U.S. Suffers First Defeat in World Cup Qualifying

October 13, 2021



“Continuing the good vibes from one performance to the next can be tough, it turns out, when you switch out all of your top performers. That was one of the harsh lessons learned by the U.S. men’s soccer team on Sunday as it fell limply to host Panama, 1-0, in its fifth qualifying match for the 2022 World Cup. Things had looked so different on Thursday, when the Americans stomped to a 2-0 win against Jamaica in Austin, Texas. But with a quick turnaround between matches — and a third game to play on Wednesday night in Columbus, Ohio — U.S. Coach Gregg Berhalter made seven changes to his lineup. …”
NY Times (Video)


Saudi Arabia, Newcastle and Soccer’s Worship of Money

October 8, 2021


“One single sentence, printed in block capitals, emblazoned on a laminated banner, captured it all: all of the pain and resentment and angst and fury of all those years spent under the turgid, wearying, bleak years of Mike Ashley’s ownership of Newcastle United, that decade and a half when the club’s owner seemed to take pleasure, after a while, in draining his own fans of spirit, and pleasure, and hope. The sentence on the banner made its first appearance nearly seven years ago, at what turned out to be just the halfway point of Ashley’s tenure. It was a reference to that dispiriting habit his club had developed of spurning England’s two domestic cups — the two trophies the club had even the slimmest chance of winning — so much that, often, the team looked as if it was trying to get knocked out early on purpose. …”
NY Times
NY Times: Saudi-Led Group Completes Purchase of Newcastle United
Guardian – Player’s view: Newcastle fans deserve change of fortune after long decline
Guardian: Saudi takeover of Newcastle leaves human rights to fog on the Tyne (Video)
BBC – Newcastle United takeover: Phil McNulty asks what Magpies should do in their new era (Video)
BBC – New era for Newcastle United (Video)
Guardian: Amnesty urges Premier League to block Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle
BBC – Newcastle United takeover: Fans reflect on Mike Ashley years
******English football should be different – it is in thrall to money, no matter where it comes from
*****Shearer: Ashley’s Newcastle was a shell of a club – now he’s gone I’m excited…but conflicted by Saudi involvement (Video)


Tyler Adams Is the Captain Now

October 6, 2021


“The age of Tyler Adams is a matter of perspective. In a strict, chronological sense, of course, he is 22 years 8 months, but what that means — whether it is young, as it appears to be, or old, as odd as that seems — depends on the context. There are times, in fact, when even Adams finds it hard to date himself with any degree of accuracy. Sometimes, he is aware of his youth. He shares the locker room at RB Leipzig, for example, with a host of players who joined the club in the lower reaches of German soccer, and remain in place even now that it has become a fixture in the Champions League. …”
NY Times
W – Tyler Adams
YouTube: Tyler Adams 2020/21 Season Highlights | RB Leipzig (May 2021)


Chasing New Revenue, FIFA Is Considering Major Move to U.S.

October 4, 2021


FIFA officials toured the United States in September, visiting possible host cities for the 2026 World Cup.
“Looking to expand its global footprint beyond its cloistered headquarters next to a zoo on the outskirts of Zurich, soccer’s governing body, FIFA, is studying the feasibility of moving its financial engine, the commercial operation that produces billions of dollars in revenues for the organization, to the United States. The possible move will be determined by technical factors including the suitability of locations on both coasts, the ease of acquiring work visas for overseas staff members and tax rules, according to an official with direct knowledge of the discussions who declined to speak publicly because a final determination had yet to be made. The operations involved represent a vital part of FIFA’s business: They oversee FIFA’s sale of sponsorships and broadcasting rights, which represent some of the most lucrative properties in global sports. …”
NY Times


In One Moment, Messi and P.S.G. Make It All Work

September 30, 2021


“Lionel Messi picked the ball up in that spot, the one that has served as the starting point for so many of his finest moments, the one that he knows so well that it might as well be his spot. It has, for 15 years, been his base camp, his happy place: a few yards inside from the right touchline, a few yards from halfway. He was standing still as he controlled it. He had been standing still for some time, by that stage. Paris St.-Germain had taken an early lead, through Idrissa Gueye, and had spent most of the rest of the game desperately trying to fend off Manchester City’s unrelenting attacks. …”
NY Times


1998 FIFA World Cup Final

September 26, 2021


Aimé Jacquet – Zinedine Zidane
“The 1998 FIFA World Cup Final was a football match that was played on 12 July 1998 at the Stade de France in the Parisian commune of Saint-Denis to determine the winner of the 1998 FIFA World Cup. The final was contested by defending champions Brazil and the host nation France, marking the first time that a World Cup final was disputed between the host nation and the defending champion. France won the match 3–0 to claim their maiden World Cup, with the timing of the match two days before Bastille Day adding to the significance of the victory. Zinedine Zidane, who was named man of the match, scored twice before half-time and Emmanuel Petit added a third goal in the last minute. The match had an attendance in the region of 75,000. … The match also saw speculation on the condition of the Brazilian striker Ronaldo, who suffered a convulsive fit on the eve of the match. After initially being left out of the team sheet, in spite of his physical state, it was announced just 72 minutes before kick-off that he was going to play. In the match, he sustained an injury in a clash with French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez. Although it was believed that the decision to play Ronaldo had backfired, it was understandable as the player had been a crucial member of the side throughout the tournament, having scored four goals and created three more. …”
Wikipedia
Tactical Analysis: France vs. Brazil
W – Aimé Jacquet, W – Roger Lemerre
W – Zinedine Zidane, W – Didier Deschamps
NY Times: Sun Shines on France’s National Heroes
YouTube: Tactics Explained | 1994-1998: A History Of The World Cup, How France’s 4-3-3 won the 1998 World Cup | Tactical Analysis: France 3-0 Brazil | Zidane vs Ronaldo


Marcos Alonso and the Genius of Thomas Tuchel

September 25, 2021


“Things got so bad, at one point, that even Marcos Alonso’s father was telling him to go. His fallout with his coach at Chelsea, Frank Lampard, had been spectacular and it had been total. Alonso had been substituted at halftime during a game at West Bromwich Albion, but instead of dutifully filing out to support his teammates, he had instead skulked off to wait on the team bus, stewing at the injustice of it all. When Lampard found out, he was furious. First, he rebuked Alonso for his disloyalty, his petulance, in front of his teammates, a public shaming that often functions as soccer’s nuclear option, and then he ostracized him entirely from his team. For four months, Alonso did not play so much as a minute of soccer. …”
NY Times
W – Marcos Alonso


Vinícius kickstarts Bernabéu party and comes of age as Real Madrid hero

September 20, 2021


Vinícius Júnior
“In the end, the police had to pull him out of there. There was a party back at his place and Vinícius Júnior was enjoying this more than the last time he was there and probably more than he should have been, but he didn’t care and you couldn’t really blame him: this had been a long time coming and when at last it did, boy was it good. Boy was he. After 560 days, football finally returned to the Santiago Bernabéu and, having conceded inside 200 seconds, twice trailed and been reacquainted with whistles, the Brazilian put Real Madrid into the lead and on course for a 5-2 win over Celta de Vigo that made a celebration of their homecoming. …”
Guardian
NY Times – At Barcelona, a Feeling Worse Than Sorrow: Pity


When a Fairy Tale Is Disputed Territory

September 16, 2021


“Edmund Addo sank into child’s pose in the middle of the field, his forehead touching the turf, his arms outstretched in front of him, a gesture of supplication and thanks. About 60 yards away, euphoria had overwhelmed his teammate Giorgos Athanasiadis, his legs buckling as two colleagues tried to help him to stand. Their coach, Yuriy Vernydub, danced on the touchline. They were all relatively recent arrivals to Sheriff Tiraspol: Addo, a Ghanaian midfielder, and the Greek goalkeeper Athanasiadis had joined this summer; Vernydub predated them only by a year. Still, though, they knew what this meant to their team, which had been waiting for this moment for two decades. …”
NY Times
Sheriff Tiraspol: Who are the Moldovan minnows making their Champions League debut?
W – FC Sheriff Tiraspol
YouTube: The Football Club Without A Country: The Story of Sheriff Tiraspol


A World Cup Every Two Years? Why?

September 10, 2021



“This is soccer’s age of the Big Idea. There is an incessant, unrelenting flow of Big Ideas, ones of such scale and scope that they have to be capitalized, from all corners of the game: from individuals and groups, from clubs and from leagues, from the back of cigarette packets and from all manner of crumpled napkins. The Video Assistant Referee system was a Big Idea. Expanding the World Cup to 48 teams was a Big Idea. Project Big Picture, the plan to redraw how the Premier League worked, was a Big Idea. The Super League was the Biggest Idea of them all — perhaps, in hindsight, it was, in fact, too Big an Idea — an Idea so Big that it could generate, in the brief idealism of its backlash, more Big Ideas still, as the death of a star sends matter hurtling all across the galaxy. …”
NY Times


USMNT, Ricardo Pepi shine against Honduras in second half of World Cup qualifier

September 9, 2021


“The U.S. men’s national team has gotten its World Cup qualifying campaign back on the rails with a 4-1 win over Honduras on Wednesday night. After entering halftime down 1-0, manager Gregg Berhalter made three substitutions to start the second half with aplomb. What ensued was a four-goal onslaught, as the USMNT climbed all the way to third in the Octagonal as the first international window comes to a close. It was a classic ‘tale of two halves’ type of match. After struggling in the 4-3-3, Berhalter lined his team up in a 3-4-3. What ensued was an even sloppier 45 minutes than any of the previous four intervals, with gaps galore in the midfield, between the back seven and the attack, and all over the defensive line. …”
The Athletic
NY Times: For U.S. Men’s Team, Win Salvages a Week They’d Rather Forget
Guardian: A brilliant 45 minutes against Honduras failed to mask US World Cup problems


Explained: Why South American Premier League stars are heading to Croatia after international duty

September 7, 2021


“After Colombia play Paraguay in Asuncion this Sunday evening, the eighth of their 18 qualification games for next year’s World Cup, Davinson Sanchez will not stick around for the ninth. Rather than staying on for the home game with Chile in Barranquilla on Thursday, Sanchez will fly back across the Atlantic. Not back to London, but to Croatia, for a hastily arranged 10-day training camp by the Adriatic Sea. This is all part of a plan that Sanchez agreed with Tottenham Hotspur to make sure that his involvement in Colombia’s World Cup qualifiers will cause minimum hassle to Spurs’ season. …”
The Athletic (Audio)
NY Times: Brazil-Argentina Match Stopped After Health Officials Storm Field (Video)
The Athletic: Spurs and Villa receive clarity over Argentina stars and hope there is no repeat next month Argentina, Brazil
YouTube: Brazil vs Argentina | Matchday 6 Highlights | CONMEBOL South American World Cup Qualifiers


For U.S. Men, Two Games and No Wins Add Up to Concern

September 6, 2021



“If every World Cup qualifying campaign is a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows, then the United States men’s soccer team has not yet left the ground. The Americans have played two games in four days to start the final round of their regional qualifying tournament for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and though they expected to win both matches, they have settled instead for two disappointing draws. These are early days, still. There are 12 games to go. And two points are better than none. …’
NY Times (Video)
Guardian: John Herdman aims to end Canada’s time in the World Cup wilderness (Video)


The Problem When Teams See Athletes as Assets

September 3, 2021


“One of the things that appealed most to Manchester City about Marlos Moreno was his flexibility. The club spotted him as a teenager, coming off the back of a breakthrough season in which he helped Atlético Nacional, his hometown club in his native Colombia, win not just a national title but the Copa Libertadores, too. Moreno, then 19, had the air of a rising star. He was the sort of prospect who stood out among the thousands of players around the world whose names and performance data flash in front of the eyes of the scouts and analysts at Europe’s biggest clubs. … Executives were sufficiently excited by the acquisition of a player they felt was one of the most promising in South America to mention his name to Sheikh Mansour, City’s owner. …”
NY Times
Who is Man City owner Sheikh Mansour and what’s his net worth?
W – Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan


What’s the Endgame in the M.L.S.-Liga MX Alliance?

August 26, 2021



“One could forgive the top soccer players in Mexico and the United States if they feel as if they have seen quite a lot of each other recently. When some of the best players from Mexico’s Liga MX lined up against some of the biggest stars from Major League Soccer in the M.L.S. All-Star Game on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, it was not — for a handful of them — the first time they had played an important match north of the border this summer. Whether in a series of new cross-border club competitions or in two important national team tournaments, the Nations League and Gold Cup, U.S.-Mexico matchups — in a variety of jersey colors — are now more frequent than ever. …”
NY Times


FIFA, Deemed a Victim of Its Own Scandal, Will Share $200 Million Payout

August 24, 2021


“Even as top soccer officials were still being arrested as part of a sprawling corruption investigation in 2015, lawyers for the sport’s global governing body and U.S. prosecutors began to embrace an intriguing premise: The soccer organization, FIFA, and its affiliates were not only the hosts of the scheme, the thinking went, they were also its victims. For prosecutors, the notion distinguished between the hijackers and the hijacked: It held individuals accountable for their crimes but spared the organizations and the sport that they had defrauded. For FIFA and its new leaders and lawyers, the framing had a bigger benefit: It protected against prosecution, and it offered the organization a chance to reclaim the tens of millions of dollars siphoned away by corrupt officials. Tuesday brought the payoff: Six years after a wide-ranging criminal indictment laid bare decades of corruption in global soccer on a stunning scale, and five years after those in power started pursuing a piece of the millions that American authorities were rounding up, the U.S. government approved the payment of more than $200 million to FIFA and its two member confederations most implicated in the scandal. …”
NY Times
W – Gianni Infantino
W – Sepp Blatter


Scottish Soccer’s Brexit Problem: No Way In, and No Way Out

August 21, 2021


Scotland’s two biggest teams, Celtic and Rangers, have the means to support some of their ambitions. Most of their Scottish rivals do not.
“Juhani Ojala knew he would have to wait. Travel restrictions were still in place in Scotland when, in the middle of July, the Finnish defender agreed to join Motherwell, a club of modest means and sober ambitions in the country’s top division. Upon landing, Ojala knew, he would have to spend 10 days isolating in a hotel before joining his new teammates. … All of that changed in January, when — four and a half years after the Brexit referendum — Britain formally, and finally, left the European Union. As of that moment, clubs in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland no longer had the untrammeled access to players from its 26 member states (a different set of rules apply to Ireland) they had enjoyed since the 1990s. …”
NY Times


The Parable of Inter Milan

August 21, 2021


“The first alarm rang in February, a warning from thousands of miles away. Jiangsu Suning was one of the mainstays of that strange period, five or six years ago, when soccer awoke — almost overnight — to discover that China had arrived, its pockets bottomless and its ambitions unchecked, intent on inverting the world. At first, Europe saw this new horizon as it sees everything: as a market. China’s corporate-backed clubs were, as Turkey’s and Russia’s had been years before, a convenience and a curiosity, a place where they could offload unwanted players from bloated squads. …”
NY Times


The Wisdom of the Crowd

August 14, 2021


“Conspicuous consumption runs through soccer’s billion-dollar transfer market. Club executives hold meetings in deluxe suites in the finest hotels in London, Monte Carlo and Milan: the Connaught, the Méridien, the Palazzo Parigi. There, they haggle with agents in tailored suits over eye-watering transfer fees, lavish salaries and towering commissions. The players being traded sink into the plush leather seats of private jets to travel between clubs, before signing contracts worth tens of millions of dollars in sumptuous, state-of-the-art training facilities. …”
NY Times


Paying the Price for Premier League Riches

August 7, 2021


Andreas Pereira is known as the Preseason Pirlo. But he has nowhere to go.
“The headed clearance did not quite get the requisite power, or direction. It floated, rather than fizzed, out of Brentford’s penalty area, the danger not quite clear. Two Manchester United players converged on it, sensing opportunity. The ball bounced off the turf, not too high, not too quick, and hung in the air for just a second. And that is where Andreas Pereira met it.There is a reason some Manchester United fans have come to know Pereira — with equal parts affection and admonishment — as the Preseason Pirlo. …”
NY Times


The True Value of Gold

July 23, 2021


“Daniel Alves has seen it all, done it all. He has won league titles in three countries, picked up nine cups, conquered Europe with his club and South America with his country. He has 41 major honors to his name, officially making him the most decorated player in history. But still, when André Jardine asked him to take on one last job, his eyes lit up. Jardine, the manager of Brazil’s Olympic men’s soccer team, had framed his pitch smartly. ….”
NY Times
W – Dani Alves


Breaking down England’s penalty heartbreak: At 10.49pm, Maguire slashes penalty home. At 10.54pm, everything changes

July 12, 2021


“It’s brutal sometimes, football. One by one, the players went to Bukayo Saka. They told him it would be OK, that they were proud of him, and that he should be proud of himself, too. They told him there was no blame and, even as they were saying it, they must have known their words made little difference. Maybe, in time, Saka will come to understand that, yes, he ought to be proud he played with such distinction during Euro 2020 that he was trusted, at the age of 19, to be part of the penalty shootout which decided the final between England and Italy. For now, though, what can anyone say to console a player who has suffered this kind of professional trauma? …”
The Athletic
NY Times: How Italy Beat England to Win Euro 2020 (Video)
Leaving Euro 2020 – Brian Phillips
BBC: ‘Out of despair, Italy have brought joy to a nation’
NY Times: After Defeat, England’s Black Soccer Players Face a Racist Outburst
Marcus Rashford mural vandalised after England lose Euro 2020 final
Guardian: England battle for survival instead of control as deep-lying issue resurfaces – Jonathan Wilson
W – UEFA Euro 2020 Final
NY Times: In the Big Euro 2020 Game, I Knew the England I Was Rooting For


Brazil’s Top Clubs Are Planning a Breakaway League

July 9, 2021


Flamengo has been playing on without some of its best players, who were called up by their national teams for the Copa América.
“Whenever Rodolfo Landin has turned on his television over the past few weeks to watch matches from this summer’s Copa América, he has done so with mixed emotions. As the president of Brazil’s most-popular club team, Flamengo, Landin has felt pride in seeing five members of his roster line up for their national teams in the tournament. But he also has watched with increasing frustration because Flamengo has had to make do for a month without those same five key players in the Brazilian championship. …”
NY Times


Italy suffer for shootout win in emotional and authentic tournament tussle

July 7, 2021


Federico Chiesa
“That train just keeps on running. On a gripping night under the gloom of high-summer London skies it looked for a while as though Roberto Mancini’s Italy might have hit a dead stretch of track. At Wembley Italy were dominated for the opening hour. Then they were dominated for the final half hour. They suffered, and ran, and suffered a little more. It was, once again, exhausting and also uplifting, the controlled intensity of a team playing right at the edge of its emotions. And of course this semi-final went to penalties. This was always going to penalties. As we moved into extra time, as this became a game of lunges and twists, screaming muscles, heaving lungs, this was going to penalties. And somehow, Italy, outplayed at times by a peppy, tactically smart Spain, were always winning them when we got there. …”
Guardian
NY Times: Italy Bars the Door and Keeps the Party Going
Guardian: Italy into Euro 2020 final after Jorginho penalty settles shootout against Spain
ESPN: Italy beat Spain by reverting to type as Morata’s regression defines La Roja’s Euro 2020 elimination (Video)
UEFA: Italy 1-1 Spain. (4-2 p) (Video)


No Semifinalist Is an Island

July 6, 2021


“Kalvin Phillips came home, for the first time, as a fully fledged England international with four jerseys as souvenirs. He had asked his new teammates to autograph one, destined to be framed and mounted on a wall at home. Two others were reserved for his mother and grandmother, as tokens of gratitude for years of support. The final one he earmarked as a gift for the man who, he felt, deserved the bulk of the credit. A couple of years earlier, Phillips had been a promising but inconsistent midfielder in the Championship, England’s second-tier league. Now, despite having not yet played a minute in the Premier League, he had been called into a gathering of the country’s finest players. Without the intervention of Marcelo Bielsa, the Leeds United manager, Phillips said, none of it ‘would really have been possible.’ …”
NY Times


Lorenzo Insigne’s stunning goal a defining moment for the new Italy

July 2, 2021


“If we needed one moment to sum up Italy’s transformation over the past four years, it arrived in the 44th minute at the Allianz Arena. Lorenzo Insigne’s goal was a thing of beauty, cutting in from the left and curling the ball from the edge of the area into the far corner of the net with such precision that Thibaut Courtois had no chance. The forward had started his run from the halfway line. This was Insigne distilled, a goal that he has scored countless times down the years. The finish might not always be so flawless, but the ambitious dribble, the move inside and the right-footed shot across goal have been foundation stones of a career. You could accuse him of being too predictable, but like Arjen Robben in his prime, Insigne has learned that it does not matter if defenders know what dance you’re doing if they still cannot match your steps. …”
Guardian
NY Times: Belgium’s Golden Team Searches for a Silver Lining
ESPN (Video)


England step into strange new light as fear turns to joy in win over Germany

June 29, 2021


“Well, that was unexpected. On a grey, boisterous, increasingly wild night at Wembley Stadium England’s footballers did something new. When it comes to these grand, operatic international tournaments England shrink. England are fearful. At best England flutter, briefly, before being broken on the wheel. Except not this time. Instead Gareth Southgate’s fine young team produced a performance of slow-burn fire to beat Germany – yes, really – 2-0 and progress to the quarter finals of Euro 2020. …”
Guardian (Video)
Guardian: Gareth Southgate praises ‘immense’ England but warns against complacency
NY Times: England Overcomes Germany, and Its Demons
BBC – England 2-0 Germany: ‘England must reach final to make Germany win one of their greatest’


Belgium 1-0 Portugal: Ronaldo draws a blank, Hazards come to the fore, Pepe loses his cool (again)

June 28, 2021


Thorgan Hazard
“Cristiano Ronaldo had the all-time men’s international goal scoring record and the Euro 2020 quarter-finals in his sights, but he hadn’t reckoned on a stubborn and resilient Belgium side, who defended solidly and provided the game’s most outstanding moment of technical quality. Here, The Athletic’s Liam Twomey and Tim Spiers pick through the major talking points… The stage was set for Cristiano Ronaldo. His team, his tournament, his Euros, his next goal record… but for once, he failed to take the spotlight. … But while the elder Hazard brother’s improved rhythm should be cause for optimism among Belgium supporters, he wasn’t the hero of this particular night. Thorgan shattered Portugal’s ultra-cautious game plan from 25 yards with one magnificent swish of his boot late in the first half. …”
Belgium 1-0 Portugal: Ronaldo draws a blank, Hazards come to the fore, Pepe loses his cool (again)
Guardian: Thorgan Hazard strike sinks Portugal and puts Belgium in quarter-finals
Guardian: Cristiano Ronaldo exits but does not have the look of a man whose race is run – Jonathan Wilson
NY Times: Relief for Belgium Comes at Ronaldo’s Expense


The Case for a 32-Team Euros

June 26, 2021


Portugal found a way through to the round of 16.
“Thomas Vermaelen’s header hit the ground first and then rose before colliding with the post near the corner where it meets the crossbar. As the ball spun out, sideways toward the middle of the goal, Lukas Hradecky, the Finland goalkeeper, was still turning around. It was all happening in the blink of an eye. Instinctively, Hradecky reached out a hand to try to swat the ball away. In that instant, on his fingertips, a substantial portion of Euro 2020 hung. Had Hradecky been able to claw the ball away from his goal, away from danger, Finland might have been able to hang on, to keep a vaguely interested Belgium at bay, to qualify for the knockout stages of the first major tournament it has ever reached. Denmark, playing simultaneously in Copenhagen, might have been sent home. …”
NY Times


The Euro 2020 Group Stage Is Over: Here’s What We Learned

June 24, 2021


“With a couple of minutes to play in Budapest, the French midfielder Adrien Rabiot looked squarely at Sergio Oliveira, his Portuguese opponent, and advised him to back away. Like everyone else in the stadium, Rabiot had heard the news. The group stage of Euro 2020 was effectively over. Both France and Portugal were through to the knockout rounds. There was no need to run or to chase or to press. Now was the time for watching the clock. It had not, for either team, been a straightforward evening. The game had oscillated — Portugal led, then France, then Portugal struck back — and so had their fates, dependent to some extent on the outcome of the group’s other game, between Germany and Hungary in Munich. At one point or another, each of the four teams had believed they were going through. …”
NY Times


Denmark Advances at Euro 2020, Winning Where Eriksen Fell

June 21, 2021


“Denmark’s players gathered in a circle on the field at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen and stared intently at a staff member’s phone. They must have known, by then, that they had qualified for the last 16 of the European Championship, but they wanted to be sure. They wanted to see the score confirmed, officially. The Danes had come into their final group game on Monday needing the dice to roll in their favor to make it through. They required a win against Russia on home soil, and for Belgium to beat Finland in St. Petersburg. That they had a chance at all, though — that their coach, Kasper Hjulmand, could tell his players that this was the start, not the end, of their tournament — was remarkable in itself. …”
NY Times
SI: Denmark Through to Euros’ Last 16 as Simultaneous Drama Caps Emotional Group Stage


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


France Doesn’t Stray From Its Championship Formula In Beating Germany to Open Euros

June 15, 2021


“There is something slightly odd about this France side, in that the scores of its games so rarely reflect what has just happened. No team seems quite so often to hammer an opponent by a single goal. Germany may have won the shot count and the possession battle in Tuesday’s 1–0 triumph for Les Bleus in the teams’ first match of what’s the competition’s most difficult group. But this was rarely a game Germany looked like winning, with it never quite able to put France under pressure and always appearing vulnerable to the counter. Ultimately, an own goal from Mats Hummels, who had scored the winner at the right end when Germany beat France in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals, was enough, but Adrien Rabiot hit a post, Karim Benzema had a goal ruled out for a tight offside and Kylian Mbappé did as well, albeit for a slightly more obvious infraction. …” SI – Jonathan Wilson (Video), Guardian: Paul Pogba full of bite and craft even after Antonio Rüdiger tries a nibble, Joachim Löw’s Legacy (Video, June 12 2021), NY Times: France, So Deep and So Dominant, Finds One Goal Is Plenty


Euro 2020: Italy Beats Turkey, 3-0, in Opener in Rome

June 12, 2021


“… Italy’s 3-0 win against Turkey in the tournament’s opening game does not guarantee anything; this is still a young team, a work in progress, one that perhaps lacks the star power of France, England and Portugal, among others. Italy came in to Euro 2020 with momentum, but it was always somewhat fragile: an early setback could easily have undone three years of good work. Instead, of course, that momentum will have been redoubled by swatting a decent — if somewhat callow — Turkish team aside. And more broadly, it gave the competition as a whole what it needed: an entertaining, attractive opener, one that will hopefully serve to set the tone for the remainder of the group stage. …” NY Times (Video)


U.S. 3, Mexico 2: All the Plot Twists

June 9, 2021


Weston McKennie
“You will not find the word Concacaffy in any dictionary, but any soccer fan in North America knows what it means and how to use it in a sentence. It can explain anything from a terrible field to a terrible call to terrible behavior, and the word works just as well as an anguished cry or accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders. Can’t believe that foul wasn’t a red card? That’s so Concacaffy. Field surrounded by a 20-foot moat? That’s so Concacaffy. Were there really just 11 minutes of stoppage time after a 15-minute overtime? Sooooo Concacaffy. Even before the United States men’s national team beat Mexico, 3-2, on Sunday night to win the Concacaf Nations League final on Sunday, the word has been tossed around quite a bit. For fans of the two teams — the twin poles of North American soccer dominance and hand-wringing — the whole night was thrilling and frustrating and exhilarating and maddening. …” NY Times (Video), W – 2021 CONCACAF Nations League Finals, Overtime Goal From Christian Pulisic and Heroic Penalty Kick Save (Video), YouTube: USA vs Mexico 3-2 Highlights All Goals CNL Finals, USA vs. Mexico: Extended Highlights | Concacaf Nations League Final | CBS Sports Golazo


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


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


The Super League Thought It Had a Silent Partner: FIFA

May 22, 2021


“Tucked away in the pages and pages of financial and legal jargon that constitute the founding contract of the Super League, the failed project that last month briefly threatened the century-old structures and economics of European soccer, were references to one ‘essential’ requirement. The condition was deemed so important that organizers agreed that the breakaway plan could not succeed without satisfying it and yet was so secret that it was given a code name even in contracts shared among the founders. Those documents, copies of which were reviewed by The New York Times, refer to the need for the Super League founders to strike an agreement with an entity obliquely labeled W01 but easily identifiable as FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. …” NY Times


When the Goals Come Out of Nowhere

May 5, 2021


“Giorgos Giakoumakis had never scored goals. Not in great numbers, anyway. He had played 22 games, spread across three seasons, before he finally managed a single one for his first club, a team of modest ambitions and close horizons called Platanias, based on his home island, Crete. In the early stages of his career, he broke into double figures for a single campaign only once, mustering 11 goals in his final season at Platanias. It appeared, at the time, to be his breakthrough. That summer, he moved to A.E.K. Athens, one of the three powers that dominate the Greek capital. …”NY Times (Video), W – Giorgos Giakoumakis, YouTube: Georgios Giakoumakis DESTROYING Great Players


How the Super League Fell Apart

April 22, 2021


“For 48 hours, soccer stood on the brink. Fans took to the streets. Players broke into open revolt. Chaos stalked the game’s corridors of power, unleashing a shock wave that resonated around the world, from Manchester to Manila, Barcelona to Beijing, and Liverpool to Los Angeles. That internationalism is what has turned European soccer, over the last 30 years, into a global obsession. The elite teams of western Europe are stocked with stars drawn from Africa, South America and all points in between. They draw fans not just from England, Italy and Spain, but China, India and Australia in numbers large enough to tempt broadcasters across the planet to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for the rights to show their games. …”
NY Times
W – The Super League
CBS – European Super League collapse explained: What’s next? Real Madrid, Barcelona quiet; Premier League clubs out (Audio)
BBC – European Super League: All six Premier League teams withdraw from competition (Video)
YouTube: All six English clubs confirm plans to exit European Super League


Capitalist Greed Created the European Super League

April 21, 2021


Roberto Firmino of Liverpool shoots while under pressure from Éder Militão of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second-leg match on April 14, 2021 in Liverpool, England.
“Yesterday, once again, the prospect of a breakaway European Super League (ESL) reared its head. The proposal — to carve out a continental competition in which fifteen of the game’s elite clubs could never be relegated — was met with widespread dismay by those who love the game. Despite a year that has shown just how vital fans are for the ‘spectacle’ of football, it was the match-going fans that once again were of least concern. Instead, if the plans go ahead, the future of football will be shaped by television and advertising — an entertainment industry that the top clubs estimate will deliver them £300 million per year, far outstripping their current domestic and Champions League revenues. It’s important to point out that the Super League isn’t an anomaly. …” Jacobin, European Super League explained: the contracts, plots and threats that shook football to its core, Guardian: The greed of the European Super League has been decades in the making, Guardian – ‘It’s war’: what the papers say about the European Super League, NY Times: Super League Appears to Collapse as City Walks Away


Europe Plunders Paris for Talent, and P.S.G. Pays the Price

April 7, 2021



“Paris St.-Germain could not, in the end, have sped Tanguy Nianzou along much quicker than it did. He was captain of the club’s under-19 side when he was only 16. He was called up to the first team at 17, training alongside Neymar and Kylian Mbappé and the rest, and soon made his debut. He even started a game in the Champions League. And still, despite all those opportunities, he left. Nianzou had just turned 18 when, on July 1 last year, he was presented as a Bayern Munich player. P.S.G. did not even have the solace of being able to pocket a premium fee for a player it had nurtured. Nianzou’s contract was expiring. He walked out of his hometown club for nothing. …” NY Times


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.


For Liverpool, Everton Loss Is a Shock to Klopp’s System

February 24, 2021


“It is every week, now, that Liverpool seems to lose another little piece of itself. An unbeaten home record that stretched back more than three years disappeared in January, spirited away by Burnley. The sense of Anfield as a fortress collapsed soon after, stormed in short order by Brighton and then by Manchester City. The golden afterglow of the long-awaited Premier League crown that arrived last summer has been dimming for some time, but it darkened for good last week, with Jürgen Klopp conceding the Premier League title while still in the bitter grip of winter. …” NY Times, BBC: Liverpool 0 – 2 Everton, YouTube: Liverpool v. Everton | PREMIER LEAGUE HIGHLIGHTS, Liverpool forced into unseen revamp as Jurgen Klopp makes backroom changes (Video), W – Merseyside derby


Sometimes the Numbers Lie

February 20, 2021


“This is the story of a struggling striker. He has scored only twice since November: once in a cakewalk of a cup game against an overmatched opponent, and once from the sort of position in which he really could not miss, the ball falling to him a couple of yards out, a goal by accident rather than design. The latter was a welcome fillip — sometimes that is what you need, after all, that jolt of luck — but it did little to gloss over the striker’s troubles. Five goals in 23 league games since joining his new club remains a paltry return. His confidence seems to be shot, as if he has hit ‘rock bottom,’ as one pundit observed. …” NY Times


Soccer Isn’t Blameless in Its Culture of Abuse

February 15, 2021


“This time, it was Yan Dhanda. A few days ago, it was Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial. Before that, it had been Alex Jankewitz and Romaine Sawyers. It happened to Lauren James, and to her brother, Reece, too. So pernicious, so constant is soccer’s problem with racist abuse that it is, at times, hard to keep up. Almost all of these cases echo what Dhanda experienced on Wednesday night: The names and the details can be changed, but the themes are the same. That evening, the 22-year-old Dhanda played for his team, Swansea City, in an F.A. Cup match against Manchester City. Swansea lost, 3-1. After the game, Dhanda checked his Instagram account. And there, waiting for him, was a racist, abusive private message. …” NY Times (Video)


Old Rivals, New Ideas and Why Some Clubs Are Reluctant to Try

February 10, 2021


Is it possible Rangers and Celtic are too tangled up in their rivalry for their own good?
Nobody wants to say it is over. Steven Gerrard, the Rangers manager, will not tempt fate. He will only believe the title is won, he has said, when the math says so. Neil Lennon, his counterpart at Celtic, similarly cannot concede defeat. His team, he has said, will keep going, keep fighting, while there is still some small glimmer of hope. But both must surely know that it is over, and has been for some time. It was over long before this last, toxic month, when Celtic staged a winter training break in Dubai in the middle of a pandemic and flew back into a coronavirus-infected storm.It was over before two Celtic players duly tested positive, before pretty much the whole first-team squad had to go into isolation, before criticism rained down on the club from the Scottish government and even its own fans. …”
NY Times, In Brazil, Risk and Reward, Side by Joyous Side


Speaking Up for the Armchair Fan

January 19, 2021


Critics of television’s influence on soccer ignore that it’s still the way most fans experience the game.
“Television is not a dirty word. It is not the sort of word that should be spat out in anger or growled with resentment or grumbled through gritted teeth. It is not a loaded word, or one laced with scorn and opprobrium and bile. It is not a word that has a tone. Not in most contexts, anyway. In soccer, television is treated as the dirtiest word you can imagine. It is an object of disdain and frustration and, sometimes, hatred. Managers, and occasionally players, rail against its power to dictate when games are played and how often. They resent its scrutiny and its bombast. Television is never cited as the root of anything pleasant. Television is the cause of nothing but problems. There is no need to linger for long on the irony and the hypocrisy here. Television, of course, is also what pays their wages. …” NY Times


The Dark Fairy Tale of Atalanta

August 13, 2020


“Our faith will never fade” reads the inscription at a gathering spot for Atalanta’s most devoted supporters.
“BERGAMO, Italy — … It was hard to believe it was happening at the time. It is even harder to believe it happened now. That day was, possibly, the proudest in the modest history of Atalanta. A great tide had made the short journey from Bergamo, the prosperous, pretty city where the soccer team is based, to Milan for the first leg of their Champions League, round-of-16 tie against Valencia. Atalanta had never breathed such rarefied air. It had, in truth, scarcely even contemplated it. The whole town, it seemed, had been transplanted for the night. …”
NY Times
NY Times: The Champions League Returns With a Plan for Everything


A History of Soccer in Six Matches

April 18, 2020


Hungary’s visit to Wembley in 1953 was a seminal moment in the modern game.
“A few weeks ago, I asked readers to submit ideas for what they would like to see in this column. Not because I am short of them, you understand, but because in this bleak new reality of ours writing about sports very much falls into the category of ‘things you want,’ rather than ‘things you need.’ There was a flurry of suggestions, on every topic under the sun, most of which I know absolutely nothing about. One theme that stood out, though, was that many would welcome the chance to immerse themselves in the comforting nostalgia of soccer history. Even with my understanding editors and generous word counts, that is a vast, unwieldy subject. You can write soccer history in a million different ways: through the lens of teams and individuals, through tactics or geography or culture. …”
NY Times (Video)


Champions League: Neymar’s Hat Trick Powers P.S.G. in Rout

October 5, 2018


“Paris St.-Germain’s attack overwhelmed Red Star Belgrade, 6-1, in the Champions League on Wednesday, with Neymar scoring a hat trick that included two brilliant free kicks. P.S.G. Coach Thomas Tuchel went with his strongest lineup up front, with Neymar, the World Cup star Kylian Mbappé, Edinson Cavani and Angel Di María. They all scored in the first half except for Mbappé, who had to wait until the 70th minute for his goal, created with some more deft footwork by Neymar.” NY Times


For David Luiz and Chelsea, Everything’s Perfect. Until Suddenly It’s Not.

September 30, 2018

“Muttering under his breath, shaking his head in regret, David Luiz was the last player to disappear from the field. He had taken his time after the final whistle. As Liverpool’s players went over to celebrate with their fans, and as his Chelsea teammates trudged disconsolately toward the tunnel, Luiz lingered. He stripped off his jersey. He bestowed a few handshakes on eager young fans reaching their arms out for him to brush.” NY Times


An Ex-Owner of the Dodgers Takes Another Swing in Marseille

September 16, 2018


“MONACO — Not long after Frank McCourt arrived at his luxury hotel here, there was a knock at the door. A valet had returned with a newly pressed shirt. McCourt, freshening up after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight, called out from the bathroom with an instruction to hang the shirt in the closet. McCourt carried on with his ablutions. The valet, in that smooth, five-star silence, carefully slid the shirt onto the rail and, without seeing McCourt, prepared to slip out the door. As he was leaving, though, he could not help himself. ‘Allez l’O.M.,’ the valet said, and vanished.” NY Times


At Transfer Time in Lithuania, Prospects and Profits Collide

September 4, 2018


“KAUNAS, Lithuania — The letter was short and to the point: A.S. Monaco, the elite soccer club on the French Riviera, wanted Ibrahima Sory Soumah to travel from his home in Guinea to France for a 10-day trial. Soumah’s mind raced with the possibilities. If Soumah, a teenage midfielder, could succeed in the test period and convince his hosts of his value, he might take his place at one of the finest soccer finishing schools in the world, and maybe even follow the path that led George Weah, Thierry Henry and Kylian Mbappé from Monaco to global stardom. But even if he did not, Soumah knew that simply spending time under the tutelage of Monaco’s coaches would increase his chances of finding a different club and forging a decent pro career in Europe, fulfilling his dreams and those of his family back in Conakry.” NY Times


A Rebuilt Liverpool Hopes to Reach New Heights With Its Soul Intact

August 10, 2018


“At the start of the last Premier League season, Liverpool fans had some fun online passing around a picture labeled ‘Liverpool F.C. as a car.’ The image showed one vehicle Frankensteined together from the parts of three: The front was a sports car, the center a boring family sedan and the back a rusted junker missing its wheels. And for the first half of last season, the image seemed to be a perfect metaphor for their team. Liverpool’s attack, headlined by the transcendent Mohamed Salah and the almost-as-good Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, blitzed through the league terrifying opposing defenses. The midfield, typified by the stereotypically English grit of Jordan Henderson and James Milner, did its job capably if unspectacularly.” NY Times


Manchester City Sizes Up Its Toughest Premier League Opponent: Complacency

August 10, 2018

“It was not a goal that clinched a title, or secured a trophy, and it was not a victory that was needed, not a win that changed very much at all. On the surface, when Gabriel Jesus scored in injury time against Southampton on the final day of last season, it was just another goal, just another win. Manchester City had scored 106 times over the previous 10 months; on the way to the Premier League title, Pep Guardiola’s team had won 32 of 38 games.” NY Times


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


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


Drug Use. Corruption. Scandal. There’s an Ugly Side to the Beautiful Game.

July 7, 2018

Musa Okwonga, a poet, activist and author of two books on football, answered questions on Reddit this week about the off-the-pitch issues around the World Cup and some of the most exciting matches. Mr. Okwonga is no novice. His ties to the beautiful game started generations before his birth in England, when his grandfather coached the Ugandan national team. The Reddit conversation, ranging from doping to inequality, was punctuated by his friends’ inside jokes about frozen beans and wedding poetry. Mr. Okwonga, who lives in Germany, used the Reddit forum to expand upon the writing he has done for our newsletter, Offsides.” NY Times


Neymar and the Art of the Dive

July 6, 2018


“Alarm bells rang inside Jim Calder’s brain earlier this week as he watched Neymar, the Brazilian soccer superstar, squirm on the grass and cry out in apparent distress. ‘Neymar does what all beginning actors do,’ he said. ‘They oversell the event.’ Calder would know. For three decades he has taught acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. His voice has been consistently hoarse this summer, a consequence of yelling at students all day at a theater workshop he runs every year in Florence, Italy. Yet when the classes have ended, when he turns on the television to watch the World Cup at night, he continues to have his thespian tastes affronted.” NY Times (Video)