soccer diplomacy

February 1, 2014

In its first issue of 2014, Monocle dedicated a slice of the magazine to its Soft Power Survey, a run-down of countries and their ability to create and sustain influence in positive ways. For the first time in its four year history, Monocle accorded sport its own category in the metrics of the survey. Football took centre stage as perhaps the most pervasive and global of all sports.

This year’s World Cup final will be played at Brazil’s iconic Maracana stadium, a venue that is in many ways a beacon of power, strength, and an illustrious history. But it’s also a reminder of darkness, disappointment and failure. Lying in the imposing shadow of the Maracana is the slum area of Favela do Metro.

Even after a long flight and jet lag, 11 female, Iraqi athletes and three coaches arrived to the United States this December bright-eyed and ready for an empowering experience. They were eager to listen, ask questions, and talk about their backgrounds as teenage soccer players and students in Iraq. Although most of the young women met for the first time at the airport, coming from three different cities -- Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Erbil -- they already acted like teammates.

The 2014 World Cup draw that grouped Iran with heavyweights Argentina has provoked thousands of Iranians to trash the Facebook page of Argentine superstar Lionel Messi. Iran was drawn in Group F alongside Argentina, reigning African champions Nigeria and newcomers Bosnia-Herzegovina, and will open their fourth campaign in the final stages of the World Cup on June 16.

A World Cup berth appears unlikely after their home defeat to Nigeria but a growing legion of Ethiopian fans are taking to Twitter to lure overseas-based players eligible to represent the Walyas. Nigeria came from behind to snatch a last-gasp 2-1 win over Ethiopia in the first leg of their playoff in Addis Ababa after two goals from Emmanuel Emenike helped them take a big step towards next year's finals in Brazil.

American citizen and former United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) soccer coach Bob Bradley took over as the Egyptian Men’s National Team coach in 2011. Since June 2012, Bradley has led the Egyptian team to six straight wins to remain unbeaten in the World Cup qualifying group stage of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). They are now in a final two-game playoff with Ghana for one of the five CAF slots to the 2014 tournament in Brazil. If Egypt wins, it will be their first trip to the World Cup since 1990, and only their third appearance ever.

Osvaldo Alonso's dream is no different than that of many soccer players: He wants to play in the World Cup. And by most estimates the tenacious midfielder has the ability to make that happen. But in Alonso's case, even exceptional talent and desire haven't been enough to overcome one obstacle that remains in his path. For the last 16 months, politics have kept Alonso from even trying out for the U.S. national team, which last month earned a berth in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Campaigners supporting the environmental group Greenpeace have briefly disrupted a Champions League match in Switzerland in a protest against the Russian energy giant Gazprom, a sponsor of the game. Four activists on October 1 abseiled from the roof of the stadium to the field in Basel and unfurled a banner that read: “Gazprom. Don’t Foul The Arctic.”