Celebrating Pele, the greatest player in World Cup history


“It is a matter of opinion whether Edson Arantes do Nascimento was the greatest footballer in the history of the world, but there’s little doubt he was the greatest footballer in the history of the World Cup. One simple fact concisely demonstrates that: Pele won it three times. No one else in history, man or woman, can match that. There was more to Pele than simply the World Cup. At club level, he won six Brazilian titles, two Copa Libertadores trophies and remains Santos’ all-time top goalscorer. He subsequently starred in the North American Soccer League for New York Cosmos. But no one has ever matched Pele’s World Cup record, achieved when international football, rather than club football, was unquestionably the most revered form of the game. …”
The Athletic
W – Pelé
*****Guardian – ‘A piece of footballing art’: six memorable moments from Pelé’s career
*****BBC – Pele: Goalscorer, World Cup winner, hero, icon and legend (Video)
*****NY Times: Pelé, a Name That Became Shorthand for Perfection (Video)
*****NY Times: Pelé, the Global Face of Soccer, Dies at 82 (Video)
*****NY Times: Pelé Will Live Forever
YouTube: Pele’s Top 5 Goals, Pele’s Best Skills

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Erling, Alfie and the Haalands’ lingering links to Leeds


“Gary Edwards accepts that time plays tricks on the mind, but even so, he is adamant his story is true. It goes back about 10 years and involves a social event arranged by the Leeds United Supporters Club of Scandinavia (LUSCOS). Edwards was there and a Leeds fan he was chatting to pointed to a boy standing near them in the room. … Nobody at LUSCOS is sure if Erling actually attended one of their dinners and none of them can remember that occasion specifically but, apocryphal or not, Edwards’ tale stems from the close proximity of the Haaland family to Leeds. …”
The Athletic

‘We respect the scientists’ – how new heading rules affect Scottish football

“Early this month and within days of the Scottish Football Association introducing groundbreaking guidelines on the heading of balls at training, the Partick Thistle goalkeeper Jamie Sneddon nodded home a stoppage-time equaliser at Cove Rangers. Was the association’s bid to protect players, after links were established between head injuries and neurodegenerative disease, destined to be in vain? …”
Guardian

Cody Gakpo’s Liverpool transfer – five days, Christmas talks and Van Dijk’s role

Liverpool’s outgoing sporting director Julian Ward worked through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to get the basis of a transfer agreement for Cody Gakpo in place with the player’s club, PSV Eindhoven. His counterpart in the Netherlands was PSV’s sporting director Marcel Brands, formerly of Everton. …”
The Athletic (Video)

The half-spaces as a key chance creation channel


“It has long been hypothesized that ‘Zone 14’ is the holy grail of chance creation. The ideas around this concept were built around a study from the late 1990s that specified that successful teams had a higher frequency of getting into this zone when compared against their peers. Since opposition clubs often compact central channels out of possession, it’s logical to reason that teams who are more successful in advancing into one of the most congested areas of the pitch are more successful overall. …”
The Mastermindsite

Serie A 2022-23 recap: Where were we?

“It has been six weeks since the last Serie A matches, so let’s have a reminder of where the races for the Scudetto, Champions League, Europa and relegation spots stand. The fixtures kick off again on January 4 with a full slate of 10 games on that day and it’ll pick up with a big clash between leaders Napoli and title chasers Inter. Luciano Spalletti’s men went into the break for the World Cup sitting a massive eight points clear at the top of the Serie A table, trailed by Milan on 33 points and Juventus on 31. …”
Football Italia

Why World Cup transfers are problematic

The World Cup can be like a shop window. A chance to see a snapshot of hundreds of different players in less than a month. Stars will emerge, and legends will be made. But transfers shouldn’t happen. But why? Seb Stafford-Bloor explains why signing a player based on a World Cup performance is a bad idea. Illustrated by Marco Bevilacqua.”
YouTube

Africa Super League: Can new competition improve club game on continent?


“Morocco may well have broken barriers for African football with the country’s historic run to the World Cup semi-finals, but the club game on the continent is still lagging well behind the standards in Europe. As such, Confederation of African Football (Caf) president Patrice Motsepe is hoping the launch of the Africa Super League next year will change that. The South African described the new competition as “one of the most exciting developments in the history of African football” when he unveiled the latest plans in Tanzania in August. …”
BBC

Barcelona are scrambling again as a ‘stressful’ January transfer window looms


“‘Dreams are free, but footballers are not,’ said Barcelona’s sporting director Jordi Cruyff in early December, responding to questions about whether the club would be able to sign any new players in January. … Of course, an apparently impossible financial situation has not necessarily precluded transfer spending in recent times at the Camp Nou. Despite the Catalan club being over €1billion (£880million, $1billion) in debt last summer, they still managed to activate various financial levers which allowed them to spend over €160m on signing new players, while also adding about €150m a year to the wage bill. …”
The Athletic

Quality And Depth: Fresh, Firing Liverpool Have Plenty More To Come

“It’s five minutes in. Aston Villa half-clear a corner to around 40 yards from goal, dead centre. How many right-backs will shun the easy back-in-the-mixer option to ping an outside-of-the-foot pass and find a teammate on the flank? And how many left-backs will make a surging run down the right-hand side, then meet the pass with a perfect first-time touch with the outside of the boot for your striker to slot home? They’re an extraordinary pair, are Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. …”
The Sportsman

Messi, Lusail, and closing a personal chapter

“If you have followed me or my writing, you’ll know that my own journey with the maddening game began with this freekick 20 years and six World Cups ago. In 2002, I wasn’t able to fully appreciate what I was witnessing with the Brazilian side—that arrived only in hindsight—but I can still recall that overwhelming, all-encompassing feeling, one that I’ve experienced only a few times since and keeps me hooked to a sport that routinely demands more than it can return. But oh that feeling. …”
Football Paradise

The Premier League returns … do we all remember what was going on?


“This season’s Premier League. Remember it? It kicked off back in August before taking a six-week hiatus so we could all enjoy the first ever winter World Cup. Well, it’s back on Boxing Day, so now seems as good as time as any to provide a quick primer for readers who, like this column, may have been so preoccupied by events in Doha they’ve been being paying scant attention to goings on closer to home. …”
Guardian

The football clubs that came back to life


“The lights going out is nothing new for Darlington supporters. Twice in the past 20 years the club has had to abandon its home in the town, while there were three spells in administration that eventually culminated in a drop of four divisions. A little over a decade has passed since those dark, dark days. On the field, things are looking up with Darlington going top of National League North on the cold December night The Athletic pays a visit. …”
The Athletic

How much money can Tottenham’s stadium make?

The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is widely regarded as one of the best sporting arenas in the world. The build was completed in 2019 at a staggering cost of £1.3 billion. But will it ever be able to recoup those costs? Abhishek Raj looks at the four main ways Spurs’ home ground can make its money back. Philippe Fenner illustrates.”
YouTube

Spain: 2022-23 La Liga – Location-map, with 3 charts…


“The map page shows a location-map for the 20 clubs in the 2022-23 La Liga, with recently-promoted and -relegated teams noted. (Promoted in 2022: Almería, Real Valladolid, Girona; relegated in 2022: Granada, Levante, Alavés.) The map also shows the 17 Autonomous Communities of Spain, and the 20 largest Spanish metropolitan areas. Those 20 largest Spanish metro-areas, with their 2018 population estimates, are listed at the top-centre of the map-page. …”
billsportsmaps
W – 2022–23 La Liga

What’s Next for Julián Álvarez, Argentina’s Breakout World Cup Star?

“The otherwise perfect image of Lionel Messi thrusting the World Cup trophy into the sky while perched on the shoulders of Sergio Agüero contains an unfortunate blemish. It’s an awkward reminder of what could’ve upended this whole achievement. There’s Messi, exalted, on a raft of Argentina players and fans in various states of rapture and euphoria, and then, behind and above him, ruining it, is Lautaro Martínez. Going into the tournament, the 25-year-old striker had scored seven goals in 15 Serie A appearances for Inter Milan; he’s led Argentina’s line for most of the last four years, playing a decisive role in the 2021 Copa América victory. …”
The Ringer

Germany: 2022-23 Bundesliga – Location-map, with 3 Charts…

“The map page shows a location-map for the 18 clubs in the 2022-23 Bundesliga, with recently-promoted and -relegated teams noted. (Promoted in 2022: Schalke, Werder Bremen; relegated in 2022: Arminia Bielefeld, Greuther Fürth.) The map also shows the 16 Federal States of Germany, and the 14 largest cities in Germany, with 2015 population figures listed at the the top of the map. …”
billsportsmaps
W – 2022–23 Bundesliga

Confusion, exasperation and dating apps – my month as a gay reporter at the Qatar World Cup Confusion, exasperation and dating apps – my month as a gay reporter at the Qatar World Cup


“The morning after Germany were dramatically knocked out of the World Cup in the group stage, I took a walk around the backstreets of Doha. For the first time in my life, I was confronted, in person, by a sign telling me I was not welcome. Across Qatar’s capital, we often saw flags, usually for the 32 nations competing at the World Cup. This time, alongside Qatari national flags and a banner saying, ‘Welcome’, I saw a piece of paper: a rainbow flag with a no-entry symbol over the top of it. Beneath it, in red letters, the sign said: ‘Not allowed in Qatar’. In Britain, I had read about signs like this, whether they were against black people, Irish people or immigrants in years gone by. I am not making a direct comparison; I am not trapped in a hostile environment. For me, this was merely a moment in time. For others, it can be a lifetime. …”
The Athletic (Video)

Ligue 1 Rest of Season Predictions 2022-23

“All eyes will be on Ligue 1 when football returns after the World Cup. Ah, wait. Hold on a second. All eyes on Ligue 1? More precisely, all eyes will be on Paris Saint-Germain. The club’s two biggest stars headlined possibly the best World Cup final ever. Given the stakes and the drama, it might have been the greatest game of football ever but soon Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé will turn their attention away from each other and onto their French league opponents as they look to torture them into submission during the club’s quest for honours in 2023. …”
The Analyst

La Liga Rest of Season Predictions 2022-23

“Who knows what to expect upon La Liga’s return? Spanish teams waved 83 players off to the World Cup – second only to the Premier League’s 126. How will that affect the players moving into the second half of the season? No fallible human could possibly know. But luckily, we’ve put the supercomputer to work, giving it one last push before it powers down for the Christmas holidays. And just like always, the machine was only too happy to oblige. We’ve got title numbers to give you, predictions for the top four and a sense of who will be spending next summer gearing up for a season in the Segunda division. …”
The Analyst

Is this the end of an era at Liverpool?


“Filming restrictions were in place at Liverpool’s training base in Dubai earlier this month but as well as concealing anything potentially secretive, the decision prompted gossip about who was entering and leaving, even inside the club. Certainly, at the team’s hotel, there were visitors from the Middle East. And in position, for a few days at least, was Billy Hogan, the club’s chief executive, who flew in following a short stay in Qatar during the World Cup there. Liverpool, of course, are open to investment and up for sale — it would therefore make sense for Doha or Dubai to become a Constantinople or Beirut: an exchange point of thoughts, the setting for quiet conversation and perhaps some loose agreement. …”
The Athletic (Video)

Today I Have Very Strong Feelings – Jonathan Wilson

“A month ago, Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, made his now infamous ‘I am Spartacus’ speech at the World Cup’s opening press conference. ‘Today I have very strong feelings, today I feel Qatari, today I feel Arab, today I feel African, today I feel gay, today I feel disabled, today I feel a migrant worker,’ he said, before adding, ‘Of course, I am not Qatari, I am not an Arab, I am not African, I am not gay, I am not disabled. But I feel like it, because I know what it means to be discriminated, to be bullied.’ Two days before Sunday’s final, he returned to the microphone to announce, a bit prematurely, that this had been the ‘best World Cup ever.’ It pains me to say it, n terms of pure football, and especially given the galactically great final—a game that will remain, as everyone pretty much agrees, unsurpassed in the annals of football history—he was right on the money. …”
The Paris Review

World champions but second: Why Argentina are below Brazil in FIFA’s world rankings

Argentina will not go into 2023 as FIFA’s number one ranked team. Fresh off lifting the World Cup, you might expect Lionel Scaloni’s side to move top of the leaderboard but they have had to settle for second. It is Brazil — one of the sides knocked out in the quarter-final in Qatar – who have retained top spot, their only consolation from a rather forgettable fortnight. …”
The Athletic

Huge crowd forces Argentina victory parade to be completed by helicopter


Argentine soccer fans descend on the capital’s Obelisk to celebrate their team’s World Cup victory over France, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“Argentina’s triumphant World Cup-winning squad were forced to complete their victory parade in Buenos Aires with a helicopter flyover after a crowd of millions brought their open-top bus to a standstill, with reports suggesting 18 people were injured in the celebrations and footage appearing to show one fan diving on to the squad’s bus. The streets of the capital were thronged by millions of ecstatic supporters, with the homecoming of Lionel Messi and company having been declared a national holiday following their thrilling penalty shootout win against France in Qatar. …”
Guardian

Cutbacks were more popular than ever at the World Cup – here’s why


“One goal that will always be remembered from this World Cup is Argentina’s third against Croatia in the semi-final. The way Lionel Messi bamboozled Josko Gvardiol down the right, before playing the ball back into Julian Alvarez was just marvellous. Messi’s dribbling didn’t only get him past Gvardiol, it also forced Dejan Lovren and Josip Juranovic (both dark blue) to drop deeper to close the shooting and passing angles to the onrushing Nicolas Tagliafico… ”
The Athletic

The Athletic and Tifo’s documentary: A Journey To A Postmodern World Cup


“Most people who attended the World Cup in Qatar flew there. That would have been the simple way to do it. We — Laurie Whitwell and Nick Miller, plus videographer and football culture expert Martino Simcik — decided not to do that. We went via the scenic route. We travelled from London to Doha via 17 countries, taking at least eight different forms of transport — from planes to e-scooters — taking 17 days to travel just over 5,600 miles. …”
The Athletic (Video)

This was the Angel Di Maria final — then he came off and Argentina very nearly fell apart


“For one hour, three minutes and 52 seconds, Angel Di Maria was the best player in the world. This was the same day that 35-year-old Lionel Messi would kiss the World Cup trophy to seal his place as the greatest footballer of all time, and his historic performance would deserve it. Kylian Mbappe, the outstanding player of the tournament, would score three goals after the 80th minute and leave not even a baguette crumb of doubt who will take over when Messi is gone. …”
The Athletic (Video)

World Cup tactical trends: Lots of width, set-piece goals down, and who needs possession?


“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Thirty-two teams, 28 days, 64 games and they saved the best one until last. Lionel Scaloni’s Argentina lifted the trophy last night after a pulsating penalty shootout victory against France. Across the whole tournament, we had on-field drama, off-field controversy and even a half-time cameo from Chesney Hawkes. There is barely enough time to reflect and take stock of the past month before we swiftly pivot back to domestic football, but let’s take all take a minute to indulge ourselves in some numbers, shall we? Allow The Athletic to walk you through some of the data trends we have spotted in Qatar. …”
The Athletic

World Cup predictions: How many games did our AI get right?


“World Cup 2022 produced incredible football. At the start of the tournament, Al Jazeera introduced Kashef, our artificial intelligence (AI) robot, to crunch the numbers and predict the results of each game. After every day of action, Kashef downloaded the day’s data and compared it with more than 200 metrics, including the number of wins, goals scored and FIFA rankings, from matches played over the past century, totalling more than 100,000 records, to see who was most likely to win the following day. …”
Aljazeera
FIFA Qatar World Cup 2022 bracket [+PDF]

Emiliano Martinez’s starring role for Argentina: The spread saves, the penalties, the mind games


“In psychology, the butterfly effect describes how small, seemingly insignificant moments can have huge, unforeseen long-term effects. A butterfly flapping its wings and causing a typhoon on the other side of the world is an example. As is Brighton striker Neal Maupay accidentally inflicting a season-ending injury on Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno in June 2020 as the Premier League played out Project Restart after three months of pandemic lockdown. That paved the way for Emiliano Martinez, who had been at Arsenal for a decade but made only six league appearances for them before moving to Aston Villa, to become part of their starting XI and end up, 911 days later, lifting the World Cup with Argentina last night. …”
The Athletic

Argentina, caught in economic depression, gets something to cheer in World Cup win


Argentina will hold general elections in October next year
“BUENOS AIRES — An incredibly tense World Cup final, if not the best of all time. An extraordinary victory for Argentina that crowns the career of superstar Lionel Messi. A new hope for a country in deep crisis. Argentina beat France in a penalty shoot-out after the match ended tied 3-3, causing hundreds of thousands of citizens to pour into the streets of Buenos Aires to celebrate, chant and dance. The obelisk, the landmark monument of the South American capital that houses over 17 million people in its broader agglomeration, was quickly covered in a sea of people. …”
POLITICO
NY Times: Argentina Hits the Streets for Long-Awaited Celebration

Argentina beat France on penalties to win World Cup: Messi’s legacy, Mbappe’s hat-trick


“One of the most exciting World Cup finals of all time was won on penalties by Argentina after Kylian Mbappe had scored a hat-trick to force the shootout. Argentina were coasting to victory with an hour gone with the score at 2-0 thanks to goals by Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria. But when Di Maria came off in the 64th minute the game changed, and France and Mbappe’s confidence grew and grew. … Argentina went ahead through Messi’s close-range finish but Gonzalo Montiel’s handball gave Mbappe the chance to complete his hat-trick. He went the same way with his second penalty, hard to Emiliano Martinez’s right. Martinez was Argentina’s hero in the shootout, saving a spot kick from Kingsley Coman before Aurelien Tchouameni put his effort wide. Montiel, who had given away the penalty in the 117th minute, scored the one that sealed the victory. …”
The Athletic (Video)
The Athletic: Argentina are the most tactically flexible World Cup winners we have ever seen – Michael Cox
The Analyst – Argentina 3-3 France: Debate Over as Lionel Messi Finally Wins The World Cup
SI: Argentina, Messi Win Epic World Cup Final in PKs, Overcoming Mbappe’s Hat-Trick Heroics (Video)
Guardian – Argentina 3-3 France (aet, 4-2 on pens): World Cup final player ratings
CNN: Stepping out of Maradona’s shadow. How Lionel Messi won over the hearts of all of Argentina
The Athletic: Lionel Messi doesn’t need the ball to hurt you (Video)

How Argentina’s Favorite Song Became the World Cup’s Soundtrack

“Lionel Messi apart, arguably nobody has played a more prominent role in Argentina’s run to the World Cup final than a 62-year-old musician and a 30-year-old teacher, neither of whom is anywhere near Qatar. Between them, though, they created the song that has become the soundtrack to Argentina’s games and an earworm contracted by anyone who has been in Doha over the last month, or watched any of the tournament on television. …”
NY Times (Video)

Qatar 2022: Shifting sands where the real and almost-real collide


1 – Qatar fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar.
1 Fake Qatar fans. It is one of the strangest minor stories of the strangest of World Cups. Shortly before the opening game, Qatar versus Ecuador, a group of men in uniform Qatari team-coloured T-shirts emerged en masse into a vacant area behind the goal and started making noise, doing choreographed dances and leaping about with apparently genuine excitement, something they kept up through the game irrespective of what was happening on the pitch. … 4 Fake Venice shopping centre. The motorised gondolas at the Villaggio Mall, a Qatari classic. This is a place that loves a bit of urban mimesis. Doha and its surrounds also have a fake Place Vendôme, a fake Champs-Élysées, even a fake Hackney in the guise of Stadium 974, with its billionaire-hipster aesthetic, the pretence of being built out of glossily reclaimed shipping containers. …”
Guardian
4 – Fake Venice shopping centre.

Qatar World Cup set to end without adequate migrant worker remedy fund


“The World Cup in Qatar is set to end without migrant workers receiving access to an adequate remedy fund. This tournament has been controversial for several reasons, including Qatar’s criminalisation of homosexuality and male guardianship system, as well as alleged abuses of migrant workers. These workers make up around 90 per cent of Qatar’s population, and have embarked on an unprecedented construction programme in the country since 2010. There have been thousands of unexplained migrant worker deaths during that time. They have also faced risks such as non-payment of wages, illegal recruitment, and heat-related safety issues. …”
The Athletic

How FIFA Silenced a World Cup Armband Campaign


Belgium’s foreign minister, Hadja Lahbib, wore a One Love armband into a V.I.P. box, where she sat near the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino.
“The opening match of the World Cup was only hours away when the leaders of a group of European soccer federations arrived for a meeting at the luxury Fairmont Hotel. The five-star property, converted into the tournament headquarters for FIFA leadership, was an unlikely setting for a fight. But with the matches about to begin, it would have to do. By then the federations and representatives of FIFA had been meeting on and off for months about a plan by the group of national teams to wear multicolored armbands with the message ‘One Love’ during their matches at the tournament in Qatar. …”
NY Times

You’re Not Imagining Things. There’s Way More Stoppage Time At This World Cup.


“… Wait a minute — just how much of this World Cup has happened during stoppage time? From the opening match, it was clear that this competition’s official time was going to be unusually kept; Ecuador’s 2-0 cakewalk against their Qatari hosts went on 10 minutes and 18 seconds longer than expected. FIFA referees committee chairman Pierluigi Collina soon confirmed that throughout this World Cup, officials would be adding much more time than usual, at least in part to punish teams that deploy time-wasting tactics. …”
Five Thirty Eight

Ousmane Dembele – a guide to France’s incompletely brilliant winger


“In Paris, somewhere in the Louvre, in halls packed with tourists snapping selfies in front of all things beautiful and gift shop-worthy, there’s a sculpture that gets largely overlooked. Unlike the gods around it, this one is incomplete. ‘We cannot know his legendary head / with eyes like ripening fruit,’ Rainer Maria Rilke wrote of the decapitated marble torso. But the poet was fascinated by this broken, perfect body that seemed ‘suffused with brilliance from within’. He lingered on the ‘placid hips’, the shoulders, the way the stone itself ‘burst like a star’. The poem ends abruptly, with a command to the reader that is akin to a slap in the face: ‘You must change your life.’ …”
The Athletic (Video)
W – Ousmane Dembélé

Ranking all 77 goals ever scored in the World Cup final


“Only 62 men have done it. They’ve used their right foot 43 times, their left foot 21 times. There have been a dozen headers, only five penalties and a solitary own goal (should Mario Mandzukic’s accidental flick-on make it 13 headers? We’re in uncharted territory already.) The average World Cup final goal is scored in the 55th minute — whatever that average manager said at the average half-time, it’s worked, on average — and has made the score, on average, 1.92-0.94. Let’s call it 2-1. Game on! …”
The Athletic (Video)

Croatia finish third at World Cup after Mislav Orsic’s winner against Morocco

“Croatia beat Morocco 2-1 in the World Cup third-place playoff to leave Qatar on a high after again surpassing expectations following their run to the final in 2018. Mislav Orsic’s strike just before half-time was enough to settle the contest after two goals inside the first nine minutes set the tone for a pulsating encounter, Morocco’s Achraf Dari cancelling out Josko Gvardiol’s opener. …”
Guardian

‘Maybe I started his career!’ – The man that got Lionel Messi sent off on his Argentina debut

“Vilmos Vanczak will watch the World Cup final from his home in Hungary, willing Lionel Messi to succeed. Should the Argentina legend lift football’s biggest prize on Sunday in Qatar, Vanczak will, with his tongue pressed firmly in his cheek, smile and take a little of the credit. …”
The Athletic (Video)

Special report: Qatar, the World Cup and the war on truth


“For a brief few moments it looked like the World Cup was being rigged in real time, amplifying an explosive conspiracy theory seen by millions around the world. In the days running up to the tournament opener between hosts Qatar and Ecuador on November 20, a viral tweet suggested the South Americans had been bribed to deliver a 1-0 defeat. The claim mutated from the Twitter feed of someone named Amjad Taha to other social media sites and news outlets around the world. …”
The Athletic (Video)
Guardian – As Qatar’s World Cup ends it is time for truth: Fifa chose death and suffering
Guardian – Qatar 2022: this World Cup has taken place in a crime scene
World Corrupt (Audio)

France’s 2018 vs France 2022 – how have Deschamps’ side evolved tactically?


“‘You know that I don’t like comparing teams between the years,’ said France head coach Didier Deschamps after their quarter-final victory over England. But on Wednesday night they became just the fifth defending champions to reach the World Cup final and the first European side to do so since Italy in 1938. If they beat Argentina on Sunday they will become the first team in 60 years (Brazil in 1962) to retain the world crown. Deschamps might not like the comparison but, given their injuries and poor form coming into the tournament, how have they adapted their tactics to reach another final? …”
The Athletic (Video)
Slate: Nobody Can Stay in Front of These Frenchmen Forever (Video)

World Cup final tactical preview: Messi loves to exploit the exact spaces Mbappe leaves open


“Four years ago, France defeated Argentina 4-3 in a genuine epic of a World Cup second-round game. It was the day Kylian Mbappe transformed from a future great into one of the world’s best — his stunning 70-yard sprint to win a penalty ended up being the defining image of his World Cup, France’s World Cup, and World Cup 2018 overall. Lionel Messi, part of a shambolic Argentina side, was peripheral. It seemed Messi’s dominance was over. After 11 years in the top three, he didn’t finish on the Ballon d’Or podium that year. Neither, in fairness, did Mbappe — although he was obviously the coming force, set to become better and better. …”
The Athletic

World Cup 2022: Vittorio Pozzo’s legacy and a record that is finally under threat


“When Didier Deschamps leads his France side out to face Argentina in Sunday’s World Cup final, he will be hoping to take a further big step towards becoming only the second manager to retain the trophy. Just two nations have managed to win back-to-back men’s World Cups, Italy in 1934 and 1938 and Brazil in 1958 and 1962, but with the Selecao job changing hands between successes, former Azzurri coach stands alone. Nicknamed Il Vecchio Maestro (the Old Master) in coaching circles, Pozzo was considered a visionary of the time and is credited as one of the minds behind the Metodo formation, the earliest example of the 4-3-3 we recognise today. …”
BBC
W – Vittorio Pozzo

The World Cup trophy: Stolen by robbers, found by a dog, weighs the same as a cat

Pickles poses for photographers near the spot where he found the stolen trophy
“What do Franz Beckenbauer, Daniel Passarella, Dino Zoff, Diego Maradona, Lothar Matthaus, Dunga, Didier Deschamps, Cafu, Fabio Cannavaro, Iker Casillas, Philipp Lahm and Hugo Lloris have in common? Granted, as quiz questions go, it’s not the most taxing. The captains to have lifted the World Cup from 1974 are a distinct and illustrious group — one of a small number of people that are actually permitted to touch FIFA’s most iconic prize. …”
The Athletic (Video)

World Cup 2022 briefing: Argentina v France will provide subplots aplenty


“Lisandro Martínez v Raphaël Varane, Leandro Paredes v Adrien Rabiot, Cristian Romero v Hugo Lloris and Nahuel Molina v Antoine Griezmann. These are subplots we can look forward to when Argentina face France in the final on Sunday. While everyone is thinking about Lionel Messi v Kylian Mbappé, there are plenty of clubmates preparing to do battle for the right to be champions of the planet, the entire planet. In theory, Martínez and Varane could team up as a centre-back pairing for Manchester United’s Carabao Cup tie against Burnley next Wednesday. You could imagine the relationship would be somewhat soured by the result in Qatar on Sunday. …”
Guardian (Video)

Argentina succeeded by doing what few have tried at this World Cup


Argentina’s 3-0 victory over Croatia was a curious contest. Nothing much happened for the opening half hour and you were left waiting for the game to get going. Then, suddenly, it felt like game over. Two goals in a five-minute spell put Argentina in command and while Croatia have a habit of coming from behind at World Cups, they never appeared to have the necessary attacking threat to get back into this one. The tactical battle was fairly typical of this World Cup. Both sides concentrated on keeping it tight between defence and attack, conceding space both behind their defence and in front of the midfield, but never between the lines. …”
The Athletic – Michael Cox
The Athletic: Lionel Messi winning World Cup would define him but he’s already among the greatest of all (Video)

Morocco starting in a 5-4-1 system cost them their shot at the World Cup final


“Before Morocco’s semi-final with France, Walid Regragui made a surprise decision. Having guided Morocco further than any other African side in World Cup history with a 4-5-1 formation, he decided to start this contest with a 5-4-1. It owed much to the fitness problems of his defenders. Nayef Aguerd pulled out shortly before kick-off, Romain Saiss lasted 20 minutes, and Noussair Mazraoui didn’t make it to the second half. With concerns about the mobility of those defenders, and up against France’s speedy wingers, Regragui opted to load up on another defender. On paper, it made sense. …”
The Athletic – Michael Cox

France beat Morocco to reach final: Mbappe v Messi, Amrabat’s tackle and a rare fast start


W – Antoine Griezmann
France withstood an impressive Morocco display to set up a World Cup final with Argentina on Sunday that pits Kylian Mbappe against his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Lionel Messi. Theo Hernandez, who came into the France side in the first game when his brother Lucas suffered a tournament-ending knee injury, scored the opening goal after just five minutes, acrobatically steering the ball past goalkeeper Yassine Bounou. …”
The Athletic
NY Times: Why Antoine Griezmann Is France’s Most Important Player
Guardian: France bring Morocco’s adventure to an end and reach World Cup final
Guardian: Antoine Griezmann’s devilment gives France the edge when it matters
The Analyst: France 2-0 Morocco: France Through to Fourth Final in Last Seven World Cups

Africa’s World Cup: how a continent that usually underperforms finally got it rig


“After the first round of games at the World Cup, an all too familiar script looked to be playing out for African football fans. Five games played, three losses, two draws and only Ghana putting the ball in the back of the net in a defeat by Portugal. Another disappointing tournament appeared to be looming for the continent that Brazil soccer great and three-time winner Pelé once declared would ‘win the World Cup before the year 2000.’ … However, as Qatar 2022 draws to a close, the outlook looks very different. Every single team from the continent went on to win a game in its group for the first time in history, two teams made it out of the group stages – a joint record – and Morocco will become the first African team to play in a World Cup semifinal. …”
CNN

A pivot towards Africa


“… Sporting achievements have also played important roles in pan-African and diasporic projects for post-colonial national development, national and transnational movements for liberation, and individual and familial social mobility. Morocco is the first African and Arab team to advance to the semi-finals of the World Cup. The team’s victory against Portugal in the quarterfinals of the tournament surfaced strong pan-African and pan-Arab sentiments across the continent and throughout the diaspora. Headlines carried banners proclaiming Morocco as ‘carrying Africa’s hopes.’ …”
Africa Is a Country

The Legend of Pelé, the Brazilian Boy Who Remade Soccer in His Image


“The Ringer’s 22 Goals: The Story of the World Cup, a podcast by Brian Phillips, tells the story of some of the most iconic goals and players in the history of the men’s FIFA World Cup. Every Wednesday, until the end of Qatar 2022, we’ll publish an adapted version of each 22 Goals episode. Today’s story, the final installment in the series, involves Pelé, the player who started it all. …”
The Ringer (Audio)

‘All thanks to Qatar!’ The one way the host nation has won at the World Cup

“When Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup in 2010, the choice shocked and surprised soccer fans around the world. Concerns about lack of infrastructure, the country’s conservatism, summer heat waves and allegations that the country had bribed its way to the bid dominated the international media. FIFA, the global governing body for soccer, responded to the heat issue by moving the tournament to the winter, and the Qatari government threw up stadiums, hotels, roads and even new cities in record time — only to raise new concerns about its treatment of migrant workers. …”
GRID

These Soccer and World Cup Movies Have Big Goals

“Every four years, the World Cup offers something not unlike the movies: For a whole month, it stops time, enveloping its distant spectators in the electric-green glow of the screen. But there’s more to the ‘beautiful game’ than balletic ball-moves and the cheek-gnawing suspense of gameplay characterized by low score count. … The pulsing moment is one of communal exultation at odds with the film’s forthcoming depiction of a fractious multiethnic society. …”
NY Times (Video)

Argentina beat Croatia to reach final: Alvarez stars, magical Messi assist, goodbye Modric


Julian Alvarez and Lionel Messi starred for Argentina as they swept past Croatia to seal a place in the World Cup final. Messi opened the scoring from the spot after Alvarez was fouled by the Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic. Then Alvarez bundled his way through a scrambling Croatia defence to make it two before the break, and the two players combined for a brilliant third goal in the 69th minute. …”
The Athletic
Guardian: Inspired Lionel Messi takes Argentina past Croatia and into World Cup final
The Analyst – Argentina 3-0 Croatia: Lionel Messi is One Game From Immortality
NY Times: Lionel Messi’s World Cup Magic Continues in Argentina’s Romp Over Croatia (Video)

Are Qatar’s World Cup Stadiums the Future of Sports in a Warming World?


Cooling vents beneath the seats at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar.
“Saud Ghani knows cool. In his air-conditioned Porsche, he pulled up to a shady spot at Qatar University. He entered one of the many laboratories in the engineering department where he studies thermal dynamics — mainly, how to keep people comfortable in a warming world. Even his title is cool: professor and chair of air conditioning. The university’s campus was empty because the semester had been suspended for the World Cup. The temperature outside was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The indoor labs were noticeably chilly. …”
NY Times

Hakim Ziyech’s Morocco redemption is the result of hard work as much as skill

“Somewhere on the outskirts of Cairo in 2019, Herve Renard’s Morocco were looking to break their Africa Cup of Nations hoodoo. Since finishing as runners-up to Tunisia in the 2004 version, Morocco had only made it out of the group stage once, in 2017. In the six editions before that, they had fallen at the group stage four times, failed to qualify once and been disqualified once. In 2019, they made it to the knockout stage once more, facing Benin in the round of 16. It was a match they were expected to win, having finished top of a group containing Ivory Coast, South Africa and Namibia. …”
The Athletic (Video)

Richarlison, Messi and Pulisic: Three Stunning Goals Frozen in Time


“We take a closer look at three memorable goals from the group phase of the 2022 World Cup. See the critical moment when each ball was struck into the net. …Richarlison’s Wonder-Strike. In Brazil’s opening game, Richarlison leaped into the air and scored his second goal of the match with an acrobatic scissor kick. Brazil went on to finish at the top of the group, advancing to the round of 16 to face South Korea. …”
NY Times
NY Times: Watch Christian Pulisic Send the U.S. Past Iran and Into the Knockout Rounds
NY Times: Belgium’s Long-Ball Goal Sinks a Determined Canada
NY Times: Germany’s Late Equalizer Revives Its World Cup Hopes

Messi and Argentina’s heightened emotions could end up undermining them


“There are times when it appears a wave of emotion, patriotic fervour and desperate longing is carrying Argentina towards another World Cup final. At other times it feels as if Lionel Messi, in the twilight years of his extraordinary career, is dragging them there single-handedly. By 12:50am local time in Lusail on Saturday morning, Messi had done all he could. It was his jaw-droppingly brilliant no-look pass, threaded between Nathan Ake’s legs, that had set up the opening goal for Nahuel Molina. It was his ice-cool penalty that had made it 2-0 on 73 minutes. …”
The Athletic (Video)