UEFA World Cup qualifying scores: Poland end England’s winning streak; Spain, Germany notch victories

September 8, 2021


Poland 1, England 1
“…In a night of relatively low drama most of the big guns of European football eased to a further three points, not least Germany, who looked impressive in swatting aside Iceland 4-0. An early goal from Serge Gnabry set Hansi Flick’s side on course for a win that takes them four points clear in Group J before Antonio Rudiger, Leroy Sane and Timo Werner found the net, the latter only after wasting a string of presentable opportunities. After two games in which they dropped points the visit of Lithuania came at a good time for Italy with new Juventus striker Moise Kean netting a first-half brace. Their lead in Group C had been looking precarious after a draw against Switzerland but they had Northern Irish goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell to thank as he saved a penalty that meant Northern Ireland held the Swiss to a goalless draw in Belfast. …”
CBS Sports (Video)
BBC – World Cup 2022 qualifying: Who is close to qualifying? Who are the surprise packages?
Guardian: Szymanski denies England as Poland snatch late draw after Kane’s opener
ESPN: England’s draw in Poland keeps Three Lions on track for Qatar 2022, but they’ll need complete performances to vie for World Cup


Spain Loses World Cup Qualifier For The First Time In 66 Matches, 2-1 Against Sweden

September 6, 2021


“The Spanish national team tasted defeat for the first time in 28 years in a World Cup qualifying match after they lost to Sweden 2-1 on Friday in Stockholm. Sweden came back from a goal down to defeat Spain who lost a World Cup qualifying match after 66 games undefeated. The defeat means that Spain have lost a World Cup qualifying game after 66 matches and 28 years. During this undefeated run, they also managed to win 10 in a row before the 2010 World Cup which they ended up winning. A defeat that Luis Enrique would not have excepted as his men had done well in the Euro 2020 having made the semi-finals where they lost eventual Champions Italy on penalties. …”
Republic World
YouTube: Sweden stuns Spain 2-1 in World Cup qualifier | WCQ Highlights | ESPN FC
UEFA: European Qualifiers: England and Belgium rampant, Sweden stun Spain


Introducing ‘expected threat’ (or xT), the new metric on the block

August 8, 2021


“By this point, you’ve probably heard of the term expected goals (or xG). If not, familiarise yourself. It’s the poster-boy of the football analytics movement, going from being included in the box-score on shows such as Match of the Day and Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football to shaping how those within the game think about chance creation. It even influences scouting and recruitment. It’s become something of a meme too, with Brighton’s well-documented gap between goals and xG dominating the discourse for Graham Potter’s side in 2020-21. …”
The Athletic


UEFA Euro 1972 Final

July 27, 2021


“The UEFA Euro 1972 Final was a football match played at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, on 18 June 1972, to determine the winner of the UEFA Euro 1972 tournament. It was the fourth UEFA European Football Championship final, UEFA‘s top football competition for national teams. The match was contested by West Germany and two-time tournament finalists, the Soviet Union. En route to the final, West Germany finished top of their qualifying group which included Turkey, Albania and Poland. After beating England over a two-legged tie in the quarter-finals, they progressed to the final after defeating tournament hosts Belgium in the semi-final. The Soviet Union won their qualifying group which included Cyprus and Spain, before beating Northern Ireland in the two-legged quarter-final and Yugoslavia in the single-match semi-final. …”
Wikipedia
EURO 1972: all you need to know (Video)
YouTube: West Germany v USSR: 1972 UEFA European Championship final highlights


Pep Lijnders’ Euro 2020 tactical diary: A young genius, why Grealish is dangerous and what went wrong for France

July 17, 2021


“Euro 2020 has been an absolute triumph for the collective. I’ve loved watching it every step of the way. I’ve loved the commitment of so many teams to an attacking style of football. I’ve loved the tactical battles between different systems. I’ve loved the sight of supporters back inside stadiums across Europe and the atmospheres that have been generated. Credit to England and Italy for making it this far. They deserve to be there. I wouldn’t bet on the outcome of Sunday’s final. It’s too close to call. Two evenly matched, well-balanced teams. …”
The Athletic (Audio)


Euro 2020: our writers select their highs and lows from the tournament

July 15, 2021


“Italy’s performances and goals from Patrik Schick and Paul Pogba illuminated a wonderful championships. Sadly, some England supporters let the country down. Match of the tournament. Ed Aarons: It was going to take something to beat Spain’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Croatia after extra-time but the sequel on a crazy Monday evening was even better. Paul Pogba’s elaborate celebration having scored France’s third goal came back to haunt him as Switzerland scored twice in the last 10 minutes to force extra time before Kylian Mbappé missed from the spot to eliminate the star-studded world champions. …”
Guardian


Were these the best games at UEFA EURO 2020?

July 10, 2021


Spain celebrate their fifth goal in the absorbing 5-3 win against Croatia
“From group stage thrillers to knockout phase goal fests, UEFA EURO 2020 has been jam-packed with pulsating contests from start to finish. We decided to pick out our favourites ahead of Sunday’s final at Wembley Stadium – do you agree these were the choice cuts? …”
UEFA (Video)


No Semifinalist Is an Island

July 6, 2021


“Kalvin Phillips came home, for the first time, as a fully fledged England international with four jerseys as souvenirs. He had asked his new teammates to autograph one, destined to be framed and mounted on a wall at home. Two others were reserved for his mother and grandmother, as tokens of gratitude for years of support. The final one he earmarked as a gift for the man who, he felt, deserved the bulk of the credit. A couple of years earlier, Phillips had been a promising but inconsistent midfielder in the Championship, England’s second-tier league. Now, despite having not yet played a minute in the Premier League, he had been called into a gathering of the country’s finest players. Without the intervention of Marcelo Bielsa, the Leeds United manager, Phillips said, none of it ‘would really have been possible.’ …”
NY Times


How Italy Has Rampaged Through Euro 2020

July 5, 2021


“The new-look Italy has survived its sternest test. Since Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, manager Roberto Mancini has rebuilt the national team by emphasizing quick passing, high pressing, and, most of all, goals. The culture shift has worked better than anyone could have dreamed. Italy was on a 31-game unbeaten streak going into Friday’s match against Belgium. The advanced numbers approved of its form; the eye test liked its cohesion and the speed with which it drove at the goal after forcing turnovers. Italy flooded opposing nets during the streak, scoring four, five, six, seven, and nine goals at various times. It was the complete opposite of the dour, boring Italy teams that had earned reputations for defensive cynicism and attacking opportunism for generations. …”
Slate (Video)


Tactical Analysis: Czech Republic vs. Denmark

July 4, 2021


“First off, it would be appropriate to finally bury the common narrative that this Danish team has made it this far into the Euros as a response to the Eriksen situation. Apart from being almost cynical in nature, that argument does Kasper Hjulmand’s side a huge disservice. Denmark are very, very good. They overcame an extremely difficult group thanks to a valiant, relentless display in a 4-1 win, then they steamrolled a Welsh team that looked solid in defense to set up this quarterfinal game against an odds-defying Czech side. And, with their 2-1 win, they once again proved to be an adventurous unit, with flying wingbacks who create overloads and find pockets of space (as shown by Joakim Maehle’s deep run and exquisite trivela cross to set up Kasper Dolberg for the second goal). …”
Beaking the Lines
Tactical Analysis: Belgium vs. Italy
Tactical Analysis: Switzerland vs. Spain


At Euro 2020, Calculated Risks Reap the Greatest Rewards

July 3, 2021


“Euro 2020 may be the most arrogant and audacious major tournament in soccer history. It is certainly the most counterintuitive. It’s being played amid a global pandemic, brought on by a virus that is particularly spiteful and startlingly contagious. Yet our beloved sport has chosen not to remain within its cities and ride out that storm, but to swagger out of the gates and meet it. The plan for Euro 2020 to be staged in multiple countries at once, effectively a festival of burning fossil fuels, was a concern for environmental activists long before COVID-19 came on the scene. …”
The Ringer


Lorenzo Insigne’s stunning goal a defining moment for the new Italy

July 2, 2021


“If we needed one moment to sum up Italy’s transformation over the past four years, it arrived in the 44th minute at the Allianz Arena. Lorenzo Insigne’s goal was a thing of beauty, cutting in from the left and curling the ball from the edge of the area into the far corner of the net with such precision that Thibaut Courtois had no chance. The forward had started his run from the halfway line. This was Insigne distilled, a goal that he has scored countless times down the years. The finish might not always be so flawless, but the ambitious dribble, the move inside and the right-footed shot across goal have been foundation stones of a career. You could accuse him of being too predictable, but like Arjen Robben in his prime, Insigne has learned that it does not matter if defenders know what dance you’re doing if they still cannot match your steps. …”
Guardian
NY Times: Belgium’s Golden Team Searches for a Silver Lining
ESPN (Video)


Belgium 1-0 Portugal: Ronaldo draws a blank, Hazards come to the fore, Pepe loses his cool (again)

June 28, 2021


Thorgan Hazard
“Cristiano Ronaldo had the all-time men’s international goal scoring record and the Euro 2020 quarter-finals in his sights, but he hadn’t reckoned on a stubborn and resilient Belgium side, who defended solidly and provided the game’s most outstanding moment of technical quality. Here, The Athletic’s Liam Twomey and Tim Spiers pick through the major talking points… The stage was set for Cristiano Ronaldo. His team, his tournament, his Euros, his next goal record… but for once, he failed to take the spotlight. … But while the elder Hazard brother’s improved rhythm should be cause for optimism among Belgium supporters, he wasn’t the hero of this particular night. Thorgan shattered Portugal’s ultra-cautious game plan from 25 yards with one magnificent swish of his boot late in the first half. …”
Belgium 1-0 Portugal: Ronaldo draws a blank, Hazards come to the fore, Pepe loses his cool (again)
Guardian: Thorgan Hazard strike sinks Portugal and puts Belgium in quarter-finals
Guardian: Cristiano Ronaldo exits but does not have the look of a man whose race is run – Jonathan Wilson
NY Times: Relief for Belgium Comes at Ronaldo’s Expense


EURO 2020: tactical trends

June 27, 2021


No team has pressed or had the ball as much as Spain but that did not help them beat Sweden in their opening game
“Thirty-six matches played, with 94 goals scored at an average of 2.61 per game. It is a ratio lower than the 2.93 recorded in last season’s UEFA Champions League, yet this is no surprise for the UEFA technical observers analysing the action at UEFA EURO 2020. Their reflections on the opening fortnight of action point to less risk-taking than in the European club competitions with a tendency towards three centre-backs and low blocks – arguably motivated by the wish to avoid early elimination. …”
UEFA (Video)
Tactical trends from the Euro 2020 group stages: What we’ve learned


The Case for a 32-Team Euros

June 26, 2021


Portugal found a way through to the round of 16.
“Thomas Vermaelen’s header hit the ground first and then rose before colliding with the post near the corner where it meets the crossbar. As the ball spun out, sideways toward the middle of the goal, Lukas Hradecky, the Finland goalkeeper, was still turning around. It was all happening in the blink of an eye. Instinctively, Hradecky reached out a hand to try to swat the ball away. In that instant, on his fingertips, a substantial portion of Euro 2020 hung. Had Hradecky been able to claw the ball away from his goal, away from danger, Finland might have been able to hang on, to keep a vaguely interested Belgium at bay, to qualify for the knockout stages of the first major tournament it has ever reached. Denmark, playing simultaneously in Copenhagen, might have been sent home. …”
NY Times


Euro 2020’s flying full-backs show risk-free football is not the only path to victory

June 25, 2021


Lukaku & De Bruyne
“… Which is perhaps a polite way of saying a little bit boring. But then most successful international sides are, based on the construction of a solid base and a couple of gifted creators who can extemporise upon that – or at least they have been. The sophisticated models that dominate at elite club level take time to instil. To press effectively in the modern game takes weeks of repetitions on the training ground so that players know instinctively when to hunt the ball and when to ease off. And pressing is pointless if it isn’t coherent: it’s just players running about. It works only if conducted in packs: one or two men to the man in possession, a wave of others blocking off his options, either by closing down opponents or the passing lanes. …”
Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


The tactical trends you’ve not noticed at Euro 2020

June 25, 2021


“After 36 games condensed into less than two weeks, the group stage of Euro 2020 is over. Sadly for us football fanatics, it means there are just 15 more games remaining to get your European international football fix for the summer. There have already been some interesting tactical battles, some records broken, and plenty of drama but we have picked out a few interesting trends that feel worthy of discussion in a little bit more detail. Is this the year of the three-man defence? Just how much do some players have to adapt between club and country? And is everyone just a bit… shattered? …”
The Athletic (Video)


The Euro 2020 Group Stage Is Over: Here’s What We Learned

June 24, 2021


“With a couple of minutes to play in Budapest, the French midfielder Adrien Rabiot looked squarely at Sergio Oliveira, his Portuguese opponent, and advised him to back away. Like everyone else in the stadium, Rabiot had heard the news. The group stage of Euro 2020 was effectively over. Both France and Portugal were through to the knockout rounds. There was no need to run or to chase or to press. Now was the time for watching the clock. It had not, for either team, been a straightforward evening. The game had oscillated — Portugal led, then France, then Portugal struck back — and so had their fates, dependent to some extent on the outcome of the group’s other game, between Germany and Hungary in Munich. At one point or another, each of the four teams had believed they were going through. …”
NY Times


Analysed: Which Euro 2020 country matches which club side’s style?

June 24, 2021


“How are you finding the European Championship so far? Not missing club football at all? Or are you sitting on your couch lamenting the inferior standard of these international games, in between scrolling Twitter and replying to football journalists tweeting about Germany’s defensive system with ‘(insert name of sexy transfer target here) update?!?’ If you are, don’t worry. Major international tournaments are very different creatures from the European club season, for better and worse, and they’re not for everyone. Just ask Maurizio Sarri, who shocked journalists in January 2019 while Chelsea head coach when he admitted he didn’t watch a single minute of the previous summer’s World Cup because ‘there is not anything to learn from them’. …”
The Athletic


Euro 2020 power rankings: Italy lead the way after impressive group stage

June 24, 2021


“France and Belgium have been impressive but Italy are unbeaten in 30 and with a comfortable-looking last-16 tie. 1) Italy. The Roberto Mancini juggernaut rolls on. Three games, three wins, seven goals scored and none conceded in the group stage. Italy are unbeaten in 30 games, have not let in a goal for more than 1,000 minutes and beat Wales in their last group game having made eight changes. The introduction of Marco Verratti in that match added another layer to their game – he had been injured – and they are huge favourites against Austria. 2) France. The main question before the tournament was whether the reintroduction of Karim Benzema would destabilise the squad, but they won the group of death and the Real Madrid striker scored twice in the 2-2 draw with Portugal. …”
Guardian
Guardian – Euro 2020: the standout players from the 16 teams left in the tournament


The Romelu Lukaku Renaissance

June 22, 2021


“We know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. What footballers know is that the longest distance between two points is the way back from failure. Romelu Lukaku set out on that road almost a year ago and has now reached such speed that he has far outpaced any challenger who was ahead of him. It is a remarkable return, a hero’s journey, and now he ventures across Europe with his national team at the Euro 2020 tournament, perhaps on course for further glory. But more on his adventures with Belgium later. …”
The Ringer


At Euro 2020, a Reminder That Good Can Be Great

June 19, 2021


Italy: unbeaten, but not unbeatable.
“Let’s start with a little intellectual exercise. A purely hypothetical, entirely subjective, ultimately inconclusive one, admittedly, but still: Now that each of the presumed contenders to win the European Championship has shown at least some of its hand, how competitive would any of them be if they were to be parachuted, as they are, into the Champions League? Instinctively, it feels as if France, at least, would do pretty well. A front line of Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé bears comparison to any attacking trident in the club game. …”
NY Times


Belgium’s attacking riches bail out creaking back line against Denmark

June 17, 2021


Kevin de Bruyne, a second half substitute for Belgium, turned the game on its head.
“Perhaps this wasn’t the game for making proper judgments. Belgium were in the desperately awkward position of being the other team in the face of a great outpouring of Danish emotion, and for half the game they struggled in that role. But the introduction of Kevin De Bruyne, back after surgery on the facial injury he sustained in the Champions League final, changed everything. But beyond talk of the difficult emotion of the occasion or of De Bruyne’s brilliance, there are other issues for Belgium. Going forward after half-time, they looked like the side that had scored 40 goals in qualifying. Romelu Lukaku, the isolation of the first half ended, was exceptional. …”
Guardian: Jonathan Wilson
De Bruyne inspires Belgium comeback win after Denmark’s Eriksen tribute
The Athletic’s 10 Euro stars – Kevin De Bruyne: Belgium’s man on a mission (June 9)


Euro 2020: Can Portugal’s Latest Golden Generation Defend Their Euro Crown?

June 14, 2021


“With Germany in something of a slump, Italy improving but still inexperienced at the sharp end of tournaments, and Spain lacking the depth of the previous generation, the national team out of Europe’s ‘big four’ (nations that have lifted both the World Cup and European Championships) favored by the bookies is France. The door is open for one of three countries harboring golden generations of players. Outside of family lineage, a generation is a tricky thing to define. The flux of bodies through an institution—in this case, a national soccer team—cannot easily be separated out. Doing so is inherently arbitrary, certainly not scientific, though nevertheless useful. We have chosen a figure of seven years, which would in theory allow players of, say, 26 and 19 years of age to play a cycle of four tournaments together: two World Cups and two continental Championships. The first two parts of our look at these Golden Generations examined Belgium and England. Third up, Portugal. …” The Ringer


Euro 2020 Power Rankings: France the Clear Favorite—but Then What?

June 11, 2021


“Five years removed from Portugal’s coronation just outside Paris, the next European Championship begins on Friday, and with it comes the quest for the 2016 host and runner-up to make amends and follow a World Cup title with another triumph—and for 23 other national sides to do something about it. France is as good if not better than it was when it lifted the World Cup trophy in Russia three summers ago, and after an extra year’s wait due to the pandemic, it’s out to confirm its status as the world and region’s preeminent team—it’s No. 2 FIFA world ranking notwithstanding. Before the competition begins, with Italy facing Turkey in Rome, we examine team form, ability and outlook based on the draw to rank the 24 contenders vying to be crowned European champion (group opponents listed in order of when they’ll play in the opening stage). …” SI – Jonathan Wilson, Guardian: At the Euros, winning teams can start badly. It’s how they respond that matters, ESPN – Euro 2020 preview: Picks, scouting reports, must-see games, biggest ‘upset’ teams and much more (Video)


How Euro 2020 Was Saved

June 8, 2021


“If Aleksander Ceferin has any say on the matter, there will never be another European soccer championship like the one that starts this week. And that decision has nothing to do with the coronavirus. Ceferin, the president of European soccer’s governing body, quickly listed the headaches that came with organizing this summer’s championship. Matches in 11 countries, originally 13, meant finding 11 cities and 11 stadiums capable of hosting them. It meant creating teams to run each site and arranging for dozens of hotels to house everyone who would go. But it also meant navigating legal jurisdictions and linguistic boundaries, tax laws and big politics as well as soccer politics, currency values and visa rules. And that was before the coronavirus made it all exponentially harder. …” NY Times, NY Times – Euro 2020: Schedule, How to Watch and More, UEFA Euro 2020 match schedule


Euro 2020: England and Spain Drop Big Names; France Adds One

June 4, 2021


“Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold was one of four right backs included in England’s final 26-man roster for this summer’s European Championship as Manager Gareth Southgate trimmed his roster hours before the tournament deadline. But after one exhibition game, he was out again. Alexander-Arnold, a late inclusion in England’s team, withdrew on Thursday, a day after sustaining a thigh injury in a friendly match against Austria. England and Liverpool confirmed that the young defender was out. … Instead, all four players made the team — at least initially. England is in a group with Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic. If it reaches the final, it could play as many as six matches at Wembley Stadium in London. …” NY Times, W – UEFA Euro 2020, Euro 2020 squads: Every confirmed team for the 2021 tournament, Guardian – Euro 2020: your complete guide to all 622 players


‘It’s over, Jogi’: German press reacts to historic defeat by North Macedonia

April 1, 2021


“It had felt like a new and happier time. Since Joachim Löw announced he was standing down after the European Championship, his young and vibrant side had beaten Iceland and Romania convincingly to get their World Cup qualifying campaign off to the perfect start. The mood in the squad relaxed, they took on North Macedonia in Löw’s final World Cup qualifier on Wednesday night – and promptly lost 2-1. The feelgood factor that had been building up in the previous seven days was gone in an instant, replaced by questions about team tactics and selections and even a call for the national coach to leave his post immediately. Writing in Bild – in a piece headlined ‘It is over, Jogi’ – Matthias Brügelmann said: ‘This is the third historical debacle that Jogi Löw, after many successful years as national coach, is responsible for. There was the first elimination from the stage at a World Cup ever in Russia. There was the biggest defeat since 1931 with the 6-0 defeat against Spain. And now this 1-2 against North Macedonia, No 65 in the World Cup rankings.’ …”
Guardian, Guardian: Euro 2020 power rankings: Belgium back on top as Germany plummet, Guardian: North Macedonia inflict historic World Cup qualifying defeat on Germany, Guardian: Ronaldo on target in Portugal win


Golden Goal: Jean-Pierre Papin for France v Belgium (1992)

April 20, 2020

“Karim Benzema has been publicly reflecting, let’s say, on France’s ability to win the World Cup with a ‘go-kart’ of a striker, Olivier Giroud. He might also recall Stéphane Guivarc’h, who led the line for France in 1998. For their two World Cup triumphs, France have had centre-forwards who went through the whole tournaments without finding the net. In the early 90s, on the other hand, they had one of the deadliest finishers the game has seen – and they made fools of themselves on the international stage. Go-kart? Go figure. …”
Guardian (Audio)


Uefa Nations League – as it stands: Who are the winners and losers following the opening rounds of group games?

September 12, 2018

“A goalless draw on the opening day of the tournament may not have been the result the suits in Nyon had wanted, but the point earned by France in Munich provided the world champions the foundation to build upon. Goals from Kylian Mbappé and Olivier Giroud in their second game, the 2-1 defeat of Holland, leaves Didier Deschamps’ side top ahead of their return leg against Germany in Paris next month.” Telegraph


The Player Kylian Mbappe Really Plays Like

August 2, 2018


“Breakout performances seemed to be everywhere at the 2018 World Cup — young talents were launched to international fame, and established players had their names crystallized on the world stage. The world’s biggest soccer tournament gives players a chance to shine outside the club-level paradigm of consistency and — apart from the English Premier League — a largely domestic audience. On the back of a few impressive performances, players like CSKA Moscow’s Aleksandr Golovin, one of the key players in Russia’s run to the quarterfinals, can earn themselves the chance to move to one of Europe’s top clubs, even if this recruitment trend is less common than it once was.” FiveThirtyEight


Tactical Analysis: France 1-0 Belgium | Set Piece Decides Game Dominated by Determined Defences

August 2, 2018

“France sealed their place in the World Cup final for just the third time in their history after a narrow victory over Belgium on Tuesday. As is common in the latter stages of knock-out competitions, the reluctance of both teams to give anything away made for a cagey game with few risks taken, inescapably creating a situation where the first goal would essentially prove decisive. With both sides desperately trying to avoid being the team that makes the crucial first mistake, it is probably unsurprising that the source of the winning goal ended up being a set piece; a detached moment of attacking freedom away from the rigid, careful flow of open play.” Outside of the Boot


Tactical Analysis: Brazil 1-2 Belgium | Belgium Nick a Fortunate Win Through Decisive Counter-Attacks

August 2, 2018

“Brazil entered the 2018 World Cup as one of the favorites thanks to their athletic and/or defensively astute central midfielders Casemiro, Paulinho, and Fernandinho, and the fearsome left-sided trio of Marcelo, Coutinho, and Neymar. Understanding the threat the latter threesome posed, Belgium manager Roberto Martínez instructed his side to overload the right section of their midfield. This ploy forced the three tricksters to play through clogged spaces or switch play to the under-supported Willian. Eventually, the difficulty of building these types of attacks led to losses of possession that Belgium looked to convert into dangerous counter-attacks; Hazard and Lukaku led the way in this department with their dribbling, hold-up play, and aerial duels. This strategy, along with a handy own goal, provided Belgium with a two-goal cushion – something they held onto for dear life as Tite’s second half adjustments allowed Brazil to created chance after chance in a valiant losing effort.” Outside of the Boot


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


Whose World Cup Is This?

July 13, 2018

“Football might not be coming home, but this should be Harry Kane’s World Cup. After a few years dominating the Premier League, the 24-year-old showed the wider world why we’re all freaking about a guy who looks like an apprentice magistrate from Bleak House and speaks like his mouth is filled with marbles covered in peanut butter. Kane’s six goals are two more than anyone else in the tournament, and even if you add assists to everyone else’s tallies, Kane has still produced more than all of his competitors. The reemergence of the England national team as something close to a world soccer power will likely go down as one of the defining stories of the 2018 World Cup, and it’s Kane who got them there: He wore the captain’s armband for all five games he played in, and he won the Man of the Match award in three.” The Ringer


World Cup 2018: A View from the Stands – Simon Kuper

July 13, 2018

“I’ve been staying in an Airbnb in a Soviet-era apartment block in Moscow to cover the World Cup, but my children back home in Paris are living the tournament more intensely than I am. Though I’m British and my wife is American, our children were born in Paris and identify uncomplicatedly as French. For France’s first few games, each of their gang of friends took turns to host a viewing party at home. Parents and kids would cram into somebody’s little apartment, cheer on France over helpings of pizza, then sing Beatles songs together and watch whichever match was up next. Our living room was left smeared with red-white-and-blue face-paint after all the children rolled on the floor to celebrate France’s goals.” NYBooks


World Cup 2018: How France exposed Nacer Chadli and turned defence into attack to nullify Belgium’s flair

July 13, 2018


France’s 1-0 victory over Belgium wasn’t quite the match it might have been. With four of the world’s most exciting attacking talents on the pitch together, a variety of dynamic midfielders and centre-back pairings comfortable in a high defensive line, this could have been fast-paced, frantic, end-to-end. Instead, it was something different entirely, based around patience, turnovers and the odd counter-attack. It was intriguing rather than enthralling, and the first goal was always likely to be crucial. With the exception of Blaise Matuidi returning following suspension, Didier Deschamps’ starting XI is now set in stone.” Independent – Michael Cox


Samuel Umtiti header puts France in World Cup final with win over Belgium

July 10, 2018


“At the final whistle the pocket of French supporters behind the goal to the left, with their tricolours and memories of 1998, could celebrate another triumphant night. France had made it to the World Cup final and will surely fancy their chances of being reunited with that coveted piece of gold in Moscow on Sunday. The players in blue were embracing and a Belgium side heavily made up of players from the Premier League will have to wonder whether the time will ever come for their golden generation.” Guardian


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


Semifinal questions: How do Belgium counter France’s front three? England speed or Croatia possession?

July 10, 2018

“The World Cup has reached the semifinal stage and it’s an all-European affair, with France facing Belgium on Tuesday, followed by Croatia vs. England the following day. Ahead of the final four, here is one key question that each team must answer.” ESPN – Michael Cox


No goals? No problem. Olivier Giroud’s mission to supply France with glory

July 10, 2018

“Can France win the World Cup with a centre-forward who fails to score a goal? Olivier Giroud has yet to get off the mark in 412 minutes of football spread across five appearances at these finals but his name will be among the first on the France teamsheet for Tuesday’s semi-final against Belgium and neither player nor manager is losing any sleep about his drought continuing.” Guardian


Neymar Can’t Quite Copy Cruyff, Football Might Really Be Coming Home, and More Takeaways From the World Cup Quarterfinals

July 8, 2018


1. European dominance continues. When Germany won the 2014 World Cup, it was the first time any continent had produced three-straight World Cup winners. And after the elimination of Brazil and Uruguay on Friday, that streak will now extend to four. In 2002, it seemed like we might be seeing a challenge to world soccer’s established hierarchy. Senegal and the United States both made the quarterfinals, while South Korea and Turkey both advanced to the semifinals. Of course, it ended with Brazil and Germany, the two all-time great soccer-playing nations, in the final, but even that was something of a surprise, as they were ranked 11th and 10th, respectively, in the pre-tournament Elo Ratings.” The Ringer (Video)


Tactical Analysis: Brazil 1-2 Belgium | Belgium Nick a Fortunate Win Through Decisive Counter-Attacks

July 8, 2018

“Brazil entered the 2018 World Cup as one of the favorites thanks to their athletic and/or defensively astute central midfielders Casemiro, Paulinho, and Fernandinho, and the fearsome left-sided trio of Marcelo, Coutinho, and Neymar. Understanding the threat the latter threesome posed, Belgium manager Roberto Martínez instructed his side to overload the right section of their midfield. This ploy forced the three tricksters to play through clogged spaces or switch play to the under-supported Willian. Eventually, the difficulty of building these types of attacks led to losses of possession that Belgium looked to convert into dangerous counter-attacks; Hazard and Lukaku led the way in this department with their dribbling, hold-up play, and aerial duels. This strategy, along with a handy own goal, provided Belgium with a two-goal cushion – something they held onto for dear life as Tite’s second half adjustments allowed Brazil to created chance after chance in a valiant losing effort.” Outside of the Boot (Video)


Eden Hazard’s World Cup brilliance could have long-term consequences

July 7, 2018

“There was a moment late in Belgium’s win over Brazil on Friday when Eden Hazard led a break. He charged into the opposition half, turned back inside and, as runners went by him, taking defenders with them, space opened up for a pass out to the left to the substitute Youri Tielemans. There was an overlap, a chance of a third goal that would have finished the game. Hazard saw it. He tried to play it. But his legs, for once, did not obey. The ball set off in the right direction but with nothing like enough pace; Marcelo intercepted. Hazard had essentially been too exhausted to pass a ball 40 yards. Like the rest of the team, he was spent.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Romelu Lukaku gives Belgium clue to solving mystery of beating Brazil

July 6, 2018


“After all that there was no need for Belgium to be so coy. Roberto Martínez and his team had talked their way into this quarter-final like underdogs, twirling in deference to the extent that it seemed fair to wonder whether they might at least simulate a little swagger. But who needs to strut around when they can play some of the most dynamic, coruscating counterattacking international football in years? And who needs to parade on to the pitch when they have prepared to effect the kind of victory that might define a generation’s work? They lined up with a plan and it has taken them to within two games of a title that would make good every prediction, every breathless think-piece, every confident statement about Europe’s emerging force of the decade. Now Belgium, for all their false dawns, have at last found their level. On the eve of the game Romelu Lukaku had puffed out his cheeks and made a show of having to think very hard indeed about any possible weaknesses Brazil held.” Guardian

Brazil knocked out of World Cup by Kevin De Bruyne and brilliant Belgium
“In years to come, when this stadium is a crumbling white elephant, they will sit in almost empty stands, hear the wind whisper across the marsh that surrounds it and believe what they hear is the ghosts of giants. In three games, Kazan has claimed the winners of 11 World Cups. First Germany went, insipid against South Korea. Then, in a full-blooded epic, Argentina were blown away by France. And then fell the biggest of them all, Brazil, outwitted and outbattled by Belgium, who will face France in Tuesday’s semi-final. Brazil had chances. A few ricochets in the box did not fall their way.” Guardian

Brazil sent packing: Kevin De Bruyne’s magic fires up Belgium to knock Selecao out of World Cup
“Great World Cup games can be the epic comeback tale and others, like this one, are about how one team stands firm in the gale of a relentless attacking force, although quite how Belgium hung on to reach the semi-finals and send Brazil home they may never know. It was another Russia 2018 classic, featuring a Belgium side who plundered two goals against their famous opposition twice in the first 32 minutes after which the men in the yellow shirts would spend the next hour in thrilling perpetual chase. Led by their little general Philippe Coutinho, and perhaps with a little longer at their disposal, it would have been Brazil in the semi-final against France in St Petersburg on Tuesday. But instead the last South American side are out, beaten by the shrewdness of Kevin De Bruyne on the counter-attack and Marouane Fellaini and his fellow midfield sentry Axel Witsel, the two unmistakeable guardogs of this Belgium team. This was the golden generation of Belgium against a country where every generation is golden, and the great attacking talent of De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku prevailed.” Telegraph

Thibaut Courtois’ Elastic Limbs Carry Belgium Into the World Cup Semifinals
“Belgium leaped out to a two-goal lead thanks to a Brazilian own goal and a surgical first-half counter from its front three of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Kevin De Bruyne. It held on to upset Brazil 2–1 thanks to its star goalkeeper, the elastic ectomorph Thibaut Courtois. Courtois stands 6-foot-5, with most of that length apparently in his neck and shins. When he stands in goal, his wingspan looks nearly infinite. Never has a real human looked more capable of stretching his limbs in the Mr. Fantastic/Elastigirl manner.” Slate


If Belgium are to beat Brazil in their quarter-final, how can they do it?

July 6, 2018

“There was a spell, for the first 20 minutes or so, when it seemed Mexico might be able to trouble Brazil. Carlos Vela was getting the better of Fagner on the Brazil right and it felt that Mexico, as they had throughout the group stage, were struggling to convert decent positions into clear opportunities. But the longer the game went on, the more it became apparent that Brazil were comfortably holding Mexico at arm’s length. That first 20 minutes, though, perhaps offers Belgium the best hope there is.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


2018 World Cup Predictions

July 5, 2018


“The World Cup is back, and so is another edition of FiveThirtyEight’s World Cup predictions. For those of you familiar with our club soccer predictions or our 2014 World Cup forecast, much of our 2018 forecast will look familiar. We show the chance that each team will win, lose or tie every one of their matches, as well as a table that details how likely each team is to finish first or second in their group and advance to the knockout stage. This year, we’ve added a few features to our interactive graphics. We have a bracket that illustrates how likely each team is to make each knockout-round match that it can advance to, as well as its most likely opponents in those matches. …”
FiveThirtyEight
Metafilter: it’s coming to someone’s home. (Video)


Anatomy of a Goal

July 4, 2018


“… Those words are true of every goal—the ugly ones and the pretty—but were perhaps never more honest than after witnessing Nacer Chadli’s last-minute stunner to complete Belgium’s 3-2 comeback win over Japan on Monday. Despite dominating the majority of the match, the Red Devils found themselves facing a two-goal deficit, and time was acting against them. The Japanese goals were each stunning in their own rights. Genki Haraguchi caught the end of a through ball and threaded it past a diving Thibaut Courtois in the 48th minute. Four minutes later, Takashi Inui found a window in a sea of Belgian defenders and unleashed a shot that touched the back of the net before a diving Courtois hit the ground.” The Ringer (Video)


Belgium 3 – 2 Japan

July 2, 2018


“Belgium completed a remarkable revival as they came from the World Cup abyss and beat Japan to reach the quarter-finals. Roberto Martinez’s side were trailing 2-0 when he brought on Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli in the 65th minute, and Fellaini scored the equaliser before Chadli netted a 94th-minute winner.” BBC (Video)

Belgium come from two down to knock out Japan in the World Cup’s last 16
“It will go down as a World Cup classic, a wild and chaotic game that will be talked about in years to come, in particular that dramatic moment, with almost the last kick of the evening. Belgium went from one end of the pitch to the other in the blink of an eye and scored the goal that had Thibaut Courtois charging out of his area to embrace the coach, Roberto Martínez.” Guardian

Fellaini and Chadli as game-changers? This World Cup is absolute chaos
“Hearts sank like lost shoes in a muddy field in Manchester when the news emerged last week. Derision, resignation, bafflement: United had a perfect opportunity to rid themselves of Marouane Fellaini but instead they gave him a new contract. If one listened to some of the wailing, it felt as if Fellaini was an irritating house guest, the sort who puts his shoes on the couch and takes bites out of the cheese. The time had come for him to move on but United not only invited him back in for a brew, they made him up a proper bed in the spare room.” 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


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


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


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)


Mark Lawrenson’s pantomime punditry: a relic to cherish on the BBC

June 19, 2018

“Fifa are fond of telling us that football is a family. If so, Mark Lawrenson is the grumpy uncle one was compelled to invite to the gathering. But rather than simply sticking him in a secluded armchair and keeping him quiet with a gob full of Quality Street and cooking brandy, the BBC has let him loose on World Cup television viewers. Lawro has so far done two matches for BBC TV; reaction has been mixed. Which is to say, some people have hated it, and other people have really hated it. Or that has been the online response, anyway, with social media commentators vying to one-up each other with their spite and rage at his contributions to the France vs Australia and Belgium vs Panama matches.” Telegraph


Belgium 3 – 0 Panama

June 18, 2018


“Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium proved too good for World Cup debutants Panama in the opening match in England’s Group G. After a goalless first half, Belgium, ranked third in the world, finally broke Panama’s resistance when Dries Mertens steered in a spectacular volley. Panama, 55th in the rankings, had a chance to snatch an equaliser but Thibaut Courtois was quick off his line to save Michael Murillo’s shot with his legs.” BBC (Video)

World Cup 2018 tactics: Roberto Martinez in danger of putting Belgium’s star-shaped pegs in square holes
“Roberto Martinez has been criticised by Belgium supporters for many of his tactical choices amid concerns this crop of superb talent might be in the hands of the wrong person. Martinez’s exclusion of Radja Nainggolan – the third best player in Belgium, according to Martinez’s predecessor Marc Wilmots – was… confusing. Nainggolan retired from international football as a direct result. But – and there is a but – Martinez won the FA Cup with Wigan once. So he must know what he’s doing. Right?” Telegraph


I’ve Got Some Things to Say

June 18, 2018

“I remember the exact moment I knew we were broke. I can still picture my mum at the refrigerator and the look on her face. I was six years old, and I came home for lunch during our break at school. My mum had the same thing on the menu every single day: Bread and milk. When you’re a kid, you don’t even think about it. But I guess that’s what we could afford.” The Players Tribune (Video)


Belgium And England Headline The World Cup’s Most Lopsided Group

June 13, 2018

“Group G is one that neutral fans would be forgiven for skipping until the final round of matches. Given the overpowering, Premier League-fueled strength of Belgium and England compared with minnows Tunisia and World Cup first-timers Panama, this group is really about who finishes first. And unless something miraculous happens, this is likely to be decided by the match between the two giants on June 28.” 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)