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Argentina/Germany Face Off

The Dutch fall to Argentina and the celebration begins! (Nelson Almeida/Getty Images)

The Dutch fall to Argentina and the celebration begins! (Nelson Almeida/Getty Images)

It wasn’t pretty—and some have even labeled it as boring—but the World Cup semifinal match between Argentina and the Netherlands is history and, fortunately, Argentina prevailed. They now face soccer powerhouse Germany in the final match on Sunday—their third such meeting after Argentina won in 1986 and Germany won in 1990.

This is Argentina’s first trip to the final in 24 years and since this victory also happened on their national independence day, it was even sweeter. Granted, it took 120 minutes, a penalty kick shootout and some amazing saves from Argentinean goalie Romero to secure the 4-2 victory, but Messi and company succeeded and now face a formidable—yet familiar—foe.

Dutch fans watch as their World Cup hopes fade (Ferdy Damman/Getty Images)

Dutch fans watch as their World Cup hopes fade (Ferdy Damman/Getty Images)

In other words, Sunday’s final against Germany should be one for the ages—provided Argentina doesn’t go down the same road that sent Brazil packing after an embarrassing 7-1 loss to Alemannia. And now the Brazilians have to watch their oldest South American foe face off against Germany in pursuit of the trophy they so desperately wanted for themselves. I truly hate it for them since, as I mentioned before, I am also a fan of Brazilian soccer.

The good news is that one South American team remains, so there is still a chance of the World Cup coming back to the continent. Argentina will have to play at the highest level if they hope to suppress Klose, Muller and the rest of Germany’s superstars. Their defense played well against the Dutch and effectively removed Robben from the match, but the Germans have more weapons and Argentina will need to improve offensively to keep up with them.

I have faith, though. And I hope that when the dust settles on Sunday, Argentina will stand victorious—and Messi will finally crawl out of Maradona’s shadow once and for all.

¡Viva Argentina!

Klose to the End

Klose sets record that compounds Brazil's defeat

Muller congratulates Klose, the top World Cup goal-scorer of all time and one hell of a class act (Natacha Pisarenko)

Wow.

When I posted “Battle for the Cup” yesterday and wished for a South American World Cup final between Brazil and Argentina, I thought there was at least a chance that the host nation could defeat Germany, one of the most powerful teams in soccer. Even without offensive star Neymar and defensive juggernaut Silva, Brazil still possessed enough talent to give the Germans a run for their money, right?

Wrong.

For the first ten minutes or so, Brazil seemed capable of changing the odds stacked against them, as everyone had Germany winning the match. They passed effectively, pressured the German defenders and even had a few chances for goals.

Those chances disappeared when Thomas Mueller scored in the 11th minute. And within six minutes, the Germans piled on four more goals, slicing through the Brazilian defense as if they weren’t there and embarrassing goalkeeper Julio Cesar. Of course, this was only the beginning.

By halftime, the Germans held a 5-0 lead over the local heroes—and things didn’t get much better in the second half.

When the dust finally settled—and after Brazil was fortunate enough to put one ball in the back of the net—the score was 7-1 and it was all over for the Brazilians. They now face the loser of today’s match between Argentina and the Netherlands in the battle for third place.

Of course, a horrible showing from Brazil—their first loss in a competitive home game since 1975 and the worst loss in team history—cannot overshadow an amazing performance by the German squad. They essentially put on a clinic against Brazil, one that even had Brazilian fans cheering by game’s end.

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Brazilian fans were disappointed… and pissed (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Seven goals were scored by Germany, the most amazing of which was a strike in the 79th minute by forward Andre Schurrle. Within two steps of collecting a pass in the box, he hammered a top shelf shot over Julio Cesar, off the crossbar and into the net—effectively hammering the final nail into Brazil’s coffin.

Most amazing of all, though, was the goal scored by Miroslav Klose, his 16th in World Cup competition and the most by any single player in the history of the tournament. This added insult to injury for Brazil, who watched their famed goal-scorer Ronaldo fall to second place on the all-time World Cup scoring list. Klose’s goal also contributed to the Germans’ World Cup total of 223, the most goals by one nation in tournament history—Brazil stands in second place with 220.

Yes, the match between Germany and Brazil broke all sorts of records, but it also broke something else: the hearts of Brazilian fans everywhere. I truly feel for them after such a humiliating loss—and I hope Argentina doesn’t perform in kind when they face the Dutch later today.

After all, it would be nice to have at least one South American team in the final match—and better still if they take home the trophy.

Time for some Messi magic, I hope! Viva Argentina!

Battle for the Cup

Let’s go, South America! (inSerbia)

After nearly a month of exciting goals, defensive stands and heartbreaking upsets, the 2014 World Cup of soccer is about to come to an end. Only four teams remain: Argentina and Brazil from South America, and Germany and the Netherlands from the European continent. And on Sunday, a champion will be crowned.

Before a team and its adoring nation can raise that trophy into the air in triumph, though, some serious battles remain, beginning with home country Brazil and European powerhouse Germany facing off in just a few hours. Unfortunately, high expectations for the Brazilians have been more-or-less dashed as this talented team struggled to survive the group stage and now face Germany without some of their key players.

Neymar won’t make this match (Getty Images)

Star striker Neymar was injured in his last match and now will be watching the game from home, where he is recuperating from a back injury. Of course, this isn’t the only challenge facing Brazil today. They also lost team captain and key defender Thiago Silva, who was suspended after collecting a second yellow card in the same match that sidelined Neymar.

In other words, Brazil’s odds of taking home the trophy have faded, but they’re not out of it yet. They just have to play their best game ever if they hope to survive the likes of Thomas Muller and Miroslav Klose, who could become the most prolific goal scorer in World Cup history if he sends one into the net today. Klose has scored at least one goal in the last four World Cup tournaments, so expect him to play “balls out” today.

Can Messi work his magic yet again? (reckontalk)

Tomorrow’s match pits my favorite—the Lionel Messi-led Argentineans—against the orange-laden Dutch and soccer stars like Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijders. Unlike the Brazilians—who I also love despite being Argentina’s arch-rivals—the Dutch have been a nearly unstoppable force on the pitch. Argentina will have their work cut out for them, in other words, and could struggle after losing Angel Di Maria to a thigh injury in their recent win against Belgium.

Needless to say, I am still pulling for my South American teams and would love for them to face off in the final match. This isn’t very likely to happen, but if I’ve learned anything from the World Cup, it’s that there is no such thing as a predictable outcome. Anyone can win on any given day. I only hope that on this day—and tomorrow, as well—it’s the South American teams celebrating and rejoicing.

¡Viva Brasil y Argentina!

World Cup Fever!

Are you ready for some futbol? (FIFA/Brazil)

Later today, the largest single sporting event on Earth will kick off: the World Cup. And I, for one, could not be more excited—despite living in America, the country that seems least interested in what we call soccer, but the world refers to as football (or fútbol, depending on where you come from). Game one between host country Brazil and Croatia is set to begin this afternoon… and I know for a fact that millions of people around the world are just as anxious to see some world-class soccer as I am.

When I was a child, I played soccer as part of our city league, but I cared more about socializing with friends than actually learning and enjoying the sport. Part of this had to do with my unusually large size, which doomed me to defensive positions, primarily as a fullback. Smaller, faster kids played offense, so the excitement of scoring goals was never part of my experience. Instead, I was instructed to block attacking players at all costs and to sacrifice my body if necessary—which essentially meant I took lots of shots to the face and kicks to the shins. And if goals were scored on my end, it was because I failed in my responsibilities and the opposing team scored.

As you might imagine, this took a lot of fun out of soccer for me, so I never pursued it in later life.

Messi of Argentina (PinIt)

Fortunately, I never lost interest in the sport itself, especially since my father and everyone on his side of the family came from Argentina. What my American relatives lacked in soccer enthusiasm was easily offset by my South American relatives, in other words, so I soon came to love soccer and especially enjoyed World Cup competition. Granted, I was slightly put-off by the four-year gap between World Cups, but now it only serves to grow my excitement and anticipation. I even had a chance to see some World Cup games when the tournament came to America in 1994, and that is an experience I won’t soon forget.

Now it’s 2014 and time for another World Cup, this one from Brazil. Argentina may be my favorite team, but I also love Brazil because South America is my favorite soccer continent. There is so much talent there—from Messi in Argentina and Neymar in Brazil to Suárez in Uruguay and Sánchez in Chile—so I know this will be an exciting contest. I only hope Argentina can pull it out. At least they have the Pope on their side!

By now, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned my own national team from the United States. Simple: people here don’t care about soccer as much as they do American sports, especially football and baseball. This bothers me since soccer is universal. Nearly every country in the developed world plays it, yet America still refuses to “get on board.” Sure, we perform well from time to time, but we’ll never be a powerhouse like Argentina, Spain, Brazil, Germany or Italy until we truly take the sport seriously—and this certainly doesn’t seem as if it will be America’s breakout year.

Donovan, formerly of the US national team (People)

As you’ve likely heard, U.S. soccer coach and one-time German soccer villain Jurgen Klinsmann made the controversial decision to omit Landon Donovan from his roster, despite Donovan being the most decorated player in American soccer history. Klinsmann also made some rather unpopular comments with regard to the U.S. team’s chances in this World Cup: “For us now talking about winning a World Cup, it is just not realistic.” He may be right—and this could simply be a way for him to help motivate his “underdogs”—but his comments rubbed a lot of Americans the wrong way.

Kind of odd since most Americans could care less about soccer, but whatever.

At any rate, I can hardly wait to watch Brazil and Croatia square off later. And there are some exciting matchups to come, including Spain/Netherlands on Friday—a rematch of the 2010 Cup final, which Spain won—and England/Italy on Saturday. It should be a great month of fútbol, so put on your colors, leave your annoying South African vuvuzelas behind and get ready for the pinnacle of international athletic competitions: the 2014 World Cup!

Viva Argentina!

When Soccer Turns Deadly

Soccer hooligans the world over (courtesy of Pattaya Daily News)

Soccer—or football, as it is known to nearly everyone but Americans—is not an easy sport. It takes speed, skill, endurance and a strong sense of teamwork. I know because for years during my youth, I participated in recreational soccer leagues in my hometown. And though I always worked well as part of a team, I must admit that some of those other skills just weren’t there. This never caused me any problems because ultimately, I was only there to have some fun. Losing didn’t even bother me that much because deep down, I knew that I would never be a professional soccer player.

This didn’t stop me from becoming a huge fan of the sport, though. My father and everyone on his side of the family came from Argentina, a country known for its world-class soccer. Players like Diego Maradona, Jorge Crespo, Lionel Messi, Gabriel Batistuta and Daniel Passarella helped Argentina win fourteen Copa America titles, several Olympic titles and two World Cup championships, including the 1986 final where Maradona scored the infamous “Hand of God” goal to push his team past West Germany by a score of 3-2.

Watch any World Cup soccer coverage and undoubtedly someone will mention this fortunate event… fortunate for Argentina, I mean. The Germans likely cringe every time they think of it.

Maradona and the infamous “Hand of God” (courtesy of Bongarts/Getty Images)

Needless to say, soccer is now one of my favorite sports. I play it with friends or family members from time to time—usually at a family reunion, especially during visits to South America—but my favorite is watching it on television, specifically during the World Cup. I actually attended a few games when the WC was held in the U.S. back in 1994. A buddy and I drove down to Orlando, Florida and were lucky enough to watch the Netherlands and Morocco face off at the Citrus Bowl. We sat amidst a colorful crowd of Moroccan fans, cheered them on as we drank paper cups of beer, and consoled our new friends when the Dutch defeated them 2-1 in their final game of the tournament.

It was awesome. And I have loved soccer—pardon me, football—ever since. Hell, I even pull for the U.S. national team despite the sport never really gaining popularity here. Once we take it more seriously, though, I’m hoping we’ll be much more competitive.

Unfortunately—and like most other sports (if not all of them)—soccer has a dark side. The most obvious example of this is football hooliganism—the tendency for some soccer fans to behave in unruly, destructive and even violent ways. Sometimes this springs from a loss by someone’s favorite team and sometimes it results from little more than a rivalry. Whatever the reason, hooliganism has resulted in countless injuries and, in some cases, death. And in the end, it’s the fans that pay the price.

Of course, it isn’t just the fans that fall victim to soccer-related violence. Things can be just as dangerous for players and even referees. Just look at the case of Ricardo Portillo from earlier this year.

On April 27th, Portillo was refereeing a game for Fut International, a soccer league for Hispanic children in Taylorsville, a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah. At one point, he issued a yellow card to a 17-year-old player—citing him for an on-field infraction—and told the young man he would be ejected from the game if he received a red card for a second penalty.

Under normal circumstances, the presenting of a yellow card draws ire from players and fans, but it is normally expressed by a lot of screaming, flailing about and gesturing. Sadly, that was not the case for Portillo.

Ricardo Portillo (courtesy of AP)

Rather than arguing with the referee for a bad call, the young soccer player suddenly turned around and punched Portillo in the face. Initially, his injuries were thought to be minor, but that changed drastically when he went to the hospital later. Doctors discovered that Portillo had serious internal head injuries. He was in critical condition for a week before finally passing away the following Saturday night.

Ricardo Portillo was 46 years old and is survived by three daughters, all of whom live in Mexico. And though the young man who struck him was originally charged with aggravated assault, Portillo’s death resulted in upgraded charges. He is now being held in a juvenile detention facility and should have his day in court soon enough.

A similar attack occurred in the Netherlands this past December when three young amateur players—a 16-year-old and two 15-year-olds—assaulted a 41-year-old volunteer linesman and basically beat him to death. All three were charged with manslaughter, assault and public violence—and they will surely spend some time in jail—but I’m sure this provides little or no comfort to the victim’s family, who must now live their lives without him.

Both of these examples of soccer violence are tragic—and I truly feel for the families of these men—but nothing shocked me more than the news that came out of northern Brazil last week. And if you have not yet heard this story, I’m sure you will find it equally disturbing.

The incident happened during a June 30th soccer match in the Brazilian village of Pius XII. Referee Jordan Silva got into an argument with Linda dos Santos Abreu, a player for whom he had issued a red card. Abreu was outraged to learn that he was being ejected from the game, so he engaged Silva in a fist fight that, moments later, turned deadly.

For some reason, Silva had a knife with him and when the fight intensified, he pulled it out and stabbed Abreu in the chest. The young player was immediately rushed to the hospital, but no one could predict what happened next.

With some help from fans, members of Abreu’s family grabbed the 20-year-old referee, tied him up and started torturing him in plain view of everyone in attendance. Rumor has it that someone caught the attack on their cell phone, but I decided not to search for it out of respect for the victims of this terrible tragedy. And in a moment, you’ll know why the word “victims” is plural in the previous sentence.

A short time after Silva’s torture began, word got back to Abreu’s family that the young man made it to the hospital, but had been pronounced dead just before arriving there. This made a bad situation even worse and, in retaliation, members of the slain player’s family stoned Silva to death. I wish I could say that this was where this terrible situation ended, but sadly that was not the case.

Jordan Silva (courtesy of Facebook)

Abreu’s family then beheaded Silva, placed his head on a pike and dismembered his body… all in the middle of a crowded soccer stadium and with hundreds—if not thousands—of witnesses, some of whom even participated in this heinous act.

Needless to say, it was not very difficult for authorities to identify the suspects, most of whom were clearly visible on recovered footage from the fateful game. To date, at least one person has been arrested in connection with Silva’s murder and a number of others are being sought. None of this changes the fact that on this particular day, two people died for nothing more than a bad call on the pitch.

Ideally, sports allow us to exercise, develop skills, compete, play, interact with others, entertain ourselves, learn about sportsmanship and, when we’re fortunate enough, win. And for those of us who prefer not to participate regularly, there are always games we can watch online, on television or in our local communities. Being a spectator can sometimes be as entertaining as being a player, believe me.

The problem is that some people obviously take sports far too seriously. I would be lying if I said that I never lost my temper because the Steelers fumbled on the goal line or the Yankees gave up the losing run in the bottom of the ninth inning. And yes, violence has erupted on occasion, which basically means that I smashed something of mine that I regretted an instant later.

What makes me different—what makes most of us different—is that I would never wait outside the stadium after a game in which an NFL referee made a bad call that cost the Steelers the game, assault the official as he left for home and murder him in cold blood. Even if he pulled a knife and stabbed one of my favorite players on the field—better yet, one of my family members—my first instinct would not be to kill him… much less to kill, behead and dismember him.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to understand what could motivate someone to commit a crime as gruesome as the one in Brazil last week. I understand that what Silva did was horrifying, and no one would expect a referee to be carrying a knife—doesn’t anyone search these people? And I definitely understand revenge. If someone killed one of my loved ones like that, I would undoubtedly fill with rage and want to strangle the life out of them with my bare hands. I just wouldn’t. If anything, I would be in the ambulance hoping that my loved one survived the deadly attack. But if they died—and even if I wanted to go back and murder the referee—I simply wouldn’t. Hell, the authorities would have the attacker in custody by then anyway.

Don’t forget what soccer is all about (courtesy of Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

I don’t know what it is about sports that seems to bring out the worst in people. And no one has ever been worse than the individuals who butchered Silva, even if he deserved to be punished for murdering Abreu. The combination of passion, anger, sorrow and loss must blend with the crowd mentality to provide the spark, but there is obviously much more to it. Otherwise, nearly every sporting event would end in tragedy. In this case, security was definitely a factor since proper screening would have prevented Silva from even having a knife in the first place. Granted, security would not have helped those referees in Utah and the Netherlands—both of whom died at the bare hands of others—but it could have saved these guys.

Sadly, none of this can explain what happened in Brazil, and I won’t even bother to try. It may always be a mystery to me since—to paraphrase The Shadow—no one knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. What I do know, however, is this: soccer, football or whatever you want to call it is A GAME. Life will not end just because your team lost in a tie-breaker, your star player suffered a crippling injury or some referee made a bad call. If you get carded unfairly, bitch and moan with your team and accept that fact that sometimes, things just don’t go your way. Those are the breaks, people. Don’t ruin sports with bad behavior, hooliganism and violence—dismemberment included—because you win some and you lose some. Without losers, there could never be winners.

Have I used enough sports clichés, because I have a nearly endless supply over here?

Hundreds Dead in Brazil

Outside the Kiss nightclub (courtesy of Globo TV)

Early Sunday morning at the Kiss nightclub in Brasilia, Brazil, members of the band Gurizada Fandangueira were playing a gig for students of the local university’s agronomy department.

Things were going well until several band members lit flares and held them over their heads. The soundproofing along the ceiling caught fire and within minutes, toxic smoke and fire filled the venue.

In a panic, people rushed for the exits in a stampede of confusion and, eventually, asphyxiation. Some mistook the bathroom door for the exit and found themselves trapped. Others clawed through the bodies of choked and burned victims only to fall victim to the blaze themselves.

By the time the smoke cleared (no pun intended, of course), 232 people were dead and another 117 were being treated at local hospitals. And if you’re the type of person who enjoys superlatives, then chalk this up as the world’s deadliest nightclub fire in a decade.

This certainly isn’t a record you want to hold, but is also isn’t one you want to see broken anytime soon (or ever) for that matter.

Although the investigation into this terrible tragedy is still underway, some facts have come to light.

As you might expect, the club was filled to its 2000-person capacity, making it very difficult for party goers to escape. Some even believe it was filled beyond capacity, but I haven’t heard for sure yet.

The nightclub after the blaze (courtesy of The Daily Star)

Dr. Paulo Afonso Beltrame arrived at the scene later and estimated that 90% of the victims died from asphyxiation, specifically related to smoke inhalation. From what I understand, this is like choking on hot cinders that essentially cook you from the inside out. Pretty gruesome way to die, if you ask me.

It’s also not clear at this time if any of the band members were among the dead. If any survived, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them charged with some kind of reckless negligence. Using flares in an enclosed, tightly packed, alcohol-soaked nightclub? Give me a break.

Stay tuned to your international news sources for more about this terrible story as it develops. In the meantime, though, please keep the families of the victims, as well as the survivors, in your thoughts and prayers.

Dead Again and Again

Kelvin Santos surrounded by family

Something very freaky happened to a Brazilian toddler last June that still gives me the creeps.

2-year-old Kelvin Santos suffered cardiac arrest and respiratory failure and was rushed to nearby Aberlardo Santos Hospital in Belem, Brazil. Doctors declared him dead due to complications from pneumonia, so his lifeless body was wrapped in an airtight bag and sent to his family the next day.

While the Santos family was making funeral arrangements, Kelvin’s aunt saw his body move ever so slightly, but she assumed it was nothing. When his eyes opened, however, she simply couldn’t ignore it. Unfortunately, he lost consciousness shortly thereafter.

Needless to say, Kelvin’s family was shocked, but this was only the beginning.

During the wake a few hours later, Kelvin regained consciousness again, sat up and even asked his father for a glass of water!

People started screaming in terror, but Kelvin again fell lifeless and this time, his parents took no chances. They returned to the hospital where he was finally declared dead… again.

Kelvin was finally buried and his family brought a malpractice suit against the hospital, but this isn’t as unusual as it sounds. For reasons science and medicine can’t always explain, people are sometimes “resurrected” from the dead or considered dead before they truly are.

Is it possible this is what happened to Jesus?

Ass Men everywhere rejoice!

Some of the gorgeous contestants (property of Miss Bumbum 2012)

Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder. And in Brazil, feminine beauty is often judged by one impressive feature: a big, curvy rear end.

Enter the Miss Bumbum Pageant, an annual competition used to determine who has the cutest butt in the nation.

This year, contestants from all over the South American country will converge on Sao Paolo for the grand finale of this popular contest. Fifteen finalists will do battle with their luscious butts until a winner is finally crowned “in the end.”

It should be quite a show, especially for ass men like me. Too bad they don’t need more judges!

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