Saturday, July 01, 2006

It's good we practiced those PKs...

England couldn't make it happen today and Scolari was glad that he drilled his players on hitting those corners, although after the first 3 PK for the Iberians with one rebounding off the post and the other gliding just wide, it really didn't look like it was going to happen for them today.

This young man, decked out in his Portugeuse best, had his tickets for the semi-finals and was hoping that his team would be the one to make it to Munich on the 5th of July against the winner of tonight's nightcap between Brazil and France.

Fate has its way of making itself known and then just outside our hotel, long before the result was certain, two revelers knew they had it in the bag and had been celebrating for some time before Cristiano Ronaldo closed it out making the 3rd on the 5th try.

Time to go and catch a quick dinner in front of a TV set and watch Brazil v France.

Quite a day. It is never dull at the World Cup.

Click here to get the game details

Jesse Owens would have been surprised...

Jesse Owens would probably have been surprised to learn that 70 years after his famous Berlin Olympic appearance, that on June 30, 2006, the only player of color on the pitch in the match Argentina vs Germany would be from the host country - Deutschland.

It is notable that in the preliminary round game between France vs Togo, in Cologne on 23 June, the match ended with 20 players of color present on the field at the final whistle.

It is very good that FIFA has made the effort in these games in the Quarter Finals to emphasize through the declarations of the Team Captains the unified position of Football against racism and discrimination.


The Berlin Renaissance...

Sitting here in the room, it is so very hard to imagine what Berlin was like at the time of the visit of John F. Kennedy. From my window, just above the Brandenburg Gate, I find myself inside a modern European phenomenon. One driven no less by football than the incredible desire of the people to bring themselves the benefit consistent with the goals and aspirations of all people.

After decades of surpressed nationalism, kept in check by Americans, English, Russians and French, the positive spirit of German nationalism is now for this first time flourishing symbolically in the form of its flag adorning rooftops, cartops, clothing, faces and roadways. Everywhere, as not seen by a generation of soccer, Germany is standing proud in asserting itself as a winner and a gracious host. Pride and humility. What wonderful characteristics, probably best seen in the everpresent face of Franz Beckenbauer, who for those of us who know him for most of his six decades, find him as the symbol and personality which Germany has decided to adopt for this competition and for its evolution.

Franz is the embodiment of the principles of good governance, competitive spirit, realistic assessments and understatement, while seeming to be overdelivering on a steady basis. As the game with Argentina concluded on Penalty Kicks, Beckenbauer rose knowing that the pieces of the puzzle were falling in place and that the continued success of the FIFA World Cup 2006 Germany was assured since his team and their leader, California based Jürgen Klinsmann, had used Germany's advantages wisely and exploited the errors of their opponent Argentina.

At some point in the future, I hope to understand what turns otherwise great coaches into men who fail to rise to the occasion. I recalled, all too well, the moment in 1998 when Mexico took the lead over Germany in Montpelier, France, in the round of 16. Manuel Lapuente's Mexicans had dominated the play with attack, possession and the score of 1-0 on a goal from blonde-headed Luis Hernandez. Suddenly he would change their tactic and defend against the onslaught of the German ranks hitting their defense over and over until Mexico coughed up goals to Klinsmann and Bierhoff and Germany advanced to the quarter-finals. I flew that afternoon to London with Henry Kissinger lamenting the unnecessary loss to Germany and watched the match between England and Argentina the following night only to learn how deep English depression can be.

While the Presidents of the two combatant federations, Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder of Germany and FIFA Senior Vice President Julio Grondona, who is also AFA's President focused on the field. The question I have is why did Jose Peckerman make decisions which, while I am sure intended to hold on to his one goal lead, caused the demise of the aspirations of millions of blue and white striped fans so many miles away. Are we so afraid to be wrong? Do we have the fortitude of spirit? Can we be bold enough to be right and sometimes wrong? At least, let us do it with style and class. I heard that Mr. Peckerman fell on his virtual sword and has closed a page on an otherwise brilliant development program for what appeared to be the most talented team in the 32 playing in Germany. By contrast, Klinsmann has stuck to plan and his script is clear. Prepare them well. Do what you do best. Be there at the end.

Berlin, Berlin... so much of what is good about Germany is now coming to life in Berlin. The people are celebrating. Enjoy these days. There is still much hard work ahead.

The following pictures are a sampling of some of the fun being celebrated in the Renaissance of Berlin on the last day of June 2006.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ghana Goner...

The ride to Dortmund seemed to take forever as our three car caravan was parked in traffic that made me feel like I was home on the Long Island Expressway in New York. Today's game was a bonus for me. I didn't expect to get to see Brazil tonight. I was supposed to have been on a plane this afternoon to St. Petersburg, Russia for a stadium inspection visit for the FIFA Women's U20 Championship. I managed to adjust the schedule giving me one more night prior to taking leave of lovely Cologne on Wednesday morning at 0600 hours connecting through Frankfurt to be in Moscow an hour in advance of the inspection team who will arrive from their task in St. Petersburg and meet me on the ground running.

The TomTom that I pressure sealed on the window periodically confirmed that we had taken the right route, but clearly weren't alone in our midday trip to the house of Borussia Dortmund, now configured for the World Cup to seat 65,000. Upon arrival, my grandson Dylan, accompanied by his parents Marci and Stuart, helped by Alex and Dwayne, made their way through security, while Sunil Gulati and his son Emilio queued in behind while Mary Lynn stopped the screening process as they tried to figure out what to do with the big gift wrapped box containing the Wedding present she had brought for Franz Beckenbauer from New York after hearing of his Friday wedding to Heidi Burmester.

Having turned over the goodies to Franz, we next ran into Anna Teixeira, who admitted to being nervous as her familiar yellow jersied band of single named stars took the field against Africa's remaining challenger. Sepp Blatter too, having recovered from the drab night of watching Switzerland with the Ukraine, was ready for a real challenge here in Dortmund. Within five minutes, Ronaldo alerted the world that Brazil could do what they wanted and scoring was the least of their problems. The Ghanaians kept attacking but finished with either spraying their shots wide or with precision accuracy to the hands of Dida, the Brazilian Goalkeeper. With the game ending at 3-0, the attention of the survivors were to see who would win the nightcap between France and Spain, providing Brazil with their next obstacle to repeating their feat of 2002. As time would tell, it was an inspired French team who would tame the Spaniards 3-1.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Answer is...

Logan Chase Blazer arrived in Stamford, Connecticut, to his parents Samantha and Jason Blazer, 4 minutes before Benito Archundia's whistle to open the game between Switzerland and the Ukraine, played in Cologne in front of a proud Grandfather. He entered the world at 8 lbs 2.7 oz. and was 20" long.

The game went to two long scoreless overtime periods capped off with no scoring by the Swiss in the Penalty Kicks as well, giving the victory to the Ukranians with excellent refereeing by Archundia, in contrast to some other games in the previous 24 hours.

Logan's Run...

Who finishes first today? Logan's entry into the world or Benito Archundia's whistle starting tonight's game. My son Jason is expecting his first child to be named Logan this afternoon. His wife Samantha has already begun her first contractions and we are certain that the world's newest Blazer will arrive sometime on the 26th, making him like his grandfather and Jack Warner, a birthday mate having the number 26 as part of a shared destiny.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Bend it like Beckham...

I was looking for a different twist on this story, but on some things you just can't improve on reality. What we saw at 60' into the game with Ecuador was England's dream come true from their young folk hero. The goal will go into the FIFA archives as one of those classics that we will see hundreds of times in years to come without tiring of the repetition.

And guess what? Scolari had a surprise or two for us also. When Maniche nailed his tally at 23' against the Dutch, I for one didn't think it would be the end of the scoring. But, it was.

Actually our day started out with scheduling issues regarding a game of our own. Yes, our local FIFA team versus the LOC. It hasn't been easy to find a window with all the wetness on the field and trying to keep it in good shape with the tight schedule of matches here in Cologne. It looks like the match will be after my departure to Russia for an inspection trip, and while I hate for my team to take the field without me, they will uphold our honor in my absence. When I told the Sunday morning meeting that they would have to find another No. 9 in my absence the response was a small murmor or chuckle... I guess some of them saw me as a No. 7 like Beckham. (They were actually rolling with laughter).

The sense this morning was of conclusion. One more meeting tomorrow for the final preparations of Switzerland vs the Ukraine. What was clear, following the more than two weeks of collaboration with an excellent team of professionals in our venue, was that we would miss the morning meetings, the times we spent with each other each day and mostly the fact that jointly we did a great job in delivering the environment in which the wonderful entertainment product, which is the World Cup was realized.

In New York City today, Mary Lynn was putting Nicky on a bus to take him to eight weeks of summer camp. For us in Cologne, the feeling was that our camp season was at an end and we wanted to find some way to keep it going. Instead we will celebrate the time we have had together tomorrow night, following the match held in the presence of Football's high authorities, with a toast one last time, commemorating our wonderful venue and the friends we had made this summer.

A Man Without a Country...

As Saturday came to a close, I had to lament the fact that going forward in this World Cup I stand as a man without a country. I had just watched my last hope fizzle as Mexico played its best game. Nonetheless, the tri-color came up short against this year's scoring machine in blue & white vertical stripes. Argentina won 2-1 using 2 extra time periods of 15 minutes to close the books on their opponents.

Earlier this week, the USA failed to break out of the round-robin phase and ended their hopes in a futile effort against Ghana 2-1, who took the opportunity provided by the Italian's defeat of the Czech Republic in a 2-0 simultaneous third group match to advance in our place.

Costa Rica was somehow missing. I know they were here. We saw them score a couple of goals against Germany in the opening match in Munich on June 9th... the most prolific opening match in WC history, as they went down 4-2 on a leaky defense. After that, it was down hill from there. I saw them play their farewell match in Hamburg where Ecuador had their way with them and after three games here in Germany, no one recalls that they were here.

The one pleasant surprise was the Trinis who came ready to take names and be counted. For 174 minutes of the 2006 World Cup, the team from the smallest country in WC recorded history, showed themselves the equal to two european giants and perenial qualifiers. Sweden and England both knew they had been in a battle with Trinidad & Tobago. The point Trinidad won from Sweden will long be remembered as a sweet victory.

So, at the end of the first day of the Round of 16, my mind turns to what we have to do to get better results in the future. Others will analyze what went wrong. Others will decide on their next steps to reset their ships to navigate these international waters without ending up on the rocks. I hope to be a lighthouse and help them find their way to stay off the rocks. We need to solve the common problems we face to achieve the excellence we know can be ours.

Amazingly, the answers for each of our disappointed members are different. There is no one size fits all answer. At a time when we are forced into cookie cutter solutions because of international calendars and other confining plans, we have significant challenges in seeing to it that each of our future qualifiers can reach their potential and enjoy greater success.

The work is ahead of us. Good luck to those who remain.