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)

Advertisements

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)


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