The Illusion Train

August 22, 2018

“As the referee’s whistle signaled the end of the 2018 World Cup final between France and Croatia, I confess that I wept, more from relief than from joy. The blunder by French goalie Hugo Lloris that allowed Croatia its second score had struck me as suicidal. It reminded me of Zinedine Zidane’s narcissistic, self-destructive foul in the 2006 final World Cup match, when the Italian defender Marco Materazzi allegedly insulted the French superstar and Zidane responded by attacking him, causing Zidane to be ejected and weakening his team to a degree that I felt cost France the game. Was there something in the collective unconscious of les Bleus that didn’t want France to win its second world title, following on the great triumph of 1998?” Harpers

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England 1 West Germany 1* World Cup semi-final, 4 July 1990, Stade delle Alpi, Turin

July 13, 2018

“English football was reborn on the fourth of July. Umpteen factors contributed to the game in this country becoming both richer and poorer; by far the most significant was England’s Italia 90 campaign and particularly the glorious failure against West Germany in the semi-final on Wednesday 4 July 1990. England’s campaign started as a Carry-On film and ended as an operatic epic. The ultimate consequence was the Premier League, prawn sandwiches, Sky, Wags and the rest. All that may well have happened eventually, but it would have done so at a different time and in a different way.” The Blizzard


How Zinedine Zidane’s flawed genius defined the 2006 World Cup

July 10, 2018

“Everyone remembers the headbutt, but not so much what came before. The background to that defining moment in the career of Zinedine Zidane – and the history of the French national team – has been lost in the stark brutality of such an arresting image. A thrilling journey has been forgotten, completely overlooked in favour of the tragic destination. In the final moments of the 2006 World Cup final, with the score at 1-1 and penalties on the way, Zidane planted his head firmly into the chest of Italy defender Marco Materazzi.” The Set Pieces (Video)


Did Pelé–by playing a match in Nigeria–cause a ceasefire during the Biafran War?

July 10, 2018

“The story goes that in 1969 the great Brazilian footballer Pelé and his club, Santos, stopped the Nigerian civil war for 48 hours as the warring factions (Nigeria and Biafra) put aside their differences for a couple of days for Santos to play in the country. But did this really happen? And how come the world’s greatest player came to Nigeria in the first place? In this essay, I look back through the archives in search of the real story of Pelé in Nigeria.” Africa is a Country, W – Nigerian Civil War


Lev Ivanovich Yashin 1929-1990

July 7, 2018


“The greatest goalkeeper of them all, Lev Yashin revolutionised his position and became a hero of the Soviet Union. This summer, the image of him flying high will be seen by millions of people because it is Yashin who is on the 2018 Fifa World Cup poster. He was an international star and an iconic figure, famous for his black outfit and flat cap. But he had his childhood torn away in a country ravaged by war and died aged 60 after a retirement plagued by ill health that led to him losing a leg.” BBC, W – Lev Ivanovich Yashin, YouTube: The Legendary Goalkeeper


How to improve the World Cup? Scrap penalties and move the goalposts

July 4, 2018

Penalty shootouts are an offence against the greatest of team games, association football. They are a lottery, doctored to add tension, personal agony, group ecstasy and nationalist hysteria, for the benefit of television. They are to sport what Love Island is to Romeo and Juliet. Before shootouts were introduced in the World Cup in 1978 (although the first time one was needed was in 1982), coins were tossed if nothing could be decided on the field. No triumphalism was attached to the winner. But since coin-tossing was boring, it was replaced by what amounted to the public execution of individual players who missed. Team effort was replaced by unarmed combat.” Guardian (Video)


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

June 27, 2018

“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