Wednesday, January 30, 2019

AFC 2019--Goodbyes and Championship Pick

Dearest Mates,

The terminus of a tournament often evokes bittersweet emotions. As we prepare to delight in the moving communal experience of the Championship Match, a looming reunification with the realities of life off the pitch draws nearer. A geo-politics wonk like your friendly bookie always laments the shifting symbolism of the national flags. 

Nothing hits harder than those damned flags. Within the safe confines of an international football match, a country’s flag serves as a colorful banner playfully waved about by the vibrant and eclectic hues of humanity. Outside of these contours the very same object exemplifies all that divides us; all that drives us to needlessly destroy each other. 

Some Syndicate Members chuckle at the bookie’s persistent need to engage in serious internal hermeneutic gymnastics before writing these chapters. I admit it’s become a somewhat laughable tradition. Before getting to the football, I must invariably expend a few paragraphs bewailing the humanitarian crises and amoral politics plaguing the nations involved in the tournament, then ardently defend our right to lose ourselves in football. An imaginary visceral nemesis stands in the way of all that is joyous and fun.

To be fair, it wasn’t exactly easy to state the case. Calling for a focus on football becomes problematic when a tournament features Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E. This competition featured more warring nations than any other syndicate chapter. Moreover, the anti-amusement demon isn’t entirely a fabricated instinctual entity. The digital “Age of Outrage”, a phenomenon I’ll kindly decline to pillory in further depth, spawns so many shrieking self-righteous imps. It forces any proponent of sports-related entertainment into a defensive posture. 

Any debate as to whether an exuberant fervor for international football is acceptable in the context of all the world’s misery needs to die. It’s taken your friendly bookie some time to determine the best way of killing it off once and for all. Finally, I’ve opted to join the voluminous ranks of those who consider the beautiful game to be one of humanity’s best modern Globalized Secular Religions

Yes…we’ve gone there. Don’t worry. Proselytizing and altar worship won’t be necessary. ; )

The idea itself is neither novel nor original. Hundreds of millions adhere to the philosophy of football as a religion. Thousands of writers far more talented than myself have been artfully framing the construct for generations. I can barely even begin to contemplate discussing the concept without fear of somehow inadvertently plagiarizing the more eloquent. In essence, global football represents everything that idealist advocates of an international liberal order champion: non-violent nationalism, free movement of human capital across borders, meritocratic multiculturalism, and unification under a common “Pax Capitalisma”.

International Football epitomizes how well the market can work when everyone’s involved. The best national teams are often built by foreign coaches who recruit young immigrant players, who then in turn hone their skills in multiple foreign leagues. The tactics, style, and flair observed on the pitch is thus a fascinating multi-national mix of ideas gleaned from all the top leagues, academies, and cups. This is precisely why free democratic nations thrive while the North Koreans and Chinese often suck. Success in football belongs to the open-minded and open-bordered.

Not everyone will consider the triumph of cooperative globalization to constitute a soaring spiritual experience, so let’s consider the peace angle. The vast majority of our warlike race’s existence has been devoted to engineering innovative ways to slaughter each other. Millennia of perpetual conflict means we invented sophisticated siege engines and other weapons of war thousands of years before we came up with the notion of painting three-dimensional portraits of ourselves. Our notion of “sport” mostly has, and in some respect continues to, revolve around potentially lethal violence.

One would think that the simple concept of passing and kicking a ball into a net is as old as humanity itself, but it was only approximately 170 years ago that the English decided to organize a version of it that forbade genital punching, choke tackling, and generally finding any way you can to beat the shit out of the guy with the ball. This modified “Rugby for Pussies” eventually evolved into our first civilized global sport. It truly took us some time to devise something elegant and non-belligerent that we can all participate in. Better late than never I suppose. 

Your friendly bookie doesn’t have faith in much, but he is willing to express belief in the grand unifying power of this relatively young human invention. As it continues to grow, captivate, and conquer imaginations on every last nation on earth, even tangential confederation championships like this one will attract an increasingly global audience. The 48-team-tournament in 2026 shall solidify international football as our most extraordinary collective spiritual experience. By the time 2027 rolls around, even most Americans will tune into the AFC Asian Cup looking for more. 

Ahem…let’s have our graphic.

Thank you, Asia. Well done. We deeply appreciate you affording us an excuse to stop destroying each other for a while. Not everyone took advantage of this respite, but they will. Bookie foresees a new Era of International Comity as the beautiful game grows larger still. Hopefully he can predict our ability to evolve better than he can forecast the Semis ; ) 

We’ve one more quick topic to cover before getting to the pick. A certain “M” compels me to broach a valuable lesson gleaned from the “Soccernomics” book I refused to shut up about last Summer. Football not only supplies us with a fabulous excuse to stop killing each other, it also demonstrably dissuades us from killing ourselves. 

In Chapter Fourteen, Kuper and Szymanski statistically prove that European suicide rates decline heavily in World Cup or European Championship years. June, ordinarily the peak month for suicide rates in the Northern Hemisphere, sees a drastic reduction whenever the country in question is in a tournament. The trend is corroborated in ten of twelve countries. Statistics for countries that sometimes don’t qualify—such as Scotland, Ireland, Greece, Austria, or Switzerland—make for a compelling case. The Scandinavian figures leave little room for doubt. Football clearly saves many lives in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.   

The authors build upon previous research to hypothesize that we’re witnessing strong evidence for the so-called “pulling together effect”. This same corollary decreases suicide rates in U.S. University towns when the local college football team plays well and across America every Super Bowl Sunday. In non-sports examples, traumatic national events such as the Kennedy Assassination and September 11th Terrorist Attacks drive down rates when the country as a whole has to “pull together”.

Hang in there, brother. You’ll feel better soon. There’s always more football to pull-together over. 

And…you’ll never watch alone ; ) 

Supreme Champion of the Asian Football Universe—

Japan vs. Qatar


Definitely not the final the bookie envisaged. Qatar were given 8 to 1 onset odds of taking the crown in this chapter’s initial post. While acknowledging their Cinderella prospects, I kept the Maroons just out of the top five in their group rounds and incorrectly predicted they would exit in the first two knockouts. 

I actually favor them and their fire-breathing coach here. Ultimately unable to dismiss Almoez Ali as a fluke, I at long last correctly predicted they would trounce the hosts in the Semis. The Maroons. stampede into this fixture full of confidence. For once they’re at full strength. No more suspensions to discuss.

The Samurai STILL don’t look like a solid side. Bookie is of the opinion that they rode some luck to get past the Persians. They wouldn’t have gotten ahead at all were it not for they inexplicable failure of the Melli backline to play until the whistle. A cogent plan of attack remains lacking. 

Some story this makes for. A country politically and diplomatically abandoned by its Gulf Neighbors eighteen months ago now embarrasses the host country which led the effort to cut off relations and claims the continental crown in their own house! 

Should be as great match. By virtue of the fact that Qatar will host the 2021 Confed Cup, both teams have already automatically qualified for the tournament. Irrespective of the outcome here, three of the eight slots have been filled.

 Qatar wins. Almoez Ali breaks the record. 

All bets are ON should you disagree.  

THE PICK: Qatar +1 Goal

Enjoy living your life. Enjoy it for its own sake. Dance to the music. Appreciate the painting. Delve deeper into that novel. Make laughter and love as often as you can. Live lionhearted or don’t bother living at all.

We’ll meet again. The Syndicate will return. For the time being……

“Go kick a ball with a stranger”

Seriously…go kick a ball with a stranger. 

--S.S. P.V.