World Cup 2014: ESPN, Grantland's 'Men in Blazers' On Suarez's Bite, Why the U.S. Need to Learn to Dive
The self-depreciating British soccer gurus took a time out from the "panic room" to share their wisdom on the biggest shocks and surprises of the tournament so far with THR.
From the Grantland podcasts and their World Cup "panic room" previews to being part of ESPN's coverage in Brazil — albeit from a closet — the Men in Blazers have become famous for their dry British wit and football knowledge.
Roger Bennett and Michael Davies predict the matches with "World Cupcakes" and break down exactly what soccer rookies need to know, such as Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo being "a petulant show pony" with good eyebrows, and arguing that "if the teeth fit, you can't acquit" regarding the tournament's resident cannibal, Luis Suarez.
The Hollywood Reporter tracked the Men in Blazers to their "panic room" in Rio de Janeiro, where they've been shut up for 12 hours a day enhancing millions of ESPN viewers' World Cup experiences.
Claiming that Rio is amazing — "just like Buffalo but with a nice beach," quipped Rogers — the pair have barely ventured out of the panic room during their time down there. "It has been a wonderful experience to see this football-mad country embrace the World Cup — but not to be able touch it as we don't even have a window," Davies tells THR.
"We've been to the beach once and to the rooftop pool where we nearly got hit by a helicopter, and have been to a few fine-dining establishments. We go to the Rio equivalent of Musso & Frank called Shirley's every night," he says.
While nearby Copacabana beach fills with thousands of revelers every day, there's no crazy partying for these hardworking broadcasters. "We've been to a couple of games, but we’re honestly so exhausted that we fall asleep every time we go," admits Bennett, who even took a nap during the France vs. Ecuador match (see the Instagram picture below).
Who better to get the lowdown from on the biggest scandals, surprises and downright shocking moments of the tournament so far? Here are the Men in Blazers' assessments of the action so far.
Luis Suarez Biting Italian Defender Giorgio Chiellini
During Italy vs. Uruguay Suarez, apparently unprovoked, bit into the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. The act went unpunished during the match, which Uruguay won, but soccer governing body FIFA gave Suarez a four-month ban, ending his World Cup.
Davies: Suarez wasn't a shock. When we did our cupcake preview — which is way more scientific than the statistical analysis by Nate Silver even though we have had some problems with the Brazilian ingredients. I bit into the Uruguay cupcake and said it tasted of Branislav Ivanovic's shoulder, who is the last man that Suarez bit — in a Liverpool-Chelsea Premier League match in 2013. I thought that meant he was going to have a huge match, not that he was going to literally take a bite out of the Italians.
Bennett: As Jimmy Kimmel said, I think that at this point — after biting three people — you can call it a spree. We are not suggesting in any way that FIFA are writing this World Cup, we are just saying that they are having a hell of a tournament with a hell of a script. A scene like that can make so much sense in hindsight but is so shocking at the time. It's like brilliant television writing.
Fred's 'No Penalty Penalty' in Brazil vs. Croatia
Fred's dive in Brazil's opening match against Croatia is considered one of the most dramatic performances of the 2014 World Cup, but it still netted Dejan Lovren a yellow card. The penalty was perceived by many as the first miscarriage of justice — and "proof" that FIFA and the refs work in favor of the host nation.
Davies: Fred is very misunderstood: He didn’t dive, he just feels gravity incredibly — more than any other person. He went over a little easily. There are some advantages of being a home nation and being full of stars; membership does have its benefits.
Bennett: Americans need to stop trying to get their heads around why there’s so much diving and actually start diving.
Davies: DaMarcus Beasley did do the move we love, which is getting taken off on a stretcher, and then getting off the stretcher and going back on the field. I’m very proud of him.
Robin van Persie's Diving Header (Netherlands vs. Spain)
In the closing minute of the first half of the Netherlands vs. Spain match, Dutch player Daley Blind sent a Hail Mary volley deep into Spanish territory. Striker Robin van Persie threw himself at the ball, heading it in midair over and above the Spanish keeper, and within minutes, mockups depicting van Persie as Superman hit the Internet.
Davies: It was a superb goal, an amazing landing, and then he blew the high five. Any American sixth grader could have completed the high five on the sideline. He ruined the dive and landing with that.
Early European Exits (Spain, England, Italy)
Three champions with a total of six World Cups between them — Spain, England and Italy — were knocked out after the first round of matches.
Davies: I don’t think anyone would have seen Spain going home, Italy getting knocked out and England — as crap as they’ve been — they have not failed to qualify for the Round of 16 since the 1950s. We're used to then seeing them lose on penalties [in the knockout round]. No European team has ever won in South America, and no South American team has won in Europe, so you certainly do better in your region. But this year, the farther east you go the worse it's been — not a single Asian team or Eastern European team has qualified, and everything has tilted West.
This has been a World Cup of European decline and CONCACAF [the conference that the U.S., Mexico and Costa Rica all belong to] is thundering as eight teams of the Americas are in the Round of 16.
Varela's Injury Time Goal (Portugal vs. USA)
Many fans assumed the match was over when Portugal's Varela headed in a goal with just seconds to go in injury time to tie 2-2 versus the U.S.
Bennett: If the Ghana game had been the last and not the first, this country would be bubbling over in Kyle Beckerman euphoria. Instead we had a tie that felt like a loss against Portugal and then a loss that felt like a win to get through against Germany. And that sums up this World Cup. We really don’t know how good this team is as they’ve shown up three different times and given three completely different performances.
Mexico Coach Miguel Herrera Becoming an Internet Sensation
Davies: The celebrity of the entire tournament is not a player -- it is Mexico's coach, Miguel Herrera. If you look up "joyous" in any dictionary, you will see a picture of Herrera. He enjoys life more than any Englishman has ever done in the history of our pathetic island, and he reflects our joy and love of football. I say I love football more than I love love, and he wears that in every fiber of his being.
Bennett: He looks like the bastard child of Pete Rose and the ghost of Chris Farley. He is an enormous and beautiful bloke. He jumps after a Mexican goal, punches the air, grabs the closest player and flings them to the floor like he’s in a bar fight. We recognize in his joy, the joy that America is experiencing right now after every goal, every scandal in this World Cup. In the last game on the sidelines he went completely bonkers and was "Hallucinogenic Herrera."
For more from the Men in Blazers, catch them during ESPN's World Cup coverage and on Grantland.