Friday, December 30, 2022

RIP Pelé

Edson Arantes do Nascimiento, better known as Pelé, has sadly passed away at the age of 82. 

People continue to discuss who is the GOAT (Greatest Player of All Time), in particularly now, as Messi has taken his coveted World Cup title. 

It is a non-sensical and subjective discussion. Football is a team sport; any player depends on his or her team, and the number of titles or goals do not define a great player. 

There is simply no GOAT.

This said, Pelé was someone who defined the game; the first truly global superstar, a player who defined football, and who was a pioneer in terms of many of the brilliant details that we so often take for granted. Coming from deep poverty he was one of the most gifted players of all time, and came on with storm at the World Cup in 1958, when at 17 years he was the youngest player to score a World Cup goal against Wales in the quarterfinals. Then he went on to score three goals in the final against Sweden, remaining the youngest goalscorer in a World Cup final.

The 1958 title was Brazil's first World Cup title, and they went on to win again in 1962 and the legendary 1970 final, where Pelé captained and was the architect behind the spectacular 4-1 victory over Italy

Pelé is the only player ever to have won three World Cup titles.

Brazil has declared three days of official mourning for the passing of the Great Pelé, The King, showing what he meant to the country, but he was not only a Brazilian icon, but a global icon.

When Maradona passed, Pelé tweeted that "Um dia, eu espero que possamos jogar bola juntos no céu." (one day I hope we can play football together in Heaven).

That day has come, and they are playing some outstanding football today!

RIP Pelé.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Erling Haaland's route to records

Erling Haaland was already on fire when playing in Borussia Dortmund, but since his change to Manchester City the Norwegian has continued as a goal-scoring machine. In the latest match against Leeds (which happens to be Haaland's favourite English club) Haaland scored two goals in City's 3-1 victory, and with these two goals he reached 20 goals in the Premier League, after 14 matches played. With this, Haaland has been the fastest player ever to reach 20 goals in the Premier League.

Except for an injury Haaland will be the most scoring player of the league; the last two seasons 23 goals have been enough to get that title (Harry Kane, Mohammed Salah and Son Heung-Min), so Haaland appears likely to get beyond the 30 goal-mark (something that Mohammed Salah achieved in the 2017-18 season with 32 goals).

Manchester City appear in a good position to defend the Premier League title, and Haaland is surely an important part of that.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Great Di Maria

As the hangover of Argentina's World Cup triumph fades there is a lot of focus on some of the great players who will retire after this World Cup. Most of the focus is obviously on Lionel Messi, who alongside Cristiano Ronaldo has dominated world football for 15-20 years (in 2006 I watched him play for Barcelona alongside Ronaldinho), and who has crowned his career with the World Cup title. But obviously a lot of attention has gone to Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Luka Modric and Luis Suarez - players who have defined the last decade of football, delighted all real football fans, and are set to retire.

But I feel one player is being forgotten: Angel Di Maria has been one of the greatest players in the world for the last 10 years. He has had too many injuries in his career (including the 2014 World Cup final when Argentina could have plausibly won with him on the team against the forward defending slow German defense) and ups and downs in some of his clubs. But he has nevertheless been a defining player in all his clubs, but most notably in the national team, where, despite the fact that he has been overshadowed by Messi, he has stood out: he scored the winner when they won the 2021 Copa America, also scored the winner when Argentina won Olympic gold in 2008, and finally scored Argentina´s opening goal in the World Cup final, following a fantastic first half during which he was one of Argentina's defining players.

A modest player who comes from a very poor background, Di Maria stands out as both a player and a colleague, and if anything, I feel he does not get enough credit for a list of titles that he has certainly had a foot or two in getting for Argentina.

Angel Di Maria will be one of those players who will be missed in the future.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Reflection on the World Cup in Qatar

This World Cup was hard to get excited about: the entire precedence of greed for a host country that had no football tradition and the complaints about human rights (something that has nevertheless never been and never will be of FIFA´s concern) were just part of the tale. Having a World Cup in November and December was also strange, difficult to get excited about amid the usual end of year concerns that permeate our lives. 

Finally my feeling was that this World Cup has been worse than any other in terms of fans: most appear focused on their petty idiotic nationalisms and xenophobia. For most people the World Cup is nothing but an excuse to be petty and hateful, rather than enjoy a friendly contest. 

At least there was beer; as in every World Cup, plenty of beer (except of course if you happened to be in Qatar....).

On the footballing side it was also more positive: it was an exciting tournament, with good matches, surprises (which are nevertheless nothing new in a World Cup) and the excitement of a dramatic final. I am personally happy for Argentina, having reached something that I had hoped for many years.

That said, as I have learnt over the years of passionate fandom, my life is the same shit whether my teams win or lose.

Nothing new there.

But as always, it remains strange to have finished this World Cup. The next one will be in USA and Mexico. Maybe I will not be around, but if I am I could travel there depending on what the world looks like at that time... 

But let us see: four years are a long time!

In my office I had put up a poster from World Football Magazine:

I quite like it, and since it will remind me of this World Cup, I will have it framed.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Ups and downs and finally!

I have been a supporter of Argentina since my childhood; since they won the 1986 World Cup. Since then I have suffered more downs than ups with the team; I have been sad, angry and desperate about their lack of results (as amply demonstrated in this very blog) and more often than not been close to giving up. Although the current national team had given us plenty of reasons to be optimistic (as I had also said on this blog) there were so many disappointments that I did not want to be too optimistic despite them having reached the World Cup final against a French team that was looking strangely more vulnerable as the tournament advanced.

The first half of the World Cup final gave every reason to be optimistic: Argentina were fantastic, far better than a French side that looked poor. The first half statistics said it all: Argentina had 15 shots on goal, and France did not once have a shot. Argentina were leading 2-0 on a penalty goal by Lionel Messi, and a truly great counterattack strike by Angel Di Maria. In the second half the French came out a bit more offensive (Marcus Thuram and Kolo Muani came on for Oliver Giroud and Ousman Dembele), but Argentina still appeared to be in full control of the match, and were even creating more chances. 

At this point I was completely relaxed, quietly beginning to celebrate what I had been waiting for...

But to be Argentina fan is to suffer.

I suffered.

The great Kylian Mbappe scored first on a penalty that Nicolas Ottamendi committed on Kolo Muani, and only two minutes later he equalized on a splendid first-timer. 2-2 with only five minutes left. 

It was so unfair! Argentina had been so much better! But France and not least Kylian Mbappe were threatening to show one of the greatest truths in football (and in life): you do not need to be the best to be a winner.

The match went into extra time, and Argentina remained the better side, although the goals had given the French a threatening confidence that they could take the match nevertheless. 

And I was scared.

Then Messi put things right by bringing Argentina ahead 3-2. I was again (carefully) happy with all my hopes within reach.

But soon my hopes were shattered once again, as another penalty gave the annoyingly brilliant Kylian Mbappe the opportunity to score his third goal of the match and make it 3-3.

It took the match into penalties although Emiliano Martinez, "Dibu", made a save from a Kolo Muani free-runner that  almost made me shit my pants and could easily have meant that France would be World Champions.

Penalty kicks are always nerve-wrecking. That said, this one was one-sided as Argentina were dominant. The players scored on every shot, and as he did against the Netherlands, Dibu saved Kingley Coman's penalty. When Aurelien Tchouameni missed the goalposts altogether, Gonzalo Montiel scored the last penalty for Argentina, making them World Champions.

After so much suffering I lifted my arms in a victory that had appeared so unlikely for so long! 

I am still wearing my Argentina shirt!

The final was unique: a never-seen before score of 3-3, with two of the best players in history, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe, scoring respectively two and three goals. It had a great Argentina side (France were frankly very poor, in particular in the first half, and this was one of the final's disappointments) but also an incredible French comeback, as well as drama and nerves.

A great World Cup final that took place in a place that should never have hosted such greatness!

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Argentina-France in the final

France defeated Morocco 2-0 in today's semifinal on goals by Theo Hernandez and Kolo Muani. Despite this France did not look as strong as expected, and Morocco should be proud of a match where they managed to put pressure on the world champions, who at times looked shaky.

Argentina surely looked on with interest.

Both sides can win: They are both teams with great players and deserve to be in the final. I do not hide my subjectivity in supporting Argentina, but beyond this also hope that the World Cup will end outside Europe for the first time since 2002

France and Argentina do not share a strong World Cup history. They have met three times:

Both teams have won the World Cup twice (Argentina 1978 and 1986, France 1998 and 2018). For Argentina though, this will be their sixth final, while France is playing their third.

The match will also be sold as a contest between two great players and teammates in Paris St. Germain: Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe have each scored five goals in the tournament and will be looking to become the most scoring player of the tournament.

Whichever way you turn it, it will be a match to go into history of the World Cups in the World Cup that should never have taken place.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

World Champions in other things

 Croatia are World Champions in winning penalty contests, but that did not help them today against Argentina, who got a thorough revenge for the 2018 loss to Croatia.

It was most certainly the best we have seen Argentina play in the tournament, and although the Croatian team had its moments dominating possession, they never really looked to threaten the Argentines who were concentrated, organised and fought with a spirit that perhaps is better only by Morocco in this World Cup.

And although they were all good, two Argentine players stood out: firstly, the young Julian Alvarez, who joined Manchester City in September, scored two goals and forced the penalty that Messi scored on. And secondly the veteran Lionel Messi, who not only scored on a penalty, but also made a perfect run around Josko Gvardiol to set up Alvarez for the third goal. It was the kind of Messi one saw when he was young, but he is also showing the qualities of a leader that Argentina needs and wants.

Argentina are World Champions in World Cup semifinals: this was their sixth (1930, 1978, 1986, 1990, 2014 and 2022), and they have won every single time, but still only two title to show for it. The way they played today, Argentina can beat anyone in the final. But they still display some weaknesses and nerves (the pressure is enormous on these players), meaning that they can also lose to anyone.

I hope to see them win their third title.

No matter what happens in the final, Argentina are World Champions football fans: the passion the fans have put into the matches is unique, and surely it will carry the team to try harder and harder.

Monday, December 12, 2022

The propensity for human happiness because of others' misery

For many years I have become more and more disillusioned by the World Cup. Not just the greed and lack of quality football (the fear of losing being superior to the desire for winning), but most of all the nationalism and hate that comes out during a sport which is about 11 guys who share your passport kicking a ball around.

Football says nothing, absolutely nothing, about any country, and if anyone thinks that, they are (sorry to say so) fucking idiotic morons.

In the end the World Cup sadly serves to confirm stereotypes and justifies saying xenophobic things about other people and countries. It is ok to hate someone for the shirt they wear for a match, while the same fucking morons will talk about world peace, love, and other hypocritical bullshit. 

It is probably a human condition; We are not wired to be happy about other people's joy. Quite on the contrary: most football fans will be happier seeing another team lose than they will by seeing their own team win! That is why Ronaldo's or Neymar's tears at elimination were much more widely transmitted than the actual celebrations of Morocco and Croatia respectively. 

Tribalism is what defines us. Hate is what moves us. And the football World Cup is built up around tribalism and hate to make money and make us forget the real problems of the world.

Opium for the people.

It is sad and one can only grow more and more disillusioned, not just by the World Cup, but the world in general...

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Tension and surprises

 I have had a lovely weekend with great friends and traveling half across the world, so have had limited time to reflect on the semifinals.

I watched Argentina's match in a nice bar in San Salvador. Over beers and ribs I suffered greatly: Argentina apparently had the match under control after Nahuel Molina and Lionel Messi had brought them ahead 0-2, but Wout Weghorst, coming on for the Dutch, scored two for the Dutch to equalize and take it into extra time and an eventual nerve-wrecking penalty shootout.

I shit my pants as Argentina's Emiliano Martinez, Dibu, held strong and saved the penalties from Virgil Van Dijk and Steven Berghuis, with Lautaro Martinez in the end scoring the winner for Argentina.

It was an intense and dramatic match, but most of all, ugly, full of hate, mutual provocation, and a referee, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, that interestingly was accused by both sides of favouring the other side (maybe in the end that is the greatest compliment to a referee's neutrality). It is a pity that these players descend into that state of primitive cave-man mentality, but hey, that is why these guys are all footballers: they lack brains to be anything else.

As to Argentina: can they be World Champions? Yes, all four semifinalists can. But they are not the best or most stable team of the four. They could win the whole thing or end up losing 0-3 to the Croatians as they did in 2018

Because watch out for Croatia! Just as four years ago in the semifinals after two penalty shootouts, and having eliminated a great Brazilian side! Because Brazil were great and it is truly sad to see them eliminated, but they lost again to a strong European side (Brazil has not defeated a European side in a World Cup knockout match since 2002!) who proved disciplined, organized and were not at all intimidated at playing against Brazil.

Morocco are the first African team ever to make it into a semifinal, and that in itself is truly historical, besides the fact that they repeated their feat of 1986 by defeating a Portuguese side that had not watched Morocco's other matches. It is great and refreshing to finally see and African team through, and they will face their biggest challenge in France, the defending World Champions, but also a country with which they have strong bonds; I hope it will be a fair and great match of mutual respect rather than the hateful nationalistic shit we are seeing in the tournament.

If not, rather watch Netflix.

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Argetina versus Netherlands in World Cups

Tomorrow Argentina will face the Netherlands in what will be one of the most awaited quarterfinals of the tournament. Two great teams each in their way: the Argentina of Lionel Messi remain candidates for the title, but as yet to be really convincing, while everyone knows that the Dutch have the quality to make it all the way but appear to be unrealiable, and they are certainly not invincible as shown by Ecuador.

Historically it is also a special match. The two countries have faced one another four times before in a World Cup:

So in terms of World Cup history the Dutch have a slight edge over Argentina, although Argentina seems a bit better when it counts. 

Of course history counts for nothing when they face one another this time! Two fantastic teams, great fans (yes, I fully admit to have joined their ranks once in a while!), and what promises to be another historical match between them.

Go Argentina!

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

The World Champion passers from Spain

Spain-Morocco: four years ago both sides tied 2-2 in the group stages, and now they tied 0-0, and Morocco went through winning 3-0 on penalty kicks. 

An African team in the quarterfinals is great. Everyone supports Morocco. But let us be frank: they are not a team we like to watch. Defensive and well-organised, they are totally boring. 

But they remain the small team that defeated the Spanish giants.

The Spanish giants who are not that gigantic: since they won the World Cup in 2010 Spain has won three matches in a World Cup: against Australia in 2014, against Iran in 2018, and the 7-0 over Costa Rica this year. Not impressive, and in fact quite disappointing for a team with such quality players. But the truth is that Spain, as they did today, spend a lot of time passing the ball around, but lack any explosion. They had a possession of 77% but only one shot within the goalposts! 

That is not quality: that is inefficiency. 

Spain can simply not win by being world champions in passing, and not even able to make one goal on penalty kicks (three misses!!!)

Spain should be better than that, so in the end one has to wish Morocco the best and be happy for an African team in the quarterfinals, where they will face Portugal.

Portugal destroyed Switzerland 6-1. Nobody talks about them, but they are surely a serious candidate for the title, and are huge favourites against Morocco. The Moroccans can simply not play that defensively against a side that attacks like Portugal, and if they have nothing to offer then Portugal are a sure semifinalist, and a likely finalist! 

I hate this World Cup: it is a tournament of hate and anger. Just like the entire world. I would love to enjoy the football.

Monday, December 05, 2022

No surprises

I have had a great weekend. Can't say I focused on football. I did not watch Saturday's matches.  But I watched both today's matches, and although I was slightly disappointed I have to say the right teams got through.

Poland really had nothing to offer against a France where Kylian Mbappé has come out as the best player in the world: two goals where the Poles gave him space, and the match was really over. The Poles were a disappointment because they were so obviously happy just to have gone through their group, and yet they did not offer any opposition to France as they faced no expectations. France, in the meantime, appear more and more to be the team to beat!

England-France will be the quarterfinal. A clash for sure because of the historic rivalry between the two countries (and not just football). 

England defeated Senegal 3-0. 

I was wearing my Senegal shirt, but was very disappointed, although I have to credit England's deadly counter-attacks. The first two goals by Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane were simply superb counterattacking play, and although one can blame Senegal's defense, I think credit should also go to the English team.

Senegal fell, but will be missed, specially their fans, who many fans from many countries that feel entitled could learn a lot from.

Every fan should look forward to England-France. I will. 

It should be a great football match, and I hope the best wins, although I will not support any of these teams as one of them progresses.

But so far we have seen no surprises! The top teams have delivered, and it is indeed in the knock-out phases that we see the strength of the favourites, more than in the group phases. I hope we will see at least one surprise in the remaining matches!

Saturday, December 03, 2022

The World's 16 best footballing nations

The Qatar World Cup continues to be an ugly political event that has come to symbolize ugly nationalism, disrespect, inequality, abuse and greed.

But I think this is just a symptom of our world.

In footballing terms the group stages have been interesting. After Brazil sensationally lost to Cameroun (and frankly this is as surprising as Argentina losing to Saudi Arabia or France losing to Tunisia) it is the first tournament since 1994 during which no team has gone through with maximum points (the same happened in 1958 and 1962, so it is not a common occurrence). But more interesting is that this is the first World Cup where all continental federations (except Oceania) are represented with at least one team (CONCACAF 1, CONMEBOL 2, CAF 2, UEFA, 8, AFC 3). 

The eight matches are as follows:

  • Netherlands-USA: The Dutch got through with two victories and one difficult tie to Ecuador, and are surely not as strong as they should be. USA is the only representative from CONCACAF and looked well-organised to defeat Iran and tie England. It will surely be difficult for the Dutch, but I hope they prevail
  • Argentina-Australia: Despite their opening loss to Saudia Arabia Argentina won the group and remain favourites. They are surely huge favourites against Australia. The Asian representatives went through on hard work but winning against two poor sides, Denmark and Tunisia. They were overrun by France and should be on their best to defeat Argentina (but certainly not impossible). I support Argentina wholeheartedly.
  • France-Poland: The defending champions are looking strong, but lost to Tunisia in a match with many substitutes. They are surely favourites against the Poles, who look delighted just to have gone through. That said, no expectations could be Poland's strength as they still have quality players who could hurt France. But I expect France to prevail.
  • England-Senegal: England will underestimate Senegal, that is a given, and I will surely support Senegal, where other players have stepped up in the absence of Sadio Mané. Koulibaly was spectacular against Ecuador and will face English players he knows well. It will be a close match I think, with England as weak favourites.
  • Japan-Croatia: Japan winning the Group of Death is one of the surprises, and Croatia have surely seen that Japan defeated both Germany and Spain, although also that the Japanese do have weaknesses. If Croatia can take advantage of their quick passing then they could hope for a repeat of 2018. Japan I think are slight favourites though.
  • Brazil-South Corea: The Corean victory against Portugal means that they prevented us from a repeat of the "Maracanazo" classic between Brazil and Uruguay. Don't mind that though. Corea and in particular their fans are the best side through. Brazil are enormous favourites, but the Coreans do and should not fear anybody, and could cause a sensation!
  • Morocco-Spain: This is probably the clash I look most forward to. Neighbouring countries; the African upstart with a great team and confidence, against the European giants with some truly fantastic players. It has all the ingredients to be a fantastic match!
  • Portugal-Switzerland: The Portuguese went through on first place with two wins and one loss, but appear not to have been tested yet. Switzerland will surely be a test. They showed their quality already in last year's Euro when eliminating France in an extraordinary match, and in this tournament have shown themselves solid in the back, but also strong in attack when it counted against Serbia. This match could go to either side!

Uruguay will not be missed (sad but true)

Let me start by making one thing clear: I have been to Uruguay a few times, and love the country and the people. That I am happy they were eliminated in a tournament where men kick a ball around, has nothing to do with that.

I was looking forward to Ghana-Uruguay. I supported Ghana, surely, I have lived there, and I lived through with passion and admiration the famous 2010 quarterfinal. In the end Uruguay went through, although it was in a way that was not elegant and surely without the justice that Ghana had deserved. But the Ghanaians in 2010 went out with dignity. 

Yesterday Germany's manager was asked if he was angry that they had been eliminated by a bad VAR call (Japan's second goal), and Flick correctly said that Germany had been eliminated by their own lack of results. Germany this year also went out with dignity.

But going out with dignity is not something that the Uruguayans have shown today. Quite on the contrary, they are accusing VAR, FIFA, world conspiracies and the Universe for their elimination after their 2-0 victory over Ghana, which was simply not enough to go through as Portugal lost 1-2 to South Corea.

Get over yourself Uruguayan football: bad referee calls are a normal thing that has always existed in football, and sometimes they have gone with Uruguay, and sometimes against Uruguay. 

Just like they do for any side. There is no grand conspiracy against Uruguay. Uruguay were just not good enough: they should have attacked against South Corea and been more efficient against Portugal. And that is why Uruguay got eliminated, and fortunately so, because it is simply not nice to see such sore losers with lack of dignity in the tournament.

Thanks to Ghana for a great tournament, and congratulations to Portugal and South Corea!

Friday, December 02, 2022

German debacle and Japanese triumph

 The Group of Death ended almost as a heart attack. All teams had a chance to go through and all teams were through and out at different times during the matches Costa Rica-Germany and Japan-Spain.

Costa Rica were not given many chances after their opening match 0-7 humiliation to Spain. But after a surprising win over Japan, they had every chance of going through if they defeated Germany. Germany in the meantime were forced to win, having only lost and tied to Japan and Spain respectively. Things were going according to plan when Serge Gnabry scored after 10 minutes, but despite dominating, Germany were simply unable to get another goal, and halfway into second half the Costa Ricans looked at a possible sensation when Yeltsin Tejeda equalized and then went ahead when Manuel Neuer scored one of the strangest own-goals of the tournament. Germany pressed on and in the end managed to win 4-2 with two Kai Havertz goals and one by Niclas Fullkrug.

But in the end Germany, the former footballing giants, were out in the first round nevertheless, for the second time in a row, and only the third time since 1938....

Germany only had themselves to blame, but at the same time they were not fortunate with the result of the other match where Japan defeated Spain against all odds.

It was a boring match in the first half. Spain went ahead on a goal by Alvaro Morata, and were passing the ball around comfortably against a Japanese side that appeared to have nothing to offer. Luis Enrique apparently saw no reason to change anything, but Japan certainly did and the manager put in Kaoru Mitoma to put more pressure in midfield and Ritso Doan, who had scored the equalizer against Germany when coming on. And it took only three minutes before the Freiburg striker capitalized on a high pressure on the Spanish defense and equalized for Japan.

The Spaniards appeared a bit shocked about the equalizer (which shows most of all a degree of arrogant conformity) and as Japan continued pressing they got the lead through Ao Tanaka.

Now, this was a controversial goal that no VAR technology can take away: the ball appears to have crossed the touchline as Kaoru Mitoma made the pass to Tanaka. I think it crossed, but lengthy VAR check found that it had not crossed the line. Although I still think it crossed the line, I must admit that different pictures from different angles may show different things...

I don't think technology is always right, and this is certainly one of those calls which are hard to decide.

But the goal stood, and Japan was ahead. 

It was here that Luis Enrique's reply appeared weak. Japan, as was to be expected, stood back and fought hard. But Spain continued passing the ball, relatively slow and without the quick explosions that are often necessary to open a defense. This was surely disappointing because Spain have some fantastic players, but appears to lack explosion and creativity when it comes to come back against a team they should defeat.

Japan will face Croatia in a match that could go to both sides, while Spain will face Morocco in a match where Spain has to be much better than they were today.

Morocco repeating history

In 1986 Morocco were the first African team that were group winners in a World Cup. They won the group ahead of three European nations (England, Poland and Portugal). Although Morocco were eliminated by a rather disgusting and foul West German side in the last-16, they were pioneers of the era when African teams were to be reckoned with (Cameroun and Algeria had already warned about this in 1982). 

That is why it is so great that Morocco has again won a World Cup group, and again ahead of two European powerhouses, Croatia and Belgium; the latter ranked number 2 in the world, and surely never expected to be out to Morocco! 

All Morocco needed in their last match was to defeat the already-eliminated Canadians to win the group, and 25 minutes into the match were already ahead 2-0 on goals by the great Hakim Ziyech and Sevilla's Youssef En-Nesyri. Although they did suffer after an own-goal by  Nayef Aguerd, the score held (with a bit of luck), and as Croatia tied the hapless Belgians (surely the end of the golden generation), Morocco were group winners and a delight for Africa and the world!

Morocco will face Spain in what will be a clash to look forward to. Not only neighboring countries with close relations, but also many Moroccan players who play in Spain and know Spain well, such as PSG's Achraf Hakimi (born in Madrid and came through Real Madrid's youth academy), Sevilla's goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, or Osasuna's Abde Ezzalzouli (who has come through Barcelona's youth). 

Spain are surely favourites, but Morocco has shown that they are a strong and competitive side that does well against European sides that underestimate them. Spain would be wrong to underestimate a team that seems to be riding on a wave!

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Argentina group winners

Most people had written off Argentina after their opening defeat to Saudi Arabia. Including myself. But Argentina rose to the occasion, first defeating Mexico 2-0 and now Poland 2-0 on two goals by Alexis MacAllister and Julian Alvarez. Poland were a big disappointment, except for the great Wojciech  Szczesny, who in the first half saved a completely inexistant penalty from Messi (amazing that you can justify a wrong call with VAR).

So Argentina win the group ahead of Poland, who just squeezed through ahead of Mexico on goal difference. It was a pity for Saudi Arabia that they did not go through after defeating Argentina, but it does seem that it was indeed a one-off. Tata Martino's Mexico were impossible to like, so in the end Poland were the best team to go through in what in the end was a relatively easy group for Argentina.

Argentina will enter the knock-out stages with two victories and a defeat. The same as France (who lost to Tunisia), and despite their opening match defeat to Saudi Arabia continue to be a candidate for the title. They have weaknesses in defense and will have to play well to defeat a well-organised and hard-fighting Australia.

But I am delighted to have been proven wrong (so far) about Argentina!

Dumb Danes

I did not watch Denmark's debacle against Australia as I was working. It was surely for the best as Denmark played like shit and were surely arrogant (before the match I heard Danish commentators referring to the Australians as "a second division side"). Matthew Leckie scored a great goal where he made fun of Denmark's apparently star-defenders.

The painting was on the wall in the first two matches already; Denmark played without taking a risk and without passion. Maybe it was because of the whole armband controversy; they decided never to confront FIFA and Simon Kjaer, who was afraid of getting a yellow card for taking a stand, did not even play the last two matches.

After the great Euro 2021, when the Danish team managed to create passion, expectations were high (Mine as well), and this is surely the biggest disappointment any Danish national team has given me. A poor performance and a complete lack of cojones.

Go home.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The best and the worst after two games for each team

Things are taking shape, more or less, in this World Cup; some teams are out, some are in, but many more have a lot to play for as we enter the last matches of the group stages.

This is a personal list of what I have liked and disliked in the tournament so far:

  • Best team: Brazil! After many years during which Brazilian football had lost its way (culminating in the infamous 1-7 defeat to Germany) the Brazilians under Tite are now back with a solid and technically skilled side that so far has defeated two complicated and defensive European sides, Serbia and Switzerland. There is a lot of tournament ahead, but Brazil is more and more looking like the side to beat (alongside France and Portugal perhaps).
  • Best goal: Richarlison against Serbia. No doubt, and showing the quality that Brazil has
  • Worst side: Qatar. Not only should they never have been hosts, but they are also poor in footballing terms, showing nothing on the pitch and with fans who leave before the end of the match. Nobody will cry their elimination. Perhaps Costa Rica were worse against Spain, but they lifted themselves up at least
  • Darlings: Canada. Impossible not to love the young Canadians who put up great matches against Belgium and Croatia, but are out nevertheless. However, the world will love to see them again. Of the teams that are still in the tournament, Ecuador are perhaps the darlings to watch
  • Dark horses: Morocco and Ecuador. Two great sides that have pulled some excellent results, so hard to choose between them. Ecuador should have defeated the Netherlands, and have a thriller ahead against Senegal, while Morocco has tied Croatia and defeated the mighty Belgians, and with Canada left, they may win the group
  • Biggest Surprise: Morocco, because they appear likely to win the group. But one should also add Saudi Arabia, due to their result against Argentina, but we are still to see whether it was a one-off and whether they are able to make it through
  • Biggest Disappointment: In a hard contest I pick Belgium. They were lucky against Canada and had little to offer against Morocco, so it is the end of an era for the Belgians who I think are on their way out. They may be followed by other disappointing sides like Germany, Wales, South Corea, Denmark and Uruguay
  • Best players: So many, but to mention a few (including some players to watch) Hakim Ziyech, Kylian Mbappé, Alphonse Davies, Enner Valencia, Pedri, Casemiro, Aurelien Tchouameni, Richarlison, Bruno Fernandes, Wojciech Szczesny

Still a lot to watch, and the list will surely change as the tournament progresses.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Life in the Group of Death

Before the tournament Group E was touted as the "Group of Death", with Germany, Japan, Spain and Costa Rica.

It does seem that the last round will mean the elimination of a team.

Germany lost their opening match against Japan, and were forced to pull a result against Spain. 1-1, after Niclas Fullkrug equalized Alvaro Morata's lead for Spain. Germany has one point, and is forced to defeat Costa Rica by some margin.

Costa Rica were terrible when losing 0-7 to Spain, and nobody must have given them a chance against the Japanese who were coming off fresh from defeating Germany. But that is football: a defensive match and only one shot on goal by Keysher Fuller was enough to cause the upset. Costa Rica are still in it, and will surely fight for a result against Germany, as unlikely as it may appear.

Things look more difficult for Japan. Had they defeated Costa Rica they would have been through, but can now look forward to a difficult match against Spain. A match they should win, assuming that Germany will defeat Costa Rica... If Germany wins, and Japan loses, Japan would be out. If they tie, it would come down to goals scored. Spain seems most secure due to their many goals, although they are not certain: if both Costa Rica and Japan win, both European sides would be out!

Incredible combinations in what will be an exciting last round in the Group of Death!

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Canada out, Morocco in

 Canada has been a joy to watch in this World Cup; led by Alphone Davies they have a young and talented side, and mark my words: this is not the last we will have heard of Canada.

Against Croatia the Canadians were up against a great side that kept their cool after Davies' shock opener, and through Andrej Kramaric and Marko Livaja managed to turn a difficult match around, with Lovro Majer making it 4-1 in injury time in a too-large victory. 

Croatia are serious about this tournament, and may reach as far as they did in 2018.

Canada were very unlucky to lose 0-1 to Belgium. Belgium's performance appears to not have been a one-off, and today a great Moroccan side were superior to the famous Belgians. Morocco went ahead on a free kick goal by Abdelhamid Sabiri (and Courtois did not look too good either), while Zakaria Aboukhlal made it 0-2 in injury time. Hakim Ziyech was simply fantastic and is certainly a player that can carry Morocco very far in this tournament.

I was recently in Morocco, and can imagine the partying in that football-crazy nation!

Morocco can take first place in the group with a victory over Canada (it will not be easy!), while Belgium is forced to win against a Croatia that looks far stronger than Belgium. It appears unlikely, and it may be that elimination in the first round of this World Cup will be the end of Belgium's golden generation of players.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The M-Saviours

Today I woke up to watch two matches I had been very excited about to watch in this World Cup: Denmark-France and Argentina-Mexico. Both are in each of their ways almost modern classic, as the sides have played often in both World Cups and European championships (in the case of Denmark-France).

Denmark-France was as expected  match where France would dominate the puny and defensive Danes. While the absences of Kanté and Pogba were barely felt for France, Denmark missing Delaney and Kjær were a huge weakness for a side that came out to tie. In the end going for a tie should be punished, and it was by no other than the great Kylian Mbappé, who scored both French goals when squeezing in between the Danish defense in tight spaces, even after Andreas Christensen's equalizer.

France has weaknesses: the dependency on Kylian Mbapppé's speed and their lack of concentration in defense (Denmark should never have had the quality to threaten them), but with two victories in two matches they should be considered favourites, even though they are yet to face any quality opposition.

Denmark in the meantime has to defeat Australia. This is in no way a given (they tied in 2018), but nobody would cry for this Danish side to be eliminated.

Argentina were up against the wall after losing their opening match to Saudi Arabia, and were to face a Mexican side that has looked very weak lately, but are managed by Tata Martino who has in depth knowledge of Argentina (he has managed Paraguay, Argentina and Barcelona). He put a strong disciplined defense, and although Mexico had a couple of approaches in the first half it appeared clear that they were going for the tie. After 0-0 in the first half Argentina pressed more, but at one point it appeared that nothing would open Martino's lock. In the end it was none other than Lionel Messi who with a quick and precise shot from outside the area gave them a well-deserved lead, and the young Benfica player Enzo Fernandez who came on to make it 2-0 with a great strike, and give Argentina a victory that Mexico never had any reply to when it came to attack.

Playing like this Mexico should struggle to defeat Saudi Arabia (who played great against Poland despite losing 0-2, and are still playing to make the last-16). In the meantime Argentina showed that they are still in the tournament, and their next match against Poland will be a heart attack. Poland are not brilliant but certainly have an attack than can threaten Argentina's shaky defense, and one of the tournament's best goalkeepers in Wojciech Szczesny.

Don't miss it.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Now that every team has played

The first round of the World Cup is over, so it is a good time to assess what has been good and bad, and what teams are worth looking out for.

  • Qatar: besides the fact that they should never have had the World Cup, they are a poor footballing nation, and hopefully will be out in the first round
  • Netherlands: defeated Africa's best side, Senegal, and for that they should be counted on. Another test will be against an Ecuadorian side that is stronger than was expected
  • England: their 6-2 win over Iran was noteworthy, and surely they must be counted as candidates. But at the same time it was a strange match with political overtones and an injury, so England must still be tested against stronger opposition
  • Argentina: a sensational loss to Saudi Arabia does not necessarily mean they are out; in 2010 Spain opened by losing to Switzerland and went on to win the entire thing. However, an Argentina led my Messi appears to lack this kind of stamina, and the side also shows weaknesses in defense that will prove good for opposition
  • France: despite the absence of some of their key players the defending World Champions are looking to defend their title. France has star quality substitutes in every position, and although they were up against a quite primitive Australian side they will probably face little problems in overcoming Denmark and Tunisia to win the group
  • Belgium: one of the favourites undeservedly won against a fantastic Canadian side, and should therefore still be considered favourites. Canada will be interesting to follow though, and could easily become the darlings of the tournament if they pull good results in their coming matches
  • Spain: after their trashing 7-0 of Costa Rica they are surely one of the candidates for the title. But although they played well, it was against a very cheap background: Costa Rica's match must stand as one of the worst performances of any team in World Cup history. Spain will get far I think, but will be tested against better teams
  • Germany: Their loss to Japan was a surprise, but not a huge one. Germany cannot win by name alone, and everyone seems to have forgotten that four years ago they lost to South Corea, In my view Hansi Flick made a tactical error when withdrawing Musiala and Gundogan, giving all initiative to the Japanese, who knew Germany well (most players play in German clubs). That said, Germany has slow defenders, something that will make them suffer against bigger teams. I expect Spain to defeat them, and Germany may likely be on the way out
  • Japan: they have been improving over the past two decades; anyone who has watched football should know this, and nobody seems to recall four years ago when they defeated Colombia and almost eliminated the mighty Belgians in one of the best matches of that tournament. Anyone who is surprised about Japan should simply shut up and stop watching.
  • Brazil: They passed their test against a defensive and disciplined Serbian side winning 2-0 in a match where Richarlison scored what is the best goal of the tournament so far. They overcame a difficult match, and with few visible weaknesses are, in my view, the favourites to take the title after the first round of games.

 Of course, as in any World Cup, many things can and will happen. Teams will improve, others will decay.

John Oliver explaining the World Cup in Qatar

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

This World Cup is already disappointing

Surprises are bound to happen in the World Cup, and one of the biggest surprises in World Cup history (and personally for me and many Argentines a disappointment) was Argentina losing 1-2 to Saudi Arabia in the first match of the group stages. Argentina, who has not lost since 2019, lost now, and the prospects for winning the World Cup look dim for the Argentines. Although many could recall that in 2010 Spain lost their opening match to Switzerland, and went on to win the whole thing, Argentina clearly does not have the quality to pull back from the abyss of elimination. A Messi who only plays well when things go his way, and behaves like a little spoiled child when they don't is barely the type of quality player that Argentina or anyone would need. 

He is no Maradona. Expect Argentina to be out as they go up against better opposition in the form of Poland and Mexico, who tied 0-0.

Another, albeit lesser, disappointment was Denmark. Not as much because they managed 0-0 against a highly underestimated but strong Tunisian side (anyone who did not know about their quality has never watched football), but more because the Danes have lacked spine in confronting a FIFA who has not allowed them to play with training shirts that say "Human Rights for All" (how in the world is that a political message!?), and subsequently were also told to play without the "One-Love" armbands or face consequences. The latter was also a warning to other teams, who all succumbed to FIFA's threats.

In my view Denmark lacks spine. The Danish Football Association (DBU) claims to be a member of FIFA to push for change, but does not stand up to FIFA when they are doing something clearly wrong. How far does this reach? Will they even shy away from criticizing open corruption!!!??? I would be more proud of a Danish National Team that stood up for something and lost, than a spineless winning side; and they may not even be a winning side how they were playing against Tunisia.

Be fucking Men, and take a stand while you play your football with pride and to the best of your abilities, even if your opponents are not just 11 players, but also the referees backed by a powerful greedy organization!

I would be proud if Denmark would take the first step to withdrawing from FIFA and take other countries with them.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Qatar-Ecuador 0-2

Despite the allegations of bribery Ecuador showed they are a great side and won a well-deserved opening match against the hosts of Qatar 0-2 on two goals by the veteran Enner Valencia (oldest player to score in an opening match of a World Cup, and the first to score two goals since Italy's Angelo Schiavio in 1934). It could have been a larger victory for a side that controlled the match, and in particular the young Brighton & Hove Albion player Moises Caicedo could be one of the players to watch in the tournament.

Good start for Ecuador, but they now have two difficult matches ahead of them against Netherlands and Senegal.

I don't support Qatar. I hope they get trashed in every match as the worst host nation ever, of a footballing celebration that should have taken place in a real footballing nation. And today, in front of their home spectators they were as poor as a pub side (ironic, since you cannot buy beer); I hope they also get trashed by Netherlands and Senegal, something that should be no problem if they play like today.

Thanks Ecuador!

Clubs in the World Cup

 Club football is better that National Team football, in particular as FIFA continues everything they can to ruin the World Cup. That said, the World Cup of course still attracts attention (including for myself, as it is the reason I started to watch football), and on part I find particularly interesting is to see which clubs are represented among the many players in the World Cup. Of course some star players from countries that did not qualify are absent, as are injured played (notably for France the absence of stars like Karim Benzema and Ngolo Kante, or Sadio Mane for Senegal). But the quick exercise still throws some illuminating stats on the best leagues and clubs in the world.

There are according to my best analysis, 299 clubs from 44 countries represented among the players in the WC. The best represented leagues are as follows:

1) England: 155 players in the World Cup play in 38 different clubs. 27 of the clubs are Premier League sides, with the remaining clubs from the Championship, and even leagues 2 and 3 are represented!

2) Spain: 86 players play in 21 different Spanish clubs. That said, over half of these players (50) play in just four clubs: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid. It is a league overly represented by the top teams.

3) Germany: 80 players from 20 clubs, three of which are 2. Bundesliga clubs. 

4) Italy:  70 players from 23 clubs. Considering Italy did not qualify, this is testament to the quality of the Italian league, who would be even better represented if Italy had qualified. 

5) France: 52 players hailing from 23 clubs, and a very varied group as well that includes many Africans in smaller clubs. 

6) Saudi Arabia: 33 players from 10 clubs. Not testament to a strong league, but to the fact that the entire Saudi squad is made up of local players, and then four countries have one or two players playing in Saudi Arabia as well.

7) Qatar: 33 players from 8 clubs. Just as with Saudi Arabia, the entire squad is made up of local lads, with 19 players coming from two clubs alone, Al-Sadd and Al_Duhail

8) USA: perhaps testament to the growth of MLS (and note that there are three Canadian MLS teams represented, not included here), 24 players from 17 clubs play in the USA. Of course, not all these are MLS clubs

9) Belgium:  24 players from 12 clubs play in Belgium, with Club Brugge in particular well represented with 8 players from five different countries. 

10) Mexico: 23 players from 9 different clubs, mainly Mexicans, but also some other Latin Americans.

It is notable, perhaps showing the shifts of global football, how under-represented leagues like the Argentina and Brazilian are, as well as China (only two players), while one sees growth in Japan and South Corea.Other smaller leagues like Scotland, Portugal (Benfica in particular) and the Netherlands (Ajax Amsterdam) are also well represented.

And well, which are the clubs with most players in the World Cup? (Strongest?):

1) Bayern Munich: 17 players from eight different countries play in Bayern Munich. They are of course heavily represented in Germany, with seven players, but also France has four players who play in Bayern. Note I counted Sadio Mane, so one has to be subtracted as the Senegalese find his replacement

2) FC Barcelona: 16 players from eight countries ply their trade in Barcelona, of which seven play for Spain.

3) Manchester City: 15 players from a variety of nine countries play in City. The most are four ENglishmen for England, but also three Portuguese play in City.

4) Al-Sadd: The Qatari side has 15 players in the world cup. 13 of these are on the Qatari, but they also have one Ghanaian and a South Corean.

5) Manchester United: The city of Manchester is well represented. 14 players from 9 countries play in United, including 3 Brazilians, 3 Portuguese and 3 English.

6) Real Madrid: 13 players from seven countries, although Benzema must be discounted, there are still 2 French, 3 Brazilians and 2 on the Spanish squad.

7) Al-Hilal: 12 players, and all on Saudi Arabia's squad

8) Tottenham: 11 players from 10 countries, also makes Tottenham the side represented in most countries.

9) Chelsea: 11 players from 9 countries.

10) Atletico Madrid: 11 players from 7 countries, three on the Spanish squad.

11) Paris St. Germain:11 players from 7 countries, including three on the Portuguese squad, and a variety of other countries. And of course, Mbappé for France

12) Juventus: 11 players from six coutnries, among them three Brazilians and two Argentines

13) Borussia Dortmund: 11 players from six countries, among them five on the German squad

14)  Ajax Amsterdam: 11 players from four countries for the Dutch giants, but here one must count seven players in the Dutch squad.

15) Sevilla: 10 players from 5 countries in the Southern Spanish club. Interestingly they have none on the Spanish national team, but among them three in the Argentine squad and two in the Danish 

16) Arsenal: Nine players from 7 countries.

17) Rennes: The French side has eight players from seven countries, and in terms of French teams, only trails PSG. Only one player in the French squad, but two on the Belgian

18) Brighton & Hove Albion: A surprise in the Premier League, but also has a strong side with eight players from 6 countries, among them three players from the competitive Ecuadorian squad.

19) Club Brugge: The Belgian side has eight players from five countries

20) AC Milan: Another Italian club that would surely have more if Italy had qualified, but has seven players from six countries.

These are the top 20. Eintracht Frankfurt, Brentford, Inter, Monaco, are also interesting clubs, but although this is far from complete, it is an interesting list as we enter the world cup!

Friday, November 18, 2022

Bribery accusation

 One SportsBrief report today is accusing Qatar of having bribed Ecuadorian players to lose the opening matech between Qatar and Ecuador. The accusation appears grounded on a twitter account of one Amjad Taha, but it appears difficult to find further information on what the claim is based on.

The sad thing about this, which may not appear true, is that it remains entirely plausible that this could happen; Qatar probably paid to be hosts, so they could be considering bribing their way through the tournament.

And whoever believes that this is not possible at this level should read Declan Hill's exposure of match-fixing in football, which besides documenting match-fixing in the top European leagues, discusses match-fixing in the 2006 World Cup. So it is certainly possible.

However, there are reasons to be skeptical about the accusation, not just because the lack of documentation: firstly, why bribe many Ecuadorian players, one or more of whom could step out and reveal what was happening? Much easier would be to simply bribe a referee (something that Declan Hill documents is quite common), or  simply the goalkeeper to make one drop? Or just intimidate Ecuador by different means that do not need bribery? (something Qataris are probably good at). Furthermore, an accusation like this, appearing plausible, could be an elaborate way to get many people to make bets for Qatar to win, creating a distorted betting market, something that is often the case in football, and which is monitored for alleged bribes. 

Surely there is a lot of betting going on; billions moving around for this World Cup.

So I find this particular story to be implausible, although I find it plausible that it will happen in the World Cup, and that this is not the final accusation in a World Cup that should have never been awarded to these Qataris.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

The World will expose Qatar

Let me get this out of the way before I start blogging a lot about Qatar: That country should never ever have been awarded the World Cup. Purely on football terms it is ridiculous to give the World Cup to a country that has never participated and that barely has a functioning league structure. But besides that, the problem is that you have someone hosting the entire world, who don't really want to host the world. It is a country where there is widespread discrimination against sexual orientations, women, and not least thousands and thousands of migrant workers. On the latter, it is estimated that up to 6500 workers have died constructing the stadiums; this is of course a figure that is disputed, but it seems beyond dispute that at least hundreds have died.

And that is already too much, no matter how you turn it. Nobody should die constructing football stadiums.

There is much discussion about boycotting. I am going to watch as many games as possible. While I will enjoy the football, I hope that both players and fans, together with a critical media (that will be prevented from doing their work by Qatari authorities for sure), will expose Qatar for what it is: a filthy regime built on migrant work that pays to get good propaganda that they do not deserve. I hope every opportunity will be used to expose them.

Someone else needs to be exposed as much as the Qatari regime: FIFA, who for money and greed is destroying the World Cup, not just by giving it to a country like Qatar (incredibly Sepp Blatter, a man with firsthand knowledge of the dirty inside workings of FIFA, said that Qatar should never have been awarded the tournament), but also by its idiotic proposals of expanding the tournament and making it every two years, proposals that are so blatantly against the beauty of the sport and the fans.

It hurts that football is being destroyed by these people, and we as fans (and as decent humans) should denounce it as much as we can. 

Let us show these people that football can bring us together against greed and evil!

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Burgos CF

As mentioned, I recently participated in the Budapest-Bamako rally. I wasn on the team "Diamond-Child Burgos", since we were bringing materials to a school in Freetown, "Diamond Child School", and because my two team-mates are from the old city of Burgos. 

Known for its UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral, Burgos has never really been known for its football. Burgos CF is in the Spaniosh second division where they have languished for decades. But the last few years Burgos has more ambition, and have the former Oviedo, Swansea and Napoli player as manager. In these years Burgos CF has been constructing a team that is currently vying for a first division spot. In fact, they started the season strongly, beating the all-time record of any Spanish team with a clean sheet, going 928 minutes without conceding a goal. 

The club's prospects are reasonably creating expectations in Burgos. I did not know much about the team, but it was central during the trip across West Africa (alongside the Salvadoran flag), and I will surely be following and cheering on Burgos as they make history!

Burgos CF

Friday, November 11, 2022

While I was gone

For the past three weeks I have talked a lot of football, but barely watched any, as I have been participating in the Budapest-Bamako rally. This has of course been a challenging but awesome experience, but in the meantime many things have happened in the football world, as we approach the coming World Cup. 

The most important action happened in the Champions League, where the group stages finalised with some surprising, and some less surprising results. Spanish teams did particularly badly: former finalists of Atletico Madrid ended dead last in Group B, while FC Barcelona and Sevilla made it to third place in groups C and G respectively, and in particular Barcelona was a disappointment, losing 0-3 to Bayern Munich at home. Real Madrid are the only Spanish team through, as winners of group F, ahead of RB Leipzig.

Portuguese teams on the other hand have looked strong: Porto and Benfica are through as group winners, the latter ahead of mighty Paris St. Germain, through goal difference after defeating Maccabi Haifa 1-6 in the last match.

The German Bundesliga and the English Premier League are well represented in the knock-out phases. In the former case, Bayern Munich went through as winners of group C, while Eintracht Frankfurt, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund are all through as runners-up. In the case of the four English teams, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City, all went through as group winners, while Liverpool went through as runners-up in group A, despite defeating the group winners of Napoli in the final match.

Italian teams have been strong, in particular Napoli, winning their group A ahead of Liverpool, but also Inter Milan and AC Milan going through as runners-up of groups C and E respectively. The disappointment was Juventus in group H, who were no match for Benfica and Paris St. Germain.

Finally, one Belgian team went through: Club Brugge as runners up in Group B, behind Porto, after heaviliy losing the final match 0-4 to the Portuguese, but at the same time ahead of Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid.

The knock-out matches, scheduled for February next year, looks as follows:

  • RB Leipzig-Manchester City
  • Club Brugge-Benfica
  • Liverpool-Real Madrid
  • Tottenham-AC Milan
  • Eintracht Frankfurt-Napoli
  • Chelsea-Borussia Dortmund
  • Inter Milan-Porto
  • Bayern Munich-Paris St. Germain

I need not say (but will anyway), that the matches most fans will be watching for are Liverpool-Real Madrid and Bayern Munich-PSG; although all matches will be fantastic!

Most leagues are shutting down this week, as players either go on leave or to joing their national teams for the World Cup. Some exciting weeks are ahead!

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Greatest World Cup Matches: France-Croatia (2018)

Russia had been a controversial choice to host the World Cup, but had prepared well for a tournament that covered large distances, but also showed Russia from its best side, despite all the initial misgivings.

France had entered the tournament as one of the pre-tournament favourites, just as they had done two years before at the 2016 Euros, where the team had nevertheless been defeated by Portugal in a very boring final. Manager Didier Deschamps, who had captained France to their 1988 World Cup title most definetly counted with one of the most talented sides in the world: a solid midfield with some of the world’s best midfielders in Manchester United’s Paiul Pogba and the Chelsea’s ever-working genius Ngolo Kanté, as well as Juventus’ experienced Blaise Matuidi. Also defensively the teams stood strong with Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris on goal, behind Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti, and two excellent backs in Stuttgart’s Benjamin Pavard and Atletico Madrid’s Lucas Hernandez. But what was strongest was its attacking prowess, led by the young genious of Paris St. Germain’s Kylian Mbappé, alongside Ateltico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann and Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembelé. France’s manager, Didier Deschamps, had even cut out the star striker from Real Madrid, Karim Benzema, amid some controversial rows among players.

France had won a difficult qualification group ahead of Sweden, Netherlands and Bulgaria, but were not impressive in the first round of the tournament: they defeated Australia 1-2, Peru 0-1, to tie Denmark 0-0 in a bore of a match to win the group. In the last-16 France faced a potentially strong Argentina with a shambolic defense in what turned out to be a great match, France won 4-3 with some fantastic goals, and France coming back from being 1-2 down. In the end it was in Kyllian Mbappé’s speed that made the difference, him winning the penalty kick of the first goal, and scoring two other goals to put France in the quarterfinals.

Uruguay were defeated 2-0 on goals by Varane and Griezmann for them to face the best team of the tournament in the semifinals: Belgium. In a strong match with many chances but two great goalkeepers, France won 1-0 on a header by the Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti, and were ready for their first World Cup final since their 2006 defeat to Italy, where they were to face a surprising Croatian side.

Croatia had been at the top of World football since their independence, and had already made it far in the 1998 World Cup, when they reached the semifinals. They were always a team to be reconned with, having a long list of players in Europe’s biggest clubs, and the 2018 squad was no exception: an experienced defense that included Atletico Madrid’s SimeVrsaljko, Sampdoria’s Ivan Strinic and Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren, in front of Monaco’s Danijel Subasic in goal. Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic and Juventus Mario Mandzukic were strong strikers, but the big stars were in midfield, where two of the world’s best midfielders dominated: Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic.

Despite this amazing lineup Croatia had not qualified directly: they had come second to the surprising Iceland (who in 2018 qualified for their first World Cup ever), but had qualified to Russia through a play-off victory over Greece.

Croatia were paired again with Iceland in the first round group, alongside Argentina and Nigeria, and the Croatians cruised through a group that looked difficult: they defeated Nigeria 2-0 in the first match, and completely outplayed Argentina, winning 3-0, in a match where Modric and Rakitic completely tore apart the South Americans. In the last match in Rostov, they defeated Iceland 2-1 and were alongside Uruguay and Belgium the only side to win all their matches in the first round.

In the last-16 Croatia faced Denmark in a very close match that ended 1-1 (with Modric missing a penalty in the dying minutes of extra time), and had to go to penalty kicks, where Croatia proved cooler, winning 3-2.

In the quarterfinals Croatia faced an exciting Russian home-team, who had unexpectedly made it to the quarterfinals after defeating Spain in the last-16. It proved an exciting match, with Denis Cherysev bringing the Russians ahead on a splendid goal, but Croatia equalising through Andrej Krmaric, and then going ahead 1-2 in extra time, before a fighting Russian side equalised in the dying seconds of the match. But as against Denmark, Croatia were the better side from the penalty spot, and were to face England in the semifinals.

There were, as always, huge expectations amid the English fans that they could make their first final since 1966, and probably also a bit of under-estimation of the Croatian side, whose penalty wins were also seen as lucky. And England did indeed start the best, and went ahead after only five minutes, but if anything, Croatia proved that they never give up, and after pressing in the second half equalised through Ivan Perisic, and in extra time Mario MAndzukic gave the Croatians the victory, and their first World Cup final ever.

Against all expectations and in their first World Cup final, Croatia started as the best team dominating possession and controlling the midfield. But as often happens, it was the French who went ahead in what was basically their first attampt: a free kick into the area was touched by Mario Mandzukic head, and the hero of the semifinal had brought France ahead with an own-goal. However, it did not shake the Croatians who deservedly equalized ten minutes later when Ivan Perisic controlled and powerfully shot from the edge of the area.

The 2018 World Cup had been the first to introduce Video Assistance Refereeing (VAR) to help referees in difficult decision. And VAR intervened for the first time in a World Cup final, although not without controversy. During a French corner kick the ball hit Ivan Perisic’s hand; initially the Argentine referee did not make a call, but watching the repeat on the VAR screen, he changed his mind and gave France a penalty kick that Antoine Griezmann scored.

In my opinion it was not a penalty.

2-1 at halftime, and although Croatia came out to play their chance in the second half, France appeared in control and ready to utilize the young Kylian Mbappé’s speed for their counter-attacks. France made it 3-1 by Paul Pogba, and it was indeed Kylian Mbappé who made it 4-1 with a powerful shot from the edge of the area. At only 19 years of age he became the youngest goalscorer in a World Cup final since the legendary Pelé in 1958. While Mbappé was not the revelation of the tournament, he was the tournament’s best young player, and had probably been awarded player of the tournament award had it not been for the brilliant Luka Modric.

With a 4-1 lead the match was effectively over, but France’s goalkeeper Hugo Lloris decided to give Mario Mandzukic a present but losing control of the ball in front of goal and letting Mandzikic push it into goal. Mandzukic is thus the only player to have scored for both teams in a World Cup final.

4-2 and France were champions for the second time since 1998, but Croatia had been a worthy and dignified finalist, and won many hearts. It was also the first final since 2002 that did not go into extra time, and was thus one of the most special finals in World Cup history, and a worthy final for a great tournament in Russia.

July 15th 2018  
Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow 
Attendance: 78,011 
Referee: Nestor Pitana (Argentina) 


France: Hugo Lloris (c); Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Hernandez; Paul Pogba, Ngolo Kanté (Steven Nzonzi, 55), Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Blaise Matuidi (Corentin Colisso, 73), Olivier Giroud (Nabil Fekir, 81). Manager: Didier Deschamps 

Croatia: Danijel Subasic; Slime Vrsalkjo, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic (Marko Pjaca, 81); Ivan Rakitic, Marcelo Brozovic, Ante Rebic (Ante Kramaric, 81), Luka Modric (c ); Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic. Manager: Zlatko Dalic 

France-Croatia 4-2  


1-0 Mario Mandzukic (OG) (18) 
1-1 Ivan Perisic (27) 
2-1 Antoine Griezmann (p) (38) 
3-1 Paul Pogba (59) 
4-1 Kylian Mbappe (65) 
4-2 Mario Mandzukic (69)

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Real Madrid- Barcelona 3-1

 After Leo Messi's and Cristiano Ronaldo's farewell to the Spanish league both Barcelona and Real Madrid have, after some adjustments, returned to the top of the Spanish League, and after Real Madrid's awesome league win last season, both teams were head to head at the top of the league as they were to face one another in the "Clasico" in Madrid.

Real Madrid went ahead after only 12 minutes on a goal by Karim Benzema, who has risen to become the star of the team, and after 35 minutes the Uruguayan Federico Valverde brought Real Madrid ahead 2-0 on a great strike at the edge of the penalty area. Despite this, Barcelona was not shaken, and in particular in the second half threatened Madrid's goal, and when Ansu Fati came on he certainly put pressure on the home team. Ferran Torres scored one back, and Barcelona came very close to an equalizer (and in my opinion should have had a penalty), but in the last seconds of the match VAR gave Real Madrid a (correctly called) penalty kick, which Rodrygo scored on to give Real Madrid all three points, and they are now three points ahead of Barcelona at the top of the table.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Greatest World Cup Matches: Belgium-Brazil (2018)

Belgium entered the 2018 World Cup in Russia as one of the favourites to take the title. They were ranked 3rd in the FIFA World Ranking and the “Golden Generation” that had made it one of the best sides in the world were in their best age. The entire Belgian squad played in some of Europe’s best clubs, and looked strong in every position. Among the stars were the fantastic Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, as well as strong strikers with the Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Napoli’s Dries Mertens. The defense was led by Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany, alongside some highly experienced players in Thomas Vermaelen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Finally, Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois was perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world at the time.

Belgium had qualified in style, scoring an incredible 43 goals in ten matches, and they basically continued scoring goals in Russia: they opened by defeating the debutants of Panama 3-0, then defeated Tunisia 5-2, before winning their last match against England 1-0 and winning their group.

In the last-16 the Belgians were favourites against Japan, but had to struggle when they went down 0-2 early in the second half, and appeared on the way out. But the team showed great stamina when they came back from behind to win 3-2, and make it to the quarterfinals, where they were to face the mighty Brazilians.

After the 7-1 debacle at the 2014 World Cup Brazil had entered a period of refelction and renewal under the manager Tite, who had focused on taking advantage of Brazil’s technical skills and attacking prowess. In qualification they had swept aside opposition, only losing one match on the way. As always, Brazil was a team of stars from European clubs and strong in all positions: Liverpool’s Allison on goal, behind a solid defense with players such as PSG’s Thiago Silva, Inter’s Miranda, Real MAdrid’s offensive winger Marcelo and Atletico Madrid’s Felipe Luis. In midfield the Brazilians had stars such as Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho, Manchester City’s Fernandinho and Chelsea’s Willian. And up front the biggest star of them all, PSG’s Neymar.

Brazil were certainly a team that would compete for the title, but did not look strong in their opening match when they only managed a tie 1-1 against Switzerland, but they still went on to win the group with two 2-0 victories over Costa Rica and Serbia respectively. In the last-16 Brazil faced Mexico, also winning 2-0.

Despite Belgium’s victory over Japan they had looked shaky against he quick Japanese attacks, and manager Martinez had decided to start with Felllaini and Chadli, both players who had come on against Japan and scored. In the meantime Brazil’s center-backs, Thiago Silva and Miranda, had looked solid throughout the tournament. Against Mexico Neymar had looked strong and able to shake up every defense, but the Brazilians were without Real Madrid’s Casemiro, who had been replaced by Fernandinho.

First half was very entertaining. Brazil managed to put pressure on a Belgian defense that sometimes played very deeply, but who had the sure hands of Courtois to take some chances that came near. The closest was an attempt following a corner kick which Thiago Silva did not control, but the ball hit the post nevertheless. In the meantime Belgium also managed to create chances with their highly mobile and quick atatcks that put the otherwise solid Brazilian defense under pressure. It was Belgium who first scored: after a corner kick the ball struck Fernandinho’s arm as he was trying to head away, and instead went into goal.

Brazil continued attacking looking for an equalizer, while Belgium felt more comfortable on the pitch, and looked incredibly dangerous when they counter-attacked. And it was in one of these counter-attacks that the movement of Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne tore the Brazilian defense apart as De Bruyne received the ball and struck marvelously hard and precise into goal.

Belgium were leading 2-0 at half-time and were looking as semifinalists, although everyone expected Brazil to come with everything in the second half as Firmino came on for Willian, and later on Douglas Costa and Renato Augusto came on for Gabriel Jesus and Paulinho respectively. Belgium instinctively pulled back but continued to be dangerous on the break (Eden Hazard had a close attampt on a counter-attack), but it was a game largely dominated by Brazil who, when them managed to get a shot, were most often stopped by Courtois. It was only in the 73rd minute when Renato Augusto scored on a header after a lovely flip into the area by Coutinho, and gave renewed hope to the Brazilians who put extra pressure. Both Firmino and Renato Augusto had some big misses, but in the end it was Courtois who, in the dying seconds of the match had a spectacular save on a shot by Neymar: one of those saves that is worth a goal and a title, and which made Courtois Man of the Match.

Belgium won 2-1 and with five straight wins were looking to take the title. But in the semifinals they lost 1-0 to France. Belgium went on to win third place against England; Belgium’s best World Cup result ever, but not what had been expected from them after their fantastic victory over mighty Brazil.

6th July 2018
Kazan Arena, Kazan
Attendance: 42,873
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia) 


Belgium: Thibaut Courtois; Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweirld, Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Meunier; Axel Witsel, Nacer Chadli (Thomas Vermaelen, 83), Marouane Fellaini, Kevin De Bruyne; Eden Hazard (c), Romelu Lukaku (Youri Tielemans, 87). Manager: Roberto Martinez 

Brazil: Alisson; Miranda (c), Thiago Silva, Marcelo, Fagner; Fernandinho, Phillippe Coutinho, Paulinho (Renato Augusto, 73), Gabriel Jesus (Douglas Costa, 58); Neymar, Willian (Roberto Firmino, 45). Manager: Tite

Belgium-Brazil 2-1


1-0 Fernandinho (OG) (13)

2-0 Kevin De Bruyne (31)

2-1 Renato Augusto (76)

Sunday, October 02, 2022


 I have not had much time to watch or think football lately. I have missed many great matches, but today I took time to get up early and watch the Manchester Derby between Manchester City and Manchester United. Both teams have looked fairly strong of late, with Manchester City trailing Arsenal in the second spot of the league table, and Manchster United on a positive curve, with four victories in a row. Therefore the derby was expected to be interesting.

But it was not.

Basically Manchester City trashed United in the first half, leading 4-0 at halftime. The entire team seemed on fire, and with Phil Foden and Erling Haaland in particular, each scoring two goals. In the second half Manchester United tried meager pressure, and perhaps got a bit of hope when Antony scored for the reds. But Foden and Haaland were not done and each scored again, to bring the score to a humiliating 6-1. In the dying minutes of the match Anthony Martial scored two for United, making sure that the humiliation was not total, although no doubt there will be strong criticism for losing like they did to their home-city rivals.

Haaland has surely been the signing of the season. He has scored 14 goals, topping the goalscorers list, which he appears sure to win!

Monday, September 26, 2022

Estadio Centenario

 I am visiting Uruguay, a legendary football nation. Unfortunately, due to recent crowd trouble, I was unable to go watch Peñarol, who were playing against Montevideo Torque without spectators (I watched a really boring match in a bar, with Peñarol losing 0-1 to one of the lowest placed teams in the league).

But I was able to visit the site of the legendary Estadio Centenario, site of the very first World Cup final of 1930. Unfortunately I found the museum to be closed on a Sunday, a big disappointment, but I was still able to walk around the stadium, see a statue honoring the Jules Rimet Trophy (including great homages to the Maracanazo in the 1950 World Cup final, which also defines Uruguayan football), and all in all take in the history of this beautiful country and city.

I hope soon to return to Montevideo, and see more of their football.

Scultpure to the Jules Rimet Trophy

Friday, August 26, 2022

Champions League 2022-23 draw

Seasons have started and football is on the go. I have nevertheless had busy months, with a lot of things in my head (both good and bad), and football has come a bit in the background, and I have not seen much, although been following the news and the start of the new leagues, interesting changes and discussions.

Sometimes we just go through these stages in life.

But as a warm up to an exciting new season we today had the draw for the Champions league:

Group A: 

  • Liverpool
  • Ajax Amsterdam
  • Glasgow Rangers
  • Napoli. 

An exciting group where Liverpool would appear as the favourites, but the English side has not started the season well, while Napoli and Ajax Amsterdam are looking to progress as well.

Group B

  • Atletico Madrid
  • Bayer Leverkusen
  • FC Porto
  • Club Brugge

Atletico Madrid are the natural favourites in a group where the defending Portuguese champions are favourites to go along with the Spaniards, with Brugge and Leverkusen looking to cause an upset.

Group C

  • Bayern Munich
  • FC Barcelona
  • Inter Milan
  • Viktoria Plzen

This appears as the group of death, with Bayern Munich and Barcelona looking for another of their many epic clashes, but also with the Italian giants with good options to progress. The Czech champions will not be given many odds by many, so they can only surprise.

Group D:

  • Eintracht Frankfurt
  • Marseille
  • Tottenham Hotspurs
  • Sporting Lisbon

Eintracht Frankfurt will look to continue European success from the Europa League in the Champions League in a group where all the other teams nevertheless are ambitious and have options at continuing to the next round. They will all compete.

Group E:

  • AC Milan
  • Chelsea
  • RB Salzburg
  • Dynamo Zagreb

AC Milan and Chelsea are the likely winners of the group, but both the Austrian and Croatian champions could create an upset. 

Group F:  

  • Real Madrid
  • RB Leipzig
  • Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Celtic

The defending champions of Real Madrid have gotten a group that they will surely be happy about. Although there are no easy groups in the CL, the Spaniards are huge favourites, with all three other teams looking to fight for the runner-up position.

Group G

  • Manchester City
  • Sevilla
  • Borussia Dortmund
  • FC Copenhagen

An interesting group with three giants and FC Copenhagen. The Danes have caused surprise before, but will have to do their best to fight against these three giants. Manchester City may again appear the favourite, but the experience of Sevilla and Dortmund may take either side on the first spot.

Group H

  • Paris St. Germain
  • Maccabi Haifa
  • Juventus
  • Benfica

PSG are to try yet again ina group where Benfica and Juventus will be difficult teams to face. Nobody will expect anything from the Israeli champions, who will play with no pressure.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Fantastic England

 The Euro 2022 final between England and Germany was a great match, as expected. Both teams played great football and the title could have gone to either side. When Ella Toole brought England ahead (another great goal as she had done against Spain) one thought England had the edge, but in fact they appeared nervous as Germany pressed on and scored a fantastic goal by Lina Magull, who was one of the best players of the match.

Extra time. Anything can happen, and indeed it was a bit of a coincidental goal by Chloe Kelly, after a corner kick, that gave England the winning goal. Indeed, the victory could have gone to both sides, but over the entire tournament England were surely the best team, and as they all say, football finally came home. And contrary to the overpaid guys, it is difficult not to be smitten by the joy and great football of the English ladies.

Congratulations to England! 


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Euro 2022

The last couple of months have been busy with work and personal things. I have had an extraordinary vacation in Denmark watching the Tour de France (with the Danish Jonas Vingegaard currently in the yellow jersey, but doubting he will win), and have watched little football.

Of the little I have watched, it has been the women's Euro 2022 taking place in England. In Denmark there was much excitement about a tournament in which they came runners-up in 2017. But for Denmark it was a huge disappointment, and I must admit that if a national team is to excite me, these women totally failed. In the opening match against Germany Denmark were lucky only to lose 0-4 to a magnificent German side. And notwithstanding that the Germans were magnificent, the Danes lacked spirit and fight, besides committing basic mistakes in defense. Although Denmark had a  chance to qualify to the second round by defeating Spain in their last match, they also lacked fighting spirit and ambition as they defended in a match they had to win (and deservedly lost 0-1).

While Denmark should be disappointed, this is nothing compared to Norway, who were considered favourites for the title, but were eliminated in the first round, and in particular their 0-8 defeat to England will ring out as one resounding humiliation for years to come. In the meantime England, the home side, look like the team to beat: 14-0 and three victories. But certainly Germany, Sweden and perhaps even France or the Netherlands are looking very strong in what looks like an exciting knock-out round:

  • England-Spain
  • Sweden-Belgium
  • Germany-Austria
  • France-Netherlands

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Reason to be excited about Argentina

Today's match at Wembley was called the "Finalisima", as it was the contest between the European champions of Italy and the South American champions from Argentina. It is a replacement for the defunct "Confederations Cup", so the match did carry honour and a title for both sides; Italy played to get some consolation from their botched World Cup qualification, while Argentina is clearly aiming at building a team that will be a serious contender for the World Cup title.

Argentina has been strong in the South American qualifiers, and their good form was underlined when they took the South American title, their first title since 1993. But with today's 3-0 victory Argentina should now be considered a serious contender for the title in Qatar. Lionel Scaloni has built an outstanding team that includes Lionel Messi, rather than building the team up around him. Rodrigo de Paul and Giovanni Lo Celso are outstanding and dominate the midfield, with an excellent understanding with Lionel Messi, who also combines well with Lautaro Martinez (who scored the first goal against the Italians after a sharp run and pass by Messi), while Angel di Maria is as dangerous as ever, scoring a great goal after a great pass by Martinez.

Argentina was totally dominant in the second half and the match could have ended with more goals with more luck for the Argentines, although Paolo Dybala made it 3-0 in the dying seconds. But Argentina were far superior to the European champions, who got no consolation from their botched qualification.

For an Argentina fan like myself it is difficult not to be really excited, more excited than for many years, about this Argentina side!