Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Curse of the Bambino: A retelling

Anyone who follows baseball closely surely knows about the “Curse of the Bambino,” the shortsighted trade of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees. But history hasn’t quite told the story correctly, so here’s the version that I believe to be true, based on what I’ve read and seen on film.

Most people see the Red Sox’s owner Harry Herbert Frazee as the scapegoat; ironically, the name itself is also part of the inaccuracy of the story, with many believing it to be H. Harrison Frazee. Frazee was a Broadway producer, and part of the criticism is that the money he got for Ruth in the trade ($100,000) was eventually used to finance the musical No, No, Nanette. This is true – except the musical was My Lady Friends, not No, No, Nanette. The shortsighted part is true – history didn’t lie about that. From 1919-2004, Boston won zero championships while their rivals in New York won twenty-six. But Frazee deserves to be let off the hook. As with many historical accounts, there’s more to the story.

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Harry Frazee was seen as the scapegoat for trading Ruth to the Yankees. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. 

The origin actually goes back two years earlier, to 1917. That winter, Frazee purchased the Red Sox from Joseph Lannin. What Frazee hadn’t counted on was the president of the American League, Byron Bancroft Johnson (“Ban” for short). Johnson was stubborn and tended to be autocratic in the handling of league affairs. In the first twenty years of the World Series, the rivalry between the American and National League was so bitter that Johnson refused to let many AL players switch leagues. More on that later. Johnson ruled with an iron fist, and essentially picked the owners himself. Frazee was the first one that was willing to challenge him, the first to not be pushed around. As a result, it’s believed that Johnson conspired to push Frazee out.

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AL president Ban Johnson. Photo courtesy of Baseball Hall of Fame. 

During the 1917-18 offseason, Philadelphia Athletics manager-owner Connie Mack asked Johnson to help him trade several players in an attempt to keep down his payroll. Johnson, trying to sabotage Frazee, suggested Mack trade those players to the Red Sox. Johnson’s gamble backfired. The Red Sox won the World Series in 1918, which made the irascible Johnson even angrier. Certain sources suggest that the Yankees may have had a handshake deal with Mack, only to be rebuffed at the last second, perhaps through Johnson’s influence.

Frazee attempted to assuage Johnson by hiring the latter’s personal friend, Ed Barrow, as manager. The two sides temporarily had a truce. But soon they were fighting again, this time over a disagreement about America’s role in World War I. The breaking point came in summer of 1919.

During his reign as Red Sox owner, it always seemed like Frazee was in need of money. It made sense for him to sell players; other owners had done it. In 1919, Frazee attempted to trade pitcher Carl Mays to the Yankees. Mays was known for his temper and was hotheaded, and was disliked by many in baseball. Johnson vetoed the trade, demanding that Mays be suspended indefinitely instead of traded. In an amazing irony, the Red Sox and Yankees joined sides for once and sued Johnson. The Chicago White Sox joined them. More shockingly, they won. The Mays trade was approved, much to Johnson’s chagrin.

But here is where Johnson decided to twist the screw in. Because of the demand for loyalty in both the American and National League, there was no NL team that was really going to put in a serious bid for Ruth. As it turned out, the move split the AL in half. The three teams that took Johnson to court were nicknamed the “Insurrectos,” while those that supported him became known as “The Loyal Five.” Johnson laid down an edict: if Frazee was going to trade players, he was only allowed to trade with the White Sox and the Yankees. Sure enough, all other AL clubs quickly rejected Frazee’s offers. Chicago offered to take Ruth straight up for Shoeless Joe Jackson and $60,000. But the Yankees offer of $100,000, including a $300,000 loan used to help with the mortgage on Fenway Park, was too good to ignore. It should also be mentioned that 1919 was of course the year when Shoeless Joe was implicated as part of the Black Sox scandal to throw the World Series. So, Yankees fans, please pay close attention to this part: Frazee sent Ruth to the Yankees only because there was nowhere else to send him. 

It got worse for Frazee. Soon after the Ruth trade, Ed Barrow left to be the Yankees’ general manager. Until 1923, the two teams performed several trades, which gutted the Red Sox roster and gave the Yankees the edge to dominate baseball. Surprisingly, Barrow never asked for any players in return during the Ruth trade, just the $100,000. Because of his associations with Ban Johnson, is it possible that Ed Barrow actually was able to sabotage Harry Frazee?

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Many think Ed Barrow was more guilty than Frazee was. Photo courtesy of Baseball Hall of Fame.

Also, let me just come right out and say it: Babe Ruth himself deserves some of the blame. While he eventually become an icon for the Yankees, and in many ways for the entire 1920s, he still never got over his tumultuous childhood. He was a bartender’s son from the Baltimore waterfront, and no doubt his father’s profession influenced much of his early behavior. Ruth was also incredibly unlucky – his mother had eight children, but only he as the oldest and a younger sister would survive childhood. Ruth was stealing candy, throwing rocks at police officers, and committing acts of vandalism – all by the age of five. Finally, at age seven, he was placed at St. Mary’s, a reform school/orphanage, where he learned to play the game. Although he was able to reform a lot of his behavior, Ruth never fully grew up. Even in Boston, he was a heavy drinker and had a tendency to not show up for games on a regular basis. In one game as a pitcher for the Red Sox, after arguing the strike zone, he threw dirt into the eyes of umpire Brick Owens, earning him an ejection and suspension. Ruth was out on his own in the world, but he didn’t know how to behave in it. By 1919, Ruth had wanted to switch to the outfield full time, and the final straw was when he jumped the Red Sox for the last time on the final day of the season. Even worse, he held out for $20,000, which would have made him the highest paid player in baseball, or one of them. For many, this was seen as unacceptable. Finally fed up with Ruth’s antics, Frazee finally sent him to New York in January 1920. And somewhat ironically, many papers initially felt that Frazee got the better end of the deal.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that much of Frazee’s reputation was diminished by the media. Several media outlets, including the caustic writer Fred Lieb, never gave Frazee the benefit of the doubt, and much of the subsequent press about him, including Dan Shaughnessy’s infamous book about the Curse of the Bambino, used Lieb as their primary source. Frazee never recovered from the media onslaught, and sold the team in 1923 for a profit. He died of kidney failure in 1929, a few weeks away from his 49th birthday.

For those that are still with me, here’s hoping that I could shed some new light on a longtime “curse.” Maybe there was one, but it was never the Curse of the Bambino. You might call it the Curse of Ban Johnson or Ed Barrow instead. Frazee had limited money, and limited availability to sell Ruth. He had no way of knowing that Ruth would change American history and the game of baseball forever.

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Babe Ruth in uniform with the Boston Red Sox. Photo courtesy of SABR.

Sources
Wikipedia.
Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)
Baseball Almanac.
Baseball Reference
Baseball Hall of Fame
Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders (Rob Neyer)
Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns 
The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame… (ESPN Classic)

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Rivalry renewed?

For a few years now, it seems like the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees rivalry has gone into hibernation. Considered by some to be the best rivalry in baseball, perhaps even sports in general, it’s a little sad but not entirely surprising. It’s said that no team stays on top forever, even the greatest dynasties. But when they can get that rivalry going again, it’s what makes baseball great, at least in my opinion.

As of now, the two teams are in the top two positions, tied for first place. Technically, the Yankees are slightly ahead, based on fewer games played. The Red Sox have won more game but have also lost one more. It’ll get figured out.

The moments are legendary. You don’t need me to tell you. It’s going to be a fun baseball season if this rivalry keeps up.

Potential Oscar nominees – June 2017

Here’s a list of who I think has a good chance to be nominated for the major film awards at the 90th Oscars.

Best Actor in a Leading Role 
1. Benedict Cumberbatch – The Current War
2. Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread 
3. Tom Hanks – The Papers 
4. Woody Harrelson – LBJ
5. Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

Best Actress in a Leading Role
1. Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water 
2. Rooney Mara – Mary Magdalene 
3. Meryl Streep – The Papers
4. Kate Winslet – Wonder Wheel 
5. Renee Zellweger – Same Kind of Wonderful as Me 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1. Kenneth Branagh – Dunkirk
2. Oscar Isaac – Suburbicon  
3. Richard Jenkins – LBJ
4. Tommy Lee Jones – Shock and Awe 
5. Michael Shannon – The Shape of Water 

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1. Jennifer Connelly – Granite Mountain  
2. Rebecca Ferguson – The Greatest Showman 
3. Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
4. Julia Roberts – Wonder 
5. Juno Temple – Wonder Wheel

Best Director 
1. Kathryn Bigelow – Detroit 
2. Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk 
3. Rob Reiner – LBJ 
4. Steven Spielberg – The Papers 
5. Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread 

Best Picture 
1. The Current War 
2. Detroit
3. Dunkirk 
4. The Greatest Showman 
5. Granite Mountain 
6. LBJ
7. The Papers 
8. Phantom Thread

Repeat

This is a little late, but if you don’t watch ice hockey, I think you should. The Stanley Cup is said to be the most amazing trophy in all of professional sports. Following the cancellation of the entire season in 2004-05, the league came back one year later and introduced a salary cap for the first time ever.

And now, for the first time since its introduction, we have a repeat champion. Threatened with relocation around the same time the salary cap was introduced, the Pittsburgh Penguins have won their fifth overall championship, tied for most overall of the post-1967 expansion teams (Edmonton is the other one).

The Stanley Cup playoffs are poetry in motion. Not only that, but the last team to go back-to-back was the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98. They swept both series, but since then, every finals have gone at least five games. In the nineteen seasons since, six have gone to a game seven – 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011 – and five of the last six have gone at least six games. In a game that can’t get as much respect as it deserves in America, it arguably has the greatest parity of any of the four major sports.

It’s now been said that Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh’s captain, has cemented his legacy as arguably the best player since Wayne Gretzky. While Alexander Ovechkin of Washington has long been in the conversation, and may have more “stats” than Crosby, Ovechkin has never gotten it done when it counted. The Capitals have never gotten past the second round with him in the lineup. Crosby, by contrast, has now won his third Stanley Cup, played in the finals four times, and won numerous awards, including becoming only the third player to win back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophies (the playoffs MVP). For all of his greatness, Wayne Gretzky never did it. Neither did Bobby Orr, or Mark Messier, or Rocket Richard, or a handful of amazing NHL players. One who did do it was the current Penguins owner, Mario Lemieux, in 1991-92. Crosby’s in some elite company – he, Lemieux, and Flyers goalkeeper Bernie Parent.

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Sidney Crosby after Game 5 of the 2017 Finals. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.

Does this mean the Penguins are poised for a “three-peat?” No team in professional sports has done it since the Yankees from 1998-2000 in Major League Baseball. The last team to do it in the NHL was the New York Islanders, who won four consecutive Cups, 1980-83. (Amazingly enough, Montreal won four consecutive from 1976-79). As the first back-to-back champions in almost twenty years, Pittsburgh goes in with a target on its back. With Marc-Andre Fleury likely leaving in the expansion draft, that will be a key piece missing. But Matt Murray looks poised to be a suitable replacement. Additionally, they have the cap space, and it looks like Washington isn’t poised to get better. The Tampa Bay Lightning could be a spoiler, but man-for-man, I think a three-peat is possible. It would be really cool to see. Take advantage of these moments, sports fans. They don’t come that often.

I hope that more people begin watching hockey. It’s poetry in motion.

Here are the two photos of each team.

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2016. Photo courtesy of NHL. 


2017. Photo courtesy of http://www.sbnation.com 

Party

We just finished doing a joint party for father’s day/my birthday. My dad got a frame of all of his kids and my stepmom, and he liked my gift (I got him some body wash). I got some good ones myself, including several pairs of shorts, cash, and a new DVD player. And the last one that I really like is a LEGO Architecture of the Chicago skyline. There’s a chance I’ll get to see Chicago again in just under a week, with my brother’s wedding coming up. It’ll be fun to put it together. A very nice birthday celebration. I am very lucky. Thank you again.

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Thirty thank yous

Of course, I don’t know if thirty would be enough.

In any case, thank you everybody for the kind birthday wishes, e-mails, phone calls, or any other way. I made it to thirty. It’s still sinking in a little bit, but  it’s nice to reach it. Several people that are also celebrating this year said that it’s hard to believe. I’m with you there.

But thank you to everybody again. It means a lot. Here’s to the next decade. Hopefully, it’ll be full of stories.

A June rain

I’ve got just over a day left in my twenties. And we’ve got a June rainstorm. I wouldn’t say I’m partial to rain, but it is preferable to walk in for me. Still, I’ve never been a fan of storms. Lightning always used to scare me as a kid, and to a lesser extent, it’s never quite gone away.

This is one of those posts where it’s not as organized as it could be. I can’t really think of an adequate title. I’m in one of those writing block phases right now, or at least it seems like it.

With warm temperatures going on all day, it was nice to at least get rain, even if it brings about more humidity. When I played baseball as a kid, it was natural to be disappointed when the rains forced the cancellation of a game. As I got older, I found I like it a lot more, especially in June.

I’m walking to that top step. I just have to wait my turn in the queue just a little bit longer. I just need to tell myself to take some deep breaths. So long, twenties. It’s been a fun run.

FIFA World Cup qualifiers – June 2017

So, here we go. As of today (June 12, 2017), we have three teams in out of 32 available spots.

Qualified (3) – as of June 12 
Russia (host) 
Brazil 
Iran 

Earlier today, Iran beat Uzbekistan 2-0 in Tehran to qualify automatically for the World Cup. Four teams in AFC (Asia’s qualifying zone) make it automatically, and at 20 points, Iran is now guaranteed to finish in the top two of Group A. Right behind them is South Korea with thirteen points. The visiting Uzbekistan team could have leapfrogged them with a win, but they remain in third, still in line for the fifth place playoff. South Korea plays against Qatar tomorrow, and fourth-placed Syria has a chance to catch up to Uzbekistan if they beat China. In Group B, Japan and Saudi Arabia are tied on 16 points after the latter fell to Australia 3-2. That game was pushed up due to Australia competing in the Confederations Cup. Ironically, Australia also has sixteen points, but not in the same manner (four wins and four draws, while the other two have five wins and one draw). Japan has a chance to seize the group lead with a match against Iraq, already eliminated. The other eliminated team, Thailand, plays the UAE, who are still in it but need a big win to get momentum back.

Elsewhere, the United States got a draw with rival Mexico as the away team. Given Mexico City’s altitude, and the rivalry between the two countries, this was a huge point for the U.S. They remain in third place, behind Mexico and Costa Rica. Elsewhere, Panama holds onto the fourth spot, playing tomorrow night against Honduras. Costa Rica plays last place Trinidad and Tobago as well.

In UEFA, twenty-seven matchups occurred. The big shock was Andorra upsetting Hungary 1-0 for only their second ever win in competitive fixtures, their fifth overall, and their first since 2004. A draw between Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina allowed Belgium to go four points up with four to play, after a 2-0 win against Estonia.

The standings (as of June 12)

AFC 
Group A 
1. Iran (qualified) – 20 points
2. South Korea – 13 points

Group B 
1. Saudi Arabia – 16 points (higher goal differential puts them in first)
2. Japan – 16 points

Playoff: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

CAF 
Group A – DR Congo
Group B – Nigeria
Group C – Ivory Coast
Group D – Burkina Faso
Group E – Egypt

CONCACAF 
1. Mexico
2. Costa Rica
3. United States
Playoff: Panama

CONMEBOL 
1. Brazil (qualified)
2. Colombia
3. Uruguay
4. Chile
Playoff: Argentina

OFC 
Group A
New Zealand

Group B 
Solomon Islands

UEFA 
Russia (host)
Group A – Sweden
Group B – Switzerland
Group C – Germany
Group D – Serbia
Group E – Poland
Group F – England
Group G – Spain
Group H – Belgium
Group I – Croatia

Playoffs (in order of points)
Italy
Northern Ireland
France
Iceland
Portugal
Slovakia
Greece
Ireland

Out of playoff: Montenegro

1982 World Cup: Spain

Long considered to have one of the best domestic leagues in the world, Spain hadn’t found the same success on the world stage. While they weren’t able to disprove that notion in ’82, they still put on a newer, better World Cup – more teams, a wider viewing audience, and the rebirth of a striker and his national team following a scandal. It also saw the first appearance of arguably the best player since Pele, a boy from the poor towns of Argentina, only five foot six at most, and still one tournament away from solidifying his legend.

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(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.) 

1982 FIFA World Cup
June 13-July 11 

Host: Spain 

Champions: Italy 
Runner Up: West Germany 
Third Place: Poland 
Fourth Place: France 

Golden Boot: Paolo Rossi, Italy (6 goals) 

Analysis 
As far back as 1966, this pick was made for Spain to host. A compromise with West Germany allowed Spain to bid unopposed this year, and several classic stadiums, like the Bernabeu (Real Madrid) and Camp Nou (Barcelona) would finally get to see some World Cup action. Still, regional politics led to inconsistent play and seemed to threaten La Furia Roja – could the hosts finally get it done on the big stage? As a result of Spain’s notorious Mediterranean climate, many games were started at 9 p.m. local time to minimize the heat and humidity.

Qualification 
Spain as host and Argentina as defending champion qualified automatically. For the first time, qualification expanded to 24 teams from the usual 16. For the first time, every continent would have at least one team represented. Only twelve years after finally having a guaranteed spot in the finals, Africa now had two guaranteed. And both of those teams were debutantes – Les Fennecs of Algeria and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. The latter featured a thirty-year-old playmaker named Roger Milla, who wouldn’t be featured in this Cup but would later on in his career. Algeria beat Nigeria 4-1 on aggregate and Cameroon won by the same score against Morocco. Milla scored the game winner to get them in. In a four-team playoff that featured New Zealand, China, and Saudi Arabia, it would be Kuwait winning the group to qualify for the first and only time in their history. New Zealand and China faced off in a head-to-head playoff, with the former winning 2-1 in a neutral site game in Singapore. New Zealand was also a first time qualifier. The last newcomer was Honduras, who won the 1981 CONCACAF championship, and their neighbor El Salvador (remember the “Football War” twelve years earlier) was second and qualified for the second time. This meant that Mexico was out.

Another big team missing was the Oranje of the Netherlands. As their players got older, the talent dipped a little bit. The Red Devils of Belgium got revenge on their neighbors by winning Group 2 with eleven points, one point ahead of France, who also qualified. A 2-0 win against France at the old Heysel Stadium in Brussels got them in. Despite winning only one game in all previous World Cups, this was their first “Golden Generation,” led by goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, defender Eric Gerets, and playmakers Leo “Lei” Clijsters and arguably their first real superstar, Jan Ceulemans. But it would be prolific forward Erwin Vandenbergh that clinched their qualification. Having been runner up at Euro 1980, Belgium now posed a real threat in the World Cup.

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(Erwin Vandenbergh scored against France to seal qualification for Belgium into the 1982 Cup. Photo courtesy of http://www.worldfootball.net

Also qualifying were West Germany and Austria in Group 1, Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia (the latter featuring penalty kick scorer extraordinaire Antonin Panenka), Hungary and England in Group 4, Scotland and Northern Ireland in Group 6, and Poland in Group 7. Initially, the British teams threatened to pull out in response to the Falklands War being fought with the junta of Argentina by the Iron Lady herself, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Eventually, all three relented. Group 5 saw its own share of controversy. Yugoslavia won the group by one point over Italy, who also qualified. But during the Serie A season of 1979-80, the Italian game was rocked by match fixing scandals. Famous clubs AC Milan and Lazio were automatically relegated, while others were docked five points. And one man was made the scapegoat – striker Paolo Rossi of Perugia. Initially banned for three years, later reduced to two years, Rossi was left off of the 1980 Euro team that finished fourth on home soil, and many were shocked to see him on the team this year. But Rossi would have a World Cup for the ages – people just didn’t know it yet.

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(Although nobody knew it yet, Paolo Rossi would spark the Italian team. Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.) 

The final spots were in South America; with Argentina already in as champions, Brazil, Peru, and Chile qualified automatically. As the game began getting more and more focused on defense, this was one of the dying breed of world football – a team with an attacking mindset, and a really good one at that. They had several great players, like free kick specialist Eder and midfielder Falcão. But two men, both attacking midfielders, were their stars. One of them was Zico, an attacking midfielder playing for Flamengo. But the name everybody remembers was Socrates. If his name alone wasn’t cool enough, his story was: he was a chain smoker who not only worked off his habit on the pitch but also was a licensed doctor in the offseason. He was known for his headband and flowing beard. And he was now Brazil’s captain for what many consider their best team ever.

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(Zico was one of Brazil’s superstars at the ’82 Cup. Photo courtesy of http://www.footballhistory.org

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(Brazil’s other big superstar was Socrates, MD. Photo courtesy of Wall Street Journal.) 

There was one more player set to make his debut for the defending champion Argentina. He was 21 going on 22, and stood only 5’6″. But his dribbling skills were probably the best ever seen – the incomparable Diego Maradona.

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(Diego Maradona made his debut at Spain ’82. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Teams received two points for a win and one for a draw. Goal difference was used as the first tiebreaker, and the top two teams would advance to a second round-robin stage. The draw was done as following, six groups of four in the group stage (listed by top seed):

Group 1 – Italy, Poland, Peru, Cameroon
Group 2 – West Germany, Austria, Chile, Algeria
Group 3 – Argentina, Hungary, Belgium, El Salvador
Group 4 – England, Czechoslovakia, France, Kuwait
Group 5- Spain, Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland, Honduras
Group 6 – Brazil, Soviet Union, Scotland, New Zealand

The competition 
Group 1 
The first group opened their play on June 14 in Vigo. Many people questioned whether Italy was fully over the scandal, as they settled for a scoreless draw with Poland. It would be a surprisingly tough group, as Peru and Cameroon also drew nil-nil. Italy took the lead in their second game through Bruno Conti (18′). But seven minutes from time, Peru tied it through their captain Ruben Toribio Diaz. Another scoreless tie resulted from Poland and Cameroon. In the final game between Italy and Cameroon, both teams needed a win, but neither seemed willing to take the initiative. Italy took the lead (60′) through Francesco Graziani. But one minute later, Grégoire M’Bida (nicknamed “Arantes”) equalized, Cameroon’s first goal in the World Cup. The two teams drew 1-1. As it turned out, that extra goal was enough to get Italy through, the first team to qualify without winning a single match. Cameroon also drew all three times, but was eliminated on goal differential. Poland won the group by beating Peru 5-1; it was the last time Peru would appear in the World Cup as of 2017. Poland and Italy did just enough to advance.

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(Grégoire M’Bida scored Cameroon’s first World Cup goal against Italy. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Group 2 
The expanded format would quickly prove to be both controversial and amazing at the same time. In one of the World Cup’s greatest upsets, Algeria upset West Germany, the defending Euro champions, by a score of 2-1. Lakhdar Belloumi scored the winner in the 68th minute, one of Africa’s greatest World Cup moments.

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(Lakhdar Belloumi scored the winner in Gijon to upset West Germany. Photo courtesy of FIFA.)

(Algeria pulled off a great upset of West Germany. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

Austria won 1-0 over Chile in their first game. The next rounds saw West Germany prevail over Chile 4-1, and Austria over Algeria 2-0. Unlike West German hubris, the Austrians had a plan and executed it. The final matchup was full of controversy. Algeria played against Chile on June 24 in Oviedo. Thanks to a brace from Salah Assad, and another one in the first half, Algeria took a 3-0 halftime lead. Chile fiercely rallied back to make it 3-2, but to no avail. Chile were eliminated without a win. Had Chile forced a draw, it wouldn’t have mattered. But Algeria had won two games with the two favorites – neighbors – scheduled to play each other the following day.

The situation was as follows: If West Germany won by two or less goals, both teams would go through. Anything larger and Algeria would qualify on goal differential. A draw or Austrian win would send West Germany out. In a match known as the “Disgrace of Gijon,” the two teams attacked for the first ten minutes. West Germany scored off of a corner through Horst Hrubesch. Then the game came to a grinding halt. In total, there were two shots on goal combined. Few long balls were played, players deliberately shot wide, and tackles were almost nonexistent. Fans were furious that they wouldn’t get to see a great rematch of four years ago. Fans of both teams booed their own players. Cries of “Fuera, fuera” (“Out, out”) were screamed at the players, while many Algerian fans waved banknotes in a taunting manner. Even the announcers probably would have preferred a root canal that day. Both West Germany and Austria advanced, but may have ruined their reputations in the process. German manager Jupp Derwall seemed to confirm the chicanery, saying, “We didn’t want to play football. We wanted to progress.” As a result of the debacle (and the 1978 Argentina-Peru game), FIFA instituted a new rule to prevent it from happening again: all of the final games would now start at the exact same time.

(The infamous “Disgrace of Gijon” match. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

Group 3 
Argentina came in with boatloads of confidence, both from their defending their title and from the propaganda campaign coming from the junta. But upon arrival in Spain, newspapers told the story: Argentina would lose the Falklands. For Maradona and company, the wind was knocked out of their sails.

Still, Camp Nou in Barcelona was set to host the Argentina-Belgium match. Diego Maradona was not only making his debut in the World Cup, he was the club’s new signing. But he would be disappointing, and another huge upset was in the making.

After both teams missed their chances in the first half, Belgium began pressing their lines. 62 minutes in, Erwin Vandenbergh took a pass inside the box. He played the ball on a bounce, and it helped that goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol broke late. Vandenbergh fired – and just like that, the Red Devils were in the lead 1-0 over the defending champions.

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(Belgium celebrates the goal scored by Erwin Vandenbergh against Argentina, which proved to be the game-winner. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Argentina almost equalized, narrowly missing the post once and another shot requiring Pfaff to make a spectacular save. In the end, Belgium held on to win 1-0, their greatest World Cup achievement to that point. They were no longer underdogs.

The Hungary-El Salvador matchup was famous, but for the wrong reasons. Tibor Nyalasi started the scoring after only four minutes, and added another one later in the match. It was 3-0 at halftime, and it would get much, much worse. In the second half, Hungary kept scoring…and scoring…and scoring. Laszlo Kiss set a record by becoming the only substitute to ever score a hat trick in the World Cup – and he did it in a span of only eight minutes. El Salvador substitute Luis Ramirez Zapata would get El Salvador’s first (and only) goal in their history in the Cup, 64 minutes on. Still, it was a fleeting moment, as Hungary set a record for largest margin of victory in World Cup history, finishing at 10-1. If nothing else, Hungary would have goal differential on their side.

(Hungary beat El Salvador 10-1. Video courtesy of YouTube.)

Argentina did Belgium a favor by beating Hungary 4-1, with Maradona getting his first two goals in that game. Belgium didn’t play as well against El Salvador, but managed to win 1-0 through a goal by Ludo Coeck. In the final match, Argentina won 2-0 over El Salvador to take second in the group. Hungary took the early lead on Belgium through Joszef Varga, but Belgium would equalize and win the group after a goal by a man fondly known as “Czernia” – Alexandre Czerniatynski. His goal made it 1-1, which enabled Belgium to qualify to the knockout stages for the first time ever. Hungary would be going home, and El Salvador gets my vote for worst ever World Cup team – two appearances, no wins, no draws, six losses, one goal scored, twenty-two allowed.

Group 4
England beat France 3-1, with Bryan Robson scoring England’s first goal after only 27 seconds. After France scored in the 24th minute, Robson added a second and Paul Mariner clinched victory seven minutes from time. Shockingly, Kuwait earned their first point after a 1-1 draw with Czechoslovakia. Things started well when Antonin Panenka did what he did best – a chipped penalty to give them a 1-0 lead after 21 minutes.

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(Antonin Panenka was a great penalty taker for Czechoslovakia. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

But shortly into the second half, the Kuwaitis equalized through their striker Faisal Al-Dakhil. It would be their only point to date in the World Cup, but it was still a great result.

France versus Kuwait saw two memorable moments. It saw the emergence of one of their best players – Michel Platini. He scored their second goal only two minutes before halftime. The other moment involved a controversial disallowed goal and a Yugoslavian referee named Miroslav Strupar.

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(Michel Platini was arguably the best player of the French team in 1982 and 1986. Photo courtesy of FIFA.) 

With under ten minutes to go, France was winning 3-1 and was advancing the ball towards the Kuwait goal. Suddenly, the Kuwaiti players stopped. They claimed they had heard a whistle. And they were correct – except it wasn’t from Strupar. Instead, it had come from the stands. Needless to say, the Kuwait players thought that play had stopped. The French players didn’t hear the whistle and the ball wound up at the feet of Alain Giresse, who poked the ball past keeper Ahmed Al-Tarbulsi. Suddenly, Strupar was swarmed on the touchline by Kuwaiti players. And there was another touch – billionaire oil magnate, Sheikh Fahad Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, himself president of the Kuwait FA, joined in the arguing. Sheikh Fahad insisted that the goal should be disallowed, and whatever he said worked – Strupar disallowed the goal. Now the French players were furious. Nevertheless, Maxime Bossis added a fourth (legitimate) goal one minute before time, and France won 4-1. In the end, it didn’t matter as much as other controversial moments in the World Cup.

England managed to win 2-0 over Czechoslovakia and 1-0 over Kuwait, while France managed a 1-1 draw with the Czechoslovakians in their final game, with Panenka scoring another penalty. England and France advanced on to the knockout stages.

Group 5 
The hosts Spain were trying to prove their staying power. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way, as the supposed “minnows” Honduras held them to a 1-1 draw in Valencia on June 16. Supposed underdogs Northern Ireland held Yugoslavia to a scoreless draw. Spain managed to rally back with a 2-1 victory over Yugoslavia, rallying after conceding the first goal in the first ten minutes, and Honduras and Northern Ireland played to a 1-1 draw. While Honduras would finish bottom of the group, it was still respectable for their first appearance. Yugoslavia managed to win 1-0 over Honduras, with Vladimir Petrović scoring on a penalty with two minutes to go. The final match was between Spain and Northern Ireland. Neither team scored in the first half. But two minutes later, Gerry Armstrong stole the ball in his own half. He made a run into the Spanish half before dropping the ball off to Billy Hamilton. Hamilton dribbled past the defender, and tried to cross. Spanish keeper Luis Arconada dove and deflected the ball. But Armstrong was waiting.  He fired on the rebound, and just like that, Northern Ireland had the lead. Shockingly, the lead held up and Northern Ireland not only won 1-0 but also took the group win. Spain managed to squeak through on goal differential. They just narrowly missed avoiding being the first host eliminated before the knockout stages.

(Gerry Armstrong scores the winning goal for Northern Ireland versus Spain. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

Group 6 
Brazil’s midfield was every bit as advertised, which was good, because they were uncharacteristically lacking in the forward position. Initially, the Soviets took a 1-0 lead (34′) through Andriy Bal. But with 14 minutes to go, Socrates scored the equalizer, and then with just over a minute to go, Eder took a cross and volleyed it into the net on his first touch. Many considered it the best goal of the competition.

(Eder scores the winner in the Brazil-USSR game. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

Scotland had another newcomer to face, in New Zealand. No longer stymied by a boisterous manager, they went up 3-0 before halftime. New Zealand rallied back to get to 3-2 through captain Steve Sumner and Steve Wooddin, but Scotland scored twice more in the final twenty minutes to win 5-2. The rest of the group went predictably, with Brazil winning 4-1 over Scotland and 4-0 over New Zealand, winning all three goals. Zico scored three goals in those two games, including a magnificent free kick to equalize against Scotland. Following a 2-2 draw between Soviet Union and Scotland, the Soviets would advance with a better goal differential. Scotland were going home again.

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(Against Scotland, Zico scored a sublime goal to jump-start Brazil. Photo courtesy of FIFA.)

Knockout stages 
Group A
The winner of each group would make the semifinals. Despite making the knockout stages for the first time ever, Belgium’s stay wouldn’t be long. They fell 3-0 to Poland, with all three goals coming from a hat trick from striker Zbigniew Boniek, and then fell 1-0 to Soviet Union. Still, it was a giant stop, and it set up their magnificent run four years later. In the grudge match between Poland and Soviet Union, hinted with political drama as Poland’s pro-Communist government had recently declared martial law, the match ended 0-0 with Poland advancing to the semifinals. All games were played at the famous Camp Nou in Barcelona.

Group B
Played at the Bernabeu in Madrid, West Germany and England fought to a scoreless draw. This was followed up by a 2-1 victory for the Germans over Spain. The hosts played to another scoreless draw, and were eliminated. Many Spanish fans were ashamed – they weren’t as bad as the record showed, were they?

Group C 
Arguably the best group of this stage, both of Italy’s matches were fantastic. Paolo Rossi had been disappointing in the group stage – as had the entire team – but manager Enzo Bearzot had little other choice and inserted him into the lineup. Playing defending champion Argentina, Italy got their first win of the tournament 2-1, with two goals in ten minutes being the clincher, and surviving a scary goal from Argentina captain Daniel Passarella. Sadly, one minute later, Americo Gallego was sent off for them, and they never recovered.

Furious about the suspicious nature of their exit four years earlier, Brazil wanted revenge against the Argentinians. Zico started the scoring only 11 minutes in. While Brazil continued their attack, it took them another 55 minutes to get a second through Serginho. Junior added a third nine minutes later, before things got worse for Argentina. Five minutes from time, Maradona went in for a hard foul, on what he thought was Zico. As it turned out, it was on substitute Batista, only on the pitch for two minutes. Maradona was shown a red card and Brazil won 3-1. As only Maradona would, he apologized…but not for the incident itself. He apologized he had done it to the wrong person. Brazil had their revenge. But it probably took them off their game facing Italy.

(Diego Maradona sees red against Brazil. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

Played in Estadio Sarria in Barcelona, the last matchup was a de facto quarterfinal, and it was a classic, one of the last examples of great attacking throughout. Italy had to win to progress, as Brazil’s goal differential was better. It was here that Paolo Rossi’s legend was born.

Just five minutes into the game, Antonio Cabrini played a cross. Rossi got his head on it – one-nil!! Suddenly, Italy was in the lead. But only seven minutes later, it was Brazil’s turn for some magic. Socrates got the ball and put it past legendary keeper Dino Zoff. After both teams had their chances, Italy had a chance in the twenty-fifth minute. Following a sloppy play by Brazil’s defense, Rossi stole the ball away and shot. Number two!! Just like that, Rossi had come back from the dead, both personally and professionally. Italy held its 2-1 lead heading into halftime.

Brazil kept pressing their lines forward in search of an equalizer. During the match, Italy’s Libyan-born defender Claudio Gentile marked Zico out of it. While Gentile earned a yellow card and would miss the subsequent semifinal, his marking on Zico worked so well that he complained to Israeli referee Abraham Klein, claiming that Gentile had pulled on his jersey so often that the armpit was torn. Klein didn’t see anything.

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(Claudio Gentile and Zico waged a classic offense-defense battle. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Finally, after several failed attempts, Brazil broke through. Junior sent the ball as defender Cerezo faked out three Italian players. Junior passed the ball to Falcão. From 20 yards out, he hit the equalizer. It was 2-2. If the scoreline held up, Brazil would go through on goal differential.

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(Falcão celebrates his equalizer. Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.) 

All the Brazilians had to do was clamp down defensively and spread the field wider. But they just couldn’t curb their attacking instincts, and they would pay a price for it. Six minutes after the equalizer, Italy broke through and won a corner, which amazingly enough was their first of the game.

The corner went in and Brazil attempted to clear the ball. It didn’t work and deflected back into the box. Both Rossi and Francesco Graziani were waiting. Rossi got there first and fired again. Hat trick hero!! Rossi completed his rebirth, giving Italy a 3-2 lead.

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(Paolo Rossi led the Italians to victory with a hat trick. Here he is in action against Socrates. Photo courtesy of http://www.goal.com.) 

Brazil desperately searched for an equalizer, but couldn’t break through. It looked like Italy had a fourth goal, but it was incorrectly ruled out for offsides. In the dying minutes, Brazil came agonizingly close to an equalizer. Defender Oscar fired a shot that went towards Dino Zoff. Somehow, Zoff made the save that kept Italy in the lead. Brazil couldn’t get that needed equalizer. Italy won 3-2 and Brazil was out – joining the ranks of 1954 Hungary and 1974 Netherlands as some of the best teams never to win it all. Paolo Rossi was reborn. But his magic was only just beginning.

(Highlights of the classic Brazil-Italy match. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

Group D
The last group wasn’t as competitive as the previous ones. France won 1-0 over Austria and then beat Northern Ireland 4-1. France advanced and each of the other two teams finished with one point after a 2-2 draw. The semifinals were set.

Semifinals 
Italy had somehow managed to squeak through to the semifinals. As it turned out, Rossi was just getting started. He had a brace (22′ and 73′) to shockingly put Italy into the finals. Almost ruined by an economic crisis, Italy came alive.

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(Paolo Rossi celebrates one of his two goals against Poland to send Italy into the finals. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

The other semifinal matched West Germany and France. It was another classic match. The humidity of the Spanish climate had already taken a toll on the players. The West Germans started the scoring in the 17th minute when Emmanuel Littbarski put it past French goalkeeper Jean-Luc Ettori. But ten minutes later, Les Bleus had equalized. Platini won a penalty and converted it. Later on, he said he considered it his “most beautiful game.”

Each team had its chances in the second half, but neither side converted. Later in the game, French substitute Patrick Battiston came into the German box with a great chance. Goalkeeper Harald “Toni” Schumacher leaped into the air. The two collided, and it looked like Schumacher had crushed Battiston deliberately with his hip. Surely, it would be a red card for Schumacher, or at least a French penalty. But Dutch referee Charles Corver made no foul call. He ruled it was a West Germany goal kick. Many thought that Battiston was dead – he lost three teeth and suffered several damaged vertebrae. Things got so bad that medics were forced to administer oxygen on the pitch, and he eventually slipped into a coma. The match went into extra time.

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(Schumacher and Battiston collide. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.) 

France took full advantage, scoring through Marius Tresor only two minutes in. Six minutes later, after West Germany had subbed in several players, Alain Giresse made it 3-1. France had the final in its grasps.

But just like Brazil, France’s attacking instincts couldn’t be curbed. West Germany scored twice in six minutes, the last one coming on a bicycle kick by Klaus Fischer. Neither team scored again, and for the first time in World Cup history, a match would go to penalties.

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(Klaus Fischer tied the score for the West Germans. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

France went first in the shootout. Giresse scored, as did West Germany’s first kicker, captain Manfred Kaltz. Each team converted their second kick as well. Dominique Rocheteau made it 3-2 for France. After West Germany missed their penalty, France had the edge. Up came Didier Six for France – and he missed! West Germany leveled the shootout through Littbarski. Both of the final scorers came through. After five kicks, it was tied 4-4. Maxime Bossis was next for France. He missed, and it was up to Horst Hrubesch. He came through and West Germany was through to the final. Schumacher courted further controversy by offering to pay for the crowns after finding out Battiston had lost three teeth.

(Highlights of the West Germany-France semifinal. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

Third place match
In an exciting third place match, Poland and France faced off. Rene Girard opened the scoring for France (13′), but three goals for Poland in just over six minutes gave them a 3-1 lead. France pulled one back, but it wouldn’t be enough. For the second time in three Cups, Poland took third. But their Golden Generation was over – they’ve never made it that far since.

Final
Coming into the final at the Bernabeu, Italy now had some surprising firepower up top. Both teams played more conservatively in the first half, and it was scoreless at halftime. Italy almost broke through, but Antonio Cabrini missed a penalty wide by less than an inch. Italy also had to deal with an injury to Francesco Graziani, substituted after only seven minutes. But Italy was resilient.

Finally, twelve minutes after halftime, Italy broke through. Gentile played a ball into the box, taking a bounce and landing at Rossi’s feet. It was his sixth goal in three games, and he was now Italy’s hero. Later in the match, Marco Tardelli made it 2-0 with a goal, which proved to be the winner. He was also the “winner” of another unofficial record – many felt he has the best goal celebration ever.

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(Marco Tardelli celebrates for Italy. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.) 

For good measure, Italy added a third goal (81′) through Alessandro Altobelli. Two minutes later, West Germany got on the board through Paul Breitner, but it was too little, too late. Largely written off for over two years before the tournament, Italy had their first title in 44 years and third overall. They were now tied with Brazil with three titles apiece.

(The Italy-West Germany final. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

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(Italy holds up the 1982 World Cup trophy. Photo courtesy of FIFA.)

Fun Facts
A Brazilian farmer accidentally killed one of his cows when he painted the Brazilian flag across the cow’s flanks, which led to asphyxiation.

Dino Zoff remains the oldest winning player to date, at the age of 40.

Similarly, Norman Whiteside of Northern Ireland became the youngest player in World Cup history at the age of 17. Injuries forced him out before the age of thirty.

Belgian striker Ludo Coeck, who had scored the winner against El Salvador, was killed in 1985 in a car accident near Antwerp.

Belgium’s keeper Jean-Marie Pfaff nearly had a fatal accident of his own before the El Salvador match. He reportedly fell asleep in a hotel pool and nearly drowned. While a great keeper, Pfaff became known as somewhat of a buffoon in his own country.

In a poll taken in a French newspaper, Toni Schumacher beat out Adolf Hitler for most hated German of all time. He and Patrick Battiston later made up.

Italy, by record, was one of the worst teams to win the Cup. They were the first team to advance without winning a game, and the only World Cup winner with at least three draws and/or losses during the tournament. They set a record low for a winning team by scoring twelve goals in seven matches, six of them coming from Rossi.

El Salvador’s players were unaware of the custom of exchanging gifts prior to the match. With nothing else to turn to, goalkeeper Luis Guevara Mora peeled off some bark from a pine tree, carved “El Salvador” on it, and presented it to the Hungarian captain.

Socrates’ younger brother Rai would eventually play on the 1994 Brazil championship team.

Sheikh Fahad, who invaded the pitch during the France-Kuwait game, was later killed in 1990 during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. He was defending a palace when Saddam Hussein’s rebels overran it.

For the first time, all six continental confederations had at least one member featured. It would take until 2006 for this to happen again.

Final Thoughts
Much like West Germany in 1954, Italy’s national conscience was reborn through the World Cup. Their economy recovered, and new prosperity grew. Serie A would rise in popularity for the rest of the decade. Four years later, one man was ready to lead the Albiceleste, and had his own tournament for the ages.

References and Sources 
FIFA
ESPN FC.
YouTube
Getty Images
Wikipedia
Bleacher Report
http://www.worldcupbrazil.net
http://www.goal.com
http://www.uefa.com
http://www.footballhistory.org
Wall Street Journal
The Telegraph
Daily Mail
FourFourTwo 

World Soccer
Soccer’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Clumsy Keepers, Clever Crosses, and Outlandish Oddities (John Snyder)
Soccer’s Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves, and Fantastic Free-Kicks (Jeff Carlisle)
¡Golazo! The Beautiful Game from the Aztecs to the World Cup: The Complete History of How Soccer Shaped Latin America (Andreas Campomar)
The ESPN World Cup Companion: Everything You Need to Know About the Planet’s Biggest Sports Event (David Hirshey, Roger Bennett)
The Mammoth Book of the World Cup (Nick Holt)

Absolutely (Story of a Boy)

Except for the changing of gender, the title refers to a song by one of the one-hit wonders of the 2000s, Nine Days. And indeed, here we are – nine days to go until the big one.

I remember listening to this song in eighth grade or so. Many of us made fun of it, because we were 13-14 and still had enough innocence left in the world to do so. Maybe it was teenage immaturity.

Part of me continues to wonder: what’s so bad about living in the past? Maybe the benefit of hindsight helps me see better. After all, it is said to be 20-20.

Now, I stand on the precipice of a milestone. In the fifteen or so years since I was in middle school, I wonder what my 15-year-old self would think of present me. I’ve matured in some areas, perhaps regressed into some bad habits, whatever. I’ve never been good at living in the now. Don’t ask me why, though. I couldn’t tell you. Maybe somebody has a better answer.

But here it is – just over a week to go. I’m also there.