Sport spotlight – Soccer

Soccer, or football to the rest of the world, doesn’t seem like it needs a spotlight. However, I have lots of questions including how qualification is determined and how do national federations choose who will represent their countries. We have tickets to two men’s preliminary matches, two women’s preliminary matches, and one of the women’s semi-finals.

As an interesting aside, the 1994 Men’s World Cup  was held in the US, and I was lucky enough to attend two matches at the Rose Bowl. I can remember seeing Romania versus Colombia, and the star Colombian player, Carlos Valderrama had some very crazy hair. Reading about that game again, I also now remember Gheorghe Hagi from Romania and his 35 yard goal. Then, I was able to see a semi-final match between Brazil and Sweden. I had to do some research to remember the Brazilian star was Romário, but I know the name of the Swedish goalie was Thomas Ravelli. The guy who lined up our tickets for that event might be reading this blog – thanks Harvey!

Sadly, the Columbian defender Andrés Escobar was killed after returning to Colombia, allegedly as a result of an own goal he scored against the United States.

The Men’s World Cup is coming BACK to North America in 2026. I hope I can get tickets to matches in LA in this soccer crazy town.

 

For the Olympics, men’s and women’s team are represented differently. For the men, the under 23 or below U-23 teams are allowed to participate. There are no age limits for women’s teams.

According to the Regulations for the Olympic Football Tournaments: Tokyo 2020

  1. The draw for the final competitions shall take place in principle at least three months prior to the opening match of the final competition.
  2. FIFA shall form groups for the final competition by seeding and drawing lots in public whilst taking sporting and geographical factors into consideration, as far as possible.

The men’s pool will consist of four Groups, with four teams each. The teams ranked first and second in each group qualify for the quarterfinals. The points scoring in each group is typical of FIFA matches with three points for a win, one point for a draw, and no points for a loss. The tie break criteria are defined in the FIFA Regulations for the Olympic Football Tournaments: Tokyo 2020

The women’s pool will only have three groups with four teams each. Like the men, the teams ranked first and second in each group qualify for the quarter finals. The remaining two places are filled by the two best third place finishers as determined by:

a) greatest number of points obtained in all group matches;

b) goal difference resulting from all group matches;

c) greatest number of goals scored in all group matches;

d) highest team conduct score relating to the number of yellow and red cards obtained in all group matches and calculated as per step 2 (g) above;

e) drawing of lots by FIFA.

On the men’s side, 16 teams will compete. The allocation is three African nations (U-23); three Asian nations plus Japan (U-23); four European nations (U-21); two from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean; one from Oceania; and two from South America. The North America, Central America and Caribbean entries will be determined in a tournament from March 20 to April 1. The South America entries will be known following their tournament January 19 to February 9.

The men’s teams currently in the field are:

Côte d’Ivoire

South Africa

Egypt

Australia

Japan

Korea Republic

Saudi Arabia

France

Germany

Romania

Spain

New Zealand

Follow the US Men’s U-23 Team as they prepare for earning the right to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

On the women’s side, 12 teams will compete. The allocation is one position from Africa, plus the African runner up will participate in an international playoff against the runner up in the South America tournament. Asia will be represented by two teams along with host Japan, with matches on February 3 to February 9, leading to two matches to determine the final two teams. Europe is allocated three teams chosen by the top three European teams from France 2019. North, Central America, and the Caribbean will be represented by two teams determined by the outcome of the qualifying tournament from January 28 to February 9. South America will send one team, plus participate in the international playoff with Africa.

The women’s teams currently in the field are:

Japan

Great Britain

The Netherlands

Sweden

New Zealand

Brazil

Of course, as the reigning World Cup champions, there is a high likelihood the USA Women’s Team will qualify. On January 28, they beat Haiti 4-0 in their qualifying tournament. The knockout round is at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, CA, February 7 through February 9. Support the team and get tickets

Handball anecdote from 1996

In 1996, I was in Croatia on vacation after spending about six months living in Luxembourg. There were not a lot of American tourists at that time as hostilities between Serbia (Yugoslavia) and Croatia had only been over for about a year (Wikipedia link – use at your own risk). IFOR troops were still in the region, bridges were destroyed, land mines were still prevalent, and damage along the coast could still be seen. However, a Croatian friend in Luxembourg invited me to travel with him and his family, so I did.

Zagreb, 1996

I first went to Zagreb and was given his brother-in-law’s parent’s apartment in a Soviet style housing block call Mamutica (mammoth), seen in the background of the photo above. While Zagreb was not damaged by the war, the people there were definitely impacted over the years. The basketball goal is worn out, but not war damaged.

While I was in Zagreb, the 1996 Atlanta Summer were in full swing. One night, I was walking to dinner at some food court near Mamutica. As I was walking I swore I heard gunfire and even something that sounded like a small rocket. It freaked me out a lot. I couldn’t imagine war had broken out, yet I know what gunfire sounds like and this was definitely gunfire. I made it unharmed to the restaurant, and saw that Croatia and Sweden were playing in the Men’s Handball Olympic finals, and Croatia had won. People were probably celebrating by firing their guns. I never was able to explain what the small rocket sound was, but I was safe. It is a memory that will always stick with me, because realistically I knew war wasn’t breaking out again, and no one else seemed particularly concerned, yet I couldn’t deny what I was hearing.

I continued on to the Dalmatian coast and had a great trip. An interesting side note is the only way to get from Zagreb to cities on the coast was via a pontoon bridge, as the regular bridge had been destroyed with explosives.

I hung out in Murter for some days, and then island hopped from there, eventually making my way to Dubrovnik before heading back somehow (I have no recollection of leaving Croatia).

Alley, Stari Grad, Island of Hvar, 1996

 

Plaza, Dubrovnik, 1996

Sport spotlight – Handball

We have tickets to a Men’s Handball preliminary session (two matches). What’s handball? It’s different than the sport of knocking a ball against a wall with your hand that some of us played when we were kids.

What exactly IS handball then? According to the USA Handball webpage

[team] handball is a fast-paced team game that was first played in Scandinavia and Germany at the end of the 19th century. Two teams of seven players (six field players and one goalkeeper) pass a ball using their hands with the aim of throwing it into the goal of the other team. A standard match consists of two periods of 30 minutes, and the team that scores more goals wins.

In the United States, the sport is commonly referred to as team handball. It is often described as combining elements of sport like basketball, water polo, soccer and ice hockey. Men’s handball was first played at the 1936 Olympics Games in Berlin as an outdoor sport. At the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, handball was an indoor sport and it has been an indoor sport on the Olympic program ever since. Women’s team handball was added at the 1976 Summer Olympics.

For this Olympics, there will be two group of six teams. In each group, every team plays each other, and the top four advance to a single elimination tournament. The NBC Olympics website provides more links.

For an introductory video, USA Team Handball gives us this video.

On the men’s side, Japan has qualified for the competition by virtue of being the host country. Denmark has qualified by winning the 2019 World Championship, Spain by winning the 2020 European Championship, Egypt as the 2020 African Champion, Bahrain by winning the Asia Handball Federation Men’s Asian qualification event, and Argentina by winning the 2019 Pan American Games.

The final 6 spots will be filled by taking the top two out of each of three 2020 Olympic Qualification Tournaments, with the tournaments held in Norway, France, and Germany. These tournaments will be held 17 to 19 April, 2020. The selection of teams participating is complicated, so feel free to check out this Wikipedia page for more detail on the men’s qualification,

On the women’s side, again Japan is automatically qualified as the host country. The remaining qualifiers are France, Brazil, South Korea, Angola, and the Netherlands. The qualifying tournaments will be held in Spain, Hungary, and Montenegro on March 20 through 22.

 Please visit this Wikipedia page for more information on the women’s qualification.

Unfortunately, the US did not qualify, nor will they have an opportunity to play their way in.

The matches will be held at Yoyogi National Stadium, an iconic structure on the edge of Yoyogi Park. It was built for aquatics and basketball for the Tokyo 1964 Olympics.

We have digs

While I was writing away, creating content for this blog, Tomo was actually searching for a hotel for us. Japan has a style of hotel called a “business hotel.” These hotels are very functional, offer little hotel services, but do offer a (typically) clean place to stay. In my experience, the beds are hard as a rock and the sheets are like sandpaper, but if you lie very still they are OK.

When we were looking for rooms earlier, we visited some of the upper scale business hotel chains we had used in the past. We found those places were charging up to $600 per night, payment in advance, and no refund. While that is better than $2000 per night, it was above our price point.

A quick check at the moment shows the price is going up…

Luckily, a friend of ours gets access to various hotels through his company. The booking period for the Olympics was just opening up, so Tomo was able to shop around. He started looking at lower price hotels at first, and saw some that were 14 square meters with beds that were 120 cm wide. For two people. 14 square meters is 150 square feet, and 120 cm is 47 inches. For two people. That was a bit cozy for us for three weeks.

After shopping for four hours, Tomo was able to find a hotel with rooms no smaller than 20 square meters (215 square feet) and beds 160 cm (63 inches) wide. The room was available for all but two days, and those two days fell on a weekend. The price was less than $300 per night, and although advance payment was required, it is possible to cancel with a full refund. Note the usual price is $70 per person. They are charging double in this period. That’s right, they charge per person, not per room. Makes no sense and one of the things that drives me crazy about Japan.

I feel pretty fortunate that we found this. It is conveniently near the Akasaka Mitsuke subway station that has two subway lines that allows direct access (no changing trains) to Shinjuku Station, Shibuya Station, and Tokyo Station.

This hotel is not available for booking per their homepage – only through this special access. A big thanks to our friend for helping out.

The unaccommodating accommodations

We thought we’d be really clever and reserve our usual hotel (Hyatt Regency Shinjuku) one day at a time at exactly the day the window opens for reservations. We are arriving a few days before the opening ceremonies and were successful getting a room the first few nights. And then the first day of the official Games, NOTHING was available. Nothing at all at the usual hotel. We continued to check at EXACTLY the time the rooms should be opening daily and they were already all booked. We called the hotel and learned that the IOC had booked the entire hotel in advance for the entire period. So … there went our plan.

We called a few of the Hyatt properties directly to see if there was any availability. The Park Hyatt (of “Lost in Translation” fame) was very kind and recognized that we had stayed there before. They made us an offer to stay for the entire period for only $2000/night (excluding tax and service fee), advance payment, and no refund. To quote Kai Ryssdal, “Let’s do the numbers!” That’s a whopping $36,000. So, that’s a big NO.

The issue is definitely making the news

Fortunately, we have a backup plan, so we won’t be spending $36,000 (excluding tax and service fees) and we won’t be sleeping on the streets. However, it would be nice to find a room so we are not inconveniencing friends. Thanks in advance to the friend who has offered their home to us. There’s time, and rooms will get released, so we will keep looking.

Getting started

The schedule for Tokyo 2020 was announced on April 16, 2019, with ticket sales in Japan via lottery starting on the 9th of May through the 28th of May. On May 17th, we took a little “staycation” in Hollywood and part of the plan was to develop our strategy for tickets and spend a few hours looking at the schedule and coordinating what we wanted.

Then we looked at the schedule. The schedule on the official website is cool, but not that easy for planning. The English website has the following table, where you need to drill down to get the details.

The US supplier of tickets provided a PDF of the schedule, which, when downloaded, was 78 pages. Here’s an excerpt of the CoSport PDF… note the header is only on the first sheet. Everyone knows to “repeat header.”

Clearly a “few hours” was not going to be enough. How would we coordinate this?  We started writing down what we were interested in on a daily basis, and thought we’d go back and compare our notes to get a compiled list. In the early days of the competition period, the number of events is a lot. We also knew that any ticket request would have a low success rate, so we needed to choose multiple events and have a strategy on overlaps. It didn’t take long for us to realize that a quick review with notes was not going to work. I thought what every good engineer who occasionally has to manipulate data thought – Excel.

Around this time a British guy working for my French supplier on a project in the UAE introduced me to Notepad++. He told me it would change my life. Little did I know at the time how right he was. Converting a properly formatted table into PDF is not that hard, but this was not a well formatted table. Somehow, though, I was able to manipulate the PDF into an Excel spreadsheet with Notepad++ tools and some manual fixes. Thankfully this gave us a method of reviewing and strategizing.

I created a column for each of us to note whether or not we were interested in an event, then I was able to sort on those that one or both of us were interested in, then we jointly agreed on the tickets we would pursue, assigned a priority, and then designated whose application would request the ticket.

Then we applied that to our proprietary ticket purchase plan and started our journey. If we had “won” every ticket we requested, it would have been about $19,000. We knew we would not get every ticket. In the end, we didn’t come close. Tomo continues to monitor a site that announces ticket releases, and so we’ve been able to add events over time. Still no opening or closing ceremonies, but we will have plenty to make the trip worthwhile.

 

And now the reason for the blog

When Tokyo was announced as the host city of the 2020 Summer Olympics on September 7, 2013, Tomo and I decided that we would go to the Olympics. We’ve held that promise to ourselves, and we are going. Airplane tickets are purchased, event tickets have been lined up, and somehow we’ll figure out where we can stay. We have a backup plan, so that’s good.

I want to document the experience, and considering my previous post about social media, I don’t really think Facebook is the way to do it. I have a specific Instagram account just for the Olympics, but I want the narrative. Like my previous blog, I can imagine that this blog will help me collect the memories and then help me recollect them later. That’s the plan. You can join us as well.

The modern blog challenge

My first blog, which was seriously damaged in an uncoordinated software upgrade, chronicled my life in Japan from 2008 to the end of 2011. I loved creating it and continuing to add content.  Yes, I did feel the pressure for content, and there were months where I was ashamed that I didn’t produce much (May 2011, why was there only one post the whole month?). The last sentence in my last entry says, “So sit tight, more to come.” More never came.

I still love the look of that blog, and I still refer to many of the things I documented. It has become my journal for that time in Japan. If only I could make it available again on the web (I will, some day, and it will be linked – sit tight, more to come). As platforms have changed though, a blog optimized for someone reading at their desktop or laptop doesn’t really work for the person reading on their iPad, or especially their phone. It seems blog design and maintenance has become that much more complicated and the design is compromised to accommodate multiple platforms. My old design doesn’t scale to a phone, unless you want to read everything like it is a desktop on your phone.

This design has a lot of white space. It is clean, for sure, maybe a little too clean. It is a compromise, but in the end it is all about the content, right?

Welcome to 2005

Blogs were really cool, in 2005. Then iPhones were released, social media rolled out, and everything changed. It didn’t change right away, but the change started. Facebook debuted more broadly in 2006, Twitter joined the fray in 2006 as well, and Instagram came along in 2010. Everything became an App. Now you had a computer in your hand and you didn’t know it and you could check something “real quick” and then get back to whatever you were doing. And blogging sort of withered. Why write to an audience who doesn’t react when you can show your highly curated life to friends and acquaintances (the people you want to show off to anyway) via social media? The interfaces for social media were easy. Just type, add a picture, and hit “POST.” Done.

Unfortunately, blogs take work. They take designing your theme, or going through any number of existing themes to determine the look and feel of your post. Attempts have been made to make blog management easier through various tools, but then that just constrains the look and feel. It has taken me hours of configuration to get to this level, and it isn’t that special. Blogs can be long form too, how much do people want to read about something that might be really interesting to you but kind of meh for them? And those food bloggers – do I really want to see and have each course explained to me? Scroll, scroll, scroll. Content matters.

Then the run up to the 2016 election happened. Social media became a minefield. People you were friends with shocked you with their opinions. Hate spewed everywhere. We learned just how much influence social media had on the election. People were unfriended, bubbles grew, and all the while I kept feeding the machine. I still feed the machine – don’t forget to click on my social media links below or in my title bar!

Suddenly, blogging seems pretty cool again. I can focus on my interests. People aren’t forced to read something on their timeline. I can do things together that I really enjoy – design, writing, and photography.

So here I am, starting up blogging again. I hope you will enjoy it. And don’t forget to click on my link in Facebook to my blog site!