African coaches take centre stage at World Cup 2022


Senegal coach Aliou Cisse, Morocco coach Walid Regragui, Ghana coach Otto Addo , Tunisia coach Jalel Kadri , Cameroon coach Rigobert Song
“Qatar 2022 marks the first time in World Cup history that African coaches will lead all five African nations in the competition. Many are hailing it as a watershed moment after years of African countries relying heavily on foreign, white and Western coaches while many qualified African candidates were denied opportunities. So how significant is this for the African teams, fans and players at the World Cup? And will this lead to more opportunities for African coaches, both on the continent and overseas? …”
Aljazeera (Audio)

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Morocco kept Hazard and De Bruyne quiet – this tactical tweak helped them do it

“As the final whistle blew at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, it felt as though it could have been the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat, or Stade Mohamed V in Casablanca. The Morocco fans made it feel like a home game as their team got the better of Belgium on Sunday to add three points to their tally in Group F of this World Cup. … This time, it was Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard’s turn. Against Morocco’s regular 4-3-3, Belgium’s 3-2-4-1 made complete sense. By using twin No 10s in Eden Hazard and De Bruyne, Roberto Martinez’s side could theoretically overload Sofyan Amrabat in the centre of the pitch, and find their two star players between the lines. …”
The Athletic

‘This is a dream’: Morocco fans ecstatic after Belgium win

“The atmosphere before kick-off was electric. Fans of the Atlas Lions, as Morocco’s national team are known, had gathered early outside the 44,000-capacity Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday, hoping to experience a historic upset. There was a carnival-like atmosphere with a DJ playing Arabic songs to get the crowd warmed up for the World Cup’s Group F clash. Morocco, ranked 22 in the FIFA standings, were taking on the star-studded Red Devils of Belgium, one of the tournament favourites and ranked second in the world. …”
Aljazeera (Video)
The Athletic: Kevin De Bruyne is right – Belgium are too old

What does the World Cup mean to the Middle East and Arab world?

“Anyone who has travelled on Qatar Airways recently will have been afforded the exciting opportunity to watch a short feature all about Gianni Infantino on their in-flight entertainment. In the midst of 15 very self-aggrandising minutes about football’s glorious leader, Infantino says about this World Cup: ‘For Qatar and for the Middle East in general, it’s an opportunity to present themselves to the world.’ We’ll gloss over for a moment how patronising that sounds, and instead consider the interesting question his statement inspires: to what extent is this a World Cup for Qatar, and to what extent is this a World Cup for the Middle East/Arabic nations/the Muslim world? Does this World Cup represent an entire region? …”
The Athletic (Video)

Moroccan fans bring alive dry draw against Croatia

Al Khor, Qatar: They’ll ‘take it’. Morocco and Croatia drew 0-0 at Al Bayt Stadium in what was a rather uneventful game, aside from the boisterous enthusiasm of supporters of the Atlas Lions, as the Moroccan side is known. While many Moroccan fans were hoping for an upset against the finalists of the 2018 World Cup, a draw sets their team up for a possible pathway to advance beyond the group stage of the World Cup — and its supporters know it. …”
Aljazeera

The Radar – The Athletic’s 2022 World Cup scouting guide


“Welcome to The Radar — the World Cup edition. Last year, for Euro 2020, we profiled 60 players that people were talking about — or would be by the end of the competition. Thirty-four of those players have since moved club. More teams means more players, so for the World Cup we’ve upped that to 100. The result is below, a carefully crafted guide to some of the best footballers on show in Qatar listed alphabetically by country — the heavyweight names, the rising stars and the under-the-radar players who could be coming to an elite club near you. …”
The Athletic

World Cup 2022 Group F guide: Free-scoring Belgium, cross-heavy Croatia and Canada’s cutbacks

“What tactics do Belgium use? What is Canada’s weakness? Which quirk should we look out for from Croatia? The 2022 World Cup is nearly upon us and The Athletic will be running in-depth tactical group guides so you will know what to expect from every nation competing in Qatar. Liam Tharme will look at each team’s playing style, strengths, weaknesses, key players and highlight things to keep an eye on during the tournament. …”
The Athletic (Video)

World Cup 2022 Groups: The Predictions


“The 2022 World Cup is finally here, with the tournament in Qatar being the first held in the months of November and December since the first World Cup finals in 1930. The 22nd men’s FIFA World Cup tournament will see 32 teams battle it out in the group stage after qualifying via five different regions – Asia, Africa, South America, North America/Central America and Europe (no nation from Oceania qualified). From there, 16 will make it through to the knockout stages. …”
The Analyst

World Cup provisional squads explained: What are the rules and will they be made public?


“A month from today, it all begins. The World Cup in Qatar looms ever larger on the horizon and the countdown is on to the first of 64 games that will crown a winner at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday, December 18. Doubts persist over the suitability of Qatar to host this World Cup, as well as its readiness to welcome more than one million visitors, but the biggest names in football are about to descend on a tiny Gulf nation that’s half the size of Wales and roughly as big as the US state of Connecticut. …”
The Athletic
The Analyst: World Cup 2022 Guide to Each Group

World Cup 2022 news round-up: Nkunku and Lewandowski shine as Argentina put faith in Scaloni

“Club football is back and with fewer than 50 days for players to find form and fitness before the World Cup kicks off on November 20, Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, Leandro Trossard of Belgium and USA forward Ricardo Pepi laid down a marker at the weekend. Off the pitch, coaches are already being rewarded before the tournament kicks off with Wales extending Rob Page’s contract and Argentina set to keep Lionel Scaloni as head coach until the 2026 World Cup in the USA, Canada and Mexico. …”
The Athletic

World Cup 2022 power rankings: how the 32 look with two months to go

“With most teams having played their final matches before the tournament in Qatar, who appear most likely to lift the trophy? …”
Guardian

World Cup health check: The issue each country must address before Qatar


“The September international break is normally relatively relaxed — a chance to tweak tactics and focus on formations. Not this time. For almost all 32 competing nations, this is the final set of international fixtures before the World Cup begins in Qatar on November 20. So that you can go into the break feeling prepared, The Athletic has identified one issue every team need to try to fix this break…”
The Athletic (Video)

World Cup 2022 news round-up: Jesus’ Brazil snub, Pepi’s debut and Queiroz’s return

England and the USA have goalkeeper injury concerns, Ricardo Pepi has made his debut in Holland but Arsenal’s in-form Gabriel Jesus is suddenly out of favour with Brazil. With the transfer window shut and September international fixtures looming, a relentless domestic and European calendar is providing opportunities for players to shine and prepare for Qatar. …”
The Athletic (Video)

How Wydad Casablanca became the kings of Africa


30 May 2022: Wydad fans during the CAF Champions League final.
“As Wydad Casablanca and Al Ahly emerged from the subterraneous player tunnels at Stade Mohammed V, it was immediately clear that the visitors from Egypt stood virtually no chance in the CAF Champions League final in Morocco. That insight was not based on footballing analysis such as playing tactics, quality of personnel or coaching acumen. It was merely unimaginable that any group of players would be able to climb into that lion’s den and play through the palpable pressure emanating from the stands. …”
New Frame

Pulisic’s Quality Worthy of Applause as USMNT Accelerates Its World Cup Prep


“For the layman, it was extraordinary. For Christian Pulisic, it was expected. And once again, the margin of victory for the U.S. men’s national team could be measured, in part, by the distance between Pulisic’s ability and that of the average—or even exceptional—player. Amid the heat and humidity of FC Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium, and forced to work hard early by a Moroccan side as pressed for World Cup preparation time as the hosts, the U.S. men’s national team took a lead it never relinquished on another gorgeous, game-breaking play by Pulisic. …”
SI

The 2022 World Cup draw analysed: ‘The Group of Dark Arts’, favourites France and that song


“Cringe-inducing cartoon meant to engage with no youngster we have ever met? Check. Song-and-dance routine combing local colour with avant-garde twist? Check. A massive advert for the official ball (the fastest ever, no less)? Yep, we had that, too, and several speeches, a first performance of the first song from the official Qatar 2022 album and a very contrived moment with France manager Didier Deschamps and a young lad who was in the crowd in Moscow four years ago. The 47 minutes of preamble before the draw for the 2022 World Cup at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre flew by! …”
The Athletic (Video)
NY Times – World Cup Draw Highlights: Matchups Let Teams Look Ahead to November
Guardian – World Cup draw: group-by-group analysis for Qatar 2022 – Jonathan Wilson
NY Times: World Cup Draw Brings Certainty. Now Comes the Hard Part.
The Athletic: With a marquee World Cup meeting vs. England, USMNT has a chance to change its perception writ large
BBC – Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022: What are the draw highlights? (Video)

The World Cup Draw Is Friday. Here’s How It Works.


“The World Cup field is almost complete. On Friday, soccer teams will learn the answer to the critical question they and their fans want to know: Who will they play when the tournament opens in November in Qatar? The World Cup draw — part gala, part pep rally, part math seminar — will deliver intriguing clashes of styles, testy political collisions and, if past events are any guide, a few uncomfortable moments. But given the stakes of the draw, it is also one of the biggest events on the global sports calendar. Here is a look at how it works. …”
NY Times
NY Times: Who Has Qualified for the 2022 World Cup? (Video)
NY Times: Your World Cup Questions, Answered
The Athletic – 2022 World Cup odds: France, Brazil are co-favorites ahead of the draw; England, Spain right behind

World Cup 2022: Algeria avenge Nations Cup failure in Cameroon


Islam Slimani celebrates his crucial goal in Douala where Algeria took a 1-0 first-leg lead
“Algeria inflicted a rare home defeat on Cameroon as the 2019 African champions took a crucial 1-0 lead from the first leg of their 2022 World Cup play-off. Playing in Douala, where Cameroon have been unbeaten since losing a Nations Cup qualifier in 2000, veteran Islam Slimani’s winner handed Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi the perfect 46th birthday present. Five minutes before the break, the former Leicester City striker rose to meet Youcef Belaili’s free-kick and power a header past Ajax goalkeeper Andrè Onana….”
BBC

There’s a metaphor in there somewhere


“There is a metaphor somewhere in Senegal’s first African Cup of Nations (Afcon) championship in its history. The 2021 Afcon, played last month and this week because of a postponement from last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ended Sunday with Sadio Mane, the Liverpool star, scoring the decisive penalty in the final. With that, a one-month-long festival of football by Africa’s men’s national teams and everything else that surrounded it came to an end. Most of the players now return to their clubs, where some of them are stars, mostly in Europe. There’s a metaphor in that too. …”
Africa Is a Country

Why Algeria imploded at the Afcon


20 January 2022: A dejected Youcef Belaïli of Algeria during the Africa Cup of Nations match against Ivory Coast at Japoma Stadium in Douala, Cameroon.
“If anyone ever doubted the power of a football match result, just show them Algeria’s 270 minutes in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) that led to people completely second-guessing the success of The Fennecs. Prior to the tournament, Algeria had a 35-match unbeaten run, easily disposing of Ghana in a pre-tournament friendly. They were justifiably dubbed favourites alongside hosts Cameroon as well as Morocco and Senegal, yet they were sent packing after just three group-stage matches. It is a serious blow considering that, in the new 24-team Afcon format, four of the best third-placed teams also qualify for the knockout stage. …”
New Frame

Portugal 1986: Part 1: A Troubled Beginning, Part 2: The Saltillo Affair


“Playing in a World Cup is the pinnacle of a player or coach’s career. To test yourself in the world’s premier tournament is the ultimate challenge and a dream come true for many footballers. However, there are times when the dream of participating in a World Cup can turn into a nightmare. No country would have such a nightmare of a tournament than Portugal in 1986. Prior to the mid-1980s, Portugal were unable to build on the success of the 1960s, where Portugal finished third in the 1966 World Cup and Benfica won back to back European Cups in 1961/62 under the coaching of Béla Guttmann. Since then, Portugal had failed to qualify for a World Cup or European Championship. …”
Breaking the Lines: Part 1, Part 2
W – Saltillo Affair
The Saltillo affair – the story of Portugal at Mexico ’86

Africa Cup of Nations review: sorrow, anger and Mané’s redemption


“Our writers relive their highs and lows of a tournament completely overshadowed by the Olembe Stadium tragedy. … This Cup of Nations was played under a shadow from the moment eight supporters died outside Olembe Stadium a fortnight ago. There is no excusing what happened at a venue surrounded by vast spaces and the depressing sense remains that its causes will be swept under the carpet. After driving back to Yaoundé the following day and speaking with Romaric, who had been in the ground and encountered people who had been caught up in the crush as he left, the horror of what had occurred started to become clear. A subsequent visit to the emergency hospital brought some harrowing testimonies; these are, sadly, the words and images that linger. …”
Guardian
The Athletic – Cox: Italy-esque Senegal shackled Egypt with five men – they were deserved winners (Audio)
****An African Cup of Nations Primer
NY Times – Africa Cup of Nations: Soccer Tournament Offers Joy Amid Coups and Covid
AFCON 2021: The Review
W – 2021 Africa Cup of Nations
YouTube: Senegal vs Egypt | AFCON 2021 FINAL HIGHLIGHTS | 02/06/2022, Cameroon vs Egypt – CAF African Cup of Nations 2022 2:10:39

Fans from Burkina Faso, which recently underwent a coup, rehearsed their dances and drumming before Wednesday’s semifinal.

Predicting the AFCON 2021 Quarter-finals


“Senegal and Cameroon – they’ve each got about a 75% chance of reaching the AFCON 2021 semi-finals with dream quarter-final draws, but that’s about where the similarities end. We’ll start this off with one of those teams and end with the other while weaving through the remaining six sides with key numbers for each. A disclaimer before reading on: Teams playing attacking football (looking at you, Morocco) will be handsomely rewarded with more words. …”
The Analyst

Is that a “juju” man on Malawi’s bench?


“In Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa and much of southern Africa, the rains which start falling in November, the onset of summer, are a welcome respite after the preceding dry, winter months. However welcome the rains are, the relief is sometimes tinged with a measure of trepidation – especially among some rural communities. After all, rains come with lightning and thunder. It so happens that our region receives a disproportionate amount of lightning compared to the rest of the world. One reason for the phenomenon is the minerals extant in the rocks beneath us that draw the electricity from the sky. Nonsense, some will say – the real reason is African metaphysics. …”
New Frame

Africa Cup of Nations: A football celebration overshadowed by tragedy Published


Abandoned shoes were the only evidence that there had been a problem before the match.
“In our series of letters from African writers, Algerian-Canadian football journalist Maher Mezahi, who is in Cameroon to cover the Africa Cup of Nations, reflects on how the recent deaths of fans at a stadium has left him with mixed feelings about the tournament. …”
BBC (Video)

Comoros, Cameroon and the curious tale of no goalkeepers


Injured goalkeeper Salim Ben Boina sums up the mood in the Comoros camp.
“While the fairytale story of Comoros’s journey to the knockout stages of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations will some day make an inspirational feel-good movie, one suspects Disney’s scriptwriters will have to leave out some of the finer details on the grounds that audiences may find them just a little bit too far-fetched. Hailing from a financially impoverished archipelago with a population of less than one million people located off the east coast of the continent, Les Coelacantes pulled off something of a miracle in merely qualifying for Afcon but certainly weren’t expected to make it this far. …”
Guardian

The Most Exciting Sporting Event in the World Is Happening Right Now


“In March 1957, Ghana cast off British colonialism and became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve political self-rule. At its independence celebrations, the new prime minister, Kwame Nkrumah, offered a hopeful message: ‘We are going to create our own African personality and identity. It is the only way we can show the world that we are ready for our own battles.’ I was remembering that line last week as I watched the early matches of the Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament of soccer teams representing 24 countries from across the continent. This year’s competition is being hosted by Cameroon; it began on Jan. 9 and runs until Feb. 6. …”
NY Times

Africa Cup of Nations: Pépé caps Ivory Coast win to send dismal Algeria home


“Ivory Coast thumped Algeria 3-1 to send the defending champions crashing out of the Africa Cup of Nations finals following a disastrous Group E campaign. Nicolas Pépé’s fine solo goal early in the second half put the game out of sight, the Arsenal winger advancing into the penalty area and curling the ball into the far corner with his left foot. The Elephants led 2-0 at half-time thanks to Franck Kessié’s opener and an Ibrahim Sangaré header from Serge Aurier’s free-kick. …”
Guardian
Guardian: Africa Cup of Nations Group A,B,C,D,E,F

AFCON 2021: The Stats So Far No.2


“Each team have played two games at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations – some have already qualified for the last 16, some have very little hope of going any further. What have we learnt from the opening two matchdays so far? …”
The Analyst

AFCON is decolonization


“The 33rd edition of the African Cup of Nations began today, Sunday, 9 January, in Cameroon. AIAC founder and editor Sean Jacobs joins Will to talk about the history of the tournament, its contemporary politics, and its relationship to the hegemony of European football. The most important question of all, of course, is who will win this year’s showpiece? Listen below for some predictions.”
Africa Is a Country 1:11:15 (Audio)

AFCON 2021 guide: The storylines, the underdogs and the games you won’t want to miss


“The latest Africa Cup of Nations is just around the corner. It’s been a long road to get here for a competition that has been moved around the calendar multiple times and, in the style of Euro 2020 last summer has the ‘wrong’ year in its official title, but 24 teams are now finally set to duke it out in Cameroon to become the next champions of Africa, with the tournament getting underway on Sunday, and finishing on Sunday, February 6. Here’s everything you need to know. …”
The Athletic (Audio)
NY Times: The Joy in Embracing the Unknown (Video)
New Frame: Behind concerns over Afcon is a culture of disdain
Predicting the Africa Cup of Nations 2021 Winner
GOAL – Afcon 2021 predictions: The contenders and the pretenders (Video)

Afcon 2021: Everything you need to know about tournament in Cameroon


“First scheduled to start in June 2021 but subsequently brought forward to January last year to avoid Cameroon’s rainy season, the tournament has been delayed to 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Confederation of African Football (Caf) has faced criticism over the timing of its continental showpiece, and last month had to address rumours the tournament would be further delayed or moved following the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright said some of the negative media coverage has been ‘disrespectful’ and ‘tinged with racism’. …”
BBC (Video)

Africa Cup of Nations: Which Premier League players are going?


Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Edouard Mendy, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Maxwel Cornet and more will be gone for several weeks
“The Africa Cup of Nations begins next month, with over 30 Premier League players set to miss several weeks of the season as they head to Cameroon. Arsenal, Leicester City and Watford are each set to lose a league-high four players. Liverpool will lose three – including forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane – as will Crystal Palace. Chelsea are going to be without keeper Edouard Mendy, who could miss the Fifa Club World Cup and league games against Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham, among others. …”
BBC

Pharaohs fight back as Fennecs keep their cool


Morocco 2 (3) Algeria 2 (5)
“The last-four line-up at the FIFA Arab Cup is complete after Egypt and Algeria edged epic encounters to set up semi-finals against Tunisia and Qatar respectively. The North African duo emerged triumphant after two very different but equally thrilling matches, both of which ebbed and flowed before going into extra time and, in the later kick-off, beyond. Les Fennecs needed penalties to edge a titanic tussle with Morocco, while Egypt fell behind before battling back to dominate and, ultimately, overpower a valiant Jordan side. …”
FIFA (Video)
YouTube: Algeria vs Morocco 5-3 | Penalties Shootout – Arab Cup

Aubameyang to Zaha: how Africa Cup of Nations will hit Premier League


“Only four top-flight clubs are in line to be unaffected by tournament that kicks off in Cameroon on 9 January. … Jürgen Klopp is not the only Premier League manager who will have Afcon on his mind over the coming weeks. With the delayed 33rd edition of the continental showpiece due to begin in Cameroon on 9 January, planning for the absence of up to 40 players from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Wilfried Zaha during one of the most intense periods of the domestic season will present a major headache for several. Much to the annoyance of Klopp and European club managers, the tournament was switched back to its usual mid-season slot after the 2019 Cup of Nations in Egypt was held for the first time during the European summer, because June and July are part of the rainy season in Cameroon. …”
Guardian
W – 2022 African Nations Championship
YouTube: AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS 2022 DRAW RESULT

World Cup roundup: Denmark thrash Moldova to keep up perfect record


Denmark thrash Moldova
Denmark maintained their 100% record in Group F, with a 4-0 win in Moldova. Andreas Skov Olsen opened the scoring before Simon Kjær added a penalty. Christian Norgaard and Joakim Mæhle were also on target. Austria won 2-0 in the Faroe Islands to keep up their slim hopes of overtaking Scotland, who beat Israel 3-2 in a Hampden Park thriller. First-half goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk gave Ukraine a 2-1 win over Finland in Group D. The West Ham forward Yarmolenko put the visitors ahead less than five minutes after kick-off when he drove home from 20 yards past the Finnish goalkeeper. Norwich City’s Teemu Pukki levelled for Finland in the 29th minute but Ukraine regained the lead minutes later with a goal from Yaremchuk. …”
Guardian

The brutal beauty of Morocco’s Soccer Ultras


The Raja Ultras, led by the Capo (in lime green jacket standing on the railing between levels) fill the stadium with drum lines, chants, and songs.
“Zakaria Belqadi stands on a railing before a hoard of fans in the cheapest section of Le Grand Stade de Marrakech. He raises his arms, and the stadium begins to throb with the voices of young men. The song they sing has become well-known across the Arab world, and its lyrics have almost nothing to do with soccer: ‘In my country they abuse me … Only [Allah] knows, in this country we live in a dark cloud.’ These are fans of Raja Casablanca, one of Africa’s most successful soccer teams. Raja has won 11 Botola (Moroccan domestic league) championships and seven various Confederation of African Football (CAF) titles, among other honors. For many young men in Casablanca’s poorer neighborhoods, Raja has become a way of life, and the team’s ‘ultras’ fan clubs have even become organized, politically active and occasionally violent. …”
Africas a is Country
W – Raja Casablanca
YouTube: Raja Casablanca Ultras – Best Moments (Aug 26, 2016)

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

Melilla, Morocco vs. Spain and the World Cup’s Unique Football Rivalry

“On Monday night in Russia’s Kaliningrad Stadium, Morocco played Spain in another thrilling FIFA World Cup match. It was the first time the two countries—which have had a love-hate relationship for over a millennium—met since a two-legged 1962 World Cup playoffs tie. Nowhere on earth—with the exception of Ceuta—had the match such political resonances than in Melilla, which is, along with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on Moroccan soil. Melilla, with its wide boulevards, modernist buildings and tapas bars, has a distinctly Spanish feel. Palm trees abound.” Bleacher Report

World Cup 2018: Morocco’s Glimpse of the Possible

“For Morocco, this World Cup began with defeat. We were favored to win our first match, against Iran, but in a turn of fate, with the game tied nil-all and minutes before the end, one of the Moroccan players scored an own-goal. That 1-0 loss crushed our slim hopes to shine and to advance from a challenging group. Sure enough, in our second game, against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, we proceeded to lose—despite dominating the match. On Monday, against Spain, we had little left to play for—except, perhaps, some honor. But in an amazing game that twice saw Morocco go ahead against one of the world’s top teams, we earned a 2-2 draw that left Moroccans proud of the national team despite its not making it to the next round.” NYBooks

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

Why do African countries hire non-African football coaches so much?

“It seemed strange when in the run-up to Afcon 2013, Nigeria’s coach Stephen Keshi forcefully criticised African football associations for their preference for white coaches. That when Zambia, until this week the great success story of African football, had Hervé Renard to thank for masterminding their unlikely triumph last year in Libreville. Yet Keshi has a point. The success of Zambia under Renard should not obscure the fact that African football administrators have always failed to appreciate and make use of its own resources and talent. This is true of football as it is of Africa’s national economies.” Africa is a Country

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

“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

Morocco 0 – 1 Iran

“Iran won their first match at a World Cup finals since 1998 as Morocco substitute Aziz Bouhaddouz scored an own goal in injury time. Bouhaddouz put the ball into his own net with a diving header at the near post in the 95th minute as Morocco defended a left-wing free-kick. The result was harsh on the African side, who had wasted numerous chances in the first half and were denied late on when Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand produced a fine save from Hakim Ziyech.” BBC (Video)

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)

World Cup Preview 2018: Messi vs. Ronaldo, Magic Cats, Iceland!!, and the Entire Emotional Context in Which Much of Human Life Transpires

“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?


“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

World Cup groups A-D preview – Football Weekly

“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)

In Morocco, an Imported Team for the World Cup


“CASABLANCA, Morocco — Even before he began talking with midfielder Sofyan Amrabat, Ruud Gullit knew he would fail to convince him. The sales pitch — persuading Amrabat, a prodigiously gifted 21-year-old, to commit to playing for the Netherlands internationally — had some built-in advantages. Amrabat, after all, had been born in the village of Huizen, close to Amsterdam. He had lived his entire life in the country, and had played all his club soccer there.” NY Times

Your complete guide to all 736 players at the 2018 World Cup

“Biographies of every player in all 32 squads in Russia, including caps, goals, nicknames, hobbies and, once the tournament starts, ratings for every performance. We strive to give you an unbiased, trustworthy and in-depth view of the world’s most prestigious football tournament. If you think that’s worth something, then you can support The Guardian from as little as £1 – and it only takes a minute.” Guardian

Can Morocco Squeeze Past Spain Or Portugal?

“Group B features what could have been one of the World Cup’s unexpected teams to watch in Morocco, whose 72.3 rating in FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index places the Lions of the Atlas as the 18th best in the world, tops among all teams from Africa and ahead of more touted underdogs like Iceland and Peru. In Group A, Morocco would be the story. But an unfortunate draw matched it with defending Euro champion Portugal and perennial power Spain.” FiveThirtyEight

Meet the Five Most Exciting Prospects at the 2018 World Cup

“Yes, club soccer has overtaken the international game. And sure, all of the best players play for the best club teams, where they get coached by the best managers, who get to use the best facilities on a daily basis. Meanwhile, national teams congregate only a few times per year, for a friendly there or a qualification match here—and most sides get to play in a competitive tournament only once every 24 months. That’s why a tactic like pressing—swarming your opponent while they have the ball in their own defensive third—has dominated the club game but will be a rare sight in Russia this summer.” The Ringer (Video)