“In the protracted campaign for World Cup qualification, a little luck can go a long way. Panama are one of only two teams that will make their debuts in the finals this year – the other is Iceland – but unlike the men from the very margin of Europe, virtually nothing is known about the Central Americans. Which is partly because they haven’t done a great deal in the past century. But they did knock out the Americans to get to Russia, albeit not without a touch of controversy and good fortune. …” Football Pink
“The big news should have been the magnificent goal that Vinicius Junior scored for Flamengo in the Rio de Janeiro derby against Botafogo. Cutting in from the left onto his stronger right foot, he curled a superb shot into the far top corner, clinching a 3-1 win for his side. It was an indication of the quality of a 17-year-old who is already bound for Europe. Real Madrid caused a splash last year when they agreed to pay an astonishing 45 million Euros for such an unproven talent. Still with Flamengo, Vinicius is having to grow up in public. He is, understandably, very raw. …” World Soccer – Tim Vickery
“The first leg, you suspect, went just as Antonio Conte would have wanted it to go – apart from the bit about not playing a square ball across your penalty area to Andrés Iniesta with 15 minutes of a Champions League match remaining. But that is the problem with great tactical plans: they always rely, ultimately, on that most fallible of species: humans. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson
Sadio Mané and Liverpool put five goals past F.C. Porto last week.
“As he readied his players to face Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League last week, F.C. Basel Coach Raphaël Wicky realized he had a problem. Ordinarily, Wicky would dedicate one training session shortly before a game to a shadow match: On one side, his likely starting team, and on the other, 11 squad members slotted in to simulate Basel’s forthcoming opponent. They would line up in the same system, adopt the same style, play in the same patterns. The aim of the exercise is to familiarize the first team with the challenge that lies in wait. …” NY Times
“Barry Davies said it best. Four minutes after Diego Maradona had broken the deadlock by punching the ball into England’s net in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup, the Argentinian genius collected possession in his own half, dribbled past five opponents (including goalkeeper Peter Shilton) and gave his country a 2-0 lead which would prove unassailable. …” The Set Pieces (Video)
“Wigan’s win over Manchester City was an amazing game to witness and it has to go down as one of the greatest FA Cup shocks of all time. When the Latics beat City in the 2013 final it was a big enough upset, but that was when they were a top-flight club, not in League One as they are now. Then you consider the level Pep Guardiola’s side have been performing at all season, how far clear they are at the top of the Premier League, and that they were trying to do the Quadruple. …” BBC (Video)
“Opta’s defensive errors are a statistic which has been discussed with regards to Liverpool countless times over the years. Between 2012/13 and 2015/16, the Reds made between 29 and 42 every season, and were ranked either third or first every year for most errors in the Premier League. When’s the parade, eh? Jürgen Klopp has overseen a sizeable improvement in his two full seasons at the club. …” Tomkins Times