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

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Spain, Portugal, Uruguay Restore Order With Narrow World Cup Wins

June 20, 2018

“MOSCOW — Day 7 of World Cup 2018 was defined by 1-0 scorelines and winners from established soccer countries that never really seemed like they were in danger of squandering those slim advantages. Portugal 1, Morocco 0; Uruguay 1, Saudi Arabia 0; and Spain 1, Iran 0 kept the tournament from having its first scoreless tie, and after a run of surprises in recent days, order was (at least temporarily) restored. Uruguay’s win ensured that La Celeste and host Russia will go through to the last 16 from Group A, while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco were all eliminated from contention after two matches.” SI


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


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)


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