Monday, June 30, 2014

5 Reasons to Hate: Belgium

The US made it through the group stage in consecutive World Cups for the first time ever. They disposed of their arch-nemesis Ghana, got a point against Portugal and held the efficient Germans to just one goal. Thanks to a Portugal victory over Ghana (I never would've guessed I would have celebrated a Christiano Ronaldo goal that much), the US is moving on. In isolation, being able to advance out of a group that featured Germany, Portugal and Ghana is an accomplishment in and of itself. Doing so without striker Jozy Altidore for the majority of the time is incredible. Now it's on to the knockout stage against Belgium who has gotten off to slow starts in each of their three group games. The Belgians have yet to score a goal in the first 70 minutes of a game. After conceding an early penalty kick to Algeria, Belgium trailed for 45 minutes before equalizing in the 70th minute and taking the lead in the 80th minute. Against Russia, it took until the 88th minute for Belgium to score and they managed a goal in the 78th minute while playing with 10 men against South Korea. As we have seen so far in the knockout stage, games are never over until the final whistle, as Mexico and Costa Rica have both conceded goals in stoppage time. The Belgians are late finishers so the US will need to play a complete game. But let's be honest, you didn't come here to read about what the US needs to do.

If you want legitimate previews of the US side, you should be reading:
When you think about Belgium, the first thing you probably think of is Belgian Waffles, which do not suck. Waffles aside, there are plenty of reasons that Belgium does suck. Here are five.

5. Brussel Sprouts

Literally the worst food ever came from Belgium and is named after the Capital of Belgium. Isn't that enough?

4. The Big Bang Theory

Monsignor Georges Lemaitre was a Belgian Catholic priest who applied Einstein's theory of relativity to Cosmology. Of course, from talking with most people who "F***ing Love Science" you'd never know that the Theory of Expansion of the Universe and the Big Bang Theory were developed by a Catholic priest.

The saddest part of all of this isn't the fact that people don't know where The Big Bang Theory came from, but that people now more readily associate the term with a TV show instead of the actual scientific concept.

Basically what it boils down to is that through the transitive property, Belgium is responsible for this:

3. Disproportionate Flag

Congratulations, you are a sovereign nation. Unless you are Nepal, your flag is a square. Nepal gets a pass because their flag needs to be more aerodynamic in order to withstand the winds of the Himalayas. Switzerland and Vatican City have perfectly square flags. Most countries in the world have rectangular flags that are either at a 2:3 proportion or 1:2 proportion. Belgium just couldn't make up their mind. Their official flag proportions are 13:15 which is not quite a perfect square but also barely a rectangle. Their civil, state and naval flags are all 2:3 but they just had to go and be ridiculous with their national flag.
National Flag Proportions:

Civil Flag Proportions:

2. The Horror, The Horror

Is that actually what Colonel Kurtz said? We may never know. What we do know is that Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, which pretty much everyone read in high school, was set in the Belgian Congo. Belgium's rulership over the Congo started under King Leopold II. Leopold turned the Belgian Congo (which is now primarily the Democratic Republic of the Congo) into his personal fiefdom, because being King of Belgium obviously wasn't enough. The indigenous peoples were put to work as slaves in mining copper and on rubber plantations. By some estimates, the native population of the Congo was halved because of Belgian rule.
Conrad's book gave a glimpse of some of the conditions deep within central Africa under Belgian rule, which Conrad had experienced personally as part of a Belgian trading company traversing the Congo River in 1890. According to the United Nations' Human Development Index, the Democratic Republic of the Congo ranks last in the world. Belgium is pretty much the reason that things in Central Africa suck so bad.
Michael Crichton's Congo was also set in the former Belgian Congo, and things sucked pretty bad there too. "Belgians in the Congo" is also featured in one of the worst songs of all time:

1. Beer Monopoly

I know what you're thinking. "But Belgian beer is pretty good!" For the most part, you're right. But did you know that a Belgian company is actually responsible for a lot of the crap that is brewed as well? Actually, it's even worse than a Belgian company. It's a Belgian company that bought out an American company. In 1987, the two largest breweries in Belgium merged for form Interbrew. Interbrew merged with AmBev (which was formed from the merger of two large Brazilian brewers) in 2004 to form InBev. Finally, in 2008, InBev acquired (or "merged with" depending on the terminology you want to use) Anheuser-Busch.
That means that every time you drink the Official Beer of the World Cup, you're actually supporting a Belgian company. The Anheuser-Busch/InBev corporation accounts for the Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois, Beck's, Hoegaarden, Michelob, Rolling Rock, Labatt, Natural Ice, and many other brands of beer across the globe. They also own distribution rights to Bacardi and Monster Energy drinks. So in conclusion, even though it's the official beer of the World Cup, you should probably boycott Budweiser, Bacardi, Labatt, and Natty Ice during Tuesday's game. Unless you want to support Belgium.
For Pittsburghers, this hits especially close to home because it was Anheuser-Busch that ceased production of Rolling Rock beer in Latrobe after acquiring the brand in 2006. This was before Anheuser-Busch's merger with InBev, but it should not be overlooked that drinking Bud or Rolling Rock is supporting the company that stopped brewing beer in Latrobe and supporting Belgium. Basically, if you drink one of these beers during the game, you hate America.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

5 Reasons to Hate: Germany

Coming into the World Cup, I had said that anything more than 3 points in the group stage would be a rousing success for the United States. But a last-second goal by Portugal that forced a draw left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Objectively, there is nothing to complain about if you can earn a draw against the #3 ranked team in the world. However, to be seconds away from advancing out of the Group of Death has left something to be desired. The Americans clearly belong at this stage and can actually win the group with a victory over Germany or advance with a draw. If the US loses, there are a variety of scenarios in play.

As always, recommended reading for actual legitimate previews of this game:
If you want to know what to watch for in the match, read those articles. If you want some good reasons to hate Germany (if you don't already) here we go...

5. Nazis

My #5 reason in the Reasons to Hate Ghana and Reasons to Hate Portugal were both about local political history. But in breaking from tradition, that's not what I'm talking about here. Yes, what the National Socialist Party did during their stay of power in Germany was atrocious. That is without doubt.

What also sucks is the linguistic jargon that is now associated with the word "Nazi" or "Hitler." Someone doesn't agree with you're point of view? They're probably Hitler.
Obviously, this doesn't compare with the atrocities of what the actual Nazis did. But it's still a gigantic headache to have to listen to anyone and everyone being called a Nazi about something or other.

4. The Internet

3. Vowels, or Lack Thereof

Have you ever tried to actually read German words? It's nearly impossible. This is a civilization that never heard of vowels. There are words that have 7 or 8 consonants in a row. What even. Then there is their totally absurd way of naming everything.
Just taking some of their absurd animal names, we have the word for "slug" which features 7 consecutive consonants (cktschn) and the word for "turtle" which features the ridiculous sequence of "ldkr" which are letters that should never appear consecutively. If this is how they name animals in their language, how ridiculous are the names of their soccer players?

2. Martin Luther
Selective interpretation? Check. Selective Translation? Check. Ongoing misinformation campaign against the Catholic Church? Check check check.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. "The Church used to teach that the earth revolved around the sun." or "The Church used to think that the Earth was flat."

Well, as it turns out Martin Luther himself once said:
"There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth." (Source)
And a simple Wikipedia search pretty much blows the Flat Earth myth out of the water.

Basically, rooting for Germany is rooting for inaccurate, revisionist history. If that's your cup of tea, well, why are you drinking tea in the first place? I'll go with the team that actually did things in history as opposed to just making them up.

1. Nazis

The actual ones. The ones whose faces melted in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Also the ones who were responsible for the Holocaust.
Plenty of reason to hate Germany.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Comparing World Cup Sides to NFL Teams

A few days ago, Jesse Spector over at The Sporting News published this hilarious piece comparing World Cup teams to MLB teams. The only problem is there are only 30 MLB teams so he was forced to exclude two World Cup teams from his comparison. He chose to exclude the US and Brazil. Fortunately, there are 32 NFL teams so I'll be able to cover all 32 World Cup entrants.

Have won the World Cup more than any other nation and their fans will never let you forget it. There is only one rational comparison here. 

There is something to be said for consistency. Advancing to the knockout stage in multiple consecutive tournaments is something. Not being able to get past the first round of the knockout stage in any of them is also something.

Have the playmakers to be explosive and a threat to anyone. Have some of the wildest uniforms in the competition. Unfortunately, they are maddeningly inconsistent and can't get out of their own way.

Play undisciplined and take ridiculous penalties that cost them any chance of winning. They've been around quite a while but have not been good at this level for a long time.

They wear Orange. They lost in the last Championship Game. They have a ridiculous offense but didn't play up to their potential and in their normal style in the last Championship Game. I think you know where this is going.

All offense, no defense. Can run with almost anyone in the world on the offensive end but are a defensive liability.

The defending champions that flamed out before even getting to the knockout stage. In the end, their players and style of play were drastically over-hyped and they just didn't show up.

They came. They saw. They went home. Had the potential to give a few teams a run, but ultimately lived up to their expectations of coming in last in the group. Made a few games exciting with offensive outbursts.

Up-and-coming young team that had a knee injury to one of their key offensive players before the tournament started. Have played incredibly stingy defense and gotten contributions from some young exciting  talent on offense and still managed to top their group. A serious threat to make a deep run and a team that a lot of people are jumping on their bandwagon.

Have one offensive star that has pretty much carried the team along with a strong defensive line. Their weakness is in the middle and in being able to turn defense into offense. Have never had a ton of success and it would be a huge accomplishment to just make it to the knockout stage. They wear blue and are from an economically disparaged area that has received a huge government bailout.

"Golden Generation" of players raised them out of anonymity and made them relevant on the biggest stage. However, they never fulfilled their expectations and now have to regroup with a new set of players.

Have one extremely good world-class player and 10 other guys on the field with him. Their top player is capable of single-handedly taking over games, but the supporting cast really isn't good enough to get anything significant done.

The biggest surprise of the tournament so far. Have a lot of people shaking their heads and asking how they topped what is arguably the hardest group in the tournament. A team without much history or tradition that is riding a wave of emotion but will probably flame out early in the knockout stage.

They have had some success in the past and have young, gifted offensive playmakers. Have been a polarizing team in previous tournaments thanks to the attitude of their star player.

Their nickname is in reference to their Blue jerseys. They have had great success in the past and have won multiple Championships. Most of their championship game wins were considered upsets but they have a rich tradition (even if it does involve whining).

 Without a doubt the most over-hyped team with the most over-hyped players that never live up to their expectations. Supposedly the "standard" of the sport but have been gigantic disappointments lately. Their star player is a gigantic choke artist.

One of the most difficult teams to predict year-to-year. At their best, have ridden a shut-down defense to a Championship. At their worst, are hounded by in-fighting and team discord. Capable of playing with the best but also capable of choking at key moments.

The team you have no idea what to make of. Are they actually any good? They are like world-beaters at home and have scored some huge victories there recently. However, outside of their friendly confines they are absolutely awful. It's still impossibly to predict how this team will perform.

They wear red. They are boring offensively. They play defense and feature just enough offense to get it done.

Have never done anything of significance at this level. Perennial losers. You know where this is going.

A potentially explosive offense with one of the best players in the world at his position. There are questions on the defensive end and with the cast around their star player, but he is capable of carrying this team on a deep run.

Who says you need to score to win? Ride your defense and hold on to any lead you get to somehow sneak forward in the tournament. They wear green. Have had success in the past and pulled one of the biggest upsets in soccer championship game history, albeit in slightly different arena.

Looked like a very good outfit on paper, but laid an egg and was one of the first teams eliminated. A lot of people thought they could advance deep into the knockout rounds but ultimately there was more hype than substance. Uniforms routinely listed as some of the worst in the competition.

Not very offensively gifted. Have had some success in the past but never much past the group stage. Play decent defense but don't have the scoring capacity on offense to compete at this level.

Perennial powerhouse that is always in contention. They are loaded with offensive talent but don't always play the prettiest game. They are not afraid to do whatever it takes to win, but at their best are absolutely lethal.

Incredibly hyped team with loads of young talent that is growing in popularity but hasn't actually won anything yet. Went through a stage of "this will be the year" but seemed to have finally turned the corner after they put a guy with a German name in charge. Coach is fiery and feisty. Not afraid to jettison some of their aging players in favor of young, unproven talent.

Nemesis to the United States. Have some talented players but haven't quite been able to put everything together. Have been successful recently thanks to one World-Class player and a mediocre supporting cast. Would have done better if the other teams in their group weren't as good.

Have arguably the best player in the world who also happens to be a gigantic douchebag. Best player makes a big deal out of his haircut. Everyone hates them because of one or two players, who are good enough to carry them on deep runs into the tournament.

Trendy pick to make a deep run. On paper are loaded with offensive talent but it hasn't been on display yet. May be too young and the stage may be too big for them to live up to their expectations.

One of the biggest surprises of the tournament has been their offensive explosion so far. In a relatively weak group, they are making waves. Have been a feisty, challenging team in the past but look poised to enter the knockout stage this year. They wear green jerseys.

An easy team to hate given their tradition. Organization is under flak right now for a variety of reasons. Growing unpopularity across America. You probably can't name more than 2 people on their team anyways.

There are no real superstars on the team but they play a good team game with strong fundamentals. They will hang around but aren't going to blow anyone out of the water.