DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The black SUV packed with soccer fans wearing Lionel Messi shirts pulls up alongside a World Cup -branded vehicle, both inching forward in late-night traffic after leaving Argentina’s game against Poland.
Two men in the Jeep Wrangler with Bahrain license plates look over, waving and smiling after seeing Messi play in the 2-0 victory but oblivious to the storied occupants in the back seat of the van.
Jurgen Klinsmann, Faryd Mondragón and Cha Du-ri.
One is a World Cup winner. Together, they were selected for eight World Cup tournaments. Altogether, they made 235 appearances for Germany, Colombia and South Korea.
And now they are on the same broadcasting team making rapid-reaction podcasts that break down team tactics and strategy as they drive to the next stadium or back to their hotel in the upscale Pearl district.
So fresh is the data-driven analysis, the FIFA vehicle is loaded with microphones primed and recording about 20 minutes after the final whistle at Stadium 974.
The Associated Press joined one of FIFA’s podcast crews — three soccer greats and three expert performance analysts — making their first draft of the Argentina-Poland match for what will become FIFA’s official tactical history of the World Cup in Qatar.
The privileged media access even extended to Mondragón ceding his usual seat next to their regular driver.
“The goalkeeper has to be in the front because he’s the biggest,” said Klinsmann, who settled for this journey in the middle seat of the middle row — a hub of the cross-talk with a clear view of the road ahead.
A World Cup winner with West Germany in 1990 and twice a World Cup coach — with Germany in 2006 and the United States in 2014 — Klinsmann is de facto leader of this broadcasting team. It has an easy camaraderie.
There’s a running joke on “soccer versus football” language and Klinsmann polls the AP on “shin pads or shin guards?” He’s clearly a “shin guards” man and the reply of shin pads draws a cheer from the British contingent.
Recording starts after the van crests the parking lot speed bumps and the eight-seater turns onto Ras Abu Abboud Expressway.
The talk is crisply delivered and collegial. All six contribute over an ambient backdrop of soft clicks from the car’s indicator and Mondragón’s phone ring tone. It beeps twice before he silences a call from a Colombian TV channel that wants him on screen.
The 10-minute conversation wraps up while still in the snaking traffic jam, while all are illuminated by the interior light should anyone in neighboring vehicles raise their gaze from their phone. They don’t.
Klinsmann says fans “sometimes wave” at the three players, while Mondragon taps the passenger side window and quips: “It’s bullet proof.”
It was different leaving the stadium as all three patiently posed for selfies with fans as they walked down three flights of steps after leaving their long desk at the front of the media tribune.
The FIFA technical team has a high-tech operation. Each uses an Apple tablet to see games from cameras at wide-angle vantage points on the halfway line and behind each goal. A vertical on-screen panel stores clips of key action and tactical insight.
The FIFA data expert shares instant analysis that can also be given to official broadcasters.
FIFA has committed to publishing reams of data within four hours of each game. It is processed by a team of analysts working in Britain, a World Cup debut project to inform and educate fans and coaches worldwide.
The bigger picture is the FIFA Training Centre website, a free resource aiming to teach coaches in all 211 member countries. It is overseen by Arsène Wenger, who once coached Klinsmann at Monaco.
“The wish from FIFA’s side was, ‘Help us understand what is really relevant,’” Klinsmann said. “For the younger generation it’s no big deal, but for us it’s, ‘OK, how do we connect all this data, with all the statistics. Does it make sense?’
“We are kind of bouncing off each other, the data guys with the soccer guys. We keep learning.”
FIFA has made all the podcasts, video clips and training ground routines freely available. Even for those passengers stuck with their phone in traffic.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press