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Germany pay the price for their complacency

Germany are out of the 2018 World Cup, but a closer look reveals that their exit is really no surprise. The defending world champions haven't looked good for a long time now and finally paid the price for their lethargy.

This was supposed to be the day the Germany team finally arrived at the tournament, sweeping South Korea aside on their way to the knockouts. Most Germany fans in Kazan retained that ingrained sense of confidence that has come with supporting this side in recent years. This team can't lose. It doesn't lose.

But what was once whispered quietly will now be making headlines around the world. This Germany team is not only very beatable, but also not much of a team.

"Perhaps we believed that we would turn things around after the friendlies. But that wasn't the case,” Joachim Löw said afterwards. Thomas Müller said something similar in Sochi ahead of the Sweden game. After exiting the competition, Hummels told German broadcaster ZDF that the Germany team probably hadn't played a good game since the fall of 2017. Between the lines it's clear that this team thought they would just pick up where they left off and that would be enough.

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Les Bleus too strong for Diables Rouges

France gave a tutorial in the defensive arts on the way to another World Cup final.

France has entered its third World Cup final in 20 years, defeating Belgium in the semifinals with play that was occasionally handsome, frequently efficient, and always dogged.

That’s more finals than any other team has managed in the same period, and considering that Les Bleus did not even make it out of the group stage in 2002 and 2010, offers evidence of how they veer so dizzily between excellence and dysfunction.

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Croatia-England: beyond football, how can we rekindle hope?

The Croatian team that meet England in the semi-finals of the World Cup tonight are representing a very different country to when we last reached the semi-finals on our debut, in 1998. Back then, Croatia was still a country with fresh memories of war and a shared dream to become part of the European Union, with its promise of prosperity and stability. It was the time of Croatian nation-building. A few years later, when I was travelling abroad and told people I was from Croatia, they only seemed to have heard of our former Communist leader, Tito, and Šuker, who became the top scorer at that ’98 World Cup.

Now, 20 years later, Croatia is known for Dubrovnik, the scenic town on the Adriatic coast that served as a set for Game of Thrones. Soon that will be joined by Vis, the setting of the fictional Greek island in Mamma Mia 2. And the name of the Croatian footballer on everyone’s lips is Luka Modrić, our linchpin.

This perfectly sums up the country’s historical trajectory: once Croatia was part of socialist Yugoslavia, part of the Non-Aligned Movement, committed to global peace and trans-national cooperation, building gigantic infrastructure projects across Africa and the Middle East. Today Croatia is famous only for tourism or football.

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Went to Dubrovnik and the Croatia countryside about two weeks ago.  The old town section of Dubrovnik,  while beautiful,  is too much like Disneyland.    The countryside is great as well as many other 'small' cities and ports along the coast.


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The Unique Neurology of the Sports Fan’s Brain

Why we get off on the game—and are better off for it.

Sports fans aren’t typically in the mood for academic research in the minutes before a big game. But Paul Bernhardt, an aspiring young behavioral scientist at Georgia State University, was determined. Armed with a bag of sterile vials, Bernhardt inched through the crowd at Atlanta’s Omni arena, politely asking anyone decked out in either University of Georgia or Georgia Tech basketball garb—the teams that were set to battle that evening—for a bit of saliva.

The year was 1991. Fans of the Bulldogs and the Yellow Jackets, the state’s two most renowned collegiate sports institutions, had been hating each other’s guts since 1893, a rivalry affectionately known as COFH: Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. (Yes, sports rivalries can have names; COFH is historically significant enough to have a 5,000-plus word entry in Wikipedia with 50 citations.) Bernhardt wasn’t there to celebrate a century of feuding, however; he was hoping to break new ground on the scientific understanding of such fandemonium—“highly identified” fans would be the proper psychology term—to explain why being a sports nut, bitter hatred and all, feels soooo gooooood.

The fact that athletes experience a tidal rush of testosterone, a hormone associated not just with male sexuality but with self-esteem, upon winning a big game was well established. But there was a hypothesis floating around among social psychologists at the time that fans ride a similar hormonal high. Bernhardt just needed a little spit, which offers a reliable approximation of the body’s biochemistry at any given moment, to find out.

“I’m sure people thought I was wacko, but it’s easier to get people to give you little spit than a little blood,” says Bernhardt, now a professor of psychology at Frostburg State University. “The woman I was dating at the time, who was with me, was so traumatized she buried her head in the book she’d brought.”

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