Politics on the pitch: Operation double eagle

June 27, 2018

“Try as they might, FIFA can’t keep politics out of the beautiful game. For football fans, players, and even officials, the events of the past few days have been a stark reminder of just how prominent politics are in this summer’s World Cup held in Russia. Last Friday, Egypt’s Mo Salah was photographed at a ceremonial banquet where he was granted ‘honourary citizenship’ by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. This comes just weeks after the publication of a photo featuring Salah and Kadyrov that resulted in criticism against the footballer, as Kadyrov faces accusations of outrageous human rights violations. It’s been rumored that Salah’s frustration with being the centre of political controversy has driven him to think about leaving the Egyptian national team.” Al Jazeera (Audio)

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The Sleepers To Watch In The World Cup Knockout Rounds

June 25, 2018

“The World Cup is not traditionally the tournament for underdogs. The trophy has been lifted by just eight countries — and five of those have won multiple times. But there’s usually enough room for a few Cinderella stories to creep into the knockout phase: Bulgaria (1994), South Korea (2002) and Turkey (2002) were unexpected semifinalists, while Cameroon (1990), Ghana (2010) and Costa Rica (2014) crashed the quarterfinals. At least one country seems to do this every four years. We see three teams that could fit the bill this summer. Before the tournament, each of them had no greater than a 3 percent chance of winning it all, according to FiveThirtyEight’s model, but each has performed well so far and could make a strong run in the knockout rounds.” FiveThirtyEight


World Cup 2018: Serbia chief accuses Fifa of ‘brutal robbery’ after Swiss defeat

June 23, 2018

“The head of the Serbian Football Association has accused governing body Fifa of showing bias against his country at the World Cup in Russia. Slavisa Kokeza says Serbia were victims of a ‘brutal robbery’ during Friday’s loss to Switzerland, accusing Fifa of ‘directing’ officials to work against them. ‘We will send a protest to Fifa today,’ Kokeza told the BBC on Saturday. A Fifa spokesman confirmed a letter of protest had been received but that no further comment would be made.” BBC (Video)

Mexico Fans Stop Homophobic Chant, Excel at Good Chants
“Saturday’s match against South Korea went about as well for Mexico as its fans could have hoped. The 2–1 victory all but guaranteed a trip to the World Cup’s knock-out stages and bolstered El Tri’s chances of winning its tough group outright. The game also didn’t feature any homophobic chants, so it was a very fine day indeed. On Wednesday, FIFA fined the Mexico Football Federation $10,000 for its fans’ use of the ‘discriminatory and insulting’ puto chant during the opening match against Germany.” Slate


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


Swiss hold out to neutralise Brazilian firepower and earn share of points

June 17, 2018

“… Lionel Messi endured a misstep in his opening game with Argentina against Iceland and his former Barcelona team-mate, Neymar, experienced similar frustration on a night when Brazil had cause to bemoan a couple of costly decisions that went against them. The highlight of the game was an arresting 25 yard strike from Philippe Coutinho but the main talking points centred around a push on Miranda by Steven Zuber before he equalised for Switzerland early in the second half and the denial of a Brazil penalty late on.” Telegraph

Switzerland’s Zuber heads controversial equaliser to deny Brazil victory
“This was not how Brazil had scripted it. The five-times world champions were in control thanks to a trademark Philippe Coutinho screamer and the first step to avenge the trauma from the previous finals looked set to be sure-footed. Yet one lapse was all it took for Switzerland to crash back into it – Steven Zuber heading the equaliser – and, with a priceless result within their grasp, they were in no mood to relinquish it.” Guardian

In Brazil, Soccer Madness Seems to Be Moving in Reverse

With social and political problems weighing heavily, Brazil’s enthusiasm for the World Cup is not as high as in recent tournaments, even though the team is among those favored to win it. Children are still playing, though.
“RIO DE JANEIRO — There may be no better barometer of Brazil’s enthusiasm — or lack thereof — for the World Cup than Jorge Rudge Street. Every four years, months before the start of the tournament, which Brazil has won more than any other country, residents spend their nights painting murals and hanging green and yellow pennants between light poles along the street, in the working class neighborhood of Vila Isabel. A big screen is set up for watch parties that often include performances by famous musicians. Not this year.” NY Times


Mexico May Need To Beat Germany To Have Hope — Good Luck With That

June 13, 2018

“Germany, the defending World Cup champion, is one of the favorites to win the tournament — FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index ranks Die Mannschaft third behind only Brazil and Spain. Although their personnel may have evolved over the past few years, the Germans still maintain a style of methodical possession football that has been consistently successful on the world stage over the past 15 years. They don’t face any particularly fierce challenges in this relatively soft group; they were rather lucky to catch Mexico in a down year, a tame Swedish side and a South Korean team that is one of the weakest in the field.” FiveThirtyEight


Brazil Got A Lot Better Since The Last World Cup

June 12, 2018

“By Brazilian national team standards, the past several years have been rough. The Selecao were blown out by Germany in the semifinals of a home World Cup and failed to make the finals of the Copa America in either 2015 or 2016. But the numbers suggest that brief lull is over: Brazil, the favorite to lift the cup in FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index, is once again the best team in the world.” FiveThirtyEight