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Two legendary captains

Philip Lahm, the captain of the Die Nationalmannschaft that just won the World Cup, has decided to retire from international play. So too has Steven Gerrard, the captain of The Thee Lions. These two players have been at the core of their respective national teams for eight years, through the past three World Cups and everything in between.

Lahm was an instrumental part of a German squad that won the World Cup in 2014, made it to the semi-finals in 2010 and 2006, reached the semi-finals of Euro 2012 and the final of Euro 2008. Meanwhile, Gerrard's England squad has been good but hasn't won anything, a case of hard luck and missed chances. They played well enough in Brazil where they could reasonably have expected to earn a point against Italy and and a point against Uruguay, but alas they did not and were eliminated before even playing their third match. They lost out to Italy in the quarter-finals at Euro 2012 - on the lottery of penalties (just as prior England teams had lost on penalties before Gerrard's time in the semi-finals against Germany at the 1990 World Cup and again in in 1998 against Argentina, as well as against Germany at home for Euro 1996.) The 2010 World Cup saw Gerrard's England lose to Lahm's Germany in the round-of-16 by the lopsided score of 4-1, though the game could have ended very differently had the referee correctly awarded England Frank Lampard's game-tying goal before halftime. They didn't qualify for Euro 2008, lost in the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup to Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal - on penalties, and after a controversial incident that deprived them of Wayne Rooney for half the match. Portugal had also beaten England on penalties in the quarter-finals of Euro 2004. You could therefore rightly say that Steven Gerrard's squads didn't so much lose, but failed to win this entire past decade.

Numbers-wise, Lahm has logged more minutes played for his country in competitive matches than any other German player, by far - by over 1200 minutes! This includes the dirty work of the qualifiers, where he played every match from the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign to the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Meanwhile Gerrard is second only to Ashley Cole for most minutes played with England's national team. In the all-time ranking of minutes played for European players in competitive matches Lahm is 14th and Gerrard is 46th.  A tough list to get on to, considering first place is occupied by Iker Casillas and 9 out of the top 21 players are goalkeepers.

Recent history is filled with players who hung on too long, to disastrous effect.  No one dares ask them to step down, they've earned the right to leave whenever they please. There was Fabio Cannavaro, the captain of the Italy side that won the 2006 World Cup. He returned for the 2010 edition as a shadow of the 2006 Fabio Cannavaro, and the tournament was a disaster for the defending champions. There was also Lilian Thuram - France's eternal hero (and mine!) for getting France past Croatia in the 1998 semi-finals. He wasn't up to it at Euro 2008 and asked to be benched for France's third and last game.

So Bravo Philip Lahm and Steven Gerrard, and all the best and continued success with Bayern Munich and Liverpool!

-- Phil Ploquin, July 21st, 2014     [ Comments ]

There's hope in Cleveland

Cleveland has not had a championship team since the Indians won the World Series in 1948. If you rank all of the major metropolitan areas by number of seasons played by its major franchises divided by the number of championships won (in the modern era, since 1966), Cleveland is dead last with a score of infinity.

Their Major League Baseball team, the Cleveland Indians, came very close in 1997 when they lost the World Series in 7 games to the upstart Florida Marlins (after being ahead in the 9th inning!), and before that in 1995 when they lost to the Atlanta Braves in 6 games. The Indians made the playoffs (if you consider the wild-card game as the playoffs) for only the second time in 14 years in 2013, and it's not looking good for 2014.

The Cleveland Browns have never been to the Super Bowl, the closest they've ever come is making it to the 1986-1987 and 1987-1988 AFC Conference championship games. In fact they've been so bad that they haven't reached the playoffs at all since the 2002-2003 season. They didn't even exist from 1996 to 1999 as the team moved to Baltimore at the end of the 1995-1996 season (where they became the very successful Ravens franchise), but were reincarnated for the 1999-2000 season. If you rank all the NFL franchises starting from the Super Bowl era - 1966 to 2013-2014 - the Browns are 22nd out of 32, they made the playoffs 31.11% of the time. However if you look at their performance since 1990 - they are dead last with a playoffs percentage of 9.52%.

The people of Cleveland will not find solace in Hockey as they do not have a NHL team, which leaves them with only the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers to root for. The Cavs were largely inept until Lebron James arrived, with only a short blip in the early 90's when they posed a legitimate challenge to Michael Jordan's dynastic Chicago Bulls, but that was followed by 8 years of despair.  Then, the Lebron James led-Cavs made it to the NBA Finals in the 2006-2007 season (where they were unceremoniously crushed by the San Antonio Spurs), but after James left in 2011 they haven't come anywhere close to the playoffs.

But now, an experienced Lebron James is returning to Cleveland to lead a team of talented young players and they have a real shot to bring Cleveland a championship at last. Good luck, Cleveland!

-- Phil Ploquin, July 16th, 2014     [ Comments ]

2014 World Cup Retrospective

Congratulations to Germany for winning the 2014 World Cup, their fourth World Championship! They did so with a positive attacking game and it was a pleasure to watch. The solidarity and joy in the group was impressive and they played team football, there was not one big star they all looked to to win each game. In that sense they were like Spain was in 2010.

It would not have been unjust if Argentina had won the final with an action coming from someone other than Messi as well. Argentina were a fabulous team, well organized, and had a lot of big game experience.

But the result we all wanted was for Lionel Messi to win it for Argentina by himself on some amazing piece of skill so it was a little sad having to see him miss his big moment. It was there for the taking, but the lightning just didn't strike when it needed to, as it had so many times for him in his career at Barcelona. Had Lionel Messi scored the goal that Mario Götze scored it would have been regarded as one of the greatest goals ever scored, the goal that won the World Cup just minutes from the end, earning Argentina their third World Cup title. He would be Diego Maradona's equal, and his amazing goal against Germany would rival the second goal Maradona scored against England in the quarter-finals of the 1986 tournament. The technical ability required to pull it off is possessed only by a small handful of human beings (including Lionel Messi.)

Alas, it wasn't to be. Had he been more precise with his shot that went wide in the second half he might have been the hero. Instead it was a benign performance, an ordinary performance, nothing special. He did not rise to the occasion as Diego Maradona did in 1986. And ultimately, what you do at the World Cup is all that matters in the end. Nobody remembers the goals you score in La Liga or the Champions League.

Mario Götze joins the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Ronaldo (BRA), Zinédine Zidane, and Alcides Ghiggia in having the distinction of scoring the goal that wins a World Cup. It doesn't matter if he never does anything again for Bayern, it doesn't matter if he retires right now (though he's only 23 years old), he'll always be better than Messi according to the billions of people who watched his goal and who will never see Bayern play in the Champions League. I have a feeling Götze won't have as much trouble getting into Bayern's starting XI this season.

The good: Die nationalmannschaft, Les Bleus, CONCACAF, James Rodríguez.

The bad: England, Russia, AFC, Iker Casillas.

The ugly: La Seleção, Luis Suárez.

-- Phil Ploquin, July 13th, 2014     [ Comments ]
Games on July 24th by year
All years...

Ranking of Metropolitan Areas by Seasons per Championship (minimum 3 franchises) / # of championships (since 1966)
1New England11.723393
3Los Angeles15.7231113
5New York16.629528
6SF Bay18.366710
11St. Louis27.6041_0
Full ranking...

Ranking of American sports franchises by Seasons per Championship (since 1966)
1NHLMontreal Canadiens4.36112
2NBALos Angeles Lakers4.451111
3NBABoston Celtics5.4493
4NHLEdmonton Oilers6.8052
5MLBNew York Yankees6.8674
6NBASan Antonio Spurs7.6051
7NBAChicago Bulls8.0060
8NFLPittsburgh Steelers8.0062
9NBAMiami Heat8.6732
10NFLBaltimore Ravens9.0020
11NFLSan Francisco 49ers9.6051
12NFLDallas Cowboys9.6053
13NHLNew York Islanders10.2520
14MLBMiami Marlins10.5020
15MLBOakland Athletics12.0042
16MLBSt. Louis Cardinals12.0045
17NFLNew York Giants12.0041
18NFLGreen Bay Packers12.0041
19NHLDetroit Red Wings10.2543
20NHLNew Jersey Devils13.0032
21NHLPittsburgh Penguins15.3331
22MLBArizona Diamondbacks16.0010
Full ranking...
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