Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy Trails in 2015 (168-143): Agony of Da-feet

This is part of what ought to be a consistent series about the teams eliminated from contention for the World Cup. It ought to be consistent, and I ought to be better about balancing work and personal life. Still, before we embark on another big year in international soccer it's nice to remember those we are destined to forget about in 2015.

There's a lot of them so we'll split it into two posts: this is the second post, devoted to those teams who won just enough to make this really hurt.

CONCACAF 3rd Round
168 Gotta go, Grenada (2014 Finish #155; -13
Why They Lost: Much as some might complain about the overly defensive and dull football we see now-a-days, a little bit of defense is rather valuable. Ceding six goals to Haiti and only scoring one thanks to a penalty made the Spice Boys a lost cause.

What We'll Miss: Seeing the few remaining Spice Men from last cycles squad explain what the Spice Girls were to the brewing batch of 20 somethings coming up with Grenada.

167 Best wishes, Belize (2014 Finish #150; -17)
Ohh, that old time propaganda
Why They Lost: If you think that Canada has it tough (what with being America's hat), just know that Belize has it even tougher. Claims that they're Honduras' belt buckle have a lot more menace to them, given long histories of Central American conflict, as opposed to the 200 years of tenuous peace between the US and Canada. I'm sure the Canucks were just trying to teach their fellow Commonwealthers how to deal with the angst...and snuck four goals against them just because.

What We'll Miss: The CONCACAF poster  boy for scoring for fun: Deon Macaulay, especially if we can put his name alongside Luis Suarez for top scorer in the tournament.

166 Ayo, Curacao (2014 Finish #149; -17)
Why They Lost: With coach Patrick Kluivert at the helm, Curacao had a tremendous run of form, going undefeated in his first six matches. Unfortunately that Kluivertian magic ran out because Patrick Kluivert could not call up Patrick Kluivert to pick apart El Salvador.

What We'll Miss: More Patrick Kluivert analysis!! PATRICK KLUIVERT!!!

165 And we'll be seeing you, Antigua Barbuda (2014 finish #128; -37)
Why They Lost: The Brenna Boys were keen to keep the magic of their last run in a World Cup (when they made what it is now the 4th round), and the master work of their last round (when they piled on the goals late against Saint Lucia to win on aggregate). And while they had it in hand after a first leg win, and a first-half scoreless line, two late goals ended what they clearly wanted to be a recurring dream.

What We'll Miss: Antigua/Barbuda's two captains, Josh Parker (at Red Star Belgrade) and Quinton Griffith (with USL's Charleston Battery) are strong, experienced, well capped and just 25 and 23 respectively.

164 Tot Gauw, Aruba (2014 Finish #192; + 28)
*NOTE: If you noticed Aruba in a previous Happy Trails, please return and see just how Barbados lost a game they won*
Why they lost: After "winning" despite not scoring a goal in the last round, Aruba turned their attentions to a more home grown squad, trimming their Dutch league talent from 14 to 6. Still, they scored more goals than they had maybe the magic touch will be an all Aruban line up

What we'll miss: The eternal dream of being able to sing "Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I want to take you" with a group of ultra fans at a World Cup qualifier between the Beach Boys' rivals.

163 Adios, Nicaragua (2014 Finish #153; -10)
Why They Lost: La Azul y Blanco, won a great victory in Kingston, trumping the CONCACAF silver medalist on their home turf. But that don't mean a thing if you don't keep it together in your own backyard, losing 2-0 to fall 4-3 on aggregate.

What We'll Miss: The chance to get Fox Sports and Fox News to cross promote with Oliver North as an embedded reporter with the Nicaraguans!

CAF 2nd Round
162 Tutaonana, Tanzania (2014 Finish #100; -62) -7 to Algeria +2
Why They Lost: Tanzania forgot one of the most critical rules in international football: "don't lose 7-0 to Algeria".

What We'll Miss: We were fans of Mrisho Ngassa before. We're still fans of Mrisho Ngassa. But when his national team only gives him two caps in two's a little hard to feel the love.

161 A bientot, Togo (2014 Finish #106; -55)
Why They Lost: The downside to having a golden generation that takes you to two world cups, is that eventually they get older and less golden.

What We'll Miss: Emmanuel Adebayor's auditions to play somewhere...anywhere...

160 Later, Liberia (2014 Finish #107; -53
Why They Lost: The Lone Stars have been undergoing quite the change of late with 22 players being called up to experience national team life for the first time. Unfortunately, when you play Cote D'Ivoire and their years of experience, you get blooded and bloodied at the same time.

What We'll Miss: Liberia recently called up George Weah Jr. (who did have 2 caps with the US U-20 squad), and the thought of the former World Player of the Year coming with orange slices is kind of nice.

159 M'asselema, Sudan (2014 Finish #113; -56)  
Why They Lost: The Falcons of Jediane struggled to do one critical thing against Zambia: score.

What We'll Miss: Omar Al-Bashir has been downgraded to number two on the list of tyrannical Bashirs around the world. It would be nice to rub his nose in that a little longer...if it didn't involve, you know...allowing the other awful Bashir to continue being awful.

158 Nangalapo, Namibia (2014 Finish #103; -55
Why They Lost: Like Liberia and Sudan, Namibia dropped three goals to their rival this round (Guinea), as the old saying goes: live by Willy Stephanus, die by Willy Stephanus

What We'll Miss: There's a whole lot of crazy FA Logos out there, and it's a little comforting to find a few understated classics out there.
Shirt badge/Association crest

157 Sai Watarna, Niger (2014 Finish #110; -47)
Why They Lost: Les Menas (or the Gazelles if you prefer not to speak French) got a tremendous result with a draw in Cameroon, but dropped three goals in the first leg at home to seal their own fates.

What We'll Miss: A favorite of ours from last cycle, Amadou Moutari, has excelled for Anzhi Makhachkala since he moved there two years ago, earning promotion and keeping them just above the drop zone.
Gelson hoping for a ride to prom

156 Enda Nawa, Angola (2014 Finish #104; -52
Why They Lost: That old cliche about scoring too early was proven all the more accurate when they scored their only goal of the tie, in the second minute of the first match. After that...South Africa kept tacking on.

What We'll Miss: That goal scorer? 19 year old Gelson, the future of Angolan soccer, particularly since the past of Angolan soccer has pretty much headed home.

155 Murabeho, Rwanda (2014 Finish #111; -44)  -3 to Libya +1 (Libya Lowest team left from July ranks)
Why They Lost: The Wasps are one of the youngest, and most intriguing teams of the moment. They've been rising in stature through the last several years with a young and growing squad. They were favored in their match against Libya, but after a penalty in the first game they were on the back foot. And Libya was able to capitalize on a desperate Rwandan squad in the second half to put it away.

What We'll Miss: Four years is a long time to wait for Rwanda to get back in action, that's where keeping up on other African competitions will pay off.

154 Adieu, Chad (2014 Finish #162; + 8)
Why They Lost: Chad very nearly pulled an upset of the early stages having taken a 1-0 victory over Egypt in the first tie (even though the Pharaohs hit them hard in Chad a month before). But four goals int he first half in Alexandria to start the second leg ended any hopes Les Sao might have had.

What We'll Miss: Le Mond Francophone. Chad has 20 of its 22 most recent call ups playing in one of 6 French speaking leagues around the world. That's a lot of haute cuisine.

153 Veloma, Madagascar (2014 Finish #161; +8)
Why They Lost: Everything was copacetic in Antananarivo, the Barea scored two in the first half to grab an early lead. But it wasn't enough to win the first 45 minutes, and Senegal scored 5 in the remaining 135 to take it by a seemingly comfortable 5-2 margin.

What We'll Miss: Madagascar's second goal scorer was Njiva Rakotoharimalala, and as awesome as that name is to say, it's still not quite as good as his fellow midfielder John Baggio Rakotonomenjanahary...seriously, Roberto Baggion might be the more legendary athlete,
 Le Comodore du Comoros

152 Namkwaheri, Comoros (2014 Finish #166; + 14)
Why They Lost: Comoros started well with a draw at home with the now perennially problematic Ghanaian squad, but you can't really stop the Ayew boys, you can only hope to contain them, and so it was with Comoros as well.

What We'll Miss: I invariably relate Comoros with there's that little amusement gone.

151 Sala Kahle, Swaziland (2014 Finish #169; +18)
Why They Lost: At some point you might assume that the mightiest teams were playing back a bit, waiting for the home leg to seize the advantage. Yet again the underdog got a draw to start, and yet again in the second leg, the top flight squad took the advantage. So you could say Swaziland lost because they got played by the system.

What We'll Miss: If the mayors of teams in national championships make wagers on who will win, it would be nice to see the King of Swaziland bet the Queen of England on a match (particularly as it would add just enough pressure to get the English to scuffle).

150 Ma'as salaama, Mauritania (Did not enter in 2014
Why They Lost: Tunisia tallied a pair of 2-1 wins both home and away, as untested goal keeper Brahim Soulemaine yielded four to four different scorers.

What We'll Miss: It's a shame that the Maruitania First Division doesn't get much air time in the states. Reigning champions Tevragh Zeina can boast of having a midfield full of national team selections.

149 Dehna Hunu, Ethiopia (2014 Finish #38; -111
Why They Lost: Maybe the thrill of their epic run last time around was bound to beget a hangover. Maybe they were worn down from their first round victory. Maybe Congo was just better. Whatever the case there will be no repeat for the Walia whose crashing defeat may make them the biggest drop from one cup to the next.

What We'll Miss: The audacity and fearlessness of Getaneh Kedabe, notching two of the team's four goals this round and showing why (at age 23) he's entrenched at the top of the Ethiopian scorer sheet.

148 Kwaherini, Kenya (2014 Finish #108; -40)
Why They Lost: Kenya nearly knocked out the other epic story of underdog overachievement from 2014 when they took the first leg against Cape Verde. But ceding a brace to Heldon Ramos back in Praia, swung it back towards the Blue Sharks

What We'll Miss: Kenya's president and vice president have had to face questions from the International Criminal our decision to invest in Kenyan sports tv rather than Kenyan CourtTv is looking like less of a winner.

147 Magha, Equatorial Guinea (2014 Finish #102; -45
Why They Lost: The "National Thunder" has been riding high since their fourth place finish in January (you know...the super sketchy one filled with accusations of human rights violations, referee bribes and a semifinal riot?). But the heavily favored Equitorians were bounced by everyone's oft-forgotten old giant of African football: Morocco...maybe because they could bribe/riot their way to victory?

What We'll Miss: Teodoro Obiang. Of all the ass-hatted dictators who use football to supplement their hold on power among lower classes, you are surely one of them.

146 Salang Sentle, Botswana (2014 Finish #69; -77)
Why They Lost: The Zebras ousted Eritrea in the first round and took a 2-1 lead into the second leg with Mali. But the 2-0 loss in Bamako was enough to end their run.

What We'll Miss: Have you seen these jerseys? I mean...seriously...have you seen them? Zubas are ready for a law suit!

145 N'gasaka, Burundi (2014 Finish #163; +18)
Why They Lost: Fiston Abdul Razak can do many things. He got Burundi past Seychelles, and nearly got Les Hisrondelles back into the end of their tie with DR Congo. But he cannot stop shots...yet...

What We'll Miss: We sadly don't know many guys named Fiston.

144 Bo yi bo wa, Benin (2014 Finish #105; - 39
Why They Lost: Like so many teams, Benin couldn't finish off an early lead with a win or draw on the road when they needed it. As consolation, they did lose to Burkina Faso, perhaps the most deserving team yet to make a World Cup.

What We'll Miss: Every time I look into Benin there's another random factoid to amuse me. Their team nickname is "The Squirrels" seriously!!

143 Adeus, Mozambique (2014 Finish #112; -31)
Why They Lost: After 180 minutes Mozambique and Gabon were knotted at 1. So they played extra time, and were still tied. So they kicked penalties, and when gifted a golden opportunity when Malick Evouna missed, Luis Miquissone AND Clesio Bauque both misfired. That was all Gabon needed

What We'll Miss: Deriding Bauque. After all, he just got promoted to the Benefica A Team, so maybe there will be another chapter in his story.

Happy Trails in 2015 (184-169): Dead on Arrival

This is part of what ought to be a consistent series about the teams eliminated from contention for the World Cup. It ought to be consistent, and I ought to be better about balancing work and personal life. Still, before we embark on another big year in international soccer it's nice to remember those we are destined to forget about in 2015.

There's a lot of them so we'll split it into two posts: first up those teams whose qualification collapsed at the first hurdle.

OFC 1st Round
184 Muo Nofo A, Tonga (2014 Finish #172; -12
Why They Lost: Tonga struggled much more than last time out, failing to gather a single point against their fellow Oceanic Minnows (which is to say their fellow Sardines of world football).

What We'll Miss: All the delightful comedy of the Tongalese youth movement (8 players are Under 23, including three strikers no older than 18 and also fielded 15-year-old Anthony Likiliki.

183 Ka Kite, Cook Islands (2014 Finish #174; -9)
Why They Lost: With a group leading six points entering the final match, a draw would have been enough to see the Cooks [not their nickname] into the next round, instead two second half goals to American Samoa dropped them into a three-way tie and undid the work of Taylor Saghabi who netted all 4 of the Cooks goals.

What We'll Miss: Trying to popularize their national team nickname: THE COOKS!

182 Tofa, American Samoa (2014 Finish #173; -9)
Why They Lost: While both Cook Islands and Samoa walloped little Tonga 3-0, American Samoa had to come back after ceding a first half goal and only took a 2-1 victory. Had they matched the other scores, they'd have had the goal difference needed to move on.
Saelua and Rongen

What We'll Miss: In addition to references to the inimitable Thomas Rongen (known to my Minnesota readers as the former coach of the Tampa Bay Rowdies), there's also the remarkable story of Jaiya Saelua who made her debut as the first transgender athlete in a World Cup qualifier (but failed to appear in this round of qualifying)

CAF 1st Round
181 Ma'as salaama, Djibouti (2014 Finish #171: -10
Why They Lost: Djibouti ceded 7 goals to those bullies from Swaziland. Then again, that was an improvement from their eight-nil drubbing against Namibia last time out. But when you've only played 5 matches in four years, you can't expect top form.

What We'll Miss: The chance to compose satirical...okay, just punny...lyrics to the classic Buddy Hackett song "Shipoopi"

180 Nabad geylo, Somalia (2014 Finish #168 - 12)
Why They Lost: Somalia still can't host any games and gave up two on their Ethiopian "home leg" to Niger. From there the trip to Niamey was more or less a forgone conclusion

What We'll Miss: As someone who lives in the heart of the Somali diaspora I'm still dreaming of an additional excuse to watch a match and gorge on Sambusa.

179 Selamet, Eritrea (2014 Finish #165; -14)
Why They Lost: Four years ago, Eritrea struggled after two years of non competition. This time around, the 18 men called up had a grand total of 13 caps to their names. Botswana won both legs handily.

What We'll Miss: Great coverage of the Eritrean team by local writers...oh wait! No we wouldn't because local dictator Isaias Afewerki is currently celebrating his eighth straight year atop the "least-free press" rankings. When you're suppressing opinions that much, it's hard to work in time on the pitch.

178 M'asselema, South Sudan (Did not exist for 2014 Qualifiers
Why They Lost: Despite a first leg draw at home (when all the scoring was done in the first 5 minutes), South Sudan ceded four goals in Mauritania to seal their fate.

What We'll Miss: After decades of struggle, conflict and war, (decades that are still going on, by the by) it's a shame that the Bright Stars don't have a slightly longer run to distract them.

177 Orevwar, Seychelles (2014 Finish #170; -7
Shirt badge/Association crestWhy They Lost: The Pirates had no answer for Burundi's deadly striker: Fiston Abdul Rizak. He netted in both legs, the Secyhelles netted in neither, and that does make it hard to compete.

What We'll Miss: This national team logo, which could easily be substituted for many, if not all Floridian teams.

176 Where'd you go, Mauritius (2014 Finish #175; -1
Why They Lost: A gritty nil-nil draw in Kenya is a good result for a team with Mauritius' low profile. Unfortunately it came after a 2-5 drubbing at home.

What We'll Miss: The only non-extinct Dodos are, as ever, one of my favorite nicknames of any national team.

Sorry Manasse!
175 Gue Ngozi, Central African Republic (2014 Finish #109; -66
Why They Lost: I'm tempted to say something about inability to protect their home turf (given the home loss and away draw), but it may be a little too soon after the civil war.

What We'll Miss: Predictions about C.A.R. players. Last time around I was all excited about Ligue 1 talents Fernander Kassai (who has now been kicked down to Kazakhstan) and Hilaire Momi (now clubless). This cycle's unlucky target? Defender Manassé Enza-Yamissi currently in the top league of Portugal, and soon to be starring in Antarctica.

174 Tchau, Sao Tome e Principe (2014 Finish #167; -7
Why They Lost: Having bested one of my long time favorites, Ethiopia at home, a three-nil drubbing in Addis Abbaba crushed the dream.

What We'll Miss: Extended gloating against fans of Sporting Praia Cruz, with 7 players on the national team you know those bandwagon fans would have been insufferable.

173 Nabai, Guinea Biseau (2014 Finish #164; -9)
Why They Lost: Last cycle, it was Emmanuel Adebayor who crushed the Djurtus' dream, this time it was Liberia's William Jebor, whose hat trick in Guinea Bissau was the death sentence.

What We'll Miss: A chance to see midfielder Zezinho, I said last time around that 19 year old midfielder Zezinho might grow into a force if he built up his time with Sporting Lisbon. Instead he has languished on loans, neither playing nor growing. Only two matches for Gineau Bissau doesn't help that either.

172 Tionana, Malawi (2014 Finish #67; -105)
Why They Lost: Malawi had a hard time finding the net, dropping behind two goals to Tanzania in the first leg, and only finding it once at home when there was everything to play for, but were unable to steal a win (or even send it to penalties)

What We'll Miss: As Malawi are "The Flames" and as the kids like to threaten to "Flame" their rivals, it seemed like a good time to establish some Malawian based insults, (i.e. "don't mess with me or I'll rip you apart like Chiukepo Msowoya rips apart Zambia!")...I'm not good at this.

Shirt badge/Association crest171 Fo tuma du, Gambia (2014 Finish #116; -55)
Why They Lost: Having fought back for a draw at home, it all looked good for Gambia when they took an early 1-0 lead in Windhoek. But defender/captain Abdou Jammeh couldn't lock down the back, and two second half goals later it was all over for the Scorpions.

What We'll Miss: Entry number two in our mid-nineties retro logo campaigns. Somewhere there's a brand executive muttering."..if they just changed that red to a teal...."

170 Tsamayng Hantle, Lesotho (2014 Finish #114; -56
Why They Lost: Mohamed M'Changama. A goal up with twenty minutes to go, Lesotho looked good for progression, but when Comoros' leading/only goal scorer slotted home, that away goal was all she wrote and Lesotho was gone.
We miss you already Kei

What We'll Miss: Strong defense. Literally. Lesotho has one top flight club run named for the armed forces and another organized by prison guards.

169 Nain Dat, Sierra Leone (2014 Finish #101; - 68
Why They Lost: Away goals. Away goals. My kingdom for someone who can explain the Away goals rule to me. Chad scored at the end of the first half in Sierra Leone, meaning that the two goals Sierra Leone scored to win the match weren't enough to win the series. C'mon...there's got to be another way...third match on neutral turf? Anything's better than "away goals"...except a coin flip maybe.

What We'll Miss: Like all good American fans there's only one acceptable answer: Kei Kamara.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


(Note: I had intended to include this in a comment on two other blogs to hit this topic...but it kept going on far longer, so just consider this a long form continuation of the conversation)

The feet and ball slapped against the read earth, and the shouts and scuffs of ten boys playing five-aside after school carried back to us on the warm summer air. Sitting opposite me in a small grove of trees was an athletically built 18-year-old whose eyes flicked to the game, and whose feet tapped out a rhythm of steps, feints, attacks and delays though the ball was not near us.

I was working at a school in Ghana and interviewing students from the school drama program to develop my masters thesis. I wondered whether participating in school plays could affect how students see their nationality, and as Ghana focuses more on students creating plays rather than studying and reciting them, they made a fascinating case study.

It was just good fortune that this put me on the continent during the 2010 World Cup. Allowing me to teach all morning, interview in the afternoon, then transcribe and code interviews while watching the evening matches and munching on sweet plantains and fresh fish. 

I was near the end of my time in the country, but couldn't resist the chance to interview this young man. He was a favorite of his fellow actors and the program's director. Fast and funny in improvisation, he had a big smile that the girls particularly loved. His only problem was that he often skipped rehearsal to play football with his classmates in the dusty courtyard of the high school. I couldn't blame him. Though any coordination I ever had long since left me, the game was far more interesting than my rote recitation of questions.

I dragged his attention (and mine) back to the interview and asked the big question, the one that would be the crux of my thesis: "What does it mean to be Ghanaian"?

"Wow!" he gasped. Clearly considering this question for the first time.

"I warned you there'd be broad questions."

He started speaking quickly, "I'm a Ghanaian, and I love to be Ghanaian, and I'll always be a Ghanaian, because I'm proud to be Ghanaian...And Ghana is also one of the countries every African wants to come to because we are very good at embracing all African countries, even from Europe, every--everywhere else in the world." 

He launched into all the ways that Ghana was growing, changing. How he and his classmates made plays to show audiences that they ought to include, rather than shun, those with AIDS. He recounted all the ways he had used the school shop/craft classroom to make props, and costumes to show both traditional and modern Ghana. How he used his acting to overcome family distrust of technology or kissing girls, while trying to act in Nigerian films and also improving his soccer skills.

Finally, as we circled for a landing, he said, "I want the whole thing, and so many things. So I don't know what I want to become right now." We chatted a little more, I thanked him, and together we drifted off to watch the five-a-side players snake their way through the trees as they kept the frenetic pace alive.

I've been going back to that interview while reading the various takes on "American" soccer for "American" players. I won't lie: I've wondered about the changeable nature of "national team sides" in an age of globalization. I rather like the idea of trying to put together the best team possible under certain limitations ("limitations" that are anathema to billionaire-brokered European leagues). I have a pipe dream in which the World Cup final is played between Vanuatu and the Faroe Islands, because things like coaching, training and youth development can coalesce anywhere, but money can't.

But every time I think about limiting a national team, I think about this 18-year-old kid with dreams of "the whole thing" and I remember that it's maybe a little much to ask young men (and women), facing a major part of their professional career to come, to search their hearts and determine which pre-existing set of boundaries they will swear (soccer) allegiance to. 

And beyond the act of picking sides, there's the fact that identities, including nationality, are changeable. You aren't the same person at 17 as you are at 34, and demanding that you never change your national identity seems as dated as demanding that you never change your loyalty to the first band you loved. 

As Ghana, and Germany, and the US "embrace" other people from other countries, we will grow, we will change. The plays children don't just mirror the culture they have, they model the culture they want to see in their country. The team we field at the World Cup doesn't just mirror the "nationality" we're used to, it models the "nationality" we will become. And besides, limiting us to just "American" Americans, would be going against nearly a century of tradition, all the way back to when our 1930 World Cup Bronze medalists fielded five naturalized British citizens, none of whom had been in the country for more than a decade.
Who here is actually American?
It seems like a rising tide of nationalism has prompted politicians, athletes and other public personas to question what it means for people to be "American" enough. It's not a bad question, but it's a question that has no answer. Rather, we are constantly answering it in all the ways we live, and act, and play.