Category Archives: FIFA World Cup

World Cup

Like the Olympics and Asian Games, the FIFA World Cup happens only once every four years. Since it was founded in 1930, only eight countries have won sport’s most coveted trophy: Brazil (five times), Italy and Germany (four), Argentina and Uruguay (two), and — surprising — only one title apiece for France, Spain and England.

Russia is the 2018 host and the total of 64 matches are played in 11 cities. The games started last June 14 and will culminate with the final on July 15 in the 81,000-seater Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. How expensive is this month-long event? In Phil. pesos, it’s mind-boggling: P756 billion! Can you believe that? At $14.2 billion, it’s the most expensive WC in history.

Thirty two nations are joining, led by the defending champs (and world’s top-ranked team) Germany, who lost in the opener against Mexico and played Sweden at 2 a.m. (Phil. time) today.

Based on TV viewership, an estimated 3.2 billion watch each World Cup (versus 3.6 billion for the Olympics). But what makes the WC more prestigious is there’s only one nation-winner. And the World Cup trophy itself? Since 1930, only two trophies have been used and the current one is made of 18 carat gold.

With our local TV coverage, I’m glad that SkyCable has superb coverage. The past week, I was able to watch snippets of the matches shown at 8 p.m. Last week, thanks to Liga HD channel 757, we witnessed the 1-0 loss of South Korea to Sweden. I’m sure the thousands of Koreans residing in Cebu trooped to the bars to cheer for their countrymates. The games are shown at 8 p.m., 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

With the Philippines, now ranked (by FIFA) 115th in the world (we reached a historic best No. 111 last month), is there any way for us to join the World Cup? Yes. First, if we host it! The hosts automatically qualify. But given the normal qualification route, it’s very unlikely. But consider this: for the first time, five countries from Asia (the AFC) have qualified for the WC. These are Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea.

There are numerous superstars in Russia. But among the names that include Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, none have shown brighter than Cristiano Ronaldo. He has scored every one of Portugal’s goals. This is Ronaldo’s fourth WC appearance and, while he scored only once in Germany (2006), South Africa and Brazil, he has netted four goals thus far in Sochi, Russia.

Acting? Fake injuries? Ha-ha. There are so many players worthy of Oscars trophies in football. With multiple slow-motion angles and replays now available, you can’t hide the actual millisecond interaction. It starts with the fall. Then the anguish and crumbling in pain. It’s laughable.

Finally: VAR. Called Video Assistant Referee, it’s the first time for the WC to employ video review. It has become controversial with some arguing that it goes against tradition. But this is good for the game. In the low scoring format of football, all it takes is one mistake of the referee (wrongly awarding a free kick) to determine the game’s outcome. Technology has arrived in the land of Vladimir Putin.

Todd Entner writes about Brasil

It’s been over a month since the Fifa World Cup ended in Rio de Janeiro.

Todd Entner is a friend whom I’ve known since our late 1980s tennis-playing days at the Cebu Tennis Club. He’s American but was born in Manila and lived here for 13 years. Now back in the U.S., he visited Brasil last month with his son Josiah. It wasn’t Todd’s first WC watch; he’s been to the last four WC Finals. Plus, he’s watched Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and — take this, sports fans — he’s been to the last five Olympics! When Jasmin and I visited Beijing in 2008, guess who hosted us for China’s first Games? Mr. Entner.

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Here’s Todd’s World Cup review:

“My first World Cup experience was in 1990, listening to the Final by radio in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, holding the antenna to get better reception as Germany defeated Maradona for the trophy. In 1994 in America during college, I watched on TV as the hosts USA narrowly lost to Brasil in the 2nd round. France in 1998 was also just a TV spectacle for me, but in 2002 in South Korea I was able to see several games in person, followed by another experience in Germany four years later.

“After that I was hooked, and so in 2010 my (then 7-year-old) son Josiah and I flew down to South Africa for the first major event on the continent. This year we knew Brasil was a must-see, so we used frequent flier miles to fly down for 2 weeks. Landing in Sao Paulo, we took buses around the country, visiting 4 cities and seeing 3 games. A massive country (5th largest in the world in area and population), Brasil is a beautiful land, reminding us of a mix of the Philippines and America – rolling mountains covered with jungle, lovely beaches, and good highways.

“A largely Christian people, Brasilians are very hospitable (we never needed to spend a night in a hotel), generous and friendly – some of the local fans even gave ‘free hugs’ – and the food is fantastic – flame-roasted barbecue skewers loaded with chicken and beef. Though it was winter, the weather was excellent, mostly sunny and cool, with scattered rain and sunshine. The infamous crime does exist (my camera and our Australian friend’s wallet were stolen), the joy of the crowds and the great competition made up for the difficulties.

“The games were exciting, and we all agreed it has been the best WC ever, in terms of history (the first Cup in South America since 1950) and excitement (goals scored, comebacks, upsets, and goal-keeping). The highlight was seeing Messi in person leading his team to victory over the Swiss.”

Top 5 blessings in Brasil: “1) Wonderful hospitality from our brothers and sisters – we stayed with friends and never needed a hotel, enjoying great fellowship,  food and culture. 2) Safety in travel (flying from Dayton to Chicago to Toronto to Sao Paulo) and going around by bus, subway, train, van and lots of walking. 3) Wonderful weather – when we arrived the forecast was for 100% probability of rain – miraculously, it dropped to zero and stayed dry! 4) Free flight tickets using our frequent flier miles, and a free Brasil visa. Our colleagues also made it there okay, despite cancelled flights and late visas. 5) Many ministry contacts, with well over a million tracts and 400 DVDs given out to fans from over 30 countries.”

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Top 5 burdens in Brasil: “1) The country is vast, so travel was exhausting – we spent 84 hours on buses going between the 4 cities of Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Sao Paul and Rio. 2) Always on the go, we had few times to lay our heads, literally – only 5 nights in a bed, 2 on planes, one in a car, and 5 overnights on long-distance buses. 3) Brazilian food is fantastic – alas, so busy, we had but 4 real meals, the rest were snacking on cereal, snacks and sandwiches – but the meals were great! 4) The notorious crime is a sad reality – our new camera lasted less than half a day before being stolen on the subway, and Matt got his wallet pick-pocketed. 5) Since it was winter there, germs and cold and rainy weather led to virus bugs.”

Todd’s next stop? Back to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.

Germany humiliates Brasil

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The headlines screamed, “Brazilians Mourn Nightmare,” “Neymar wouldn’t have saved Brazil,” “Massacre!” and “Germany Embarrass Sorry Brazil.”

It was an embarrassment. On home soil. Fronting tens of thousands of Brazilians and after $13.3 billion spent. Their worst-ever beating since that 0-6 loss to Uruguay in 1920. Five goals by Germany in 19 minutes. A day Luiz Felipe Scolari calls “the worst day of my life.”

Who’d have expected that? Entering the game, few believed that the hosts would win, despite Brazil never having lost a home match since 1975 — but nobody anticipated the outcome.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are a fan or not of Brazil,” said Graeme Mackinnon, “7-1 was totally from another planet.”

Yes, that planet is inhabited by 200 million football-crazy people and it’s called Planet Brasil. It was an in-your-face embarrassment.

“Germany stops when it’s the World Cup,” said Dennis Valdez, my second cousin and the son of the famed Mt. Everest leader Art Valdez and former Bacolod City Mayor Joy Valdez.

I phoned Dennis yesterday. He’s German with Pinoy blood. By that, I mean this: He resided in Germany from 2003 to 2011 and speaks fluent German. “Friends of mine from Germany whom I communicated with after the game were just as shocked,” he said. “Nobody expected the outcome.”

Dennis, who resided in cities ranging from Heidelberg to Weisbaden to Frankfurt, was at the 2006 World Cup that Germany hosted. Though he never got to see a live game, he watched every game on the large screen alongside his friends and fellow employees.

“There would be public viewing screens everywhere,” he said. “In Frankfurt’s Main River, they setup a huge, huge screen in the middle of the river and everyone watched. The atmosphere was like inside the stadium. The Germans go crazy when their team plays.”

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(Matthias Schrader/AP)

Mr. Valdez worked for Bilfinger Berger, the second largest construction firm in Germany, and he says that business stops when it’s game-time.

Recently, I read an article about the automobile giant: “Volkswagen announced that it cancelled the late shift at its main plant in Wolfsburg so workers can watch the game. The late shift from 2 to 10pm was shut down, which means that around 4,000 workers can get off work early.”

What a celebration it must have been for the 82 million Germans. What an 11-man scoring machine. Consider that, four years ago when Spain won the WC, they scored a total of eight goals… for the whole tournament!

Yet, the victors are not gloating. It’s only the semis. “Germans are humble people,” said Dennis. “I’m sure, as much as they celebrated, they also sympathized with the Brazilians. Na luoy-sila. They also pity them. This was unexpected. Remember, this is, more or less, the same German team as 2006. Eight years ago, they were very young. Four years ago in South Africa, the Germans were expected to win. Now, they’re peaking. It’s about experience.”

Nimrod Quiñones added, “Many say Brazil lost because of the absence of Neymar and Silva, but I believe the reason for the loss was they they failed to play as a team.”

Of the other semifinal (played at 4 a.m. today), Graeme Mackinnon said: “No European team has ever won in South America so the pressure will be on Argentina to try and maintain that statistic. But first they have to beat a fairly impressive Holland who are being favored to win the cup. Whoever wins (Argentina-Netherlands) will be the underdogs in the final.”

Agree. For me, like most people worldwide — especially fans of Argentina’s No. 10 — I’d love to see a Germany-Argentina ending. But not my cousin Dennis who said, “I want Netherlands. Their rivalry with Germany is unbelievable. It’s like Pakistan and India, when it comes to football.” And, my Ilonggo cousin ended saying, “Grabe ila away. Kontrahan gid sila.”

rtr3xped(Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

14 fun facts about the ‘14 FIFA World Cup

Brazil

I did a little research and unearthed these tidbits about this June 12 to July 13 event…

1) This WC is the most expensive in history, costing the Brazilians over $14 billion dollars. This amount is about the same cost as the last three World Cups. Of this colossal figure, about $4 billion went to building seven new or fully-refurbished stadiums and $900 million on security.

2) FIFA, the organizers, will spend a whopping $2 billion to run the event. But, no worries because they’re expected to gross $4 billion from ticket sales, sponsorships and other means of revenue.

3) A total of 12 cities around Brazil will host the games — the most number of venues in WC history. The Finals will be in Rio de Janeiro, a vast city of 6.3 million people.

4) Brazil is a massive country, almost as big as the U.S. Thus, teams have to travel far distances between venues. Consider the U.S. team. Their first match was in Natal and, for their second game in Manaus, they’ll have to fly 1,700 miles (as comparison, Cebu to Manila is only 355 miles).

5) The World Cup has existed for 84 years but only eight nations have ever hoisted the cup: Spain, France, Germany, Uruguay, Italy, Brazil, Argentina and England.

6) Teams demand special requests pertaining to their hotel accommodations. Here are a few: Japan (jacuzzi in every room), France (liquid soap not bar soap), Uruguay (silent air-conditioning) and Algeria (a copy of the Quran in each room).

7) Gisele Bunchen, the most famous Brazilian model, is expected to present the Cup when the event concludes in Maracana Staidum on July 13. She’s a huge football fan, although her husband (quarterback Tom Brady) is involved in another type of football: American football.

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8) The WC champion team wins $35 million while the runner-up, $25 million. Those eliminated in the group stage still take home $8 million. The total purse is $576 million.

9) Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull are singing the games’ official song: “We Are One (Ole Ole).”

10) Out of 209 national teams that vied to participate in the WC , only 32 are entered. They’re divided into eight groups of four teams each with the top two from each bracket advancing to the (Round of 16) knockout stages.

11) Finally! Yes, given the technological advances today, for the first time Goal-Line Technology will be used. Remember the 2010 World Cup when England was denied a goal against Germany after the shot hit the bar and bounced in but the officials failed to call it a score? Now, that won’t happen again. The new system includes 14 cameras that will be positioned around the goal, all connected to a computer in the data room. Once a goal is confirmed, the referee will feel a vibration in a specially-made watch that he’ll use and it will display a simple word: Goal.

12) The referee will be carrying a spray paint. No, he won’t use it against a red card-issued player. It’s a vanishing spray paint that he’ll use to mark the spot for a free kick. Great idea. The paint will last about 60 seconds.

13) This, coming from the Vox.com article “10 things non-soccer fans need to know about the World Cup,” is interesting: “Among the stranger things to know about the event: some coaches restrict their players’ sex lives during the month of play due to the belief that excessive sex will impede their performance on the field. Players on Spain, Germany, Chile’s teams aren’t allowed to have sex at all, while Brazil’s players are permitted to have ‘normal sex’ as long as it’s not ‘acrobatic,’ and France’s are also allowed to have sex as long as it doesn’t last all night.”

14) Brazil is not only a shoo-in to win because they own the most number of WC trophies (five) but also because of “home-court advantage.” In the last 19 World Cups, six hosts have gone on to win the cup. That’s the good news for Brazil. The bad one: the last time they hosted, they reached the finals but lost to Uruguay. That was in 1950.

World Cup review by Neil Montesclaros

Starting Grade 3, he began kicking the football. In high school, he represented Don Bosco as they emerged Region 7 champs. From 2003 to 2008, he sat as Secretary General of the Cebu Football Association. He also founded the Don Bosco Alumni (United) FC and emerged as one of the organizers of the Thirsty Cup, now on its 7th year. Football dribbles inside the beating heart of Neil Montesclaros. After 31 days of sleepless nights, Neil reflects on the WC with this commentary…

From 2:30 to 5 a.m. last Monday, majority of the citizens of Planet Earth were in anticipation to see history: the World Cup Finals of two football superpowers. Both have never won a WC, yet are regarded as dominant forces in the sport. It is a historic event. With the might of Brazil, Germany, Argentina, France, and Italy falling, Spain and Holland fight it out as the last nation standing.

No sport has a global impact like football. Both the BBC and CNN were giving live feeds. At that moment, nothing mattered but football. Heads of state, royalty, celebrities, and great athletes paid homage to the sport in South African.

I have been following the WC Finals since Mexico 1986. I found myself inquisitive about past WCs all together, especially when Pele entered the global stage in 1958. Brazil won their first WC. Let me share some reflections:

The World Cup before 2002 was predictable. Favorites and dominant nations hit their marks. The same countries reach the knockout stages—they just take turns to be on top. However, starting in 2002 and onwards, it came with a different flavor. The winds of change have come. Who could forget the early exit of the defending champs France in South Korea-Japan finals? They failed to make a single goal—defeated by newcomers Senegal in their opening game. Who could have predicted an Italy-France final in 2006? Switzerland slayed the European champions, Spain, in the group stages in 2010. Germany created a buzz by trashing Australia, 4-1, yet falling one goal down later against Serbia. What’s happening?

I believe the other nations have risen to the occasion. Football has become widespread and popular. Football “technology” has become available to many. There is a level playing field nowadays. It’s not that Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Italy are deteriorating. More countries are getting better. And this is exciting. When the competition is stiffer, quality improves. Today, no country can rest on its laurels and be complacent. Besides, it’s more thrilling when nobody knows with who will win. All have chances. Game on!

The World Cup of 2010 highlighted perennial truths in football, especially in the quarterfinals: BRAZIL: talent and skill without discipline can only get you so far. NETHERLANDS: Lady luck can have the sweetest of kisses at times. GHANA: when opportunity presents itself, make full use of it. URUGUAY: taking risks can come “handy” on tight moments. GERMANY: discipline, focus and organization count a lot (four goals). ARGENTINA: Do not underestimate your opponents and be too confident. SPAIN: failure is staying down, we can recover from a loss and go miles more. PARAGUAY: teamwork and determination even without stars can be a threat.

We look forward to the next four years. Brazil cannot underperform in its home soil… the young German team that impressed us all will improve… Messi and Argentina will fight for lost pride… Spain will retain at least 80 percent of its present squad… the under-20 Ghanaian world champions would have matured… it’s Ronaldo’s last chance to put Portugal on top and justify his million-dollar value. But no matter what the future will hold, in WC 2010, nobody will dare label Spain as the perennial underachievers. Their technical skill, team movement, precise passing and bursts of accelerating attack will be the gold standard. Spain is a joy to watch, totally deserving to be world champs. I can’t wait for 2014. I can’t wait to see them defend their crown in South America.

Wacky, wild weekend like no other

Paris Hilton gets arrested at the World Cup in South Africa for smoking “marijuana.” Phil Jackson announces his return for a fourth three-peat. Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador are poised to go mano-a-mano when the 97th Tour de France pedals off tonight. Rep. Manny Pacquiao, through Bob Arum, has issued Floyd Mayweather, Jr. an ultimatum: Fight me or you’re a sissy! LeBron James is courted by NYC, by Chicago, by the Clippers, by his friend, rapper Jay-Z. To top it all, our nation of 90 million has a new president and new favorite term: wang-wang.

Wow. Wasn’t this an amazing week? To top all these, the Dutch paint Brazil orange, Serena Williams won her fourth Wimbledon crown last night (my guess) and Rafael Nadal will meet Thomas Berdych in tonight’s ping-pong on grass. Argentina beat Germany last night? That, too, is my prediction. Whew. What a week. What a week’s end—surely the most enthralling in years.

For isn’t Sport amazing? Isn’t it the best form of entertainment and merrymaking? Better than, say, Knight and Day? For, we never know the ending. Roger Federer losing in the quarters? That was unexpected. A Uruguay vs. Netherlands semi-final? Stunning. For this is sport; the ball is round, the Jabulani can fly anywhere.

Friday, I was at a bar. I drank San Mig Light. At 12:00. Midnight. That’s unexpected. I don’t drink. Usually. Past 11? That’s past my bedtime. That’s unexpected. But what’s expected was this: Sports I love to watch. And so I watched during those unholy hours. Ten television sets surrounded the hangout named Sports Exchange, located at the Mango Square Mall. Over 100 pairs of eyeballs inside the resto-bar zoomed their focus on Brazil vs. The Orange Team. When Pele’s home squad scored at the 10th minute, we knew it was over. The winningest nation in World Cup history with five trophies toyed with, brushed, vandalized Dutch Boy.

Mike Limpag, wearing yellow with green trimmings and BRAZIL embroidered at the back, was all-smiles. His Kaka won. Seated beside us, Noel Villaflor, wearing the opposite—a bright orange shirt with the large-print, NEDERLAND—frowned.

Brazil was unbeatable. That was, until Jun Migallen arrived. Wearing yellow not to symbolize his affiliation with P.Noy but to announce his choice of football team, the moment Junmigs, SunStar Superbalita’s sports editor, sat with his fellow Sun.Star sportsmen, yellow transformed into black.

Nederland scored, 1-1. Nederland scored, 2-1. What a shocker. Joseph Alfafara, HSBC’s big boss, jumped for his team. Former USC goalie (and Kenyan) Pius Bett, seated to my left, was in disbelief. The Sports Exchange community, much the same scenario in pubs across Planet Earth, grew noisy. Beer bottles clanked. Shouts reverberated.

Like in every sports ending, crying and smiling mixed. The Dutch cried in happiness; the Brazilians cried in tears. For who would have expected?

Rafael Nadal? This was expected. Him winning tonight’s chess battle on grass against a 6-foot-5 king named Berdych? That’s Czech-mate. That’s expected.

Federer, Roger? This was expected. For nobody has ever reached eight straight Wimbledon Finals and won seven of them. To lose for only the second time in eight years isn’t too bad, right? So let’s not eulogize Roger. This was a hiccup more than a terminal disease.

Back to the World Cup: no event, sports or non-sports, brings humanity together like this fever. I’m no rabid addict of this kicking sport, but this month, from June 11 to July 11, like hundreds of millions from Albay to Barcelona to Cebu to Davos to England to GenSan to Zimbabwe, we’re all FIFA followers. Even Kobe Bryant, who traces his roots to the African continent, has become a dribbling-of-the-feet-and-not-the-hands fanatic. He traveled to S. Africa. Even the song “Waka-Waka,” sung by Shakira, my daughter Jana and I love. (Don’t know what it is? Watch the video of this official WC song in YouTube.)

In all, what a waka-waka wang-wang weekend!

Rafael Nadal’s No.1 sport? It’s football, not tennis. On TV, at least. “I gonna be always watching the football because it’s my favorite sport,” he said. To soccer fans, his uncle is Miguel Angel Nadal, the midfielder for FC Barcelona who played in three World Cups for Spain ending in 2002. Miguel’s nickname, also suited for his nephew: “The Beast.”

ANDY. My tennis partner Macky Michael’s sentimental pick is Andy Roddick. He’d reached three Wimbledon finals—all losing to the same Swiss, including last year’s heartbreaking 16-14 fifth set loss. Again this 2010 event, A-Rod’s out. This time, to unheralded Yen-Hsun Lu of Chinese Taipei. This Taiwanese player my wife Jasmin and I saw at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Funny because in that first round encounter we saw him play against another Andy (Murray), Lu surrendered the first set. Wanting to see other matches as we sure that Lu would lose, we transferred to the other courts. The next thing we knew, Lu beats Murray. This week, it’s the same big-time upset, same first-named opponent.
SKY. My favorite nightly undertaking the past week? Thumb exercise, switching between TV channels both showing green-colored backgrounds: Wimbledon and South Africa. Aren’t we lucky? A few occasions in the past, Grand Slam tennis events were not shown on cable TV. And, with the once-every-four-years World Cup, this is a first: all 64 games aired live for free. Thank you, SkyCable!

SERENA. Flanked by ‘Vas in the semis (Petra Kvitova, Vera Zvonareva and Tsvetana Pironkova), the lone American will march towards her fourth All-England Club title on Saturday. What makes Ms. Williams victorious? Her Nadal-like biceps help. So does her partnership with best friend Venus. But beyond those, it’s her mental muscle. Said Richard Williams, her father: “Serena is like a young Mike Tyson and a pit bull dog, and both of those people were mentally tough in their time. Serena is so mentally tough that she don’t believe she can lose. I sometimes feel watching her when she do lose, she might feel time ran out, or something went wrong, but she didn’t lose.”

WC. Said FIFA boss Joseph Blatter after the controversies: “It is obvious that after the experience so far in this World Cup it would be a nonsense to not reopen the file of technology.. Personally I deplore it when you see evident referee mistakes but it’s not the end of a competition or the end of football, this can happen.. The only principle we are going to bring back for discussion is goal-line technology. Football is a game that never stops and the moment there was a discussion if the ball was in or out, or there was a goal-scoring opportunity, do we give a possibility to a team to call for replays once or twice like in tennis?”

EMAIL. Graeme Mackinnon from Australia: “Football is a game that will suffer if it is stopped from time to time for coaches challenges. In this instance it would have proved the call was wrong BUT there are many other times that a coach AT THE HALFWAY LINE disagrees with an assistant referees’ decision. If the game is stopped, momentum is lost. And don’t you think coaches would seize on that opportunity even if it was limited to a number of challenges per half? And when would the challenge be taken? If it was immediate and proved wrong and it should have been played on, the team is disadvantaged if they were mounting a counter-attack. Karma such as experienced by France during this WC worked.. what goes around comes around. In this case of England and Germany it took 44 years but it finally caught up with England. Karma worked.”

SCHEDULES. For the quarterfinals (RP time): FRIDAY (tomorrow) Brazil vs. Netherlands (10 p.m.); SATURDAY, Ghana vs. Uruguay (2:30 a.m.) and Argentina vs. Germany (10 p.m.). Then, SUNDAY: Spain and Paraguay, 2:30 a.m. (Note: this will be our last chance to watch with the comfortable 10 p.m. time slot; the semis and final all get shown at 2:30 a.m.) For the Final Four, I’m hoping its Brazil-Ghana, Argentina-Spain.

Green grass, random notes in Singapore

SINGAPORE—Here the past four nights to attend the Induction Ceremony of our “brother” club, the Rotary Club of Singapore West, here are some observations…

WIMBY. While billions of football zealots worldwide dream of blowing that vuvuzela in South Africa, I’m dreaming of London. Yes, it’s the same green as soccer, but it’s grass at Wimbledon. Guess what? From our Peninsula Excelsior Hotel here at the heart of The Lion City, I’m just 250 meters away from a Wimbledon-like sight. A grass court! While jogging early morning last Monday retracing the finish line of the 2008 Singapore Marathon, this green court with white rectangular lines sat there. Nobody played that 7 a.m. and how I wished Fabby Borromeo—Class-A at tennis and who’s part of our Rotary group here—brought rackets for us to swing our first-ever hits on a grass-court here at this “Wimbledon in Singapore.”

ROTARY. There are 24 of us from the Rotary Club of Cebu West attending the 50th anniversary of the RC of Singapore West (our club last week held its 48th Induction Ceremony). With us are a mix of sports lovers… golfing buddies Johnny Siao, Justin Uy, John Young and Nilo Domingo; badminton swingers Jimmy Lao, Ruel Dihiansan, Alvin Tan, Bobby Yap and Lenton Beltran. Also here are Romy Dy Pico, Johnson Dy, Wilton Uykingtian plus many of our spouses. And while we thought our “Filipino hospitality” was the world’s best, the Singapore welcome here—including dinners at the Black Angus Steakhouse and Long Beach restaurant (famous for the original Black Pepper Crab)—can be described in one word, which I delivered in a short speech to the Rotarians here: WOW!

PAPERS. Like I do in each trip, I’ve accumulated four days of newspapers these past 80 hours. Yesterday, The Straits Times (established in 1845), devoted six giant-sized sports pages. The banner story read: OUT OF AFRICA. Pictured were two players, one in yellow, the other, wearing blue, with the subtitle: “France fly home in economy class after another humiliation: France 1, South Africa 2.” The story goes… “The players who had been flown to the Cup in the first-class cabin of a new Airbus A-380 faced a cattle class return journey in the back of a Boeing 737.”

As expected of a nation whose most-followed game is football, it’s all-World Cup here. What’s terrific about their South Africa focus in the newspapers here—apart from printing the standings, results, TV schedules, Quotable Quotes—are the commentary. They have plenty of columnists here—much like our Noel Villaflor—whose acumen for soccer is outstanding. There’s Gerry Armstrong, Lee Min Kok, and Tay Yek Keak. Rohit Brijnath, whose byline is SPORTINGLIFE, titled his piece, “Messi proof of beauty of decisiveness.” Here’s a sampler of his writing prowess: “Messi has too much skill and thus too much choice: jink, pass, swerve, shoot, feint? But this Cup, more often than not, his thrill has been an ability, under pressure, to select the right gap, person, move. His judgment is so fine it seems he owns a sixth sense, a third eye.” That’s excellent writing. There’s more. Terrence Voon, whom they call “Our man in South Africa,” is literally in SA. He writes first-hand stories of what his eyes see… of the vuvuzela that deafen his ears.

YOG. The most-awaited event here happens from August 14 to 26. It’s the Youth Olympic Games. Sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), it is the first Olympic games for the youth aged 14 to 18 years old. What a privilege for Singapore to host this inaugural event.

USS. Two days ago, we had a free, guided tour of the newest attraction, the Universal Studios Singapore. Like Hong Kong’s Disneyland, it’s a must-see destination… especially for those who love thrill rides.

CASINO. Yesterday, the Marina Bay Sands was formally opened. What a sight! Its advertisement sums it up: “Unveiling A New Wonder Of The World.” With three 55-story towers that support the SkyPark (a surfboard-like structure that looks like a ship), it’s an amazing sight in Singapore.

Football reigns! The World Cup kicks off

Forget Boston, Los Angeles, the NBA. Disregard Wimbledon’s June 21 start. Don’t mind the US Open, which Tiger Woods plays at Pebble Beach next weekend. Beginning last Friday until tomorrow and ending on July 11, all the world’s 6.8 billion people will be glued to one sport: kicking. For no game or gathering draws a more riotous and impassioned following than the FIFA World Cup. Here’s a spectacle that doesn’t happen each Sunday, month, or year. Only once every 48 months do these 32 top soccer-crazy nations gather to goal, juggle, slide, pass, scream… while we all scream.

South Africa? Having had the privilege of traveling to New York, Paris, Singapore and Russia—it is the one nation I would love to visit more than any other. For in South Africa, it’s not about one dark color called black. It’s about a rainbow, a spectrum of colors. Red. Yellow. Blue. Green. It’s about our black brothers who’ll be welcoming, on their shores and in our TV sets, Earth’s people: whites, South Koreans, the defending World Cup champs from Italy, the latinos from Brazil…

The World Cup is THE world’s cup. From its first name alone, “World,” it stands as a tournament that draws one planet, spread by oceans and differentiated by skin colors, to be one united human race. To borrow the theme of Rotary International this year, “Bridging Continents, Building Communities,” that’s the same goal of this sport that scores goals: To bridge continents, to build football and peace-loving communities.

Why is football the world’s most beloved game? I’m happy my colleague Noel Villaflor is back. No better football player in our Sun.Star lineup—and more savvy a writer on soccer—than Noel. And so I speak more about Time magazine, featured yesterday by Noel. Here’s a paragraph from their cover story, “The Global Game,” written by John Carlin, sub-titled, “The Game You Can Play Anywhere.”

“How did the World Cup become the species’ favorite pastime?” wrote Carlin. “Why do more people spend more time watching or playing soccer than they do engaging in any other social activity, with the possible exception of eating and drinking? Why are those who play it best venerated for their skill and adopted as warriors, or armies, in tribal causes — be they national or local? Here’s one reason: the game is just so accessible. You can play anywhere: on grass; on cement; on dusty, stony ground; or even (as pained mothers the world over will attest) inside the house. The basic rules are simple, and you don’t need any kit or equipment beyond a round — or even roundish — object of not necessarily fixed size. It can come manufactured (a tennis ball often does the job) or may be fashioned out of animal bladders, stones, socks or plastic bags.”

Football is the game for the masses. While Lionel Messi, who is called ‘the god in soccer’ by fellow player Eto’o, earns over $100 million, anybody who can kick and run can play football.

Jabulani? Ever heard of it? In Zulu, the most widely-spoken language in South Africa, it means “rejoice.” To footballers, it means another: it’s the new ball designed by Adidas that will be used this month. While some critics dislike the new ball, it looks fantastic. I’m sure it will be a hit!

The best news for Cebuanos? SkyCable, through its aptly-named “Balls” channel, will be showing the games “live” in channel 33. While first I thought they’d be charging extra for the month-long coverage (like they do with M. Pacquiao fights), it’s all-free, all-access, all 64 games until July 11. This means that, unlike before when we had to troop to Badgers and endure smoke-infested bars, this time, we can cheer and toot the vuvuzela at home.

Here’s even better news: the time schedules. In 2006, the World Cup was played in Germany and we had to watch early… early mornings! Not now. The schedules are perfect for us: based on our RP time, Game 1 kicks off at 7:30 p.m, followed by a 10 p.m. contest, then 2:30 a.m. Which leaves us no excuse not to celebrate South Africa.