If you examined the way FIFA organized the World Cup Draw, you knew this was a strong possibility. The draw for the 32 team field occurred yesterday and the US Soccer team are in the group of Megadeath. Why? Because FIFA doesn’t respect or value teams from North and Central America, Asia, and Africa… Because FIFA always seems to clear a path deep into the tournament for the host nation (as if Brazil needs favors on home soil)… Because FIFA needs to modernize its tourney setup.
So we land in Group G:
That, folks, is one of the toughest groups ever. You have Germany, arguably the best team in Europe, who qualified nearly flawlessly. You have Ghana, the one of the top qualifiers from Africa and arguable the best team from that region. Portugal nearly did not qualify, but they have one of the world’s best players and loads of talent. And there’s Team America, who topped CONCACAF qualification and are the best team from the region.
If you go by FIFA’s admittedly flawed world rankings, you have Germany #2, Portugal #5, USA #14, and Ghana #24. Other groups are top heavy (Spain and Holland in B; Italy and Uruguay in Group D), but none is tougher than G. Meanwhile, Argentina and hosts Brazil received remarkably easy and favorable groups… Almost as if FIFA wants the South Americans to advance.
At any rate, if you seeded the teams from 1 to 32, NCAA tournament style, you would never come up with something like this. In that scenario the USA would still match up with Germany, but the other two teams would be Bosnia and Cameroon. Yeah, we’d definitely favor that scenario. Now FIFA’s not likely to every go to something like straight seeding, but at least they could organize the four drawing pots by seed in ranking. In that scenario the USA would have been in Pot B, as the equivalent of a #2 seed (along with Portugal) instead of Pot D, which was essentially a #4 seed. Yes, we really got hosed yesterday.
A funny thing happened in Springfield yesterday: the state legislature actually did something. They passed a bill to cut benefits from Illinois’ ridiculously underfunded pension system. Political leaders like Governor Pat Quinn and House Speaker Mike Madigan will point to $130 billion in savings over the next 30 years and move on to their re-election campaigns for 2014. Predictably, those dependent on the pensions are angry. We had a contract, they say. It’s unconstitutional, they say. See you in court, they warn. And, of course, that’s the next step.
To us it looks like Illinois is finally accepting it’s lot as a state declaring bankruptcy. Unfunded pension liability has been dragging the state down for decades. Meanwhile, the court systems continue to opine against the ‘too big to fail’ mentality for state and local government. Look at what happened in Michigan yesterday: a bankruptcy court refused to lump local municipal pension failures on the state government. So what do you do if it’s the next level of government taken to court with no funds? Appeal to the President?
We note with interest (as has everyone else) that the current plan leaves the pensions of the state judges alone (to avoid conflict of interest, wink-wink, said Madigan). Right.
This won’t truly be resolved anytime soon, and today there are a lot of state and local government workers and retirees who are feeling uneasy. As well they should. Their financial futures are (and have been) in the hands of a pretty bad lot of politicians within one of the worst government set-ups in the country. We sympathize, but the money’s just not there.
Coach em up
For the Fighting Illini basketball team, the first real test came late last night against UNLV on the road. After beating up on some lesser opponents in Champaign, Coach Groce and Company traveled to Las Vegas in preparation for a December stretch that’s looking much tougher.
Illinois went down by 10 at halftime and looked pretty bad the final four minutes of the first half. We knew the halftime adjustments were coming, though, and Coach Groce indeed had them looking better in the second. It’s such novel idea to come out of halftime knowing your team will shift and change to exploit identified weaknesses… We still aren’t used to it.
The Illini out-toughed and out executed UNLV in the second, with good performances by Ray Rice, Nnanna Egwu, and Jaylon Tate. Final score 61-59, thanks to switching the defenses, running the right set plays in given situations, and hitting some clutch shots towards the end This is an early season belief-win that will surely help the RPI come March.
Five points in your first road-win pentagram…
In Brief: In the first two volumes of Aquaman from DC Comics’ New 52 line, the creative team of Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Joe Prado relaunch and revitalize this familiar if not overly popular character. In Volumes 1 and 2 (the first twelve issues of the series), Aquaman confronts a mysterious subterranean invasion, then his old foe, Black Manta, while learning new details about the fall of Atlantis.
Pros: This is an A-team lineup from DC. Johns, Reis, and Prado have produced a beautiful book, well plotted, with mystery and effective characterization. Johns’ take on Aquaman is somewhat darker than you might expect, but it works well here.
Cons: There is a certain formula to the Johns storytelling method, and he certainly doesn’t flip any scripts or pull any big surprises here (not that DC would let him). Some of the fight sequences seemed off in their pacing and could have used more panels to convey the action.
Full Review: As we understand it, the idea behind the New 52 was for DC to rebrand/relaunch the books and characters in their universe – everything from issue 1, with a lot of the previous continuity jettisoned to make way for new stories. I previously picked up the Batman relaunch (and sadly did not review it here) and have the JLA relaunch in the queue. Aquaman probably would not have made the cut if not for a referral from a friend willing to lend me the first two volumes.
The nice thing about the New 52 concept is it does provide a good jumping on point. I don’t know much about Aquaman beyond the Justice League, but that doesn’t matter here. Purists may grit their teeth at the loss or sweeping away of so much back-issue history, but taking these familiar heroes, rebooting them in their prime with some sense of their origins and pivotal moments does provide an effective hook for new readers. Picking up a book about a character with whom I had no prior investment (as opposed to Batman or the X-Men) was also an interesting prospect, allowing me to read and assess a little more objectively.
For the Fighting Illini, it started on Friday, when we learned one key recruit who had previously committed to Coach John Groce’s team changed his mind and decided to go with his hometown school. It continued in Chicago later that day, where a future NBA player and prodigious talent (and potential program changing guy) decided to pad the numbers at Kansas when many (including us) thought he was an Illini lean. Bill Self and Jerrance Howard haunt us again. The less said about that the better. As usual, Robert at A Lion Eye/Illiniboard summed it up best.
Saturday, our first and only family outing to a football game at Memorial Stadium, and the Buckeyes were in town. Why would we choose that game as our family outing? Simple, really – extended family from Columbus were in town as well as my sister up from Texas. The final score of that game 60-35 Ohio State. And the game was on ESPN, which means they talked about our conference losing streak about 62 more times.
Sunday we learned the Illini hoops game against Bradley was not on TV. It was on the Big Ten Network’s Digital-only internet feed (a pay service). Why was this game not on local TV? People care about watching two downstate schools play? When the Big Ten Network went live, they assured us these types of things would no longer happen – games would be broadcast on their overflow channels. Why, Mike Thomas? And we see another game in December has likewise been relegated to the internet. Not cool. To make matters worse, driving back from St. Louis during the first half, and I couldn’t find the game on AM radio after losing the St. Louis station. What? No Illini hoops on local radio between Greenville and Divernon on I55? When did this happen.
Silver linings, though. Turns out, the Taylorville/Pana FM station was carrying the game once I checked. Still pretty mad about the TV situation. Continue reading
It would be easy to take shots at healthcare.gov. But who needs more of that; plenty of electrons have already been killed in that regard. How about we bring it a little closer to home for government failure. Yes, we’re Ron Swanson mode.
- ITEM – Neighboring school district Riverton cut their elementary school art program this year.
- ITEM – Springfield class sizes continue to grow and at my kids’ school they’re averaging 27 kids per class.
- ITEM – Even in the neighboring wealthy school district Chatham, they’re dipping into their funds and considering selling some land assets to fun operations.
For Part II of this exhibition we go to the highways and byways, where rural roads outside the small town of my youth will soon become nearly impassable. The combination of bad weather and no repairs in years will turn back the clock to Great Depression-like conditions. Meanwhile, bridges around Illinois age towards structural failure. Continue reading
Joe B. to the rack
Illinois basketball opened the season this weekend with a pair of wins over Alabama State (80-63) and Jacksonville State (86-62). Both opponents were small conference foes who were never going to be competitive unless they shot lights out from three-land. You can only take away so much from these types of games; but you better believe John Groce and company saw plenty. And the coaching staff has the definite objective of blooding the five freshmen, building the depth and confidence, and getting prepared for the foul-out slugfests to come next month and in conference play.
We mention the foul-outs due to the new points of emphasis the NCAA has implemented to cut down hand-checking, bumping, and Duke-style phantom charges. That sound you hear is Matt Painter grinding his teeth at Purdue. We’re mostly in favor of this, but man are we going to see some ugly games until the players and coaches adjust.
The Illini return just three contributors from last season: Nnanna Egwu, Joe Bertrand, and Tracy Abrams. As has been highlighted elsewhere, the rest are transfers and freshmen. We don’t really know the identity of this team – who will take the clutch shots or grab the vital rebounds. We do know Coach Groce will have them playing hard and attacking the basket. How many wins can this group gather; how will they sack up against top opponents? It’ a big question mark. We’re hoping for post-season play (translate NIT) with a chance to sneak into the NCAA Tourney.
With that in mind, here are five early impressions of the team based on our viewing of the sometimes-choppy Internet broadcast from ESPN 3…