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!