Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In it...but Win it? #3: Early Birds

Most teams have a few games left to go before they know for sure if they can set aside a tonnage of unsatisfying hours wading through visa paperwork at the Brazilian consulate. But a few took care of their business in September and so have two months worth of "who-gives-a-#%*&!@$", as they prepare for next summer's World Cup.

Of course, just because they are going to the World Cup doesn't mean they're going to do anything during that World Cup. That's where our analysis comes in: as the glow of qualification starts to fade and the humdrum monotony of waiting for the matches to matter again begins, we're happy to buzz kill some fans and overindulge a few others.

File:FIGC logo.svgItaly
Contender Credentials: Italy knows what it does well and does it over and over and over again. Like your friend who goes on and on about their grandma's ravioli or pasta putanesca, once you've got the recipe right, just do it again and again. For Italy it's simple: get one or two great strikers and a squadron of brutal defenders and let the rest take care of itself. They used it to great aplomb in qualifying, only dropping points to Bulgaria and the Czech Republic on the road and winning every other match they had.

Pretender Problems: Even the most consistent of stratagems could use a little tweaking now and then, as Italy discovered to their detriment in South Africa, where they were utterly lost against such titans as Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. Italy's national team has been as tumultuous as it's national political scene lately, thanks in no small part to a man with all of Silvio Berlusconi's appetites and only slightly more self control: Mario Balotelli. Their recent style has been "not-quite-good-enough" to launch them to the top of Europe as frequent drubbings at the feet of Spain have attested time and again. Maybe, just maybe, one goal and a cloud of dirt may need to change if Italy wants a fifth title.

Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: Balotelli keeps his head in the game, grind 'em out defense wins the day and manager Ceasare Prandelli takes over the Prime Minister's job to improve the nation as a whole.

Pits-of-Despair Scenario: Balotelli goes a little cuckoo banana pants, a new troop of minnows swallows up the Azzurri before Berlusconi announces his return to futbol.

Prediction: Back in the saddle again, Italy is plenty good enough to win their group and cruise through one round, but a new style wipes them out in the quarter finals. (I had to sit through too many matches against Billings to root for Italy completely)

The Netherlands

File:Royal Netherlands Football Association Logo.svgContender Credentials: Widely seen as the best futboling nation to never win the World Cup, Holland came close in 2010 and is returning much of their same line up to the field. They positively dominated their qualifying group, with a single, inexplicable draw in Estonia halting their swift ascension to qualification.

Pretender Problems: Since finishing as runners-up (again) in South Africa, it's been a rocky road for the Oranje. Manager Bert Van Marwijk took the blame for an abysmal Euro Championship (where the Dutch went winless in three matches). And while an experienced line-up is a good thing, an older line-up is less impressive. How exactly the few young talents rising through the Dutch ranks will fare in the glare of a national spotlight is hard to say.

Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: They put their past behind them and claim the title that has unjustly eluded Total Football for too long. A strike force of Kuyt, Van Persie and Robben dominate up top and hoist the Jules Rimet trophy while Johann Cryuff looks on and cries.

Pits-of-Despair Scenario: It's Euro 2012 all over again. A difficult group stymies the Dutch progress and weaknesses at the back leave them crashing out while those Belgian heathens rise to the top of lowland soccer prominence. Johann Cryuff looks on and cries.

Prediction: I hope I'm wrong, but I think there's something slightly off about Holland. Great as it would be to see them triumph, I can just as easily see them 3rd in the Group Stage

File:Afa logo.svgArgentina

Contender Credentials: If you judge a team's ability to win the World Cup based on the calibre of their players, it's hard to argue with Argentina given that they have the consensus best player in the world right now: Lionel Messi. The last time Argentina had a playmaker of Messi's calibre (some kid named Maradona) they won their two titles and finished runners up at another. Always strong performers in Latin America, it's easy to tip them for greatness again.

Pretender Problems: As Spain has shown again and again, it's best to have a full team behind you. So as much fun as it is to watch Lionel Messi y los Pips, you have to wonder about their long term success (particularly when they only mustered a quarter-final spot in 2010, and Messi was not especially miraculous at any point of the tournament.

Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: Messi engraves his name in the history books along side other World's Greatests and La Albiceleste triumph over Brazil in their rivals' own stadium.

Pits-of-Despair Scenario: Exhausted from a full season with Barca and with the best defenders from the world draped over him like a bed sheet on a frat-boy during a toga party, Messi can only get Argentina to the Round of 16.

Prediction: An under-the radar team (well as under-the-radar as Messi can be) without the mercurial Maradona on the sidelines and with a game plan that has Messi feeding other talents (Higuain, Aguero and Rodriguez) is a winner in my book. Champion.

The United States of America

Shirt badge/Association crestContender Credentials: Uncle Sam's Army is playing the best soccer in recent memory, buoyed by an array of extremely talented players who came of age just as soccer reached its critical mass here with the World Cup in 1994. Led by Jurgen Klinsman, whose tactical approach helped an underwhelming German squad overachieve in 2006, there's a surplus of confidence that we may at last be coming into our own.

Pretender Problems: Americans. A surplus of confidence. What could possibly go wrong? While the Yanks have dominated CONCACAF it has helped that Mexico is playing like a bored pile of dog droppings, and any team that aspires to the top 16 of the world should beat Jamaica, Panama and Honduras as handily as we have.  Can we keep it going against the truly great soccer nations of the world...probably not.

Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: Klinsman is a genius, DeMarcus Beasly continues his Lazarus act, Landon Donavan stays interested, and the Americans pull a shocker and make the semis as they did so long ago in Uruguay.

Pits-of-Despair Scenario: We lose to Ghana (as we always do), England (as retribution for last time) and Iran (just because Sepp Blatter wants to prove a point). Klinsman is forgiven, we're just dumb Americans after all.

Prediction: There's too much talent not to make the second round, but not enough to do tremendous damage. Without a draw to stop me I'll be optimistic: Quarter Finals

File:Costa Rica football association.pngCosta Rica

Contender Credentials: The forgotten power of North American futbol, Costa Rica has a habit of making other teams miserable. With an aggravating style of scrambled attacking and counter-attacking and an incensed fan base to make matches in San Jose as close to a sure thing as possible.

Pretender Problems: American Soccer Now rightly points out that Costa Rica is a forgotten power largely because they have forgotten how to use their powers, with Panama and Honduras taking the title of Central America's best in recent years. Like the US their qualification may not have come so easy if Mexico hadn't gotten in the way of that horrible gypsy curse.

Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: It's back to the glory days of 1990 when Costa Rica stunned the world (particularly Sweden and Scotland), and a horde of fans make the relatively short trip to spur them on to the quarter finals.

Pits-of-Despair Scenario: It's back to the drubbing of 2006, when Costa Rica got walloped by everyone they faced, and they were little more than an afterthought.

Prediction: Bryan Suarez and Joel Campbell are a good enough tandem to get a win against someone...but the draw has to go in their favor to avoid: 4th Place.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Rapid Analysis of CAF Round 3

At noon in the ancient Egyptian capital of Luxor, the Confederation of African Football drew lots for the third and final round of world cup qualifiers, to be played in November at various locations throughout the continent.

At five AM in the ancient Minnesota capital of St. Paul, I was trying to get a little more sleep before walking the dog, cleaning the kitchen and making my way to another day of work. Which means, of course, that I did not get an invite to attend the CAF draw...how unthoughtful.

Still I made time to find out who would be dueling in November, and as I am wont to do, I quickly dashed out some half-baked jokes and arrogant assumptions that I pretend is worth calling "analysis". Enjoy.

The draw is straight forward, the top 5 teams left are in one pot, the bottom 5 are in the other. One of the top 5 and one of the bottom 5 will face off in a head to head battle to the death...or to the bloody shins...or to the inevitable 3-0 awarded victory that FIFA is so fond of doling out in African football.

The top 5 are: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria, Tunisia*

The bottom 5 are: Egypt, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal, Ethiopia.

From a purely objective point it's easy to see best and worst case scenarios for teams in each group.

If you're part of the Top 5 you want Ethiopia (the rankest outsider left in the contest) or Egypt (home to tons of political/social instability, and you want to avoid Cameroon and Senegal.

If you're part of the Bottom 5 you want Tunisia (not immune to stunners) or Algeria (slightly overrated) but not Ivory Coast or Ghana (clearly the two powerhouses of African football at the moment)

*"But wait," I hear you say, "didn't Tunisia lose to Cape Verde, thereby providing us with a really interesting up-and-coming nation to talk about?" Oh, silly...of course not. The thrilling 2-0 victory by the Azores was actually a 3-0 defeat because Fernando Varela came back one match too early from his four match suspension after being unsportsmanlike to a referee back in March, in a match they lost 2-0 before winning 2-0...how is that possibly confusing?

(Actually Firdose Moonda does a great job of explaining the whole thing and the whole African rules fiasco on her ESPN FC blog)

So how did it shake out and who does it favor?

So here are our match ups

Cote d'Ivoire v. Senegal--Even with a strong west African nation like Senegal across the pitch from them, it's hard to pick against the Elephants of Ivory Coast. They may have underachieved on the global stage but they're still easily in charge on the continent.

Ethiopia v. Nigeria--The Walia dodged the biggest bullets in Ivory Coast and Ghana, but Nigeria is no easy opponent, having qualified for four of the past five world cups. Playing at home plays to Ethiopia's strengths and they have seen off other prestigious nations (like South Africa), but they'll still be underdogs.

Tunisia v. Cameroon--Congrats to the Eagles of Carthage for surviving the mine field of regulations that felled Sierra Leone, Equitorial Guinea and Cape Verde. Now their reward is Cameroon, the sneakiest and arguably most dangerous of the unseeded teams. Given Tunisia's inability to defend home turf against Cape Verde, doing it agains the Indomitable Lions may be a little too tough.

Egypt (R) v.s. Ghana (L)
Ghana v. Egypt--I was about to say that this match would see the Mega Powers collide, and then I remembered that that was the title for the epic Randy Savage/Hulk Hogan battle back in the WWFs 80 glory days. Still, the parallels are eerie. You have Egypt, the long standing stalwart of African football who has been consigned to the background of late due, and you have the shooting star of Ghana whose high-flying aerial act is exciting and has won its own legion of fans. The only difference is that Asamoah Gyan and Amr Zakiri are unlikely to be tag-team champions anytime soon, and that the two countries have almost always been rivals, rather than gearing up for a more recent blood feud.

Though Egypt had an easier time of qualifying than Ghana did, Ghana does have political stability and fewer concerns about the safety of their fans than Egypt does. How it turns out will depend largely on who Ghana fields (probably their best) and what lessons Bob Bradley has learned since his last defeat at the feet of the Black Stars (probably not enough to swing the balance).

Burkina Faso v. Algeria--If there's hope for another African debutante at the Brazilian mondiale, it's got to be Burkina Faso. They are higher rated, they have their first match at home to build up a lead, they're facing a far less experienced side in Algeria. It would be a great victory to head to Brazil and it's absolutely within their reach.

So, dull as it is, I'm going to talk almost entirely chalk in this round with Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and Burkina Faso winning as would be expected, and only Cameroon springing an upset (if you can really call it that). Sure I'll be rooting for Ethiopia--more on that to come--but for now it looks like the powerful will stay that way, at least in Africa.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Waning Seconds: The AFC Playoff Picture

Okay, show of hands for how many people found this website by googling "AFC Playoff Picture" after the first weekend of the NFL season.

That's what I thought.

Still, you should stick around, because if there's one thing American sports fans like, it's a winner-take-all battle for supremacy: like the Superbowl, or the Spanish-American War.

On Tuesday it will be Jordan versus Uzbekistan live from Takshent, Uzbekistan...wait...wait...they're playing soccer...okay, now all the American football fans are gone.
Uzbekistan draw in Jordan in first leg
Credit: AFP via FIFA
Server Likes Trophies

Still, that's okay because it should be a thrilling game in Takshent where two teams who have never reached this stage of the competition battle for a spot in the intercontinental final four play in games. Having drawn 1-1 in Amman, it's still anybodies match, but Uzbekistan will be considered slight favorites due to the away goal scored by Server Djeperov, the Korean based national team captain.

For those who aren't up to date on their Uzbeki soccer stars. Djeperov won the Asian player of the year award in 2008 and has been a fixture of the national side since 2006. While Uzbekistan gets a lot of (justly deserved) credit for being a team of young talents, Djeperov remains the group's obvious leader. And while he has done a fine job of bridging the gap to younger talents like forward Bahodir Nasimov, midfielders Odil Ahmedov and Sanzhar Tursunov and defenders Vitaly Denisov and Islom Tuktakhodjaev, there's a long way to go before the new guys can do it by themselves.

The Uzbek's biggest question mark heading into the home leg is goalie Murod Zukhurov who will be making just his fourth appearance for the national team at age 30. Long slotted behind Ignatiy Nesterov, Zurkhov has a chance to make a name for himself in the biggest way by pitching a clean sheet against Jordan and setting up a final push against whatever team CONMEBOL offers up.

Of course, shutting out the The Chivalrous (as Al-Nashama translates to) may be easier said than done. Needing at least a 2-2 draw to move forward automatically, Jordan will be throwing everything they have at the White Wolves (including the kitchen sink and maybe even Prince Ali bin al Hussein's private jet--the one they flew to Uzbekistan).

That's a happy Deeb
Better than jets and kitchen sinks will be the Jordanian forwards: Abdallah Deeb has been their most potent scoring option for the better part of the last six years, and at 26 is still the youngest regular forward on the team. But the reason Jordan's going to Uzbekistan with everything to play for is young midfielder Mossab al-Laham, who recently completed a one million dollar transfer to Saudi Arabia's SC Najran. At 22 (and already with 2 goals in just 10 caps), al-Laham should be a vital portion of Jordan's attack for a long time to come.

Al-Laham should keep learning his skills from team captain Amer Deeb, whose 123 caps are topped only by keeper Amer "The Whale" Shafia. And though the team has a relatively new manager in Hossam Hassan, you could hardly ask for a better guide to the world's brightest stage than Egypt's all-time leading goal scorer (especially since said leading goal-scorer supported Hosni Mubarak and probably ought to stay out of Egypt for a little while longer).

So, to sum up. Uzbekistan needs to keep the score low and will trust a rookie keeper to do it; Jordan needs a couple goals for sure and have experience both up top and in back to make it happen. And shoddy though the Jordanian's road record has been (0-4 in Group 4 play), the Uzbek's weren't lights out at home either (dropping 0-1 to Iran when direct qualification was almost within reach).

Much as I've been beating the drum of Uzbekistan as a dark horse special, I've got a bad feeling for the White Wolves and think that Jordan may be on the verge of springing a major upset. The beautiful thing is, the game is not in my mind it's on the pitch, so however it turns out, it should be exciting.

Oh and just in case you're an American who stuck it out this long waiting for the subject to change: take the Broncos, and Patriots for the bye, plus the Texans, Bengals, Steelers and miracle Chiefs--with the Broncs going to the Super Bowl...though unless Abdullah Deeb signs on to catch Peyton Manning's passes, I'm not that interested.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Waning Seconds: CAF Part I--Put Me in Coach

When this publishes I'll be somewhere in the outer most reaches of the Twin Cities Metro shouting for teenagers to run faster. A new gig as a cross-country coach will fill up my time for sure, but it will also remind me of just how much fun you can have when you're helping young people strive for a difficult goal.

Of course, I've got nothing on a national futbol team manager, who has to help young people strive for the difficult goal of being named to the best in the world rather than simply running three miles in less than 30 minutes.

In African qualifying there's just one game left this weekend, where the strong will survive for one more month and one more hurdle before the World Cup final. And while we frequently fixate on the players who make it happen, here's a tip of the cap to the coaches who are striving for the next stage and who we think (based on wikipedia profiles) has the best chance to get them in

Group D

James Akwasi Appiah has revived the Ghanaian tradition of local bred coaches after a decade under the iron thumbs of a squad of Serbians. The former national team/Asante Kotoko left back has had the Black Stars in fine form, as you might expect from one of Africa's premier footballing nations, but his work isn't done because of the pesky thorn that is Zambia.

"No those shorts don't
make you look fat,
c'mon boys they won't
hold our table!"
On Friday night (Friday morning stateside) in Kumasi Appiah's squad takes on the only team to beat them in qualifying this go-round: the Copper Bullet's of Zambia and their willingly French coach, Herve Renard. Renard's made much of his career in and about Africa following the path of his mentor Claude LeRoy (the grandaddy of all neo-colonial managers), but his recent bout of success with Zambia's impressive: guiding them to their first African Cup of Nations win in 2012, and the first defeat of Ghana in World Cup Qualifying since 2004.

With just one point between them Appiah has the edge here, knowing that any result at all will send them through. Renard will have to play aggressively and have his team attack (likely with captain/Black Star killer Christopher Katonga and young gun Emmanuel Mayuka) before racing back to defend, while Appiah can trust the quiet strength of Ghana's defense to guard themselves. It might not be Appiah's preferred style, but if it does the job, the entire Ghana nation will forgive him.

Saturday Afternoon
Group A
I'm admittedly biased. I got real giddy when I thought Ethiopia had qualified for the third round back in June. They were sunk into the last pot for the Round 2 draw, at the start of the cup they were 35th out of the 40 teams in Round 2. And they were about to qualify...until...they fielded Minyahil Teshome against Botswana...and had their victory over the Zebras stripped away, leaving the final set of games with everything to lose.

Sewnet knows you aren't doing
sit ups with proper form.
So, Sewnet Bishaw (Ethiopia's coach) deserves both a tonnage of credit and a pile of blame. Leave Teshome off the squad you're already in...but he's also responsible for getting the Walia Antelopes this far and for doing it all based on his training as a Phy Ed teacher. Honestly, how do you not root for this guy?

Sewnet's squad gets to face the Central African Republic, but they've done well on the road earning points both in South Africa (draw) and Botswana (the redacted victory), now if they beat bottom-feeding CAR they render the other game moot. Meanwhile Gordon Igesund's Bafana Bafana will be betting it all on a win over Stanley Tsoshane's Zebras of Botswana. The pair of former strikers will likely minimize defense in an attempt to out gun Ethiopia on goal differential, it remains to be seen if the prolific club man (Igesund) will out maneuver the 5-year incumbent (Tsoshane).

Group F
Saintfelt, probably asking: "Is that
Coaching job available?!?!"
As Group A draws to a close the ultimate showdown of ultimate destiny for Group F will kick off in Calabar, Nigeria. The Super Eagles have a 2 point and +1 goal gap against the Red Flames of Malawi. That should play perfectly into ex-National team defender Stephen Okechukwu Keshi's plan, and allow the Confederation Cup squad to rest a lot of men back in defense. I have no idea how Malawi's Tom Saintfelt will counter that, in large part because the itinerant Beligan never seems to stick around one place long enough to reflect a particular skill...heck....this will be his first (and possibly only) game coaching Malawi. But I'll hope he can earn his players support with a few trust falls and community building activities.

Group E
There's more complicated matters afoot in Group E (which gets under way 30 minutes after kickoff in Nigeria). Like Ethiopia, Congo is a big dreamer (emerging from Pot 4) on top of the group with 10 points and will be away to the bottom feeders (Niger). Meanwhile the middle teams (Burkina Faso and Gabon) have 8 and 7 points respectively and will square off in Oagudagu--home to the slightly advantaged Burkina Faso. 

Quick Guess which coach this is!
Group E's coaches are a motley crew of European scamps. There's 52 year old Kamel Djabour who has done well with Congo in his first official placement as a head coach (wikipedia's vague on the details of his relationships with clubs in Benin and Mali--then again at 4 sentences it is 4 sentences longer than my own Wikipedia page). There's former Portuguese league star Paulo Duarte whose time at the head of Gabon's Golden Panthers has been relatively smooth, but will now have to face his old Burkina Faso squad whom he improved by saying "Marry a Burkiniabe get a free Starting Position!" (Note...not really, but I feel like I have to dramatize these player eligibility scandals). Finally, there's Burkina Faso's new man: Paul Put, who (following an undistinguished tenure with The Gambia) is attempting to salvage his career after a three-year ban for his part in a match-fixing scandal (notably, he was the only one who accepted any kind of punishment for it).

So, who do you root for? The older neophyte? The rule bending itinerant? Or the reformed match-fixer? Yeah...it's the underdog Congo again, isn't it?

Group B
What should you watch after your Saturday morning chores, with an easy to make deli sandwich in hand and the promise of a nap in the offing? Well...if you actually want to nap I'm sure there's a golf tournament somewhere. But if you want entertainment you might try to see if you can catch the showdown games for Group B and J

The last nation standing up to the promise of the Arab Spring: Tunisia gets to host Cape Verde Islands in Rades. The Blue Sharks are decided underdogs but have one big asset in coach Ulisses Indalecio Silva Antunes (Lucio to his friends), consistency. Antunes has been with Cape Verde since 2010, leaving the cushy gig of Air-Traffic controller for the public vilification of national team futbol coach. Cape Verde's gotten progressively better over time, but Tunisia has a two point lead and hasn't lost a match at home in over a year (they've only played at home twice...but still!).

It remains to be seen what Nabil Maaloul will do with the Eagles of Carthage, he's unbeaten since taking the reins in March, but has never managed a game this big for the national team side before. Chances are Tunisia plays a well structured, defensively minded game to solidify their lead in points and goals; but as long as air traffic controllers can morph into futbol managers, there's hope for Cape Verde.
Dream the dream Ulisses!

Group J
Wrapping up an absurdly busy day of African qualifiers is the Group J showdown between Senegal and Uganda...in Morocco. Why Morocco you ask? Well, apparently fans of the Lions of Teranga didn't feel like behaving themselves during ACN qualifiers last year so now they don't get to watch any games at all...so there! PBBBT!

File:Morocco vs Gabon, Alain Giresse, March 28 2009.jpg
Michel!! Vous etes mon
meilleur ami!! MEILLEUR!!
The Cranes of Uganda are in the unenviable position of having to win to stay alive, and having to do so with one of the recently fashionable, defensive minded, Serbian coaches: Milutin Sredojevic. Sredojevic was unceremoniously sacked by Rwanda in April having gotten them only one point in three matches, but he has already helped net Uganda six points through June qualifiers (courtesy of one early goal and a pile of defense against Liberia and two late goals against Angola). Those six points saw Uganda soar from bottom of the group to second ahead of the match against Senegal.

The Senegalese get French Midfield legend Alain Giresse whose old running-mate in Le Carre Magique, Michel Platini, may soon end up running FIFA. Giresse has Senegal gunning for their second Cup qualification ever (and first since the '02 Quarterfinalists). Though Senegal's just a point up on Uganda, the young and explosive side fits very nicely with Giresse's style making the road ahead that much tougher for Uganda

Group I
There will also be plenty of matches on Sunday, mostly featuring the teams from groups C, G, and H where it's all been decided in favor of first-time manager Sabri Lamouchi's Ivory Coast, American exile Bob Bradly's Egypt and Bosnian survivor Vahid Halilhodžić's Algeria.

But there is one match worth keeping an eye on: Cameroon and Libya from Yaounde early on Sunday morning, and it's one that may effect the employment of two coaches heading in very different direction

Finke on eine hotten seaten!
Volker Finke, a German of some renown brought in to seal the deal for Cameroon has been underwhelming since taking over in May, losing at Togo and drawing at Kinshasa. Fortunately, thanks to Togo fielding an ineligible player, they were awarded a victory and pushed to the top of the table while Togo was knocked out. Still, this isn't what the Indomitable Lions were expecting and Finke's neck may be on the line.

The same holds true for Libya's Abdulhafeedh Arbeesh, widely seen as a mere caretaker, Arbeesh has helped the Mediterranean Knights stay afloat in qualifying and they would be head of the table if not for Togo's ineligible player issue. A win will get Libya closer to qualifying for the World Cup than ever before, and despite reports of a new manager on the horizon, it would be hard to tell Arbeesh..."thanks for everything...now get out!"

The hardest thing about all of this is that no matter who wins this weekend, half of these managers will be stymied at the next level. Only 5 African teams will move on, and given the recent surge in success for localized African coaches it's hard not to hope that even more of them triumph than we might otherwise predict.

After the matches shake out on Sunday we'll bid a Happy Trails to those who are done and keep a weather eye out for the pairings for Round 3.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Starting XI: Lines from Fever Pitch that Capture a Futbol Fan's Existence

Though I think Nick Hornsby's book is more squarely focused on the comic tragedy of being a club supporter, I did think that these 11 lines were universal to all football fans. So I'll write them here as a way to kick start the month of September and include a brief explanation for each.

The game is omnipresent:
I. I have measured out my life in...fixtures, and any event of any significance has a footballing shadow. (p. 81)

It approaches an obsession:
II. We invest hours each day, months each year, years each lifetime in something over which we have no control; is it any wonder then, that we are reduced to creating ingenious but bizzarre liturgies [for good luck] designed to give us the illusion that we are powerful after all, just as every other primitive community has done when faced with a deep and apparently impenetrable mystery? (p. 111)

Defeats are a private pain...:

III. We are secretly convinced that none of the other fans understands quite why we have been harder hit than anyone else--we are forced to mourn in public, surrounded by people whose hurt is expressed in forms different from our own. (p. 109)

...that stem from a common deprivation:

IV. When our teams lose...we think of the colleagues and classmates we have to face on Monday morning, and of the delirium that has been denied us (p. 66)

But it remains inescapable:
V. It would be absurd to pretend that my allegiance was sorely tested: I never once thought of abandoning the team simply because they were incapable of beating anyone at all...After a while, when winning a game appeared to be an option that had somehow become impossible, we began to replace the satisfaction of winning: goals, draws, a brave performance in the face of overwhelmingly hostile fortune...these all became causes for quiet, if occasionally self-mocking celebration. (p. 150)

Largely because we simply love it for the sake of loving it
VI. It simply doesn't matter to me how bad things get, that results have nothing to do with anything. As I have implied before, I would like to be one of those people who treat their local team like their local restaurant and thus withdraw their patronage if they are being served up noxious rubbish. But unfortunately...there are many fans like me. For us, the consumption is all; the quality of the product is immaterial. (150)

And we know we are part of a broader community...

VII. It is true that most football fans do not have an Oxbridge degree; but then most football fans do not have a criminal record, or carry knives, or urinate in pockets, or get up to any of the things they are supposed to do. (p. 96)

A community that is both conscious and unconscious
VIII. I love...the fact that old girlfriends and other people you have lost touch with and will probably never see again are sitting in front of their TV set and thinking, momentarily but all at the same time [about you], and are happy or sad for [you]. Nobody else gets that, only us. (p. 195)

We live in our own world
IX. [Football] is not an escape, or a form of entertainment, but a different version of the world. (p. 164)

Where the potential of triumph is sheer bliss

X. I can recall nothing else that I have coveted for two decades (what else is there that can reasonably be coveted for that long?), nor can I recall anything else that I have desired as both man and boy. So please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium (p. 231)

And deeply personal
XI. The joy we feel on [championship winning] occasions...is not a celebration of others' good fortune, but a celebration of our own; and when there is a disastrous defeat the sorrow that engulfs us is, in effect, self-pity, and anyone who wishes to understand how football is consumed must realize this above all things. The players are merely our representatives, chosen by the manager rather than elected by us, but our representatives nonetheless....I am a part of this club, just as the club is a part of me; and I say this fully aware that the club exploits me, disregards my views, and treats me shoddily on occasions, so my feeling of organic connection is not built on a muddleheaded and sentimental understanding of how professional football works....This [championship belongs] to me [the fan] every bit as much as it [belongs to the players], and I worked every bit as hard as they did. The only difference between me and them is that I have put in more hours, more years, more decades than them, and so had a better understanding of the afternoon, a sweeter appreciation of why the sun still shines when I remember it. (p. 187)

Or to put all of that in one simple line:
Life isn't, and it never has been, a 2-0 home victory against the League leaders after a fish-and-chip lunch. (p. 52)