What’s Wrong With England at Euro 2020?

June 24, 2021


Harry Kane, Czech Republic’s defender Vladimir Coufal
“Perhaps the most depressing thing about England’s 1–0 win over the Czech Republic Tuesday—a victory that clinched the group for the Three Lions in the opening round of the Euro Cup—was that England seemed to be trying. The gap in quality between the two teams was apparent, but that was less of a problem for the Czechs than the difference in intensity. England’s players were trying harder: pressing more intently, winning second balls, and showing a willingness to dribble past their direct opponents that the Czech players never did. The Czech offense went off like a damp firework. Even the statuelike Harry Kane nearly won some of his footraces with the Czech defenders. …”
Slate (Video)
Guardian: Set pieces, Kane and Covid curveballs – the big issues now facing England
Tactical Analysis: Czech Republic vs. England
Kane looked lost as England chances dried up – this was most disappointing game of Southgate era (June 19, 2021)


Why do so many Euro 2020 teams play right-footers at left-back?

June 19, 2021


“What do England, Denmark, Italy, the Czech Republic and Slovakia all have in common? A rudimentary online search suggests not a lot, but at Euro 2020 there’s been a common thread linking them: they’ve all started a right-footed left-back. Jan Boril (Czech Republic), Joakim Maehle (Denmark), Kieran Trippier (England), Leonardo Spinazzola (Italy) and Tomas Hubocan (Slovakia) all started for their national teams on what would be considered as the ‘wrong’ flank. When Denmark shifted to a three-man defence for their game against Belgium, the game featured two right-footed left-wing-backs in Maehle and Thorgan Hazard. …”
The Athletic


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


England 0 Scotland 0: No impact from Kane, Scotland the better team, time to start Grealish?

June 19, 2021


“England struggled while Scotland shone as they drew 0-0 for the first time ever at Wembley in the 115th meeting between the two nations. The England captain Harry Kane again failed to have an impact and was subbed with 16 minutes to go, while Steve Clarke’s Scotland impressed, particularly in midfield where 20-year-old Billy Gilmour held his own on his first international start. There was plenty of clamour for Jack Grealish to be in Gareth Southgate’s starting XI for this Euro 2020 group game but again the England manager chose to begin with the Aston Villa playmaker on the bench. Grealish replaced Phil Foden just after the hour but his cameo was not enough to inspire a breakthrough. …”
The Athletic
The Athletic: My day with the Tartan Army (Video)
Guardian: Jack Grealish may not have all the answers but England need to find out
Guardian: Scotland’s Billy Gilmour catches the eye with star turn against England
BBC – England 0-0 Scotland: ‘Real hope for Scotland but a wake-up call for England’


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


My cross to bear: what it means to support England in these divided times

June 12, 2021

“… I support England. England is by many objective measures a terrible country ruled by terrible people with a terrible past and a terrifying future, and I support England. None of my forebears were born in England, and I support England. When I watch the news or follow England games abroad or read about politics I often feel utterly disconnected from this country, and I support England. …” Guardian


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


Newcastle United’s old St James’ Park and a striking vision of bygone football

January 21, 2021


St James’ Park, Newcastle, 1930, by Byron Dawson 
“This wonderful depiction shows St James’ Park as it was nine decades ago. It’s a far cry from the towering concrete, steel and glass structure that occupies the same site and dominates the Newcastle skyline today. It was painted in 1930 by the artist Byron Dawson. The fans, seemingly all male, are smartly dressed in coats and hats. There isn’t a black and replica shirt in sight!On the left of our painting is the old West Stand. Built in 1906, in the midst of United’s Edwardian golden era, the stand was St James’ main seating area for decades, as well as home to the players’ dressing rooms, the boardroom and press area. …”
Chronicle
W – History of Newcastle United F.C.
50 Hints On Association Football Cigarette cards in album (1934)


England (incl. Wales): Historic Counties location-map of the 1920-21 Football League

August 13, 2020


“… Next to the 22 1st division clubs’ home kits are each club’s current (2020) badge. The 22 First Division clubs also have home-jersey segments next to their location-dots on the map. The 22 Second Division clubs have slightly smaller home-jersey segments next to their location-dots on the map. And the 22 Third Division clubs have even smaller home-jersey segments next to their location-dots on the map. The source of the illustrated kits and jersey-segments is the excellent site Historical Football Kits (historicalkits.co.uk). Note on the location-dots…a black dot shows the location of the club’s home ground in 1920-21; grey dots show future grounds the club would go on to play in. Listed next to each location-dot is the date that the club played at each of their grounds (in tiny 10-point type). …”
BillSportsMaps


How English football responded to the second world war

April 24, 2020

“When the 1939-40 Football League season kicked off on Saturday 26 August 1939, players were wearing numbered shirts for the first time. Bigger changes were to come. Germany invaded Poland the following Friday and the four divisions and FA Cup were halted once war was declared on 3 September. The action stopped after three rounds of fixtures, with Blackpool boasting the only 100% record in the top flight and Leeds bottom of the table having failed to score a goal. …”
Guardian


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)


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: Croatia 2-1 England AET | Tenacious Croatia punish England’s complacency

August 2, 2018

“Croatia reached their first ever World Cup final after a two-goal fightback against England. Goals in the second halves of normal & extra time from Ivan Perišić and Mario Mandžukić respectively cancelled out the Three Lions‘ initial advantage courtesy of a Kieran Trippier free kick in what proved to be a very intense game.” Outside of the Boot


Tactical Analysis: Sweden 0-2 England | Patient England seal a win over cagey Sweden

August 2, 2018

“Charles Onwuakpa writes a tactical analysis of the World Cup quarter final that ended Sweden 0-2 England. Sweden v England was certainly one of the unexpected quarter-finals at this World Cup considering both team’s performances so far at this tournament. England, who have showcased a very positive & proactive possession-based football under Gareth Southgate, finished second behind Belgium in group G and put to an end a 22-year jinx with penalty shootouts as they defeated Colombia in the Round of 16.” 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


World Cup 2018: How Gareth Southgate’s tactical immaturity cost England their shot at the final

July 13, 2018


“For all the celebration of this new-look England side, Wednesday night’s 2-1 semi-final defeat by Croatia was characterised by an old failing: a refusal to adjust tactics to nullify the strength of the opposition and, more specifically, an insistence upon leaving two men upfront while being overrun in midfield. England started excellently, but their tactical inflexibility cost them a place in Sunday’s final. Gareth Southgate’s highly unusual 3-3-2-2 formation is essentially defined by two major features, which both contributed to England’s impressive first half performance.” Independent – Michael Cox


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


England 1 West Germany 1* World Cup semi-final, 4 July 1990, Stade delle Alpi, Turin

July 13, 2018

“English football was reborn on the fourth of July. Umpteen factors contributed to the game in this country becoming both richer and poorer; by far the most significant was England’s Italia 90 campaign and particularly the glorious failure against West Germany in the semi-final on Wednesday 4 July 1990. England’s campaign started as a Carry-On film and ended as an operatic epic. The ultimate consequence was the Premier League, prawn sandwiches, Sky, Wags and the rest. All that may well have happened eventually, but it would have done so at a different time and in a different way.” The Blizzard


English or British? Football highlights an enduring identity crisis

July 13, 2018

“‘ENGLAND is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.’ George Orwell’s perception is just as true today as it was when he wrote it in 1941; for though excitement drowned out more complex feelings during two blissful hours on July 11th when England might have beaten Croatia to go through to the final of the World Cup, one of the facets of Britain’s multi-faceted identity crisis is the ambivalence many English people feel about the flag under which their team plays. Football is one of the few vehicles for the expression of Englishness.” Economist


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


England’s World Cup Team Is the Anti-Brexit

July 10, 2018


“On Saturday, as England’s soccer team swept aside Sweden to reach the World Cup semi-final, Britain’s government were holed up at Chequers, a sixteenth-century, wood-paneled manor in the Buckinghamshire countryside traditionally occupied by the prime minister, scrabbling for a Brexit negotiating position Brussels might not immediately laugh out of town. … English World Cup campaigns normally follow a familiar pattern, from hype through disappointment to righteous public indignation at overpaid, and underperforming, players. This year has been different. Despite the usual prurience from tabloids, including a borderline racist obsession with a tattoo belonging to forward Raheem Sterling, the English public is, overall, ebullient and invested in 23 young men who have, even before their clash with Croatia on Wednesday, outstripped almost all expectations.” New Republic


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)


Sweden 0-2 England

July 7, 2018


“England reached the World Cup semi-final for the first time since Italia 90 as Harry Maguire and Dele Alli struck either side of the interval to beat Sweden in Samara. Gareth Southgate’s side will now face Croatia in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday after overcoming a stubborn Sweden challenge in this quarter-final, with help from a magnificent display by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. Maguire, outstanding once more, broke the deadlock on the half-hour when another England set-piece bore fruit – Leicester City’s powerful defender flashing a header past Sweden keeper Robin Olsen from Ashley Young’s corner.” BBC (Video)


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


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)


Possession lost on the World Cup stage as defences learn to adapt

July 5, 2018

“No side, perhaps, is ever so much itself as when it is going out of the World Cup. When teams – or at least those with aspirations to the title – fail, they tend to fail in their own way, and become too much of themselves: self-parody is a perennial danger. And so Spain and Germany went out of the World Cup after anaemic performances in which they seemed to fetishise possession rather than it being a means to an end. That doesn’t mean juego de posicion football is over, as some of the more excitable voices on social media have claimed; it just means that two teams who played football infected by Pep Guardiola had bad tournaments. Sides who play post-Cruyffian football won the league in Spain, England and Germany, while Napoli came second in Serie A.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


England vs Colombia, World Cup 2018: Drop in performance raises question about Gareth Southgate’s tactical nous

July 4, 2018


“England finally ended their abysmal run in penalty shoot-outs with their second-round victory over Colombia, but a dramatic drop in performance towards the end of normal time raises a question about Gareth Southgate’s ability to influence matches tactically. Jose Pekerman spring a surprise with his team selection. Having previously used a 4-2-3-1 and experimented with a 4-3-3 in training, this was actually more of a midfield diamond. With James Rodriguez out, Juan Quintero played as the number 10, with Radamel Falcao upfront to the left, and Juan Cuadrado playing in a right-sided forward role. Quintero pushed forward to press England’s centre-backs three-against-three, but Pekerman’s approach was basically about keeping things tight in deeper positions, and guarding against England’s midfield runners.” Independent – Michael Cox

England’s unique 3-3-2-2 formation could cause Colombia headaches
“For all the optimism about Gareth Southgate’s side and their chances of winning the World Cup, it’s so often this stage — the first knockout round of a major tournament — in which England collapse. This is usually because England have appeared unprepared for the opposition’s approach, or at least too inflexible to guard against it. Germany’s counter-attacking speed wasn’t nullified in 2010. Andrea Pirlo’s deep-lying playmaking skills weren’t shut down in 2012. Iceland’s long throw proved fatal in 2016. Tactical naivety has constantly been England’s main problem.” ESPN – Michael Cox


World Cup Knockout Stage Statistical Primer

June 29, 2018


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


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

June 29, 2018


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


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


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

June 25, 2018

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


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

June 24, 2018


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


The Politics of the 2018 World Cup

June 23, 2018

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


World Cup 2018: 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)


When Cameroon Convinced Themselves They Couldn’t Win

June 21, 2018

“If the spirits of Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko were hovering unseen above a football stadium in Naples in July, 1990, they would not have liked what they saw. But they would have found it sadly predictable. The stadium hosted a World Cup quarter-final between Cameroon and England. The more skilled team, Cameroon, lost. They were beaten not by England but by themselves.” Jacobon


Tunisia 1-2 England: Southgate’s men hold their nerve, stay patient and find a way to win

June 19, 2018

England defeated Tunisia 2-1 in Volgograd courtesy of good organisation in two different respects: a cohesive, unusual system in open play, and pre-planned set-piece routines. The former ensured England dominated, the latter provided the goals. Gareth Southgate has consistently deployed this 3-5-2 system since England clinched qualification for this tournament, and it’s proved difficult for opponents to cope with late midfield runs. While the three-man defence has made something of a comeback in the Premier League over the last couple of seasons, partly thanks to Antonio Conte’s impact at Chelsea, it’s generally structured as a 3-4-3 rather than 3-5-2, with two holding midfielders screening the defence, and two inside-forwards drifting inside.” Independent – Michael Cox

Tunisia 1-2 England: Southgate’s men hold their nerve, stay patient and find a way to win
“‘There are infinite routes to goal,’ the Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez said after his side’s win over Egypt last Friday, ‘and all of them are equally valid.’ It’s just that the one England preferred to take – twice – was a Harry Kane header from a corner (much as Uruguay had opted for a Jose Gimenez header from a corner). There’s something a little odd about this bright new England, with its back three, its passing, its ace and its modernity scoring two from that most traditionally English of methods, but Gareth Southgate will not care and nor should any England fan. What was most impressive here was not so much the goals as the method.” Unibet – Jonathan Wilson


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


Harry Kane double ensures England defeat Tunisia in World Cup opener

June 18, 2018

“The clock had ticked past the 90-minute mark. Harry Kane was there and, in that position, Gareth Southgate could not have wished for any other player to be primed inside the penalty area. An old English routine: the corner, the flick-on, the back-post header and, suddenly, England’s opening game of the World Cup had its happy ending. A deserved one, too, bearing in mind the pattern of this game and the long spells when it had been threatening to finish with a churning sense of deja vu. England, after all, had managed only five wins in their opening fixtures of every World Cup and European Championship since 1950.” Guardian


The unbearable hope — and inevitable pain — of supporting England at a World Cup

June 17, 2018

“… Yes, it’s time for another England World Cup campaign, and it doesn’t matter that the senior member of the squad is Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, or that he happened to be talking about the Brexit negotiations, now into what seems like their ninetieth year, and with no end in sight. An English World Cup campaign will almost certainly include a meltdown, and there will be panic, and introspection, and calls for something, anything, to be done to — or by, or for — somebody. But it’s going to be all right in the end. It’s just that as with Brexit, nobody knows when the end will be or whether any of you old enough to be reading this will live long enough to see it.” ESPN – Nick Hornby


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)


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


An Analytical Englishman Talks Himself Into England’s World Cup Chances

June 12, 2018

“It has been more than a decade since England won a knockout match in an international football tournament. In the 2006 World Cup, they beat Ecuador 1-0 in the Round of 16 to set up a quarterfinal against Portugal, which they then drew and lost via the deciding penalty shoot-out, because England always lose penalty shootouts. Since then, tournaments for England have become progressively worse, and banal disappointment has become the expectation.” The Ringer


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


Russia 2018: Group G Betting Tips

June 9, 2018

“Group G is arguably the most predictable in this competition – because, to put it frankly, Tunisia and Panama are two of the weaker sides at the World Cup. England and Belgium both have serious flaws, particularly in defence, but it would be hugely surprising if they struggled to get through this group.” Betting Tips – Michael Cox


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


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


England blow hot and cold against Nigeria after Gary Cahill’s quick start

June 2, 2018

“The encouraging news for England is that Harry Kane is looking sharp, Raheem Sterling seems remarkably unaffected by all the recent scrutiny and, if Gareth Southgate’s team can play in the World Cup as they did here during the opening 45 minutes, perhaps it is not too outlandish to think they can make a decent impression in Russia, after all. Unfortunately that tells only part of the story and, with England, there always seems to be a cloud attached to every silver lining. Two-nil ahead at the break, Southgate’s team looked on course to win with ease. …” Guardian


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