The Cup Running Over

August 19, 2011 6:29 PM

The End of Arsene Wenger: How Globalization has Caught Up to the Arsenal Manager

by Harrison Stark

Watching Arsenal labor to a 1-0 win at home over Udinese on Tuesday, one was struck by the similarities between the Gunners and their Italian counterparts. Both teams had finished fourth in their domestic leagues, playing a slick brand of counter-attacking football. Both had seen their respective best player disappear into the Catalan sunset to join the European Champions FC Barcelona.

And yet, there were more than just coincidental parallels. Lining up against Udinese's diverse starting eleven, hand-picked from the far corners of the globe, there was a sense that Arsenal was playing itself in disguise.

Udinese is the epitome of Europe's new, globalized style of team management. Using a vast network of international scouts, Udinese recruits up-and-coming players from obscure locations few other teams dare to look. Its starting line-up on Tuesday contained players from Slovenia, Chile, Morocco, and Colombia. On the field, there were as many Brazilians and Ghanaians as there were native Italians. Discovering and training these players itself, Udinese has profited by selling its cosmopolitan superstars for enormous sums.

Once upon a time, it was Arsenal themselves that pioneered this global model of squad development. Over a decade ago, their coach, Arsene Wenger, who is a mathematician and economics graduate, began using a network of statisticians to analyze player potential for soccer players around the globe. Deploying a web of scouts and analysts around the globe, Wenger was able to uncover world-class talents where no-one else saw them: he discovered players like Kolo Toure in Abdijan, Ivory Coast, he converted Thierry Henry, then a below average French winger at Juventus, into one of the greatest forwards of all time, and he found an unknown 15 year old at Barcelona named Cesc Fabregas (Wenger sold Fabregas, now a World Cup winner and international icon, back to Barcelona earlier this week for close to $40 million).

But globalization has caught up with soccer, just as it has caught up with everything else. Today, Arsenal and Wenger are no longer special. Now, every high-class team has scouts all over the world, and Wenger's original statistical approach to discovering talent is commonplace. Even in Italy, traditionally hostile to foreigners, Udinese's globalized squad is now the norm.

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Arsene Wenger's once-innovative approach to recruitment is now commonplace (courtesy AP)

And in the era of YouTube and Footytube, where highlights are uploaded to the Web in a matter of minutes, there are no more hidden gems to discover. Today, everybody knows everybody. Gone are the days when Wenger could surprise the world with an unheard-of signing (like he did with Jose Antonio Reyes or Mathieu Flamini).  Every starlet is tracked by a host of scouts from Europe's top clubs from adolescence and teams now go to absurd lengths to land 'the next big thing' -- like Real Madrid, which offered a contract last month a seven year old.

In this new, globalized incarnation of soccer, Wenger's once-innovative vision is now the norm, his team no longer special. And as we saw on Tuesday, by setting the standard for the rest of the soccer world, Arsenal has become the victim of its own success. Sadly, it may be too late for Wenger to change the game again. 

Wikipedia: commonplace definition: '''archaic''' a striking passage entered in a commonplace book.
July 18, 2011 1:03 PM

Women's Soccer Grows ... No Thanks to FIFA

by Harrison Stark

The women's World Cup was, by all accounts, an unequivocal success. From a sporting standpoint, it put last summer's men's cup to shame: the quality of football was superb, with less diving and more attacking play in nearly every match. There were few vitriolic debates about referees or goal-line technology. The tournament was remarkably even-matched, featuring a host of tight contests, and the final, with its last minute equalizers and late drama, was 'magical'.

For the development of the women's game globally, it was unparalleled: after a rocky start, domestic television ratings soared, and a record number of fans watched abroad. The final was the most tweeted event in history (featuring no less than 13 updates from Barack Obama -- what debt crisis?). 

There are many who can take credit for the tournament's success: promotors, local German organizers like Steffi Jones, and of course the players and coaches themselves. Who doesn't deserve any credit? Unfortunately FIFA.

This is how much Sepp Blatter and the rest of FIFA respect the women's game (courtesy of AP)

Football's governing body and official organizer of the tournament lags miles behind the rest of the world in its appreciation of the women's game. The group - which is essentially run as a glorified gentlemen's club - has historically ignored the development of the women's game, and this tournament proved no different. Whereas everyone else seemed to be calling attention to the quality of soccer rather than the players' figures, FIFA's official motto of the tournament was "The Beautiful Side of 2011".

The tournament's official mascot - Karla Kick - was a collage of 19th century stereotypes that seemed almost designed to undermine the integrity of the players: a cat, Karla was silent (FIFA told us she "cannot speak" but was able "to interact with fans on a non-verbal, emotional level."). She was described in traditionally anti-athletic feminine terms, as "spontaneous, bubbly, [and] fond of children." FIFA ended its description with the unfortunately unforgettable, "Karla Kick loves to have her photograph taken, so she is an absolute must for any fans who want to take home a lasting impression of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011 in Germany." 

The organization's rhetorical lack of respect was eclipsed only by its financial contribution. Whereas FIFA provided $420 million in prize money for participants at last summer's men's tournament, the  women's teams of this cup get to share a paltry $7.6 million, or less than 2% of the men's equivalent

Women's soccer still fails to get the respect it deserves, especially among a mostly-male hardcore sports faithful. Outside the World Cup, many high-profile events in the women's game continue to be dictated by traditional stereotypes or male fantasies. After all, the most-covered incident in US women's soccer this year was University of New Mexico's Elizabeth Lambert's punching, kicking, and hair-pulling antics during an NCAA match against Brigham Young, which was essentially covered as a glorified 'cat-fight' (the highest rated comment on the YouTube clip, which has over 3 million views, was 'that byu chick is hot').
Though it may seem paradoxical, if we want the average sports fan to continue to take the women's game and this tournament more seriously, maybe distancing ourselves from the tournament's global organizers would be a good place to start.
July 15, 2011 1:06 PM

Brawn Over Brains and the Myth of 'Never Say Die'

by Harrison Stark

Again and again, armchair pundits and professionals alike have praised the US women's team's character for rallying against Brazil and France. "That's a perfect example of what this country is about. What the history of this team has always meant," Abby Wambach said after Brazil match, "Never give up." ESPN's Paul Carr echoed the sentiment that their comeback represented uniquely American attributes: "How fascinating that the American spirit can be expressed so clearly in what is often decried as the most un-American of sports," he tweeted after the game. Wambach, after the France match, went on television to again praise the US team's desire: "France are a good side," she said, "but it came down to who wanted it more." Identical language is all over SportsCenter:  "You're gonna hear the phrase 'will to win' a lot in the next few days," predicted one analyst. 

I believe him.

Character, spirit, desire --the discussion about the US women's team has continually revered the team's mental ability as its greatest strength -- an expression of the American spirit though determination, hard work, and a "never say die attitude." But the truth is that the women's team has been successful not primarily because of its mental characteristics but because of the opposite -- its physical supremacy.

The women's team - like the men's - is superbly conditioned. That's in part because of the physical intensity of the WPS league in which the majority of the team plays, in part because of the excellent physical preparation employed by the national team, as well as because Title IX has our women playing sports regularly a lot more and a lot longer than most of their counterparts in the rest of the world. Sports medicine is a field that was pioneered in the US and as a result, our national athletes have frequently been in better shape than their opponents. The women's team is no exception.

It is no coincidence the US women's team frequently plays its best football at the end of matches, especially in the last 15 minutes. As opponents tire towards the end of games, it often appears that the US digs deep to push their play to the next level. The truth is at this level both teams want to win a lot; the Americans are simply in better shape, outlasting the opposition. Against France, we were firmly on the back foot for the majority of the second half, only to see the French collapse for the final portion of the game.

USA Brazil AP.jpg
The US'  frequent late comebacks are primarily a result of physical conditioning, not mental fortitude (Courtesy AP)

Similarly, the US' last-gasp equalizer against Brazil was not simply a result of undying determination, but superb conditioning - - that the US was able to continue to press while being a player down, and that Rapinoe was able to hit such a perfect cross-field pass in the 120th

minute was astounding. But it was primarily a physical achievement, not a mental one.

This is not to belittle the achievements of the women's team, or to out their play as somehow "less American". In fact, supreme physical conditioning is an American attribute, just as much if not more than the mythic 'never-say-die-attitude.' It is interesting but typical how the pundits have declared this team's success as a victory of brain over brawn.  In fact, it's just the opposite.

December 3, 2010 8:29 AM

The US Lost to Qatar for One Simple Reason: We Didn't Deserve It

The awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar has produced real outrage in many American quarters, with some charging that the decision can only be explained by corruption. But the truth is that the USA lost its bid for the same reason that England lost its 2018 effort to Russia.

We didn't really deserve it.

First, neither victory is the upset that is being portrayed in the US press. Anyone who had followed the process closely knew that Russia was the favorite for 2018 and that in recent weeks, insiders were predicting that Qatar had eclipsed the USA bid. The USA pundits refused to believe it at their peril. (The estimable Nate Silver on December 1: "Bookies have Qatar favored to be named hosts of the 2022 World Cup. Really?")

Second, if you accept the FIFA Committee's rationales at face value (more on that later), one primary goal is to bring the Cup to new locales as far across the globe as possible. The USA hosted recently and returning so soon would have been virtually unprecedented. (Mexico hosted twice within 16 years but only after the Cup was moved from the original choice, Colombia.)

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Welcome to Qatar

Once you've made the decision that you're going to try to go everywhere, the Middle East is too big a region to ignore. Yes, we wouldn't have voted for it on a number of grounds, including weather. But if you're committed to serving every region, then you're probably never going to get a better chance than a bid that promises to air condition every venue, pour $50 billion plus into the Cup, take down the stadiums after the proceedings and give them to poorer nations, and has the coaches of Barcelona and Manchester United in its corner, not to mention Zinedine Zidane.

There was another problem with our bid. Beyond offering our usual advantages, the USA talked a lot about how this Cup would provide the spark to make soccer a major sport in this country. The problem with that line of reasoning? It isn't true.

On a day in which half the sporting world stopped to watch the proceedings in Zurich, Americans were mesmerized by Le Bron's return to Cleveland. To us, the World Cup is a footnote. Fair enough, but the truth is that all things being equal, FIFA likes to give the event to places where it is appreciated. Anyone who has visited the Mideast recently has surely noticed all the signs and talk on the street -- from Amman to Dubai. They really wanted it. We didn't.

Was corruption involved? Maybe, though the news about FIFA's possible malfeasance isn't any newer today than it was a week ago. We knew what FIFA was like when we entered the process. The truth is that we may still be a world power in the political sphere but in the soccer universe, we're not even second rate. To quote the immortal Bill Parcells, you are what you are. Get over it.

December 1, 2010 3:15 PM

How Would We Vote? Belgium/Holland in 2018, Australia in 2022

With the vote upon us, a few words on how we'd vote. Our criteria:

-- When you can, give the tournament to a country that has never had the chance to host.

-- Always site the Cup in a place that has the potential to produce great soccer. That rules out venues where the temperatures will be above 85 degrees.

-- All things being equal, the tournament should be a month-long party -- a celebration of the game. Who can host the best festivities?

To us, that clearly dictates Belgium/Holland and Australia. But don't hold your breath: Neither, unfortunately, will happen.

A tournament in Australia would be one month-long party. (Courtesy
December 1, 2010 11:17 AM

In the Latest British Betting Odds, England is Almost a Joint Favorite with Russia to Host World Cup 2018

The latest British betting odds make England almost a joint favorite now with Russia, with Spain trailing considerably. This may just be hometown sentiment kicking in, though there is a body of opinion that holds that Vladamir Putin's failure to attend the proceedings both will hurt the Russian bid and is an indication that the Russians are less than confident.

The British oddsmakers still make Qatar the favorite for 2022.

Will the World Cup follow the 2012 Olympics to London in 2018?
December 1, 2010 8:18 AM

World Cup 2018 and 2022 Bids: The Experts Have It Close But Give Russia and Qatar the Edge

With 24 hours to go before the vote in Zurich to decide who gets to host World Cups 2018 and 2022, the world's press is in a frenzy of speculation. We'll turn it over to them with the highlights, before concluding with our own brief analysis.


Russia 4-5, England 7-4, Iberia 3-1.


"United States -- The 1994 World Cup host wouldn't need to build any new stadiums and says soccer could make a quantum leap in the world's biggest economy. Detractors point out that U.S. just hosted the World Cup 16 years ago. Odds: 4/5.

Qatar - Upstart emirate has dropped millions on celebrity endorsements (Zinédine Zidane) and promised to build air-conditioned stadiums and training sites. But tiny country the size of Connecticut promises logistical problems, and a recently released FIFA report says the overpowering heat poses "a potential health risk for players, officials, the FIFA family and spectators." Odds: 9/4.

Australia - Aussies have never hosted the World Cup and put on a successful 2000 Olympics in Sydney. But the time zone is bad for TV broadcasts in Europe and the Americas, and awarding the bid to any member of the Asian confederation (which includes Australia and the other non-U.S. bidders) would prevent FIFA favorite China from hosting the Cup until perhaps 2034. Odds: 5/2.

South Korea - Longshot bid co-hosted '02 Cup, but adds political angle by promising to include North Korean host city. Odds: 12/1.

Japan - Longshot bid co-hosted 2002 World Cup, but proposing high-tech event. Odds: 20/1."


This site lists the odds at various British oddsmakers. The consensus:

For 2018: Russia a strong favorite, England second, Spain a fairly distant third.

For 2022: Qatar a strong favorite, USA second, Australia a close third.


Are England's chances on the rise, as some experts believe? (Photo courtesy of


For 2018: Russia 8-11, England 3-1, Iberia 7-1

For 2022: Qatar 4-5, Australia 3-1, USA 6-1


Makes Russia the favorite for 2018, with Iberia and England trailing. Makes Qatar the 2022 favorite, with the USA trailing.


2018: "Sudden flush of English optimism in Zurich tonight re 2018. Still far too many ifs and buts though. Genuine 3-horse race"

2022: "USA emerging as clear favourites. Would never have said this pre-94, but they're the obvious choice again."


2018: For what it's worth, everyone makes Russia the favorite in a close three-competitor race. The key for Iberia seems to be that while it has eight solid votes -- enough to probably get to the last round -- the problem is in finding four more. If England can possibly pip another of the contenders to get to the finals, even it has an outside chance.

2022: Most outsiders think Qatar is the favorite, with the USA a close second. It all depends on how many European votes Qatar can get. It will be close.

November 30, 2010 10:20 AM

The Latest From Zurich: Spain/Portugal and Qatar Remain the Slightest of Favorites For World Cup Selection

World leaders and the world's sporting press (except for the US, of course) are now descending upon Zurich for Thursday's votes on who gets to host soccer's World Cups in 2018 and 2022. With so many gathered and so little to report (after all, the 22 delegates aren't talking), rumors are rampant. Yesterday, we had Spain/Portugal as slight favorites for 2018, ahead of England and Russia, and Qatar in front of the USA for 2022. Today's stories seem to confirm that trend.

The US press contingent in Zurich poses for a picture in anticipation of whether the USA gets awarded the 2022 World Cup on Thursday.

Today's hot stories/rumors:

-- Are Things Not Going Russia's Way? There are reports that Vladamir Putin may not make the trip to Zurich as expected to make a last-minute plea to delegates. If true, it means Russia's bid may be fading. That's good news for England but probably even better news for the Spain/Portugal forces who seem to be moving in the direction of locking down a majority, as the Russian bid chairman attacked the others for "collusion" - a clear jibe at Spain/Portugal.

-- A postponement for the 2022 vote? The German magazine Kicker is reporting that FIFA is in emergency meetings whether to put off the vote on the 2022 Cup until 2012. Since no one believes that FIFA really cares about corruption, if true, this could be a sign that some significant power believes it's going to lose and can exert enough pressure to try to get the vote postponed. But who could that be? The likeliest is Russia, which if it loses for 2018, could try again for 2022 -- but only if the vote is put off Thursday.

-- British press backlash. A Monday night BBC Panorama show accused three new FIFA executives of taking bribes in the past, leading to calls for further suspensions (beyond the two committee members suspended already). The calls are expected to be ignored though it's unclear whether there will be a further backlash against the English bid for, well, reporting the corruption.

The bottom line? Same as yesterday: Qatar and Spain/Portugal remain the favorites but only slightly.

If one wins, the other will likely too. If Spain/Portugal loses, however, the USA's chances look much brighter.
November 29, 2010 10:05 AM

World Cup Decision Week: Spain/Portugal (2018) and Qatar (2022) Are Now the Favorites

It's decision week in the race to decide who gets to host World Cup 2018 and World Cup 2022. Last week, we set odds on the victors - Russia and Spain as co-favorites for 2018, Qatar and the US for '22 -- but a lot has happened since then, at least as far as the press speculation goes. The usual wild rumors are circulating about how the 22 members of the FIFA committee will vote and it may be that by Thursday, the two suspended members will be replaced - bringing the committee up to its full 24 members.

It's in the nature of a secretive process like this that no one really knows what's going to happen. Nevertheless, here's the latest, followed by a list of the country's delegates who will vote and our latest predictions:

2018 - Spain/Portugal, Russia, England, Belgium/Holland

The 2018 vote will come first. Some early press estimates put the first round tally at Spain/Portugal 9, Russia 7, England 4, and Holland/Belgium 2, though it's been reported that some supporters of the Spain/Portugal bid may throw their votes to Holland/Belgium in the first round in the hopes of eliminating England early. If Oceania is allowed to replace its suspended delegate (unlikely), it helps England since that's how the replacement is expected to vote.

If the composition of the committee stays at 22 and the above estimate holds, that likely dictates a Spain/Portugal vs. Russia final round. If that's the case, it's believed Spain/Portugal will likely win since England and its allies (who will have been eliminated at this point) are believed to be better disposed towards that bid.

Despite this, the English bookies have slashed their odds on the Russians in 2018, as some late money has come in to support its bid. And England is scrambling, trying to lure the Paraguay vote by scheduling a lucrative friendly with its national team next year. It's not likely to work as Paraguay is expected to vote with the other Latin American reps for Spain/Portugal.
WorldCup_DancingonStreetcar.jpgOn Thursday, will the Spanish be celebrating again?

2022 - Qatar, USA, Australia, South Korea, and Japan

The first vote should give a good indication of how the second will go. If Spain/Portugal prevails for 2018, that's bad news for the USA, since it's been widely reported that the seven or eight international allies of the Spain/Portugal bid have made a deal, in which they've agreed to support that bid in 2018 in return for backing Qatar in 2022.

If that's the case (and we'll never know - the deliberations and votes are secret), the 2022 vote could track the 2018 result, with Qatar leading the USA in the first round, and Australia third. That would put the US in the position of having virtually to sweep the votes of the Australian and Asian supporters to pass Qatar in the final round.

It's possible but unlikely.


South America - 3 votes for Spain/Portugal; 3 votes for Qatar


Africa - A mystery: These are swing votes. The guess here? Russia in 2018, Qatar in '22.

Ivory Coast

Asia - Probably England in 2018, though the real question is where they go if the English are eliminated. They'll vote for their own bids in 2022 and then it's an open question, with Qatar showing surprising interest.

South Korea

North America - 2 votes for England, 1 for Spain/Portugal in 2018. In 2022, the USA would like to think it will get all three but Guatemala may go with its Spanish-bloc cousins and vote for Qatar.

Trinidad and Tobago

Europe - All over the lot in the 2018 first round as many are competing. In the final? If it's England-Russia, England can probably count on at least half of the 8, maybe more. If it's Spain/Portugal-Russia? The vote leans away from the Russians towards Iberia.


Miscellaneous - These countries are from different regions obviously but they comprise a solid bloc of Qatar support. In 2018, the rumor is that Spain has them locked up.


FIFA head - Who knows? It's said he likes the South Korean bid but it won't be in the final round.

Sepp Blatter, FIFA Head

Preliminary Tally/Prediction:


Not to hedge, but we've got this one completely up in the air with Spain with 8, England with 7, Russia with 6, and one undecided. Spain is a likely finalist (when the vote narrows to two nations) and the guess here is that no matter who gets to that last vote (either Russia or England), the Iberian bid now seems likeliest to prevail. But it's iffy.

As of today, we've got Qatar with 11, the USA with 6, Australia with 3, and two undecided. As hard as it may seem for Americans to believe, Qatar is in the pole position. The USA's best hope is that the Spain-Portugal/Qatar axis collapses. But if Spain/Portugal wins the first vote, Qatar looks like the favorite to win the second.



Spain/Portugal: 3-2
Russia:  2-1
England: 4-1
Holland/Belgium: 60-1


Qatar: Even
USA: 3-2
Australia: 10-1

Japan 99-1
South Korea: 200-1

November 23, 2010 7:45 AM

World Cup 2022: Losing to Australia Would Be One Thing, But Could the US Lose the Hosting Contest to (Gulp) Qatar?

The intrigue continues in the world of soccer's equivalent to the proverbial smoke-filled room. Yesterday, we previewed the controversy-ridden, conspiracy-laden run-up to the selection of the host country for the 2018 soccer World Cup. On that same December 2, of course, the 22 international selectors will also pick the 2022 host, and among the contenders is our very own land of the free (not that you'd know it from the relative lack of coverage, compared to the coverage elsewhere).  In any event, here's a rundown of the competition for those of you marking your ballots at home, in the reverse predicted order of finish.


Bottom line: Way too soon

Was an admirable co-host of the 2002 tournament. Most of the infrastructure is already in place and no one doubts that South Korea would be ready for 2022. According to a Google survey, it had the fourth most loyal fans in 2010 - behind Brazil, Germany, and Holland. FIFA head Sepp Blatter says the tournament would help reunite North and South Korea, since there is talk that a few of the games might be played north of the border.

Disadvantages: Sepp Blatter has no idea what he's talking about, especially after the events this morning: North Korea and South Korea appear to be at war. Plus, returning to a host country after only 20 years would be virtually unprecedented. If the delegates think China is going to bid in 2026, going to Asia again in 2022 doesn't make a lot of sense.

Prediction: Yes, it still smarts in South Korea that it had to co-host with traditional foe Japan but that isn't reason enough to return to this country after so short a period. No chance.


Bottom line: No way also

Advantages: See the above, minus the part about loyal fans and reuniting North and South Korea. Also promises to set up 400 fan fest sites around the world, featuring holographic images of the games.

Disadvantages: Ditto from above, minus the part about war.

Prediction: Yes, it also still smarts in Japan that it had to co-host with traditional foe South Korea but that isn't reason enough to return to this country either after so short a period. Plus, it's very hot in Japan in the summer, leading to less than stellar action. Forget about this one too.


Bottom line: In the right place but it must have been the wrong time

Advantages: Face it: People probably think more warmly about this country than any other on earth and Oceania has never hosted. Hosted perhaps the best Olympics in 2000 and no one doubts they could do something similar again. The tournament would be held during winter (as in South Africa), which means optimal soccer weather. Gave out the best "gifts" to delegates - trendy UGG boots. (Also gave out a boomerang.)

Disadvantages: Not the largest population (20+ million), though compared to Qatar, it's India. Fans would have to travel a long way to get there and it's not a soccer hotbed, a la the US. Leads the world in car thefts per capita. But the real problem (other than the fact that Rupert Murdoch was born there) is the time difference. To put on the games at the same times in Europe and the western hemisphere that they occurred in 2010 in South Africa (which was TV optimal), you'd have to kick off some games at 9:30 pm local time, others at midnight, with the final being played at (yikes!), 5 am. Unlikely.

Prediction: Trouble with time zones, means trouble selling TV rights, which means trouble generating money. If the issue were anything else, Australia would probably win. It's said some delegates may not want to vote for Australia if the tournament is going to China in 2026 though one has to wonder why: Sydney is 5600 miles from Beijing.


Bottom line: A hot contender

Talk about groundbreaking: FIFA hasn't hosted a tournament anywhere near the Mideast, nor in a country of only 1.6 million.  All game venues would be within an hour of one another. The Arab world has united behind the bid and it has French superstar Zinedine Zidane campaigning openly for it. Super high tech stadiums are planned, which will control the temperature on the field and in the stands. Parts of the stadiums will be disassembled after the Cup and given to poorer nations. No one doubts that the money is there to build everything needed - and more; the bid mentions an astounding $43 billion in new spending. But that's par for the course in what may be the world's richest country. Qatar also has one of the lowest global murder rates and the lowest prices for Big Macs in the world: Are the two related?

Disadvantages: Will the air conditioning work? Otherwise, we're talking temperatures of 100 degrees plus, hot enough to - yes - heat one of those cheap Big Macs. Once the games are over each day, what will anyone do, except go back to the hotel? Alcohol may be hard to come by - though maybe that's a plus if it keeps England's fans at home. Does a country so small deserve to host? Accused of "colluding" with the Spain/Portugal 2018 bid but then absolved. No one knows how to pronounce it.

Prediction: Don't underestimate this bid: The Arab world can call in a lot of chits from all over the world. And beating the "Great Satan" (aka the US) in the race to host would be sweet indeed for many. Still, the heat is a huge problem, as is the fact that few can envision spending a month in Qatar in the summer. Whatever: This bid has a better chance than many think.

Will soccer journalists have to spend a month here?


Bottom line: Money talks

It's the Benjamins. Many in world soccer still think this is the Promised Land as far as potential markets go, though they thought the same thing in awarding the US the Cup in 1994. Nothing new would have to be built and sellouts would be guaranteed in huge stadiums, which is why the '94 tournament may have been the most successful one financially.

Disadvantages: The 1994 tournament may also have been the worst aesthetically, since the temperatures in venues such as LA, Dallas, and DC were so high that the quality of play suffered greatly (a 0-0 final decided on penalty kicks), and unexpected teams such as Saudi Arabia flourished. (At the opening ceremonies, Oprah Winfrey also fell off the podium and Diana Ross missed an honorary penalty kick - though that might only mean she could start for England.) Travel distances are extreme. Home to MLS, aka Minor League Soccer. If the dollar keeps heading south at its current rate, even the financial benefits may not be what they seem today. But the real problem is that everyone knows that at bottom, soccer is never going to be more than a minor sport in the US: Even during the last tourney, we remained one of the few nations in the world where the Cup is a national afterthought.

Prediction: Money makes the world go round, or so they say. But there is the traditional dislike of Uncle Sam in certain quarters, which is why the Guatemala delegate is said to be considering a vote for one of the others, which would be almost unheard of - home confederation delegates almost always vote for one of their own. A final vote between the US and Qatar or the US and Australia could be very interesting. Not in the bag by any means.

Our Odds:

USA: 3-2
Qatar: 5-3
Australia: 4-1
Japan: 80-1
South Korea: 100-1

Next week: Full coverage of the selection process

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