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


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


Did Pelé–by playing a match in Nigeria–cause a ceasefire during the Biafran War?

July 10, 2018

“The story goes that in 1969 the great Brazilian footballer Pelé and his club, Santos, stopped the Nigerian civil war for 48 hours as the warring factions (Nigeria and Biafra) put aside their differences for a couple of days for Santos to play in the country. But did this really happen? And how come the world’s greatest player came to Nigeria in the first place? In this essay, I look back through the archives in search of the real story of Pelé in Nigeria.” Africa is a Country, W – Nigerian Civil War


Nigeria vs Argentina: Ever Banega’s return frees Lionel Messi from creative duties to inspire victory

June 27, 2018

“Argentina required a late goal from a hugely unlikely source – the right boot of Marcos Rojo – but their approach throughout their 2-1 victory over Nigeria was at least an improvement upon past displays. How much credit manager Jorge Sampaoli can take remains questionable, however, after various reports Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano are effectively now running the dressing room.” Independent – Michael Cox

What’s wrong with Argentina? We now value ‘balls’ more than talent
“So many things are wrong with Argentina we do not know what is wrong; so much is happening no one knows what is happening. You could start an article on the news pages with that same line but they fit on the sports pages too because these are turbulent times for our football. It was not always like this. For many years, football made up for our long political, social and economic decline.” Guardian


From Elimination to Elation: Argentina Somehow Staves Off Early World Cup Exit

June 27, 2018


“It’s probably best not even to try to make sense of it. You have Lionel Messi in your side. You bring on Sergio Aguero to play alongside Gonzalo Higuain in front of him. You have taken off Angel Di Maria. You have just brought on Cristian Pavon. None of them look like scoring. Passes are misplaced. The shape has gone. Every attempt to advance, it seems, runs into a Nigerian wall. It’s the same story as against Iceland, as against Croatia. All of the ball, no penetration. And then the goal comes. You make all your plans, you squeeze in as many gifted forwards as you can, and somehow the vital 86th-minute winner is scored by Marcos Rojo turning up with no justification whatsoever to volley in a rare accurate cross from Gabriel Mercado. With his wrong foot.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Argentina Takes Its Bad Self to the Knockout Round
“With time running out and his team on the brink of group-stage elimination, everyone in the world knew there was only one man Argentina could count on to find the winner against Nigeria. Yes, Marcos Rojo, the versatile defender who made nine Premier League appearances for Manchester United this season. Scorer of four goals in the last four years for club and country. Perhaps the last person you might expect to save his country by scoring a late goal, other than Argentina forward and chronic international choker Gonzalo Higuain. Rojo’s claim, made in an interview after the game, that he told his teammates he was going to score is either a sign of a healthy, functioning ego or grounds for a psychiatric evaluation, even considering that one of those four goals in the last four years was the winner against Nigeria in the 2014 World Cup.” Slate

Argentina Survived the Group Stage. But How Far Can Messi Carry Them?
“On a team with Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín, and Ángel Di María, few would have predicted that Marcos Rojo — yes, that Marcos Rojo; the one who scored just one goal in four seasons with Manchester United — would be the hero who put Argentina ahead of Nigeria and into the knockout stages.” The Ringer


Argentina Gets a Clean World Cup Slate After Marcos Rojo’s Heroic Volley

June 27, 2018

“Day 13 of World Cup 2018 is done, and the second night of simultaneous group finales brought another evening of memorable drama. Argentina got the victory and help it needed to survive and advance in a thrilling 2-1 win against Nigeria, while Iceland lost to Croatia 2-1. And in Group C, France and Denmark played a dreadful 0-0 tie that allowed Denmark advance to the knockout rounds as a second-place finisher, while Australia squandered its chance to make things interesting in a 2-0 loss to Peru.” SI


Chaos as Poland falls to earth with a bump

June 25, 2018

“It seemed to come completely out of the blue. Poland, a side that had stormed through the Euro 2016 qualifiers, made it to the quarter finals of the main tournament, qualified again easily for the World Cup, in the top 10 in the world rankings, blessed with world class players like Robert Lewandowski, have somehow tumbled out of the World Cup with a whimper not a bang, totally devoid of any of the qualities that have been their trademark over the last four years or so. How did this disaster happen?” Rightbankwarsaw


Why do African countries hire non-African football coaches so much?

June 23, 2018

“It seemed strange when in the run-up to Afcon 2013, Nigeria’s coach Stephen Keshi forcefully criticised African football associations for their preference for white coaches. That when Zambia, until this week the great success story of African football, had Hervé Renard to thank for masterminding their unlikely triumph last year in Libreville. Yet Keshi has a point. The success of Zambia under Renard should not obscure the fact that African football administrators have always failed to appreciate and make use of its own resources and talent. This is true of football as it is of Africa’s national economies.” Africa is a Country


Subs Spark Brazil, Musa Inspires Nigeria, Stars Shine for Switzerland at World Cup

June 22, 2018

“Day 9 of World Cup 2018 is done, highlighted by Brazil’s late 2-0 win against Costa Rica and the tears of Neymar, Nigeria’s breathtaking 2-0 victory against Iceland and Switzerland’s 2-1 comeback triumph against Serbia. The results set up what will be an incredible set of final matchdays across both groups. In Group D, only Croatia is through, and Nigeria, Iceland Argentina all remain alive for the second spot in the knockout stage. In Group E, no team has secured its knockout place yet, setting up a tense Brazil-Serbia encounter and an important Switzerland-Costa Rica one, even with Los Ticos being eliminated after their hard-fought loss.” SI


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


Argentina Is The Team To Beat In Group D, But Can Messi (Finally) Win The Tournament?

June 12, 2018


“Lionel Messi still has not won a senior international tournament.1 His Argentina was defeated by Germany in the last World Cup and lost on penalty kicks to Chile in the final of the Copa America in both 2015 and 2016. La Albiceleste will be looking to win Messi the trophy he deserves, and for the first step on that journey, the team has been drawn into an entirely winnable group with Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria.” FiveThirtyEight


World Cup favourites choosing defensive-minded midfielders over deep-lying playmakers

June 11, 2018


“The most fascinating tactical development over the past few World Cups has been the increased popularity of the deep playmaker. Having nearly become extinct around the turn of the century, it’s notable that recent World Cup winners have generally depended upon a great creative influence from deep.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)


World Cup Preview 2018: Messi vs. Ronaldo, Magic Cats, Iceland!!, and the Entire Emotional Context in Which Much of Human Life Transpires

June 10, 2018

“Ladies and gentlemen, start your psychic octopuses. The biggest and strangest sporting event in human history resumes next week in Russia, where thirty-two men’s national soccer teams will begin the monthlong competition for the strangely un-cup-like trophy given to the winners of the FIFA World Cup. For many of the world’s best soccer players, the tournament offers a chance to become legends in their home countries and icons in the history of the game. For billions of soccer fans, the tournament offers a chance to participate in modernity’s most sweeping collective frenzy, a spectacle that will shape the emotional context in which much of human life transpires for the next few weeks. For the United States men’s national team, which did not qualify, the tournament offers a chance to feel gloomy while eating Cheetos on the couch.” New Yorker – Brian Phillips


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


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


Russia 2018 Group D – Betting Tips

June 7, 2018

“Two teams at this World Cup appear gloriously unpredictable: you wouldn’t be surprised if they reached the semi-finals; equally, crashing out at the group phase is eminently possible. The first is Portugal, and the second is Argentina. The link is obvious: underwhelming sides with plenty of defensive question marks, but captained by an all-time great. But whereas Cristiano Ronaldo tasted success with Portugal at the European Championship two years ago, Leo Messi is still searching for a first taste of international glory – the Olympics notwithstanding – for Argentina.” Betting Tips – Michael Cox


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


Nigeria’s Will Troost-Ekong: ‘If there is racism we will make a decision’

May 27, 2018

“When England face Nigeria on Saturday they will line up against a man with a more quintessentially English upbringing than anyone in a white shirt at Wembley. Will Troost-Ekong was educated at boarding school in Bishop’s Stortford and speaks with the accent his parents intended when they sent him to these shores at the age of 12. Troost-Ekong, the son of a Nigerian father and Dutch mother, received a privileged education at Hockerill college and it also set him on the path to his career, although not one usually associated with a boarding school alumnus. …” 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


2018 FIFA World Cup

May 25, 2018

“The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be the 21st FIFA World Cup, a quadrennial international football tournament contested by the men’s national teams of the member associations of FIFA. It is scheduled to take place in Russia from 14 June to 15 July 2018, after the country was awarded the hosting rights on 2 December 2010. This will be the first World Cup held in Europe since the 2006 tournament in Germany, and the first ever to be held in Eastern Europe. All of the stadium venues are in European Russia, to keep travel time manageable. The final tournament will involve 32 national teams, which include 31 teams determined through qualifying competitions and the automatically qualified host team. Of the 32 teams, 20 will be making back-to-back appearances following the last tournament in 2014, including defending champions Germany, while Iceland and Panama will both be making their first appearances at a FIFA World Cup. A total of 64 matches will be played in 12 venues located in 11 cities. The final will take place on 15 July at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. …” Wikipedia


World Cup 2018 squad guide: Latest news and updates ahead of Russia (Independent)

May 25, 2018

“The 2018 World Cup is now only weeks away. The 32 countries have until the May 14 deadline to name their provisional squads for Russia with managers all over the globe currently scratching their heads as they bid to whittle down their long list of possibles and probables in time for the final June 4 cut off, just 10 days before the opener in Moscow. However, many teams – England included, – have already pledged to name their lucky few earlier with Gareth Southgate set to pick his 23 before the final pre-tournament friendlies with Nigeria and Costa Rica. …” Independent (Video)


World Cup 2018 groups: Your complete guide to the teams

April 5, 2018

“The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup…” Telegraph


At African Soccer Event, Games of Cat and Mouse

January 30, 2018


“CASABLANCA, Morocco — Standing just inside the lobby of Casablanca’s Novotel, Koly Koivogui was hard to miss. Dressed in a bright red zip-up track top bearing the insignia of the Guinean national soccer team, Koivogui, a large, barrel-chested coach, stood guard. He was making sure that uninvited player agents or scouts did not harass members of his team on the eve of the 16-team African Nations Championship, a competition for national teams with rosters made up solely of players who play club games in their birth countries. …” NY Times


2018 African Nations Championship: Group-by-group guide

January 12, 2018


“The 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) in Morocco is the fifth edition of the tournament that features only players plying their trade in their own domestic championships. The Confederation of African Football (Caf) introduced the tournament in 2009 when Ivory Coast hosted an eight-team finals that was won by DR Congo. In 2011, the tournament – hosted by Sudan – expanded to 16 teams with Tunisia emerging as winners before Libya lifted the trophy in South Africa in 2014 and DR Congo won again in 2016, when Rwanda staged the finals. The holders and record two-time champions will not be in Morocco however, after losing to Congo Brazzaville in qualifying. …” BBC


Applause at the Draw, but Will Russia Keep Cheering?

December 3, 2017


“MOSCOW — Half a million fans — by current, suspiciously optimistic, estimates — will descend on Russia next year for what Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, has already decreed will be the ‘best’ World Cup in history. Every single fan, he has decided, will have “an amazing experience.” Billions of dollars have been spent on new, or renovated, stadiums to host the finest players in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, on Friday promised a ‘major sporting festival of friendship and fair play.’ …” NY Times, The Ringer: The Four Must-Watch Games of the 2018 World Cup Group Stages (Video), NY Times – World Cup Draw: Group-by-Group Analysis


World Cup 2018 power rankings: Germany on top among qualified 23

October 12, 2017


“Twenty-three nations have booked their places for the World Cup in Russia, with the holders and Brazil looking in good shape but we rank England in 13th place, below Iceland.” Guardian (Video)


Afcon 2017: wider spread of talent makes winner impossible to predict

January 19, 2017

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Riyad Mahrez, Diedonnei Mbokani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mohamed Salah are among the stars at the Africa Cup of Nations.
“The pattern has become familiar: a country wins the right to host a tournament and there is excitement, then come doubts about costs and readiness, but in the days before the event, the negativity falls away and excitement takes over. Not here. In 2015, Gabon stepped in to replace Libya as the hosts because of the conflict there but, as the 31st Africa Cup of Nations approaches, there is a clear sense a significant proportion of the country does not want it to happen.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Global Series | Top 10 African Players of 2015: Toure, Kidiaba and Brahimi feature

December 19, 2016

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“… 8. ROBERT KIDIABA Kidiaba is the veteran goalkeeper at TP Mazembe, is one of the most decorated African players in the game today. Kidiaba started off his career at AS Saint Luc, and his success there prompted the national team to take him to the AFCON in 1998. This brought attention to the young keeper, and he signed for Mazembe after the tournament. Ever since then, he’s been a constant in their side, winning league titles galore, and 3 African Champions League trophies as well.” Outside of the Boot


History of the BBC African Footballer of the Year award

November 18, 2016

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“Before the BBC African Footballer of the Year 2016 launches on Saturday, BBC Sport looks at all the previous winners. The prize started life as the BBC African Sports Star of the Year award in 1992, when Ghanaian footballer Abedi Pele was the inaugural winner. The format has evolved and now a shortlist of five players is announced following a poll of football journalists from every country in Africa – after which a public vote decides the best for that year. Names etched on the trophy include George Weah, Didier Drogba, Jay-Jay Okocha, Yaya Toure and Sammy Kuffour.” BBC


Political unrest in Gabon casts shadow over 2017 Africa Cup of Nations draw

October 20, 2016

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“No news, they say, is good news. Either that or it’s the result of a government blackout. The draw for the Africa Cup of Nations will be held in Libreville, Gabon, on Wednesday but yet again the buildup to a tournament has been dominated by doubts over where it will be staged as the aftershocks of Gabonese presidential elections continue to be reverberate.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


African players in the Premier League

March 20, 2016

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“Peter Ndlovu was the first. Now 246 African players have played in the Premier League since it began in 1992, scoring 1,776 goals in 14,210 appearances. Chelsea legend Didier Drogba has scored the most goals (104), Kolo Toure has made the most appearances (349) while Nigeria (35) has contributed the most players. As the Premier League live fan park comes to Cape Town this weekend learn all you need to know about African players in the English top flight.” BBC, BBC – You can read an accessible version of this graphic here.


Are DR Congo’s leopards rising from a prolonged slumber?

February 5, 2015

“With less than half an hour remaining in their quarter-final duel with Republic of Congo, it seemed DR Congo’s less than flattering AFCON campaign was destined for an ungainly conclusion – having just witnessed their limited yet well drilled neighbours move into an implausible 2-0 lead. It was at that point however where the fixture’s landscape shifted, as Republic of Congo – who prior to this tournament hadn’t tasted AFCON victory in 40 years -seemingly froze in the face of the momentous accomplishment that was within their grasp. Within minutes Dieumerci Mbokani had halved the bewildered Red Devils advantage, as a DR Congo suddenly rediscovered an attacking mojo that had been non-existent up to that point.” backpagefootball

Ivory Coast survive wobble against DR Congo to reach Cup of Nations final
“Could it be that one of the longest waits in football is at last coming to an end? For a decade, Africa has expected Ivory Coast’s golden generation at last to reach fulfilment and perhaps now, as the Elephants approach their third final in nine years, the itch will be scratched. Yet perhaps this isn’t even the golden generation any more: after all, only four players remain from the squad that lost to the hosts in the final in Egypt in 2006.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Ivory Coast march on but this tale of two Tourés is far from pretty

February 1, 2015

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Kolo Touré / Ivory Coast
“The good news for Ivory Coast is that they’re through. They’re not playing with any great fluency or style, but they have made it through to the quarter-finals, where they will face Algeria, and there is at least about them a sense of purpose and defensive resolve. “We will fight like elephants,” said Kolo Touré after a second successive draw had left them needing to win their final game, against Cameroon, to progress and if that means presenting a solid barrier, absorbing blows before prevailing through a goal based on raw power, they did just that. Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Cameroon, a team who had beaten them 4-1 in qualifying, was classic Hervé Renard.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Guinea and Mali to draw lots for Africa Cup of Nations knockout place
“The final place in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals will be decided by the drawing of lots after Guinea and Mali drew 1-1. Both teams had played out 1-1 draws in their previous Group D matches, meaning lots will be required to decide who finishes second and will face Ghana. Every match in the group finished 1-1 except Wednesday’s other match, in which Ivory Coast beat Cameroon 1-0 to qualify. It is a remarkable set of circumstances and one not seen at the Africa Cup of Nations since 1988, when the drawing of lots sent Algeria through to the knockout stage at the expense of the Ivory Coast. Bizarrely, the draw will not be made immediately but at a meeting of Confederation of African Football officials on Thursday.” Guardian


Ghana’s loss to Senegal leaves Avram Grant in familiar territory

January 22, 2015

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“Avram Grant has faced enough hostile press conferences in his career to know that he got away lightly. The Ghanaian media was clearly disappointed by the 2-1 defeat to Senegal on Monday but it was relatively restrained in the way it dealt with Grant, who sat in familiarly morose pose as a bat fluttered back and forth above his head. Perhaps the gentle approach was born of a recognition that this was Grant’s first competitive game in charge, or perhaps it was simply that the poor performance wasn’t unexpected.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Afcon 2015: Star players, prizes and stats from Equatorial Guinea
“The opening round of group games at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations has delivered penalty misses, last-gasp winners, no goalless draws and some man-of-the-match presentations with a twist. The Confederation of African Football (Caf) has given fans the chance to hand out awards to the chosen star man in fixtures, but have they gone to the right players? Here, we put forward the round-one stars chosen by you, our reporters on the ground in Equatorial Guinea and African football’s governing body.” BBC

Zambia 1 Tunisia
“Tunisia made the most of Zambia’s wastefulness in front of goal as they came from behind to win. Emmanuel Mayuka opened the scoring when he blasted home a cross from the impressive Rainford Kalaba. But Mayuka was injured when stretching for a chance to turn the ball into an empty net and moments later Tunisia scored against 10 men when Ahmed Akaichi scored from two yards out. Tunisia improved after that and Yasine Chikhaoui headed home a late winner.” BBC


Favourites Algeria dealt AFCON minefield

December 7, 2014

“The pot compilation of yesterday’s 2015 African Cup of Nations draw always meant a strong viability for a series of heavy weight assortments, yet for the majority of sides assigned a spot in Group C their hand represented the nightmare assignment. The inevitably dubbed group of death compiles the intimidating quintet of Algeria, Ghana, South Africa and Senegal. If Algeria – undoubtedly Africa’s standout outfit in Brazil last summer and the continent’s highest ranked side – are to clinch a first crown in 22 years they must now do it the hard way. That being said as arduous as Algeria’s examination might appear, for their three opponents the Fennec Foxes represent the worst case scenario.” backpagefootball


Africa Cup of Nations’ lop-sided draw promises intrigue if not high quality

December 4, 2014

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Democratic Republic of Congo fan – African Nations Cup
“Given the seeding pots, the potential for an atrociously difficult group at next month’s Africa Cup of Nations was always there. The draw delivered, spectacularly and brutally. Algeria, the top-ranked team in Africa, the only one of the Cup of Nations qualifiers to reach the last 16 of the World Cup, were the danger lurking in Pot 2 and Ghana the unlucky seeds. But worse than that, Ghana had already been grouped with Senegal – by some distance the best team in Pot 4 – and, from Pot 3, the side that eliminated the champions Nigeria in qualifying, South Africa, resurgent under Shakes Mashaba.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


At least there is a Cup of Nations for Nigeria to fail to qualify for

November 21, 2014

South Africa's Eric Mathoho, left, and Nigeria's Ahmed Musa
“Twelve days after the Akwa Ibom stadium in Uyo was officially opened, it is already a site of ignominy. Nigeria fought back with two late Sone Aluko goals to draw 2-2 with South Africa on Wednesday, but preserving their unbeaten record against Bafana Bafana in competitive games is little consolation. Congo, whom Nigeria had beaten 2-0 on Saturday to have even a chance of qualification, held their nerve to win 1-0 in Sudan and so eliminated the defending champions from the Cup of Nations.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Africa Cup Disrupted by Ebola Concerns

November 12, 2014

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“Fear of the spread of Ebola has now thrown Africa’s most important soccer tournament into disarray. Morocco was removed Tuesday as host of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations and expelled from participating in the biennial championship after it sought to delay the 16-team event, concerned about a spread of the virus. No replacement host has yet been named for the tournament, which is scheduled from Jan. 17 to Feb. 8. The expulsion of Morocco was announced by the Confederation of African Football, or C.A.F., the regional soccer governing body, which accused Moroccan officials of being alarmist in wanting to delay the Cup of Nations by six months or a year. Ebola has not been detected in Morocco, the organization noted recently.”
NY Times


Vela, Tevez, crucial qualifiers headline 2014’s last international window

November 12, 2014

“The final international fixture window of 2014 features the long-awaited international return of some household names, crucial qualifiers on multiple continents and handfuls of intriguing friendlies. Here are 10 things to watch over the next week…” SI – Jonathan Wilson


Departing Stephen Keshi finally pays the price of chaos in Nigerian football

October 17, 2014

Stephen Keshi
“Stephen Keshi was sacked as coach of Nigeria late on Wednesday night, bringing to an end a protracted and tawdry departure that has dragged on since the end of the World Cup. It’s a saga that reflects well on nobody and has left the African champions struggling even to qualify for next January’s Cup of Nations and it’s telling of how little football has had to do with the decision that it should have been taken a few hours after an impressive 3-1 win over Sudan that restored hope.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


It starts here… Africa Cup of Nations 2015 – 2nd round qualification preview

July 21, 2014

“In early May the long journey towards Morocco and the Africa Cup of Nations 2015 began for the sizeable percentage of African sides – indeed for Mauritania that voyage started way back in April with a preliminary round fixture against Mauritius. Before Africa’s elite, including champions Nigeria, endure the rigors of qualification the rest must be whittled down to just seven – having seen 14 sides depart during May’s first round, that number will be halved once again in the second round.” Just Football


Brazil’s World Cup Was Never Simple, Always Irresistible

July 19, 2014

“They had a soccer tournament, and the best team won. If only the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were as simple as that. Let’s look backward—before Germany’s extra-time victory over Argentina in the final, before the host country’s agonizing, indelible 7-1 loss in the semifinals, before the individual greatness of Lionel Messi, Miroslav Klose, James Rodríguez, Neymar Jr. and Tim Howard. Before 20,000 fans jammed Grant Park in Chicago to watch the U.S. team. Before Luis Suárez launched his infamous incisors. Let’s go back to the beginning, to the original idea: a World Cup in Brazil.” WSJ


World Cup retrospective

July 17, 2014

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“Well that was fun, wasn’t it? Previous World Cups have kind of come and gone from my consciousness: I was 8 for Italia ’90 and have very little recollection of it at all; I remember snatches from USA ’94, largely a grudging admiration for Taffarel; France ’98, a blur of blue and enormous jealousy that my sister was in Paris on a French exchange for the final; Japan and South Korea ’02, drunkenly going to first year university exams having watched games that started at 7, and manically cheering Senegal as my sweepstake team, especially after that win; and Germany ’10, revelling in that Spanish team. But, having started to write about football and, more importantly in many ways, become part of a community who talk and think about football, this is the first World Cup where I’ve really inhaled it, really been carried by the highs and lows of such a glorious celebration of football. So I thought I’d do a quick look-back. A good place to start would be the piece I did in The Football Pink: Issue 4 – The World Cup Edition, which was a group-by-group preview. And boy did I get some things wrong.” Put Niels In Goal

amazon: The Football Pink: Issue 4 – The World Cup Edition [Kindle Edition] $1.50, amazon: £0.97


World Cup 2014: BBC pundits pick their best moments in Brazil

July 17, 2014

“After 32 days, 64 games and 171 goals, there was only one winner. Germany are the new world champions after grabbing the glory at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The tournament will be remembered for its exciting games and spectacular goals but also some of the biggest shocks of recent times, with the hosts Brazil and defending champions Spain both suffering humiliating defeats. England, meanwhile, only lasted eight days and two games before being eliminated. BBC Sport’s TV and radio football presenters and pundits look back on the action and choose their best goal, best player and most memorable moment of the tournament, before considering how far away England are from being contenders.” BBC


2014 FIFA World Cup Awards: Best Player, Best Young Player, Best XI and many more

July 17, 2014

“With the World Cup drawn to a close, many are left disappointed while others celebrate their achievements. Germany won the World Cup, but many other individuals & teams left admirers in their wake. While FIFA gave out it’s individual honours with Messi the choice for Golden Ball particularly bewildering football enthusiasts. We at Outside of the Boot thought long & hard before deciding our choices which might just be a bit more fair & rational than FIFA’s choices! There are some surprises, and also occasions where the hipsters may not be pleased. Nevertheless, here are the best performers at the World Cup divided into Primary Awards, Talent Radar Awards and Secondary Awards.” Outside of the Boot


Die Größte Show Der Welt

July 17, 2014

“It’s staring at me, that wallchart. It’s a little bit frayed and crumpled now since the move back from Greece and after finding its way around Jesse’s sticky fingers and teething gums. Since Sunday, I haven’t been able to summon the requisite will to complete the final vacant space. The one that states that Germany beat Argentina, one-nil, AET. It’s the finality that daunts me; the knowledge that once complete it becomes a historical artefact, no more a tantalising map of an unknown future. All those games, all those goals, all those hours. Gone forever.” Dispatches From A Football Sofa


World Cup Expectations Rankings: Brazil’s over- and underachievers

July 15, 2014

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“Teams come to the World Cup with their own expectations. For some, just being there is enough, reaching the last 16 an almost impossible dream. For others, so exalted were their ambitions that even a quarterfinal feels like a disappointment. This is an attempt to grade teams according to how they did against their own expectations, looking both at results and at how well they played…” SI – Jonathan Wilson


World Cup 2014: Goals, drama & that bite – is Brazil the best?

July 11, 2014

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“Record goals, Suarez gnaws, that James Rodriguez strike, passion, drama, colourful fashion – what a World Cup this has been. It was a tournament that started with a bang as the hosts came from behind to beat Croatia, and has since delivered fantastic entertainment almost game after game. Here, BBC Sport’s chief football writer Phil McNulty and the BBC’s much-loved and most experienced commentator John Motson consider whether this has been the best ever World Cup.” BBC


Exit Happiness: Nigeria’s World Cup Run Comes to an End

July 2, 2014

“‘I haven’t heard the halftime yet,’ said Obie, one of the many Nigeria supporters on hand for the Super Eagles’ watch party at the Nigerian comfort-food spot Buka. He motioned toward a projection of the currently level France-Nigeria match and the broadcasters breaking it down at halftime, albeit inaudibly. ‘We’re so loud.’ Noise is a good thing to keep in mind when thinking about Nigeria’s presence in the round of 16 — noisy in appearance because of its lime-green jerseys, noisy because of Africa’s waning presence in the World Cup and the rallying cries joining the Eagles, noisy because of the atrocities happening in the northern part of their home country.” Grantland


World Cup: France sees off Nigeria to reach last eight

July 1, 2014

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“Redemption is not easy to attain. Four years on and the scars still remain. When France’s footballers left for Brazil, they were under no illusions — it cannot happen again. At South Africa 2010, ‘Les Bleus’ became a laughing stock as players and coaches clashed, strikes were threatened and results embarrassed a nation. Players were suspended, the entire country waged war on a group which had imploded and exited at the group stage after failing to win a single game. Four years ago the picture was grim.” CNN

France 2-0 Nigeria: France prosper when returning to a one-striker system
“France took a while to show their best football, but dominated the final half hour. Didier Deschamps’ big decision was whether to start striker Olivier Giroud or left-winger Antoine Griezmann, with Karim Benzema’s position dependent upon that choice. Giroud got the nod. Stephen Keshi was without Michael Babatunde through injury, and his latest attempt to solve the problem at number ten was playing Victor Moses there, behind Emannuel Emenike. Nigeria started strongly and dominated the first quarter of the game, but France slowly showed their quality.” Zonal Marking

Exit Happiness: Nigeria’s World Cup Run Comes to an End
“’I haven’t heard the halftime yet,’ said Obie, one of the many Nigeria supporters on hand for the Super Eagles’ watch party at the Nigerian comfort food spot Buka. He motioned toward a projection of the currently level France-Nigeria match and the broadcasters breaking it down at halftime, albeit inaudibly. ‘We’re so loud.’ Noise is a good thing to keep in mind when thinking about Nigeria’s presence in the round of 16 — noisy in appearance because of its lime green jerseys, noisy because of Africa’s waning presence in the World Cup and the rallying cries joining the Eagles, noisy because of the atrocities happening in the northern part of their home country.” Grantland

World Cup Players to Know: France’s Midfield General, Paul Pogba
“… But the brief on Pogba is thus: grew up outside of Paris, joined Manchester United at 16 under allegations that the club had, in effect, bribed his parents, played three games for the Red Devils in three years, refused to pen a new contract in 2012 because, he says, Sir Alex Ferguson “didn’t show me enough that he wanted me in his squad,” joined Juventus on a free transfer, was painted in the press by his former coach as a bigger problem than he was worth, and then promptly became one of the best midfielders on the planet.” Grantland

World Cup Tactical Analysis | France 2-0 Nigeria: Super Eagles’ impressive possession game not enough
“Paul Pogba lead a determined France through to the quarter finals against a Nigerian team that wasn’t going to give up that easily with Enyeama between the sticks. An own goal at the end however, killed the dreams of the African country that was never afraid to dream.” Outside of the Boot


Nigeria’s Coach Makes History

June 30, 2014

“Stephen Keshi is the first African to lead an African team to the second round. Progress in African soccer should not be measured only by how the continent’s teams progress through the World Cup brackets. You can also judge the pace of evolution by looking at who’s standing in the technical area. On Monday in Brasilia, Stephen Keshi will be inside the dotted white lines as his Nigeria side face France for a place in the quarterfinals. Even this early in the tournament, Keshi is a pioneer: the first African head coach to lead a team into the round of 16.” Fusion


Messi Lifts Spirits of Argentines, Even Those Without Tickets

June 26, 2014

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“An estimated 50,000 Argentines completed the trek to this World Cup city by Wednesday morning. Many of the soccer pilgrims were wearing long faces along with their Lionel Messi jerseys as they roamed the parks and the streets and took in the hazy view of Guaíba lake while carrying hand-lettered signs that read, ‘Compro’ (‘I’m buying’). ‘It’s shameful; the scalpers are asking for 1,200 to 1,500 dollars for a ticket with a face value of no more than 100,’ said Cintia Perri, a young woman from Buenos Aires who had driven 20 hours to get here and spent the night in her car in a nearby camping site. But Messi would soon lift the mood of his sleep-deprived, ticket-deprived compatriots.” NY Times

Magical Messi continues to rise
“At the very least, Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella could say someone else settled the game. It wasn’t Lionel Messi who got the decisive goal; it wasn’t quite so necessary for the playmaker to drag his team forward. Instead, left-back Marcos Rojo kneed home Ezequiel Lavezzi’s corner, and Argentina eventually beat Nigeria 3-2. It gave Sabella’s men a flawless points record from the group stage, with three wins from three games in Group F, but they are far from a flawless team. Although the specific details may have changed, the wider reality remains the same. It is the same storyline around the team tipped as one of the favourites to lift the trophy next month and the developing narrative of this World Cup.” ESPN (Video)


Group F – ESPN

June 26, 2014
Group F Overall
POS TEAM PTS GD P W D L F A
1 Argentina 9 3 3 3 0 0 6 3
2 Nigeria 4 0 3 1 1 1 3 3
3 Bosnia-Herzegovina 3 0 3 1 0 2 4 4
4 Iran 1 -3 3 0 1 2 1 4

World Cup 2014: group stage, day 14. ARGENTINA 3-2 NIGERIA. BOSNIA 3-1 IRAN. SWITZERLAND 3-0 HONDURAS. FRANCE 0-0 ECUADOR.

June 26, 2014

“A gentle, open game with both sides already through. Open feel. This game could have gone in two very different ways. With both happy with a draw, it could have been slow, boring and about both teams avoiding injuries. However, there was a sense both wanted to put on a show, having been underwhelming in their opening two matches, and therefore it was open and entertaining. With two goals inside the first five minutes, it was immediately an enjoyable contest. Messi. Nigeria’s main tactic was to track Lionel Messi extremely tightly. Ogenyi Onazi was usually the man with this responsibility, although sometimes Messi was passed on to the other two midfielders when he drifted around the pitch.” Zonal Marking


World Cup 2014: group stage, day 10. ARGENTINA 1-0 IRAN. GERMANY 2-2 GHANA. NIGERIA 1-0 BOSNIA.

June 22, 2014

“Iran defended solidly and created some great chances, but Lionel Messi’s stunning stoppage time goal won the game. Iran deep and narrow. We expected another defensive-minded performance from Iran, and that’s precisely what we got. They set out to frustrate Argentina, sitting extremely deep and making little attempt to attack in the first half. Iran’s major strategy was to defend extremely narrow. They were aware of the danger of letting Lionel Messi have the ball in central positions, and therefore their five central midfielders formed a solid block in the centre of the pitch, denying Argentina’s central midfielders the passing lanes to feed the ball to Messi, Angel Di Maria and the other two attackers. They encouraged balls out to the full-backs instead.” Zonal Marking


Africa United?

June 21, 2014

“Ivory Coast World Cup. In February this year, Felix Anyasi Agwu, chairman of Nigerian club Enyimba, complained about the treatment of his team in a CAF Champions League second-leg qualifying encounter at Anges de Notse of Togo. Agwu claimed that players and club officials were attacked by their opponents’ fans, training sessions were disrupted and water was thrown at them as they left the pitch at half time in their 4-3 win.” backpagefootball