Wednesday 26 February 2014

What's eating Paulo Henrique Ganso?

“Did you see Ganso?”

The question, posed by Folha de S Paulo columnist Juca Kfouri on Monday, was of course rhetorical. No one saw him. The São Paulo midfielder was denied the chance to face his former employers Santos on Sunday, relegated to the bench by coach Muricy Ramalho and failing to make an impact after coming on for the final 15 minutes.

The decision to leave Ganso out raised the odd eyebrow, but the truth is that most understood Muricy’s reasoning. It was just the latest disappointment for a player whose star has waned drastically in the past few years. Paulo Henrique (‘Ganso’ being a nickname meaning ‘goose’) was once viewed as the heir to Brazil’s playmaking crown, but is in danger of becoming a footnote in history. It was not supposed to be like this.

Read the rest of this article on the Yahoo! Eurosport blog.

Sunday 23 February 2014

Striker shortage leaves Scolari sweating

Just four months ahead of the World Cup, Luiz Felipe Scolari is in a pretty good place. Confidence is high in the Brazil squad, with a number of in-form players – Willian, Fernandinho, Ramires – having replaced the dead wood that lurked amid the glory of last summer’s Confederations Cup win.

The fans are united. It could even be argued that the tangle of issues surrounding Brazil’s logistical preparations for the tournament are playing into his hands, deflecting the glare of public attention away from his charges.

He has just one problem. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly major one. He hasn’t got any strikers. Read the rest of this article on the Yahoo! Eurosport website.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

The beautiful language: On the Technicolour poetry of Brazilian football

Come June, the world’s gaze will be firmly focused on Brazil. The country is hosting the World Cup for the first time in 64 years. The attendant stories – the Seleção’s quest to cast the 1950 Maracanazo defeat to Uruguay into relief; Brazil’s stuttering preparations for the tournament; the social protests that are likely to roar back to life during the competition’s four-week span – are numerous and compelling.

But amid the FIFA-approved images of soccer stars in sun-drenched stadiums, much of what truly defines Brazilian football will be concealed, lost in translation. For while Neymar, Thiago Silva et al represent one aspect of this nation’s continuing clout in the sport, there is another sphere in which it excels.

No other nation can match the verve with which Brazil talks and writes about o jogo bonito. This is a country in which the game and the words that describe it are engaged in permanent dialogue – jostling for position, conceding ground, stretching before snapping back in reconciliation.

This is an excerpt from a long piece on the Technicolour poetry of the Brazilian game, for the beautiful Roads and Kingdoms travel site. Please have a read; it took absolutely ages to write and probably even longer to edit.

The article is part of a series called The Far Post, which is also being published by Sports Illustrated. I can recommend each and every one of the other articles published to date. Click here to dive in.

Friday 14 February 2014

Letter from the home straight: Brazil races against time to complete World Cup stadiums

Barely a day seems to go by without more doom and gloom circling about Brazil's World Cup preparations. Workers have tragically died in São Paulo and Manaus; many the arenas in Cuiabá and Brasília will turn out to be costly white elephants; and it seems progress on the Arena da Baixada has slowed to a standstill.

All of which would be bad enough if Brazilian citizens weren't paying through the noses to host the tournament. Which they most certainly are. In the latest When Saturday Comes magazine, I survey the state of play with just four months to go until the big kick-off.

The March 2014 issue is available now from places that sell magazines, and from the WSC website.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Destination Brazil: Why European teams might struggle at the World Cup this summer

The wait is almost over. After weeks, months and years of fevered expectation, controversy and administrative mis-steps, the World Cup kicks off in four months.

Soon, thoughts will turn away from Brazil's preparations – if only briefly – and towards the football itself, with squad announcements due soon. In my latest article for Betting Expert, I have picked out five reasons to think European sides might struggle in the tournament.

Click here to read it.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

A thousand times yes: Meet Túlio Maravilha, the 44-year-old striker who never gave up

As final chapters go, it perhaps wasn’t quite the glamorous affair he had spent so many years dreaming about. No Globo television cameras. No Maracanã. No Botafogo shirt. No, this was destined to happen here, on this bumpy scrubland pitch so typical of the footballing hinterland that operates a few levels and a few light years below the glitz of the Seleção.

But for Túlio Maravilha, nothing else mattered but the numbers. For days and months and years and decades he had counted. One more here. Two more there. Tick followed tock followed tick followed tock. Even if the passage of time had begun to make a mockery of his nickname, he would never admit it.

Even at 44, bones creaking and hair thinning, he was still Túlio the Marvel. And he still had history to make.

Read the rest of this article, on the latest man to join Brazilian football's prestigious 1000 club, on the Yahoo! Eurosport site.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Long live the Little King: Vasco idol Juninho Pernambucano calls time on a trophy-laden career

At the start of 2014, however, Brazilian football has begun to look like something of an elephants’ graveyard. For just weeks after Seedorf hung up his boots, supporters were forced into mourning again as another beloved idol slipped into the dark night of retirement on Monday.

The departed this time was Juninho Pernambucano – he of glory days at Olympique Lyonnais, intermittent magic for Brazil and utter mastery of the art of the free-kick. "The time has come," the 39-year-old told reporters. "You can't put it off forever. I'm looking forward to a good break."

While Lyon fanatics will remember him fondly (this reporter lived in the city for a year during his pomp and he was revered like the unofficial king of the world), it is at Vasco da Gama that his absence will be most keenly felt. Supporters of the Rio de Janeiro club clasped Juninho to their collective breast no fewer than three times, going through thick and thin with the man they call O Reizinho (The Little King).

Read the rest of this piece on the Yahoo! Eurosport site.