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)

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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)