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.