Brazil native, GCCC's Long speaks on World Cup significance

6/11/2014

By J. LEVI BURNFIN

By J. LEVI BURNFIN

lburnfin@gctelegram.com

Born in Brazil in 1960, Garden City Community College head women's soccer coach Charles Long knows first hand exactly what the World Cup means to his native country.

"For Brazilians, it's life," the first-year coach said.

Brazil is hosting this year's World Cup, starting today, and Long knows how much pressure that places squarely on the players, noting the last time the country hosted the event.

In 1950, host Brazil was such a favored squad over opponent Uruguay in the final that when the Uruguayans won 2-1 fans were so distraught they reportedly committed suicide by jumping off the top of the stadium.

It's not quite to that standard of expectation for the Brazilians this year, but they are still expected to win.

"The problem is," Long, who is picking Brazil to win the Cup, said, "people demand perfection. If it's not a blowout, it's a disappointment."

According to ESPN's vox.com, Brazil is the most-bet squad to win the world cup with 23.3 percent of bets on the host team, just ahead of Argentina with 18.9 percent.

Long, a dual citizen of both Brazil and the United States, says he will be rooting for both teams, but realizes that Brazil is the only one with a realistic shot.

The Brazilians won the Confederations Cup in 2013, and have the most World Cup titles of any country with five, the last coming in 2002 in Japan/South Korea. Meanwhile, the Stars and Stripes have not been past the quarterfinals since the inaugural tournament in 1930.

And the Americans were also drawn into the morbidly named "Group of Death" (Group G) this time around, having to face one of the tournament favorites Germany, renowned club Portugal, and the American's Achilles' heel, Ghana, which has knocked out the U.S.A. in the last two Cups.

"I doubt (they will advance out of the group stage," Long said. "They may get lucky and get out of it. With amazing players, there is a chance."

Long pointed to mid-fielder Michael Bradley — son of former United States Men's National Team head coach Bob Bradley — and goalkeeper Tim Howard as the "amazing" players for the Americans.

"One thing Americans bring to the game is amazing athleticism," Long said, also adding, "Americans have some of the best keepers in the world."

However, new head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will helm a squad without the leading international goal scorer in U.S. history, Landon Donavan. The reviled forward was left off the 23-man roster in a controversial decision just a couple of weeks ago. But, to Long, it might have been the best sign for new coach Klinsmann and the direction he wants to take the team.

"I respect the coach to the nth degree now," Long said. "I was personally not too sure about him as a coach. But his decision about Landon Donavan shows he's here to make a difference."

Long pointed to Brazil as how an international team should be built.

"If you look at Brazil, there's some major superstars not on the team," he said, noting that the omission of Donavan, who by many accounts is past his prime, means Klinsmann is looking to the future.

However, what does that mean for the Americans this year around?

It might mean early defeat. Or it might be a suprising run out of the group stage, possibly setting the stage for a deeper and more skilled American squad in 2018 in Russia.

Still, for this year, there's a couple of things Long suggests for the soccer novices.

One, watch the best teams, not just America, with the best players in the world.

Such as, Lionel Messi, from Argentina, Brazil's Neymar, Andres Ienesta, Spain, Portugal's Cristiana Ronaldo, and Luis Suarez, of Uruguay.

"What you want to look for is athleticism, how players can pinpoint the ball all over the field, and the moving action of players," Long said, also noting that the Cup always has a couple of spectacular free kick goals sprinkled in.

But the final piece of advice was simple, partake in the sport a little bit.

"They ought to themselves, got out to kick the ball around and feel what it's like to go out and play," Long said.

The opening ceremony is today, with the opening match, at 3 p.m., pitting Brazil and Croatia in Group A. The U.S. opens its schedule at 5 p.m. Monday against Ghana.

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