Category Archives: Sports

Americans Catching Up With Soccer-Crazy Rivals

CNN reports:

They came up just short in their knockout-round match with Belgium on Tuesday. But online, Team USA is already a World Cup winner.

FIFA, international soccer’s ruling body, says fans in the United States have been more active on its websites and mobile apps than any other country.

During the past 28 days, 36.7 million U.S. fans have engaged with the World Cup’s online properties, a spokesman for the organization said. That’s 11.2% of the country’s population and has accounted for 23% of the total activity.

FIFA measured actions on its website and Facebook page as well as downloads of its mobile app.

The news was a surprise to folks at the Zurich, Switzerland-based FIFA. Unlike most nations in the world, soccer has been slow to capture the imagination of sports fans in the States, where “football” is played mainly on Saturdays and Sundays and you can use your hands a lot more.l

But as the U.S. men’s team played its way out of a tough opening-round group that included Germany, Portugal and Ghana, U.S. Web users spent a total of 847 years and 143 days engaged with FIFA content.

That’s more than soccer-crazy rivals Brazil, Germany, England and France combined.

Part of all that may be American fans working hard to catch up.

Summary of Round One of World Cup 2014

Round one finished this evening with a tie between the South Koreans and the Russians. This means that every country has had its debut in the most spectacular soccer tournament in the world. What follows is a brief summary of the 5 best soccer nations in the World in my estimation and then the surprise of this first round:

Since I am Brazilian, and since we are hosting the World Cup for the first time since that disastrous 1950 final at Maracana, it is helpful to start with Brazil. Brazil has now played two games, since they inaugurated Round 2 this afternoon in Fortaleza. Brazil’s chances, in my estimation, of making it past the first three rounds is 90%. Only a solid victory from Cameroon and a combination of results will take Brazil away from making it to the top 16.  Led by Brazil’s superstar, Neymar Jr., Brazil carries the hopes of over 200K fanatic Brazilians into this World Cup. The expectations are high and despite a less than impressive start–thanks for the penalty–Brazil’s draw with Mexico today showed a more efficient Brazilian squad. Marcelo and Fred: Wake up!

Germany made Cristiano Ronaldo’s worst nightmares come true. The camera’s love affair with Ronaldo showed a despondent best player in the world. Pepe’s red card–a combination of stupidity and lack of self-control–made Portugal the perfect candidate to experience defeat by the German powerhouse. And what a whipping they received! Led by Thomas Mueller (3 goals), the Germans could have scored at least a couple more. German’s chances of making it to the round of 16 is  100%. After losing the final to Brazil in 2002, the Germans come with revenge in mind, and they got the team to do it.

Let’s be honest: Ángel di María and Lionel Messi are superstars. Something spectacular happens every time these two touch the ball. Argentina’s 2 x 1 victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina was not the show we expected from Messi and company, but speaking of Messi, what a brilliant goal. Argentina now plays Iran and Nigeria. No surprises will come from these matches. Argentina will undoubtedly make it to the round of 16.

Holland (Netherlands) came to the 2014 World Cup with a bitter taste after losing their third chance to win a World Cup in 2010. On that occasion, Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain. The Spaniards came to Brazil as World Champions. But after re-engaging Van Persie and Robben this past Friday in what to this point is Spain’s greatest soccer humiliation since the 1950 World Cup when they lost to Brazil 6 x 1, Spain’s new slogan is: humility. With an inspired Chilean team, Spain’s chances of making it to the round of 16 is about 40%. As for the Dutch, they will certainly continue to round of 16.

What about the surprise of this first round? You guessed it! Despite Ghana’s overwhelming control of the game, the U.S. revealed what they do best: persevere. With a fascinating header at the end of the game, John Brooks gave hope to Klinsmann’s squad in the hot afternoon in Natal. I think Portugal is still favored to take that second spot, but U.S.’s determination may send Ronaldo’s team back home much earlier than they expected.

Book Review: Why Soccer Matters by Pele

I read through this historical gem in a day. I watched Pele’s interview on Jon Stewart and immediately ordered a copy of his latest work. In the interview, Pele reflected on the first time he saw his father cry:

“[I saw my father crying], and I asked him, ‘Why are you crying?’

‘Brazil lost the World Cup.’

‘I’m going to win one World Cup for you, don’t worry.’”

The book details Pele’s journey from one of millions of Brazilian kids who entertain themselves through futebol  a to the one who entertained the world through football. In less than 300 pages–an easy read–Pele lays the groundwork for Brazil’s greatest disappointment in 1950. That year, Brazil hosted the World Cup and everyone expected them to keep the trophy home, but Uruguay was able to triumph in what is considered one of the greatest upsets in soccer history. Pele then walks the reader through Brazil’s three main titles in 1958, 1962, and the remarkable undefeated 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

Why Soccer Matters offers all sorts of wonderful facts about Pele like the origin of his name (pg. 68). It also provides humorous information on Garrincha’s life like his legendary crooked legs (pg. 75), and the introduction of yellow and red cards in 1970 (pg. 158). But Pele is far more than an athletic legend. Pele is part of Brazil’s political history, business history, and the unforgettable face of Brazilian coffee commercials.

Criticized, vilified, loved, admired, Pele is unmistakably the greatest soccer player that has ever lived. When people ask Brazilians who the greatest soccer player is they will begin by saying: “Well, besides Pele, X is my favorite.” Pele cannot even be put on the same category as modern players. Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Maradona all deserve honor and respect, but none of them can claim three world cups and over 1,200 goals in their careers.

Pele’s book is an autobiography, but also an appetizer for the world’s greatest sports’ event, which begins in 31 hours.

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Shortest Service Ever? Not really.

When I was a kid–in the early 90’s–I remember Brazil going to the volleyball Olympics Finals against Holland. We had a dream team. In those days Brazil was not known as the volleyball powerhouse it is today. My father, a Baptist minister, had to make a decision. In some parts of Brazil, churches meet in the morning for Sunday School and re-gather at evening for the main service. Such was our situation. The problem was Sunday School started precisely at the start of the final match. My father cancelled Sunday School. Fortunately, Brazil won, otherwise his parishioners would have attributed our defeat to God’s curse on the minister. I never forgot that Sunday. Of course, we gathered as usual in the evening and the worship was grand.

The corporate gathering is far more significant to a Sunday School class, though SS is an important learning time for the body. My father later regretted his decision.

In the years following I have seen churches cancel Sunday Worship for all sorts of reasons: Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. There are legitimate reasons to do so, especially if you live in Florida as I do during hurricane season.

Almost twenty years later, I am following in my father’s footsteps as a minister. I could not imagine a Sunday without worship. I even edited a book entitled The Church Friendly Family encouraging individual families to see the primacy of worship and the church in their lives.

And then I heard of this.

My first reaction was one of frustration. “Here I am trying to establish a grand vision of worship to my people and this Lutheran–of all people–decides to allow his football passion to trivialize the worship of the most high God.” Anyone who knows me knows that I have a special affection for Lutherans. One of my best friends is a Lutheran minister. So when this Lutheran fellow summarized the entire divine liturgy into a minute I felt betrayed. The dilemma was described this way:

“Pastor Tim Christensen, of Butte, Mont., found himself with that dilemma during his 11am service on Sunday. With just minutes before kickoff between his 49ers and the Panthers, he decided to condense his service.”a

The video got a tremendous amount of publicity nation-wide. But this fine good-humored pastor did not betray the congregation. When discovering the tremendous publicity the video received he said humorously remarked:

“The one thing about the video I hate is I look incredibly fat, but I’m wearing a large double-pocketed hoodie underneath.” b

The 53-year-old acted honorably as a Lutheran minister and returned to the sanctuary after his trick play and conducted the standard hour-long service. “He said some members offered to give him updates, but the pastor had the game set on his DVR and he watched it in its entirety – including pregame – when he got home. He was rewarded with a 23-10 victory.” c

Though I find the excessive use of sports’ references on Sunday morning disturbing, I give this fellow minister a standard Christian greeting: the Lord bless you.

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The Two Escobars: A Documentary

I have just completed the Documentary The Two Escobars. It is available for streaming on Netflix. The documentary tackles the lives of Pablo Escobar and Andres Escobar. Pablo was the notorious drug lord who became one of the richest men in Colombian History, and a legend in the world of drug cartels. Andres Escobar was a different man altogether. Andres found himself caught in this world of soccer and drugs. As the captain of the Colombian national team, Escobar could not escape the culture of unprecedented success and influence of drug lords who invested heavily in Colombian Soccer, and were thus able to  catapult the national team to their First World Cup in 1994 in the U.S.A.

Pablo Escobar (not related to Andres Escobar) made millions off the drug market while returning much of that money to the poor Colombian communities. These acts elevated Escobar to an almost messianic figure in the eyes of many Colombians. Escobar’s deep pocket also made him a sure donor to the Soccer agenda of Colombia. Escobar–a fanatic lover of futebol–used his influence and money to buy out referees and soccer players. And if politicians or athletic leaders opposed Escobar in any way, he arranged their deaths. He killed and killed again.

Andres Escobar, the man who scored the fatal own goal in the 1994 World Cup against the U.S., was the unfortunate casualty of this war. Andres would have been the first Colombian player to be bought by an Italian team (Milan) after the World Cup. However, the story turned after his return to Colombia. After having a few drinks, he was confronted by several men who mocked him for his own goal. Escobar attempted to converse with the men, but to no avail. He was shot six times and killed.


The documentary reveals intimate interviews with some of Pablo Escobar’s closest friends and several of Andres Escobar’s close companions from the unforgettable days of Colombian soccer.

The documentary is a worthy pursuit for those who love soccer and are intrigued by those  years in Colombia where Drugs and Futebol were inseparable.

Tebow’s Orthodoxy and False Teaching

Tebow cancels appearance with mega-church pastor, and reveals his orthodoxy. Rod Parsley’s confusion about the Trinity and his prosperity gospel has pushed Tebow to cancel his appearance. Joe Carter summarizes the entire situation:

The Story: Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is canceling an appearance at a revival organized by prosperity gospel preacher Rod Parsley.

The Background: The year’s most talked about Christian athlete was scheduled to speak at a three-day Columbus event in March led by televangelist Parsley. In a phone interview with the Associated Press, Tebow’s brother Robbie said his brother’s speakers’ bureau hadn’t researched the event before saying yes to the invitation.

“I know for a fact that Tim is not going to be a part of it,” Robbie Tebow said. “That’s being resolved.”

Parsley pastors World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio, and heads up World Harvest Ministerial Alliance (WHMA). His church services and personal appearances are telecasted over TBN-TV and Daystar-TV in a program called Breakthrough. Along with his confusion about doctrines like the Trinity (‘The Holy Ghost is no different than Jesus and Jesus is no different than the Holy Ghost. . .”), Parsley teaches that God wants believers to be wealthy. As the AP notes, last year Parsley asked followers to donate more than $1 million to ward off satanic attacks.

Why It Matters: The young quarterback understands that by speaking at the event he would be lending his credibility to men who preach a false gospel. By refusing to speak at the event, he may be able to signal to people unfamiliar with the prosperity gospel that those who believe in the true gospel should avoid publicly associating with these false teachers.

The Tim Tebow Time

Americans love a show.  It is no surprise then Tim Tebow has stolen that show. The 24 year old Denver Broncos quarterback has been the source of intense scrutiny. Tebow’s startling success in this season, most notably Broncos’ playoff victory over the Steelers, has catapulted Tebow to overwhelming fame.

Tim Tebow is known for his vivacious expressions of the Christian faith. This has led to bizarre fury from sports figure like Charles Barkley to atheist commentator, Bill Maher. Maher’s anti-Christian obsession has made Tebow his prime target. Does any of this cause Tebow to diminish his Christian testimony in the field? The opposite is true. He seems more determined, and has proven that he can play with the big boys in the NFL.

How are Christians to think about this?

Tim Tebow is the product of evangelicalism. He grew up in a counter-cultural home. He was home-schooled, son of missionaries, and his mother gave birth to him, even when counseled to abort him. He is everything the mainstream media hates about Christians. But he continues to pound his message in and out of the field.

While many criticize him for his bumper-sticker gospel and his 3:16 themes, there is plenty of room for a Tim Tebow in the public arena. In fact, the gospel is public. Tebow’s message is simple. Christians should encourage and pray for his testimony. The media is just waiting for that one moment to discredit his message. By God’s grace, Tebow’s time will cause many to consider the gospel, and John 3:16 may just be that good starting point.

Running and glory…some thoughts.

I have grown to appreciate life over the years and I intend to enjoy this life for a very long time. Chesterton once said that you need to be fond of heaven to enjoy earth, and so I have tried to heavenify earth by living well.

As a result, I have taken up running. Most of this stems from the encouragement of a few friends who have thoroughly enjoyed the results of it. Ultimately, running is glory. Since glory is the essence of life and since we are transformed as glory-creatures, running becomes a manifestation of that glory. Running is the exercise of dominion creatures. It strengthens us by forcing us to attain greater glory. Running, like all things, need to be done for the glory of God; and it is that glory we attain by building our bodies and being re-shaped physically, so the Spirit can re-shape our image; so the Spirit can cause us to run our race well.

My friend Todd Leonard summarized these ideas by stating what running accomplishes:

Running is a blessing of God. It is great for the body, and can, when done with the proper attitude, be a tremendous act of worship. It teaches valuable lessons, fosters community, and provides the family a unique opportunity to coalesce around an activity that is beneficial to all. In short, running is life! Why wait! Hit the roads, trails, highways, and byways and experience the unique joy that running provides.