After more than two decades at The Washington Post, my luck has come in. I’ve gotten a dream assignment. I’m going to spend a month or so anchoring The Post’s first World Cup newsletter. (I hope you’ll sign up.)
My regular job is as a Post national correspondent, writing primarily about the American west. My only credentials for this are that I have spent a lot of time overseas in soccer-loving places, as a Post correspondent and as a tourist. I also watch an unholy amount of soccer. Just ask colleagues and friends who have been well-drilled in my strict “blackout” rules on match days designed to preserve my ability to watch DVR’d games when I get home from work (or from my son’s often middle-of-nowhere travel tournaments.)
I want to give you a sense of how I plan to approach the job. My goal is to provide a daily tip sheet of sorts that appeals to both the soccer die-hard and the casual fan, who knows he or she wants to follow the World Cup but isn’t sure quite what to look for each day. Maybe it’s a player or a particular rivalry or a political moment during a tournament historically famous for them.
I, in part, will be learning along with you and sharing that in real time.
While I am not a professional sportswriter, the newsletter will feature those, too, with insightful work from our correspondents on the ground in Russia. I’m the armchair aficionado of the beautiful game who recently retired from the great Garrett Park Football Club of the Montgomery County over-50 men’s league — for the good of my back, my teammates and the overall aesthetics of the game.
The World Cup is a rare thing, like the Olympics, and a global spectacle on a similar scale. And while I love club soccer (I’m an FC Barcelona fan, by way of disclosure) it is my World Cup memories that have long shaped my sense of the sport. And what memories.
In 1982, I was in Italy when the Azzurri tore through a stronger field in Spain, riding an unbelievable goal-scoring run by Paolo Rossi (six goals in the final three matches.) In the quarterfinals, when Italy surprised a Brazilian team that is still considered one of the best ever, I watched from a sidewalk bar as the town of Portofino erupted. The entire population — the mayor, stripped to his boxers, included — ran down the hilly streets and plunged into the harbor to celebrate for hours.
Four years later, my dad and I, eager to watch Maradona-led Argentina take on West Germany in Mexico’s daunting Azteca Stadium, talked our way onto a houseboat in Kashmir that we noticed had a spray of rooftop antennas. We watched Argentina win its second World Cup with a gracious Indian family that, even by the end of the match, did not know what to make of us but didn’t really seem to care.
I’d set my alarm in 2002 when I was The Post’s correspondent in Colombia to catch the Japan-South Korea-hosted games live. In the northern town of Apartadó, at 3 a.m., I stifled a cheer in the middle-of-the-night silence when Brazil’s Ronaldo scored against Turkey in the semifinals. No need for the etiquette – the entire, thin-walled hotel reverberated with the screams of fellow fans.
Like the Olympics, the tournament is also inevitably a forum for international politics and regional rivalries that color the game on the field.
Two years before Argentina hosted the 1978 World Cup, a military junta overthrew the elected government, prompting a debate within many national teams over whether they should compete. The dictatorship pledged a “World Cup of peace,” despite a human-rights record that included disappearing thousands of dissidents. The hosts won the tournament — Argentina’s first — but the team is only lightly honored today in a soccer-crazy nation.
More than two decades later, a frail, 91-year-old Nelson Mandela managed a final wave to the world before the 2010 final between Spain and the Netherlands, closing a tournament that served as an important post-apartheid mile-marker for once-boycotted South Africa.
Putinism will hover over this event, just as it did during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
We want the newsletter to capture this magic and hidden camaraderie, plus the conniving and rivalry the game is also known for. We want it to be useful, unexpected and expert.
Starting on June 13, and all the way through the final on July 15, my job will be to recap the importance of the past day, set the stage for the day ahead and guide you to The Post’s best work and other highlights. There will be utility — when and how to watch the matches, lists of standings and goal leaders, etc. — but there will also be features on the players, managers and matches. And just like soccer, there will also be room for the unexpected. We hope to have it in your inbox every match day by 6 p.m. Eastern time.
It should be fun. I hope you sign up and please tell a friend.
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