Stuck in Russia

France and Croatia play Sunday for the World Cup. Croatia is the second smallest country to ever contest a World Cup championship match. The former Yugoslav state has a population of 4.1 million, equivalent to that of Oregon.

The only smaller country to play in a World Cup final was Uruguay, which currently has a population of 3.45 million, a little less than Connecticut.  However, Uruguay had much less population when it won the first World Cup in 1930 and defeated Brazil in Rio de Janeiro in what turned out to be the deciding match in the 1950 tournament.

It should be noted the current format of a 16-team, four-stage knockout tournament following group play was not formally adopted until 1986. There were numerous different formats tried by FIFA, including a double group stage format in 1974, ’78 and ’82. Only in ’82 did the top two finishers in each group at the second group stage play in a knockout tournament; in ’74 and ’78, the two teams which won their respective groups in the second group stage played for the championship, while the second placed teams in each of the second round groups played for third.

Belgium and England, the teams which lost to France and Croatia, respectively, have not been able to depart Russia since their semifinal heartbreak.

Thank you, FIFA.

The world’s premier sporting event, at least for team sports, still insists on a third place match. I don’t know how much motivation Belgium and England could possibly have after such heartbreak, but FIFA is forcing them to convene tomorrow morning (at least in the United States) on the pitch in St. Petersburg.

What is the use of a third place match? NOTHING. UEFA has eliminated the useless third place matches in its Champions League and Europa League competitions and at the UEFA Cup, held every four years between national sides to determine the continent’s best.

Why can’t FIFA just let the losing semifinal teams go home, lick their wounds and spend the weekend with their families after being away for so long?

Apparently, it’s money.

FIFA will pay the winner of the third place match a prize pool of 20.5 million Euros ($24 million USD), compared to 18.8 million Euros ($22 million) for the loser of the third place match. Why not just give each team losing in the semifinals the same pot and let them go home?

If FIFA insists on a match the day before the final, why not let the host nation play a semifinal (or quarterfinal) loser? That would be a guaranteed sellout and a great way for the host nation to thank their loyal fans and football federation for hosting the world’s largest sporting event.

I would like to see a nation relegated to the third place match just not show up, but I’m sure FIFA would fine that nation a great deal and may not allow it to participate in the next World Cup, so it’s a form of blackmail. Just the same, I would love to see a Kansas high school basketball team tell the Kansas State High School Activities Association to take a hike and not show up for a third place game in a state tournament.

I can dream, but I’m also realistic here, so on we go with the meaningless games, games which many probably would rather not play.

Even worse, if the third place match tomorrow is level after normal time, there will be extra time, and then the infamous shootout if it is still tied after extra time. Yawn. If the third place match is going to be played, it should be limited to 90 minutes. If it ends in a draw, so be it. Find another way to determine who gets the third place money (overall record, goal differential, what have you), but going more than 90 minutes is cruel to two teams who came so close to playing on the grandest stage in team sports but failed.

It’s late. Not that late, but late for me since Crista told me to start going to bed at an earlier hour.

 

Bye-bye Russia…until 2026 or later

The World Cup is taking a two-day breather before the semifinals Tuesday (France-Belgium at St. Petersburg) and Wednesday (Croatia-England at Moscow). For South America, it’s on to Qatar 2022. Uruguay and Brazil, the continent’s final two remaining nations, were knocked out Friday. Uruguay was no match for France, falling 2-0, while Brazil fell behind by two goals to Belgium and could not make up the difference, with the European side prevailing 2-1. Yesterday, England went to halftime with Sweden scoreless, but dominated the second half and won 2-0 to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1990. The Croatia-Russia match produced plenty of drama. Russia led 1-0 at halftime. Croatia came back to level the score in the second half, and the tally remained that way at full time, forcing 30 minutes of extra time.Croatia took the lead in the first 15-minute extra time period, meaning Russia would have to score in the second 15-minute period or else. Indeed, Russia did score six minutes from the death. Off to kicks from the penalty mark, the method which both nations used to win their round of 16 ties. Croatia prevailed 4-3, and truthfully, it was best for the game that Croatia won. It will make for a stronger tie vs. England. Russia would not have been in the World Cup had it not gained automatic entry for being the host nation. It was ranked 65th in the world by FIFA when the draw for the World Cup groups was held last December, and had slipped to 70th by June 7, the date of the last rankings prior to the World Cup starting a week later. Russia is going to feel good about its football program after this World Cup, but it should not get cocky. Russia beat two equally bad sides, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and was thoroughly dominated by Uruguay in its final group match. It did not win a match in the knockout stage, because draws after 120 minutes officially go down in the record books as draws, with kicks from the penalty mark only used to determine which team advances in the tournament, not for won-loss purposes. I am not a betting man. If I was, I would certainly predict Russia will not be playing in Qatar in four years. Italy and the Netherlands will do all they can to make sure they don’t miss consecutive World Cups. I can never see Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, England, Spain and Portugal not making it. I like the chances for Denmark and Switzerland to make it to Qatar, and I would have to rank Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Austria, Slovakia, Ireland and Turkey ahead of Russia. That’s 19 countries ahead of Russia. There will be 13 places for UEFA teams in the 2022 World Cup (16 when the field expands to 48 teams in 2026). Therefore, I would not expect Russia to be playing again in a World Cup until 2026, maybe later. I had Brazil vs. Croatia in the World Cup final. One half of that prediction can still come true, and I am going to stick with that. The former Yugoslavian division will be playing in Moscow a week from today for the grandest prize in team sports.On the other side of the bracket, I’m tempted to pick Belgium since it ousted Brazil, but France has looked mighty fine to date. Boy, that should be one heck of a match. I didn’t have either side going past the quarterfinals, but now one will play for the title. I think Belgium is spent after beating Brazil. France hasn’t had to exert nearly as much energy. I’ll go with Les Bleus to make the final for the first time since it won it all at home in 1998.

Another jinx vanquished

There will be no World Cup matches today, fitting since today is the 242nd anniversary of the independence of a nation which cannot fight its way out of a wet paper bag in association football, at least when it counts the most.

It’s even more fitting the World Cup is off today, because  the country celebrating the 242nd anniversary of its independence gained said independence from the country which birthed “the beautiful game”.

One of the constituent countries of the nation where association football (soccer for those snooty Americans) is still alive in the World Cup, thanks to ending a curse which had long haunted it.

England advanced by winning a shootout (kicks from the penalty mark) yesterday over Colombia.

Repeating: England advanced by winning a shootout.

Let that sink in for a few seconds.

It’s the first time The Three Lions have won a shootout in the World Cup since it was introduced to team sports’ greatest spectacle in 1978 (but not put into practice until 1982).

Previously, England had been eliminated in 1990 (semifinals vs. West Germany), 1998 (round of 16 vs. Argentina in a match which saw David Beckham draw a straight red card two minutes into the second half; that England was able to hold Argentina scoreless for 73-plus minutes was amazing) and 2006 (vs. Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo burying the winner).

England appeared as if it would win in normal time 1-0, with Harry Kane burying a penalty kick in the 57th mniute after he was taken down in the box rather aggressively.

Colombia played borderline dirty all match, with the manager giving an English player a hard shoulder as they exited the pitch at halftime, and another Colombian player getting away with a headbutt as they jostled in the box on a free kick.

However, Colombia’s Yerry Mina scored the equalizer only seconds from full time, and the match continued. The half-hour of extra time was scoreless, and the groans went up from Newcastle and Sunderland in the North East to Bournemouth and Southampton on the south coast, and all points in between.

The tension had to be most palpable in Sunderland and Liverpool.

English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is a native of the North East of England. He played for Sunderland before leaving the Black Cats in the summer of 2017 after they were relegated out of the Premier League.

Everton, located in Liverpool and the archrival of the world-famous Liverpool Football Club, won the bidding war for Pickford. However, the Toffees were unable to fully take advantage of having Pickford and Wayne Rooney, finishing well behind Burnley for the final European qualifying spot, and obviously behind the Big Six of the Premier League: Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal.

FYI, the four most famous residents of Liverpool, two of whom are sadly no longer with us (one at the hands of a bloody murderer) did not care about the Merseyside Derby, the name given to the Liverpool-Everton rivalry. It was reported The Fab Four did not care much for football, at least the kind played with a round ball (Paul McCartney performed during the Super Bowl XXXVI pregame show and Super Bowl XXXIX halftime show).

In fact, when England won the 1966 World Cup at the old Wembley Stadium, Paul, John, George and Ringo were on the last leg of their last concert tour in the United States. And if you think few Americans care about soccer in 2018, the number of soccer die-hards in 1966 may have numbered less than the number of members of United States House (435).

Back to 2018, Pickford and his mates.

The announcers on Fox stated throughout extra time that Colombia was a lead-pipe cinch to advance to a quarterfinal meeting with Sweden. They felt Colombia had enough momentum from the late equalizer to score in extra time, then kept harping on England’s failure in shootouts in the past when it looked like the third shootout of the round of 16 would be a reality.

Surprisingly, English manager Gareth Southgate chose Kane to go first. Many managers save their best kicker for the fourth or fifth round, which is what the United States women did in shootouts in the World Cup finals of 1999 and 2011. In 1999, Mia Hamm, arguably the greatest female association football player to date, went fourth, leaving the heroics to Brandi Chastain and her famous sports brassiere. In 2011, Abby Wambach went fourth, but because the three before her–Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath all missed, it didn’t matter, and Japan won. More of the blame lies on the shoulders of Hope(less) Solo (now Stevens).

Kane and Marcus Rashford scored for England after Radamel Falcao and Juan Cudrado did the same for Colombia. Luis Muriel scored the third kick for Colombia, but Jordan Henderson’s attempt was turned aside by David Ospina, shifting the edge to Colombia.

The pressure was now on Pickford. If he could not stop Mateus Uribe, the South American side would have a huge edge, knowing it would at the very least go into sudden death.

Pickford got a piece of Uribe’s arching shot. It hit the crossbar anyway, and England’s condition was upgraded from critical to satisfactory. It became completely healed when Kieran Trippler scored to knot it up again.

Carlos Bacca stepped to the mark for Colombia. He went right, and Pickford was spot on, easily stoning the Colombian substitute forward.

Southgate sent Eric Dier onto the pitch in the 81st minute to spell Dele Alli, the Tottenham striker. Dier now was called upon to take the last kick of the regulation round. If he missed, the kicks would go into sudden death. If Dier scored, England would play again Saturday.

Dier went hard and low to his left. Ospina guessed wrong. England was jolly indeed.

England now plays Sweden, a 1-0 victor over Switzerland. The winner of that match plays the winner of Croatia-Russia, which is also Saturday.

Friday’s matches are France-Uruguay and Brazil-Belgium. I picked Croatia, England and Brazil as semifinalists before the knockout round, and I’ll stick with that. I had France playing Portugal, with Les Bleus losing. I’ll pick France to win, though, against Uruguay.

Maybe it was time for England to end its curse. The Red Sox ended the Curse of the Bambino in 2004. The Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA championship, ending Cleveland’s sports curse which spanned 51 1/2 years. The Cubs ended the Curse of the BIlly Goat by winning the 2016 World Series, their first in 108 years. The Astros broke through last year, their 56th season, to win their first World Championship. The Eagles won Super Bowl LII earlier this year, Philadelphia’s first NFL title since 1960. The Capitals won their first Stanley Cup last month, ending a long run of playoff futility.

See? Most bad things will end. The bad news? All good things WILL end sooner or later.

Meanwhile, the Rays and Marlins played 16 innings last night. How depressing. Paid attendance: 6,259. I’d like to know how many people actually went to the game in Miami, and how many were left when it ended at 0040 Eastern.

The Royals and Orioles seem to be racing to the bottom. Both have lost 60 games, and both are so far out of the playoff race they need the Hubble telescope to find the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros, Mariners and Indians. Both are on pace to lose 114 games. Neither will probably lose that many, but both will likely fall short of 60 wins.

The Royals host the Red Sox this weekend. There are only nine more big-revenue home games left on the schedule at Kauffman Stadium: the three this weekend, plus three-game sets with the Cardinals and Cubs.

In case you’re curious, the Royals and Orioles play three in Kansas City Labor Day weekend. I’m sure the ticket office at The K is burning up over ticket sales for that one.

Football frenzy

I watched nearly every minute of the FIFA World Cup the past two days. I tuned into the France-Argentina match after 20 minutes, then watched the full 90 in Portugal-Uruguay, and the full 120 plus in both Spain-Russia and Croatia-Denmark.

France scored three second half goals to overcome a 2-1 deficit, then had to hold on when Argentina scored in stoppage time to cut the margin to 4-3. France held on to win by that score.

Les Bleus will play Uruguay Friday in the quarterfinals. The South American side scored early vs. Portugal and dominated the first half, leading by that 1-0 tally at halftime. The European champions scored just after the one-hour mark to equalize, but Uruguay came right back to regain the advantage. Portugal tried desperately to gain its second goal throughout the final 20 minutes plus stoppage time, but Uruguay did a great job of defending Cristiano Ronaldo and prevailed 2-1.

Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who played his final World Cup match for Argentina, both gone on the same day. However, France-Uruguay will not disappoint.

Speaking of not disappointing, today was something else.

The morning match in Moscow was expected to be a cakewalk. Spain has had issues aplenty since winning the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European championship, but it was expected to have no trouble with Russia, which took advantage of an ridiculously weak draw in Group A, defeating Saudi Arabia and Egypt before being hammered by Uruguay.

Just before the 12-minute mark, a Russian defender attempted to clear the ball deep in the penalty area, only to knock into the net. Own goal. Spain leads.

With five minutes to go in the first half, Russia had a corner kick. The ball flew into the box and went off the head of a Russian forward and then off the back of the hand of Spanish defender Gerard Pique.

Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers blew his whistle immediately. Pique knew he was busted.

A handball inside the penalty area by the defending team is an automatic penalty kick to the offense. If the handball is determined to be intentional, the offender is shown a straight red card, which means not only does he miss the remainder of that match, but he’s suspended for the next match as well.

Artem Dzuyba stepped to the mark for Russia. He blasted the ball past Spanish keeper David De Gea, and just like that, it was level 1-1.

It stayed that way throughout the second half, with Russia turning back numerous Spanish scoring chances. Kuiper blew his whistle after four minutes of stoppage time in the second half, sending the match to extra time.

In association football, extra time is 30 minutes, played in two 15-minute periods. The entire extra time is played, unlike the National Football League and National Hockey League, where sudden death applies.

From the opening of extra time, it was clear the Russians had one objective: get through the 30 minutes without giving up a goal, which would mean kicks from the penalty mark, or a shootout as Americans like to call it.

The Spaniards completed over 1,100 passes in the match and had nine shots on goal to Russia’s one, yet it did not score again after the early own goal. When the whistle blew to end the second 15-minute extra period, most of the crowd in Moscow cheered loudly.

They had good reason to.

Russian goalkeeper Igor Afkineev became his country’s conquering hero by stopping two Spanish kicks, which combined with a perfect 4-for-4 from Russian kickers, put the host nation into the quarterfinals.

Think about this. Russia, the lowest rated nation out of all 32 entered in this year’s World Cup (70th according to the most recent FIFA rankings prior to the tournament), is one of the last eight nations playing, yet Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Argentina, Portugal and now Spain are all gone.

Face it. Russia would be nowhere, either, if the host nation doesn’t gain automatic entry into the World Cup. Qatar will make its debut in the 2022 World Cup because of this rule. Canada is on its knees right now hoping FIFA will allow all three hosts (Canada, Mexico and the US) automatic entry in 2026.

Denmark and Croatia kicked off in Nizhny Novgorod about 80 minutes after Spain-Russia ended.

The Danes scored in the first minute, only to yield the equalizer to the Croatians less than four minutes later. We’re in for a barnburner, a high scoring affair, right?

Nope.

Both teams had numerous opportunities to score throughout the remaining 84 1/2 minutes (plus stoppage time) of normal time and the first 24 minutes of extra time.

Then Croatia appeared to have its golden ticket to the quarterfinals.

Marcelo Brazavic took a pass at the top of the penalty area and maneuvered around Danish keeper Kasper Schmeichel, the man who helped Leicester City win the 2015-16 Premier League championship. Nobody stood between Brazavic and the goal, but Mathias Jorgensen hauled him down just before Brazavic could put the ball in the net.

Croatia was awarded a penalty kick. Jorgensen should have been shown a red card for denying the obvious scoring opportunity, but only received a yellow.

In association football, any player may attempt a penalty kick. This is different from hockey, where the player who is denied an obvious scoring opportunity must take the penalty shot; for instance, the Capitals could not select Alex Ovechkin to take a penalty shot if Brooks Orpik is the one taken down from behind.

Croatia selected its best striker, Luka Modric, to challenge Schmeichel. Modric, one of the stars for Real Madrid, is ranked right up there with Ronaldo, Messi and Luis Suarez as one of the world’s best, and the commentators on Fox gave Schmeichel next to no chance to stop Modric from scoring.

Schmeichel, however, has been tested time and again in practice by Jamie Vardy and by some of the world’s best playing for the Foxes, and he showed it, diving to his left and stoning Modric.

The match soon slipped into kicks, and the commentators were now favoring the Danish thanks to Schmeichel.

Schmeichel stopped two of the four kicks he faced, but his Croatian counterpart, Danjiel Subasic, was even more brilliant, denying Denmark three times out of five.

With the shootout level 2-2, Ivan Raktic turned downtown Zagreb into the French Quarter on Mardi Gras day when he blasted the ball past Schmeichel.

I had mixed emotions. Yes, I picked Croatia to win, and I actually have them losing in the final to Brazil. On the other hand, Leicester City is my favorite football team anywhere on the planet, and I would have loved for Schmeichel to be the hero.

It will be Russia vs. Croatia Saturday in Sochi, in the same stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics were held.

Kicks from the penalty mark were not introduced to the World Cup until 1978, and it wasn’t until 1982 that it was first used. That year, West Germany defeated France in the semifinals in (ironically) Barcelona. Two World Cup finals have been determined by kicks, Brazil over Italy in 1994 and Italy over France in 2006.

I hate kicks from the penalty mark. Hate it. It’s the equivalent of overtime in high school and college football. Penalty kicks are not real football. It’s whether or not a goalkeeper can guess which way the kicker will go when he takes the kick, and if the kicker doesn’t bungle it by clanging it off a post or the top of the goal, or firing it into the crowd the way Roberto Baggio did for Italy at the Rose Bowl in 1994.

I’ve gone on too long. I’ll save how I would decide a match for another post.

Tomorrow’s fun starts at 0900 with Mexico vs. Brazil, then continues at 1300 with Belgium vs. Japan. I would expect Brazil and Belgium to win, but this World Cup proves nothing is guaranteed.

Oh LeBron is going to sign with the Lakers. That’s all I have to say about that subject.

Sports’ REAL Sweet Sixteen

The World Cup knockout stage begins tomorrow. The first matches in the round of 16 are Uruguay vs. Portugal in Sochi and France vs. Argentina at Kazan.

Three of the world’s best players will be on display tomorrow. Luis Suarez (Uruguay) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) go head-to-head, while Lionel Messi will look to keep Argentina alive for its first championship since 1986, when Diego Maradona dominated the tournament in Mexico.

In fact, today is the 32nd anniversary of Argentina’s 3-2 victory over West Germany in the 1986 World Cup final. Argentina maybe should not have been there, thanks to Maradona’s handball goal vs. England in the quarterfinals, now referred to around the world as the “Hand of God” goal.

Argentina struggled in Group D, playing to a 1-1 draw vs. Iceland in its first match after Messi was stopped on a penalty kick, then falling 3-0 to Croatia. Somehow, the South American side did enough to get through, as a 2-1 victory over Nigeria pushed them to four points, while Nigeria was stuck on three.

Europe and South America have all but two spots in the round of 16. The interlopers are Mexico (CONCACAF) and Japan (AFC), which advanced as the second place team from Group H over Senegal on something called FIFA Fair Play points.

For those of you less invested in association football, here’s what happened.

Japan and Senegal ended the group play with one win, one draw and one loss. Wins are three points, draws are one, so that left each side with four points.

The first tiebreaker is goal differential. Japan and Senegal each had a goal differential of zero. That’s no good.

The next tiebreaker is goals scored. As it turned out, each nation scored four goals in the group stage.

Head-to-head is the next tiebreaker, but a 1-1 draw rendered that moot.

Prior to 2018, had this situation occurred, a coin toss would have been conducted to determine which team went through.

However, FIFA decided after the 2014 World Cup that there should be more competition factors involved in tiebreakers before the coin toss would be necessary.

Therefore, the FIFA executive committee came up with a fair play formula, which would penalize teams for yellow and red cards accumulated. Here’s the breakdown:

  • yellow card–minus 1 point
  • second yellow card leading to red card–minus 3 points
  • straight red card–minus 4 points
  • yellow and straight red–minus 5

Senegal picked up two yellows in its first match vs. Poland, while Japan had one in its opener with Colombia.

The countries then met head-to-head in the second match of the group stage. Through the first 89 minutes, each county accumulated one yellow. But in the final minute of regulation plus stoppage time, Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi issued three, two to Senegal.

Heading into the final group stage matches, Senegal trailed minus-5 to minus-3 on fair play points. Of course, the African side could take care of business itself by defeating Colombia, which would have sent Senegal through regardless of the outcome of Japan vs. Poland.

Senegal’s M’Biyae Niang picked up his country’s sixth yellow card of the tournament in the 51st minute. The game was still scoreless, so hope was not lost.

Meanwhile, Poland took a 1-0 lead in the 59th minute on a goal Jan Bednarek.  Several minutes later, Colombia got on the board in the 74th minute courtesy of Yerra Mina.

With 20 minutes plus stoppage time remaining in its match, Japan gave up the ghost. Poland was only too happy to oblige, since it had no chance to advance.

Therefore, Senegal, called one of the most exciting teams of the 32 in the field by most commentators, would be on a flight back to Dakar the next morning, while Japan remained in Russia to prep for Monday’s match with Belgium.

It’s a tough way to go for Senegal, but all it had to do was earn a draw vs. Colombia and it would still be playing, and Africa would still be in the tournament.

I expect it will be down to Europe and South America by 1500 CT Monday.

Mexico’s 3-0 loss to Sweden in its final group match forced it into a matchup with Brazil, which is hungry to prove its 7-1 embarrassment by Germany in the 2014 semifinals at Belo Horizonte was a one-time fluke and not an irreversible trend.

Japan has next to no chance against Belgium, which looked mighty good in its group matches, including a 3-0 dispatch of England Thursday.

Here’s how I’m thinking the knockout round goes:

ROUND OF 16

  • Portugal over Uruguay (Ronaldo is the best in the world, period)
  • France over Argentina (Messi won’t rescue his country this time)
  • Brazil over Mexico (tough luck, Landon Donovan; CONCACAF is a third-rate federation compared to UEFA and CONMEBOL)
  • Belgium over Japan (second most one-sided match of the round of 16; the next match is the most one-sided)
  • Spain over Russia (that Russia is in the knockout round is an absolute joke)
  • Croatia over Denmark (there is a lot of buzz on the streets of Zagreb, and with good reason)
  • Sweden over Switzerland (a lot of commentators are picking the Swiss. Can’t go against the Swedes after impressive display vs. Mexico)
  • England over Colombia (should be a great match)

QUARTERFINALS

  • Portugal over France (Ronaldo too much for les bleus)
  • Brazil advances over Belgium on penalty kicks (this match is a prime example of why FIFA should conduct a random draw before each knockout round prior to the final)
  • Croatia over Spain in extra time (should be a great showcase for European football)
  • England over Sweden (first time in the semis since 1990 for the Three Lions)

SEMIFINALS

  • Brazil over Portugal (a man vs. a team. The team wins)
  • Croatia over England (crying in the pubs of London, Liverpool, Manchester and all other points)

FINAL

  • Brazil over Croatia (redemption is complete)

Trying to beat the obscene heat

Just got back home after making a quick visit to the post office and gas station.

Yes, that’s right. I made those stops around 0430 (4:30 a.m. for those uninitiated to military time).

I have no desire to venture outside in the middle of the afternoon right now. To call it hot would be a gross understatement.

It is ridiculously unbearable in all corners of Kansas right now. Temperatures today are expected to be well over 100 Fahrenheit for the third straight day. The AccuWeather app on my phone gives me temperatures in Celsius (I set it up that way), and when I saw 40 as the temperature the last two days, I knew it was brutal out there.

The heat index was far worse the farther east you went. At one point yesterday, the heat index reached 116 F (46.7 C) in Topeka. For as long as I lived in Louisiana, the heat index rarely got that high.

It had to be hell on all of those dressed in suits who work for the state of Kansas. I hate wearing suits, period. I would not want to wear one in the summer. In fact, had Lisa’s wedding in St. Louis been in June or July and not October, I may very well have passed.

Any heat index above 110 F (43.3 C) is deadly. If it’s this bad in late July and throughout August, there will be football players who will encounter serious problems. Some may die. That would be a crying shame, because no football coach should ever put his needs above those of the young men (and a few ladies) he oversees.

Some love to point out more people die in the cold than the heat. But last I checked, you can put on layer after layer to guard against the cold. You can’t go outside naked in the heat, unless you are at a place where nudity is allowed. And there aren’t many of those places on the planet.

Yesterday’s hottest heat index in Russell was 104 F (40 C), which was only one degree above the actual high temperature. The heat index was 109 F (42.8 C) Wednesday. I was smart enough to make sure I got back from Hays by 1100 to ensure I didn’t have to deal with the heat any longer than I had to.

Fueling your car before sunrise is actually a good thing to do in the summer. Ozone is released every time a car is fueled, and those effects are multiplied when the temperatures are warmer. When I lived in Baton Rouge, it was not uncommon for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to issue ozone alerts for the city and the surrounding areas.

One of the suggestions the DEQ always makes on those days is to not fuel cars between sunrise and sunset. I heeded that advice this morning, although Casey’s at the corner of Maple and Wichita was closed, so I had to go to the Great Bend Co-op station on US 281. Now I don’t have to worry about it Tuesday when I return to see Dr. Jones.

Dr. Jones found something in my right eye during my exam Tuesday. She put me on prescription drops and is having me come back to check my progress.

I’ve got to stop eating sugar, although I have been drinking Gatorade recently. I bought the Gatorade before my appointment with Dr. Jones, where she harped on me to watch my blood sugar. She’s right, I need to watch it carefully.

As bad as the Kansas heat has been Eureka went through much worse Tuesday when an EF-3 tornado struck the Greenwood County city, causing much damage. The high school was destroyed. There is a tie between Russell and Eureka as Sean Spoonts, who was Russell High’s athletic director for three years (2013-16) is now in the same position at Eureka. Hopefully they are okay.

Lazy Friday ahead. No World Cup, because the group stage ended yesterday and the knockout rounds begin tomorrow. The College World Series is over. There is a full slate of Major League Baseball, but only one game matters, since the Red Sox and Yankees are playing this weekend. THANK GOD the Braves and Cardinals will be the Fox game of the week in Kansas.

The worst thing in the sports world will come later tonight when it’s expected LeBron will opt out of the final year of his contract with the Cavaliers and become a free agent.

I hear enough about LeBron during the NBA season. Every time I have to hear about him outside of game action is a time too much.

High of “only” 100 F (37.8 C) expected in Russell today. Won’t matter to me. I’m done venturing outside today. And probably for tomorrow, Sunday and Monday as well.

LSU getting new company?

The 72nd edition of the MEN’S (that’s the NCAA insisting the women be given equal footing) College World Series has been plagued by rain. Omaha isn’t New Orleans when it comes to precipitation, but it gets quite a bit more than some locales (Hays and Russell come to mind first for me), and there is a chance Mother Nature will intervene.

She did this week, forcing the winner’s bracket games of Monday (Mississippi State-North Carolina) and Tuesday (Arkansas-Texas Tech) to be pushed back a day. The CWS is back on track after Oregon State defeated the Tar Heels last night to send UNC back to Chapel Hill.

The Beavers now must defeat MIssissippi State twice to advance to the championship series. Last year, Oregon STate was in the driver’s seat in bracket one, only to lose twice to LSU, the team the Beavers beat in the second round.

Arkansas holds the upper hand in bracket two after defeating the Red Raiders. The Razorbacks are 2-0 in their Southwest Conference reunion tour, having defeated former archrival Texas Sunday. The Hogs await Florida or Texas Tech tomorrow.

If the Bulldogs and Razorbacks each advance, it will guarantee the SEC will crown its sixth national champion in baseball. The winner would join Georgia (1990), South Carolina (2010, ’11), Vanderbilt (2014), Florida (2017) and some other school which has won six. Of course, the Gators could also repeat and keep the crown in the SEC, but keep the number of schools to win it at five.

That school which has won six is, of course, my alma mater. The Bayou Bengals won it all in 1991, ’93, ’96, ’97 and 2000 under Skip Bertman, then added the sixth in 2009 under Paul Mainieri.

Arkansas and Mississippi State, like the other four schools in the SEC West NOT named LSU, have none. This is particularly galling for Texas A&M, whose two most bitter rivals, LSU and Texas, have six apiece.

The Bulldogs reached the championship series in 2013, only to be swept by UCLA. It is surprising to a lot of people State hasn’t won it all given the school’s rich baseball tradition. Baseball in Starkville was a huge deal long before the other nine schools got with the program. LSU got with it when Bertman arrived in 1984, and then the rest followed suit, although it took the likes of Kentucky and Vanderbilt into the new millennium to finally be up to full speed.

Mississippi State’s run this year has been nothing short of sensational. The Bulldogs suffered an embarrassing sweep by Southern Miss in Hattiesburg to open the season, and less than 48 hours later, coach Andy Cannizaro, a former LSU assistant who played in the CWS for Tulane in 2001, was forced to resign.

It was revealed Cannizaro carried on an affair with a female staffer in the Bulldogs’ football office. The woman apparently dropped the bombshell after she left Starkville to join her boss, Dan Mullen, at Florida.

It was bad enough Cannizaro cheated on his wife. It was much, much, much worse that he cheated on his wife while she was pregnant. Geez, keep it in your pants!

Gary Henderson, who once was in charge at Kentucky, was named interim coach by State athletic director John Cohen, himself a former Bulldog coach and standout player. The Bulldogs had a losing record through the first half of the season, but recovered well, ending the regular season by sweeping Florida in Starkville.

The Bulldogs were one-and-done in the SEC tournament courtesy of LSU, then lost 20-10 to Oklahoma in the first game of the regional at Tallahassee.

However, State came all the way back through the loser’s bracket, then won a scintillating three-game super regional at Vanderbilt, scoring four runs in the top of th 11th of the deciding game.

In Omaha, the Bulldogs won 1-0 vs. Washington, scoring the lone run in the bottom of the ninth, before pounding the Tar Heels 12-2.

The Razorbacks had a strong tradition in the Southwest Conference under Norm DeBriyn. For most of the late 1970s and 1980s, the Razorbacks, Longhorns and Aggies held the SWC lock, stock and barrel in baseball, with the others far, far behind. It became so hopeless SMU dropped the sport in the mid-1980s, not long before the NCAA handed the Mustang football program the death penalty.

Once Arkansas left for the SEC in 1992, the fortunes of the rest of the SWC, especially Rice, went up, while the Razorbacks struggled mightily against LSU and Mississippi State in the SEC, and were also well behind Auburn. Alabama soon caught and passed the Razorbacks when it hired Jim Wells in 1995, leaving Arkansas battling Ole Miss for the bottom of the West.

Dave Van Horn, who led Nebraska to the College World Series in 2001 and ’02, returned to Fayetteville, where he played for DeBriyn, and immediately returned Arkansas to national prominence. Arkansas has been a consistent presence in Omaha since 2004, but has yet to break through and reach the finals.

Arkansas is now one win away from its first championship series, and its first trip to the final since 1979, when DeBriyn’s Hogs lost 2-1 to Cal State Fullerton, which was coached by a young fellow named Augie Garrido.

The Razorbacks’ road to Omaha wasn’t as dramatic as that of the Bulldogs, although Arkansas had to win a third game in its super regional vs South Carolina.

I’ve postulated about whom LSU fans would root for in an All-SEC championship series. If it’s State vs. Florida, I’d say the Bulldogs, because (a) State is in the West and Florida the East and (b) the Gators beat the Bayou Bengals in last year’s final. If it’s the all-west final, I don’t know, but I’d lean to State. Some LSU fans still wish Arkansas would have gone to the Big 12 instead of the SEC. But that cat is out of the bag.

LSU fans should stand and cheer if either Arkansas or Mississippi State (or even Florida) wins it all. It would again reinforce the SEC as college baseball’s sine qua non. Then again, Oregon State did outscore LSU 26-1 in two regional games. Unless Texas Tech somehow pulls it off, the Bayou Bengals can take pride in knowing they’ve gone up against the best once again in 2018.

2026 World Cup sites? ROOF ME!

The 2018 FIFA World Cup (it is trademarked) began yesterday in Russia. The host nation obliterated Saudi Arabia 5-0. The host nation has kicked off the World Cup every tournament since 2002, and while the groups for the World Cup are randomly drawn, the organizers always try to give the host nation an opponent perceived to be the weakest among the other three in Group A (the host nation is automatically drawn as position “A1”; this will be Qatar in 2022 and probably the United States in 2026).

Kansas City’s powerful sports talk radio station, WHB (810 AM), talked about the World Cup and association football quite a bit yesterday. The big news locally was Kansas City is one of 17 cities across America which are still in the running to host World Cup matches in 2026 when the event comes to North America. The U.S. will host 60 of the 80 matches, including all matches beginning with the quarterfinals. Canada will host 10 matches in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and Mexico will host 10 in Mexico City and two other locales.

If it were up to me, all American sites would be in northern climates and/or have a roof (retractable or fixed).

The Cardinals’ stadium in Arizona, the Cowboys’ stadium in north Texas and the Texans’ stadium in Houston would all be easy picks, since not only do those stadiums have a retractable roof, but all can easily accommodate a full-sized FIFA field, which is 105 meters long by 68 meters wide (approximately 115 by 75 for those who hate the metric system).

Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium cannot fit the 105×68 field. It would have to cut some seating in the end zones to make it work. It isn’t a bad idea anyway, since Arrowhead’s seating capacity of 79,000, give or take a few hundred, is too much for a market of its size. Arrowhead would be just fine in the 65,000-70,000 range.

However, I do not think Kansas City is an appropriate choice. Go outside today and see why. As Kool and the Gang crooned in 1980,  TOO HOT.

Back to my picks. I’ve already identified Arizona, north Texas and Houston.

New York City may be hot and humid in the summer, but it’s got to be better than Orlando or Miami. You can’t possibly leave off out one of the world’s ten largest cities, the world’s most diverse city, and the epicenter of media. MetLife Stadium, home of the Giants and Jets, is the obvious choice.

Los Angeles also has to be in the equation. In fact, three stadiums in the area could be used: Rose Bowl (Pasadena), Coliseum (south central Los Angeles) and the new stadium in Inglewood being built for the Rams and Chargers. I’ll go with the Rose Bowl and one of the other two sites.

Gillette Stadium, home of the Belichick/Brady evil empire in Massachusetts, is a fine choice.

Chicago has to be on the list. It was fantastic as a host in 1994 and it will be even better now that Soldier Field has been modernized.

Atlanta has proven it can fit the FIFA-sized field inside its Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which has that retractable roof. You’re good.

So far, that brings my list to nine. Who would get the last bid?

If there is a good way to install grass indoors, then I would seriously consider New Orleans, Detroit and Minneapolis.

My native city would be my first choice among the three. Yes, there is a bit of homer in that choice, but also the Superdome in my humble opinion is a superior facility to Ford Field and US Bank Stadium, and there is so much for the international visitors to see and do in the Crescent City.

Indianapolis? I don’t know if it can fit the FIFA-sized field in Lucas Oil Stadium. If so, it is perfect since it is centrally located and excels at hosting sporting events on a large scale. Also, the retractable roof is a big plus in my book.

Denver? Great city but would some nations balk at playing at altitude (4,850 meters)?  And wouldn’t the Rockies balk about the possibility of a three-week road trip during the middle of the MLB season?

As for the altitude argument, TOUGH. If you’re that worried, see if the University of Wyoming will let you train in Laramie, where it is 6,600 meters. South American countries have it worse when they have to play in Bolivia, where La Paz is above 10,000 meters, the highest capital city on earth.

Seattle? Isolated but a great association football city. I’d rank it above Minneapolis and Detroit, but behind Denver.

San Francisco (49ers stadium in Santa Clara)? Again, great cosmopolitan city. However, traffic between San Francisco and Santa Clara is a nightmare on a good day. On a bad day? Good luck.

Okay here’s my 10 in order of preference:

  • Glendale, Ariz. (University of Phoenix Stadium)
  • Arlington, Texas (AT&T Stadium)
  • Houston (NRG Stadium)
  • East Rutherford, N.J. (MetLife Stadium)
  • Foxborough, Mass. (Gillette Stadium)
  • Pasadena, Calif. (Rose Bowl)
  • Los Angeles (Coliseum)
  • Chicago (Soldier Field)
  • Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
  • New Orleans (Mercedes-Benz Superdome)

The next group in order of preference:

  • Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium)
  • Denver (Mile High)
  • Seattle (CenturyLink Field)
  • Detroit (Ford Field)
  • Minneapolis (US Bank Stadium)
  • Santa Clara (Levi’s Stadium)

Uruguay and Egypt are scoreless through 64 minutes. What’s wrong, Uruguay? That’s ridiculous.

KC in the rearview mirror–for now

I am back in Russell. Actually, I’ve been back a little more than 25 hours. I arrived at 1224 North Brooks at 9:05 yesterday morning. I went straight to bed because I did not sleep the night before. I wanted to get home before it got really hot. I did that and I slept most of yesterday.

I would be sleeping a lot today, but I have to go to Hays to see Crista at 2. I need this. REALLY need this.

The days in Kansas City were a total mixed bag.

THE BAD

The hotel in Liberty

If you read my last blog post, you would know I was upset by not being able to turn the thermostat below 65. I lived with it.

If I ever go back there again, I won’t go in the summer, nor will I ask for a larger room, because the air conditioning has a very hard time cooling a large space like that. It was larger than my room in the basement in Russell, and the air conditioning struggled very badly.

Also, the faucet did not flow very much in the guise of trying to conserve water. I am used to a full flow. However, the water was hot.

Even worse, I discovered I left my mouse and trackball for my laptop in the room when I got back to Russell. Using the touchpad is a pain in the butt! I hate it. I am going to Walmart this afternoon to get a mouse. I cannot take it.

The driving and traffic

I learned once again why staying in Platte County and not Clay is much better for me on my visits.

Missouri Highway 152, which connects I-435 and the Zona Rosa area to Liberty, is always a pain in the butt to drive. There are several red lights in Clay County, and if you get stuck at one, it adds time to the drive.

I hate stop and go driving, so I burned the gas and took the Terpsichorean route of I-35 south to I-29 north then back towards Barry Road. At least there are two good convenience store stops on I-35, the QuikTrip at Pleasant Valley Road and the 7-Eleven on Antioch. It may have been longer time wise, but I kept moving.

The drive to the spa was no better. Had to go through downtown, and with I-70 west of Broadway demolished for reconstruction, traffic is that much worse. If i had stayed in Platte County, I could have gone 635 to Metcalf and then Metcalf to 75th to the spa. Live and learn.

THE GOOD

The back wax

Yes it was painful, but Andrea, the lovely lady who took care of me at the salon in Prairie Village, was very patient and very kind. She made me feel much better about it. When I finally got a look at it the next morning, I felt that much better. I have to go back in late July/early August, but now I know what to expect.

I originally wanted to get my chest waxed, but Andrea suggested I hold off, and if I really wanted to do it when I came back later in the summer, she would. But so far, I am very happy with having a hairless back.

Lunch before the back wax

I ate at Joe’s Kansas City BBQ for the first time. Robb has been drooling about the place to me for quite some time, so I decided to give it a shot, since its location at 47th and Mission in south KCK was on the way to the salon.

If the line was out the door, as it is on many days, I would have passed. However, I found a parking spot, and when I walked in, the line was quite short. Therefore, I ordered half a slab of ribs and potato salad.

Best ribs I’ve ever eaten. The meat was so tender it fell right off the bone when I first took a knife to it. Then I discovered I didn’t need the knife due to the tenderness. The sauce at the table, Joe’s original and a spicy brand from Cowtown, added flavor to an already delicious dish.

The potato salad was great. And that’s coming from a guy who hardly eats potato salad.

Joe’s was so awesome I went to the location on Roe Avenue in Leawood following my back wax to pick up some brisket, as well as beans and potato salad. I ate it for breakfast the next two days. It was just that good.

Next time I’m there, I think I’ll fast for a day or two and then pig out on pork, sausage, ham and turkey to get the full experience. I also need to bring back potato salad for my parents. They love that stuff.

Two of my favorite bartenders

I began the trip by visiting Dana Tenpenney at Brewtop. That did me a lot of good. I don’t get to see her enough. Not to mention the food at Brewtop is pretty good.

I ended by visiting Minsky’s. I spent a few hours there, and it was pretty good. Had a great pizza and played lots of trivia to make up for the two months I didn’t.

Lindsay Harris wasn’t there when I first got there. She was running in some sort of extreme 10-kilometer race in Lexington (not the one John Calipari calls home), but she came in at 5. She was glad to see me and told me I had better not go four months without seeing her again.

THE REALLY, REALLY GOOD

No more NBA–at least until October

Had Cleveland won once at home, Game 5 of the NBA Finals would be tonight. Thankfully, the Warriors swept, and now I don’t have to hear about the NBA for a while, at least about games.

The Capitals won!

The Stanley Cup now resides in the capital of the United States of America and not Sin City. That’s a big win in my book. I vomited enough to fill the Missouri River after the Lightning, Hurricanes and Ducks won the Cup in recent years. I was prepared to the same if the Predators won last year and if Vega$ did this year.

Where I wasn’t

It could have been much, much, much worse than Kansas City. I could have been sweating my brains out in Beloit covering the 8-man football all-star doubleheader. I hated those games. Really hated them. And I still do, even though I don’t have to be there. You don’t want to know some of the things I have to say about the coaches who put this on. The kids who are out there are braver than I could ever hope to be.

Hays, I’m on my way. I need you, Crista!

Return to the eastern fronta

After 104 days away, I am back in Kansas City.

I made a huge mistake by booking a room at the new TownePlace Suites in Liberty. The traffic on Missouri Highway 152 is bad enough, but I knew about that going in.

The hotel will not let guests set the air conditioner lower than 65 degrees.

I thought seriously about going down to the front desk and blowing my top, but I haven’t. I did tell them I did not like the fact I couldn’t set my thermostat lower than 65. I understand the idea about conserving energy, but a hotel should be about the comfort of the guests, not saving a few dollars here and there by not allowing guests to set their thermostat to 60 if they want.

I’m going to see if the room is any cooler when I get back this evening. If it isn’t, you can bet that hotel will be on my blacklist.

I don’t like that there is a bathtub and not a stand-up shower, but I can live. I can also live with no fold-out rack for my suitcase.

I’m thinking seriously about going to Target and getting a fan just like the one I bought for my room in Russell last month. It won’t go to waste because I’d use it in the basement.

The good thing about that location is more choices for dining. Zaxby’s isn’t too far and Chick-Fil-A is right across Highway 152. Plus there are grocery stores galore in the area.

Right now I’m at Brewtop in the Shops at Ambassador. I wanted to see Dana Tenpenney, whom I first met five years ago when she was working at Buffalo Wild Wings. Her husband, Ronald Groves, was finishing up lunch when I walked in. Dana is one of the many Buffalo Wild Wings alums I don’t get to see enough of. I had a black and bleu burger which was excellent.

I’m meeting Robb at 4:30 at Buffalo Wild Wings. I’m wondering what kind of reception I’ll get there. I have been to Buffalo Wild Wings twice, both in Salina, since my last visit in Kansas City February 18, which was also the last time I saw Dawn.

It has been exactly two months since I’ve played Buzztime trivia. That has to be a record since I became a religious player in May 2013.

The Royals don’t play until 9:05 tonight since they’re in Anaheim. Means Buffalo Wild Wings won’t be so bad. And the NBA Finals are off too. God I hope the Warriors just end this stupid thing in Cleveland. I’ve had enough of LeBron James this, LeBron that, LeBron blah blah blah LeBron blah blah blah blah blah