Sunday, August 22, 2010

International Sports Notes

1) I wrote the other day about Team USA's embarrassing performances in international basketball. The good news for our national sports dignity is that we're at least the defending champions in the World Cups of baseball and football (yes, there is a World Cup of American football).

The record on baseball is somewhat mixed. While we won the 2009 World Cup (with an amateur team) with a record of 14-1, our amateur teams at the Olympics haven't won since 2000 (won bronze in 2008, no medal in 2004). Turns out that Cuba is the real power in amateur baseball. The 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics, organized by Major League Baseball (and featuring major league players) were both won by Japan, with the best U.S. finish being 4th place in 2009.

I'm not sure who decided we needed a World Cup of American football, but there have been three of them beginning in 1999. Japan beat Mexico in the finals of the first two, neither of which included an American team. In 2007, we decided to show up and kick some ass. A bunch of former college players, our team beat South Korea 77-0 and Germany 33-7 on its way to a 23-20 double overtime win over Japan. Everything about that last sentence still feels strange.

2) The European Champions League (we're talking soccer here) is almost down to the final 32 teams, at which point the format is basically the same as the World Cup (eight groups of four teams, top two advance from each group) but with twice the matches and stretched out between September and next May, since it overlaps with the regular European league seasons.

At least two Americans will play in the group stage. Maurice Edu's Rangers squad qualified by winning the Scottish league last year, and German 2nd-place team Schalke 04 features up-and-coming star Jermaine Jones. Another rising star, Sacha Kljestan will have to help Belgian side R.S.C. Anderlecht beat Serbia's FK Partizan on Tuesday to advance. None of their teams will be expected to advance very far, but each of these young midfielders will gain valuable experience against top-flight squads.

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