Semi-automated offsides: FIFA’s new baby and a bold step in the development of VAR

December 3, 2021


“A show of hands please from those who watched Tunisia hammer Mauritania 5-1 on Tuesday. Really? The opening game of the FIFA Arab Cup passed you by? More fool you. It had plenty going for it, honestly. Some classy finishes from Tunisia, particularly the cheeky backheel from Seifeddine Jaziri to break Mauritania’s resolve for 3-0. No way back from there when you are ranked 103rd in the world, that’s for sure. Arguably the most remarkable aspect of the match, though, was the 17 (seventeen) minutes of stoppage time played at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Qatar. Even more remarkable was that none of it was down to offside VAR checks. …”
The Athletic
FIFA: Semi-automated offside technology explained ahead of FIFA Arab Cup (Video) 24:21
W – Video assistant referee
The Athletic: Thicker VAR offside lines, new referees and away fans – what’s different for the 2021-22 Premier League season


Portugal on collision course with Italy after Qatar World Cup play-off draw

November 27, 2021


Italy and Portugal have been drawn in the same pathway for the European FIFA World Cup play-offs, meaning only one will be able to secure qualification for next year’s tournament in Qatar. Italy are the defending European champions, after beating England on penalties in the final of Euro 2020 in the summer. Portugal meanwhile won Euro 2016, overcoming France in Paris to win the tournament for the first time. But one — or both — will miss out on a place in Qatar after Friday’s play-off draw. …”
The Athletic


Is 2021 Switzerland’s greatest year?

November 26, 2021


“It’s never easy to define a team by a single year. There are so many variables, so many intricacies, that can determine what constitutes a ‘great year’, that it’s almost impossible to put one above another. For starters, everything is relative: is it ‘better’ to over-achieve with a weak squad, for example, or to succeed with a side that was always expected to win? Like everything in football, you’ll never get a unanimous decision. After Remo Freuler scored Switzerland’s fourth goal of the night against Bulgaria last Monday, however, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a single Swiss fan in attendance that wouldn’t put 2021 right at the top of the pile for the men’s ‘Nati’. …”
Back Page Football


Who Has Qualified for the 2022 World Cup?

November 24, 2021


“With a year to go, almost half the field for the 2022 World Cup is set. Thirteen countries have already booked their places for the tournament, which opens in Qatar next Nov. 21: some with ease, cruising through qualifying, and some with a touch more drama. Quite what the tournament, riddled with scandal and concern from the day Qatar was announced as the host, will be like cannot yet be known. The identities of the teams who will contest it, though, are remarkably familiar. Most — if not quite all — of the traditional contenders are already there: a 10-country-strong European contingent led by France, the defending champion, and Belgium, officially the world’s best team, as well as the likes of Spain and England and Germany. They have been joined by the two great powerhouses of South America, Brazil and Argentina. …”
NY Times


Qatar 2022 is a powerplay aimed at neighbours more than European critics

November 21, 2021


“One year to go, 11 in the making. Welcome to Qatar 2022, the final countdown, and a World Cup that for all the noise, the sense of fingers crossed and a gaze averted from the bloodier details, still makes no real sense at all. It was easy to feel a bit distracted as Sepp Blatter read out the word ‘Qatar’, with a slight break in his voice, shortly after lunchtime on 2 December 2010. There was an edge of hysteria in the chamber at Fifa House. Ten minutes earlier Blatter had broken the red wax seal on another padded envelope, and said ‘Russia’, to protracted squeals of joy. The crowd had already begun to seethe. …”
Guardian
Guardian – Pride and poverty: Qatar’s World Cup fever tempered by legacy of labour abuses
Guardian – The men who built Qatar’s World Cup dream deserve some of David Beckham’s pay packet (October 2021)
Guardian – Revealed: football’s plan for Qatar workers’ centre as World Cup legacy


The World Cup Loses Its First Star

November 20, 2021


“Somewhere, in a darkened room, Erling Haaland was watching. Injury meant he would not be able to take the field for Norway’s most significant match in 20 years. The Netherlands’ return to partial lockdown last weekend meant, with the game played behind closed doors, he would not even be able to support his national team from the stands. Instead, Haaland had to follow from afar, powerless to help. Two minutes into the game, he posted an image of the game’s television broadcast on Instagram, accompanied by a Norwegian flag and the heart emoji. There was, then, still a scintilla of hope. …”
NY Times


Switzerland Are Back in the World Cup and They Will Be a Problem

November 20, 2021


“Switzerland have done it again, grabbing glory from the mouths of supposedly greater footballing nations. Once again, one of the sport’s superpowers has woken up one morning, ready to eat breakfast with destiny, only to go downstairs and find that Switzerland has already scoffed its meal. In this summer’s Euro 2020, France seemed to be moving toward the next stage of the tournament, soaring toward glory on the back of a series of sublime performances from Paul Pogba. That was until Switzerland snatched away their aspirations with a last-minute goal to force extra time in the Round of 16 before sending them home by winning the penalty shootout. Most recently, Italy has been made to suffer at Swiss hands. …”
The Ringer (Audio)


World Cup 2022: ranking the top 10 contenders a year before Qatar

November 19, 2021


“With just over a year to go until the World Cup kicks off, 12 teams have qualified alongside hosts Qatar. All four semi-finalists from 2018 have sealed their spots and are joined by former world champions Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Spain, while recent European champions Portugal and Italy still have more to do. With most of the big hitters now able to prepare for the tournament, we assess where they stand as the countdown to Qatar begins. …”
Guardian
The Athletic: CONCACAF World Cup qualifying: Where USMNT, Canada, Mexico and Panama stand with six matches left
World Cup 2022 Power Rankings: France & England the early favourites as Portugal & Italy falter


World Cup 2022 qualification: Who will be in Qatar and who is in play-offs?

November 16, 2021


Gareth Southgate’s England are heading to Qatar 2022, while Wales and Scotland have a play-off place secured
“England have qualified for the 2022 World Cup finals while Wales and Scotland are heading to the play-offs along with some surprising names. European champions Italy and Portugal will also have to go through two rounds of play-off games next March after failing to win their respective groups. Heading to the World Cup so far are: Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland. The Netherlands, Norway and Turkey are the three teams left who can still qualify automatically. The winners of each group secure a place at the World Cup, with the 10 runners-up joining two Nations League teams in the play-offs, where three further places are up for grabs. …”
BBC


Scotland 2 – 0 Denmark

November 16, 2021


“Scotland secured a seeded spot in the World Cup play-off semi-finals as goals from John Souttar and Che Adams stunned Denmark with a thrilling performance at Hampden Park. Steve Clarke’s Group F runners-up needed at least a point against the runaway leaders to give themselves a chance of a home draw. But centre-half Souttar headed home in his first Scotland game since being sent off in a 2018 defeat by Israel and striker Adams burst clear to settle growing nerves after 86 minutes. Scotland had lived dangerously in the closing stages before that breakaway goal secured a sixth competitive victory in succession for the first time since winning six Home Nations matches in a row between March 1928 and February 1930. …”
BBC
Guardian: Che Adams secures Scotland play-off seeding in superb win over Denmark


U.S. Beats Mexico and Then Rubs It In

November 14, 2021


Weston McKennie and his teammates beat Mexico with goals and then taunted them in song.
“Michael Jackson’s 1988 song ‘Man in the Mirror’ — a classic tune, but no one’s idea of a rousing sports arena jam — was blaring over the stadium speakers late on Friday night as the U.S. men’s soccer team rollicked and embraced happily on the field. A bit less than half an hour earlier, Christian Pulisic had charged toward the sideline to celebrate the first of the Americans’ goals in their 2-0 victory against Mexico, lifting the front of his No. 10 jersey to reveal the same phrase, ‘Man in the Mirror,’ scrawled in permanent marker on his white undershirt. At that moment, even reasonably well-informed American soccer fans might have been left scratching their heads at the references, struggling to understand what, exactly, was afoot. …”
NY Times (Video)


Hjulmand: Denmark happy to be World Cup dark horses

November 13, 2021


“With eight wins from eight, 27 goals scored and zero conceded, Denmark qualified for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ in stunning, swashbuckling style. But when Politiken, one of the country’s daily newspapers, dubbed 2021 an ‘almost perfect year’, the reason for qualifying the description was obvious. The events of 12 June, and Christian Eriksen’s horrifying on-field cardiac arrest, are never far from Danish minds – or from conversations around their team. Rather than cast a shadow, however, the trauma of the Eriksen incident – and the response to it – has served to solidify bonds within Kasper Hjulmand’s team and unite the nation around them. …”
FIFA
W – Kasper Hjulmand


Italy 1 – 1 Switzerland

November 13, 2021


Italy remain top of Group C on goal difference despite being held in Rome
“Jorginho’s last-minute penalty miss ensured the race to finish first in 2022 World Cup qualifying Group C goes down to the wire as top two Switzerland and Italy played out a gripping draw. The Chelsea player blazed over after VAR was used to rule that Ulisses Garcia had shoved Domenico Berardi. Giovanni Di Lorenzo headed Italy level after Silvan Widmer’s superb opener. The Azzurri hold the edge going in to the last round of games with a goal difference two better than the Swiss. It means a straight shoot-out between the pair for top spot on Monday, with Italy at Northern Ireland and Switzerland at home against Bulgaria….”
BBC


The Little Country That Could Wonders if It Still Can

November 13, 2021



“Luis Suárez arrived first. And in the ordinary run of things, for a city like Salto — a sleepy place tucked into a distant corner of a tiny country — that would have been its claim to fame: producing one of the finest strikers of a generation. Except that, precisely three weeks later, a second arrived. Edinson Cavani grew up only a few streets from Suárez. The curiosity that the two players who would, for more than a decade, help turn Uruguay’s national team into one of the most potent in the world were born in such quick succession, in such proximity, lends their origin story a faintly fantastical gleam. Lightning, after all, is not supposed to strike twice. …”
NY Times


USA-Mexico: 5 things to know about El Tri before crucial World Cup qualifier

November 12, 2021


“So begins Mexico’s most challenging – and most frigid – World Cup qualifying window. Following a promising start to the Octagonal with four wins and two draws, manager Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino and his squad will now embark on a demanding two-game away trip against the United States (Nov. 12) and Canada (Nov. 16). There’s much more than just World Cup qualifying points on the line here. After already losing to the USMNT twice this year in the Nations League and Gold Cup finals, Mexico will seek to avoid a potential third consecutive defeat since June. As for Canada, Mexico have had some issues with John Herdman’s team after narrowly defeating them 2-1 in the Gold Cup semifinals and being held to a 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw at the Estadio Azteca in October. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. …”
MLS Soccer (Video)


Manchester United’s Perfect Feedback Loop

October 22, 2021


“Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in the mood to play the hits. Manchester United’s most ardent fans, he said, were ‘the best in the world.’ The players who had the privilege to wear the team’s colors were the ‘luckiest’ on the planet. And, of course, there was the inevitable nod to history, to the club’s ‘habit’ of clawing victory from the maw of defeat. Solskjaer was glowing, and with good reason. United had just given Atalanta a two-goal head start in the Champions League and recovered to win regardless. Cristiano Ronaldo had delivered, yet again. United had been at the bottom of its group at halftime, flirting with elimination, but now it sat comfortably at the top. The fans sang Solskjaer’s name as he gave his postmatch television interviews. …”
NY Times


Brazil cruise past Uruguay with Neymar goal, Raphinha double

October 15, 2021


Raphinha turned in another eye-catching performance for Brazil on Thursday by scoring twice in the home side’s 4-1 victory over Uruguay in a World Cup qualifier. Brazil took the lead after 10 minutes when Neymar chested down a pass from Fred and rounded the keeper before firing low between two defenders on the goal-line. …”
ESPN
ESPN: Loss to Neymar’s Brazil leaves Luis Suarez’s Uruguay with fight to reach World Cup (Tim Vickery)
YouTube: Brazil vs Uruguay 4-1, Argentina vs Peru 1-0, Chile 3 Venezuela 0 (Resumen Completo)


Jack Grealish must play the system to be an England regular for Southgate

October 14, 2021


“Jack Grealish could not hide the frustration. And nor could pockets of the England support inside Wembley on Tuesday night, some of whom booed the decision. There were 62 minutes on the clock, the team were level at 1-1 with Hungary and Gareth Southgate had substituted Grealish, replacing him with Bukayo Saka. The TV cameras lingered on Grealish as he took his seat. The midfielder shook his head before putting it down and running his fingers through his hair. It was the night when Southgate tried a different blend, dispensing with his usual minimum of six defensive-minded outfield starters and going with five whose first instinct is to attack. It was Phil Foden and Mason Mount as the No 8s in the 4-3-3, leaving only Declan Rice in front of the defence, and there is no doubt that it was what the fans had demanded. …”
Guardian
Guardian: Southgate must not ditch newfound attacking intent. Fail again. Fail better the same way
“We didn’t play at the level we need to play” – Five things learned as England slump to a 1-1 draw with Hungary


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)


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

October 10, 2021


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


Are Qatar any good at football?

October 7, 2021


“The decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was not, to say the least, a popular one. The objections can generally be split into two categories. One is the moral argument, the idea that the World Cup should not be played in a country with an abominable human rights record and in which an estimated 6,500 migrant workers have died in the last decade, a number of them while constructing stadia for the tournament. The second was that this was a country with no football heritage, that the hosts of the World Cup would be a terrible team who had no sporting place being there. This will, after all, be the first World Cup to be hosted by a country that had never qualified for one before since Italy staged it in 1934. The first argument still stands. The second, not so much. …”
The Athletic


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


UEFA World Cup qualifying scores: Poland end England’s winning streak; Spain, Germany notch victories

September 8, 2021


Poland 1, England 1
“…In a night of relatively low drama most of the big guns of European football eased to a further three points, not least Germany, who looked impressive in swatting aside Iceland 4-0. An early goal from Serge Gnabry set Hansi Flick’s side on course for a win that takes them four points clear in Group J before Antonio Rudiger, Leroy Sane and Timo Werner found the net, the latter only after wasting a string of presentable opportunities. After two games in which they dropped points the visit of Lithuania came at a good time for Italy with new Juventus striker Moise Kean netting a first-half brace. Their lead in Group C had been looking precarious after a draw against Switzerland but they had Northern Irish goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell to thank as he saved a penalty that meant Northern Ireland held the Swiss to a goalless draw in Belfast. …”
CBS Sports (Video)
BBC – World Cup 2022 qualifying: Who is close to qualifying? Who are the surprise packages?
Guardian: Szymanski denies England as Poland snatch late draw after Kane’s opener
ESPN: England’s draw in Poland keeps Three Lions on track for Qatar 2022, but they’ll need complete performances to vie for World Cup


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


Spain Loses World Cup Qualifier For The First Time In 66 Matches, 2-1 Against Sweden

September 6, 2021


“The Spanish national team tasted defeat for the first time in 28 years in a World Cup qualifying match after they lost to Sweden 2-1 on Friday in Stockholm. Sweden came back from a goal down to defeat Spain who lost a World Cup qualifying match after 66 games undefeated. The defeat means that Spain have lost a World Cup qualifying game after 66 matches and 28 years. During this undefeated run, they also managed to win 10 in a row before the 2010 World Cup which they ended up winning. A defeat that Luis Enrique would not have excepted as his men had done well in the Euro 2020 having made the semi-finals where they lost eventual Champions Italy on penalties. …”
Republic World
YouTube: Sweden stuns Spain 2-1 in World Cup qualifier | WCQ Highlights | ESPN FC
UEFA: European Qualifiers: England and Belgium rampant, Sweden stun Spain


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)