World Cup 2018: Hats off to debutants Panama, as England await

February 22, 2018

“In the protracted campaign for World Cup qualification, a little luck can go a long way. Panama are one of only two teams that will make their debuts in the finals this year – the other is Iceland – but unlike the men from the very margin of Europe, virtually nothing is known about the Central Americans. Which is partly because they haven’t done a great deal in the past century. But they did knock out the Americans to get to Russia, albeit not without a touch of controversy and good fortune. …” Football Pink


Saudi Stars Arrive in Spain, With One Eye on Russia

February 9, 2018

“VILLAREAL, Spain — After the website had crashed, but before the falcon arrived, Salem al-Dawsari was introduced by his new club. Inside the Estadio de la Cerámica, the banana-yellow-skinned home of the Spanish team Villarreal, a few dozen journalists had arrived to view Dawsari, a midfielder who had become something of a curiosity in the Spanish news media. For one, Dawsari was among the first players from Saudi Arabia to sign for a team in La Liga, Spanish soccer’s top league. But that was only part of the story. …” NY Times

Joachim Löw’s World Cup Left-Back Conundrum

January 12, 2018

Bundestrainer Joachim Löw is spoilt for choice as he starts to think about his squad ahead of next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia. In many positions he is going to have a real headache choosing which players to leave out of the final 23-man squad. There are of course some dead-certs like Mats Hummels in the centre of defence, Toni Kroos as the metronome in midfield and then Joshua Kimmich at right-back. However, it is on the other fullback flank that the German national team coach is going to have a particular headache. …” Bundesliga Fanatic

Critics Say FIFA Is Stalling a Doping Inquiry as World Cup Nears

January 4, 2018

“LONDON — Dealing with Russia and its doping program haunted the International Olympic Committee for over a year. Now it’s FIFA’s turn. With the Russia World Cup six months away, leaders of the antidoping movement are criticizing soccer’s governing body over its failure to pursue more aggressively whether Russian authorities covered up positive doping tests belonging to the country’s top soccer players. Travis Tygart, the head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said Tuesday that FIFA’s apparent inaction was ‘exasperating.’ Craig Reedie, the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said he expected FIFA to pursue any allegations of corruption and act decisively. …” NY Times

Uruguay get the luck of the World Cup draw

December 6, 2017

“Both Brazil and Argentina were hoping that last Friday’s World Cup draw would put them in Group B. From a logistical point of view, it would have been the best bet; not a great deal of travelling during the group phase, and, for the group winner, an entire knock out campaign restricted to Moscow and Sochi – perfect for teams who aim to be based in Sochi (Brazil) and just outside Moscow (Argentina). …” World Soccer – Tim Vickery

Applause at the Draw, but Will Russia Keep Cheering?

December 3, 2017

“MOSCOW — Half a million fans — by current, suspiciously optimistic, estimates — will descend on Russia next year for what Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, has already decreed will be the ‘best’ World Cup in history. Every single fan, he has decided, will have “an amazing experience.” Billions of dollars have been spent on new, or renovated, stadiums to host the finest players in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, on Friday promised a ‘major sporting festival of friendship and fair play.’ …” NY Times, The Ringer: The Four Must-Watch Games of the 2018 World Cup Group Stages (Video), NY Times – World Cup Draw: Group-by-Group Analysis

World Cup 2018 Draw: How It Works

November 30, 2017

“The World Cup does not begin until June, but a crucial moment for all 32 teams in the field arrives Friday, when the draw to populate the tournament’s eight first-round groups is made. If things fall right, a team could emerge from Friday’s draw with an easy route to the Round of 16. If they don’t, a team’s hopes could be dashed even before they arrive in Russia. Here is a look at how it all works. …” NY Times