Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Who was robbed?

One of the bad things about the World Cup is that people take it way too seriously. People who will never get excited about a Champions League or League match (which are so much better than the vast majority of World Cup matches) will get excited about the game because they get to wave a a coloured piece of cloth called a flag, sing the anthem, and support 11 guys who happen to share their passport.
Some people get tears in their eyes because of the nationalistic fervor, others use it to confirm their wrong stereotypes about other nationalities.
The worst are people who in their indignant ignorance see conspiracies in the footballing results: "It is a scandal!!! We were robbed!!!"
Who the fuck robbed you? Did you call the police? And who is "we"? Are you one of the players who were robbed?
What did these people rob you? A football result!? Why don't you have a beer and relax? There are way more important things in the world...

https://fromacomrade.tumblr.com/post/171731237118

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The 2018 World Cup table

The World Cup has ended, and as usual I prepare a table with the final positions of the tournament, based on a three-point system, goal difference (GD) and in case of tie (Australia, Costa Rica and Iceland), I have used FIFAs fair play (number of yellow cards):

Country
Games
Won
Tied
Lost
GF
GA
GD
points
1
France
7
6
1
0
14
6
8
19
2
Croatia
7
4
2
1
14
9
5
14
3
Belgium
7
6
0
1
16
6
10
18
4
England
7
3
1
3
12
8
4
10
5
Uruguay
5
4
0
1
7
3
4
12
6
Brazil
5
3
1
1
8
3
5
10
7
Sweden
5
3
0
2
6
4
2
9
8
Russia
5
2
2
1
11
7
4
8
9
Colombia
4
2
1
1
6
3
3
7
10
Spain
4
1
3
0
7
6
1
6
11
Denmark
4
1
3
0
3
2
1
6
12
Mexico
4
2
0
2
3
6
-3
6
13
Portugal
4
1
2
1
6
6
0
5
14
Switzerland
4
1
2
1
5
5
0
5
15
Japan
4
1
1
2
6
7
-1
4
16
Argentina
4
1
1
2
6
9
-3
4
17
Senegal
3
1
1
1
4
4
0
4
18
Iran
3
1
1
1
2
2
0
4
19
South Corea
3
1
0
2
3
3
0
3
20
Peru
3
1
0
2
2
2
0
3
21
Nigeria
3
1
0
2
3
4
-1
3
22
Serbia
3
1
0
2
2
4
-2
3
23
Germany
3
1
0
2
2
4
-2
3
24
Tunisia
3
1
0
2
5
8
-3
3
25
Poland
3
1
0
2
2
5
-3
3
26
Saudi Arabia
3
1
0
2
2
7
-5
3
27
Morocco
3
0
1
2
2
4
-2
1
28
Australia
3
0
1
2
2
5
-3
1
29
Costa Rica
3
0
1
2
2
5
-3
1
30
Iceland
3
0
1
2
2
5
-3
1
31
Egypt
3
0
0
3
2
6
-4
0
32
Panama
3
0
0
3
2
11
-9
0
TOTAL
32
64



169
169
0


It is clear that France were the best team in terms of points. Belgium, on third place, in fact had more points than the vice-champions, Croatia, who had to go through a couple of ties, while Belgium only lost one match. Uruguay, with four victories won more matches than England, who nevertheless got a well-deserved fourth place. Notice though, that both Uruguay and Belgium were eliminated by the later champions. Belgium was also the team with most goals and the best GD, while the best defenses according to least goals were Denmark, Iran and Peru. The worst defense was that of the Panamanian debutants, who also ended dead last in the table. The 2014 champions from Germany ended in the 23rd spot, which is their worst performance ever.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

France World Champions and Croatia, the world's Champions

The World Cup final between France and Croatia will be remembered for many things: Croatia's first final and France's second title; the most goals in a final since 1966; the first final since 2002 that does not go into extra time; Mbappe as the youngest goalscorer in a final since Pele in 1958; Didier Deschamps joining Beckenbauer and Zagallo as having won the cup both as a player and manager; the first use of VAR in a World Cup final.

It was a great final that defied expectations in Moscow, proving a fine end to a World Cup that has been better than expected. Croatia started best, and looked superior until Mario Mandzukic scored an own goal to bring France ahead, in what was really France's first shot on goal. Perisic's equalizer was well-deserved, but what will probably be discussed a lot was the penalty award for hands, following a revision from the VAR: initially the Argentinean referee did not call it, but after revising the video he awarded the penalty that Antoine Griezmann scored on. It was not a clear-cut call: in my view the hand did not stop an open goal situation and was unintentional, but that can certainly be interpreted differently. What is clear about VAR is that it does not take controversy away from football, but is a tool to help referees make decisions (which may not always be better).
Although Croatia came out to attack in the second half the French counter-attack was excellent, with Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe making it 3-1 and 4-1. Paul Pogba was young player of the tournament four years ago, a title that now goes to Mbappe, underlining the strength of French youth football. It was only a dreadful mistake by Hugo Lloris (reminding of Loris Karius' giveaway to Karim Benzema in the Champions league final), giving a goal away to Mario Mandzukic (who became the first player in a final to score for both teams...), that gave Croatia some hope that they might make another amazing comeback.
But it was not to be and France won 4-2.

France are World Champions, but Croatia were the world's champions. Added to their quality, the Croat team has fought bravely and with spirit throughout the tournament, playing some of the most dramatic matches of the tournament. Luka Modric deservedly got the award as the best player of the tournament, but the entire team has been fantastic. And in the end they also took their final defeat with a level of dignity that you would be unlikely to see in many other teams: they were disappointed, but congratulated the French and thanked their fans, of which they can now surely count most of the world (including the Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who looked disarmingly excited about the entire final and meeting the players in the award ceremony).

Congratulations France. Thank you Croatia.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Third and fourth best of Europe (and the world)

Belgium ended in third place after defeating England 2-0 in the bronze match of the World Cup. This is the best result of Belgium in a World Cup ever, following their fourth place finish in 1986. So Belgium can be proud of this despite the fact that they probably expected and deserved more. They end the tournament with an impressive record of six victories and only one defeat (the semifinal defeat to France), as well as probably the most scoring team of the tournament with 16 goals (unless Croatia or France respectively score 4 or 6 goals in the final).
Belgium has a lot to be proud of from this World Cup.
England is also proud of a team that had low expectations and that made it to fourth place, the best English result since 1990, when they ended in the same place. Their record is nevertheless more mixed: They ended with three victories (against Panama, Tunisia and Sweden), one penalty victory (over Colombia) and three defeats (two to Belgium and one to Croatia). On paper this is not overly impressive as one has the impression that England's only true test was against Croatia. But it will certainly be interesting to watch England's youngsters (who surely have great talent and potential) in the future. In the meantime, unless extraordinary things happen in the final, Harry Kane will end up as the top goalscorer of the tournament with six goals, being only the second Englishman ever to achieve this honour, following the great Gary Lineker in 1986.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Winter World Cup

FIFA has just announced that the World Cup in 2022 in Qatar will be held in November-December, apparently due to the heat in June-July.
As if the heat was not there when they chose Qatar...
So expect a World Cup to suspend the excitement of the best football in the world: Champions League, Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A, etc., will all be suspended during the World Cup. Instead, 2022 will be a loooooong summer...
The decision on making the World Cup with 48 teams instead of 32 for 2022 is still pending. It is an idiotic decision that will only contribute to lower the quality of the World Cup so much as to make it almost meaningless in footballing terms, if not in nationalistic money-making terms.
I am afraid that with these horrible decisions the World Cup in Russia this year will be remembered by many fans as the last World Cup.
From now on, it is just downhill.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The big news

Forget the World Cup. The biggest footballing news are about the club transfers following the tournament, and the biggest of these was the news that Cristiano Ronaldo is leaving Real Madrid to go to Juventus for 105 Mio Euros. Although there had been rumours, it still came as a surprise. Real Madrid has said goodbye to a player that was instrumental in bringing them 3 Champions League in a row, but perhaps wanted to sell him as price was still high for a 33 year old. Also, Ronaldo leaves at a time when Zinedine Zidane has also left, and Real Madrid may be looking to building a renewed side under Julen Lopetegui not so dependent on the Portuguese superstar.
For Juventus it looks like a deal although there have been strikes at the FIAT factories against the deal. They are almost certain to recover the money just on the sale of t-shirts, and although Ronaldo is 33 year old he is still in fantastic shape and has grown into a very intelligent player. He is sure to contribute to making Juventus stronger next year, and perhaps one or two years more.
Ronaldo is an incredibly ambitious player who has won everything there is to win in football (except the FIFA World Cup, but that has not been won my many of the best) in both Real Madrid and Manchester United, as well as with Portugal. Changing to Juventus he goes to another of the world's biggest clubs and is probably going to take a few more trophies before he retires.
Perhaps what will be missed the most with the transfer is the rivalry Ronaldo had with Lionel Messi at FC Barcelona, which always gave a special touch to "El Clasico". Both players were great in their own way in these clashes, but while Messi has always relied on the comfort of his brilliant teammates, Ronaldo has shown that he is a fantastic player in different clubs and in different leagues, making the teams he plays on better, at least as much as they make him good. That alone makes him a greater footballer than Messi.

The Finalists: France-Croatia

The World Cup has reached the final stage, and after the two all-European semifinals we have an all-European final between France and Croatia.
This will be the second World Cup final for France (having won in 1998), while Croatia makes it to their first World Cup final ever, after they took the world with storm in their first World Cup, also in 1998. In fact, the 1998 World Cup semifinal between France and Croatia was the first time the two teams faced one another, with France winning. Since then, the sides have faced one another four times, with two victories for France (friendlies in 1999 and 2000) and two ties (2-2 at the 2004 European Championships and 0-0 in a friendly in 2011), so Croatia will not only be looking for the world title, but also for their first victory over France.

Neither team has been overly impressing in a World Cup that has been more about organization, defending and set-piece goals. In fact, no team has stood out in this World Cup, that is unlikely to be remembered for any genius on the pitch. France won all their matches in ordinary time except for a boring 0-0 against Denmark, but not in an impressive manner, although they have always looked like possible champions. In particular their central defenders in Rafael Varane and Samuel Umtiti have been impressive, but also their young backs Benjamin Pavard (remember his goal against Argentina?) and Lucas Hernandez have been fantastic. In midfield the ever-working N'golo Kante has shown on the world stage why he has for a few years been the highest rated player of the Premier League, while Paul Pogba has shown what all the hype about him was about. And then we have the genius of the young Kylian Mbappe and the hard work of Antoine Griezmann to create a team that in my view looks like world champions and set to dominate the world stage for years to come.
Croatia's way to the final has been more complicated: they won their group with three straight victories over Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland, but then struggled to defeat Denmark as well as Russia after penalty kicks, where the Monaco goalkeeper Daniel Subasic has been the saviour. But that is not to say that there are not other players: Dejan Lovren has been a solid and experienced defender, while Luka Modric has stood out as perhaps the best player of the tournament. Ivan Perisic has also been outstanding, while Ante Rebic is probably going to be in the sight of bigger clubs than Eintracht Frankfurt. The veteran Mario Mandzukic has been working hard in all matches and scored a deserved winner over England. Although they look more tired than the French, they are a more experienced and patient side, which they showed by their victory over England in the semifinals. That will be their greatest chance.

If I bet, I would put my money on France. But I will probably be supporting Croatia because it would be great to see a small country of 4 million people take the greatest title of world football.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Football is home

I was not supporting England against Croatia, although I recognize that they had an interesting young team that exceeded expectations and who will probably go further in the future. But I got increasingly annoyed about English fans who kept saying that "Football is coming home".
The home of football has for a long time been the entire world. So I am happy to say that football remains home, while England is going home (although after a bronze-match).
Croatia in the final is great: the smallest country after Uruguay ever to make it to a final, shows that small European nations can also compete at the highest level in the expanded European Championship known as the World Cup.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

The semifinals

The semifinals of the World Cup are as follows:
  • France-Belgium: In my view this is the moral final of the tournament. Belgium eliminated mighty Brazil (who continues being not so mighty after all), while the French have not impressed, but have been steady throughout the tournament. France are favourites because of their history, but Belgium are favourites because of their players. Personally, I favour Belgium: it a great side and best of all, the least nationalistic country of the World Cup. I hate all the nationalistic shit of this tournament.
  • England-Croatia: Croatia are in their first semi-final since 1998. Luka Modric has probably been the best player of the tournament, but the team has not always looked on top: against both Denmark and Russia (great sides but not among the best in the world) they struggled and only won on penalties, and have looked tired. England on the other hand have played well, but have only been up against quality opposition when they lost to a Belgian B-team. They struggled against a weak Colombia and easily pushed aside the overrated Swedes. I certainly hope Croatia takes out England, which I find the least likeable team of those four that are left. 

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Viva Rusia!!!

Russia are sadly out after a fantastic match with Croatia, who managed to win the lottery of penalties yet again. Croatia probably deserved overall to win, but as in every match Russia played up to their best, first leading on a splendid goal by Denis Cherysev, but also equalizing after being down 1-2 in extra time.
Russia are not the best team in the world, but their spirit and their fans should be admired by everyone. In particular their fans were great, and deserve the drama they were given because they have been great hosts to the World Cup.
In fact, if anything, the World Cup proves that Russia does not need to win in football to be the best in the world!
Thank you Russia!

Monday, July 02, 2018

Happy for Belgium, delighted for Japan

I had been wishing that Japan were hammered by Belgium, but in the end the way they were eliminated must have been the most painful, so that is something to thank Belgium for. Belgium are in the quarterfinals after suffering. But coming from behind 0-2 to win 3-2 is something that has happened very few times in World Cup history knock-out matches (in fact the previous one had been a legendary West Germany against England in 1970), and perhaps fighting and winning such an uphill battle will make the Belgians stronger. Because surely they will need everything they have to defeat a Brazilian side that will be much more unforgiving than the Japanese. The left and right backs of Beglium looked completely inept, and any Brazilian back (Marcelo, Danilo, Fagner) will have a field day if they have such space in the quarterfinals! And Brazil's defense is MUCH better than the Japanese. Belgium will have confidence after their win, but Brazil are by far favourites to make it to the semi-final. Belgium is not that good. In the meantime, Sayonara Japan!

Sunday, July 01, 2018

My trip to Russia

I had the fortune to go to Russia with a great friend for six days during this World Cup. The fortune was mainly due to visiting a beautiful and friendly country with a great friend. The football was so and so...
Of course, due to the impossibility of getting tickets for the best matches, we took tickets to whatever we could get: Croatia-Iceland in Rostov-on-Don. I have to mention that when Argentina did not win their group, and Denmark were to face Croatia, Argentineans in every street corner of Moscow were offering tickets for the Denmark-Croatia match, as many had bought tickets thinking they would be group winners. Seems strange that I could have bought a ticket off the street from almost any Argentine, while at FIFAs website it was all but impossible...
The World Cup in Russia is well-organised: the FAN-ID system worked fine and there were volunteers to help fans all over the country. Getting to Rostov-on-Don we took Russian-Trains, 19 hours from Moscow in a sleeping wagon.
It was a splendid trip going South, with a nice albeit slow train with eating wagon and very friendly Russians throughout. Perhaps the greatest of the Western myths about Russia and its people is that they are not friendly, but this was quite the contrary throughout, and I am sure that this World Cup is by far friendlier than any pervious or future tournament in Europe or North America, especially from what we will see in the so-called "World Cup" of 2026.
Rostov-on-Don is a nice city in southern Russia that probably does not see that many foreign visitors. One local told me that the city had been thoroughly renewed (among others a new airport that is one of the nicest airport I have ever seen) and that the city seemed in perpetual holiday atmosphere with the World Cup. And indeed the atmosphere was great.
The stadium, Rostov Arena, is beautifully situated next to the Don River and on match day it was a lovely walk across the river to get to the stadium.
Croatia-Iceland was an ok match. Croatia, who did not seem to stretch themselves, were clearly a better team. Iceland, who clearly had more support among locals and neutral alike, fought bravely but were eliminated from their first ever World Cup. Besides the atmosphere, experiencing the famous Icelandic "Hu" Cheer was quite amazing in the stadium.
Fans are the best thing about the World Cup, because the vast majority are nice people out to have fun in the guise of "eleven-guys-kicking-a-ball-who-happen-to-share-your-passport". Petty nationalism is the worst of this (and any) World Cup, but it remains rather in the background as fans meet and have a pint and a laugh. We greatly enjoyed hanging with fans from Iceland, Croatia, Russia and Mexico (Mexicans were numerous everywhere). But here one must mention the so-called Fan Zones: The one in Rostov was frankly, -and excuse my expression-, shit. The Fan Zones are a highly protected corporate propaganda area with watered down beer and large screens. But do not be fooled that it is for football fans! We went to the Rostov Fan Zone when Portugal-Iran and Spain-Morocco were playing, but turns out they only show one match among their 50+ large screens!! It was Portugal-Iran, but there were a huge number of disappointed Spain and Morocco fans unable to watch their teams...
Frankly, that is a disgrace, such as the whole FIFA Fan Zone concept.
Instead, the best thing was to hang out in the many bars and pubs of any of the host cities: in Rostov-on-Don we watched France-Denmark and Peru-Australia simultaneously in a pub before heading to Rostov Arena, and in Moscow enjoyed Colombia-Senegal in a pub with plenty of beer and fans (mostly supporting Colombia).
Moscow is a lovely city and the atmosphere was also great, with an even greater variety of fans than in Rostov-on-Don (on the Red Square saw fans from every place, but particularly the Latin Americans were numerous). We had no tickets for any matches there, but did see England-Belgium in the Fan Zone. As any Fan Zone it was shit, but it was certainly worth the visit because it is the beautifully situated at the foot of Moscow Univeristy. Of course, we had the annoyance with the volunteers after the match, who sent us on a one hour walk to reach a pub, instead of advising us better. That was the biggest annoyance of the trip (I lost my phone on the second day, but being disconnected during the entire trip was in fact fantastic!), but should mention that besides those idiotic volunteers the rest were friendly, smiling and very helpful, just as the vast majority of Russians.
In the end, football should only be a meager excuse to see Moscow (or all of Russia for that sake). A gorgeous city with a rich history, it is worth a visit any time, and that is something I certainly take with me from this short visit: the wish to visit again! And whatever all the petty nationalism, FIFA, as well as poor and unfair football, this World Cup will be remembered for being a great one because it was in Russia!
 
 


The Red Square