What’s Wrong With England at Euro 2020?

June 24, 2021


Harry Kane, Czech Republic’s defender Vladimir Coufal
“Perhaps the most depressing thing about England’s 1–0 win over the Czech Republic Tuesday—a victory that clinched the group for the Three Lions in the opening round of the Euro Cup—was that England seemed to be trying. The gap in quality between the two teams was apparent, but that was less of a problem for the Czechs than the difference in intensity. England’s players were trying harder: pressing more intently, winning second balls, and showing a willingness to dribble past their direct opponents that the Czech players never did. The Czech offense went off like a damp firework. Even the statuelike Harry Kane nearly won some of his footraces with the Czech defenders. …”
Slate (Video)
Guardian: Set pieces, Kane and Covid curveballs – the big issues now facing England
Tactical Analysis: Czech Republic vs. England
Kane looked lost as England chances dried up – this was most disappointing game of Southgate era (June 19, 2021)


Modric magic ensures Croatia prolong Scotland’s major tournament woes as Tartan Army’s Euro 2020 hopes end

June 23, 2021


“They came to Hampden Park hoping for a night to remember, but in the end, Scotland‘s success-starved supporters had to make do with a goal they will never forget. Croatia’s 3-1 victory in Glasgow on Tuesday secured the 2018 World Cup finalists qualification for the round of 16, but it was Luka Modric‘s stunning second-half strike that ended Scottish dreams of an end to their perennial tournament misery. In 10 previous appearances at a major finals, either the World Cup or European Championship, Scotland were unable to progress beyond the group stage. …”
ESPN (Video)
BBC – Euro 2020: How Luka Modric’s genius for Croatia ended Scotland’s dreams
BBC – Croatia 3 Scotland 1


The Romelu Lukaku Renaissance

June 22, 2021


“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


Tactical Analysis: Spain vs. Poland

June 20, 2021


“As the final whistle pierced the drone of chatter inside the Estadio de la Cartuja, the Spanish players looked to the sky and puffed out their cheeks once again. Another uninspiring draw in Seville means that it’s the first time since 1996 that the national side haven’t won either of their opening two group games at the European Championships. They haven’t lost any, either, but something just doesn’t feel right in the Spanish camp. Off the pitch, Luis Enrique always seems to be a man under fire. Constantly having to defend his decisions from a barrage of disgruntled journalists, none more so than his unwavering faith in Álvaro Morata, there seems to be national disagreement as to how to best utilise this talented Spanish squad. And, while his vote of confidence in the on-loan Juventus striker was rewarded with the opening goal tonight, the lack of national harmony and trust in their set-up has never been so clear. …”
Breaking The Lines
YouTube: Spain vs. Poland – Tactical Analysis – Spain Continue Their Problems


Why do so many Euro 2020 teams play right-footers at left-back?

June 19, 2021


“What do England, Denmark, Italy, the Czech Republic and Slovakia all have in common? A rudimentary online search suggests not a lot, but at Euro 2020 there’s been a common thread linking them: they’ve all started a right-footed left-back. Jan Boril (Czech Republic), Joakim Maehle (Denmark), Kieran Trippier (England), Leonardo Spinazzola (Italy) and Tomas Hubocan (Slovakia) all started for their national teams on what would be considered as the ‘wrong’ flank. When Denmark shifted to a three-man defence for their game against Belgium, the game featured two right-footed left-wing-backs in Maehle and Thorgan Hazard. …”
The Athletic


Euro 2020: Budapest – the host city enjoying a summer renaissance

June 19, 2021


“It was almost the shock of Euro 2020 so far, played in front of a capacity crowd and inspired by raucous and feisty home fans. Hungary drew 1-1 with world champions France at the Puskas Arena in Budapest on Saturday as more than 60,000 people created an atmosphere befitting of the hosts’ dogged performance. Four days earlier, the Magyars had held defending champions Portugal for 84 minutes before slipping to a 3-0 defeat and this time they led before being pegged back in the heat. Supporters can now look forward to two further games in the Hungarian capital – France’s crucial clash with Portugal in the group and one of the last-16 ties. It is proving something of a summer renaissance for a city that helped produce one of the most talented generations the world has witnessed, had a hand in the formation of the European Cup and whose coffee houses played host to the game’s early deep-thinking tacticians. …”
BBC


At Euro 2020, a Reminder That Good Can Be Great

June 19, 2021


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


The Athletic’s 10 Euro stars – Joshua Kimmich: ‘The best No 6 in the world’… and a world-class right-back

June 14, 2021


“It’s 8am and here’s a fully-kitted Joshua Kimmich on the call, doing his Joshua Kimmich thing: striking the perfect balance between attack and defence. … You sense he likes it this way. Over the last two or three seasons, Kimmich has developed into ‘the best No 6 in the world’ in the eyes of former Bayern Munich team-mate Javi Martinez and many others, the player who dominates the ball, the space and the rhythm of the game. …” The Athletic (Video)


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

June 11, 2021


“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

June 8, 2021


“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


Joachim Löw’s flawed planning leaves talented Germany at the crossroads

June 6, 2021


“At least now there is no future to work towards. After 15 years as Germany manager, Euro 2020 will be Joachim Löw’s seventh and last major tournament. There is no need for him to have an eye on the next cycle: his only job is to get the best result possible in the here and now – and to rescue a reputation that took a battering in Russia. Löw is a World Cup winner who helped to oversee the great stylistic transformation of German football and for that, he deserves enormous credit. But he also led Germany to their worst World Cup in more than eight decades and, given the extraordinary quality of players available, it is hard to avoid the sense that he has underachieved in recent years. …” Guardian


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

June 4, 2021


“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


Tactics Column: Xhaka at LB? The same, but different

April 13, 2021


“Arsenal finally won a late Sunday match! Playing the side bottom of the league, sandwiched between our Europa League quarter-final, wasn’t ever likely to be the most interesting of affairs. The 3-0 win was, though, livened up by an unusual approach. Granit Xhaka played left-back at Bramall Lane on Sunday but a lot of his responsibilities were very similar to how they usually are. Rather than dropping to the left of the centre-backs with Kieran Tierney pushing on, he just, well, started there and didn’t have to move very far. Just look at where he could be seen throughout the first half of the recent north London derby win over Spurs. …” arseblog, BBC: Arsenal 1 – Slavia Prague 1


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

April 1, 2021


“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


Arrests Shake Up a Soccer Scene in Serbia Ruled by Gangsters and ‘Gravediggers’

March 20, 2021


“BELGRADE — Shortly after arresting a man suspected of leading a criminal gang last month in connection with a series of killings involving beheadings and torture, Serbian police officers raided what they believe was the band’s secret lair: a bunkerlike room in the bowels of a stadium used by Partizan Belgrade, a storied soccer team in the Serbian capital. The room, located in a defunct restaurant under the stands, has been sealed off as a crime scene after investigators hunting for evidence of ties between soccer hooligans and organized crime found weapons there. The wall outside is daubed in white and black paint with the name that the Partizan fans use for themselves: ‘the Gravediggers.’ The name is well deserved. Serbian soccer fans, at least those who in prepandemic days used to cram into the rowdy south stands of Partizan’s stadium and the equally anarchic north side of the arena used by its Belgrade archrivals, Red Star, have long had a reputation for extraordinary violence. …” NY Times, W – Grobari, Hard men, gravediggers, and the breakup of Yugoslavia: Inside The Eternal Derby, the war for Serbia’s capital city – April 2020, Love of the game: meet the Belgrade football fans making Partizan art (August 2017) ***Stadium Riots in Serbia, The Dangerous World of Serbian Soccer Ultras

Graffiti of Smiths frontman Morrissey in Partizan Belgrade colours, by the Gravedigger’s Trash Romanticism fan group.


The Trials And Tribulations Of Slavia Prague

June 18, 2020


Bohemians 1905 beat Slavia Prague in February this year in a shocking result
“After 301 days, Bohemians achieved what no other club in the Czech League has managed and beat Slavia Prague. The reigning Czech champions had emerged from the midwinter break with 17 wins and three draws in the first half of the season. Buoyed by Chinese owners and led by Jindrich Trpisovsky, Slavia are too good for the rest of the Czech league. Or were. Shorn of a host of influential players, Slavia struggled to overcome a dogged Bohemians side backed by the usual cacophony of smoke bombs and drums in their crumbling Dolicek stadium. After a goalmouth scramble, Jan Vodhanel stabbed home for a 1-0 win. …”
World Soccer


Yuri Semin: the man who can’t say no when Lokomotiv Moscow call

October 5, 2018


“Never go back, they say, but Yuri Semin has never been somebody to place too much store by conventional wisdom. He is 71 now, his eyes more watery than ever, and this is his fourth stint in charge of Lokomotiv Moscow. In total, he’s managed them for more than two decades. To a large extent, Semin is the club and that they are playing Schalke in the Champions League on Wednesday is to a large degree down to him.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


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)


Uefa Nations League – as it stands: Who are the winners and losers following the opening rounds of group games?

September 12, 2018

“A goalless draw on the opening day of the tournament may not have been the result the suits in Nyon had wanted, but the point earned by France in Munich provided the world champions the foundation to build upon. Goals from Kylian Mbappé and Olivier Giroud in their second game, the 2-1 defeat of Holland, leaves Didier Deschamps’ side top ahead of their return leg against Germany in Paris next month.” Telegraph


Tactical Analysis: Croatia 2-1 England AET | Tenacious Croatia punish England’s complacency

August 2, 2018

“Croatia reached their first ever World Cup final after a two-goal fightback against England. Goals in the second halves of normal & extra time from Ivan Perišić and Mario Mandžukić respectively cancelled out the Three Lions‘ initial advantage courtesy of a Kieran Trippier free kick in what proved to be a very intense game.” Outside of the Boot


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 World Cup 2018: What can we learn from Croatia, the little country with big dreams?

July 17, 2018

“‘Mala zemlja, veliki snovi’ it reads on the side of the Croatia team bus. Or in English, ‘Little country, big dreams’. That slogan won the public vote of Croatian fans before the tournament, beating off ‘Želja u srcu je moć na terenu!’ (‘Desire in the heart is power on the pitch’) and ‘Srcem do vrha!’ (‘With heart, to the top!’). When Croatian manager Zlatko Dalic was sat in his press conference after seeing his team beaten by France in the World Cup final, he was asked by a journalist from Georgia what message he has for other smaller countries who might hope to follow in Croatia’s footsteps all the way to the final of another World Cup somewhere else down the line.” Independent (Video)


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


In a Dark, Endless News Cycle, the World Cup Gave Us Light

July 17, 2018

“When history looks back and remembers the stunning 2018 World Cup, what will be the lasting images: Neymar attempting, game after game, to break the land speed record for rolling while clutching your ankle? The referees experimenting with VAR? The replays of celebrating players and fans in rapture, tossing their drinks in the air, after yet another last-minute game-winning goal? (This tournament’s 23 stoppage time goals shattered the previous record.) Or maybe it will be a singular moment, like Kylian Mbappé’s strike to make it 4-1 and become the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since a man named Pelé.” NY Times


World Cup 2018: A View from the Stands

July 17, 2018

“I’ve been staying in an Airbnb in a Soviet-era apartment block in Moscow to cover the World Cup, but my children back home in Paris are living the tournament more intensely than I am. Though I’m British and my wife is American, our children were born in Paris and identify uncomplicatedly as French. For France’s first few games, each of their gang of friends took turns to host a viewing party at home. Parents and kids would cram into somebody’s little apartment, cheer on France over helpings of pizza, then sing Beatles songs together and watch whichever match was up next. Our living room was left smeared with red-white-and-blue face-paint after all the children rolled on the floor to celebrate France’s goals. My kids’ friends have family origins in Portugal, Greece, and Senegal, but everyone supports les Bleus (and sometimes the family’s ancestral team, too).” NYBooks


France, Finally Showing Its Class, Wears World Cup Crown

July 15, 2018


France’s celebrates after winning the World Cup.
“France’s first goal came off a Croatian’s head. The second was scored with the aid of the Argentine referee, and became the first video-assistant-reviewed goal in World Cup history. But the next two — hard low shots by the young French stars Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé — confirmed what everyone knew even before France polished off its 4-2 victory on Sunday: France was the best team in the field this summer in Russia, and for that reason its team — a potent mix of greatness, grit and good fortune — is the world champion again. The title is France’s second and the first since it won on home soil in 1998, and it ended a thrilling run by Croatia. The Croats survived three consecutive extra-time games and two penalty shootouts to reach their first final, and they even had the better of the game on Sunday. …”
NY Times
Aljazeera: France beat Croatia to win World Cup 2018
Guardian: France 4 – 2 Croatia
YouTube: France vs croatia 4-2 ¶¶ hightlight all goals final


World Cup 2018: How Gareth Southgate’s tactical immaturity cost England their shot at the final

July 13, 2018


“For all the celebration of this new-look England side, Wednesday night’s 2-1 semi-final defeat by Croatia was characterised by an old failing: a refusal to adjust tactics to nullify the strength of the opposition and, more specifically, an insistence upon leaving two men upfront while being overrun in midfield. England started excellently, but their tactical inflexibility cost them a place in Sunday’s final. Gareth Southgate’s highly unusual 3-3-2-2 formation is essentially defined by two major features, which both contributed to England’s impressive first half performance.” Independent – Michael Cox


Whose World Cup Is This?

July 13, 2018

“Football might not be coming home, but this should be Harry Kane’s World Cup. After a few years dominating the Premier League, the 24-year-old showed the wider world why we’re all freaking about a guy who looks like an apprentice magistrate from Bleak House and speaks like his mouth is filled with marbles covered in peanut butter. Kane’s six goals are two more than anyone else in the tournament, and even if you add assists to everyone else’s tallies, Kane has still produced more than all of his competitors. The reemergence of the England national team as something close to a world soccer power will likely go down as one of the defining stories of the 2018 World Cup, and it’s Kane who got them there: He wore the captain’s armband for all five games he played in, and he won the Man of the Match award in three.” The Ringer


Luka Modric’s Croatia Success Story Comes With Complications

July 13, 2018

“There is an image of Luka Modric that sums up everything he has meant to Croatia in this World Cup. He had missed a penalty against Denmark in the round of 16, squandering the chance to win the game in extra time before a shootout. In the shootout, his penalty was poor, nervously prodded straight down the middle. Luckily for him and Croatia, Kasper Schmeichel had dived, and the ball had just enough curl on it to evade goalkeeper’s trailing leg. He returned to the center circle, lips pursed with relief, but as teammates congratulated him, his eyes barely registered them. He was in his own world, perhaps already looking ahead to the next challenge, perhaps aware that had he missed–he of all people, the leader of his nation–it would all have been over.” SI – Jonathan Wilson


World Cup 2018: A View from the Stands – Simon Kuper

July 13, 2018

“I’ve been staying in an Airbnb in a Soviet-era apartment block in Moscow to cover the World Cup, but my children back home in Paris are living the tournament more intensely than I am. Though I’m British and my wife is American, our children were born in Paris and identify uncomplicatedly as French. For France’s first few games, each of their gang of friends took turns to host a viewing party at home. Parents and kids would cram into somebody’s little apartment, cheer on France over helpings of pizza, then sing Beatles songs together and watch whichever match was up next. Our living room was left smeared with red-white-and-blue face-paint after all the children rolled on the floor to celebrate France’s goals.” NYBooks


English or British? Football highlights an enduring identity crisis

July 13, 2018

“‘ENGLAND is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.’ George Orwell’s perception is just as true today as it was when he wrote it in 1941; for though excitement drowned out more complex feelings during two blissful hours on July 11th when England might have beaten Croatia to go through to the final of the World Cup, one of the facets of Britain’s multi-faceted identity crisis is the ambivalence many English people feel about the flag under which their team plays. Football is one of the few vehicles for the expression of Englishness.” Economist


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


England’s World Cup Team Is the Anti-Brexit

July 10, 2018


“On Saturday, as England’s soccer team swept aside Sweden to reach the World Cup semi-final, Britain’s government were holed up at Chequers, a sixteenth-century, wood-paneled manor in the Buckinghamshire countryside traditionally occupied by the prime minister, scrabbling for a Brexit negotiating position Brussels might not immediately laugh out of town. … English World Cup campaigns normally follow a familiar pattern, from hype through disappointment to righteous public indignation at overpaid, and underperforming, players. This year has been different. Despite the usual prurience from tabloids, including a borderline racist obsession with a tattoo belonging to forward Raheem Sterling, the English public is, overall, ebullient and invested in 23 young men who have, even before their clash with Croatia on Wednesday, outstripped almost all expectations.” New Republic


Semifinal questions: How do Belgium counter France’s front three? England speed or Croatia possession?

July 10, 2018

“The World Cup has reached the semifinal stage and it’s an all-European affair, with France facing Belgium on Tuesday, followed by Croatia vs. England the following day. Ahead of the final four, here is one key question that each team must answer.” ESPN – Michael Cox


No goals? No problem. Olivier Giroud’s mission to supply France with glory

July 10, 2018

“Can France win the World Cup with a centre-forward who fails to score a goal? Olivier Giroud has yet to get off the mark in 412 minutes of football spread across five appearances at these finals but his name will be among the first on the France teamsheet for Tuesday’s semi-final against Belgium and neither player nor manager is losing any sleep about his drought continuing.” Guardian


Yellow Dog: Croatia’s First Superstar

July 10, 2018


“… These are the words of Bernard ‘Bajdo’ Vukas – which can be seen engraved upon his tombstone – whose name is equally revered by those who never saw him play just as much as by those that did. Born on May 1st 1927 in the Trešnjevci district of Zagreb, in what was then the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Vukas’ early life saw him eventually grow up to be a Dinamo Zagreb supporter. This was in no small part down to the intervention of his father, Vinko, who it is said, took his belt to his 10-year-old ‘fakin’ or ‘urchin’ son for daring to follow Partizan Belgrade instead.” In Bed With Maradona


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


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)


Croatia 1 – 1 Denmark (Croatia win 3-2 on penalties)

July 1, 2018

“Danijel Subasic saved three penalties as Croatia knocked out dogged Denmark in a nerve-shredding shootout to set up a World Cup quarter-final tie against hosts Russia. It came at the end of a largely disappointing tie – and one that had seen Luka Modric spurn a golden chance to snatch a late winner when his penalty shortly before the end of extra-time was superbly saved by Kasper Schmeichel. The Leicester City goalkeeper also saved two penalties in the shootout at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium but he could not prevent Ivan Rakitic slotting home the decisive 10th kick.” BBC (Video)


Bosnia Divided

June 30, 2018

“There is a natural desire, on the part of everyone from pundits to fans to football bureaucrats, to exult in the power of the World Cup to unify. This is especially true in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is making its World Cup debut next month. Writing for Sports Illustrated, Jonathan Wilson noted that ‘tens of thousands of fans of all ethnicities took to the streets of Sarajevo to celebrate Bosnia’s qualification for World Cup 2014 […] There, general delight suggested that something unexpected and beautiful had occurred, and it hinted at a possible future unity.’ Inevitably, the focus of much of the attention will be on how this divided country’s qualification for a World Cup has united the entire nation after nearly twenty years of post-civil war rehabilitation. ‘A few years ago you could not imagine Bosnians, Serbs and Croats supporting the team, but that could change now,’ Bosnia-Herzegovina coach Safet Sušić was recently quoted as saying in an article pointedly titled ‘Bosnia goes from the battlefield to the World Cup.'” Roads and Kingdoms


The 2018 World Cup Letdown All-Stars

June 29, 2018

“The World Cup is a deceptively tricky tournament to predict. Even as it showcases the game’s greatest players on an international stage (with apologies to poor Christian Pulisic), the window to make a lasting impression is aggravatingly short: At most, a team will play seven games in the tournament. The majority of club leagues, meanwhile, play upward of 30 matches in a season—and that’s before considering concurrent cup competitions. The brief nature of the World Cup, in other words, is basically an international version of March Madness and all the swirling chaos that entails.” The Ringer


World Cup 2018: Analysing the tactical flaws England will look to exploit against Colombia in the Round of 16

June 29, 2018


“If it remains difficult to judge England’s level of ability, after two victories against below-par opposition and a defeat with a second-string XI, something similar can be said of Colombia for very different reasons. Jose Pekerman’s side have blown hot and cold, with a fine 3-0 win over Poland sandwiched by a 2-1 defeat to Japan and a nervy 1-0 win over Senegal yesterday. The Japan loss was influenced heavily by the fact Colombia were down to ten men for almost the entire contest, and the Senegal performance was compromised by star man James Rodriguez clearly being unfit, lasting just half an hour. It seems unlikely he’ll be fit to start against England, and certainly won’t be 100% fit.” Independent – Michael Cox


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)


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


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


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


Colombia Dazzles Us Again, England Overwhelms in Big World Cup Wins

June 24, 2018


“Day 11 of World Cup 2018 is done, and the goals came by the bucketload. England rained them down on Panama in a 6-1 victory highlighted by Harry Kane’s hat trick. Japan came from behind twice against Senegal in a fun 2-2 tie marked by inventive goals and goalkeeper errors. And Colombia kicked a disappointing Poland out of the tournament with a 3-0 victory that brought back memories of Colombia teams from 2014 and the early 1990s. With each team having played two matches, only six have booked their round-of-16 places, while another eight have been eliminated, leaving plenty of drama to be settled in the coming four days.” SI


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


Shambolic, frenzied, anarchic – and Argentina crisis has Messi at its heart

June 22, 2018


“It was in 1913 that Racing became the first non-Anglo side to win the Argentinian league title. For much of the century that has followed, Argentinian football has defined itself in opposition to the English, distancing itself from its British heritage. And yet, under pressure, in their frenzied desperation on Thursday, Argentina resembled nobody so much as England. This was shambolic. Too many players tried to do too much themselves. There was altogether too much running, too much frenzy, too many fouls conceded as they desperately tried to regain possession, too little thought. By the end, as Ivan Rakitic casually rolled in a sarcastic third for Croatia, Argentina were gone, any semblance of defensive structure blown to the winds.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson (Video)

World Cup 2018: Jorge Sampaoli’s approach was an utter disaster that rendered Lionel Messi useless
“There was always a danger Argentina might flop at World Cup 2018, but it shouldn’t have been this pitiful. If Argentina were going to go down, they were going to go down fighting, with coach Jorge Sampaoli a noted advocate of aggressive pressing, attacking football and quick combination play. If those tactics exposed them defensively, it was a risk Sampaoli was willing to take. But the approach Sampaoli stumbled upon somehow provided all the drawbacks without any notable positives. Argentina didn’t press high, they didn’t attack relentlessly, and it’s difficult to recall any passing moves worth mentioning, yet they were still hopelessly open defensively, conceding space on the outside of their three-man defence readily. Only poor Croatian finishing prevented them from taking the lead earlier.” Independent – Michael Cox

Mentally and emotionally burned out, Lionel Messi crumbles under the burden of carrying Argentina at the World Cup
“By the time a humiliated Argentina emerged from the dressing room in Nizhny Novgorod, it was late – in so many ways. A stony-faced Lionel Messi at least led the way here, but this time with ample support as the entire squad followed tightly behind…and right on through the mixed zone without stopping once. Argentina were at last singing from the same hymn sheet in this World Cup by not saying anything all.” Independent

As fighters, as entertainers, as a team, this Argentina project has failed
“On 21 June 1978 Argentina’s World Cup defeat of Peru went down in history as one of the most controversial games ever. The goalfest and intelligent football that unfolded on that cold night in Rosario, as the wonderful Mario Kempes found his feet on his home turf of yesteryear, were eclipsed by allegations which kept conspiracy theorists and investigative journalists busy for years. Argentina, aware they needed to win by at least four goals to progress in their home tournament, triumphed 6-0 amid rumours that an exchange of grain between the countries had been brokered in the dressing room. They went on to lift the trophy.” Guardian (Video)


Argentina 0 – 3 Croatia

June 21, 2018


“Argentina are facing the prospect of an early World Cup exit after a dreadful error from goalkeeper Willy Caballero set Croatia on their way to victory and a place in the last 16. On a night when so much was expected of Argentina captain Lionel Messi, Caballero made the most telling contribution to his team’s fate with an attempted chip over Ante Rebic that backfired badly, allowing the striker to volley into an exposed net in the 53rd minute. Messi – adrift for much of the match, especially during a pedestrian opening half – rallied his side, but neither he nor substitute forwards Gonzalo Higuain and Pablo Dybala could find a way through in Nizhny Novgorod.” BBC (Video)

Argentina on brink as Ante Rebic sparks rout to put Croatia through
“Jorge Sampaoli held his head in his hands. Lionel Messi stared at the floor. The rest of the Argentina players were gazing aimlessly into space with their hands on their hips as Croatia celebrations broke out all around. Luka Modric had just filed a contender for goal of the tournament and twisted the knife in the process, leaving Argentina, twice world champions, on the brink of elimination. By the time Ivan Rakitic added a third, in the closing minutes, Argentina were broken.” Guardian


Punchless Argentina Barely Hanging on, Pogba Comes to Life at World Cup

June 21, 2018

“MOSCOW — Day 8 of World Cup 2018 was defined by Lionel Messi’s continued frustration and the suffering of Argentina fans, who saw their team lose 3-0 to Croatia in a one-sided headliner of the day’s triple-header. Thursday was also defined by the resurgent Paul Pogba and France, which clinched advancement to the knockout stage along with Croatia following a 1-0 win over Peru; and by a brave 1-1 tie earned by Australia against Denmark that keeps the Aussies alive in Group C.” SI


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


Senegal 2 – 1 Poland

June 19, 2018

“Senegal deservedly defeated Poland in a game of few chances to claim the first win by an African team at the World Cup – although there was a hint of controversy about their second goal. M’Baye Niang sprinted back on to the field of play after injury and immediately intercepted a backpass from midfield, beating former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and Southampton defender Jan Bednarek to the ball. He then slotted into an empty net – to the confusion and disgust of several Poland players, who protested in vain to referee Nawaf Shukralla.” BBC (Video)


Aleksandar Kolarov’s stunning free kick steers Serbia to win over Costa Rica

June 17, 2018

“In a World Cup that had already been illuminated by exquisite free-kicks, Aleksandar Kolarov provided a masterpiece of his own. This was not a performance to dispel doubts over Serbia’s ability to fully harness their array of talent but the deciding goal should be taken for what it was: a strike worthy of winning any match on this exalted stage and one that, given the taker’s identity, came as no huge surprise.” Guardian