Christian Pulisic of the United States mens national team
Christian Pulisic of the United States mens national team reacts to their loss to Trinidad and Tobago during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Trinidad and Tobago at the Ato Boldon Stadium on October 10, 2017 in Couva, Trinidad And Tobago. © Ashley Allen / AFP

The headlines in America were devastating:

  • Shocking loss to 99th-ranked Trinidad leaves U.S. out of World Cup
  • Stunned U.S face major questions after World Cup debacle
  • What does World Cup failure mean for soccer in the USA?
  • U.S. out of excuses after defeat in Trinidad leaves it out of World Cup
  • Where does U.S. Soccer go from here? 10 immediate aftershocks of World Cup failure

When the US national team lost to the Trinidad and Tobago team in the CONCACAF tournament, a meeting of North and South American teams qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, USA was expected to continue its string of appearances in the World Cup since 1990. After all Trinidad & Tobago (or T&T) was ranked 99th in the world, the US ranked 28th, its population a little over a million, while the US is well over 300 million with a well-established professional soccer league.

Trinidad and Tobago defeat US in World Cup Qualifier
Trinidad and Tobago defeats the US 2-1 to deny US from qualifying for the 2018 World Cup

On top of that T&T was already out of the running for the World Cup, deep in last place having lost 7 out of 8 matches in the tournament when they faced off with the US squad. The US was in third and needed a win to get their tickets punched to Russia next year, but T&T were aggressive, scoring two goals in the first half of their qualifier match on October 10, 2017.

But while most of the headlines you might see in the internet suggest that the storyline is the dramatic failure of the mighty US, the flip side of the story is the dramatic triumph of David over Goliath. And for those soccer fans in the two-island nation off the northern coast of South America, there was also satisfaction at achieving a measure of revenge. T&T came so close to qualifying for its first world cup in 1989, needing only to draw to advance. But they lost to the US 1-0, thus propelling the US to the World Cup in Italy the following year.

Here are a few of the comments from the liveblog of the match as posted by Kwame Laurence of the Trinidad Express during the game:

10:56 USA OUT!

T&T’s 2-1 victory over the United States has booted the Americans out of the 2018 World Cup. Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 and Panama defeated Costa Rica 2-1, the combination of results forcing USA into fifth spot in CONCAF qualifying.

10:59 SWEET REVENGE FOR T&T!

It took 28 years, but T&T finally enjoyed sweet revenge over the United States. With T&T’s fourth win in 26 matches against USA, the home team avenged the November 19th, 1989 1-0 defeat that prevented T&T from qualifying for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

Double 10 Drama

Double 10 – October 10th – will go down in T&T football history as a date to remember, alongside November 19th. Tonight’s 2-1 victory came too late to propel T&T into the 2018 World Cup. But there was the satisfaction of ending USA’s World Cup qualification bid. One could say this was the ultimate revenge for USA’s 1-0 win on November 19th, 1989, a result that abruptly ended T&T’s hopes of qualifying for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

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Koebe Bryant high school
Kobe Bryant

The Players Tribune is a internet forum devoted to the athlete’s perspective. Hounded and misquoted by the press, Derek Jeter believed athletes needed a place for them to tell their story in their own words.

One of the features of The Players Tribune is Letter to My Younger Self, an opportunity for athletes to reflect on their youth, and what their current self would have told their younger self.

Kobe Bryant‘s advice to the high school prodigy that he was is interestingly of a financial nature, and somewhat insightful. He explains that giving your friends and loved ones things, nice things, expensive things, is not doing your friends and family a favor. In fact, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and five-time NBA champion, Bryant would tell his younger self that giving things away is an act of selfishness, and not a responsible way to take care of those you care for.

You love them, and they were always there for you growing up, so it’s only right that they should share in your success and all that comes with it. So you buy them a car, a big house, pay all of their bills. You want them to live a beautiful, comfortable life, right? But the day will come when you realize that as much as you believed you were doing the right thing, you were actually holding them back. You will come to understand that you were taking care of them because it made YOU feel good, it made YOU happy to see them smiling and without a care in the world — and that was extremely selfish of you. While you were feeling satisfied with yourself, you were slowly eating away at their own dreams and ambitions. You were adding material things to their lives, but subtracting the most precious gifts of all: independence and growth. Understand that you are about to be the leader of the family, and this involves making tough choices, even if your siblings and friends do not understand them at the time.

When you’re young, you’re care free and often pain free. But the aches and pains of the full-time athlete can take its toll. To world-class athletes, it’s often the mental stress that is the bigger test.

According to three-time Olympic medalist between 1996-2004, Brandi Chastain of the US women’s soccer team, and four-time Olympian, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, managing pain and injury is a key to maturing as an athlete.

Brandi Chastain portrait outside Spartan Stadium
Brandi Chastain

The mental and physical challenges of rehabbing your body will test your patience. Have faith in those moments — they will define your future perseverance. No athlete knows what’s on the other side of significant injuries. Live all of your questions and trust the process. You’ll return a better player, a better teammate, a better person. – Brandi Chastain in The Player’s Tribune

Yes, your leg will be black and blue, and the torn muscle will bring pain unlike anything you’ve ever felt before. Yes, you’ve never been seriously injured before. However, it will be essential that you listen to your physical therapist when they tell you that you’ll be OK. The only thing that will hold you back is a lack of mental toughness at the time.Jackie Joner-Kersee in The Player’s Tribune

And finally, if these athletes were to tell their younger selves to give pause, it would be for their parents, who unconditionally and thanklessly chauffeured them to practice and back, practice and back, practice and back.

Caroline Wozniaki
Caroline Wozniacki

2012 London Olympic semi-finalist, Caroline Wozniacki, wrote about the early morning drives to tennis practice, and how she wished she were more in the moment, more appreciative of those moments in the car.

He’ll wake up early to drive you to the tennis club at 6 a.m. so you can practice before all the matches start. Then, at eleven at night, he’ll jump back in the car with you and take you back to the club so you can practice after the day’s matches have ended. Appreciate everything your family does for you during your childhood. They will sacrifice so much for you. Do yourself a favor and make the most of those car rides. Soak in all the lessons and guidance that Dad provides you — and not just the stuff about tennis. Pay attention to what he is trying to instill in you about life. He and Mom will always stress the importance being a good person, of treating people right, of being respectful and kind. Let that sink in. Allow it to shape who you become.Caroline Wozniacki in The Player’s Tribune

Henrik Lundquist kid

My favorite player on my home team ice hockey team, the New York Rangers, is goalie Henrik Lundquist. The two-time Olympian and gold medalist from the 2006 Turin Winter Games, Lundquist also remembers the long hours his parents drove him through all kinds of weather so he and his brother could play hockey.

Starting tomorrow, your parents will begin their journey, too. They will drive you and your brother hours and hours across Sweden to play hockey. They’ll drive through huge snowstorms. They’ll drive after long days at work. And their reward at the end of those drives will be to sit in cold rinks for hours — helping you get dressed, then watching you play, then helping you get undressed. Years later, when you think back on this time in your life as a grown man with a child of your own, you will finally appreciate what an incredible sacrifice your parents made for you and Joel. – Henrik Lundquist in The Player’s Tribune

 

Usain Bolt and the Holy Redeemer

    Usain Bolt and the Holy Redeemer

The bigger picture at the Rio Olympics:

Cambridge Bolt and Brommel

Fu Yuanhui
Far left, China’s Fu Yuanhui, bronze medalist in the 100-meter backstroke
When you think of Brazil, you think of samba, you think of Carnivàle, you think of joy. And the Rio Olympics had its share of joyful moments.

Here are a few of my favorite examples:

Fu Yuanhui: The Chinese may have had an off-par Olympics in terms of medal haul, at least to them, but Chinese swimmer, Fu Yuanhui, became an overnight sensation. While the Chinese expect gold from every one of their athletes, the Chinese and the rest of the world fell in love with the 20-year-old bronze medalist in the 100-meter backstroke. There were few more expressive, more unfiltered, more joyful than the young woman from Hangzhou. Watch the clip for a few examples of why Fu Yuanhui lit up the Twitterverse with delight.

Justin Rose: The golfer on Team GB was outspoken in his criticism of other professional golfers foregoing the Olympic re-boot of golf after over a century. Justin Rose won gold in men’s golf, stating “It’s right up there with anything I’ve achieved in the game.” Rose won on skill and determination. But on the 189-yard par-3 fourth hole in the first round of the tournament, Rose walked into a bit of luck with his 7-iron, nailing the first ever Olympic hole in one. Watch the video to see Rose’s pleasant surprise.

David Katoatau: If you have never heard of the Republic of Kiribati, you may be excused. This nation of 33 atolls and reef islands spread out over 3.5 million square kilometers lies on the equator in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. On one of those islands resides David Katoatau, who came in 15th at the 2008 Beijing Games in the 85kg weight class, and 17th at the 2012 London Olympic Games in the 94kg weight class. At the Rio Olympics, Katoatau managed only 14th in the 105kg weight class, but came in first in the Olympic dance competition. In his last failed attempt in Rio, Katoatau fell over, rolled on his back, flipped himself up, hugged the weights, and started the most joyful funky dance you’d ever see from a weightlifter.

Monica Puig: If you weren’t following tennis in the Olympics closely and tuned on the television for the women’s finals, you would be wondering, Who is Monica Puig? Even casual fans of tennis would likely have recognized Australian Open champion, Angelique Kerber, but you could be excused if you didn’t know the unseeded Puig. 

However, every time Puig won, her home country of Puerto Rico began to rumble and roar. In an economic mess, Puerto Ricans have had little to cheer about in recent months. But as Puig continued her march to the medal round, an entire country stopped to watch. With monumental expectations on her shoulders, Puig did the unthinkable – she upset Kerber. Her medal was gold, her tears were of joy.

Monica Puig's tears of joy
Monica Puig cries tears of joy.
Brazil’s Soccer Team: When Neymar sent the winning penalty kick at the finals of the Olympic soccer championships, not only did Neymar collapse in tears of joy, the entire country of Brazil exploded in celebration.

Weverton celebrates with Neymar
Brazilian goaltender Weverton rushes to celebrate with teammate Neymar.

Neymar knocked in the winning goal, securing Brazil’s first Olympic gold medal in its religion of soccer. But it was Weverton the goalie who arguably won the match for the Seleção, with his lunge to the left and save of Germany’s Nils Petersen’s penalty kick in the last moments of the Olympic finals.

Surprisingly, Weverton wasn’t even on the team five days prior to the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics. How did he get on the team, and find himself in the most intense moment, inside the pressure cooker of Maracanã Stadium, during Brazil’s most important sporting event of their Olympic Games?

To be blunt, Weverton was lucky. Three times, circumstances conspired to change his fate dramatically.

One of the world’s most prestigious football tournaments, the Copa América, is held in South America pitting the best of Latin America, with nations from North America and Asia. Unfortunately, Brazil had been going through a funk, and the team’s performance at Copa América in June was poor – so poor that team manager Dunga got the sack, a little less than 2 months before the start of the Rio Olympics. In a state of uncertainty and flux, Rogério Micale was appointed coach of the Brazilian squad that would assemble for the Olympics. While Dunga did not appear to consider Weverton for his Olympic squad, apparently Micale did.

The second stroke of luck was an injury. Micale had Fernando Prass as his starting goalkeeper. Prass, at the age of 37, was having a fantastic year leading his team, Palmeiras, to the top of the Brazilian first division. On July 25, 11 days before the start of the Rio Olympics, Prass injured his right elbow. He was expected to make it back to the pitch on August 1, but his injury didn’t get better fast enough to satisfy Micale.

The third circumstance that bent the heavens in Weverton’s direction was distance. Micale’s first alternative to Prass was Diego Alves, the goalkeeper for Spanish club Valencia CF. But Alves was not in Brazil, and with precious few days left before the start of the Summer Games, Micale needed someone in Brazil to begin preparations right away. That’s when he decided to place a phone call to the captain and goalkeeper for Atlético Paranaense, a professional football club in Curitiba, Brazil. His name was Weverton, and he was getting off the plane returning from this team’s loss to Sport Recife the night before.

Weverton makes the save
Weverton stops Germany’s penalty kick.

That phone call would drastically change his life. Coach Micale wanted Weverton, who at the age of 28 had never been selected for the national team, to join the Brazilian national team for the Olympics. Not only that, with the start of the Olympics only five days away, Micale wanted Weverton minding the nets as the starter.

How would Weverton Pereira da Silva do? Through the preliminary games, the knockout quarterfinals and semifinals – through five consecutive Olympic matches, Brazil and the newfound goalie did not give up a single goal. It took nearly 60 minutes into Brazil’s sixth match before Weverton gave up a score, a strike hit so sharply by Maximilian Meyer of Germany that no goalie would have had a chance. In other words, Weverton had already paid back the faith Micale had invested in Weverton. But it was at the very end of the finals, on that fateful kick by Petersen, when Micale’s investment paid dividends.

Weverton, the accidental Olympian, saved the day, the match and quite possibly, the Olympics for Brazil.

Neymar nails the final penalty kick to win gold
Brazil captain Neymar broke down in tears after scoring the penalty that earned his country’s first ever football gold medal (Photo: Getty Images)
It wasn’t a 7-1 victory. The universe did not bestow such poetic justice, the redemptive opportunity for Brazil to equal their slaughter at the hands of Germany at the World Cup in 2014. Brazil hosted that World Cup, losing to Germany by 6, and ending that tournament in shame.

On August 20, 2016, the day before the closing of the Rio Olympic Games, Brazil defeated Germany in the soccer finals, on the razor-thin edge of a penalty shootout. Despite the brilliance and success of Brazilian soccer over the decades, Brazil had never won an Olympic championship. On their 13th attempt, Brazil struck gold, and all of Brazil exhaled, and then danced.

After a tense 90 minutes of play that left the two powers tied 1-1, and then an additional 30 minutes of extra time, it came down to penalty kicks. Germany’s Matthias Ginter was up first, and he slotted the ball into the lower right corner, the Brazilian goalie, Weverton, guessing correctly but not able to handle it. The German goalie, Timo Horn guessed correctly on Renato Augusto‘s shot, but the ball zipped into the upper right hand corner of the net. On Germany’s second attempt, Weverton had Serge Gnabry‘s shot lined up, but it slipped under his arm pit and into the net. Marquinhos of Brazil sent his shot into the upper left hand corner of the net to equalize. And on it went, Julian Brandt, then Rafinha, Niklas Sule, and then Luan, their aim, all true.

When Germany’s Nils Petersen stepped up, with penalty kicks tied at 4-4, momentum was hinting at another score from Petersen. But momentum doesn’t last forever. Petersen’s shot went to Weverton’s left, and the Brazilian goalie got his hands out to block it. When the ball fell harmlessly aside, the Maracanã exploded. Everyone watching knew Brazil was on the verge of a magical moment.

BRASIL E ALEMANHA
Weverton saves the match. Foto: LEONARDO BENASSATTO/FUTURA PRESS/FUTURA PRESS/ESTADÃO CONTEÚDO
Up stepped Brazilian sensation Neymar, who had performed superbly during this Olympic run, and in fact scored Brazil’s only goal on a perfect free kick in the first half of the match. Gold and glory for Brazil was his alone to grasp, as billions around the world held their breath.

Neymar nailed it, his knees buckling as he fell to the grass. A flood of tears streamed down his face, tears for so long kept at bay by the repressive weight of a nation. As he lay there on his back, his hands covering his face, there was nothing left for Neymar to give. But to Brazilians, he had given them everything as the stadium erupted in a cathartic fit of joy.

The fears of the zika virus. The pollution of Guanabara Bay. The impeachment of the Brazilian president. The worst economy in decades. The constant news of corruption and crimes, and the concomitant and constant criticism Brazilians endured not only by foreigners but within their own ranks.

At the moment the ball hit the back of the net, Neymar made it all right.

Komazawa Olympic Park venues 2
Komazawa Olympic venues in 1964, from the book, The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964

Are the Olympics a worthy investment? Does the investment create legacies for the host country?

The answer to those questions are often “no”, unfortunately, at least in terms of the billions spent on structures like stadiums and other various sports venues.

Many of the structures built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics still exist, like the Nippon Budokan, the National Gymnasium and Annex, as well as the Komazawa Olympic Park venues. Not only that, they live and breathe. Click below on the video to see and hear what I did.

On Sunday, May 1, during the long break in Japan known as Golden Week, I took a short bicycle ride to Komazawa Olympic Park, and walk where 1964 Olympians walked. The Park is a collection of venues: Komazawa Gymnasium where Japan won 5 of 16 total gold medals just in wrestling, Komazawa Hockey Field where India beat Pakistan in a memorable finals between two field hockey blood rivals, Komazawa Stadium where soccer preliminary matches were played, and Komazawa Volleyball Courts where Japan’s famed women’s volleyball team mowed through the competition until they won gold at a different venue.

On that day, thousands of people were enjoying unseasonably warm weather under clear, blue skies. The tracks around the park were filled with runners. The gymnasium was hosting a local table tennis tournament, and the stadium was prepping for the third day of the four-day Tokyo U-14 International Youth Football Tournament.

Komazawa 3

In the plaza between the various Komazawa venues, hundreds were enjoying the weather with great food and drink. I was pleasantly surprised to find draft Seattle Pike IPA. While enjoying the cold beer on the hot day, surrounded by hundreds of people loving the day, I realized that Japan in the 1960s made great decisions in planning for the 1964 Olympics. I had a similar revelation earlier when I visited the National Gymnasium months earlier. So much of what was built for those Summer Games are a part of the everyday life of the Japanese.

Japan built a fantastic legacy for 1964. What legacy will Japan begin in 2020?

Komazawa 6

Szeged to Barcelona

The weeks leading up to an Olympic Games can be exhilarating – for many, a once-in-a-lifetime period of gleeful privilege: receiving your kit, which contains your team outfit, training wear, and uniform for competition, being feted in pre-departure parties, meeting dignitaries and celebrities, and having all travel and lodging logistics taken care of for you.

Alexsandar Duric, also had a once-in-a-lifetime experience leading up to his trip to the Olympic Games. But his was not one of glee and delight. As detailed in part 1, Duric was asked to represent newly established nation, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the midst of an internecine war. He made the difficult decision to go. Now he had to figure out how to get there.

Duric, who was not a person of means, had a small backpack, a kayak paddle that a good friend gifted to him, and $20 in his pocket. Now he had to travel some 2,000 miles from his base in Szeged, Hungary to Barcelona. He fortunately did not have to make it all the way to Spain. He just needed to get to Ljubljana, Slovenia where he would join his nine other teammates on the Bosnian team, and from there get on a plane to Barcelona.

Duric stuck his thumb out and a man driving an empty mini-bus stopped to pick him up. The driver said that he could take him to the Austrian border, but not through it. The driver was Serbian, who had a hard time believing that he was sitting next to a fellow Serb going to Barcelona to represent Bosnia in the Olympics. “He didn’t like that, and he asked why I was going to the Olympics for ‘them’. It was an awkward conversation, but he was a nice man who drove me to the border.”

Duric made it to the Austrian border, and explained to the officials in Austria that he had a legitimate reason to enter Austria. “Why would an Olympian in this day and age be hitchhiking across Europe instead of being jetted and pampered as befitting his status” was what the officials were wondering. Even when Duric showed his invitation letter from the Austrian Olympic Committee, which was managing the process for the Bosnian Olympic squad, the Austrian authorities were skeptical, until they called the number on the document and confirmed that this unlikely straggler was, in actuality, an Olympic kayaker.

Duric told me that at that time, the Austrian-Hungarian border was closely monitored as many people were trying to leave the countries in the Soviet bloc. In fact, the friendly Hungarian border officials had told Duric the Austrians would probably send him back to Hungary, as they did routinely to all of the people trying to escape to Austria. When Duric watched reports of Syrian refugees struggling to find freedom from war and famine, he remembered his time at the border. “I was there in the 1990s. I saw so many families with small kids trying to find a better place. People talk bad about refugees, but I wish I could open my house to them. I know how they feel.”

The Austrian border officials eventually made contact with someone in the Austrian Olympic Committee verifying that Alexsandar Duric was indeed a member of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Olympic Team, and needed passage through Austria to get to Slovenia. “I clearly remember,” he told me. “At first, they didn’t believe me. I couldn’t explain it. They were asking me ‘where’s your car?’ ‘Where are you going?’ I only had this piece of paper from Olympic Committee of Austria. Eventually, they were all smiles, asking me where my car was, or if I had my first-class air tickets. They slapped me on the back and wished me luck.”

The officials also asked someone who was headed to Slovenia to take Duric, and even phoned ahead to their colleagues at the Austria-Slovenian border to let Duric through quickly. United with the other members of the Bosnian team, Duric spend a few days in Ljubljaana before getting on a plane to Barcelona, finally no longer having to figure out the logistics.

Bosnia Herzogivna team
The first ever Bosnia-Herzegovina Team in 1992.

And suddenly, he was an Olympian, in Barcelona, at the 1992 Summer Games. “I grew up in Doboj, and then, I thought Belgrade was like New York. When I arrived in Barcelona, I thought, ‘Am I in this world, or another planet?’ All the lights. The beaches. I was in a magic world.”

“Stepping into the village was amazing. I couldn’t believe my eyes who was walking by me in the huge restaurants. I was there for hours staring at people. I saw the Dream Team the first day before they moved out of the Village I saw Michael Jordan. Carl Lewis came up to

beyond borders cover duric

He was Yugoslavian. More specifically, he was a Serbian born and raised in Doboj, a town in the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. More intriguingly, he was a powerful kayaker, junior champion of Yugoslavia at the age of 15, and one of the top ten kayakers in the world at the age of 17. Aleksandar Duric had a very viable dream of going to the Barcelona Olympics, but his country was crumbling.

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Yugoslavia was a diverse federation of republics and provinces, primarily held together by the former president, Josip Tito. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the USSR’s influence waned, Yugoslavia’s political world began to spin apart. In 1989, Serbia declared independence. Soon after, Croatia did the same. Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was a highly diverse province of Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks, became an independent sovereign nation in March, 1992, and fell into years of a cruel and bloody civil war.

Duric was an eyewitness to Yugoslavia’s disintegration as a teenage officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army, following orders while trying to understand why Serbs, Croats and Muslims who had lived peacefully were now at each other’s throats. He was ethnic Serbian in an army that was dominated by Serbs, in a region that held a Muslim majority.

In 1992, Duric left the Army, his disagreements with leadership and distaste for the war making it untenable for him to remain in the Army. In fact, he felt the need to leave the country, settling in with a friend in a border town in Hungary. Out of work, out of training, away from family and friends, Duric merely bided time.

And then one day in July, 1992, his mentor and friend, Jusuf Makaravic, gave him the news that the IOC was inviting ten athletes from the newly established nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that Duric was one of them. The IOC understood that many of these athletes would not be in peak condition due to the war, that their intent was to emphasize that all nations should participate in the Olympics. Duric’s first reaction was “But I’m a Serb.”

Duric immediately understood the difficult decision before him. As he explained in his autobiography, “Beyond Borders“, Duric was swayed by his mentor’s rationale.

“Yes, Aleks. But you’re a Bosnian first, don’t forget that. You can play your part in showing the world that Bosnia does not necessarily mean Muslim, you show them that Bosnia is home to people of many backgrounds. You lived your life in Bosnia, you trained half your live on the river Bosna, you deserve to compete for Bosnia as one of their first ever Olympians.”

Help Bosnia Now

As Duric told me, despite his friend’s advice, he felt so alone as he knew his family and friends would be made uncomfortable with a Serbian son representing a nation in conflict with Serbians in the former Yugoslavia. “When I got this call for the Olympics, it was definitely one of the toughest decisions I had to make. I was sitting in my room alone. In the back of my mind, I could deal with friends. But I didn’t want to disappoint my father, my mother, my brother.”

In the end, it was the life lessons from his parents that enabled Duric to make his decision to go the Olympics. He had learned a lot from his parents, particularly how not to hate other colors, other religions. “My mom and dad shaped me. When I was growing up, I was told that you have to respect all people, even if they are not good to you. All my friends were Bosnians. I was a Bosnian.”

And from that moment, Duric was an Olympian from Bosnia-Herzegovina, fulfilling a dream he had nestled for over a decade. “Holy shit, I’m going to the Olympics!”

group of death
From JEA’s Sports World

 

What is the “Group of Death”?

  1. A heavy metal band from Hamburg
  2. A recently discovered novel of youthful enthusiasm gone wrong by J. D. Salinger
  3. A designation for the group in a multi-staged sports tournament perceived to contain an outsized level of strong teams
  4. All of the above

That’s right. The answer is “c”. In the first round of a tournament, you’d rather have an easier time before you get into the more competitive rounds. The “Group of Death” is the group said to have no easy wins, so you don’t want to be in that one. Granted, this designation is purely subjective and has no bearing on the tournament themselves. This is how the English newspaper, The Telegraph, describes it:

The “group of death”, a concept that sounds like it was named by an 11-year-old child listening to emo for the first time, was actually coined by Mexican journalists to describe Group 3 at the 1970 World Cup, which contained the defending champions England, the favourites Brazil, the two-time finalists Czechoslovakia, and Romania. Since then, the term has been much used, misused and very possibly overused to describe a group with a lot of good football teams in it, of which only two can qualify.

In the upcoming Rio Olympics, The Groups of Death in the men’s football (soccer) teams are in Group B, and in the women’s teams are in Group G.

Here’s how the sports internet site Vavel describes the two groups of death:

group of death men

Men’s Group of Death

This group is the Group of Death for this year’s Olympic Games. This group is composed of Sweden, Colombia, Nigeria, and Japan, loads of big-hitters in the U-23 game. Nigeria, Japan, and Sweden were all first-time winners of their respective confederation championships, making the competition fierce for one of the two qualification spots in this group. Colombia qualified by defeating the United States in the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL playoff after failing to meet automatic qualification by finishing second in the South American Youth Football Championships.

group of death women

Women’s Group of Death

It’s called Group G for a reason. Why? This is the Group of Death. The lowest-ranked team in this group is Colombia at 24, and they’ve given the United States, the top team in this group, their fair share of battles over time. New Zealand, the OFC champs, are actually ranked higher than Colombia at 16. France is second-highest ranked team in the group, ranked third and is one of two teams from UEFA to qualify for the Olympics via the World Cup.