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from Photographers' Blog:

Samurais in South Africa

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I arrived in South Africa with the Japan team filled with excitement and an acute feeling of anxiety. Never mind that I would be on the scene to cover the world's biggest sporting event, and never mind that I would be competing against the top sports photographers from around the globe to get the best pictures. For a Reuters photographer like myself dedicated to a single team, when your team drops out of the competition, you're finished. Like the defeated team, you go back to the hotel, pack your bags and spend the long flight home wondering what went wrong. Based on Japan's lackluster showing in the East Asia Soccer Championship my expectation for Japan was three defeats in a row and no victories. Mine would be a short stay in South Africa.

A Japanese boy living in South Africa reacts as he watches Japan's national soccer team depart from South Africa at O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg June 30, 2010. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

But during Japan's first match against Cameroon the Samurai Blue seemed to transform themselves in front of my eyes with Keisuke Honda’s goal being the catalyst. Japan was defeated by the Netherlands in their second match but the Samurais demonstrated the unity of the team in their performance and they were victorious against Denmark in their third match. In doing so they completely wiped out the image that I held of the Japan team before going into the competition. I was covering the world's biggest sporting event, and I was going up against the top sports photographers, but in this World Cup Japan's victory meant that the formidable teams of France and Italy and the even more formidable photographers accompanying them were going home. Not me.

Japan's Shinji Okazaki hugs Keisuke Honda (18) as they celebrate their victory against Denmark after their 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg June 24, 2010. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

On June 29, 2010, Japan faced Paraguay in World Cup match 55. Even after extra time the game remained scoreless and a penalty shoot-out would determine the outcome. I moved into position according to the instructions of Chief Photographer UK and Ireland Dylan Martinez, the leader of the Reuters photographers for this match.

A penalty shoot-out is all about luck. The psychologically intense method of deciding a match seems especially hard on the players, but it's just as tough on the photographers with a split second making the difference between front pages around the world or a postage stamp-sized picture on page S15. Both the players and the photographers tuned out the screaming of the crowd and focused with tense stillness on the battle between the penalty kicker and the goalkeeper. My position was on the opposite side of the pitch allowing me to see the face of the goalkeeper. Japan’s goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, who had saved many shots up to then, clearly showed the strain. Following the two successful shots by both teams it was Yuichi Komano, Japan’s third kicker’s turn.

World Cup 2010 quarter-finals podcast

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Welcome to our latest Reuters 2010 World Cup podcast, as we follow the lead of the world’s most famous psychic octopus and try to predict what will happen in the quarter-finals. Kevin Fylan is joined by Paul Radford, Jon Bramley, Ken Ferris and Mr Mark Gleeson.

The toughest job at the World Cup (part three)

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SOCCER-WORLDChile have reached the last 16 at the World Cup for only the third time in 50 years and we’re delighted to report that coach Marcelo Bielsa has hit form at the right time.

The tournament’s most verbose coach was in at the top of his game in the run-up to the match against Brazil, baffling the world’s media with his long-winded answers to the simplest of questions and brilliantly using the double negative on at least one occasion. Here are some excerpts from what was billed as a news conference but sounded more like a lecture in philosophy.

England v Germany not even close in the song stakes

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SOCCERTwenty-years ago I was a 13-year-old crying in my living room because Germany had knocked out England on penalties in the semi-final of the Italy 1990 World Cup.

Prior to the game a commentator had bragged, “England have certainly won in the song stakes”. He was right. England had won in the song stakes and after the penalties this other victory gave me something to cling to.

from Photographers' Blog:

Looking ahead to England vs Germany

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Photographers Dylan Martinez and Kai Pfaffenbach discuss what they expect from Sunday's World Cup match between England and Germany.

Clinton gets serious about soccer

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SOCCER-WORLD/By Jon Herskovitz

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton is serious about his soccer. He is a cheerleader for the US bid to host the World Cup; proud of the prowess on the pitch in South Africa for the red, white and blue; a fan of the noisemaking vuvuzela and a thinker who sees the beautiful game as a way to gain insight on disputes between ethnic groups and nations.

Clinton, still jubilant after attending a dramatic U.S. victory in stoppage time over Algeria a night ago, spoke to a roundtable of reporters for about an hour on Thursday. For him, the game is an intellectual pursuit and a passion. One book he cited was How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory on Globalization, by Franklin Foer. Foer offered some insight on his theories in an interview a few years ago with Mother Jones magazine.

Desperate Italy cling to memories of 1982

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Back in the time of tight shorts and second round group stages, the World Cup was very different. Except for Italy that is.

In 1982 the Azzurri drew their three first round group games but still sneaked their way into the second round. A 0-0 draw with Poland, a 1-1 draw with Peru and a 1-1 draw against Cameroon were met with howls of derision but the tradition of Italy being slow starters was born.

from Shop Talk:

World Cup soccer hits home-run in U.S. bars

SOCCER-WORLD/From our correspondent Nivedita Bhattacharjee:

Surprised at the roar from the bar around the corner on an otherwise normal work day in New York City? Don't be. It's the FIFA World Cup, and that pub's full of people rooting for team USA.

As a record number of U.S. viewers tune in to experience the 90-minute soccer matches, bars and taverns from New York to San Francisco are doing all that they can to keep the cheers loud and the beers flowing. And even while at work, some Americans are letting daily tasks idle while they keep score.

from Africa News blog:

Searching for it — not quite feeling it — in Polokwane

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Searching for it -- not quite feeling it -- in Polokwane The fan fest sounded like a wild party with the vuvuzela horns booming through the empty streets of Polokwane town, one of the smallest of 10 venues for the first World Cup on African soil. Everyone must be there, we thought as there was little going on for a Saturday night in the northern South African town. Even the local Nandos restaurant on the main street shut by 8 p.m. But on closer inspection the soccer fan fest -- loud as it was -- was also pretty deserted. Soccer fever has yet to reach Polokwane. A sleepy town of just 500,000 people, it was hard to imagine Polokwane, which means place of safety, would host its first World Cup soccer match in less than 24 hours. In Johannesburg or Cape Town you could definitely "feel it". Here we weren't so sure. Driving through the town's eerily deserted streets searching for a restaurant where we could eat and watch the soccer, we discovered that was not an easy find. It was also hard to imagine what long-term benefit the town would see from being a host city. While for the four matches to be played in Polokwane the few hotels on offer for tourists were full, in between there were plenty of rooms at the inn. No team was staying nearby which would bring with it the paraphenalia of adoring fans or news-hungry media and the associated business. Those playing were flown in for pre-match training, again the day of the match and ferried back straight after. Police closed down the roads near the stadium on the edge of town the night before. But those fearing traffic similar to the four-hour long queues witnessed in Johannesburg trying to get to Soocer City need not have bothered. The streets were empty, the car parks empty and -- just 30 minutes before kick-off -- the stadium was half empty. By the second half, the stands were just about three-quarters full, though the blasts of the vuvuzelas compensated for the missing supporters. The Peter Mokaba stadium almost looked like they hadn't had time to finish painting it, with the stark grey concrete of the outer wall in direct contrast with Soccer City in Johannesburg's brightly coloured exterior. The inside was still coated in construction dust and most of the refreshment stands remained shuttered and closed during the match. Just two hours after the players left we found ourselves the lone figures in a dark stadium struggling to see the keyboard as we tapped out the finishing touches to our stories. Even the name of the stadium was controversial. Mokaba was the African National Congress (ANC)'s youth league leader who, like his current counterpart Julius Malema, was fond of the phrase "Kill The Boer," which upset many Afrikaners. Ironically there's not even a local soccer team to make use of the sparkling pitch. Residents said the Rai Stars disbanded long ago and the nearby promising Black Leopards team are based more than 150 kilometres away in a less than World Cup standard stadium. <http://www.blackleopardsfc.com/10_stadium_info.htm> The Dynamos train 100 kilometres away. Neither team play in the country's top league. "You can't help thinking this huge stadium will just be derelict and empty in a few years time," said one hotel worker.

Polokwane StadiumThe soccer fan fest sounded like a wild party with the vuvuzela horns booming through the empty streets of Polokwane town, one of the smallest of 10 venues for the first World Cup on African soil.

Everyone must be there, we thought as there was little happening on a Saturday night in the northern South African town centre.

World Cup podcast – day 6

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Join us for our latest look at the goings-on at the World Cup on the day we finally see tournament favourites Spain in action. Kevin Fylan hosts, and is joined by Paul Radford, Mike Collett, Ossian Shine, Andy Cawthorne and Owen Wyatt.

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