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armchair centre back :: five reasons you should be watching international soccer right now

it's calling to you...
ah. the halcyon days of the world cup are long behind us. now is the time when we freeze our collective tuchas off and think of things that we can do to amuse ourselves until it's safe to venture outside again. [on an unrelated note, spellcheck is advising me to change "tuchas" to "unchaste". it also refuses to acknowledge "spellcheck", as if it's trying to deny knowledge of its own existence. spellcheck is like the area 51 of software features.]

as part of your battle to stave off death by boredom, you're reading this blog post [and thank you very much], but this blog post is here to tell you that you could be doing something better without even leaving your house or putting on pants. there are currently two major international soccer competitions happening and you should really be watching one or both. that's not exactly easy, given the time zone skills involved, but you don't have to watch them live [although it's kind of better that way, let's face it]. both of them are well underway, but there's still time to catch the big events.

first up, there's the 2015 asian cup, which is being held in australia. yes, for the purposes of sport, australia is asia. also, israel is asia [which it actually is, although no one thinks of it that way]. and all the bits that you normally think of as asia are also asia. and lots of them have showed up in australia to find out who is the best in the vast continent at the world's most popular sport. that competition has actually been in progress for a couple of weeks and has reached the knockout phase, with semi-finals to follow shortly.

second, and still in the opening round, there is the 2015 africa cup of nations. this is the african continental clash, where teams from all over meet to stake their claim to dominance of all the lands of the second largest continent [after asia, which doesn't include australia for measurement purposes].

if you don't enjoy the sport, well, this activity probably isn't for you, but if you do enjoy it, or are at all interested, here are five perfectly cromulent reasons why it's well worth your time to tune in:

1. people put in a crazy amount of effort for these competitions

the africa cup of nations was supposed to happen in morocco, but in october of last year, the moroccans got cold feet due to the ebola outbreak in western africa. whether they entirely backed out of hosting, or just said they wanted things postponed while the whole highly contagious virus thing got sorted out is unclear. what is clear is that the football police were not about to delay the tournament, since getting the time off for players was something that had to be negotiated with a variety of professional leagues. so they kicked morocco out of the games entirely and moved the event to equatorial guinea. [some of you geography-nerds may note that this actually meant that the competition was brought closer to the centre of the ebola outbreak, because apparently, soccer bigwigs like to live on the edge.]

"surprise! you're hosting an international soccer tournament!" are not words that any country wants to hear, but the tiny west african nation seems to have done itself proud. remember, most countries have years to prepare for this competition. equatorial guinea has had about two months. it's amazing that some of the games aren't taking place in the streets of bata.

not regulation size, but the surface discourages diving
and no one has contracted ebola. one guy got malaria, but he'll be fine.

of course, holding a tournament in australia doesn't exactly have the same challenges. even if australia had had the tournament foisted on them last minute, they've hosted the olympics and the commonwealth games, plus there is a professional league based there. and there's that whole first world wealthy country thing going on. yes, the flora and fauna are probably trying to kill you, but it's frickin' australia. everyone wants to go there.

but that doesn't mean that there haven't been some pretty spectacular efforts made by teams in order to get there. for instance, palestine were able to qualify [although they have subsequently been eliminated] and you can just imagine what obstacles they face. their country is constantly under siege, there are regular bombings and no money for essentials, much less for doing things like training world class athletes. there's also the problem that palestine tends to lose their best players to neighbouring jordan, since skilled athletes cross the border so that they can have luxurious experiences like eating. a significant portion of the jordanian national team [also represented, also eliminated] is ethnically palestinian. nonetheless, the palestinian team made it through the qualifying rounds and became one of the sixteen teams to play in australia. that, my friends, is dedication.

you can be sure cristiano ronaldo doesn't train here.
so the next time you think of professional athletes as being spoiled [and certainly footballers would likely be the spoilediest of all], remember that there are people who are dedicated enough to what they do and proud enough at the idea of representing their country that they will train in a war zone to show what they are made of.

there are other examples [iraq, for instance, but we'll talk more about them later], but i think i've made my point. a lot of people have put a lot of work into making these events happen. respect the effort.

2. it's an excellent opportunity to shine a spotlight on political issues

equatorial guinea has done an excellent job preparing for the cup of nations on short notice, but that doesn't change the fact that their government is routinely rated as one of the most repressive in the world. drawing international attention to the country and the plight of its citizens is an excellent way to put the government of teodoro obiang nguema mbasogo under a public microscope. and unlike a lot of african nations, equatorial guinea is an excellent target for change in the short-to-medium term. it's africa's wealthiest country, thanks to considerable oil reserves, and has the highest average gdp on the continent. the population is only two million and the area is small compared to many neighbouring states. the problem faced by equatorial guinea is in the distribution of money they already have, which is at least an easier problem to have than trying to solve serious social problems when you don't have any money or ways to get it. there is never a bad reason to educate yourself on unfamiliar areas of the world.

while my australian friends would argue that internationals should feel moved to protest the government of tony abbott, i'd say that one of the more interesting things happening at the asian cup has been a sort of feminist wave among iranian football fans: women taking selfies. that might not sound in any way political, but the iranian government would disagree with you. women are forbidden from attending sporting events in iran, so even being in the crowd is a stick in the eye of the theocratic state. moreover, women have been posting photos of themselves in makeup and non-traditional dress alongside male friends and family members, having a grand old time. it's enough of an issue that the iranian government threatened national players with punishment if they were caught posing for selfies with female fans. the injunction has apparently fallen on at least some deaf ears, however: gorgeous goalkeeper alireza haghighi has been more than willing to oblige female fans who have approached him for photos. no word on whether he accepted the marriage proposal.

oh, and may i just say, if the gentlemen back home ever see the pictures of what they're missing, iran's gonna be facing another revolution.





the selfie: it's not just for narcissists anymore.  [and yes, i'm aware that the above photos are not selfies, you don't have to point that out. they still get the point across and it's my blog, dammit and i'll be slack if i want!]

3. there's legitimate excitement going on

as much as people praised the goal-heavy world cup for its excitement factor, there's no denying that there were relatively few surprises as to who progressed in the tournament. sure, spain crashed out early and the costa rica hung tough, but while some games were unexpectedly lopsided while others were unexpectedly difficult, the scorelines almost always favoured the... favourites. not so in africa and asia!

reigning asian champs japan were bounced yesterday from the cup by the united arab emirates. that is an upset for the ages. uae finished thirteenth our of sixteen teams last time- that's the bottom half of the bottom half of teams; japan won the whole shebang and were among the teams expected to make it to the finals.

yesterday also saw three-time champions iran upset by their neighbours... that's right... iraq. to be fair, the iraqi national football team are no strangers to working under adversity. they won the asian cup in 2007, which tells you something about just how committed these guys are. although i was pulling for iran [call it the alireza factor, combined with a love for the enthusiasm for their astonishingly numerous fans], i have to hand it to team iraq for sheer grit. the game went 120 minutes in the heat of an australian summer and was decided on penalty shots [which is still a bullshit way for an important game to be decided] and even then, it took extra penalty shots to determine a winner. that, my friends, is a battle.

things are still in the early stages in africa, but there have already been some unexpected results there, as well. on paper, i would have said that ivory coast were almost unbeatable, what with established superstars didier drogba and yaya touré joined by resurgent arsenal castoff gervinho and swansea city warrior manchester city turncoat bastard powerful centre forward wilfried bony, all showing up for the big showdown. but the team squandered their first game, playing to a tie with cameroon and thus blowing everyone's bracket in the first round. [there is also a "group of death" situation happening, with algeria, ghana, senegal and south africa all competing for two positions. smart money would be on algeria and ghana, but smart money would have been on ivory coast beating cameroon and japan making it at least to the final, so smart money is gone.]

4. an international man candy pageant

time to taste the rainbow, ladies and gentlemen. ok, maybe not taste. that would probably get you arrested, but there is plenty of opportunity to just relax and appreciate nature's bounty. the nations involved in these competitions represent areas covering well over half our global landmass. while that might not give you quite the diversity of the world cup, it's still a pretty wide swathe, which affords a chance to catch up with some faces we haven't seen since the great global get-together seven months ago and to discover others who weren't lucky enough to make it.

of course, with things being at the stage they are in asia, that means that a lot of the sweetest pieces have already departed, including probably my personal favourite man candy in the footballing world right now, the aforementioned persian prince alireza haghighi. [reminds self of olivier giroud, iker casillas and the increasingly adorable alexis sanchez and bites lip. no. sticking with assessment. at this moment in time.]

what's the farsi word for "sigh"?

once you've exhausted your brain learning about all the different nations that are competing in these tournaments, nothing feels better than relaxing in front of a great bowl of multi-flavoured man candy. [unless you like girls, in which case, just go back and look at the pictures of the iranian fans above. or look anywhere else on the internet. if you can't find pictures of attractive women on the web, you probably shouldn't be online. you could break something.]

5. islamic state and boko haram don't want you to watch

it's not just playing soccer that can be dangerous in some parts of the world. in certain places, even watching it can be a pretty bold political statement. a group of thirteen teenagers in mosul, iraq found that out in the worst possible way when they were murdered by terrorists who have declared their city to be part of a caliphate. the rationale [and i use that term in its loosest possible sense] was that the boys had violated religious doctrine by watching a broadcast of the iraq vs jordan game at the asian cup. 

boko haram, the voice of extremist zealot muslims in west africa, has not done doled out punishment to "infidels" watching the africa cup of nations, but they did blow up a bunch of fans in nigeria watching a world cup match last year.

it is apparently the opinion of islamic extremists that allah does not want you to watch footie, because it distracts you from thinking about religion. i can't argue with the last part of that, because muslims in many parts of the world would probably eat a pound of pulled pork if it meant their team could bring home the world cup. but i honestly don't believe that there is anything in the qu'ran that bans the viewing of sports via satellite feed.

so remember: if you're not watching international soccer this weekend, the terrorists win.

for what it's worth, i think that the asian cup will likely go to the home team and australia's "socceroos" will have the incredible pleasure of lifting the trophy surrounded by their own fans. i'm a little less confident about the africa cup, but i still think that ivory coast is too powerful for the other competitors, assuming they get their shit together.

so sure, you could spend time getting errands done or having quality time with family or friends, but there are lots of perfectly good reasons why you should be doing nothing but watching tv or a live stream, having a drink and wallowing in the glory that is your freedom to do so.

africa cup of nations
asian cup

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