Hidden In Plain Sight: The Black Bands of ’78

April 24, 2020


“As a Scottish schoolboy who was in love with goal nets and the prospect of Scotland becoming world champions, the Argentina World Cup in 1978 couldn’t have seared more had I been sirloin scorched on the parilla. While I’d never experienced anything like the disappointment of Scotland failing in their opening game against Peru, equally, I’d never seen anything like the goals installed uniformly at the tournament stadia. The nets were stunning. Brilliant white and pulled taut at the seams into squared corners as if draped over the stanchion of an A-frame. …”
In Bed With Maradona, WITHOUT THE STREETS OR DUSKS OF BUENOS AIRES, A TANGO CANNOT BE WRITTEN


A History of Soccer in Six Matches

April 18, 2020


Hungary’s visit to Wembley in 1953 was a seminal moment in the modern game.
“A few weeks ago, I asked readers to submit ideas for what they would like to see in this column. Not because I am short of them, you understand, but because in this bleak new reality of ours writing about sports very much falls into the category of ‘things you want,’ rather than ‘things you need.’ There was a flurry of suggestions, on every topic under the sun, most of which I know absolutely nothing about. One theme that stood out, though, was that many would welcome the chance to immerse themselves in the comforting nostalgia of soccer history. Even with my understanding editors and generous word counts, that is a vast, unwieldy subject. You can write soccer history in a million different ways: through the lens of teams and individuals, through tactics or geography or culture. …”
NY Times (Video)


Timeless Marcelo Bielsa’s Argentina: Lost chances and broken hearts

August 10, 2018

“Over the last few weeks, Marcelo Bielsa has been in the spotlight over his new role as Leeds United’s manager. A man whose character often draws comparison to a great philosopher rather than a football persona, his radicalism and man management is worthy of any admiration in football. But long before Leeds United, 2 decades ago to be precise, El Loco was in charge of Argentina. Following their exit from the World Cup in France 98, Daniel Passarella had stepped down from his post. Prior to this, the 1978 World Cup winning captain had put together a team that was brimming with excitement.” FootyAnalyst


World Cup 2018 Best XI: France’s Champions Lead the Top Players in Russia

July 17, 2018


“After 64 games and more drama than any World Cup in at least 20 years, there’s one piece of business left to do: Pick a team of the tournament. It’s been picked as a team that might function together rather than just the 11 best players, and to avoid the temptation of packing it with France’s champions, a limit of four players per country has been self-imposed. In a 4-3-3 formation fit for the world stage, here is our 2018 World Cup Best XI.” SI – Jonathan Wilson


For all the ills of the world, World Cup 2018 showed that a bit of football done right can make the planet smile

July 17, 2018

“Monday morning dawns with a grim and crushing inevitability. Unless you’re peeling yourself off a Paris pavement, or drowning your sorrows in a Dubrovnik dive bar, the 2018 World Cup is over. As a month of sporting hedonism slips from present tense to past, real life and its hard borders re-sharpen their focus, bringing with them a cruel reckoning. It was only football, after all. It felt like more than that when Kylian Mbappe was burning through opposition defenders, or Lionel Messi was fighting back the tide, or Russia and South Korea were pulling off the unfeasible, or when England’s town squares throbbed with rasping songs and nervous tension and the prickly spines of a faint dream. But no: ultimately, it was only football, no more and no less.” Independent


World Cup 2018 goal celebrations: A statistical analysis of unbridled joy

July 17, 2018


“How would you celebrate if you scored at a World Cup? A jig by the corner flag, an emphatic sprint, jump and punch of the air, an emotional tussle with the goalnet, or just run as fast and far as you can until someone finally, gleefully leaps on you? Whether you’re a Milla, a Josimar or a Tardelli kind of guy, there are plenty of ways with which to physically revel in what, for most players, is the once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime act of scoring on the world’s biggest stage. Goal celebrations – often just as complex, slow-motion-worthy and memorable as the goals themselves – are an art form. But, just like everything else, they’re moulded by cultural trends, context and just pure momentary instinct.” Telegraph


France’s Benchwarmers Are Worth More Than Most Starting Lineups

July 10, 2018

“France enters today’s semifinal match against neighboring Belgium as the favorite to win the 2018 World Cup. At least on paper, though, France has been the least remarkable team of the four that remain: Les Bleus have scored fewer goals than each of the other semifinalists, they’ve possessed less of the ball than two of the other semifinalists, and they’ve taken the fewest shots.” FiveThirtyEight


The World in a World Cup

July 7, 2018

“I would never have watched the World Cup if it weren’t for my partner, a British national who grew up on Gary Lineker, the striker who towered over the English game in the 1980s and early 1990s. I find televised sports—all organized sports—boring. But after celebrating my birthday last weekend, my boyfriend voiced a tentative wish to watch France play Argentina, and I wanted to be with him. So we found ourselves in our pajamas in front of the TV at midnight, watching toy-sized men kick a tick-sized ball around.” New Republic


If Ronaldo Can’t Beat Uruguay, the Least He Can Do Is Pay Taxes

July 4, 2018

“Before his team lost on Saturday, Portugal’s superstar forward Ronaldo was having a thrilling World Cup. There was his stunning performance against Spain, where he scored three of the game’s six goals. There was his outstanding early header against Morocco, which prompted his coach to declare that Ronaldo was aging ‘like a port wine.’ Exhilarating displays of virtuosity! Brilliance and showmanship! What’s not to like?” NY Times


World Cup 2018: How Blaise Matuidi laid the platform for Kylian Mbappe to put in the performance of the tournament

July 2, 2018

“Didier Deschamps appeared entirely unsure of his best system ahead of the opening game of this tournament, but recent World Cup winners have tended to suddenly find their optimum formation midway through the tournament. In 2002 Brazil clicked into gear once introducing a second holding midfielder, in 2006 Italy’s switch from 4-3-1-2 to 4-2-3-1 worked wonders, in 2010 Spain thrived once they added more directness and width to their attack, and Germany’s 2014 side changed considerably from their opening game to the final.” Independent – Michael Cox

Why Argentina’s road to World Cup failure is long, complicated and paved with greed and corruption
“… Sebastian Fest’s line in La Nación on the day of Argentina‘s World Cup 2018 elimination this weekend was so starkly poignant because it gets straight to the crux of the matter, cutting through every excuse offered and pointing straight to the institutional rot that is fundamentally to blame for Argentina’s ills. That bumpy road that ended in Kazan, Russia, in the baking summer of 2018 is our current waypoint but this path truly began all the way back in the mid-winter of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1978 on the day that the Albiceleste won their first-ever World Cup.” Independent


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)


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


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


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


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


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)


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


World Cup 2018: How Mexico stunned Germany by exposing their full-backs and harassing Toni Kroos out the game

June 18, 2018


“The first four days of World Cup 2018 have featured a string of impressive underdog performances, largely about sitting back and frustrating the opposition. Iceland’s defensive-minded approach worked well against Argentina, Switzerland were content to soak up pressure against Brazil, and both recorded unexpected draws. Mexico’s approach in yesterday’s 1-0 victory over reigning champions Germany, however, was braver, bolder and ultimately more successful. Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio has been criticised for his constant chopping and changing, but while he might be reactive, that doesn’t mean he’s defensive. Here, he used a 4-2-3-1 system, rarely seen throughout Mexico’s qualifying campaign, in order to nullify Germany’s strengths and expose their weaknesses.” Independent – Michael Cox (Video)

World Cup 2018: Germany ‘crestfallen’ as shock Mexico defeat is called ’embarrassing’
“It was a defeat that left Germany ‘crestfallen’, was described as an ’embarrassment’ by the country’s media and even triggered an earth tremor, such were the celebrations in Mexico. World Cup holders Germany looked a shadow of their usual selves as they were humbled 1-0 in Moscow – and the result could have been much worse for them. But despite the loss – the first for a German team in a World Cup opener since 1982 – coach Joachim Low remains confident that his side will progress to the knockout stage in Russia.” BBC (Video)


Lionel Messi penalty saved by Halldórsson as Iceland hold Argentina

June 16, 2018


“With 64 minutes gone Argentina seemed to have found the decisive break on a tight, bruising afternoon that saw their revered attack struggle to find its gears against an excellent Iceland team. The score was 1-1, as it would finish. Iceland were holding steady. With a long pass from the left Sergio Agüero was suddenly in space in the area, sent tumbling by a collision with Hördur Björgvin Magnússon. The penalty was given. Half of the stadium leapt up, phones raised as Lionel Messi stepped up to take it, breath drawn to yowl and cheer as the ball hit the net. Or perhaps not. Messi’s kick was terrible, too close to Hannes Thór Halldórsson, who guessed the right way and palmed the ball far enough from goal.” Guardian


Nine Reasons Why Brazil Will Win the World Cup

June 14, 2018

“… They’re among the betting favorites, but the Selecao still haven’t quite emerged as the favorite. ‘As good as Brazil are, they’re still arguably underrated,’ said Omar Chaudhuri, head of footballing intelligence at the consultancy 21st Club. There’s a chance we’ll get to July 15 and wonder, as we watch Neymar lift the World Cup trophy, how we didn’t see it all along. So, to prevent that from happening—and to risk some relatively minor, low-stakes, online embarrassment—here are nine reasons why Brazil is gonna win it all.” The Ringer (Video)


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

June 13, 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 (Video)


The History of Lionel Messi and Argentina vs. the World Cup

June 13, 2018

“In Argentina, it’s a gambeta. Derived from the gaucho literature of South American cowboys, the word was initially used to describe the distinctive running motion of an ostrich. Before the industrialization of Argentina’s Pampas, the vast grassland that covers most of the nation’s northeastern pocket, wild-riding gauchos served a vital purpose in an era when farmland had yet to be systematized: They looked after cattle. But as the story goes, the British eventually arrived with their barbed wire, the concept of ‘fencing’ was introduced, and the gaucho didn’t matter anymore.” The Ringer (Video)


In Sports, a Must-Win Situation Usually Leads to a Loss

June 13, 2018

“On May 31st, Mauricio Macri, the President of Argentina, met with the members of the nation’s soccer team as they departed for training before the World Cup, which opens, in Russia, on Thursday. ‘Whatever we Argentinians achieve, we will be happy,’ Macri told the squad, in televised remarks. ‘And it is not true that if one does not become a champion, one is a failure; that is a madness that does not exist anywhere in the world.’ This, coming from the leader of a soccer-mad nation—the home of Lionel Messi, no less—was a shocking concession: Our team might not win the World Cup. And if they don’t, we’ll love them anyway.” New Yorker (Video)


Argentina Is The Team To Beat In Group D, But Can Messi (Finally) Win The Tournament?

June 12, 2018


“Lionel Messi still has not won a senior international tournament.1 His Argentina was defeated by Germany in the last World Cup and lost on penalty kicks to Chile in the final of the Copa America in both 2015 and 2016. La Albiceleste will be looking to win Messi the trophy he deserves, and for the first step on that journey, the team has been drawn into an entirely winnable group with Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria.” FiveThirtyEight


World Cup favourites choosing defensive-minded midfielders over deep-lying playmakers

June 11, 2018


“The most fascinating tactical development over the past few World Cups has been the increased popularity of the deep playmaker. Having nearly become extinct around the turn of the century, it’s notable that recent World Cup winners have generally depended upon a great creative influence from deep.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)


World Cup Preview 2018: Messi vs. Ronaldo, Magic Cats, Iceland!!, and the Entire Emotional Context in Which Much of Human Life Transpires

June 10, 2018

“Ladies and gentlemen, start your psychic octopuses. The biggest and strangest sporting event in human history resumes next week in Russia, where thirty-two men’s national soccer teams will begin the monthlong competition for the strangely un-cup-like trophy given to the winners of the FIFA World Cup. For many of the world’s best soccer players, the tournament offers a chance to become legends in their home countries and icons in the history of the game. For billions of soccer fans, the tournament offers a chance to participate in modernity’s most sweeping collective frenzy, a spectacle that will shape the emotional context in which much of human life transpires for the next few weeks. For the United States men’s national team, which did not qualify, the tournament offers a chance to feel gloomy while eating Cheetos on the couch.” New Yorker – Brian Phillips


Who’s the Best No. 10 at the World Cup?

June 9, 2018


“In Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics, Jonathan Wilson describes the symbolism of the no. 10 as “the ‘free-spirited epitome of the artistry of soccer.’ And while free-spirits have become fewer and farther between as more money’s been poured into the game and managers have systematized their tactics, the no. 10 is still typically given to the most creative player on the team. Or, in Poland or Nigeria’s case, it’s given to a defensive midfielder best known for his ability to make tackles and pass the ball sideways. But each team has its reasons, and so with all of the World Cup squad lists now officially released, we each ranked all the nos. 10 set to play in Russia this summer, tallied the results, and came out with the following list. No. 1 is obvious, but that’s about the only spot we came close to agreeing on. Yes, someone, who shall remain nameless out of our sheer fear for his safety, didn’t put Lionel Messi first.” The Ringer


World Cup groups A-D preview – Football Weekly

June 9, 2018

“Max Rushden is joined by voices from around the world to preview World Cup groups A-D, including Danish royalty, Peruvian vigour and the prospect of a tournament without a French meltdown.” Guardian (Audio)


Your complete guide to all 736 players at the 2018 World Cup

June 7, 2018

“Biographies of every player in all 32 squads in Russia, including caps, goals, nicknames, hobbies and, once the tournament starts, ratings for every performance. We strive to give you an unbiased, trustworthy and in-depth view of the world’s most prestigious football tournament. If you think that’s worth something, then you can support The Guardian from as little as £1 – and it only takes a minute.” Guardian


Russia 2018 Group D – Betting Tips

June 7, 2018

“Two teams at this World Cup appear gloriously unpredictable: you wouldn’t be surprised if they reached the semi-finals; equally, crashing out at the group phase is eminently possible. The first is Portugal, and the second is Argentina. The link is obvious: underwhelming sides with plenty of defensive question marks, but captained by an all-time great. But whereas Cristiano Ronaldo tasted success with Portugal at the European Championship two years ago, Leo Messi is still searching for a first taste of international glory – the Olympics notwithstanding – for Argentina.” Betting Tips – Michael Cox


Who Will Win the 2018 World Cup? SI’s Expert Predictions and Knockout Brackets

June 4, 2018


“The World Cup kicks off June 14 in Moscow with a meeting between the two lowest-ranked teams in the field, which, in some ways, is quite appropriate. The competition is meant to be a crescendo, one whose drama and defining moments don’t occur until the very end. With the way the draw and schedule worked out, that’s precisely how Russia 2018 is shaping up to play out. Russia vs. Saudi Arabia will be a massive 90 minutes for the host nation, which can set its tone for the tournament in front of its partisan crowd. But once it’s over, the focus will shift to the traditional powers and the individual superstars who figure to have plenty of say in determining the 2018 world champion. …” SI


World Cup 2018 team previews: what you need to know about all 32 teams (ESPN)

May 25, 2018


“The 2018 World Cup might be missing some big nations, but that’s what makes this tournament the best in sports. Brazil are looking to bounce back from a travesty in 2014, while Spain, Argentina and France are hoping to dethrone defending champions Germany and their typically deep squad. Can Belgium or Portugal make a splash? Do England have what it takes to challenge too? ESPN FC is previewing every team ahead of the opening game on June 14 in English, Spanish and Portuguese to give a truly global feel to our team profiles. Here’s what you need to know about the 32 teams set to do battle in Russia beginning on June 14. …”
ESPN


2018 FIFA World Cup

May 25, 2018

“The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be the 21st FIFA World Cup, a quadrennial international football tournament contested by the men’s national teams of the member associations of FIFA. It is scheduled to take place in Russia from 14 June to 15 July 2018, after the country was awarded the hosting rights on 2 December 2010. This will be the first World Cup held in Europe since the 2006 tournament in Germany, and the first ever to be held in Eastern Europe. All of the stadium venues are in European Russia, to keep travel time manageable. The final tournament will involve 32 national teams, which include 31 teams determined through qualifying competitions and the automatically qualified host team. Of the 32 teams, 20 will be making back-to-back appearances following the last tournament in 2014, including defending champions Germany, while Iceland and Panama will both be making their first appearances at a FIFA World Cup. A total of 64 matches will be played in 12 venues located in 11 cities. The final will take place on 15 July at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. …” Wikipedia


World Cup 2018 squad guide: Latest news and updates ahead of Russia (Independent)

May 25, 2018

“The 2018 World Cup is now only weeks away. The 32 countries have until the May 14 deadline to name their provisional squads for Russia with managers all over the globe currently scratching their heads as they bid to whittle down their long list of possibles and probables in time for the final June 4 cut off, just 10 days before the opener in Moscow. However, many teams – England included, – have already pledged to name their lucky few earlier with Gareth Southgate set to pick his 23 before the final pre-tournament friendlies with Nigeria and Costa Rica. …” Independent (Video)


The legendary Luis Monti

April 13, 2018


“Luis Monti was known as ‘Doble Ancho’ (Double Wide) because of his impressive physique. He wasn’t particularly tall, measuring just 1.70m, but he had an imposing presence. He was a tough midfielder, although he always played with a sense of fair play. Monti began his career with Club Huracán, but he soon ended up at San Lorenzo de Almagro, with his brother Enrique. After his arrival in 1922, he soon established himself as a dominant midfielder in the Buenos Aires’ club’s Gasómetro stadium, winning three league titles in 1923, 1924 and 1927. Through his hard work, he was called up to the Argentinian national team in 1924, where he played a crucial role in reaching the Final of the World Cup in Uruguay in 1930. …” FIFA


Santos-Estudiantes in the Copa Libertadores brings to mind what might’ve been

April 6, 2018

“Estudiantes of Argentina and Santos of Brazil fought out an entertaining clash on Thursday night in the Copa Libertadores. The Argentines pressed for most of the match, but were caught on the break in the first half and conceded the only goal of the match — a clear case of offside that nonetheless sent the visitors home 1-0 winners. …” ESPN – Tim Vickery


World Cup 2018 groups: Your complete guide to the teams

April 5, 2018

“The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup…” Telegraph


World Cup stunning moments: Cameroon shock Argentina in 1990 World Cup

March 22, 2018

“Of the great World Cup upsets – the USA’s victory over England in 1950, North Korea’s over Italy in 1966 and Algeria’s over West Germany in 1982 probably push it close – this one stands alone in myth and memory. It was not a perfect match but it was an irresistible narrative, as the World Cup champions, led by the great Diego Maradona, were vanquished by an unheralded team largely assembled of journeymen players from the French lower divisions – though for some of them even that was either an impossible dream or a distant memory. …” Guardian (Video)


Tim Vickery’s Notes from South America: Venezuelans battle against the weight of history

March 13, 2018

“If Tottenham came close to glory before blowing the chance last week, then a club from Venezuela came even closer. Last Thursday Mineros were at home to Nacional of Paraguay in the second leg of their clash in the Sudamericana Cup, the Europa League equivalent. The game in Asuncion had finished goalless, and the same thing happened in Puerto Ordaz. The tie went to penalties. After three rounds, Mineros led 3-1. They could hardly be closer to a place in the next round. One successful penalty from their last two, or one more failure to convert from Nacional, and the Venezuelans would be through. The stadium was ready to celebrate. And then, one by one, the chances went begging. After two consecutive Mineros misses, and two consecutive Nacional successes, the scores were level at 3-3. Sudden death ensued. Mineros missed, Nacional scored and the Paraguayans were the ones doing the celebrating….” World Soccer – Tim Vickery


Great Goals That Weren’t: Diego Maradona vs England (1980)

February 22, 2018

“Barry Davies said it best. Four minutes after Diego Maradona had broken the deadlock by punching the ball into England’s net in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup, the Argentinian genius collected possession in his own half, dribbled past five opponents (including goalkeeper Peter Shilton) and gave his country a 2-0 lead which would prove unassailable. …” The Set Pieces (Video)


Tim Vickery’s Notes from South America: Latorre highlights the dangers of romanticising fans

January 4, 2018

“Diego Latorre was one of the first Argentinians to be burdened with the “new Maradona” tag. He never came close to living up to those expectations. But he had a reasonable career, including international caps, and he has subsequently gone on to become one of Argentina’s most thoughtful and intelligent pundits. With the South American club season in its high summer pause, attention has turned to Europe, with the recent Real Madrid-Barcelona superclasico and the ongoing activities of Serie A and the Premier League. … World Soccer – Tim Vickery


Uruguay get the luck of the World Cup draw

December 6, 2017

“Both Brazil and Argentina were hoping that last Friday’s World Cup draw would put them in Group B. From a logistical point of view, it would have been the best bet; not a great deal of travelling during the group phase, and, for the group winner, an entire knock out campaign restricted to Moscow and Sochi – perfect for teams who aim to be based in Sochi (Brazil) and just outside Moscow (Argentina). …” World Soccer – Tim Vickery


Applause at the Draw, but Will Russia Keep Cheering?

December 3, 2017


“MOSCOW — Half a million fans — by current, suspiciously optimistic, estimates — will descend on Russia next year for what Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, has already decreed will be the ‘best’ World Cup in history. Every single fan, he has decided, will have “an amazing experience.” Billions of dollars have been spent on new, or renovated, stadiums to host the finest players in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, on Friday promised a ‘major sporting festival of friendship and fair play.’ …” NY Times, The Ringer: The Four Must-Watch Games of the 2018 World Cup Group Stages (Video), NY Times – World Cup Draw: Group-by-Group Analysis


Tim Vickery’s Notes from South America: Uruguay fly under the radar en route to Russia

October 15, 2017


Uruguay’s Federico Valverde celebrates after scoring against Paraguay during their 2018 World Cup qualifier in Asuncion
“There is almost too much drama to take as South America’s World Cup qualification campaign moves into Tuesday’s final round. Amid the threat of elimination hanging over Argentina, and continental champions Chile, the remarkable resurgence of Paraguay and a crunch game between Peru and Colombia, Uruguay are flying under the radar. Little space has been devoted to the fact that, barring a mathematical miracle, the Uruguayans have already booked their place in Russia. This breaks a pattern. In all of the other campaigns this century Uruguay got underway with a comfortable win at home to Bolivia only to wobble along the way before just managing to clinch the play-off slot in the final round. …” World Soccer – Tim Vickery


World Cup 2018 power rankings: Germany on top among qualified 23

October 12, 2017


“Twenty-three nations have booked their places for the World Cup in Russia, with the holders and Brazil looking in good shape but we rank England in 13th place, below Iceland.” Guardian (Video)


Argentina Savior Messi Enforces His Brilliance When His Nation Needs Him Most

October 12, 2017

“Twenty years ago, Lionel Messi, then a 10-year-old playing for a youth team at Newell’s Old Boys, headed into rural Santa Fe for a game against Pujato. These were always difficult, physical matches, and Messi took a kicking. … Messi has been getting the face on a lot recently. With Neymar gone, Ousmane Dembele injured and general chaos at the Camp Nou, it feels as though Barcelona’s perfect start to the season has been the result of him, fired by the ‘bronca’ that used to motivate Diego Maradona, dragging Barcelona forward almost single-handed. …” SI – Jonathan Wilson


The Best Soccer Teams in History to Miss Out on Qualifying for the World Cup

October 8, 2017


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“As World Cup qualification reaches its final stages, a number of major nations find themselves in danger of missing out on Russia 2018. As Argentina, the Netherlands, Chile and Ghana struggle to make it, and with reigning African champion Cameroon already eliminated, we look back at the most shocking failures to qualify in World Cup history. …” SI – Jonathan Wilson


Global Series | Top 10 South American Players of 2015: Alexis, Neymar and Suarez feature

December 19, 2016

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“1. LIONEL MESSI No real prize for guessing the occupant of this position. Messi stakes his claim this season as not just the best of South America, but also the best of the world. There were noises last season about Messi disagreeing with Enrique and having a training ground bust up with the manager, but he turned it all around after a point, and an incredible send half of the season saw him lead Barcelona to glory in 3 competitions.” Outside of the Boot


Diego Maradona’s misguided political statement on Western Sahara

November 20, 2016

“Diego Maradona is considered as the greatest footballer of all time and scorer or the ‘Goal of the Century.’ And now, it seems, a willing apologist for the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. According to a number of news reports, as well as posts on Maradona’s official Facebook page and the Twitter account of former Egyptian football great, Mohamed Aboutrika, the two of them are set to return to Morocco along with other former stars of the game—including Brazil’s Rivaldo, Ghana’s Abedi Pele, and Liberia’s George Weah—and former Moroccan players for a so-called ‘Match for Peace’ tomorrow.” Africas A Country


Brazil look to banish Belo Horizonte demons against struggling Argentina

November 11, 2016

“It has been 28 months, but finally Brazil will return to the site of their greatest trauma. Their World Cup qualifier against Argentina on Thursday will be their first game in Belo Horizonte since the 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup semi-final. Nothing will ever erase that horror but a victory over Argentina would make the ghosts loom less menacingly over the Mineirão in future – particularly if it adds to the growing fear in Argentina that the country may not qualify for the next World Cup.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Do South American World Cup qualifiers put the Champions League to shame?

September 6, 2016

“Now that Copa América and the Euros are behind us, the focus turns to World Cup qualification. For South American teams – who kicked off their campaigns last October – the road to the biggest football tournament in the world has always been tough and since 1996, when the current round-robin format was originally introduced, competition has improved tremendously. Historical powerhouses such as Brazil and Argentina are no longer shoe-ins to qualify as teams such as Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, Paraguay and Ecuador, with star players of their own, are more than just also-rans.” Guardian


The sad story of Omar Orestes Corbatta, scorer of Argentina’s second greatest goal

September 6, 2016

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“Before Diego Maradona’s second goal against England in 1986, the greatest goal in Argentinian history had been scored by Omar Orestes Corbatta in a 4-0 win over Chile in qualifying for the 1958 World Cup. Argentina already led 2-0 when Corbatta beat his marker, took the ball round the goalkeeper, waited for another Chilean to approach, dribbled past him and then, as the crowd urged him to finish the move off, with the goalkeeper and two other defenders charging back, dummied to shoot, leaving all three on the ground before finally stroking the ball over the line.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


After lengthy USMNT layoff, expect Copa continuity as World Cup qualifying resumes

August 28, 2016

“If it feels like it’s been a while since we heard from the U.S. national team, that’s in part because it has been—Jurgen Klinsmann and Co. rarely go more than two months without a game or camp—and in part because so much has happened in the meantime. The American men aren’t often so far from the spotlight for this long. Since the whistle blew at the conclusion of the Copa América Centenario bronze medal game on June 25, Lionel Messi missed a penalty kick, retired, then unretired from international football. Cristiano Ronaldo coached Portugal to the European crown, and Neymar kept his composure while Hope Solo lost hers.” SI


Angels with Dirty Faces: How Argentinian Soccer Defined a Nation and Changed the Game Forever

July 19, 2016

“Argentina has produced Alfredo Di Stéfano, Diego Maradona, and Lionel Messi—some of the greatest soccer players of all time. The country’s rich, volatile history is by turns sublime and ruthlessly pragmatic. A nation obsessed with soccer, Argentina lives and breathes the game, its theories, and its myths. Jonathan Wilson lived in Buenos Aires, in an apartment between La Recoleta Cemetery—where the country’s leading poets and politicians are buried—and the Huracán stadium. Like his apartment, Angels with Dirty Faces lies at the intersection of politics, literature, and sport. Here, he chronicles the evolution of Argentinian soccer: the appropriation of the British game, the golden age of la nuestra, the exuberant style of playing that developed as Juan Perón led the country into isolation, a hardening into the brutal methods of anti-fútbol, the fusing of beauty and efficacy under César Luis Menotti, and the emergence of all-time greats in Maradona and Messi against a backdrop of economic turbulence.” amazon – Jonathan Wilson


Copa America 2016 Tactical Analysis: Argentina 0-0 Chile (2-4 pens) | Chile adapt quickest & win midfield battle

July 1, 2016

“The Copa America Centenario concluded on Sunday night with a tense, closely-fought contest between Argentina and Chile in a repeat of last year’s final. And, in a prescient case of déjà vu, it once again saw Chile emerge triumphant from a penalty shootout after a goalless draw, handing them their second trophy in quick succession. Much of the aftermath was dominated by Lionel Messi’s shock announcement that he would be retiring from international football following a fourth final defeat for Argentina. However, this shouldn’t overshadow the great achievement by Chile in what was a fascinating final between two well-matched sides.” Outside of the Boot


Toxic psyche clouds Argentina as team hits mental breaking point

June 27, 2016

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“Argentina has more psychologists per capita than any country in the world—one can’t go out in Buenos Aires without meeting bunches of them—and not a single one of them can fix the toxic psyche of its national team. The latest example came on Sunday, when Lionel Messi and an Argentina team that had lorded over the Copa América Centenario failed to seal the deal again and came away losers in another final. The third straight major final in as many years, to be exact, this time to Chile on penalty kicks after a 0–0 tie. And whether or not Messi follows through on his stunning words that he’s probably retiring from the national team at 29, his drastic response is only a manifestation of a larger psychosis surrounding this team.” SI
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Second straight Copa America win solidifies Chile as one of world’s elite
“Claudio Bravo dropped to his knees in the corner of MetLife Stadium, raising his arms toward the sky as his teammates swarmed the field behind him, then shifted quickly in his direction. The team arrived to greet the goalkeeper in that corner, jumping and hugging and yelling in a joyous mass, all while stadium workers began to erect the the stage upon which they would celebrate. In the mass of hardware and fencing, the workers inadvertently pinned Chile’s team in its own corner.” SI
Lionel Messi and Argentina Miss Again as Chile Wins Copa América
Lionel Messi had the collar of his shirt pulled up to his nose. With his eyes peeking out just over the fabric, he watched a nightmare unfold. Argentina and Chile had played 120 minutes of ruthless, scoreless soccer on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium. Penalty kicks would be needed to decide the winner of the 45th Copa América. Up stepped Messi, widely regarded as the best player in the world, to take the first shot for Argentina, and he missed, sending the ball sailing over the crossbar and into the crowd. Moments later, he watched as Francisco Silva of Chile buried a shot inside the left post to give his team a 4-2 shootout win. All of the Argentine players hung their heads near the center circle as the Chileans erupted in celebration. But Messi took a slow, solitary walk across the grass and took a seat on the far end of his team’s bench.” NY Times


Tactical Analysis: Argentina 4-1 Venezuela | Messi equals record, runs the show

June 23, 2016

“As the centenary edition of the Copa America reaches its knock-out phases, the competition has really begun to hot up. High-profile casualties Brazil and Uruguay have already fallen by the wayside, while Chile destroyed the fancied Mexico 7-0 in what has been a tournament of shocks so far. Venezuela were hoping to spring another surprise when they took on Argentina in the quarter final at the Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts but were ultimately unable to find a way of stopping Messi and co.” Outside of the Boot


First Look: Argentina vs. Chile in Copa America final rematch

June 23, 2016

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“The Copa America final is set, and it’s a familiar one. Argentina and Chile will vie for the Copa America title for a second straight summer after each easily dispatched its semifinal opponent. Argentina overran the USA in a 4-0 result on Tuesday night, while Chile blitzed Colombia out of gate, picking up where it left off in the quarterfinal against Mexico and advancing after a weather-delayed 2-0 win.  In addition to meeting in last year’s final, which Chile won on penalty kicks, the two sides engaged in one of the more entertaining games of this Copa America, opening group play against one another. Argentina prevailed, 2-1, with Angel Di Maria and Ever Banega scoring and assisting for each other before Chile nicked one in the last minute.” SI


Lionel Messi superb as Argentina ease into Copa semis, thrashing Venezuela

June 19, 2016

“Argentina booked their spot in the Copa America semifinals with a 4-1 win over Venezuela on Saturday. Lionel Messi scored once and had two assists. Gerardo Martino’s side now prepare for a meeting with hosts the U.S. on Tuesday in Houston, Texas.” ESPN – Tim Vickery