Thursday marks the start of the biggest event for the world's most popular sport, the World Cup of Soccer.
The kickoff game Thursday in Brazil will feature the host country taking on Croatia. The U.S. men's team, in the rugged Group G Bracket, will battle Ghana in Natal, Brazil on June 16 in its initial game.
Most U.S. fans were stunned recently when American coach Jurgen Klinsman surprisingly cut American scoring leader and team captain Landon Donovan. It was a totally shocking turn of events for the American team as Donovan, the 32-year-old attacker, was bidding to make his fourth World Cup team, but was cut in favor of Aron Johnson and Chris Wondolowski who will join Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey as the forwards. Altidore has struggled as of late to notch goals for the team. Donovan has 57 goals in 156 international appearances and has been the face of American soccer for a decade, not only with the U.S. National Team, but also with Major League Soccer, where he has won five titles.
Donovan, earlier, had suffered a knee injury but came back last summer in the CONCACAF Gold Cup where he played exceptionally well. Donovan is a proven and mature player who is game savvy and comes through in the clutch situations. He felt Klinsman looked at his age as a drawback and was worried about poor performances because of the past knee problems. Donovan said his knee was fine and felt very confident in his abilities . Many believe this move by Klinsman to cut Donovan from the roster will come back to haunt the U.S. team in the worst possible way. It takes away a huge scoring threat, but worse yet, takes away its team leader and captain. His absence should be quite noticeable from the very start for the American team.
Americans venturing to Brazil for the World Cup games in June should realize the imminent danger they may be putting themselves in. Muggings on public transportation in Brazil have doubled over the last year. At least 12 of the cities hosting World Cup games have experienced a recent rise in violent crime. People in Brazil do not recognize the authority of the government officials, and as a result, criminals are much more at ease to commit their crimes because they have little fear of being arrested and punished.
The U.S. State Department has warned its citizens traveling to World Cup games in Brazil of the very frequent robberies on city buses, in banks and at ATM's and recommend against resisting thieves. British and German Authorities have made similar recommendations. The Governor of Rio de Janiero has declared it a war against crime. The number of police officers for the World Cup Games during the June 12 through July 13 tournament is up 20 percent. This may not be sufficient. Many issues of sexual violence on public transportation have transpired in Sao Paulo, Brazil , site of the opening game for the tourney. Attackers even film videos of their crimes on cell phones and post them on to social media . Authorities warn that these thieves often kill if met with any resistance.
This type of behavior is absurd to have to deal with for an event of this magnitude. If the country's crime rate is this high and police protection so unstable, FIFA should never have allowed Brazil to host the World Cup games and put thousands of spectators lives in jeopardy. Certainly the press will monitor this closely, and it should be interesting to see how Brazil handles the issue of protecting the thousands of world wide soccer fans which will pour into their country for this great event.
Tom Schmitt writes a monthly soccer column for the Mirror.