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2002 World Cup: Special News

     Slovenia: Forward Zlatko Zahovic (#10) was sent home soon after the WC begun, in the aftermath of offenses and aggression against the Team's Coach (Trainer). FIFA did not allow a requested replacement to be called in, as it was not a case of injury.
     Brazil: Midfielder Ricardinho (#7) arrived in Korea after the World Cup had begun, to replace Emerson (Midfielder + Captain) who suffered a dislocated shoulder the day before Brazil's first match. Defender Cafu (#2) took over the function as Captain of the Team.
     Sweden: Defender + Captain Patrik Andersson (#3) suffered a muscle strain in training, before the opening match. At the close of the 1st.Round, he was to be sent home, as he wouldn't recover in time to play any of the remaining matches.
     Germany: Midfielder Jorg Bohme (#18) had to go at the close of the First Round, because of a leg muscle injury that wouldn't heal in time for him to play again.
     U.S.A.: At the close of the First Round, defender Jeff Agoos (#12) was ruled out of the remaining matches, because of a thigh problem.
     Denmark: following the frustrating Danish World Cup exit, after having had the fourth best campaign overall, four players have announced their retirement from international soccer. They are Midfielders Stig Tofting (#2) and Brian Steen Nielsen (#23), Defender and Captain Jan Heintze (#5), and Goalkeeper Peter Kjær (#16).
     Sweden: likewise, Forward Henrik Larsson (#11), who scored his 24th goal for Sweden during the match against Senegal, announced that he is retiring from international soccer, following the Swedish defeat and World Cup exit. (Senegal won on Golden Goal.)

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     Portugal: João Pinto and Fernando Couto risk being punished by FIFA for incidents after the former player was given a red card in the match against S.Korea.
    On June 19, a hearing with be held with referee Angel Sanchez, after which FIFA is to decide on the applicability or not of punitive measures.
    João Pinto is reported to have punched the referee in the stomach, while Fernando Couto to have held the referee by the face. The players, in turn, allege that they went after the referee at half-time only to apologize to him.
    Should they face punishment, this could mean suspensions for up to a year, in which case they would miss the opening matches of Euro 2004 (to be held in Portugal).
    June 18: João Pinto has been provisionally suspended from all match action by FIFA's disciplinary committee. Although elucidating comments were declined on it, FIFA is known to have gotten hold of a videotape that is reportedly significantly revealing in regard to the current issue involving the Portuguese player João Pinto. FIFA's disciplinary body has also held their planned hearing with the referee Angel Sanchez. It was after this hearing and the examination of the cited video evidence that the disciplinary committee handed out the provisional suspension. Given the serious nature of the offence of which the player is accused, FIFA's disciplinary body will be examining additional information that has been requested, before the body issues a final sentence.
    No reference to the other Portuguese player at stake, Fernando Couto, has appeared in the soccer media so far.
     Germany: the Team will play their next match (against the U.S.A.) wearing black armbands, in tribute to German legend and World Champion Fritz Walter, who passed away on Monday, June 17.
     Spain: Captain and Defender Fernando Hierro (#6) has announced his retirement from international soccer at the end of the current World Cup, regardless of the result.
     Brazil: Although Brazil was not initially thought to have fallen into an extremely challenging Group for the First Round of the current World Cup, this idea may need reconsideration: only Group C (Brazil's) and Group D produced two qualifiers, each, for the last eight:  Turkey and  Brazil, and  South Korea and  the U.S.A., respectively. Should they all make it through the Quarter-Finals, the Squads from each of these two Groups (C and D) are actually to meet again in the Semi-Finals.
     South Korea and  the U.S.A.: It is noteworthy to remark that, whereas  Turkey and  Brazil were logically expected to emerge from their Group into the Round of Sixteen, both  South Korea and  the U.S.A. were the underdogs (View their Group). Now both countries are among the best eight, in the Quarter-Finals! Quite remarkable – especially S.Korea's victory over the experienced Italian Squad! Will they manage to qualify for the Final Match in Japan, to fulfill the secret dream of every South Korean, since it was established that Japan would hold the honor of hosting the Final Match?!...
     Turkey: officials have named two bridges in honor of Forward Hasan Gokhan Sas (#9) and Midfielder Umit Davala (#22), as a result of the Squad's having reached the Quarter-Finals for the first time ever.
     Spain: the penalty kicks that Goalkeeper Iker Casillas defended in the Spanish victory against the Republic of Ireland have earned a singular honor – officials will name a street after him.
     South Korea: South Korean's Dutch coach Guus Hiddink has been awarded free first class air travel for four years by Korean Air, as a token of recognition for his work in taking the Team to the Quarter-Finals!
    Additionally, every Team player and coaching staff member (in a total of 26, altogether) have been given four round-trip business class tickets.

     Italy: South Korean Forward Ahn Jung-Hwan (#19), who scored the Golden Goal against Italy, has been surprisingly fired by his Team, Italian first division Perugia. In addition, he was reportedly scapegoated as persona non grata at the Team headquarters, under the allegation that Ahn Jung-Hwan's behavior had been “an affront to Italian pride and the country that opened its doors to him two years ago.” Perurgia's Chairman, Luciano Gaucci, was further quoted in La Gazzetta dello Sport as stating as well that he had “no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian soccer.”
    Half a day later, Luciano Gaucci was reported to have added the following observation to his initial statement: that it was not Ahn Jung-Hwan's goal, but the player's alleged comment that Korean soccer was superior to Italian soccer that was offensive to him “and to the whole Italian nation.”
    Rather than causing devastation, to attribute the 26-year old Ahn Jung-Hwan the power to “ruin Italian soccer” actually achieves a quite different effect: the words confer this player a dimension far greater than the heart and determination he pursued victory with could ever accredit him.
    This is the second time the Italian Squad is prevented from reaching the Quarter-Finals by a Korean Team – the first time (1966/England), the Italians were surprisingly sent home by North Korea, the dose being now repeated by South Korea.
    Tempers were apparently highly inflamed in Italy, in the aftermath of their elimination from the World Cup. Even the usually sober and well reputed Il Messaggero appears not to have resisted indulging in the overall sour-grapes mood.
    Il Messaggero's reference to Ahn Jung-Hwan, as being there as “part of Daewoo's package” (Perugia's sponsor) is indirectly dehumanizing – even if perhaps not so intended. Independently of his merits as a player or of his nationality, Ahn Jung-Hwan is more than merchandise included in a package: he is a Human Being. The Korean player was further spited with statements such as: he was “allergic” to the Italian language and food; he played no more than 25 matches in two years.
    Certainly this sort of reaction adds a yet sadder tone to Italy's defeat and exit from the Current World Cup.
    According to the international press, nonetheless, South Korea's new hero should not lose sleep over the spiteful revolt that he seems to have triggered in Italy: highly reputed teams, such as Barcelona, Glasgow Rangers, and a number of German Clubs, are all reportedly interested in hiring the South Korean forward.
     My personal view (you can skip it here, if you only care for the news) is that there's more constructive action at Italy's reach than unproductively slanting at a young player who apparently had difficulties (perhaps also little guidance? in) coping with striking cultural differences, as he moved from East to West.
    If accurately reported, Ahn Jung-Hwan's alleged comment that Korean soccer is better than Italian first of all needs to be appraised in its original context, before it can be allowed to raise the rage of Italians.
    If the context is the now, i.e., his comment refers to the present time, to the current World Cup, as it is very likely, then most of the World would agree with Ahn Jung-Hwan – independently of the fact that, up to the World Cup Italy has ranked sixth at FIFA, versus South Korea in fortieth (see here).
    To start with, S.Korea did have a better campaign throughout this World Cup: the sixth best campaign of all(!), versus Italy's fourteenth best (see here). Moreover, S.Korea did beat Italy fair and square in the Quarter-Finals.
    But S.Korea's feat was yet more remarkable: when the same Ahn Jung-Hwan missed that penalty kick at the start of the match, I said to myself, “well, Korea is done with.” For how many Teams can boast missing a penalty kick against Italy, still to go on to win the match?!... Not even Brazil, counting on the two Ronaldo's, Rivaldo and Romário, together, plus Roberto Carlos, Cafu, & co., could take it for granted that they could!
    Yet, “little Korea” did it, against “giant Italy.” This is what is insulting, the true “affront to Italian pride,” rather than the alleged hastily uttered words amid the heat of celebrations. Italians should be the first to understand this, given their characteristic tendency to verbal hyperbole, which attributes the culture such a special charm, having earned them, as well, the reputation of great lovers and incomparable in romance!
    As I started to mention above, there is constructive doing, ahead, at Italy's reach, out of what a priori feels like a tragedy.
    For example, Italian soccer could instead profit from an objective appraisal of [1] the high level skill and category inherent to so many Italian soccer players (FIFA's recent all-time dream team includes two Italians!), in view of [2] a tactical system that has become standard in Italy, but which hardly pays tribute to the excellency of these players.
    It is human nature to miss seeing what's too close to us. For example, language, time, consciousness, we take them all for granted – unless we set out to study them as sciences. Then we discover new at every step. (“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Proust - see here for more).
    So, there would be nothing at all to criticize if Italians, in general, are the only in the world who have failed to see that the tactical system employed by their Team actually lends the great Italian players on the field less respect for their true status and value, than currently shown by the Italian press toward Ahn Jung-Hwan, in the aftermath of Italy's exit from the World Cup.
    It's human nature, anyway, to miss what is close to us, to miss seeing the obvious.
    Now, accidents, disasters, and other sudden events that shake us out of our routines, or out of our plans, these usually carry the hidden merit of allowing us glimpses of Proust's “new eyes” experience – that is, if we do not deliberately prevent fresh light from pouring in.
    So, Italian soccer can take healthy advantage of this, a priori, tragic accident, and actually turn it around to its own advantage, ultimately profit from it. And then be justly proud of it! Disasters are never welcome. But once they set in, we cannot turn the clock back... The wisest we can is turn them into fresh yeast for something positive. It is always possible. Out of chaos, a new order, at a higher level.
    Italy has great players. In addition, Italy's long time tradition in soccer evokes names such as England (the birth-place of soccer), Brazil and Germany. Why should Italy play as if they were a modest, small team? Not even the U.S.A., to cite a beginner in soccer (as compared to Italy), employs such heavily defensive tactics!...
    If this system took root in Italy because it was supposed to be result-oriented (see here)...well, it does not always bring home the intended results, as presently evidenced.
    Then why not favor playing in a way such as to honor and take full advantage of the outstanding quality of their players? A way that would certainly make every Italian proud of his/her Team? Even when defeated. For they would not always win. But they don't, anyhow, under the current system. So, why not?...
    At any rate, the true sporting spirit includes both victories and defeats – no one can always be a winner (despite the apparent current desire of F1 driver Michael Schumacher and the Ferrari team that he built around him – see MieNet's Formula One Pages); but it is possible to hold one's true grandeur, whether in winning or in losing,
    Certainly, Italy's soccer has sufficient tradition and skill for that!
    As someone who loves the sport, beyond national and club passions, I certainly cross my fingers that Italy emerges yet stronger and better, in every sense, out of the current crisis.

     France: Defender Frank Leboeuf (#18), Midfielder Youri Djorkaeff (#6), and Forward Christophe Dugarry (#21) have all announced that they have ended their international careers in this World Cup. When asked whether he would be doing the same, Goalkeeper Fabien Barthez (#16) stated that he would continue on, as retiring from the international scene would be no consolation to him regarding France's poor performance in this world cup. He philosophically added that winning and losing are both part of sport, and therefore France could bounce back and again make the list of the favorites in international competitions.
     Argentina: rivalry between neighboring countries have long spiced sporting competitions. The recent match Mexico x U.S.A. bore all such characteristics. Other examples are Brazil x Argentina, Denmark x Sweden, the Netherlands x Belgium, just to cite a few. By the same token, a South Korea x Japan match is likely another of such classical matches, the outcome of which can never be counted on in advance, even when one of the teams is undergoing a down phase.
    In consonance with the above mentioned rivalry, the aftermath of their elimination from the current World Cup has found the Argentinian media focusing their attention toward Brazil – of course eager to catch their neighboring rival in a similar disaster.
    The local press, for example, has heavily downplayed Brazil's victory over Belgium, more passionately than the media in Belgium, itself. At least, as far as I can tell, it was so (I followed the Brazil x Belgium match on Belgium Canvas TV while listening to Brazilian Rio de Janeiro's Radio Globo, so as to get a fair overall impression of the match. For the same reasons, I will follow England x Brazil on the BBC, while listening to a Brazilian radio station.)
    The Brazilian media, in turn, takes notice of what their Argentinian neighbors publish on the Brazilian squad, and of course make their comments. One such comment, following Brazil's last match, was rather interesting, no less thought-provoking, and spiced with a pinch of humor, as well, the reason it is shared below:
    In view of Argentina's current readiness to downplay Brazil's World Cup news to the limit they possibly can, akin with their unspoken wish to savor a Brazilian disaster, a Brazilian reporter has wondered what the Argentinian position for the match between England x Brazil is going to be...when not only the rivalry between Argentina and England is just about as intense, but also the Argentineans cannot currently forgive England for the defeat that helped eliminate them from the World Cup at its earliest stage.
    Maybe their best choice, in Argentina, is to ignore altogether that this match is taking place on Friday...
     Argentina: following  Brazil's incontestable victory over the good  English squad, although a few Argentinean newspapers reported it just matter-of-factedly, the majority of the Argentinean press sounded pretty enthusiastic. The Uruguayan press, by the way, is reported to have elected Brazil as the favorite for this World Cup's Title.
     Brazil: a bit of Brazilian jolly humor, as jolly as the soccer they play, follows.
    I watched the match on the BBC, while tuned into the southern Brazilian Bandeirantes Radio Station (from Porto Alegre, Brazil's largest city that is closest to Argentina, and the region where both Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Brazilian coach, and Ronaldinho Gaúcho, among others in the Squad, are from).
    After the match, the interviews, and the many comments (here included comments from Dunga, Brazilian Captain in their last World Cup title, eight years ago), the commentator announced that they'd play a song to celebrate that victory. I couldn't help laughing at the surprise of their creativity:
    Instead of a soccer-related song, in samba rhythm, as could be expected, the song was none other than Lennon-McCartney's Hello-Goodbye, as recorded by the Beatles...just with a few sound effects added in the background, the first of which I attempt to report in writing, counting that your imagination will take care of the rest:
      You say "Yes,"
      I say "No,"
      You say "Stop,"
      I say "Go," "Goal!" "Goal!"
    The remaining of the sound effects used would be too hard to reproduce via written language. But you can use your imagination and enjoy it, if I share that the recording of both Rivaldo's and Ronaldinho's goals were played in the background at strategic points in the song, making a very creative counter-point!
    Certainly this is the first time I hear a musical counter-point built on sounds emerging from a soccer match!
    If the level of creativity as displayed in today's match (and echoed in Porto Alegre's Radio Bandeirantes' celebration) is to remain characteristic of this Brazilian Squad, then they may well be taken as serious candidates for this year's Title, as the activity at the British bookmakers seem to indicate (see here).
     Brazil: former World Champion (1994) Captain Dunga, who was commenting the Brazil x England match on Porto Alegre's Radio Bandeirantes, made a curious remark today.
    Dunga said that the English may now regret having taught us the game (soccer); for if they (the English) were the creators of soccer, Brazilians and Latin Americans had created the art of soccer, which had today been responsible for surprising the original inventors and teachers.

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