Kylian Mbappe destroys Argentina to send Lionel Messi and co home in World Cup thriller

June 30, 2018


“It is one of the gifts of being the most talented teenager footballer in the world that Kylian Mbappe makes fast defenders look slow and slow defenders look ridiculous, although in the end this was about bigger things than just a first half demolition of poor old Marcos Rojo. The 19-year-old’s savage turn of speed that won France the penalty for their first goal saw him flash before our eyes in real time while simultaneously the careers of half a dozen Argentinian defenders and midfielders were flashing before theirs. One of those moments that every old pro recognises when the legs are getting slower, the youngsters are getting quicker and the best they can hope for is to kick him before he reaches the area.” Telegraph

Welcome to Kylian Mbappé’s Coming Out Party
“It’s Kylian Mbappé’s world. We’re all just living in it—even Lionel Messi. Mbappé became the first teenager to score more than one goal in a World Cup knockout match since Pelé in 1958, as he tallied twice and drew a penalty. When the final whistle sounded, the scoreboard read 4-3 in favor of Les Bleus, and no player was more responsible for the victory than the youngest player on the field.” The Ringer (Video)

France 4 – 3 Argentina
“Kylian Mbappe announced himself on football’s biggest stage with two fine goals that gave France victory in a classic World Cup encounter with Argentina, and a place in the quarter-finals. Though much of the focus before the game was on Argentina superstar Lionel Messi, it was Mbappe who produced a brilliant performance that will linger long in the memory.” BBC (Video)


Luis Suarez triumphs in battle with Cristiano Ronaldo as Uruguay knock Portugal out of World Cup

June 30, 2018

“Two sumptuous goals from Edinson Cavani set up a tantalising quarter-final meeting with France on Friday on a day when hope of a Messi-Ronaldo showdown in Nizhny Novgorod was vanquished. Yet this was not quite the fairytale for Cavani that France’s thrilling 4-3 victory over Argentina had proved for his club team-mate, Mbappe, earlier in the day. There was only 10 minutes between Cavani scoring Uruguay’s decisive second after the Portugal defender Pepe had cancelled out his opening goal and the striker limping off with a crestfallen look on his face.” Telegraph

Edinson Cavani sends Uruguay to World Cup last eight as Portugal bow out
“Cristiano Ronaldo walked Edinson Cavani out of this game, helping the Uruguayan to the touchline, but not before the Uruguayan had put Portugal out of the World Cup. Cavani departed with 20 minutes remaining, slowly making his way around the edge of the pitch, a lost look on his face. His two goals, both of them superb, took Uruguay through to the quarter-finals but it appears unlikely he will be with them when they face France in Nizhny Novgorod on Friday. Twenty minutes later, it was Ronaldo wearing that look: his World Cup is over, too.” Guardian


Afro‑Europe in the World Cup

June 30, 2018

“It isn’t fair. Though Africa has more countries and a larger population than Europe, the continent only has five berths in the World Cup compared to Europe’s thirteen. And they had to fight for that: it was only a boycott in 1966, led by Kwame Nkrumah, that changed the policy that allowed only one spot for either an African or an Asia team. There are all kinds of justifications, of course, offered for this inequality. And it will likely take a long time for change to happen, and then it will come incrementally. While we wait patiently for institutions to change, however, the world has a way of rendering a kind of justice. Post-colonial migration has created a loophole in FIFA’s global apportioning of representation. This year, there will be two additional African teams in the competition: France and Belgium.” Roads and Kingdoms


Fernando Hierro – Spain’s emergency manager with a pastoral touch

June 30, 2018


“The message arrived very late on the night Spain played their opening match against Portugal, so Miguel Linares did not see it until the following morning. When he looked at his phone, he says he could hardly believe it: it was from the national team manager, Fernando Hierro. The day before Linares had announced that, out of contract at 35, he was leaving second division Real Oviedo, where he had played for four seasons. During one of them – and not an especially successful one in 2016-17 – his manager had been Hierro, who now wrote from Russia to wish him well and offer thanks for everything he had done.” Guardian


World Cup 2018: Peru’s Permission to Dream

June 30, 2018

“On May 30, 2018, the Peruvian soccer squad boarded a plane to Zurich. The chartered flight was loaded with twenty-three players, their technical team, and—we heard over and over—the dreams of a nation. It was the first stop en route to the World Cup in Russia. ‘Peru is ready to face any team in the world,’ said Ricardo Gareca, the Argentinian coach credited with getting Peru this far. But Paolo Guerrero—El Capitán, Peru’s all-time leading goalscorer—did not fly with them. His absence made headlines: Peru was going to play a World Cup for the first time in thirty-six years, with the national star banned from the field. It had been a fraught road to Russia.” NYBooks


Bosnia Divided

June 30, 2018

“There is a natural desire, on the part of everyone from pundits to fans to football bureaucrats, to exult in the power of the World Cup to unify. This is especially true in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is making its World Cup debut next month. Writing for Sports Illustrated, Jonathan Wilson noted that ‘tens of thousands of fans of all ethnicities took to the streets of Sarajevo to celebrate Bosnia’s qualification for World Cup 2014 […] There, general delight suggested that something unexpected and beautiful had occurred, and it hinted at a possible future unity.’ Inevitably, the focus of much of the attention will be on how this divided country’s qualification for a World Cup has united the entire nation after nearly twenty years of post-civil war rehabilitation. ‘A few years ago you could not imagine Bosnians, Serbs and Croats supporting the team, but that could change now,’ Bosnia-Herzegovina coach Safet Sušić was recently quoted as saying in an article pointedly titled ‘Bosnia goes from the battlefield to the World Cup.'” Roads and Kingdoms


World Cup Knockout Stage Statistical Primer

June 29, 2018


“The World Cup enters its knockout stage this weekend, which means we’ll see heartbreak and joy in every game. From multigoal thrillers to dour defensive battles that lead to anxiety-inducing penalty shootouts, the emotional roller coaster is about to ramp up a notch. Here are some statistical primers derived from the World Cup data collected by StatsBomb during the group stages.” The Ringer


50 Years Of World Cup Doppelgangers

June 29, 2018

“*FiveThirtyEight’s Modeled Event Soccer Similarity Index (MESSI) is a system that evaluates and compares player performances across 16 metrics. Each metric is measured on a per-match basis, and for each metric we calculate a z-score — the number of standard deviations above or below average for that World Cup. The similarity between players’ performances is based solely on the average between each of their 16 z-scores — in other words, comparisons match players who are good at similar parts of the game, but the model ignores details like a player’s age or position. Players must have played at least 30 minutes in a given World Cup to be included. Play styles are generated through k-means clustering. Only successful crosses, tackles, passes, take-ons and headers are counted, and tackles, interceptions and blocks are adjusted for the time of possession that the player’s team had during each match. Progressive passes and dribbles advance the ball at least 10 yards toward the opponent’s goal or into their box. Expected goals is the number of goals that our model thinks an average player would score based on the quality and quantity of shots taken, and non-shot expected goals is an estimate of the number of goals an average player’s non-shooting actions — passes, take-ons, interceptions, tackles and headers — would generate for his team.” FiveThirtyEight


World Cup 2018: Sacrés Bleus!

June 29, 2018

“It will escape hardly a single fan of Les Bleus that July 12, 2018, will mark the twentieth anniversary of France’s 3-0 triumph over Brazil to win the World Cup at home at the Stade de France outside Paris, after which a million revelers—black, blanc, beur (black, white, Arab) alike, as the story goes—stormed the Champs-Élysées, commencing Bastille Day celebrations a couple of days early and heralding, in the eyes of the hopeful, a new multicultural dawn for the Fifth Republic. Even those who were not yet born then—a group that includes Kylian Mbappé, perhaps the most electrifying player on the current France team, who was born later that year in the Parisian suburb of Bondy—will find it hard not to think about that 1998 victory. There are vivid narrative links between that iteration of Les Bleus and this year’s squad in Russia”  NYBooks


The 2018 World Cup Letdown All-Stars

June 29, 2018

“The World Cup is a deceptively tricky tournament to predict. Even as it showcases the game’s greatest players on an international stage (with apologies to poor Christian Pulisic), the window to make a lasting impression is aggravatingly short: At most, a team will play seven games in the tournament. The majority of club leagues, meanwhile, play upward of 30 matches in a season—and that’s before considering concurrent cup competitions. The brief nature of the World Cup, in other words, is basically an international version of March Madness and all the swirling chaos that entails.” The Ringer


World Cup 2018: Analysing the tactical flaws England will look to exploit against Colombia in the Round of 16

June 29, 2018


“If it remains difficult to judge England’s level of ability, after two victories against below-par opposition and a defeat with a second-string XI, something similar can be said of Colombia for very different reasons. Jose Pekerman’s side have blown hot and cold, with a fine 3-0 win over Poland sandwiched by a 2-1 defeat to Japan and a nervy 1-0 win over Senegal yesterday. The Japan loss was influenced heavily by the fact Colombia were down to ten men for almost the entire contest, and the Senegal performance was compromised by star man James Rodriguez clearly being unfit, lasting just half an hour. It seems unlikely he’ll be fit to start against England, and certainly won’t be 100% fit.” Independent – Michael Cox


Colombia Emerges From the World Cup Chaos, Booting Senegal

June 29, 2018

“After all that, after all the qualification and buildup, after six hard-fought matches and injuries and hand-wringing, it all came down to yellow cards. Just like Japan, Senegal won once, tied once, and lost once — falling by 1-0 to Colombia on Thursday after giving up a goal to Yerry Mina — but it will be the Japanese advancing to the knockout phase by virtue of having only three yellow cards, while Senegal had five.” NY Times


World Cup 2018: Russian city Samara, football and the space race

June 29, 2018

“Where the Sputnik stadium used to stand there is a housing block, Orbita’s pitch is now wasteland and the old Voskhod ground, named after a space rocket, is crumbling into ruin. These are just some of the old football arenas in Samara, the Russian World Cup host city that is most famous for helping drive the Soviet Union’s space race with the United States. About 1,000km south east of Moscow on the Volga river, Samara has so far hosted three World Cup matches, including Uruguay’s win over Russia on Monday.” BBC


Made in Argentina, and Now Coaching Everywhere at the World Cup

June 28, 2018


“For a while, even after he had embarked on his coaching career, José Pékerman refused to give up his taxi. He had driven the little Renault 12, given to him by his brother, for four years, after an injury had forced him to retire as a player but before he started work in the youth system at the Buenos Aires club Estudiantes. In those early days, Pékerman often arrived for training sessions in the car he had painted yellow and black himself. Coaching was his ambition, and he quickly showed he had a gift for it, but he was reluctant to part with the taxi. It was his guarantee that he could support his family, his safety net. In Argentine soccer, he knew he could never be certain when he might need it.” NY Times


World Cup Group Stage Ends With All Eyes on Fair Play, Unusual Battle for First

June 28, 2018

“Day 15 of World Cup 2018 saw the end of the group stage and another dramatic set of simultaneous group finales. Colombia and Japan advanced and Senegal was out in Group H after fair-play points was used a tiebreaker favoring the Japanese. And in Group G, Belgium beat England 1-0 to win the group and advance to the tougher side of the knockout bracket, while Tunisia exited on a high note, coming from behind to beat Panama 2-1.” SI


The Football Griot – Laurent Dubois

June 28, 2018

“In the early 1950s, a Senegalese radio announcer known as Allou developed a style of match reporting on the radio that delved deep into West African storytelling traditions. He drew on the styles of the griot—hereditary musicians who for generations have spoken the history of families and communities—to recount the exploits of these new heroes in real time. In one memorably tragic match, he recounted live as the player Iba Mar Diop scored a penalty kick at the last minute, winning the game for his team—only to collapse from a heart attack and die moments afterward. Radio journalists such as Allou gave audiences a way to experience and understand such dramatic moments by connecting them to broader cultural narratives about heroism and sacrifice.” Africa is a Country


Arrogant Germany Accepts Its Shocking, Deserved World Cup Elimination

June 27, 2018


“KAZAN, Russia – Against Sweden, when Toni Kroos whipped in his late winner, the general feeling was that this was what Germany does. This was what it has been so good at over the years. Always, somehow, finding the vital goal at the final moment. Always somehow, finding a way through. This is the essence of being a Turniermannschaft–a tournament team–that no matter how badly actually plays, it always prevails.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

World Cup 2018: Germany boss Joachim Low admits side deserved to go out
“Germany manager Joachim Low says his side deserved to go out of the World Cup after they crashed out in the group stage in ‘historic’ fashion. The defending champions finished bottom of Group F after losing 2-0 to South Korea, the first time Germany have gone out in the first round of a World Cup since 1938. ‘This is something for us to reckon with,’ Low said. ‘This is historic. I am sure this will create some public uproar in Germany.’ Sweden won the group with a 3-0 win over Mexico at the same time, which meant Germany needed to win their game in Kazan.” BBC (Video)

Germany Flamed Out In Spectacular, Historic Fashion
“Say goodbye to another defending World Cup champion: Germany, the team that won it all four years ago, is officially out of the 2018 tournament. Despite ultimately only needing a win over South Korea — the fourth-worst team in the field, according to our pre-tournament soccer power index ratings — to advance to the knockout round, the Germans were upended 2-0 on Wednesday in what was easily the biggest upset of the World Cup thus far. (Going into the match, our model only gave South Korea a 5 percent probability of winning.)” FiveThirtyEight

Germany’s approach was football suicide – I’ve never seen such an experienced side so exposed
“England fans will have allowed themselves a satisfied smile as Germany made a shock World Cup exit. Some of those celebrations will not be so quiet. Opportunities to laugh at German football’s expense are rare. Such triumphalism should be accompanied with a warning. Remember what happened the  last time a German team were eliminated in the group stages of  a major tournament? It was Euro 2000. A restructure by the German football federation brought the World Cup 14 years later, as well as a few final and semi-final appearances in between. What has been clear over the course of three poor performances is that another rebuild of the German team is needed.” Telegraph – Jamie Carragher

Germany Is Out of the World Cup. Let’s All Laugh at Die Mannschaft.
“For the first time since 1954, Germany will not be exiting the World Cup’s group stage. South Korea stunned the defending champions 2–0 on Wednesday, sending Die Mannschaft to the bottom of Group F and out of the tournament for good. As a once unstoppable juggernaut heads home, the rest of the soccer world struggles to find a word to describe the joy it is feeling at Germany’s expense. While other nations ebb and flow between ‘golden generations’ and talent draughts, Germany chugs along with infuriating consistency.” Slate

‘Over and out’: media reacts to Germany’s World Cup exit
“In Germany. Niedergeschlagenheit (noun, feminine): Despondency. German football fans, who had never seen their country fall at the first hurdle of a World Cup finals before, will recognise it as they pick up their papers on Thursday morning. Their team, the holders and one of the pre-tournament favourites, finished bottom of Group F after a 2-0 defeat to South Korea on Wednesday. Bild. Germany’s most popular newspaper is ‘speechless’ as it contrasts its front page from June 2014 – after the national team inflicted a 7-1 semi-final defeat on Brazil on its way to winning the World Cup – with its Thursday edition. The headline is the same. The story is not.” Guardian


Germany Out, Brazil Through, Mexico Gets a Hand in Decisive World Cup Group Finales

June 27, 2018

“Day 14 of World Cup 2018 is done, and it will be remembered for defending champion Germany going out in the group stage—the fourth time in the past five World Cups that has happened—in a 2-0 loss to South Korea; for Mexico hanging on to survive with Korean help despite losing 3-0 to Sweden; and for Brazil and Switzerland maintaining their spots atop Group E to advance to the knockout rounds.” SI


Melilla, Morocco vs. Spain and the World Cup’s Unique Football Rivalry

June 27, 2018

“On Monday night in Russia’s Kaliningrad Stadium, Morocco played Spain in another thrilling FIFA World Cup match. It was the first time the two countries—which have had a love-hate relationship for over a millennium—met since a two-legged 1962 World Cup playoffs tie. Nowhere on earth—with the exception of Ceuta—had the match such political resonances than in Melilla, which is, along with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on Moroccan soil. Melilla, with its wide boulevards, modernist buildings and tapas bars, has a distinctly Spanish feel. Palm trees abound.” Bleacher Report


Ghetto defendants

June 27, 2018


“So far, so so: France’s journey to the World Cup was not without worry, and pre-World Cup friendlies were all but reassuring. France’s opening game against Australia was an assault on the nerves but ended in video-assisted victory. [The next game, a 1-0 victory over Peru, was equally unconvincing–Editor]. The best thing to come out of this may well be the fact that Paul Pogba’s diary has replaced in the media Antoine Griezmann’s unbelievably tone-deaf docudrama La Decisión, in which he wasted half an hour of life to announce that he would stay at Atlético Madrid. Team France lives under the sign of video: a sign of the times—constant contact has become a staple of modern sports culture and communication. Or lack thereof.” Africa is a Country


Nigeria vs Argentina: Ever Banega’s return frees Lionel Messi from creative duties to inspire victory

June 27, 2018

“Argentina required a late goal from a hugely unlikely source – the right boot of Marcos Rojo – but their approach throughout their 2-1 victory over Nigeria was at least an improvement upon past displays. How much credit manager Jorge Sampaoli can take remains questionable, however, after various reports Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano are effectively now running the dressing room.” Independent – Michael Cox

What’s wrong with Argentina? We now value ‘balls’ more than talent
“So many things are wrong with Argentina we do not know what is wrong; so much is happening no one knows what is happening. You could start an article on the news pages with that same line but they fit on the sports pages too because these are turbulent times for our football. It was not always like this. For many years, football made up for our long political, social and economic decline.” Guardian


How to really watch the World Cup

June 27, 2018

“Every soccer game is a story that opens up onto an infinite number of other stories. The World Cup is the ultimate concatenation of these stories, the greatest work of literature the sport has to offer. World Cup teams are perhaps the most visible embodiment of nations — collectives whose actions on the pitch can seem, in the moment, to determine the fate of a country. The biographies of particular players intermingle with that of the team, channeling and condensing our most vexed histories, those of nations and their unending quest to define themselves. Yet while many of us root for a particular nation in the World Cup, our fandom during the tournament is often an expression of a complex web of allegiances.” Vox – Laurent Dubois


For a 90-Minute Game, a Train Ride of 27 Hours

June 27, 2018


“YEKATERINBURG, Russia — After nearly 27 hours and 900 miles on a train from Moscow, Hans Josefsson’s pedicure remained immaculate. Before leaving Sweden 10 days earlier for the World Cup, he had his toenails painted blue and gold, the colors of the national soccer team. ‘A professional did it; I knew I would do a lot of walking in these sandals,’ Mr. Josefsson said before arriving here Tuesday afternoon in the easternmost Russian city in which matches are being played. A fellow passenger on the daylong trip, Luis Aragones, 24, an architect, had watched in Mexico City as Mexico stunned Germany, the defending champion, in its opening game. He had joined a delirious celebration whose mass jumping may have caused the equivalent of a minor earthquake.” NY Times


Politics on the pitch: Operation double eagle

June 27, 2018

“Try as they might, FIFA can’t keep politics out of the beautiful game. For football fans, players, and even officials, the events of the past few days have been a stark reminder of just how prominent politics are in this summer’s World Cup held in Russia. Last Friday, Egypt’s Mo Salah was photographed at a ceremonial banquet where he was granted ‘honourary citizenship’ by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. This comes just weeks after the publication of a photo featuring Salah and Kadyrov that resulted in criticism against the footballer, as Kadyrov faces accusations of outrageous human rights violations. It’s been rumored that Salah’s frustration with being the centre of political controversy has driven him to think about leaving the Egyptian national team.” Al Jazeera (Audio)


Algerian history as graphic novel: “The past flows into the future”

June 27, 2018

“The football World Cup of 1958 is mainly remembered for two men. The first is Pelé, and the second is Just Fontaine. On the way to the semi final, which they lost to Brazil, Fontaine scored thirteen goals for France, still a world cup record. France beat Germany in the play-off to finish the tournament in third. Absent from Les Bleues throughout the tournament was Rachid Mekhloufi, a twenty-one year old forward who played for Saint Étienne.” Africa is a Country


From Elimination to Elation: Argentina Somehow Staves Off Early World Cup Exit

June 27, 2018


“It’s probably best not even to try to make sense of it. You have Lionel Messi in your side. You bring on Sergio Aguero to play alongside Gonzalo Higuain in front of him. You have taken off Angel Di Maria. You have just brought on Cristian Pavon. None of them look like scoring. Passes are misplaced. The shape has gone. Every attempt to advance, it seems, runs into a Nigerian wall. It’s the same story as against Iceland, as against Croatia. All of the ball, no penetration. And then the goal comes. You make all your plans, you squeeze in as many gifted forwards as you can, and somehow the vital 86th-minute winner is scored by Marcos Rojo turning up with no justification whatsoever to volley in a rare accurate cross from Gabriel Mercado. With his wrong foot.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Argentina Takes Its Bad Self to the Knockout Round
“With time running out and his team on the brink of group-stage elimination, everyone in the world knew there was only one man Argentina could count on to find the winner against Nigeria. Yes, Marcos Rojo, the versatile defender who made nine Premier League appearances for Manchester United this season. Scorer of four goals in the last four years for club and country. Perhaps the last person you might expect to save his country by scoring a late goal, other than Argentina forward and chronic international choker Gonzalo Higuain. Rojo’s claim, made in an interview after the game, that he told his teammates he was going to score is either a sign of a healthy, functioning ego or grounds for a psychiatric evaluation, even considering that one of those four goals in the last four years was the winner against Nigeria in the 2014 World Cup.” Slate

Argentina Survived the Group Stage. But How Far Can Messi Carry Them?
“On a team with Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín, and Ángel Di María, few would have predicted that Marcos Rojo — yes, that Marcos Rojo; the one who scored just one goal in four seasons with Manchester United — would be the hero who put Argentina ahead of Nigeria and into the knockout stages.” The Ringer


Argentina Gets a Clean World Cup Slate After Marcos Rojo’s Heroic Volley

June 27, 2018

“Day 13 of World Cup 2018 is done, and the second night of simultaneous group finales brought another evening of memorable drama. Argentina got the victory and help it needed to survive and advance in a thrilling 2-1 win against Nigeria, while Iceland lost to Croatia 2-1. And in Group C, France and Denmark played a dreadful 0-0 tie that allowed Denmark advance to the knockout rounds as a second-place finisher, while Australia squandered its chance to make things interesting in a 2-0 loss to Peru.” SI


World Cup 2018: Morocco’s Glimpse of the Possible

June 27, 2018

“For Morocco, this World Cup began with defeat. We were favored to win our first match, against Iran, but in a turn of fate, with the game tied nil-all and minutes before the end, one of the Moroccan players scored an own-goal. That 1-0 loss crushed our slim hopes to shine and to advance from a challenging group. Sure enough, in our second game, against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, we proceeded to lose—despite dominating the match. On Monday, against Spain, we had little left to play for—except, perhaps, some honor. But in an amazing game that twice saw Morocco go ahead against one of the world’s top teams, we earned a 2-2 draw that left Moroccans proud of the national team despite its not making it to the next round.” NYBooks


The Football Atlas: the illustrations putting the World Cup on the map

June 27, 2018


“Artist and designer Michael Raisch has combined his expertise in photorealistic portraiture, his lifelong penchant for cartography and his love of football to create a new multimedia project, The Football Atlas. Will Sharp found out more.” Guardian


Soccer and Doping? Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

June 27, 2018

“The World Cup continues to thrill, with exhilarating wins by England, Germany, Belgium and Colombia, and an equally exciting draw between Japan and Senegal. Away from the field, though, an old controversy has once again rumbled into view: doping. The Mail on Sunday, a British newspaper, reported over the weekend that a Russian player, Ruslan Kambolov, who was excluded from his country’s World Cup squad because of injury, had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs 18 months ago. And according to the paper, it gets worse: Both the Russian authorities and FIFA kept this information quiet.” NY Times


World Cup 2018: Fear Kills Flair for Egypt

June 26, 2018

“… Egyptian, Muslim, and football fans: all came together on June 15 when Egypt played Uruguay in its first World Cup match in twenty-eight years. It was also the first day of Eid, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. And it was also the birthday of a man called Mohamed Salah, whose incandescent talent propelled us to the tournament in Russia.” NYBooks


Brazil, Spain, Germany, France failing to find attacking balance

June 25, 2018


Brazil – Neymar
“Football tactics are generally considered a mere necessary evil in football, discussed purely in terms of hampering individual freedom and disrupting opposition play. But tactical planning is also about attacking, about creating the right balance between different concepts to create a cohesive, harmonious but varied threat in the final third. Finding the balance in attack, combining different concepts and formulating how they come together smoothly is the most fascinating element of football strategy. An all-round attacking force offers various qualities: runs in behind, width to stretch play, movement to create gaps in the opposition, late runs from midfield, a target in the middle, a player between the lines to link play, and some degree of long-range, goal-scoring threat to ensure you don’t actually need to penetrate the defence. Limited to only three or four attacking individuals, however, coaches have a tricky balancing act. So far, none of the four favourites for World Cup 2018 — Brazil, Spain, Germany and France — have found the right balance.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Spain, Portugal Survive Simultaneous Madness; Uruguay Roughs Up Russia at World Cup

June 25, 2018

“Day 12 of World Cup 2018 is done, and the drama reached a peak level. In Group B, favorites Spain and Portugal couldn’t manage three points against their game foes (Spain 2, Morocco 2 and Portugal 1, Iran 1) but still advanced to the knockout rounds, even though Iran made it heartbreakingly close late against the Portuguese. Earlier in the day in Group A, things were considerably less dramatic, as Uruguay beat Russia 3-0 to win the group and leave the Russians in a we’ll-take-it second-place spot.” SI


World Cup 2018: Why England’s thumping win over Panama was tactically similar to their Tunisia late show

June 25, 2018

“It might sound strange to suggest that England’s 6-1 thrashing of Panama was somewhat similar to their last-gasp 2-1 victory over Tunisia, yet look beyond the scoreline and there were very similar themes. England’s combination football in open play largely involved getting midfield runners in behind, while they depended upon set-pieces for their goals. Gareth Southgate made only once enforced change from England’s opener, Ruben Loftus-Cheek replacing the injured Dele Alli. Loftus-Cheek played to the right of England’s midfield trio, with Lingard switching to an inside-left role. The basic approach, however, remained the same.” Independent – Michael Cox (Video)


In St. Petersburg, Managing Sleep and Soccer

June 25, 2018


“ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — This is one of the world’s great cities, a magical mix of colors and canals that sparkle, especially in June, when the sun does not dip behind the Baltic Sea until around midnight. Visitors and residents wander the streets and embankments through the small hours of what is night during the rest of the year but these days is just a brief dawn. A favorite, middle-of-the-night activity is strolling to the harbor, where thousands pack the banks of the Neva River to watch the bridges rise so boats can enter. The nearly uninterrupted light this far north acts as a kind of human power plant, continuously fueling millions of bodies but preventing them from getting the signals they need to begin the daily wind down that eventually leads to sleep.” NY Times


The Sleepers To Watch In The World Cup Knockout Rounds

June 25, 2018

“The World Cup is not traditionally the tournament for underdogs. The trophy has been lifted by just eight countries — and five of those have won multiple times. But there’s usually enough room for a few Cinderella stories to creep into the knockout phase: Bulgaria (1994), South Korea (2002) and Turkey (2002) were unexpected semifinalists, while Cameroon (1990), Ghana (2010) and Costa Rica (2014) crashed the quarterfinals. At least one country seems to do this every four years. We see three teams that could fit the bill this summer. Before the tournament, each of them had no greater than a 3 percent chance of winning it all, according to FiveThirtyEight’s model, but each has performed well so far and could make a strong run in the knockout rounds.” FiveThirtyEight


World Cup 2018: How the likes of Andres Iniesta and Thomas Muller helped industrialise youth coaching

June 25, 2018

“Back in the 2010 World Cup, before Andres Iniesta had scored the winner in the final but while he was still suffering the injury problems that would make that moment more wondrous, one leading figure in European youth football spotted something so specifically special about the playmaker’s game. The Barcelona star would always position himself so that he was an equal distance from all the opposition players around him. It meant that even if he was not at his physical maximum, as was the case for much of that World Cup, he still had the maximum space and opportunity to escape.” Independent


Chaos as Poland falls to earth with a bump

June 25, 2018

“It seemed to come completely out of the blue. Poland, a side that had stormed through the Euro 2016 qualifiers, made it to the quarter finals of the main tournament, qualified again easily for the World Cup, in the top 10 in the world rankings, blessed with world class players like Robert Lewandowski, have somehow tumbled out of the World Cup with a whimper not a bang, totally devoid of any of the qualities that have been their trademark over the last four years or so. How did this disaster happen?” Rightbankwarsaw


The Great Disgrace

June 25, 2018

“Two days before his eleventh birthday Richard Gaulke straddled his bicycle, the one without gears, and pedalled the fifteen miles from his hometown Monheim to Düsseldorf, where Germany were playing the Netherlands. Germany won 4-2. A Bayern Munich forward scored a hat-trick on his debut. His name was Josef Pöttinger. There were 60,000 on hand and they went wild. The date was 18 April 1926. It was Richard Gaulke’s first international. He was hooked for life.” The Blizzard


Colombia Dazzles Us Again, England Overwhelms in Big World Cup Wins

June 24, 2018


“Day 11 of World Cup 2018 is done, and the goals came by the bucketload. England rained them down on Panama in a 6-1 victory highlighted by Harry Kane’s hat trick. Japan came from behind twice against Senegal in a fun 2-2 tie marked by inventive goals and goalkeeper errors. And Colombia kicked a disappointing Poland out of the tournament with a 3-0 victory that brought back memories of Colombia teams from 2014 and the early 1990s. With each team having played two matches, only six have booked their round-of-16 places, while another eight have been eliminated, leaving plenty of drama to be settled in the coming four days.” SI


The beautiful read: Fourteen must-read soccer books for the World Cup

June 24, 2018

“Entranced by the World Cup, or inquisitive about the game, the spectacle and the serious passion, you might wonder where to read further and deeper into this, the greatest shared sports phenomenon on the planet. Well, there are a lot of books about soccer; some brilliantly written and insightful, some sincere and some both scholarly and splendid. It’s a writing arena as big as the sport. Since soccer is potently international, some the best writing about it is not in English. In fact, one of the entries in any – repeat, any – short list of great books about the game was first written in Spanish by the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano. In English-speaking countries, books about soccer abound, although most are celebratory works about a team, a season or a star player. Lately, the field has widened again and an impressive number of new books explore the game, its meaning and magic allure.” Globe and Mail


World Cup 2018: Is Saransk the most unusual host city in Russia?

June 24, 2018

“I was only in town half an hour before I saw him – a man taking his overweight cat for a walk, down the road and under a bridge on a makeshift lead. Nobody could really tell me what Saransk, the capital of Mordovia and about 430 miles east of Moscow, would be like, but this was an interesting start. Welcome to the city nobody expected to host the World Cup. … The next day, after Denmark beat Peru 1-0, the roads were reopened. Metal-box buses clanked and chugged along as a souped-up hatchback with one lime-green tyre rim raced past, blaring techno music as it went. Maybe the closures did make sense.” BBC


World Cup 2018: Brazil’s Respite from Reality

June 24, 2018

“Every four years, Brazil is transformed by a sportive Midas touch that turns everything into apolitical emptiness. It sweeps our country with a force almost too strong to resist. We puff up our chests and recall that we are the only country that has attended every single FIFA World Cup since its beginning in 1930 (a distinction we have held alone since 1950, when Romania did not enter the competition and France withdrew). We have also won the championship five times.” NYBooks


Germany Saves Its World Cup Life, But Champions Show Their Vulnerability

June 23, 2018


“Finally, in the second half of its second game at the 2018 World Cup, Germany began to play. It looked as though it had left it too late, that it would be relying on Mexico and Sweden not playing out a draw of self-interest but then, in the fifth of five minutes of added time, Toni Kroos swept home a free kick from the left. It was a stunning goal to end a game of constant drama and give Germany a much-needed 2-1 win. It means that Germany will qualify for the last 16 if it gets a better result against South Korea on Wednesday than Sweden manages against Mexico. It also, in one moment, perhaps explained just why Germany has not gone out of a World Cup in the first round for 80 years.” SI – Jonathan Wilson (Video)

Germany Finds a Way; Mexico, Belgium Take Big Steps Toward World Cup Knockout Stage
“Day 10 of World Cup 2018 was full of drama. Defending World Cup champion Germany was seconds from being all but eliminated in the group stage, but the shorthanded Germans used a sensational Toni Kroos free kick deep into stoppage time to beat Sweden 2-1. Elsewhere, Mexico continued its hot start to the tournament, beating South Korea 2-1 to stay in first place in the group. In the day’s first match Belgium blasted Tunisia 5-2 in the most freewheeling game of the day, all but securing its place in the last 16.” SI


Philippe Coutinho, the quiet master in Brazil’s World Cup high drama

June 23, 2018

“As Pelé famously pointed out, all you really need is a ball and the green, green grass. Plus of course, in his long-form World Cup version, a vast media presence that could pack out the St Petersburg Stadium on its own; a bubble of crushing continental-scale expectation; and above all tears, tears and more tears. Nobody does World Cup angst quite like Brazil. As Tite’s talented team wrestled their way to a fraught but ultimately useful 2-0 defeat of Costa Rica by the Gulf of Finland there were howls, cries of frustration, and constant reminders that for Brazil simply being present at the World Cup is to become immersed in a vast overblown operetta of fear, joy and lurking emotional collapse.” Guardian


World Cup 2018: Serbia chief accuses Fifa of ‘brutal robbery’ after Swiss defeat

June 23, 2018

“The head of the Serbian Football Association has accused governing body Fifa of showing bias against his country at the World Cup in Russia. Slavisa Kokeza says Serbia were victims of a ‘brutal robbery’ during Friday’s loss to Switzerland, accusing Fifa of ‘directing’ officials to work against them. ‘We will send a protest to Fifa today,’ Kokeza told the BBC on Saturday. A Fifa spokesman confirmed a letter of protest had been received but that no further comment would be made.” BBC (Video)

Mexico Fans Stop Homophobic Chant, Excel at Good Chants
“Saturday’s match against South Korea went about as well for Mexico as its fans could have hoped. The 2–1 victory all but guaranteed a trip to the World Cup’s knock-out stages and bolstered El Tri’s chances of winning its tough group outright. The game also didn’t feature any homophobic chants, so it was a very fine day indeed. On Wednesday, FIFA fined the Mexico Football Federation $10,000 for its fans’ use of the ‘discriminatory and insulting’ puto chant during the opening match against Germany.” Slate


Telemundo Has a Big Goal: Win the World Cup

June 23, 2018


“MIAMI — Nearly seven years before this year’s World Cup began, Eli Velazquez, a sports television executive for Telemundo, was awakened by an early morning phone call from his boss six time zones away. It was earth-shattering news. For the first time, Velazquez’s longtime employer, Telemundo, one of the main Spanish-language broadcast networks in the United States, had wrested away World Cup broadcast rights from Univision, its archrival. For the hefty sum of $600 million, the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were theirs. Still in bed, Velazquez, who had helped prepare Telemundo’s sales pitch, struggled to absorb the welcome, but overwhelming, news.” NY Times


The Politics of the 2018 World Cup

June 23, 2018

“This week we speak to former US Olympic soccer player and the author of Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics Jules Boykoff about the politics of the World Cup—and the games themselves.” The Nation (Audio)


World Cup 2018: South Korea Wins at Democracy

June 23, 2018

“The World Cup, in South Korea, is usually a huge deal—but not this year. The South Korean media has barely covered it, and conversations rarely turn to it. Part of the reason is that the 2018 Korean squad is pretty bad. A dedicated Korea fan could find some solace in the fact that the Taegeuk Warriors—so named after the Korean word for the red and blue yin-yang symbol in the middle of the South Korean flag—have qualified for ten World Cups in all and the past nine in a row, a record for an Asian country. Our ebullient striker Son Heung-min can be a joy to watch—if only there were a few more world-class talents around him. But since South Korea drew the same group as defending champions Germany and the strong Mexican squad that just defeated Die Mannschaft, the national team is unlikely to advance out of the group stage. The Korean squad could not even eke out a draw against its fellow underdog Sweden, losing 0-1 in a listless and ugly game.” NYBooks


Why do African countries hire non-African football coaches so much?

June 23, 2018

“It seemed strange when in the run-up to Afcon 2013, Nigeria’s coach Stephen Keshi forcefully criticised African football associations for their preference for white coaches. That when Zambia, until this week the great success story of African football, had Hervé Renard to thank for masterminding their unlikely triumph last year in Libreville. Yet Keshi has a point. The success of Zambia under Renard should not obscure the fact that African football administrators have always failed to appreciate and make use of its own resources and talent. This is true of football as it is of Africa’s national economies.” Africa is a Country


World Cup 2018: How Belgium Became Cool

June 22, 2018


“The only true Belgian, goes a long-running joke, is the king of the country. Riven by tensions between its French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemish, and with the identity of Brussels largely defined by it’s being the capital of Europe, rather than Belgium, the country’s existence as a unified nation often seems tenuous at best. But in the last decade, another national institution has come to symbolize what it means—or, at least, might mean—to be Belgian: the national soccer team, known as the Red Devils. Packed with star players well-known from their professional careers in the English Premier League (considered the world’s best), the national squad is also notably for its diversity, with many players from immigrant backgrounds. In 2014, the Belgian pop star Stromae wrote an anthem for the Red Devils and released a playful video with the coach and players. Heading into this year’s World Cup, the team embodies the contradictions, and possibilities, of an uncertain nation.” NYBooks

Belgium’s Last Stand
“In the span of about 30 minutes in the second half of their opener against Panama on Monday, Belgium displayed the heights of their potential, and the purest distillation of their flaws. After a first half with more squandered opportunities than most teams have in a full game, Belgium capitalized when Dries Mertens smacked a volley from the corner of the box past Jaime Penedo and into the back of the net. Just over 20 minutes later, Romelu Lukaku doubled his team’s lead, and then six minutes after that added a third goal for good measure. It was what happened between the Belgians’ opening goal and their second that was cause for concern.” The Ringer (Video)


Subs Spark Brazil, Musa Inspires Nigeria, Stars Shine for Switzerland at World Cup

June 22, 2018

“Day 9 of World Cup 2018 is done, highlighted by Brazil’s late 2-0 win against Costa Rica and the tears of Neymar, Nigeria’s breathtaking 2-0 victory against Iceland and Switzerland’s 2-1 comeback triumph against Serbia. The results set up what will be an incredible set of final matchdays across both groups. In Group D, only Croatia is through, and Nigeria, Iceland Argentina all remain alive for the second spot in the knockout stage. In Group E, no team has secured its knockout place yet, setting up a tense Brazil-Serbia encounter and an important Switzerland-Costa Rica one, even with Los Ticos being eliminated after their hard-fought loss.” SI


Why Is This Man Crying?

June 22, 2018

Neymar wept. After tying its opener and enduring 90 minutes of deadlock against an underdog Costa Rica, the World Cup favorites Brazil scored twice in stoppage time to secure a badly needed victory. Cue the armchair psychologists. Was Neymar’s reaction to the final whistle an emotional response to his first goal in the tournament? A release valve for the pressure of being one of the world’s best players on its biggest stage? For the pressure of leading the tournament favorites? The pressure of being Brazil?” Slate (Video)


Shambolic, frenzied, anarchic – and Argentina crisis has Messi at its heart

June 22, 2018


“It was in 1913 that Racing became the first non-Anglo side to win the Argentinian league title. For much of the century that has followed, Argentinian football has defined itself in opposition to the English, distancing itself from its British heritage. And yet, under pressure, in their frenzied desperation on Thursday, Argentina resembled nobody so much as England. This was shambolic. Too many players tried to do too much themselves. There was altogether too much running, too much frenzy, too many fouls conceded as they desperately tried to regain possession, too little thought. By the end, as Ivan Rakitic casually rolled in a sarcastic third for Croatia, Argentina were gone, any semblance of defensive structure blown to the winds.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson (Video)

World Cup 2018: Jorge Sampaoli’s approach was an utter disaster that rendered Lionel Messi useless
“There was always a danger Argentina might flop at World Cup 2018, but it shouldn’t have been this pitiful. If Argentina were going to go down, they were going to go down fighting, with coach Jorge Sampaoli a noted advocate of aggressive pressing, attacking football and quick combination play. If those tactics exposed them defensively, it was a risk Sampaoli was willing to take. But the approach Sampaoli stumbled upon somehow provided all the drawbacks without any notable positives. Argentina didn’t press high, they didn’t attack relentlessly, and it’s difficult to recall any passing moves worth mentioning, yet they were still hopelessly open defensively, conceding space on the outside of their three-man defence readily. Only poor Croatian finishing prevented them from taking the lead earlier.” Independent – Michael Cox

Mentally and emotionally burned out, Lionel Messi crumbles under the burden of carrying Argentina at the World Cup
“By the time a humiliated Argentina emerged from the dressing room in Nizhny Novgorod, it was late – in so many ways. A stony-faced Lionel Messi at least led the way here, but this time with ample support as the entire squad followed tightly behind…and right on through the mixed zone without stopping once. Argentina were at last singing from the same hymn sheet in this World Cup by not saying anything all.” Independent

As fighters, as entertainers, as a team, this Argentina project has failed
“On 21 June 1978 Argentina’s World Cup defeat of Peru went down in history as one of the most controversial games ever. The goalfest and intelligent football that unfolded on that cold night in Rosario, as the wonderful Mario Kempes found his feet on his home turf of yesteryear, were eclipsed by allegations which kept conspiracy theorists and investigative journalists busy for years. Argentina, aware they needed to win by at least four goals to progress in their home tournament, triumphed 6-0 amid rumours that an exchange of grain between the countries had been brokered in the dressing room. They went on to lift the trophy.” Guardian (Video)


Russia Is Not This Good — Right?

June 22, 2018

“Before the 2018 World Cup kicked off last week at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, much had been written about why Russia was so bad at soccer. A convincing 5-0 opening match win over Saudi Arabia — Russia’s first win at the tournament since 2002 also matched its largest margin of victory at a World Cup — surely helped to allay some of those criticisms. But there was still no looking past the fact that the host nation ranked 70th in the FIFA world rankings and was looked at by bookmakers as a relative long shot to win the whole thing.” FiveThirtyEight


Moscow – Between darkness and light

June 22, 2018

“MANUEL VETH uncovers the storied history a football city that never sleeps, and of the Russian capital’s big clubs, from the Soviet era to the days of wealthy Oligarchs. Moscow has always been a city of progress. The pace at which it has developed since the collapse of communism has been breathless. In a sprawling city, there exists a patchwork of classical Tsarist architecture mixed with Stalinist skyscrapers, Khrushchev’s brutalism and post-communist extravagance. All of this is visible from the viewing platform on the Sparrow Hills. This viewpoint, located next to the Moscow State University, one of the Seven Sisters, which are seven skyscrapers built by Stalin in a mix of Russian baroque and gothic styles. From Sparrow Hill one can see the remaining six of the Seven Sisters, the Moskva river that gives Moscow its name, the towers of New Moscow’s financial district, and most importantly for football fans, the gigantic Luzhniki Stadium.” Football Pink


Argentina 0 – 3 Croatia

June 21, 2018


“Argentina are facing the prospect of an early World Cup exit after a dreadful error from goalkeeper Willy Caballero set Croatia on their way to victory and a place in the last 16. On a night when so much was expected of Argentina captain Lionel Messi, Caballero made the most telling contribution to his team’s fate with an attempted chip over Ante Rebic that backfired badly, allowing the striker to volley into an exposed net in the 53rd minute. Messi – adrift for much of the match, especially during a pedestrian opening half – rallied his side, but neither he nor substitute forwards Gonzalo Higuain and Pablo Dybala could find a way through in Nizhny Novgorod.” BBC (Video)

Argentina on brink as Ante Rebic sparks rout to put Croatia through
“Jorge Sampaoli held his head in his hands. Lionel Messi stared at the floor. The rest of the Argentina players were gazing aimlessly into space with their hands on their hips as Croatia celebrations broke out all around. Luka Modric had just filed a contender for goal of the tournament and twisted the knife in the process, leaving Argentina, twice world champions, on the brink of elimination. By the time Ivan Rakitic added a third, in the closing minutes, Argentina were broken.” Guardian


Punchless Argentina Barely Hanging on, Pogba Comes to Life at World Cup

June 21, 2018

“MOSCOW — Day 8 of World Cup 2018 was defined by Lionel Messi’s continued frustration and the suffering of Argentina fans, who saw their team lose 3-0 to Croatia in a one-sided headliner of the day’s triple-header. Thursday was also defined by the resurgent Paul Pogba and France, which clinched advancement to the knockout stage along with Croatia following a 1-0 win over Peru; and by a brave 1-1 tie earned by Australia against Denmark that keeps the Aussies alive in Group C.” SI


An Exorcism 40 Years in the Making

June 21, 2018

“It’s been 48 hours and I still can’t believe it: On Sunday, against all odds, Mexico beat Germany, reigning World Cup champion and undisputed machine of world soccer, in a stunning display of tactical brilliance, athletic prowess, and pure sporting hunger. Over the past decade, the Germans have methodically altered their approach to the game through an unprecedented development program that has radically altered the way the country plays the sport, teaching youngsters to forgo pure German strength and embrace possession and flair. The experiment reached its pinnacle four years ago in Brazil, where Germany destroyed the home team at its own game and won the tournament handily. The rest of the world could only watch in awe.” Slate


Broadcasts in a Native Language, Speaking to Every Corner of Peru

June 21, 2018

“The language of soccer games is ripe with phrases, metaphors and clichés that reflect modern life: a coach who parks the bus, a midfielder who shoots rockets, a striker who scores with a bicycle kick. But at 11,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes, the vocabulary changes. That is where Luis Soto, who hosts a daily sports program on Radio Inti Raymi, is narrating Peru’s first appearance at the World Cup since 1982 in his native language, Quechua.” NY Times