Category Archives: Russia

Poland’s Lewandowski ‘proud to wear Ukraine armband’ at Qatar World Cup – video

Robert Lewandowski received a captain’s armband in Ukrainian yellow and blue from Andriy Shevchenko. The Poland striker promised to ‘carry the colours of Ukraine to the World Cup.’ Lewandowski was one of the first elite athletes to rally to Ukraine’s cause back in February, days after Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, when he lobbied for the postponement of Poland’s international fixture against Russia. When he next took the field for Bayern Munich, his teammates wore black armbands to honour the victims of the invasion, while Lewandowski, the Bayern captain at the time, wore an armband in the colours of Ukraine. …”
Guardian (Video)
Guardian: Russia demands Uefa ban Ukraine’s manager for remarks about war

Ukrainian Premier League set to restart: ‘An act of bravery, but I’m worried’

“‘My heart aches when I think of Kharkiv,’ says goalkeeper Denys Sydorenko. ‘A missile hit our training ground – there’s nothing left of where we used to play.’ On 22 February, Sydorenko’s team, Metalist 1925 Kharkiv, were taking part in a regular training session during the Ukrainian Premier League’s winter break. Two days later, everything stopped. Russia had invaded. Now, six months into the war, Ukraine is preparing to resume its domestic football competitions – despite the constant danger the ongoing conflict brings. The decision to cancel the remainder of the 2021-22 football season was finally taken in April. Shakhtar Donetsk were leading by two points with just over half of the matches played. …”
BBC

A season of hope: Ukraine prepares for remarkable return of league football

“Five months ago, footballers in Ukraine could not afford to give a second thought to their sport. The horrors being inflicted by Russia’s invading forces left nobody untouched and the act of staying alive, while ensuring the same of their loved ones, was all that mattered. Many players left their clubs for the country’s west, basing themselves in relatively calm locations; some sheltered underground with their families and, in a number of cases, teammates, for days on end. …”
Guardian (July 24)

Shakhtar Donetsk seek €50m of damages from FIFA over lost transfer fees


Shakhtar’s chief executive Sergei Palkin is scathing of FIFA’s conduct
“Ukrainian football club Shakhtar Donetsk are seeking €50million worth of damages from football’s world governing body and the club has filed papers in the Court of Arbitration for Sport appealing against a ruling by FIFA that allows foreign players to unilaterally suspend their contracts in the war-torn country. The Athletic can exclusively reveal that Shakhtar, who have won the Ukrainian championship 13 times in the post-Soviet independence era since 1992, filed the documents to Matthieu Reeb, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) director general in Switzerland, in July. …”
The Athletic

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

Football in Ukraine: ‘Where will the kids train now?’


“Chernihiv is the largest Ukrainian city to have been freed from Russian occupation. Its pre-war population was estimated at around 280,000. After being under siege for more than a month only a third of that figure remains. Seven hundred people have lost their lives, according to official sources. Before the Russian invasion on 24 February, the city was little known around the world. It is situated 150 kilometres northeast of Kyiv and just 60km from the border with Belarus, on the banks of the Desna river. In Ukraine, Chernihiv was known for its wonderful churches, chic parks and great promenades by the river. …”
Guardian

‘We could play at Wembley’: Ukraine manager on war, the World Cup and his hatred of Russia


“When the war broke out in the early hours of 24 February, Oleksandr Petrakov, the manager of Ukraine’s men’s national football team, chose not to leave his home in the capital, Kyiv, as the Russians advanced and shells dropped, but to try to join the fight. … A Russian speaker from childhood, Petrakov now sticks to Ukrainian in public and while some are sad about Vladimir Putin’s war and others are angry, he admits to a more visceral emotion. ‘It’s just hate. It is not anger, but people hate those who invaded their land. We need time to calm down but for now it is just hate. They have broken our countries for years.’ …”
Guardian (April 1)
W – Oleksandr Petrakov

Shakhtar provide supplies to refugees but ‘dreaming of return to normality’


“Normality is another world for Shakhtar Donetsk. When Russia invaded Ukraine, football was stopped and the lives of the players, coaches, staff and fans were turned upside down in an instant. There was no time to waste with lives at stake as the autumn’s Champions League games against Real Madrid and Internazionale quickly became a distant memory. Sergei Palkin, the chief executive, has been at the forefront of the club’s humanitarian efforts and ensuring the safety of players from the academy to the first-team captain. …”
Guardian

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

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

Roman Abramovich: What do Russian owner’s sanctions mean for Chelsea?


“The future of European champions Chelsea is uncertain after sanctions were placed on Russian owner Roman Abramovich on Thursday. The billionaire has been in charge since 2003 but had his attempts to sell the club halted by the UK government, which has frozen his assets. What does it mean for Chelsea’s fans, players and staff? BBC Sport explains how the situation will affect those associated with the club. Abramovich was sanctioned by the UK government as part of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The government believes the billionaire has had a ‘close relationship for decades’ with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, links Abramovich has always denied. …”
BBC (Video)
NY Times: At Chelsea, Nervous First Steps Into an Uncertain Future
NY Times: Britain Freezes Assets of Roman Abramovich, Creating Crisis at Chelsea
Guardian / Jonathan Wilson – ‘It was so emotional’: Yarmolenko on his tears for Ukraine after West Ham goal
Guardian: Stamford Bridge hosts dark day for those who care for football’s soul
New Republic: Is Soccer on the Brink of a Moral Awakening?

Hammers ahead Andriy Yarmolenko, born in Ukraine, scored his staff’s opening objective within the win. With Russia’s invasion on Ukraine persevering with, there isn’t a doubt that his coronary heart is heavy and hurting.

Russia exploits football as soft-power tool but it also helped forge Ukraine’s identity


“Josef Kordik was sitting in a cafe in Kyiv when a bedraggled man on the street caught his eye. That, he was sure, was Myklova Trusevych, the great Dynamo goalkeeper. He rushed outside. It was spring 1942, a few months after the city had fallen to the Nazis. Kordik was a Moravian who had been left behind after fighting for Austria-Hungary in the first world war. He had not enjoyed his new life and watching football had been his only joy, but the occupation had meant opportunity. He had falsely claimed Volksdeutsch status and been installed as manager of Bakery Number 1. But for most people occupation had brought suffering. Trusevych had sent his wife, who was Jewish, to Odesa to escape the fighting. …”
Guardian – Jonathan Wilson
Guardian – ‘The worst possible nightmare’: voices from Ukrainian football as war rages

Roman Abramovich and the End of Soccer’s Oligarch Era


“There were, over the years, three stories that explained how Roman Abramovich washed ashore at Chelsea. Each one, now, serves as a kind of time capsule, a carbon-dated relic from a specific period, capturing in amber each stage of our understanding of what, precisely, soccer has become. The first took root in the immediate aftermath of Abramovich’s takeover of Chelsea. It was light, fuzzy, faintly romantic. Abramovich, the tale went, had been at Old Trafford on the night in 2003 when Manchester United’s fans stood as one to applaud the great Brazilian striker Ronaldo as he swept their team from the Champions League. Abramovich had been so smitten, it was said, that he had decided there and then that he wanted a piece of English soccer. …”
NY Times
The Athletic: Chelsea – what next? (Audio)

Why Did Global Soccer Ban Russia, Really?


“Anything as popular as soccer, whose fans number in the billions, is bound to become currency. The game carries immense value for people who play and watch it, but also to anyone who wants to use it to reach hearts, minds, and wallets the world over. In the past 30 years, the commoditization of the world’s game has accelerated, both as a television product and as a means for the ultra-rich to blow their money and burnish their reputations. The highest tier of global soccer is so expensive now that there probably is no ethical way to afford membership. But the roster of EPL club owners is a who’s-who of murderous dictators; scions of other oil-rich, human rights-denying royal families; and oligarchs who pillaged state assets to make themselves rich as their countries privatized them after the Cold War. …”
SLATE
FIFA’s suspension of Russia is a rarity – but one that strips bare the idea that sport can be apolitical
ESPN – FIFA suspends Russia from World Cup, all soccer competitions: What it means, how it works (Video)
Forbes: FIFA Bans Russia, But Don’t Forget About Ukraine’s World Cup Dreams
Aljazeera: Russia faces sporting fallout over invasion of Ukraine (Video)
FIFA has finally acted against Russia, but it doesn’t undo a long history of cosying up to Putin (Video)

Ukrainian flag with the inscription “Stop War. We against war.” prior the Bundesliga soccer match, Germany

Trying to escape the horror – footballers’ stories from Ukraine


“In the basement of their family home, the wife of Taras Stepanenko took refuge underground, accompanied by the couple’s three children, aged eight, seven and four. The explosions started in the middle of the night, the thuds of artillery thundering in the distance. As the family sheltered, the Ukrainian international footballer Stepanenko organised. His home, near to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, is located close to woodland and set against the Dnieper river. … Yet now, he is one of the millions hiding within their own borders. He has been stripped, at least temporarily, of his career and his freedom. …”
The Athletic

Champions League Final Will Be Played in Paris, Not Russia


“European soccer’s governing body on Friday voted to move this season’s Champions League final, the showcase game on the continent’s sporting calendar, to Paris as punishment for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The game, on May 28, had been scheduled to be played in St. Petersburg, in a stadium built for 2018 World Cup and financed by the Russian energy giant Gazprom, a major sponsor of the governing body, UEFA. It will take place instead at the Stade de France, in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. It will be the first time France has hosted the final since 2006. UEFA said it had made the decision as a result of ‘the grave escalation of the security situation in Europe.’ …”
NY Times
****New Republic: European Soccer Only Has Itself to Blame for Its Russia Problem
***NY Times: Stranded Soccer Stars, Frantic Phone Calls and a Race to Flee Kyiv (Video)
NY Times: The Roots of Ukraine’s War: How the Crisis Developed
NY Times – Maps: Tracking the Russian Invasion of Ukraine
The Athletic: Footballers should not be asked to do a politician’s job
NY Times – Soccer, Russia and a Line Drawn Too Late

16 football clubs sitting outside the elite


“Should European football ever morph into a super league structure, the landscape will be substantially changed, no matter how any new league might manifest itself. For the past decade, a set of global, elite players have evolved, but beneath the top layer, there are a number of clubs who have scale and presence, some with back stories that belong to a more democratic age. Some of these glorious names may be dominant forces in their own backyard but do not have the financial clout to compete with Europe’s gargantuan institutions. Others were once feared names across the continent, metropolitan clubs from major cities such as Lisbon, Amsterdam, Rome, Rotterdam and Glasgow. …”
Game of the People

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

World Cup 2022 qualification: Who will be in Qatar and who is in play-offs?


Gareth Southgate’s England are heading to Qatar 2022, while Wales and Scotland have a play-off place secured
“England have qualified for the 2022 World Cup finals while Wales and Scotland are heading to the play-offs along with some surprising names. European champions Italy and Portugal will also have to go through two rounds of play-off games next March after failing to win their respective groups. Heading to the World Cup so far are: Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland. The Netherlands, Norway and Turkey are the three teams left who can still qualify automatically. The winners of each group secure a place at the World Cup, with the 10 runners-up joining two Nations League teams in the play-offs, where three further places are up for grabs. …”
BBC

Spain Loses World Cup Qualifier For The First Time In 66 Matches, 2-1 Against Sweden


“The Spanish national team tasted defeat for the first time in 28 years in a World Cup qualifying match after they lost to Sweden 2-1 on Friday in Stockholm. Sweden came back from a goal down to defeat Spain who lost a World Cup qualifying match after 66 games undefeated. The defeat means that Spain have lost a World Cup qualifying game after 66 matches and 28 years. During this undefeated run, they also managed to win 10 in a row before the 2010 World Cup which they ended up winning. A defeat that Luis Enrique would not have excepted as his men had done well in the Euro 2020 having made the semi-finals where they lost eventual Champions Italy on penalties. …”
Republic World
YouTube: Sweden stuns Spain 2-1 in World Cup qualifier | WCQ Highlights | ESPN FC
UEFA: European Qualifiers: England and Belgium rampant, Sweden stun Spain

UEFA Euro 1972 Final


“The UEFA Euro 1972 Final was a football match played at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, on 18 June 1972, to determine the winner of the UEFA Euro 1972 tournament. It was the fourth UEFA European Football Championship final, UEFA‘s top football competition for national teams. The match was contested by West Germany and two-time tournament finalists, the Soviet Union. En route to the final, West Germany finished top of their qualifying group which included Turkey, Albania and Poland. After beating England over a two-legged tie in the quarter-finals, they progressed to the final after defeating tournament hosts Belgium in the semi-final. The Soviet Union won their qualifying group which included Cyprus and Spain, before beating Northern Ireland in the two-legged quarter-final and Yugoslavia in the single-match semi-final. …”
Wikipedia
EURO 1972: all you need to know (Video)
YouTube: West Germany v USSR: 1972 UEFA European Championship final highlights

Euro 2020: our writers select their highs and lows from the tournament


“Italy’s performances and goals from Patrik Schick and Paul Pogba illuminated a wonderful championships. Sadly, some England supporters let the country down. Match of the tournament. Ed Aarons: It was going to take something to beat Spain’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Croatia after extra-time but the sequel on a crazy Monday evening was even better. Paul Pogba’s elaborate celebration having scored France’s third goal came back to haunt him as Switzerland scored twice in the last 10 minutes to force extra time before Kylian Mbappé missed from the spot to eliminate the star-studded world champions. …”
Guardian

EURO 2020: tactical trends


No team has pressed or had the ball as much as Spain but that did not help them beat Sweden in their opening game
“Thirty-six matches played, with 94 goals scored at an average of 2.61 per game. It is a ratio lower than the 2.93 recorded in last season’s UEFA Champions League, yet this is no surprise for the UEFA technical observers analysing the action at UEFA EURO 2020. Their reflections on the opening fortnight of action point to less risk-taking than in the European club competitions with a tendency towards three centre-backs and low blocks – arguably motivated by the wish to avoid early elimination. …”
UEFA (Video)
Tactical trends from the Euro 2020 group stages: What we’ve learned

The Case for a 32-Team Euros


Portugal found a way through to the round of 16.
“Thomas Vermaelen’s header hit the ground first and then rose before colliding with the post near the corner where it meets the crossbar. As the ball spun out, sideways toward the middle of the goal, Lukas Hradecky, the Finland goalkeeper, was still turning around. It was all happening in the blink of an eye. Instinctively, Hradecky reached out a hand to try to swat the ball away. In that instant, on his fingertips, a substantial portion of Euro 2020 hung. Had Hradecky been able to claw the ball away from his goal, away from danger, Finland might have been able to hang on, to keep a vaguely interested Belgium at bay, to qualify for the knockout stages of the first major tournament it has ever reached. Denmark, playing simultaneously in Copenhagen, might have been sent home. …”
NY Times

The Euro 2020 Group Stage Is Over: Here’s What We Learned


“With a couple of minutes to play in Budapest, the French midfielder Adrien Rabiot looked squarely at Sergio Oliveira, his Portuguese opponent, and advised him to back away. Like everyone else in the stadium, Rabiot had heard the news. The group stage of Euro 2020 was effectively over. Both France and Portugal were through to the knockout rounds. There was no need to run or to chase or to press. Now was the time for watching the clock. It had not, for either team, been a straightforward evening. The game had oscillated — Portugal led, then France, then Portugal struck back — and so had their fates, dependent to some extent on the outcome of the group’s other game, between Germany and Hungary in Munich. At one point or another, each of the four teams had believed they were going through. …”
NY Times

The Romelu Lukaku Renaissance


“We know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. What footballers know is that the longest distance between two points is the way back from failure. Romelu Lukaku set out on that road almost a year ago and has now reached such speed that he has far outpaced any challenger who was ahead of him. It is a remarkable return, a hero’s journey, and now he ventures across Europe with his national team at the Euro 2020 tournament, perhaps on course for further glory. But more on his adventures with Belgium later. …”
The Ringer

Denmark Advances at Euro 2020, Winning Where Eriksen Fell


“Denmark’s players gathered in a circle on the field at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen and stared intently at a staff member’s phone. They must have known, by then, that they had qualified for the last 16 of the European Championship, but they wanted to be sure. They wanted to see the score confirmed, officially. The Danes had come into their final group game on Monday needing the dice to roll in their favor to make it through. They required a win against Russia on home soil, and for Belgium to beat Finland in St. Petersburg. That they had a chance at all, though — that their coach, Kasper Hjulmand, could tell his players that this was the start, not the end, of their tournament — was remarkable in itself. …”
NY Times
SI: Denmark Through to Euros’ Last 16 as Simultaneous Drama Caps Emotional Group Stage

At Euro 2020, a Reminder That Good Can Be Great


Italy: unbeaten, but not unbeatable.
“Let’s start with a little intellectual exercise. A purely hypothetical, entirely subjective, ultimately inconclusive one, admittedly, but still: Now that each of the presumed contenders to win the European Championship has shown at least some of its hand, how competitive would any of them be if they were to be parachuted, as they are, into the Champions League? Instinctively, it feels as if France, at least, would do pretty well. A front line of Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé bears comparison to any attacking trident in the club game. …”
NY Times

Euro 2020 Power Rankings: France the Clear Favorite—but Then What?


“Five years removed from Portugal’s coronation just outside Paris, the next European Championship begins on Friday, and with it comes the quest for the 2016 host and runner-up to make amends and follow a World Cup title with another triumph—and for 23 other national sides to do something about it. France is as good if not better than it was when it lifted the World Cup trophy in Russia three summers ago, and after an extra year’s wait due to the pandemic, it’s out to confirm its status as the world and region’s preeminent team—it’s No. 2 FIFA world ranking notwithstanding. Before the competition begins, with Italy facing Turkey in Rome, we examine team form, ability and outlook based on the draw to rank the 24 contenders vying to be crowned European champion (group opponents listed in order of when they’ll play in the opening stage). …” SI – Jonathan Wilson, Guardian: At the Euros, winning teams can start badly. It’s how they respond that matters, ESPN – Euro 2020 preview: Picks, scouting reports, must-see games, biggest ‘upset’ teams and much more (Video)

How Euro 2020 Was Saved


“If Aleksander Ceferin has any say on the matter, there will never be another European soccer championship like the one that starts this week. And that decision has nothing to do with the coronavirus. Ceferin, the president of European soccer’s governing body, quickly listed the headaches that came with organizing this summer’s championship. Matches in 11 countries, originally 13, meant finding 11 cities and 11 stadiums capable of hosting them. It meant creating teams to run each site and arranging for dozens of hotels to house everyone who would go. But it also meant navigating legal jurisdictions and linguistic boundaries, tax laws and big politics as well as soccer politics, currency values and visa rules. And that was before the coronavirus made it all exponentially harder. …” NY Times, NY Times – Euro 2020: Schedule, How to Watch and More, UEFA Euro 2020 match schedule

Euro 2020: England and Spain Drop Big Names; France Adds One


“Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold was one of four right backs included in England’s final 26-man roster for this summer’s European Championship as Manager Gareth Southgate trimmed his roster hours before the tournament deadline. But after one exhibition game, he was out again. Alexander-Arnold, a late inclusion in England’s team, withdrew on Thursday, a day after sustaining a thigh injury in a friendly match against Austria. England and Liverpool confirmed that the young defender was out. … Instead, all four players made the team — at least initially. England is in a group with Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic. If it reaches the final, it could play as many as six matches at Wembley Stadium in London. …” NY Times, W – UEFA Euro 2020, Euro 2020 squads: Every confirmed team for the 2021 tournament, Guardian – Euro 2020: your complete guide to all 622 players

‘It’s over, Jogi’: German press reacts to historic defeat by North Macedonia


“It had felt like a new and happier time. Since Joachim Löw announced he was standing down after the European Championship, his young and vibrant side had beaten Iceland and Romania convincingly to get their World Cup qualifying campaign off to the perfect start. The mood in the squad relaxed, they took on North Macedonia in Löw’s final World Cup qualifier on Wednesday night – and promptly lost 2-1. The feelgood factor that had been building up in the previous seven days was gone in an instant, replaced by questions about team tactics and selections and even a call for the national coach to leave his post immediately. Writing in Bild – in a piece headlined ‘It is over, Jogi’ – Matthias Brügelmann said: ‘This is the third historical debacle that Jogi Löw, after many successful years as national coach, is responsible for. There was the first elimination from the stage at a World Cup ever in Russia. There was the biggest defeat since 1931 with the 6-0 defeat against Spain. And now this 1-2 against North Macedonia, No 65 in the World Cup rankings.’ …”
Guardian, Guardian: Euro 2020 power rankings: Belgium back on top as Germany plummet, Guardian: North Macedonia inflict historic World Cup qualifying defeat on Germany, Guardian: Ronaldo on target in Portugal win

A bullet for the president: gangs, corruption and murder in Bulgarian football

“One spring Monday morning, Lokomotiv Plovdiv president, Alexander Tasev, like most football bosses around Europe, sat in his expensive car about to head off to work. Seconds later he was shot dead by someone in a passing car, two bullets piercing his head. Since that day in May 2007, at least 12 more football bosses have been killed in the Balkan country. Tasev was the third Lokomotiv president to be killed in just two years.” Football Pink (Video)

Tactical Analysis: Croatia 2-2 Russia | Modric and Rakitic make the difference

“You’d be forgiven if you didn’t expect the hosts Russia to reach the quarterfinals of the 2018 World Cup, yet here they were. After holding off Spain in the Round of 16, the Sbornaya met Croatia at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, who were looking to advance to the semifinals for the second time in the nation’s history. Russia had been playing in a 4-5-1 formation for all but one match this tournament. In what was considered an easy group, the defensive setup of a deep block and playing long balls and counter attacks proved successful, as they scored the second-most goals in the group stage with eight, tied with Group G runners-up England. Croatia’s tactics have been more varied on a match by match basis, with manager Zlatko Dalic often switching the formation and personnel.” Outside of the Boot

World Cup 2018 Best XI: France’s Champions Lead the Top Players in Russia


“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

“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


“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

“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

Neymar Can’t Quite Copy Cruyff, Football Might Really Be Coming Home, and More Takeaways From the World Cup Quarterfinals


1. European dominance continues. When Germany won the 2014 World Cup, it was the first time any continent had produced three-straight World Cup winners. And after the elimination of Brazil and Uruguay on Friday, that streak will now extend to four. In 2002, it seemed like we might be seeing a challenge to world soccer’s established hierarchy. Senegal and the United States both made the quarterfinals, while South Korea and Turkey both advanced to the semifinals. Of course, it ended with Brazil and Germany, the two all-time great soccer-playing nations, in the final, but even that was something of a surprise, as they were ranked 11th and 10th, respectively, in the pre-tournament Elo Ratings.” The Ringer (Video)

Croatia scouting report: Luka Modric the key man but set-piece flaws abide

Set-piece frailties could play into England’s hands.  Luka Modric flagged up a weakness for Croatia without being asked. ‘We watched the [England] game today, we saw how good they are from dead-ball situations. We have to improve that element of our game.’ Freeze-frame Russia’s late equaliser from a free-kick and it is alarming just how much space Croatia gave their opponents. Seven of the 10 Croatia players in the area took up extremely deep starting positions, almost on the edge of the six-yard box. Just as significantly, none of them were ‘touch-tight’ on any of the Russian players.” Guardian

Russia Finally Falls, Leaving a Trail of Admirers and Doubters


“It was only a couple of minutes to midnight, and Miroslav Romaschenko did not want to leave. As Croatia’s players bounced around in ecstasy and as Russia’s collapsed, disconsolate, onto their backs, the losing team’s assistant manager sat down, frozen in place on the Fisht Stadium’s turf. He stayed there, staring into space, as the Croatian captain, Luka Modric, leapt into the crowd, celebrating his country’s second-ever World Cup semifinal; as both teams sought out Fyodor Smolov and Mário Fernandes, the two players whose missed penalties brought Russia’s tournament to a close; and as the fans turned to leave, back to the beach, back to the bars, back to reality.” NY Times

Croatia book World Cup semi-final with England after penalty shootout win

“The drama was unremitting but when Ivan Rakitic strode forward to address the penalty to win it for Croatia, he located a pocket of calm. The Barcelona midfielder had been in the same position last Sunday, standing over the shootout kick to beat Denmark in the last 16, and he had risen to the challenge. He would do likewise here and, in truth, it never looked in doubt. When Rakitic picked out the bottom corner, Croatia’s joy knew no bounds. At last, they have emulated the glory boys from France 98, who reached the semi-finals, and it is they who have advanced to face England in the last four.” Guardian

Lev Ivanovich Yashin 1929-1990


“The greatest goalkeeper of them all, Lev Yashin revolutionised his position and became a hero of the Soviet Union. This summer, the image of him flying high will be seen by millions of people because it is Yashin who is on the 2018 Fifa World Cup poster. He was an international star and an iconic figure, famous for his black outfit and flat cap. But he had his childhood torn away in a country ravaged by war and died aged 60 after a retirement plagued by ill health that led to him losing a leg.” BBC, W – Lev Ivanovich Yashin, YouTube: The Legendary Goalkeeper

2018 World Cup Predictions


“The World Cup is back, and so is another edition of FiveThirtyEight’s World Cup predictions. For those of you familiar with our club soccer predictions or our 2014 World Cup forecast, much of our 2018 forecast will look familiar. We show the chance that each team will win, lose or tie every one of their matches, as well as a table that details how likely each team is to finish first or second in their group and advance to the knockout stage. This year, we’ve added a few features to our interactive graphics. We have a bracket that illustrates how likely each team is to make each knockout-round match that it can advance to, as well as its most likely opponents in those matches. …”
FiveThirtyEight
Metafilter: it’s coming to someone’s home. (Video)

World Cup 2018: A Russian Advance

“There was a citywide party on Sunday night in Moscow that local reports are calling historic—and if you’ve ever been in the capital of a footballing nation on the day that its team wins a knockout World Cup match, you know there’s a good chance the reports were not exaggerating. It’s especially poignant that the people who were getting their collective freak on were the Russians, for no stroll through the country’s recent history will reveal an event that could as thoroughly and unexpectedly unite its citizens across political and social lines as the national squad’s upset defeat of Spain in the World Cup’s round of sixteen at the city’s Luzhniki Stadium. There was no precedent for the celebration just as there was no precedent for the result.” NYBooks

Stuck in Soccer Limbo, in the Shadow of the World Cup

“An odd thing happened in December when soccer fans in Crimea, the disputed Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, began trying to buy tickets to the World Cup. Some ticket seekers trying to make purchases through FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, encountered error messages on their computers. The problem, the president of Crimea’s soccer federation told reporters, was that FIFA still recognized Crimea as part of Ukraine. Fans on the peninsula feared that World Cup tickets had joined cellphones and credit cards on a list of imported items banned by international sanctions.” NY Times

Russia stun Spain with penalty shootout win to reach quarter finals, Iago Aspas and Koke miss from the spot


“It started as one of Spain’s typical grand passing rondos, it grew over 90 minutes and then 120 into one of the biggest mountains of possession amassed since World Cup records began, and by the end it felt like this great generation of players had run out of fresh ideas. This was the remnants of the great world champions of 2010 passing the ball 1,114 times in a match but unable to score more goals than a Russia team who refused to be passed to death in the way that so many opponents have in the past. By the end Andres Iniesta looked close to tears, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos had been beaten again and the masterplan that had seen Spain dominate the first decade of the century looked more than a little tired.” Telegraph

Tiki-taxi for Spain as style becomes vice against Russia’s rearguard
“Tiki-taxi for Spain. On a slow-burn, increasingly wild afternoon at the Luzhniki Stadium the outstanding team of the age produced a quietly extraordinary performance, exiting the World Cup with surely the most statistically dominant losing game ever mustered up. At the end Spain’s players sat drained in the centre circle, ranged like red pegs in the same static formation that had seen them pass and move and pass and pass their way through the previous 120 minutes.” Guardian

World Cup 2018: Russian city Samara, football and the space race

“Where the Sputnik stadium used to stand there is a housing block, Orbita’s pitch is now wasteland and the old Voskhod ground, named after a space rocket, is crumbling into ruin. These are just some of the old football arenas in Samara, the Russian World Cup host city that is most famous for helping drive the Soviet Union’s space race with the United States. About 1,000km south east of Moscow on the Volga river, Samara has so far hosted three World Cup matches, including Uruguay’s win over Russia on Monday.” BBC

Spain, Portugal Survive Simultaneous Madness; Uruguay Roughs Up Russia at World Cup

“Day 12 of World Cup 2018 is done, and the drama reached a peak level. In Group B, favorites Spain and Portugal couldn’t manage three points against their game foes (Spain 2, Morocco 2 and Portugal 1, Iran 1) but still advanced to the knockout rounds, even though Iran made it heartbreakingly close late against the Portuguese. Earlier in the day in Group A, things were considerably less dramatic, as Uruguay beat Russia 3-0 to win the group and leave the Russians in a we’ll-take-it second-place spot.” SI

In St. Petersburg, Managing Sleep and Soccer


“ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — This is one of the world’s great cities, a magical mix of colors and canals that sparkle, especially in June, when the sun does not dip behind the Baltic Sea until around midnight. Visitors and residents wander the streets and embankments through the small hours of what is night during the rest of the year but these days is just a brief dawn. A favorite, middle-of-the-night activity is strolling to the harbor, where thousands pack the banks of the Neva River to watch the bridges rise so boats can enter. The nearly uninterrupted light this far north acts as a kind of human power plant, continuously fueling millions of bodies but preventing them from getting the signals they need to begin the daily wind down that eventually leads to sleep.” NY Times

Russia Is Not This Good — Right?

“Before the 2018 World Cup kicked off last week at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, much had been written about why Russia was so bad at soccer. A convincing 5-0 opening match win over Saudi Arabia — Russia’s first win at the tournament since 2002 also matched its largest margin of victory at a World Cup — surely helped to allay some of those criticisms. But there was still no looking past the fact that the host nation ranked 70th in the FIFA world rankings and was looked at by bookmakers as a relative long shot to win the whole thing.” FiveThirtyEight

Moscow – Between darkness and light

“MANUEL VETH uncovers the storied history a football city that never sleeps, and of the Russian capital’s big clubs, from the Soviet era to the days of wealthy Oligarchs. Moscow has always been a city of progress. The pace at which it has developed since the collapse of communism has been breathless. In a sprawling city, there exists a patchwork of classical Tsarist architecture mixed with Stalinist skyscrapers, Khrushchev’s brutalism and post-communist extravagance. All of this is visible from the viewing platform on the Sparrow Hills. This viewpoint, located next to the Moscow State University, one of the Seven Sisters, which are seven skyscrapers built by Stalin in a mix of Russian baroque and gothic styles. From Sparrow Hill one can see the remaining six of the Seven Sisters, the Moskva river that gives Moscow its name, the towers of New Moscow’s financial district, and most importantly for football fans, the gigantic Luzhniki Stadium.” Football Pink

The World Cup Is Fun. Except for the Russians Being Tortured.


A banner read “World Torture Championship?” at a protest in Moscow in advance of the World Cup.
“MOSCOW — Have you enjoyed the first week of the 2018 World Cup? Good. Some of the games have certainly been very exciting! Now read the words of Dmitry Pchelintsev as they appeared in MediaZona, a small independent online publication focused on police brutality and the prison system in Russia: ‘The man in surgical gloves cranked the DC generator with wires attached to my toes. The calves of my legs started contracting violently, I was paralyzed with pain. They threw me on the floor, pulled my underpants down and tried to attach the wires to my genitals. I clenched my teeth so hard that my mouth was full of blood and shards of broken teeth.’ Mr. Pchelintsev, a 26-year-old anti-fascist activist from the industrial town of Penza, told his lawyer about this in February — and then, he has said, he was tortured again to make him disown his statement.” NY Times

Russia Continues to Surprise, While Japan, Senegal Earn Landmark World Cup Wins


“Day 6 of World Cup 2018 is done, headlined by Russia’s 3-1 thrashing of Egypt, which gives the host nation six points and brings it to the cusp of a place in the knockout stage. The headliner was preceded by a pair of notable victories: Japan’s historic 2-1 win over Colombia (for reasons explained below), and Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland, which was the first victory by an African team in the tournament. Every nation has now played at least once in Russia, where there has yet to be a scoreless draw, though there have been five own goals and a number of VAR interventions.” SI

How Russia’s counter-attacking showed pointlessness of possession without purpose


“There will not be many occasions when Saudi Arabia’s players have enjoyed 62 per cent of the possession on the home turf of a European opponent and yet for much of the first half, as the world watched Russia kick-off its own tournament, the team in green had the ball. This is the way that so many modern managers aspire to play, and when they watch the best teams in the world it is easy to see why. Possession football is well established as the game’s purest form – the right way to win and perhaps even the right way to lose.” Telegraph

The Goal That Sealed Russia’s Latest Victory on the World Stage
“Watching the first game of the World Cup, an entirely lopsided affair between Russia and Saudi Arabia, burdened with the knowledge that the U.S. national team had not qualified for the tournament, I couldn’t help thinking that this was a sports-world reiteration of our country’s broader failures on the international stage. As was recently revealed in a detailed report from The Ringer, America’s absence was the product of factors that, these days, ring familiar: blithe incompetence (especially in the former manager Jürgen Klinsmann’s seeming inability to manage the personalities on his team) and an institution-wide focus on everything but the common good.” New Yorker

Pomp, absurdity and goals galore get Russia’s show off to a delirious start
“Take that! On opening night in Moscow the World Cup turned a full-flush red, setting off like a train inside a periodically delirious Luzhniki Stadium. Every tournament needs a fully functioning host nation. The fear had been that an ageing, stagnant Russia team might bleed a little life from the World Cup right at the start. In the event it all went off like a dream. There was the required grimly magisterial speech from your host for the night, Mr Vladimir Putin. A commendably short opening ceremony played out like a homespun Saturday teatime TV oddity.” Guardian

Fifa’s Gianni Infantino hits rocky ground on 2018 World Cup eve

“The World Cup in Russia has sailed into view with a new Fifa captain at the helm, two and a half years since Sepp Blatter’s presidency crashed on the rocks of corruption and ethics breaches. Gianni Infantino seemed a callow, unlikely president when he was elevated to succeed the banned Blatter in February 2016 as, his tie slightly askew, he tapped his heart in wonderment at winning the vote of the Fifa congress.” Guardian

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


“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)

The Network: Russia’s Odd, Brutal, and Maybe Invented Pre-World Cup Terrorism Case


Russian security forces prepare for the World Cup, to be held in St. Petersburg, where several young men have been jailed and tortured for an alleged plot that seems never to have existed.
“On the evening on January 23rd, Viktor Filinkov, a twenty-three-year-old software engineer, was at the departures terminal in Pulkovo Airport, in St. Petersburg, waiting to board a flight to Minsk. From there, Filinkov planned to catch a connection to Kiev, where his wife, Alexandra, was living. He never made it. Filinkov was approached by several men who identified themselves as agents from the F.S.B., a successor agency of the K.G.B., and took him to a waiting dark-blue minivan. What happened next, according to Filinkov, was a five-hour-long torture session, which ended with Filinkov in jail, awaiting trial on charges that could send him to prison for up to ten years.” New Yorker