maracaná, and in 10 days, the Bombanera. That is 6 veritable temples of football in one year. Yes, the fooligan in me is alive and well.

More to come . . . but, my blog is back!