Tag Archives: Chile

A Brief History of The FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup

The main event in world soccer this summer in South Africa is over. But if you’re still fixing for your fill of intense international competition, you could do worse than to look to Germany right now, where the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup began play yesterday, a crowd of 23,995 watching the hosts defeat Costa Rica 4-2 in the opening game.

Perhaps the more interesting result came in the second game: North Korea defeated Brazil 1-0, a result you might think is quite an upset. But, really, it’s not. North Korea reached the final of the previous U-20Women’s World Cup, losing 2-1 to the United States in the final, and won the previous edition of the competition in 2006, as well as the 2008 FIFA U-17 Women’s  World Cup.

It’s worth taking a brief look at the history of this tournament since it began in 2002 to get a sense of what we can expect in Germany this month.

The tournament has been a bright spot in women’s soccer, since the first final in Edmonton, Canada drew a crowd of 47,784 at Commonwealth Stadium to see the home team go down 1-0 to the United States in September 2002. That crowd was no aberration: much like the 1999 Women’s World Cup that saw the US draw 90,185 fans to the Rose Bowl for the final, the home crowd got behind their team, 37,194 watching the semi-final as Canada defeated Brazil on penalty kicks, Chrstine Sinclair playing a starring role and a young Marta on view in Commonwealth Stadium.

The decision to stage games at Commonwealth Stadium, a vast venue in Edmonton built for the 1978 Commonwealth Games, was controversial: FIFA officials, visiting in 2001, had warned games would be played to an empty venue. But though some games were poorly attended, Commonwealth Stadium averaged a healthy 19,841 per game. Considerably smaller crowds attended smaller venues in Vancouver and Victoria, but an overall average of 11,351 per game for the duration of the competition far surpassed FIFA’s expectations.

That, again, was an echo of 1999: FIFA had wanted the Women’s World Cup games to be played at small venues on the east coast of the United States, but the American organising committee, gutsily led by Marla Messing, went for huge stadia and the decision paid-off: it felt like a big event, and became a big event.

Similarly, that 2002 U-19 Women’s World Cup in Canada, featuring 12 teams, received extensive local media coverage  according to FIFA’s technical report. The final was watched by almost 1 million viewers on Canada’s Sportsnet station. Not unimportantly, the tournament also provided vital experience for young referees: 12 female referees and 12 assistants from 20 countries officiated the 26 games, most of them making their debuts in official FIFA competition. Only two red cards were issued in the entire tournament.

Canada, U-19 Women's World Cup, 2002

The next U-19 Women’s World Cup was held in Thailand in November 2004, won by Germany, adding that title to their Women’s World Cup win the previous year in the United States, and pre-cursing their second senior world title in 2007. As in 2002, attendance was very strong for the host nation’s games, with 40,000 attending Thailand’s opener: though unfortunately, they faced Germany, and were thumped 6-0. Thailand was clearly not ready for this level of competition, losing their next game 7-0 to Canada, and their tournament ending with a 5-0 defeat to Australia. This is surely the worst performance by a host nation in the history of FIFA competition. Still, the crowds for the latter stages were decent, with 23,000 attending the final, Germany beating China 2-0. Brazil were eliminated at the semi-final stage, but Marta still took home the Golden Ball for best player. An overall average attendance of 11,089 was a positive.

The 2006 U-20 Women’s World Cup saw it move to a third different continent, hosted by Russia, and it would feature a surprising winner, with North Korea taking their first FIFA trophy: though perhaps that shouldn’t be considered a surprise, as the North Koreans had been dominating Asian competition in recent years. Indeed, the rapid development of women’s soccer in Asia as a whole, seen in the history of the U-20 tournament, is a remarkable story.

The age limit for the World Cup had been raised by one year to make it a U-20 event, with FIFA also instituting a U-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup, beginning play in 2008. The tournament was also expanded to 16 teams. Interestingly, the average age of players was almost exactly the same as in 2004 (18 years and 11 months), despite the new age limit. The tournament was a bit of a disappointment; European teams were weakened by it nearly coinciding with the UEFA U-19 competition, and attendance was extremely poor, barely reaching four figures for most games.

The hosts, Russia, went out at the quarter-final stage to China. The final between China and North Korea, the first between two Asian teams in global FIFA competition, was unfortunately a mudbath, played in pelting rain. According to the official report, the players were “enveloped in mud”, but “the Koreans, however, were not deterred by the conditions in the slightest and they attacked relentlessly with great determination.” The Koreans crushed the Chinese 5-0 in front of 8,500 soaked spectators. Curiously, no North Korean was named in FIFA’s top three players of the tournament, China’s Xiaoxu Ma taking the Golden Ball. Overall, with an average crowd of just 1,644 per game and a total of 52,630 spectators for the entire tournament, the U-20 Women’s World Cup had taken something of a step back.

Brazil, Throw in

Chile, 2008 U-20 Women’s World Cup host, presented a much greater success: the tournament saw more goals than ever (3.5 goals per game), and a decent enough average of 6,749 fans per game. More importantly, the host nation used the tournament as a springboard for women’s soccer in Chile, now in strong shape (one of its clubs, Everton, came fourth in the first Women’s Copa Libertadores staged in 2009). The Chilean government, then led by Michelle Bachelet, affirmed its support of the competition by rebuilding four stadia for the event and by supporting a new league championship for women. Unfortunately, results did not go well for Chile, losing all three games and exiting at the group stage, but the seeds were sown for future growth: surely the point of the competition existing. The United States won the U-20 Women’s World Cup for the first time since 2002, defeating the defending champions North Korea in the final 2-1 in front of 12,000 fans.

That brings us to 2010, and the tournament in Germany, which has a particular importance with the senior Women’s World Cup to be held there in 2011. Strong crowds and interest in this U-20 competition could presage what should be the most successful Women’s World Cup in terms of global media attention and attendance since USA ’99, given the strength of women’s soccer in Germany and the lack of any major competing global competitions next summer.

Brazil vs. Chile: A Surprising Statistic or Seven

I’ve been rooting around FIFA’s Big Count, their effort at counting the number of participants in soccer worldwide, and found a number or two about Chile and Brazil that slightly surprised me ahead of today’s intriguing South American match-up.

Number of Players Per Country

Firstly, you may (or may not) not have known that Chile actually has more players as a percentage of their population than Brazil, by quite some distance: 16.17% of everyone in Chile plays soccer, according to FIFA. In Brazil, it’s only 7.02% — less, in fact, than the United States, at 8.2%. As a percentage of their population, Chile has the second highest number of players in this World Cup, behind only Germany.

Of course, Brazil has a much larger population than Chile, so in the former, there are 13,197,733 total players and in the latter, 2,608,337. In terms of total numbers of participants, Brazil ranks third in this tournament, behind Germany and the United States.

The above numbers include both registered and the rather harder to count unregistered players, and covers male and female participants.

In terms of the perhaps more relevant numbers of registered male players, Brazil again ranks third in total numbers at this World Cup, with 2,141,733, again behind Germany and the United States. Chile comes 11th out of the 32 nations who began the tournament in South Africa, with 478,337 registered male players.

Youth Players

In youth soccer, Chile are 11th at the World Cup in total male youth players, with 325,000 of them. Brazil ranks 3rd, unsurprisingly, with 1,345,000 participants at that level (behind, once again, only Germany and the United States).

Professional Players & Clubs

Brazil has the most professional players in the world, according to FIFA, with 16,200 of them — over double the country in second place, England, who have 6,000. Chile has just 637 to choose from.

Brazil ranks behind only England in their number of club teams, with 29,000. Chile again comes up surprisingly high (at least in my eyes), ranking 7th of the 2010 World Cup countries with 6,000 clubs.

Here, then, are those stats in summary:

Population FIFA Rank # of total players players as % of population # of male registered players # of male youth players # of professionals # of clubs
Brazil 182,000,000 1 13,197,733 7.02 2,141,733 1,345,000 16,200 29,000
Chile 15,600,000 18 2,608,337 16.17 478,337 325,000 637 6,000

All information from FIFA’s Big Count, last updated in 2006.

ps – Anyone enjoy these random statistics? Wouldn’t be hard to do them for each matchup from now on, from the Big Count numbers.

Good Read: On Marcelo Bielsa and Chile’s Dare

The Atlantic’s blogging on soccer this World Cup has been odd, because their essays — from a variety of interesting writers, not always known for their soccer writing — always seem to arrive surprisingly appended below a rambling introduction by their columnist Hua Hsu. Which is fine, but you’ll have to scroll down a bit to find this thoughtful take on tactics and Chile’s coach Marcelo Bielsa by Chris Ryan. It’s worth it, though:

If the last few months of European club football have been, if you believe the Guardian and the Spanish sports dailies, a referendum on the soul of football. And, after Inter Milan’s bulldozing run to the Champions League crown (including a suffocation of holders Barcelona and their series of precise attacking movements), and the way teams like Spain, Germany, Brazil and Argentina have been stifled, block, stymied and frustrated, to varying degrees, during this World Cup, it looks like the might is making right.

Except Bielsa is staging a takeover, using numbers against the same teams that would defend en masse.

Three goals in three games does not exactly make you think you are watching ’70 Brazil YouTube videos, but the end product isn’t really the point with Bielsa’s Chile, the point is the creation of the possibility of end product.

Ryan’s piece is an uneven but thought-provoking take on an enigmatically interesting team to watch, which indirectly also alerted me to the existence of this site set-up by Chile’s fans as part of a campaign for the coach to stay, BIELSA NO SE VA!

No similar site has been found for Fabio Capello, and that’s all I’m going to say about England.

A World Cup Miscellany: Group H

This is the last in a series of brief and miscellaneous perspectives on the World Cup groups and nations (here’s Group A, Group B, Group C, Group D, Group E, Group F, and Group G).  The mostly light-hearted intention is to both provoke and satisfy curiosities, to utilize Eric Hobsbawn’s notion that “The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people,” and to fill some space towards the World Cup frenzy…

Has anyone else ever been fooled by the title of Ryszard Kapuściński 1991 book The Soccer War?  The first time I stumbled across it many years ago, before I had learned of Kapuściński’s fame as a writer and journalist, I assumed it was about soccer causing, or maybe solving, a war.  That sounded good.

It turns out, however, that the title of the book comes from one essay about a four day war between Honduras and El Salvador; a war that was ostensibly sparked by the result of 1970 World Cup qualifiers.  Other essays in the book address topics having nothing to do with soccer: the murder of Patrice Lumumba, torture in Guatemala, Turkey’s contest with Cyprus, the Nigerian civil war, etc..  It turns out, despite the almost completely marginal role of soccer, to be a damn good book.

Returning in a 2010 World Cup preview to The Soccer War, and remembering how little of it actually had to do with soccer, seems appropriate to a consideration of Group H (matching Honduras with Spain, Switzerland, and Chile).  Thanks both to the story of the brief 1969 Honduran war with El Salvador and the story of its 2010 qualification for this World Cup—which apparently “helped to heal Honduras” after a traumatic political struggle in 2009—the Central Americans seem to be exhibit A in the power of sport over politics.

What’s more, South Africa is a nearly perfect host for such stories, given the well-known ways in which sport created some sense of national unity in the delicate days after the end of apartheid.  In the famous words of Nelson Mandela, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”

But with all due respect to Mandela, we should all know that the power of sport is more complicated than that.  Power can be used for good or for ill, and it always derives from a complex nexus of social forces.  Take, for example, how Kapuściński concludes his essay on the Honduras-El Salvador “soccer war”

The soccer war lasted one hundred hours.  Its victims: 6,000 dead, more than 12,000 wounded.  Fifty thousand people lost their homes and fields.  Many villages were destroyed….

These are the real reasons for the war: El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, has the greatest population density in the western hemisphere (over 160 people per square kilometer).  Things are crowded and all the more so because most of the land is in the hands o fourteen great landowning clans…For years a part of the landless poor has been emigrating to Honduras, where there are large tracts of unimproved land…In the 1960’s, unrest began among the Honduran peasantry, which was demanding land…Relations between the two countries were tense.  Newspapers on both sides waged a campaign of hate, slander and abuse, calling each other Nazis, dwarfs, drunkards, sadists, spiders, aggressors and thieves.  There were pogroms.  Shops were burned.

In these circumstances the match between Honduras and El Salvador had taken place.

The “soccer war” was not about soccer; it was about poverty, inequality, and xenophobia.  In Central America in 1969 soccer was the spark that ignited a war, but in other contexts soccer may hide or obscure related social problems.  With Switzerland, for example, it has been interesting to watch how xenophobic politics such as banning minarets gets negotiated with the fact that their national team depends heavily on immigrants (with players of Turkish, Albanian, Congolese, Spanish, and Serbian descent set to appear in South Africa, to say nothing of the more dramatic mix on the Swiss U-17 World Cup champions).  Likewise, for all its dramatic success using sport to unite a diverse nation, South Africa still hasn’t figured out a game that can dampen fears of Zimbabwean immigrants imagined to be a threat to employment or Nigerian immigrants imagined to be a threat to safety.

So while a nation like Honduras may gain some relief from its political problems through this rare trip to a World Cup, soccer will not solve those problems.  In some cases it may even exacerbate them.

That doesn’t, however, mean we can’t enjoy the soccer with a reasonably clear political conscious.  In fact, a Time magazine article with thoughts from a representative of the Honduran left-wing “resistance,” suggests that even the country’s political radicals won’t miss the games:

“Yes we are going to support the team, especially the men in the resistance. It would be a lie if I said we were not,” says feminist activist and opposition organizer Gilda Velasquez. However, she warns, soccer is an “unhealthy distraction” — an “opiate used by the media to keep the country happily asleep.” Mindful of the soporific peril, she adds: “The most we’ll do is watch the game for 90 minutes, but we won’t watch the ads.”

That sounds like good advice to us all: watch the 90 minutes but don’t watch the ads.  And remember that despite grand claims about the power of the game to start or stop wars, and simplistic attempts to make national teams represent nation states, the power of an event like the World Cup is always less (and more) than it appears.

Group H: The Group of _______________

ESPN's 2010 FIFA World Cup Murals by the Cape Town-based AM I Collective

As a start to my own simplistic attempt to make statistical representations of the nation states in Group H, it seems appropriate to note that in a literal sense Group H is the Group of [Least] Death: it has the highest average life expectancy of any quartet in the tournament.  With three countries where you can expect to live to about 80 (Spain at 80.9, Switzerland at 81.7, and Chile at 78.6), along with Honduras at around 70.2 (which is not great—but not terrible for the poorest country in the tournament outside of Africa), lives here are long.

Otherwise, the trends for Group H are relatively positive but also relatively non-descript.  Beyond life expectancy, the only thing I could find where this quartet topped the other World Cup groups was for average rankings on the “Happy Planet Index.”  As they explain the Index: “The nations that top the Index aren’t the happiest places in the world, but the nations that score well show that achieving, long, happy lives without over-stretching the planet’s resources is possible.”  Out of the 143 ranked nations, having Spain at 76th, Switzerland at 52nd, Honduras at 10th, and Chile at 46th was good enough to better all the other World Cup groups on average psycho-eco sustainability.  Strangely, however, the Happy Planet Index seems to almost be biased against soccer success: of the top 20 countries only three are in the World Cup (Brazil at 9th, Honduras at 10th, and Argentina at 15th).

The other somewhat obvious connection between these nations is in language: including Spain, Chile, and Honduras as primarily Spanish speaking nations makes Group H the only one in the World Cup where three group-mates share a primary language (Switzerland is an outsider with German, French, Italian, and Romansh as official languages—but still, with the exception of German, they’re all Romance Languages).  You might think that would make for potential globalized soccer connections but it doesn’t seem to.  Honduras has three players plying their trade in Italy and three in England, but zero in Spain.  Chile also has three playing in Italy, but only two in Spain (along with others in Greece, England, Russia, Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, France, Portugal, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates).  Spain and Switzerland, perhaps needless to say, have no players working in Honduras or Chile (the only three Spanish players playing abroad are in England, while Switzerland has seven in Germany and four in Italy but none in Spain).  Despite spreading their language far and wide, the Spanish here come off as quite insular.  Nevertheless, combining the linguistic similarities with Group H having the best life expectancy of any quartet in the tournament, I’m labeling it the Group of Life and Linguistics.

Who would advance if there were any justice in the world?

In the terms of my secret formula combining soccer history and global politics, Chile has a checkered past.  Even aside from (or perhaps related to) the long reign of Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean national team is most famous in World Cup lore for violence and deception.  The Chilean’s 1962 World Cup match against Italy, known as the ‘Battle of Santiago,’ was described by David Coleman as “The most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game…This is the first time these two countries have met.  We hope it will be the last.”  Then in 1989 Chilean goalkeeper Roberto Rojas executed one of the most famous cheats in World Cup qualifying, cutting himself with a razor blade to fake injury and escape from a match at Brazil.  Chile was suspended from both the 1990 and 1994 World Cups.  They did have a decent showing in 1998—and my general feeling is that Chile has moved on and deserves another shot.  I also mostly liked the Michelle Bachelet era—having an agnostic single mother pediatrician as President is quite a statement—so in my mind Chile is in for the chance at redemption.

Spain’s checkered history bears some similarities, but is generally of a different sort.  In modern World Cups they’ve done no better than a few quarterfinals, and are usually considered classic underperformers.  But their 2008 European championship merits their co-favorite status for South Africa 2010 and I have no problem with that.  I don’t fully understand the regional politics in Spain, and am suspicious of whether Catalans such as Xavi and Puyol should have the right to obscure the Spanish flag logo on their socks, but mostly Spain seems worthy of advancing: they are in.

That leaves Switzerland and Honduras on the outs, which isn’t quite fair.  Sure Switzerland may be trending xenophobic while relying on immigrant talent on the pitch, but mostly the Swiss seem to be a pretty good example of a peaceful, thriving democracy.  And, as noted above, the World Cup just seems to mean a lot to Honduras.  But at the end of it all, if there is anything I’ve learned in putting together these eight World Cup group previews, it is that there is rarely any justice in the world.

Group H – Some Stats

FIFA rank Betting odds on winning the Cup Population GDP per capita Rank out of 182 nations on the Human Development Index Life expectancy Rank out of 143 nations on the Happy Planet Index A subjective ranking of how much the WC matters by country(1-32)
Spain 2 4 46 mil. 29700 15 80.9 76 17
Switzerland 26 200 8 mil. 43000 9 81.7 52 32
Honduras 40 1000 7.5 mil. 4100 112 70.2 10 5
Chile 15 66 17 mil. 14300 44 78.6 46 18
- FIFA rank is based on the “FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking” updated April 28th, 2010
- Betting odds on winning the World Cup are from the “win-market” best odds as of May 12th on the Guardian web-site.
- Population is rounded from estimates drawing on various sources in Wikipedia.
- GDP per capita is in US dollars and based on 2008 list by the International Monetary Fund “derived from purchasing power parity (PPP) calculations.”
- The Human Development Index rank is from the United Nations Development Program combining 2007 data on “Life Expectancy, Education, Standard of living and GDP.”
- Life expectancy in years is based on the 2009 list from the CIA World Factbook for “overall life expectancy at birth.”
-The Happy Planet Index “reveals the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered” and is produced by the New Economics Foundation (nef).
- The 1-32 ranking of how much the World Cup matters is my own totally subjective sense of how much the country as a whole cares about how the team performs in South Africa; it is intended entirely in fun.

The Sweeper: Chile’s Earthquake and the World Cup

Ring of Fire

Big Story

Following the devastating earthquake there this weekend, Chile unsurprisingly cancelled two international friendlies scheduled for this Wednesday as part of their World Cup preparations. Few in Chile right now will be thinking about football with more than 700 dead.

Stating the obvious, Chilean federation president Harold Mayne-Nicholls said “Football cannot remain indifferent to the catastrophe which has hit our country and certainly not to the pain and tragedy of thousands of Chileans.”

Tim Vickery reminds us that, sadly, this isn’t the first time an earthquake in Chile has interceded with the World Cup, a perhaps inevitable consequence of Chile’s positioning within the “Ring of Fire” circling the Pacific Rim. In the previous instance, a 9.5 tremor in May 1960 — the biggest instrumentally recorded earthquake of all time — killed thousands.

Chile were scheduled to host the World Cup just two years later. Chile appealed to keep the World Cup, and the hosting of it despite the disaster was controversial. As Vickery says, “Some may feel the World Cup should not have gone ahead, that all of Chile’s energies should have been spent on more pragmatic priorities.”

Yet the words of Chile’s president of the South American federation, Carlos Dittborn, became something of a rallying call for reconstruction. “Because we have nothing,” he said, “we want to do everything.”

So go ahead it did. Newly built Estadio Nacional in Santiago hosted the opening game on May 30th, 1962, two years and eight days after the earthquake. Chile beat Switzerland 3-1, and then a few days later, surprised most by beating Italy 2-1 to clinch their place in the second round. It was not a pretty game; according to FIFA, it was “the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football” (ever?). One doubts, though, that any of Chile’s fans cared how the game was won.

Chile ended up finishing third, amidst national jubilation at the success of an event that seemed to turn the corner in the country’s reconstruction. “Seemed” is the key word, but the importance of the event emotionally for the Chilean people is stressed by Vickery:

The idea that the 1962 World Cup could in some way ‘compensate’ for the earthquake is clearly foolish and lacking in all sense of proportion. It couldn’t bring back the many who died – the investment could help repair shattered buildings, but not shattered lives.

But the human being is a social animal and football – and especially international football – possesses an extraordinary power, a capacity for collective emotion and celebration unmatched in modern society.

One hopes that the next World Cup in just over a hundred days from now can provide a little solace for Chile through the performances of its national team, as unimportant as it seems today.

Quick Hits

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

Steven Wells, Dave Zirin and the Politics of Sportswriting

Steven Wells’ latest rant fires his usual unhinged potshots at the mainstream sports press on both sides of the Atlantic. I mention it because he discusses the American left-wing sportswriter Dave Zirin prominently, which reminded me of this interesting piece which describes his discovery of soccer in Chile.