“As Brazil Crashes Out, the Magic Appears to Be Gone, Too”

Brazil Loss in 2018 FIFA

Here’s an absoultely brilliantly written piece by By 

KAZAN, Russia — It is a fine line between respect and deference, and in the days before they came face to face with Brazil, Belgium’s players and staff did all they could to navigate it.

A World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil was a challenge, defender Vincent Kompany said, but he and his teammates would not be “losing sleep” over the identity of their opponents. There was “no weakness” in Brazil’s team, according to striker Romelu Lukaku, although “defensively, they can be taken” on.

Belgium’s coach, Roberto Martínez, would concede only one advantage to his opponent before his team beat Brazil, 2-1, on Friday. “The difference is, we have not won the World Cup, and they have won it five times,” he said. “Brazil has got that psychological barrier out of the way.”

That weight of history, of course, is what lends Brazil its magic. It is what makes Brazil the world’s most prestigious national team, a byword not just for taste and style but for success, too. That ultimate marriage of style and substance is what makes the sight of those canary yellow jerseys, blue shorts and white socks so enchanting, what makes the colors gleam just a little brighter.

To see them is to remember Pelé and Jairzinho, Romário and Ronaldo, all of the single-name stars who emerged, every four years, to light up a tournament and so many childhoods. It is to recall the goals they scored and the World Cups they won, the stories of their indelible greatness the world was told when it was young.

It is the same whether you are a fan or a player: Brazil is different; Brazil is special. Martínez is quite right — that effect must count for something, at some level, however deep in the subconscious. It must bewitch those who find themselves tasked with stopping the thing that so inspired them.

And yet if those jerseys are intimidating to see, they are surely no less daunting to wear. All those greats, all those ghosts, on your shoulders and on your back, reminding you of what you are supposed to achieve, who you are supposed to be, that only victory counts as success and everything else is failure.

But Martínez was also quite wrong. Brazil might have won five World Cups, but this Brazil team — this Brazil generation — has not won any, and it will be painfully, crushingly aware of it.

There are five stars on Brazil’s jersey representing those championships, but the last one was added in 2002. After this defeat, the soonest a sixth can join it is in 2022, a wait of two long decades for a nation that — for all the romance of jogo bonito — values only victory. This team, like the three that have gone before it, has failed.

There has not even been a succession of near misses. Brazil fell in the quarterfinals in 2006 and 2010, just as it has in Russia. It went one step further on home soil in 2014, but found only humiliation, the sort that can scar a nation, waiting there.

Every time, the rhythm of the country’s reaction has been the same. There is a bout of soul-searching; the manager is sacked; a new coach promises to make the team more resilient, more tenacious. He does this by playing with more defensive midfielders. It does not work. The cycle begins again.

This time, it is even harder to believe such a response would be proportionate. Brazil was not embarrassed by Belgium: Tite’s team created more than enough chances to have forced extra time, at the very least. It can regard itself unfortunate not to have been awarded a penalty for a foul on Gabriel Jesus. It can believe itself cursed that, in the first half in particular, Belgium defended so effectively by accident, rather than by design.

Not every defeat is proof of some spiritual failing. Not every defeat means everything is wrong. Certainly, there is no shortage of talent on this Brazilian squad, just as there was no shortage of talent in any of the squads since 2002. Neymar is not a mirage, and neither are Jesus, Philippe Coutinho, Douglas Costa and the others.

There are some aging legs in the back line, and something of a dearth of young, dynamic fullbacks, but this is a country that exports thousands of players every year. It is a place where players will continue to grow.

That is what has allowed Brazil to build its history, that endless flowering of talent, one star replaced smoothly by another, year after year, cycle after cycle, decade after decade.

What has happened since 2002, though, suggests this is no longer the advantage it once was. The playing field has been leveled: Brazil is no longer pre-eminent in the way it once was, possessed of enough raw brilliance to carry it through. The explanation for that does not lie in Brazil’s shortcomings, but in someone else’s strengths.

It is not a coincidence that all four of this year’s World Cup semifinalists, whatever happens in the second set of quarterfinals, are from Europe. This is, increasingly, a European competition. All four of the most recent world champions have been European. Since 1990, what might be broadly termed soccer’s modern era, there have been eight World Cups. Brazil has won two. Europe will have picked up the rest.

At least one manager here has confided privately that Europe’s power — in terms of finance, influence, and physicality — has become almost impossible to compete with, certainly for Africa, Asia and North America, and increasingly for South America, the game’s other traditional stronghold.

The major nations of the Old World have industrialized youth development so effectively that France, Germany and Spain can now rival Brazil and Argentina as a source of players. Its smaller countries have such easy access to best practices that their size is no longer an issue.

Their players and coaches can be exported easily to the best leagues in the world. The latest developments in coaching, sports science, nutrition and the rest can be imported rapidly. It is that process that allowed Iceland to draw with Argentina, and be a little disappointed it did not win. It is that process that has left Belgium in the World Cup semifinals, and Croatia and Sweden with hopes of joining them.

And it is that process that has seen Brazil come and go from four World Cups, all without success. Each one, each failing, simply adds to the pressure that awaits the next team to try to end the wait, to try to overcome all of the advantages that Europe can call on.

The players in those yellow jerseys know as well as anyone that Brazil has won five World Cups. They know more than everyone that they have not contributed to any of them. Increasingly, those victories are not a psychological barrier that lies broken at their feet, but one that towers above them, standing in their way, casting them into shadow.

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The Rich Get Richer: “Booggie” Boogies to Golden State

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DeMarcus Cousins signed with the Golden State Warriors, and we can’t believe it either.

This Just In: In case you haven’t heard, DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins has signed a one year deal with the Golden State Warriors. That’s right, the reigning NBA Champions just got better.  It’s so incredible, so inconceivable, and so indescribable a development that I must defer to ESPN to give us the low down:

“According to most, when healthy (and that includes his attitude), Cousins is maybe the best center in the world, and that includes Joel Embiid. He is utterly unstoppable at what he does, one of just eight players in NBA history to average at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a single season — which he accomplished last season through 48 games before he went down.

He also shot 47 percent from the field, and better than 35 percent from 3-point range, as a seven-footer. Seriously, I think people have kind of forgotten how incredibly dominant this guy is, or they’re at least leaning a little too heavily on the idea that his injury is going to keep him from ever being that player again. No doubt, an Achilles tear is a big-time injury. Probably the worst one a basketball player can suffer. And it’s only worse for a big man carrying around 270 pounds of listed weight.

But this is where smart teams weight the risk vs. reward, and right about now, the Warriors are looking a lot smarter than, well, just about everyone else. Again, the guy took a one-year deal on the mid-level exception for $5.3 million. Kevin Durant saved the Warriors pretty much that exact amount when he signed for $5.6 million less than he was eligible to make in the first year of his new two-year contract. In essence, the Warriors got Cousins for free.

Cousins reportedly said he didn’t receive even a single offer from another team. That may or may not be true. Perhaps he just didn’t receive an offer to his liking. It’s understandable that he would want max money, or something close to it, and it’s equally understandable that no one would dream of giving him that with the uncertainty surrounding his injury. But clearly the guy was willing to talk, and ultimately take a small deal as an opportunity to prove himself, particularly with a team that could offer him the chance to play alongside superstar(s).

In the end, the real winner here is Cousins, who can take his time getting back to full strength on a team that doesn’t need him in any way. Seriously, they don’t need him. Potentially one of the best players in the league is a luxury. And a very cheap one. If he makes it back to something near full strength, the Warriors are going to be the greatest basketball team ever assembled, bar none. Discussion over.

Imagine trying to keep your eye on the two greatest shooters in NBA history in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, quite possibly the greatest pure scorer in history in Durant, and even if you somehow manage to stop those three (which you won’t), you now have to deal with a seven-footer who averaged 25 points and 13 boards last year. Then, even if you shut all four of those guys down, you have a borderline Hall of Famer in Andre Iguodala COMING OFF THE BENCH. Then, on the less than 1 percent chance all those guys are having an off night on the same night, the Warriors, behind one of the 10 best defenders ever in Draymond Green, have the best defense in the league, too. It’s a joke.

All of this is going to let Cousins do nothing but shine if his Achilles is up to it. The guy is used to defenses swarming him. He won’t believe the one-on-one matchups he’ll get with defenses terrified of leaving those shooters open. He’ll learn to play a more modern style with all the Warriors’ ball and player movement, and he’ll remind people that he’s a good passer when given the opportunity. He’ll probably win a championship for his trouble. And then he hits the open market in 2019 as an unrestricted free agent having proved to the league, in the most player-friendly environment imaginable, that he’s still a force. Then he gets paid. It’s brilliant.”

“This is my ace of spades,” Cousins told ESPN on Monday. “This is my chess move.”

Sports once again gives us life lessons to live by. The rich indeed do get richer. But it does not mean that the poor need to get poorer. At least not any NBA teams.  There should be enough talent to go around. Shouldn’t there be?  So what’s your chess move? How will you get better? 

It’s Time To Be A Philly Fanatic, a.k.a., Baseball Anyone?

It’s officially time to watch baseball fanatically! Just don’t be like the Phillies mascot who injured a female fan by nailing her in the face with a hot dog shot out of the hot dog cannon. Sheesh.

It’s officially summertime so that means that the boys of summer now get to take center stage. The NBA just crowned the Golden State Warriors again and the surprising Washington Capitals finally captured Lord Stanley’s Cup, after a very long chase. So all that remains is baseball.

What’s that you say? The World Cup is being played in Russia? Seriously? So why didn’t the good ole US-of-A get invited? Huh? They didn’t qualify? Really? I thought Trump and Putin were buddies?

Anyway, it’s now time to pay attention to baseball. What’s that you say? The WNBA is playing their summer league season? Like I said, it’s time to pay attention to baseball and the boys of summer (no offense to the basketball ladies, but the WNBA just doesn’t do it for me).

Anyway, back to baseball. The Evil Empire New York Yankees and their bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox, are at again, going at it, neck and neck, tooth and nail, and it’s fun to watch — the standings that is. I mean, it’s just June and we have a pennant race! And that’s not the only one.

My Philly Phillies just whipped and whupped the presumptive National League favorite to go to the World Series, the Washington Nationals, 12 – 2, and reclaimed second place in the East! Whoop whoop! So there! Here’s what one ESPN writer had to say about my Phillies:

“In the opener of a three-game set in D.C., the Phillies trounced the Nationals 12-2, in the process leapfrogging them for second place in the NL East. Philly is now 8-3 in its past 11 games, while Washington is 3-8 in its past 11. Even though the division rivals will square off twice more this weekend, not to mention 13 more times after that, and even though there’s over half a season still left to play, the upstart Phils sent a clear message on what turned out to be a Freaky Friday: They’re not planning on going away anytime soon.”

And there are other races worth watching too, like the National League Central with Milwaukee and the Cubbies going head to head and the National League West with Arizona and the Dodgers going neck and neck. And did I mention it’s still June? Pennant races aren’t supposed to start untill late August or mid September. Man!

So, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go to the TV, take the remote, tune in to the guide (remember the actual TV Guide that came with the Sunday paper? My little sister and I used to fight over it all the time, but then again she had it memorized) — err, where was I?

Oh yeah- it’s time to watch, and pay attention to baseball!

Go Phillies!

The Mother Of All Comebacks: Ieshia Champs

“When I was six years old, while playing with an old doll on a beat up sofa, I heard a knock at the door. My grandmother opened the door to reveal a woman I had seen earlier at school that day. My grandmother burst into tears and I was terribly confused. In that moment, I was being taken away and placed in the custody of Children Protective Services. Where was my mother? My father? Both were out on drug binges and I had not seen them in days.

Over the years, the only ounce of stability I received was in the eight hours I spent in the classroom. It was my comfort zone. I was a confused fourteen year old child who had already lived in over six different residences between all four years of high school. Some were friends whose parents allowed me to stay long term, and others were friends who sometimes had to sneak me in to stay the night. I was supposed to be thinking about what color lip gloss to wear or where to hang out with my friends over the weekend, however, I was worried about whose house could I stay at the following day. Soon things became overbearing and I reluctantly dropped out of school during my senior year. I wanted to help others who were in awful situations, perhaps plead someone’s case for innocence, yet I had no diploma and no desire to return to school. As the years grew, my dreams for becoming an attorney died.

By January of 2009, I was a mother of three and given the news of expecting my fourth child. As excited as I was, this turned out to be the most traumatic year I had ever experienced. Each month presented an overwhelming tragedy. I lost everything I owned in a house fire, was laid off from my job, and while seven months pregnant, lost my children’s father to cancer. I was suddenly a single mother of four with nothing to fall back on; not even my sanity.  I had four children, and I was already in my late 20’s. However, in the midst of this turmoil, I went back to school to obtain my GED. I did not want my children to experience what I did as a child. I had to succeed for them and for myself.

Upon matriculation into Thurgood Marshall School of Law, I was scared. I was a mother of five young children, and the only help I had was that of my church family and my sister, who also has five children of her own. My sisters’ love and care for me and my children helped me out in ways that are indescribable. She cooked for us, watched my children and hers after doing long hours at work, and most importantly, she always encouraged me and was a shoulder to lean on when I cried. She has been there every step of the way for me, despite her own personal obstacles she’s had to overcome. My church family has walked this journey with me since day one and has prayed for me daily, talked me out of giving up and most of all, they’ve been a family like no other. They’ve opened their home to me and my children and comforted me. It is situations such as those that gives me the drive and eagerness to become a successful attorney. Many of my peers identify me as a walking testimony, and are amazed at where I am today. I was once told that the odds were against me. I responded by not just defying the odds, but destroying them by resurrecting a dream that died.

I took the pictures with my kids because they helped me through school. They’re graduating too! They would help me review with flash cards while I cooked. They would sit as a mock jury while I taught them what I learned that day. I would sit in my closet and pray and cry because I was overwhelmed and my oldest son, David, would gather his siblings, give them a snack, make them take a bath, gather their school clothes, all to make things easier for me. And I had no knowledge of him doing that until I went to do it!”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ieshia Champs of Houston, Texas.

Every Team Needs A Sister Jean

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Who is Sister Jean? Meet Loyola-Chicago’s Spiritual Guide and Biggest Fan

“It’s hard to call Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt an overnight sensation. After all, she’s been following basketball at Loyola University-Chicago for more than a half century and said she saw the Ramblers win the NCAA title in 1963. But thanks to television, the internet and social media, the 98-year-old nun has become a media darling.

With victories against Miami and Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament, the Ramblers are hoping for more spiritual guidance when they face the winner of the Cincinnati-Nevada game in next week’s Sweet 16.

Here are some things you might not have known about Loyola-Chicago’s inspirational leader.

Praying for victory: As the basketball team’s chaplain since 1994, Sister Jean begins every prayer the same way: “Good and gracious God.” But if you’re thinking she does not invoke the deity for a little help to win, think again. “I ask God to be especially good to Loyola so that, at the end of the game, the scoreboard indicates a big ‘W’ for us,” she told The New York Times. She ends every prayer with an emphatic “Go Ramblers.” Judging from some of the shots Loyola-Chicago has been burying during this tournament — Clayton Custer’s game-winner against Tennessee comes to mind — these prayers have been answered so far.

She’s a Hall of Famer: Loyola-Chicago inducted Sister Jean into the athletic department’s Hall of Fame in 2017, making her the 173rd member to be enshrined. Born in San Francisco in 1919, Sister Jean played basketball in high school.

Good scouting: Every season, Sister Jean researches the boxscores of upcoming opponents, using her sharp eye for detail to point out flaws in the Ramblers’ next foe. Coach Porter Moser found a manila folder on his desk on his first day as coach, according to NCAA.com. Sister Jean had compiled a scouting report on the Ramblers to help the new coach. “She lights up every room she goes into.” Moser told the Times. “She’s always smiling. She has an energy about herself. I connect with that.”

She has her own bobblehead: Loyola-Chicago held a bobblehead promotion night for Sister Jean in 2011.

Super sneakers: Sister Jean has a pair of maroon-and-gold Nike sneakers that she wears during each game. Two names are stitched on the sneaker’s heels: “Sister” on the left heel, and “Jean” on the right.

It’s been quite a ride for Loyola-Chicago, which has knocked off two highly touted programs. Now, the Ramblers will have to go against Sister Jean (they hope to prove her wrong) in the Sweet 16: She picked the Ramblers to lose in that round”. http://www.fox13memphis.com/news/trending-now/sister-jean-doloresschmidt-5-things-to-know/717742144 

Black Panther is a “Bad” Cat

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For all those of you who have NOT seen the Black Panther film, stop reading. Stop reading right now and go and see it. It’s that good.  And of course you have to understand that in the hood, “bad” means good. And everywhere, someday, right will win the fight, and all that is noble and just will finally reign supreme.  Regardless of your sex, race or ethnic origin, if you love watching the best team win, and if you love what is true, and honest and lovely and good, you will love this film.

If you love comeback stories and good overcomes evil dramas, the Black Panther is for you. And if you love victories with a come from behind turnaround twist, you will appreciate the cinematic genius of Ryan Coogler and the acting acumen of Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, and Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright and Angela Basset and so many others.  

I read an outstanding review by Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post and can’t say it any better that she did. In short, Ann Hornaday said, “The Black Panther is a different kind of superhero (who) will mean so much to so many.”  Amen sista.

Here ya go:

” ‘Black Panther,’ an adaptation of the iconic comic book that has been decades in coming, proves to be more than worth the wait. This lush, impressively well-acted film, about an African king learning how best to marshal the superpowers with which he’s been endowed, comes draped in anticipation, not only from hardcore fans of the source material, but also from filmgoers already steeped in breathless hype. Director Ryan Coogler, working with a script he co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole, doesn’t just meet but exceeds those expectations, delivering a film that fulfills the most rote demands of superhero spectacle, yet does so with style and subtexts that feel bracingly, joyfully groundbreaking.

Chadwick Boseman, until now best known for channeling the likes of Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall, comes masterfully into his own here as T’Challa, crown prince of the mystical kingdom of Wakanda, who assumes the throne when his father is killed while giving a speech at the United Nations. After an elaborate initiation ritual, T’Challa is tasked with hunting down an evil arms merchant named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), who has stolen a Wakandan artifact made of the precious metal vibranium. Outfitted with dhesive footwear, a fearsome feline mask and a suit that can absorb and redirect power, invented by his techno-genius sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa sets off for South Korea with his allies, General Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), an accomplished operative who also happens to be T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend.

That game, once it’s afoot, is plenty entertaining, even if it never veers beyond the most conventional contours of modern-day movie action. In a recent interview that went viral, the music producer Quincy Jones noted that most rap music is “just loops, beats, rhymes and hooks.” The same formula applies to the comic book movies that, at their most uninspired, feel like thinly cobbled-together series of battles royal, windy expository encounters, spatially challenged chase scenes and epic standoffs.

The difference with “Black Panther” is that, while observing the outlines of the traditional comic book arc, Coogler and his creative team have enlarged and revitalized it. Drawing on elements from African history and tribal culture, as well as contemporary and forward-looking flourishes, “Black Panther” pulses with color, vibrancy and layered textural beauty, from the beadwork and textiles of Ruth Carter’s spectacular costumes and Hannah Beachler’s warm, dazzlingly eye-catching production design to hairstyles, tattoos and scarifications that feel both ancient and novel.

Make no mistake: Coogler doesn’t use “Black Panther” as an awkward delivery system for such Deep Ideas. Rather, he weaves them in organically and subtly. “Black Panther” is great fun to watch and shot through with delicate threads of lighthearted humor, mostly delivered from Wright’s cheeky, sarcastic whiz kid and Martin Freeman, who shows up midway through the film as an earnest if unlikely ally.

Gracefully photographed with a gratifying un-frenetic touch by Rachel Morrison (nominated for an Oscar for her marvelous work on “Mudbound”), “Black Panther” succeeds far beyond Coogler’s directorial chops (which are prodigious), striking visual design and thematic depth. As a showcase for many of the finest actors working today, it proves how essential performance is, even in movies that on their surface demand little more than fitting into a latex suit and affecting a convincing grimace.

Boseman, who strides through “Black Panther” with unforced, charismatic ease, assumes almost Shakespearean levels of doubt as his character is challenged by an unexpected rival. Nyong’o, Wright, Sterling K. Brown and Daniel Kaluuya bring poetry and gravitas to roles that transcend mere support. Michael B. Jordan, who broke out in Coogler’s debut film, “Fruitvale Station,” brings scrappy, street-smart volatility to his performance as a character with whom T’Challa has a karmic connection, and Gurira steals every scene she’s in as an indomitable warrior trained in the art of spearcraft.

It’s these actors — their faces, their commitment, their attention to craft and detail — that elevate “Black Panther” to stirring heights, whether they’re surfing on top of speeding cars through the colorfully lit streets of Busan, arguing against the backdrop of a teeming, futuristic city or communing with their deceased elders on the ancestral plane. And, as they dominate the screen in a movie rooted firmly in their own history and narratives, they provide an exhilarating, regal rebuke to the chronic absence and denigration of black bodies in American cinema.

‘Black Panther’ may be grounded in the loops, beats, rhymes and hooks of contemporary film grammar, but it feels like a whole new language.”

Are The Winter Olympics Way Too Long?

Here’s a humorous, tongue and cheek article by Ben Cohen and Joshua Robinson of the WSJ. It’s hilarious and well worth the read, just as Lyndsey Vonn’s Bronze Medal ceremony was worth the watch (she forgot to take her medal with her to the podium).

“PYEONGCHANG, South Korea—The Winter Olympics are a magical time every four years for people to marvel at sports that would almost certainly kill you, gawk at figure-skating wardrobe malfunctions and fall under the hypnotic spell of curling.

And then there are days like Monday. The complete list of medal events that day amounted to team ski jumping, 500-meter speedskating and two-man bobsled. That was it. Not a single medal was awarded before 9:53 p.m.

The slim pickings were symptomatic of a larger problem with the Winter Olympics: They’re way too long.

Wednesday was the 14th day of competition here. And somehow there were still four days to go. If it was beginning to feel like a slog, that’s because it was. There has never been a longer Winter Olympics.

But there is nothing in the Olympic Charter mandating that the Games need to feel this long. The Winter Olympics of 1976, 1980 and 1984 lasted 12 days from Opening Ceremony to Closing Ceremony. Until broadcasters wanted more. The Games expanded in 1988 to give ABC three weekends of television coverage during a typically dead time of the sports calendar between the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball tournament. And they’ve only gotten longer since then.

The Olympics stretched to accommodate new sports that keep the winter Games fresh and relevant, like mixed doubles curling. With that there is now curling every single day of the Olympics. There is so much curling the only way that Pyeongchang’s organizers could squeeze it all in to 17 days was to stretch 17 days to 18 days: The first curling match was the day before the Games officially began. Eighteen days! That’s six days longer than the last NBA Finals, four days longer than Wimbledon and twice as long as the world championships dedicated specifically to curling.

So perhaps the sport could survive without nine matches of round robin play. And nobody needs 12 days of long-track speedskating either. Not even the gold-addicted Netherlands. They conduct their Olympic trials in all of four days.”

And the moral of the story is this: sometimes short and sweet is better than bitter and long.