Cutbacks were more popular than ever at the World Cup – here’s why


“One goal that will always be remembered from this World Cup is Argentina’s third against Croatia in the semi-final. The way Lionel Messi bamboozled Josko Gvardiol down the right, before playing the ball back into Julian Alvarez was just marvellous. Messi’s dribbling didn’t only get him past Gvardiol, it also forced Dejan Lovren and Josip Juranovic (both dark blue) to drop deeper to close the shooting and passing angles to the onrushing Nicolas Tagliafico… ”
The Athletic

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Croatia finish third at World Cup after Mislav Orsic’s winner against Morocco

“Croatia beat Morocco 2-1 in the World Cup third-place playoff to leave Qatar on a high after again surpassing expectations following their run to the final in 2018. Mislav Orsic’s strike just before half-time was enough to settle the contest after two goals inside the first nine minutes set the tone for a pulsating encounter, Morocco’s Achraf Dari cancelling out Josko Gvardiol’s opener. …”
Guardian

World Cup 2022 briefing: Argentina v France will provide subplots aplenty


“Lisandro Martínez v Raphaël Varane, Leandro Paredes v Adrien Rabiot, Cristian Romero v Hugo Lloris and Nahuel Molina v Antoine Griezmann. These are subplots we can look forward to when Argentina face France in the final on Sunday. While everyone is thinking about Lionel Messi v Kylian Mbappé, there are plenty of clubmates preparing to do battle for the right to be champions of the planet, the entire planet. In theory, Martínez and Varane could team up as a centre-back pairing for Manchester United’s Carabao Cup tie against Burnley next Wednesday. You could imagine the relationship would be somewhat soured by the result in Qatar on Sunday. …”
Guardian (Video)

Argentina succeeded by doing what few have tried at this World Cup


Argentina’s 3-0 victory over Croatia was a curious contest. Nothing much happened for the opening half hour and you were left waiting for the game to get going. Then, suddenly, it felt like game over. Two goals in a five-minute spell put Argentina in command and while Croatia have a habit of coming from behind at World Cups, they never appeared to have the necessary attacking threat to get back into this one. The tactical battle was fairly typical of this World Cup. Both sides concentrated on keeping it tight between defence and attack, conceding space both behind their defence and in front of the midfield, but never between the lines. …”
The Athletic – Michael Cox
The Athletic: Lionel Messi winning World Cup would define him but he’s already among the greatest of all (Video)

Argentina beat Croatia to reach final: Alvarez stars, magical Messi assist, goodbye Modric


Julian Alvarez and Lionel Messi starred for Argentina as they swept past Croatia to seal a place in the World Cup final. Messi opened the scoring from the spot after Alvarez was fouled by the Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic. Then Alvarez bundled his way through a scrambling Croatia defence to make it two before the break, and the two players combined for a brilliant third goal in the 69th minute. …”
The Athletic
Guardian: Inspired Lionel Messi takes Argentina past Croatia and into World Cup final
The Analyst – Argentina 3-0 Croatia: Lionel Messi is One Game From Immortality
NY Times: Lionel Messi’s World Cup Magic Continues in Argentina’s Romp Over Croatia (Video)

Messi and Argentina’s heightened emotions could end up undermining them


“There are times when it appears a wave of emotion, patriotic fervour and desperate longing is carrying Argentina towards another World Cup final. At other times it feels as if Lionel Messi, in the twilight years of his extraordinary career, is dragging them there single-handedly. By 12:50am local time in Lusail on Saturday morning, Messi had done all he could. It was his jaw-droppingly brilliant no-look pass, threaded between Nathan Ake’s legs, that had set up the opening goal for Nahuel Molina. It was his ice-cool penalty that had made it 2-0 on 73 minutes. …”
The Athletic (Video)

‘Josko Gvardiol is world’s best centre-back’ – the Croatia defender by those who know him


“Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic gave the standard platitudinal response after his side’s 0-0 draw against Belgium secured their place in the knockout rounds of the World Cup. But then he couldn’t help himself. ‘Josko Gvardiol is the best centre-back in the world. To play this maturely, it’s amazing. The way he plays, with the elegance he carries the ball.’ Croatia are in the World Cup semi-finals having only been in the lead for 46 minutes in the tournament. Their collective fortitude and astonishing consistency in penalty shootouts are the most frequently cited explanations, but to get away with that you also need an extremely good defence. …”
The Athletic

Another World Cup semi-final, but are shot-shy Croatia actually any good?


“It’s difficult to find anyone — aside perhaps from those in neighbouring countries — who have anything other than the utmost respect for Croatia as a football nation. Their debut World Cup as an independent country was only in 1998, and yet in those seven tournaments they’ve reached the semi-finals three times. It’s remarkable for a country with a population of under four million (half that of London), and all the more remarkable considering Croatia have always been intent on playing positive, possession-based football, with a midfield based around playmakers rather than destroyers. …”
The Athletic (Video)
W – Dominik Livaković
BBC – World Cup 2022: Croatia keeper Dominik Livakovic is unlikely hero – again
Dominik Livaković stands tall as Croatia stuns Neymar and Brazil (Video)

The Rise of Georgian Football

“Georgian football hasn’t been the most recognisable location on the footballing map. Still, the recent performances from Giorgi Mamardashvili, Giorgi Chakvetadze and specifically Khvicha Kvaratskhelia have had the footballing world sit up and take notice of what Georgia is cooking over in Eastern Europe. Football in Georgia is underrated within the wider footballing community in general. The general perception about the football played within the area is a lack of quality which has meant the league has been halted in its progression, hence a lack of coverage of the league from outside the country. …”
Football Paradise

Croatia beat Brazil – Penalties, Neymar’s moment of genius and Gvardiol’s defence


Croatia progressed to the World Cup semi-finals after beating Brazil on penalties. A tense 90 minutes where clear-cut chances were few and far between meant extra time was needed, which perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise – eight of Croatia’s last nine tournament knockout games have gone to extra time. … Having had a quiet night, Neymar delivered a passage of magical football as he played through the resolute Croatia defence before rounding Dominik Livakovic and guiding the ball into the roof of the net. …”
The Athletic
The Analyst – Croatia 1-1 Brazil: Livaković the Penalty Hero Once Again for Croatia
NPR: Croatia stuns top-ranked Brazil to advance to the World Cup semifinals
Guardian: Croatia reach World Cup semi-final as Brazil miss twice in penalty shootout
The Athletic: Neymar weeps for the end of his world – and his place in Brazil history

World Cup 2022 power rankings: how the remaining eight teams shape up

“We cast our eye over the quarter-finalists’ key strengths and assess who is most likely to lift the trophy in Qatar. 1 – Brazil.  The Seleção are in full flight and, as you may have heard, enjoying themselves in the process. Their first-half evisceration of South Korea felt like a throwback, moments such as Richarlison’s seal impression offering reminders of those days when nobody could rival Brazil for sheer fun. Even without Gabriel Jesus they retain a depth of attacking talent few can match, partly thanks to Neymar’s Lazarus-like recovery from injury. …”
Guardian

Croatia beat Japan: Livakovic’s historic shootout and ‘Samurai spirit’ falls just short


“The World Cup’s last 16 tie between Japan and Croatia always had the potential to be a nail-biter – and so it proved. Two dogged, ultra-competitive teams still could not be separated at the end of 120 minutes of football, resulting in the first penalty shoot-out of the 2022 finals. And it was Croatia who emerged triumphant, Dominik Livakovic emerging as the hero by making three saves and earning his country a quarter-final on Friday against Brazil or South Korea, who meet later on Monday. Here, we analyse the major talking points. …”
The Athletic

France 3-1 Poland: Giroud’s new record, fine margins and how do you stop Mbappe?


France are through to the World Cup quarter-finals after comfortably beating Poland 3-1. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring on the 44th minute — a goal that also made him France’s all-time top goal scorer. And then Kylian Mbappe happened. The mercurial Frenchman scored two stunning goals to give France a 3-0 lead. …”
The Athletic
The Athletic: Breaking down the brilliance of Kylian Mbappe, the man who can score any type of goal
NY Times: Mbappé and France make a statement in extending their title defense.

How Brazil (It Lost) and Switzerland (It Won) Advanced to the World Cup Knockout Round



“The chaos that governed the first three days of World Cup group-stage finales did not bypass Group G on Friday so much as churn around the periphery of its two matches, swooping in to cause mayhem in torrents and spurts before leaving as quickly as it arrived. As Brazil’s reserves clashed with Cameroon, Serbia and Switzerland tussled for the group’s final qualification spot. That match included a paroxysm of goals — five in 30 minutes — and then a barren stretch that taunted both teams, one more than another. When it was over, Switzerland had won, 3-2, and advanced to the knockout stage, where it will face the Group H winner Portugal on Tuesday. …”
NY Times
The Athletic: Cho Gue-sung, the South Korea striker who went viral at the World Cup — for being handsome

How Belgium got it so badly wrong at this World Cup


“Coming into this tournament, Belgium had something of a harsh reputation as underachievers. After all, this was supposed to be Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’. And before we consider whether it was truly golden, it’s worth pointing out how clearly defined this generation is. Extraordinarily, all eight of Belgium’s all-time most-capped players were in this World Cup squad. It seems that the golden generation tag has become so over-used that neutrals now actively want those sides to fail. And if you’re really a golden generation, shouldn’t you win gold? …”
The Athletic
The Athletic: Belgium knocked out, Croatia through in second, Lukaku’s misses and misery (Video)
Guardian: Roberto Martínez exits as dreams of golden generation end with whimper

Argentina 2-0 Poland: Messi’s role, Szczesny penalty save and goal difference drama


Poland joined Argentina in the knockout stages of the World Cup despite losing 2-0 to goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez after a thrilling end to Group C. For much of the final 20 minutes, Poland were going through courtesy of a better disciplinary record than third-placed Mexico, with whom they finished level on points and goals scored, and had the same head-to-head record after drawing 0-0 in their opening game. Mexico had seven bookings in the group stage, compared to Poland’s five. …”
The Athletic

Choupo-Moting thwarts Serbia to cap Cameroon’s wild World Cup comeback


“Chaos. Two teams historically wedded to chaos. A Serbia team in chaos because of injury. A Cameroon team plunged into chaos by the expulsion of the Internazionale goalkeeper André Onana. The result, inevitably, was a match of high chaos. But what chaos! It was chaos that yielded drama, remarkable goals, an implausible fightback, a truly exceptional finish that will be remembered long after the match is forgotten and, in the end, a thrilling draw that didn’t really suit either side. …”
Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Why some World Cup managers are using their full-backs to do very different jobs


“Louis van Gaal, the Netherlands head coach, has described his asymmetric lateral defenders as a ‘steering wheel’. That is, when Daley Blind (left wing-back) pushes forward, Denzel Dumfries (right wing-back) has to drop deeper and vice-versa. Full-backs, or wing-backs, being pivotal to a team’s chance creation is no longer novel at club level but is underpinning the attacking success of many sides in the first round of World Cup fixtures. …”
The Athletic

Robert Lewandowski knew ‘time was running out’ to break tournament duck

“An emotional Robert Lewandowski says he knew time was running out to fulfil his dream of scoring at a World Cup finals, after netting in Poland’s 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia on Saturday. The Barcelona striker, 34, ended a run of four World Cup games without making the scoresheet by scoring Poland’s decisive second goal at Education City Stadium. Visibly emotional, Lewandowski held his head in his hands and pointed to the heavens while his jubilant team-mates surrounded him. …”
BBC (Video)

Neymar’s World Cup at risk after Serbia’s nine fouls

“It’s that image. Neymar with his head in his hands on the bench after he called for the substitution with 13 minutes left of normal time to play. Brazil’s first game of the World Cup and their star player is injured. Then on Friday, he was ruled out of their game against Switzerland due to the ankle injury. … But how was the ankle injured? After the first round of the group stages, Neymar was the most fouled player — nine times out of a total of 12 committed by Serbia. These are those nine fouls. …”
The Athletic

Brazil 2 Serbia 0: Richarlison’s scissor kick, Neymar the foul magnet and Mitrovic vs Vlahovic


“All eyes were on Neymar before Brazil’s opening game at the 2022 World Cup but it was Richarlison who was the hero in the 2-0 win against Serbia. The Tottenham striker struck twice after half-time, the second an acrobatic scissor kick after teeing himself up inside the penalty area, to give the world No 1 ranked side the perfect start to their campaign in Qatar. Serbia had defended superbly to keep Brazil out for the first hour at the Lusail Stadium but the quality of Tite’s side shone through eventually. …”
The Athletic
W – Richarlison

Moroccan fans bring alive dry draw against Croatia

Al Khor, Qatar: They’ll ‘take it’. Morocco and Croatia drew 0-0 at Al Bayt Stadium in what was a rather uneventful game, aside from the boisterous enthusiasm of supporters of the Atlas Lions, as the Moroccan side is known. While many Moroccan fans were hoping for an upset against the finalists of the 2018 World Cup, a draw sets their team up for a possible pathway to advance beyond the group stage of the World Cup — and its supporters know it. …”
Aljazeera

The Radar – The Athletic’s 2022 World Cup scouting guide


“Welcome to The Radar — the World Cup edition. Last year, for Euro 2020, we profiled 60 players that people were talking about — or would be by the end of the competition. Thirty-four of those players have since moved club. More teams means more players, so for the World Cup we’ve upped that to 100. The result is below, a carefully crafted guide to some of the best footballers on show in Qatar listed alphabetically by country — the heavyweight names, the rising stars and the under-the-radar players who could be coming to an elite club near you. …”
The Athletic

From Kudus to Gavi: eight players ready to break through at World Cup Federico Valverde, Gavi, and Rafael Leão.

“We pick the young stars well placed to shine in Qatar, ranging from Milan’s Rafael Leão to Real Sociedad’s Takefusa Kubo. … Rafael Leão (Portugal). A product of the Sporting academy, the attacker has become one of the most feared forwards in Serie A, helping Milan to their first title in 11 years last season and gaining a place in the league’s team of the year. In addition to height, the 23-year-old possesses plenty of pace and is often utilised on the flanks by Stefano Pioli. Leão is as adept at creating as he is scoring, making him a threat whether out wide or down the middle. …”
Guardian

World Cup 2022 Group C guide: Argentina’s fast starts, ageing Mexico and possession-shy Poland


“What tactics do Argentina use? What is Mexico’s weakness? Which quirk should we look out for from Poland? The 2022 World Cup is nearly upon us and The Athletic will be running in-depth tactical group guides so you will know what to expect from every nation competing in Qatar. Liam Tharme will look at each team’s playing style, strengths, weaknesses and key players, and highlight things to keep an eye on during the tournament. …”
The Athletic (Video)

World Cup 2022 Group F guide: Free-scoring Belgium, cross-heavy Croatia and Canada’s cutbacks

“What tactics do Belgium use? What is Canada’s weakness? Which quirk should we look out for from Croatia? The 2022 World Cup is nearly upon us and The Athletic will be running in-depth tactical group guides so you will know what to expect from every nation competing in Qatar. Liam Tharme will look at each team’s playing style, strengths, weaknesses, key players and highlight things to keep an eye on during the tournament. …”
The Athletic (Video)

World Cup 2022 Groups: The Predictions


“The 2022 World Cup is finally here, with the tournament in Qatar being the first held in the months of November and December since the first World Cup finals in 1930. The 22nd men’s FIFA World Cup tournament will see 32 teams battle it out in the group stage after qualifying via five different regions – Asia, Africa, South America, North America/Central America and Europe (no nation from Oceania qualified). From there, 16 will make it through to the knockout stages. …”
The Analyst

World Cup provisional squads explained: What are the rules and will they be made public?


“A month from today, it all begins. The World Cup in Qatar looms ever larger on the horizon and the countdown is on to the first of 64 games that will crown a winner at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday, December 18. Doubts persist over the suitability of Qatar to host this World Cup, as well as its readiness to welcome more than one million visitors, but the biggest names in football are about to descend on a tiny Gulf nation that’s half the size of Wales and roughly as big as the US state of Connecticut. …”
The Athletic
The Analyst: World Cup 2022 Guide to Each Group

UEFA Champions League Preview: Big clash in Lisbon, while Juventus need a win

“While Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez claims there are too many inconsequential matches, the Champions League group phase pushes ahead with matchday three. Matches that look quite appetising can be found right across Europe, from London to Leipzig to Lisbon. …”
Game of the People

World Cup 2022 news round-up: Nkunku and Lewandowski shine as Argentina put faith in Scaloni

“Club football is back and with fewer than 50 days for players to find form and fitness before the World Cup kicks off on November 20, Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, Leandro Trossard of Belgium and USA forward Ricardo Pepi laid down a marker at the weekend. Off the pitch, coaches are already being rewarded before the tournament kicks off with Wales extending Rob Page’s contract and Argentina set to keep Lionel Scaloni as head coach until the 2026 World Cup in the USA, Canada and Mexico. …”
The Athletic

World Cup 2022 power rankings: how the 32 look with two months to go

“With most teams having played their final matches before the tournament in Qatar, who appear most likely to lift the trophy? …”
Guardian

World Cup health check: The issue each country must address before Qatar


“The September international break is normally relatively relaxed — a chance to tweak tactics and focus on formations. Not this time. For almost all 32 competing nations, this is the final set of international fixtures before the World Cup begins in Qatar on November 20. So that you can go into the break feeling prepared, The Athletic has identified one issue every team need to try to fix this break…”
The Athletic (Video)

What the Champions League Is Lacking


“PARIS — There will be stories, of course. There are always stories. The Champions League delivers them so frequently and so reliably that it is impossible to dismiss the nagging suspicion that all of this might just be scripted, the product of some complex simulation being run from a secret lair in Nyon. Robert Lewandowski, clad in the blue and red of Barcelona, will return to Bayern Munich, only a few weeks after forcing his exit. Manchester City’s visit to Borussia Dortmund will see Erling Haaland standing once more before its Yellow Wall, that great force of nature no longer at his back but marshaled in his face. …”
NY Times
The Athletic: Champions League draw analysed – The biggest games, the shocks in store, the toughest groups

Tragedy and triumph: the remarkable tale of Croatia’s first football steps


Croatia’s Davor Suker celebrates after scoring in the 1998 World Cup semi-final against France.
“Igor Stimac, a 54-year-old Croatian man usually full of laughter and love, begins to cry as his memories grip him in a world darkened again by a devastating war. The fleeting tears of the former footballer fall for Ukraine and its people. They have suffered in a way that reminds Stimac of everything his own country endured during the terrible Balkans conflict that surrounded its independence from Yugoslavia almost 30 years ago. It was a time when football gained a rare real-life significance as, out of bloodshed and carnage, Croatia’s defiant, gifted and fiercely intelligent players lifted their young nation by lighting up Euro 96 and then leading France in the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup in Paris. …”
Guardian
Croatian and Serbian Hooligans: Football Foes Share Love of Hate (June 2020)

UEFA Nations League: What to look out for on Matchday 2


Raheem Sterling, England
“The third edition of the UEFA Nations League has kicked off. The first matchday is done, with five more to come ahead of the final tournament in June 2023. UEFA.com picks out the big fixtures from the Matchday 2 encounters. …”
UEFA Nations League (Video)

Eastern Promise for Russia


“Once Gazprom were cut as UEFA partners and Aeroflot was jettisoned as a blue chip Manchester United sponsor, an isolated discussion returned to the Russian football sphere – Europe can go get stuffed. And once clubs and national teams were banned from UEFA competitions on may We’re off to join Asia! …”
Backpage Football

‘Friends for life’ Modric and Kovacic are the ‘family’ at the heart of Croatian football


“In the offices behind the west tribune of the Maksimir Stadium there is a door bearing a black-and-white collage of iconic photographs from Dinamo Zagreb’s history. It is a collection that stretches all the way back to 1945, when the club once known as HSK Gradanski was re-formed as FD Dinamo in the shadow of the Second World War and entered into the Yugoslav First League. In the middle, just above the famous image of former Dinamo captain Zvonimir Boban kicking a police officer during the 1990 riot at the stadium against Crvena Zvezda, is a picture that stands out both in its style and relative modernity. …”
The Athletic

The 2022 World Cup draw analysed: ‘The Group of Dark Arts’, favourites France and that song


“Cringe-inducing cartoon meant to engage with no youngster we have ever met? Check. Song-and-dance routine combing local colour with avant-garde twist? Check. A massive advert for the official ball (the fastest ever, no less)? Yep, we had that, too, and several speeches, a first performance of the first song from the official Qatar 2022 album and a very contrived moment with France manager Didier Deschamps and a young lad who was in the crowd in Moscow four years ago. The 47 minutes of preamble before the draw for the 2022 World Cup at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre flew by! …”
The Athletic (Video)
NY Times – World Cup Draw Highlights: Matchups Let Teams Look Ahead to November
Guardian – World Cup draw: group-by-group analysis for Qatar 2022 – Jonathan Wilson
NY Times: World Cup Draw Brings Certainty. Now Comes the Hard Part.
The Athletic: With a marquee World Cup meeting vs. England, USMNT has a chance to change its perception writ large
BBC – Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022: What are the draw highlights? (Video)

The World Cup Draw Is Friday. Here’s How It Works.


“The World Cup field is almost complete. On Friday, soccer teams will learn the answer to the critical question they and their fans want to know: Who will they play when the tournament opens in November in Qatar? The World Cup draw — part gala, part pep rally, part math seminar — will deliver intriguing clashes of styles, testy political collisions and, if past events are any guide, a few uncomfortable moments. But given the stakes of the draw, it is also one of the biggest events on the global sports calendar. Here is a look at how it works. …”
NY Times
NY Times: Who Has Qualified for the 2022 World Cup? (Video)
NY Times: Your World Cup Questions, Answered
The Athletic – 2022 World Cup odds: France, Brazil are co-favorites ahead of the draw; England, Spain right behind

2022 World Cup: List of Qualified Teams for Qatar, Updated Standings, Playoff Brackets


“Qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is reaching its conclusion, as countries compete to fill the remaining spots in this year’s showcase on the sport’s greatest stage. … It was determined on Nov. 26 which regions will be paired for the playoffs, whose format has changed. Another wrinkle to qualifying is the expulsion of Russia due to its nation’s invasion of Ukraine. .. Nevertheless, the draw for the 2022 World Cup will occur on April 1, with the March 31 FIFA ranking being used to determine the pots. …”
SI
FIFA World Cup: Which teams have qualified to Qatar 2022? Full list of all 32 nations

A Brief History of Dimitar Berbatov


“One the original luxury centre forwards, Dimitar Berbatov entertained all those that paid to watch him live. But run-ins with gangsters, and playing in the shadows of some of the game’s best players perhaps held him back from being one of the game’s greats. This is the story of Dimitar Berbatov. Written by Seb Stafford-Bloor, illustrated by Craig Silcock.”
YouTube
W – Dimitar_Berbatov

Poland Refused to Play Russia Once. It May Have to Do So Again.


“One by one, late on a Friday evening, Robert Lewandowski called his Poland teammates. They were scattered across Europe, and most of them were busily preparing for club games that weekend, but his question could not wait. They had all seen the footage emerging from Ukraine: Russian tanks rolling across the border, Russian artillery bombarding cities and towns, Ukrainian refugees flooding out of the country, hundreds of thousands of them seeking shelter in Poland. In a matter of weeks, Poland was scheduled to face Russia in a crucial World Cup qualifier. …”
NY Times

Portugal 1986: Part 1: A Troubled Beginning, Part 2: The Saltillo Affair


“Playing in a World Cup is the pinnacle of a player or coach’s career. To test yourself in the world’s premier tournament is the ultimate challenge and a dream come true for many footballers. However, there are times when the dream of participating in a World Cup can turn into a nightmare. No country would have such a nightmare of a tournament than Portugal in 1986. Prior to the mid-1980s, Portugal were unable to build on the success of the 1960s, where Portugal finished third in the 1966 World Cup and Benfica won back to back European Cups in 1961/62 under the coaching of Béla Guttmann. Since then, Portugal had failed to qualify for a World Cup or European Championship. …”
Breaking the Lines: Part 1, Part 2
W – Saltillo Affair
The Saltillo affair – the story of Portugal at Mexico ’86

Lokomotive Leipzig, the 1987 Cup Winners’ Cup final and a rebirth from the ashes


“Picture the scene. A communist-era colossus of a stadium, the vast expanse of concrete stretching as far as the eye can see, enclosing a seething mass of humanity, congregating in their blue and yellow scarfs. They will need them tonight, for this open bowl is completely at the mercy of the elements. The fans do not care, however. This is the Zentralstadion in Leipzig and it is about to witness its finest hour. They have seen bigger crowds than this here, of course. The Turn-un Sportfest, the socialist government’s regular celebration of athletic achievement, can draw attendances of 100,000 or more. This is the largest crowd it will ever see for a football match, though – and that matters. …”
These Football Times
W – 1987 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final

How Goran Pandev Put Macedonia on the Football Map


“If you were to mention the name Goran Pandev to an informed commentator of European football, they’ll tell you of his dynamic forward play, his wicked left foot, and an impressive record of appearances and goals in one of the continent’s top domestic leagues. Mention his name to a North Macedonian, and you’ll hear a response permeated with references to an icon, a hero, a demi-god. …”
Football Paradise

Players to Watch in 2021-22: The Analyst 50 (Part I)


“After a summer of frantic international football tournaments across the globe, the new domestic league season is now on the horizon. Ninety-eight teams will battle it out across the top five European leagues, with titles to be won, European football to be secured and relegation to be avoided and we wanted to give you a guide on some of the players to watch in 2021-22. We recruited the very best of Stats Perform’s data editors to give us a list of 50 players. These players aren’t who they think are the greatest – you’ve all read that. This is a selection of 50 players that we think will make an impact in 2021-22. Some are obvious, some less so. Let’s dive in to The Analyst 50, with the first 25 players. …”
The Analyst (July 2021) Part I (Video), Part II (Video)

UEFA Champions League round of 16 classics


“Taking in José Mourinho’s touchline charge, La Remontada and plenty more besides, UEFA.com picks out a classic last-16 tie from each of the last 18 seasons. The 2021/22 UEFA Champions League is the 19th edition since the knockout round of 16 replaced the second group stage. UEFA.com picks out a classic tie from each of the past 18 seasons – all headline scores are aggregate. …”
UEFA (Video)

2021 was the year when football’s silent majority finally found its voice


A mural in Rome depicting Juventus president Andrea Agnelli puncturing a football with a knife. Juve backed the doomed European Super League breakaway.
“Remarkably, the website is still live. Eight months after the European Super League disintegrated in an embarrassing fireball, you might think its founders would be minded to erase all trace of their hubris and humiliation. But perhaps that would be to credit them with too much competence. And so there it remains to this day: ‘The Super League is a new European competition between 20 top clubs comprised of 15 founders and five annual qualifiers.’ Well, good luck with that. There is, of course, an alternative theory. After all, the Super League is still not quite dead in a legislative sense; certainly not if you believe the loud and persistent avowals of Andrea Agnelli at Juventus, Joan Laporta at Barcelona and Florentino Pérez at Real Madrid, the three remaining hoarse men of the apocalypse. …”
Guardian

The Premier League Chose Festive Fixtures Over Safe Fixtures


“So, things are a bit of a mess in the Premier League: On Monday, Tottenham were bounced from the Europa Conference League by the governing body itself, UEFA, which awarded a 3-0 win to French side Rennes in the final game of the group phase. The match was supposed to be played on December 9, but a COVID outbreak among Tottenham’s players and coaching staff forced Spurs to postpone—the team’s third such postponement in just over a week. …”
The Ringer

The Data Day No 15: Our Rolling Football Blog


December 9: Villarreal qualified for this season’s Champions League despite not finishing in the top six of La Liga, the cutoff for traditional Europa League qualification. They did so by beating Manchester United in the Europa League final. And although they couldn’t chase down United to win Group F on Thursday, they did more than they needed to in Bergamo to carry on to the Champions League last 16 despite sitting 13th in La Liga. …”
The Analyst
SI: Champions League Group Ouster Is Barcelona’s New Bottom – Jonathan Wilson

Zenit St Petersburg’s Ozdoev strikes late to deprive Chelsea of top spot


“Once again Thomas Tuchel was left to reflect on Chelsea’s inability to take care of the small details. The European champions are not playing with the right attitude at the moment and although they almost got away with it this time it was not a surprise when they ended up relinquishing top spot in Group H to Juventus after this chaotic draw with Zenit St Petersburg. …”
Guardian
Guardian – Champions League roundup: Atalanta v Villarreal snowed off; Juve top Group H
YouTube: Zenit St Petersburg vs. Chelsea: Extended Highlights | Group Stage

ESPN FC 100: Messi, Lewandowski, Oblak among No. 1s; Premier League has most representatives


“For the sixth consecutive year, ESPN presents its annual ranking of the best men’s players and coaches in world soccer! Welcome to FC 100. As always, rankings are broken down into Top 10 lists for positions, plus a countdown of managers, in order to present the most meaningful look at talent on the pitch and the sideline. Whereas last year was dominated by Liverpool and Bayern Munich — the clubs combined for eight of the 10 No. 1 spots — the leaders in this year’s edition are spread across six teams, with none having more than two men on top of their respective category. …”
ESPN (Video)
Go to: Goalkeeper | Right-back | Centre-back | Left-back | Central midfield | Attacking midfield | Winger | Forward | Striker | Manager

Portugal on collision course with Italy after Qatar World Cup play-off draw


Italy and Portugal have been drawn in the same pathway for the European FIFA World Cup play-offs, meaning only one will be able to secure qualification for next year’s tournament in Qatar. Italy are the defending European champions, after beating England on penalties in the final of Euro 2020 in the summer. Portugal meanwhile won Euro 2016, overcoming France in Paris to win the tournament for the first time. But one — or both — will miss out on a place in Qatar after Friday’s play-off draw. …”
The Athletic

Who Has Qualified for the 2022 World Cup?


“With a year to go, almost half the field for the 2022 World Cup is set. Thirteen countries have already booked their places for the tournament, which opens in Qatar next Nov. 21: some with ease, cruising through qualifying, and some with a touch more drama. Quite what the tournament, riddled with scandal and concern from the day Qatar was announced as the host, will be like cannot yet be known. The identities of the teams who will contest it, though, are remarkably familiar. Most — if not quite all — of the traditional contenders are already there: a 10-country-strong European contingent led by France, the defending champion, and Belgium, officially the world’s best team, as well as the likes of Spain and England and Germany. They have been joined by the two great powerhouses of South America, Brazil and Argentina. …”
NY Times

World Cup 2022: ranking the top 10 contenders a year before Qatar


“With just over a year to go until the World Cup kicks off, 12 teams have qualified alongside hosts Qatar. All four semi-finalists from 2018 have sealed their spots and are joined by former world champions Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Spain, while recent European champions Portugal and Italy still have more to do. With most of the big hitters now able to prepare for the tournament, we assess where they stand as the countdown to Qatar begins. …”
Guardian
The Athletic: CONCACAF World Cup qualifying: Where USMNT, Canada, Mexico and Panama stand with six matches left
World Cup 2022 Power Rankings: France & England the early favourites as Portugal & Italy falter

Euro 2020: Wide players key as England beat Ukraine to book final semi-final spot – tactical analysis


“The Euro 2020 knockouts have featured some brilliant clashes that have been both entertaining from a visual as well as a tactical point of view. With three teams already having booked their semi-final berths, the final spot will be battled by Ukraine and world-cup semi-finalists England. This tactical analysis will discuss the tactics deployed by both teams and will look into how Gareth Southgate’s men triumphed over their opponents. Let’s begin the analysis. …”
Total Football Analysis

World Cup roundup: Denmark thrash Moldova to keep up perfect record


Denmark thrash Moldova
Denmark maintained their 100% record in Group F, with a 4-0 win in Moldova. Andreas Skov Olsen opened the scoring before Simon Kjær added a penalty. Christian Norgaard and Joakim Mæhle were also on target. Austria won 2-0 in the Faroe Islands to keep up their slim hopes of overtaking Scotland, who beat Israel 3-2 in a Hampden Park thriller. First-half goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk gave Ukraine a 2-1 win over Finland in Group D. The West Ham forward Yarmolenko put the visitors ahead less than five minutes after kick-off when he drove home from 20 yards past the Finnish goalkeeper. Norwich City’s Teemu Pukki levelled for Finland in the 29th minute but Ukraine regained the lead minutes later with a goal from Yaremchuk. …”
Guardian

Chelsea’s loss at Juve illustrates the challenges Tuchel faces in fighting for titles domestically and abroad


Leonardo Bonucci in action for Juventus against Sampdoria.
“Thomas Tuchel probably didn’t need a reminder of the difficulty in competing on two fronts this season, but Manchester City and now Juventus have given him just that in the space of five days. The chaotic circumstances surrounding his arrival at Stamford Bridge in January — replacing fan favourite Frank Lampard and thrust straight into a condensed schedule made more unrelenting by COVID-19’s impact — created a degree of breathing space in the Premier League that helped propel them to Champions League glory. Tuchel was of course under a degree of pressure to secure a top-four spot last term, but he harnessed that rarest of things under owner Roman Abramovich — a sense of freedom arising from lowered expectations — to galvanise this group to an improbable European success. The dynamic is different this time. …”
ESPN
Guardian: Tuchel and Chelsea are failing to capitalise on Lukaku’s specific threat
YouTube: Juventus vs. Chelsea: Extended Highlights, Bayern München vs. Dynamo Kyiv: Extended Highlights, Zenit vs. Malmö: Extended Highlights, Atalanta vs. Young Boys: Extended Highlights, Benfica vs. Barcelona: Extended Highlights, Wolfsburg vs. Sevilla: Extended Highlights

Champions League roundup: Sheriff Tiraspol shock Real Madrid


Sheriff Tiraspol shock Real Madrid
“The Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol pulled off a remarkable 2-1 win away against Real Madrid in the Champions League, snatching a shock victory thanks to a sensational 89th-minute strike from Sebastien Thill. The competition debutants Sheriff went ahead against the 13-time European champions in the 25th minute with a header from the Uzbek midfielder Jasurbek Yakhshiboev, who narrowly missed a chance to double the visitors’ lead later in the first half. …”
Guardian
YouTube: Real Madrid vs. Sheriff: Extended Highlights, AC Milan vs. Atlético Madrid: Extended Highlights, Porto vs. Liverpool: Extended Highlights, RB Leipzig vs. Club Brugge: Extended Highlights, PSG vs. Man. City: Extended Highlights, Dortmund vs. Sporting: Extended Highlights

2021–22 UEFA Champions League


“The 2021–22 UEFA Champions League is the 67th season of Europe’s premier club football tournament organised by UEFA, and the 30th season since it was renamed from the European Champion Clubs’ Cup to the UEFA Champions League. The final will be played at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It was originally scheduled to be played at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany. However, due to the postponement and relocation of the 2020 final, the final hosts were shifted back a year, with Saint Petersburg instead hosting the 2022 final. The winners of the 2021–22 UEFA Champions League will automatically qualify for the 2022–23 UEFA Champions League group stage, and also earn the right to play against the winners of the 2021–22 UEFA Europa League in the 2022 UEFA Super Cup. …”
W – 2021–22 UEFA Champions League, W – 2021–22 UEFA Champions League group stage
Guardian – Champions League 2021-22 draw: group stage analysis and predictions