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

September 30, 2018

“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

August 2, 2018

“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

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


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

July 8, 2018


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


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

July 8, 2018

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

July 8, 2018


“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

July 7, 2018

“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

July 7, 2018


“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

July 5, 2018


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


World Cup 2018: A Russian Advance

July 5, 2018

“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

July 4, 2018

“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

July 1, 2018


“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

June 29, 2018

“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

June 25, 2018

“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

June 25, 2018


“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?

June 22, 2018

“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

June 22, 2018

“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.

June 20, 2018


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

June 19, 2018


“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


Slavery, Racism and Homophobia – The Future of the World Cup

June 15, 2018

“The 10th of December 2010 won’t seem like a particularly important date to most football fans, but it was the day when FIFA announced the hosts for the next two World Cups. Russia and Qatar were awarded footballs showpiece event which at the time was controversial.” PogMoGoal


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

June 14, 2018


“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


Russia 2018 World Cup: the complete guide to all the stadiums

June 13, 2018

“All you need to know about the 12 venues for World Cup 2018, including history lessons and the hitches along the way.” Guardian


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

June 12, 2018

“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

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)


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

June 10, 2018


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


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


How Russian Meddling Gave Us This Year’s World Cup

June 9, 2018

“In the spring of 2010, Christopher Steele, a former British spy with a shock of graying hair and a quiet, understated manner, received some alarming news: Vladimir Putin, a lifelong ice hockey fan, had taken a sudden interest in soccer. This was years before Mr. Steele compiled his now famous dossier on Donald Trump, with its references to clandestine meetings in Prague and, of course, ‘the pee tape.'” NY Times


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)