fever pitch

People like to look at sports as a beacon of hope in a world that feels hopeless. But I tend to see athletes as belonging to another world entirely. The same English fans cheering on Sterling at the World Cup are perhaps the same ones who voted for Brexit in 2016. Lukaku is now adored in Belgium, where he was born 25 years ago. But it wasn’t that long ago that he would come on the field as a youth player and be confronted by the parents of the opposing side, demanding to see his ID.

As Europe faces an identity crisis, it needs to accept the fact that there are countless Lukakus and Sterlings among us, contributing to every level of society. Embracing immigrants for three weeks when the World Cup comes knocking every four years is just not good enough.

-- Felipe Araujo

One thing I know for sure about being a fan is this: it is not a vicarious pleasure, despite all appearances to the contrary, and those who say that they would rather do than watch are missing the point.... When there is some kind of triumph, the pleasure does not radiate from the players outwards until it reaches the likes of us at the back of the terraces in a pale and diminished form; our fun is not a watery version of the team's fun ... The joy we feel on occasions like this is not a celebration of others' good fortune, but a celebration of our own; and when there is a disastrous defeat the sorrow that engulfs us is, in effect, self-pity, and anyone who wishes to understand how football is consumed must realise this above all things.

--Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch


the final

Coming in to today's game, the last four World Cup finals had been 2-0, 1-1, 1-0, 1-0, a total of five goals in four matches.

Today, France and Croatia scored six goals between them.

It was a messy game, but it was exciting, with lots of goals, so you'd think I liked it, and I did. I wasn't fooled into thinking I was seeing the best soccer of the tournament ... both teams were tired, Croatia likely most of all. Don't know if that explains some of the goofiness, but whatever. Paul Pogba had a great match to top off a great tournament. Luka Modric won the Golden Ball, and he had the best tournament of anyone playing in the final, but he fell off a bit in his last two matches. Eden Hazard might have been a more deserving winner, but Modric is worthy, as well.

Now I have to find something else to do with my days. Sleeping sounds like a good first plan.


best ever?

Today, in my morning paper (San Francisco Chronicle), Ann Killion's World Cup article began, "Is this the greatest World Cup ever?" Part of her answer can be found in the title of the column: "Let’s enjoy it while it lasts because changes are coming soon". She notes that the next World Cup in Qatar will be different enough that if nothing else, the World Cup will never be the same. (Case in point: it will take place in November and December.) But that's not an answer to if this is the best Cup ever, just a prediction about where it is heading. As Killion writes, "It seems inevitable that history will look back on the 2018 tournament as the last great World Cup."

She then asks, "What makes a great World Cup? Close games, surprises, drama. And the 2018 World Cup has all of that."

If I had to list the best features of this World Cup, I would put, at the top of the list, that I have rarely been annoyed or grumpy. I have admittedly been a grouch in the past ... maybe I'm just mellowing out in my old age.

There has only been one scoreless draw in the first 63 matches. That's a good thing.

There have been some very good matches. Spain had a poor tournament, but they had a couple of entertaining group matches, a 3-3 draw with Portugal and a 2-2 draw with Morocco that came down to a stoppage time goal that required VAR to decide it was good.

In their first match, finalists France needed a late own-goal to defeat Australia, 2-1. Sounds better than it was ... two of the three goals were from penalties. France took part in one of the wildest matches, their 4-3 win that eliminated Argentina:

The final day of Group D matches was dramatic, including this goal:

Serbia-Switzerland eventually decided which of the two teams would advance:

Eventual semi-finalists England got off to a shaky, if excited, start against unfancied Tunisia:

Their last match was also something, as they crashed out to Croatia, who were playing their third straight 120-minute match:

In the quarter-finals, Croatia broke the hearts of the home team:

And I shouldn't forget Belgium, who had some exciting moments in the knockout phase. They beat Brazil, but the most amazing match came against Japan, featuring the best second-half of the tournament:

 


the final weekend

Belgium-England turned out as I expected ... I got the winner right (Belgium) and one of the scorers (Hazard). (I predicted a 2-1 final score, with the other goals by Lukaku and Kane.) I woke up late, watched a little bit of the second half, but this match was meaningless in the end. Usually by this point, after a month of focusing on the World Cup, I don't want it to end. And that's true now, but that wasn't enough to make me watch Belgium-England. I may actually be burned out.

Meanwhile, I'm predicting France 2 Croatia 1, goals by Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann, and Mario Mandzukic. Based on my predicted score, this should be a good match. Shout out to Luka Modric of Croatia, who has had a great tournament.

 


team of the tournament: my pre-cup predictions

As part of the predictions competition I entered prior to the start of the tournament, we were asked to pick a "Team of the Tournament". Here is who I chose:

GK David De Gea, Spain. Started out with that awful performance in the 3-3 draw with Portugal, and the rest of his tournament only looked good in comparison to that stinker. Losing GK in the shootout with Russia.

 

D Marcelo, Brazil. Solid in all 3 of his starts.

D Daniel Carvajal, Spain. OK in two starts, late sub against Russia, didn't play in the Portugal match.

D Joshua Kimmich, Germany.  Played OK as Germany crashed in the group stage.

 

M Neymar, Brazil. He'll be remembered as a failure, but he had a very good tournament, with two goals and an assist and five strong performances. For all the talk of diving and theatrics, Neymar was actually fouled a lot (he was fouled more times per game than any other player):

M Toni Kroos, Germany. Had the wonder goal against Sweden, but Germany went scoreless in his other two matches.

M Lionel Messi, Argentina. Actually played better once Sampaoli moved him to forward, but I had him down as a midfielder. Like Neymar, will be remembered for his team's failures, but he had a good tournament, as well, with a goal and two assists.

M Mohamed Salah, Egypt. Scored Egypt's only goal in both of the games in which he played, but this was not the tournament I thought he would have.

 

F Harry Kane, England. Probably my best pick, leading goal scorer with one more match to play. He has been scoreless in his last two games, though.

F Luis Suárez, Uruguay. Had three great games sandwiched between two stinkers.

F Robert Lewandowski, Poland. Three and out for Poland, and Lewandowski was one of the reasons.

 

Champion: Germany. Oops.

Top Scorer: Neymar. Not quite.


the semi-finals

I liked both matches ... obviously, Croatia-England was more exciting, and I've seen some complaints that France-Belgium was a bit boring, but I think that underrates that one.

France-Belgium. First half was so-so. Belgium had possession, France had the shots, with Griezmann leading the way ... he took 5 shots in the first half, none on target. Eden Hazard was the best player on the field, as he was for the entire match. He was pretty much all Belgium had in the second half, though. Meanwhile, a few French players stepped up, including Griezmann, whose corner led to the goal by Umtiti, who also had a good half. Overall, as Michael Cox said (and you should read his analysis, which actually says something, especially compared to my ramblings here), "It was intriguing rather than enthralling". On Telemundo, Andres Cantor remarked more than once about what he thought was the lackadaisical responses of the crowd. "It's the semi-finals of the World Cup!"

Croatia-England. I didn't really have a rooting interest in this one ... England, I guess, except Croatia has Luka Modric, and I like him more than any of the England players. When England took the early lead from Trippier magnificent free kick:

(One of Sammy Sadovnik's trademarks comes when there is a dangerous free kick. "Aroma de gol", he says, and it was never more appropriate than with Trippier's kick.)

But, as has happened before, I discovered my true rooting interest when Croatia equalized through Perisic midway through the second half, as I threw my hands in the air. Maybe I was just glad it was turning out to be a good match ... I've got nothing against England. It was perfect that the goal came on a cross from Sime Vrsaljko, who had a very good match, to Perisic, who had an even better match. Perisic's goal was pretty amazing ... and, according to pretty much every England fan, illegal, due to the height of Perisic' foot:

I have no unique insights into the extra time ... I have no idea how Croatia keeps playing these 120-minute matches while seeming to maintain their energy level. But it's been quite something to watch.

And so, to the goal that ended England's dream:

 


semi-finals

I'm within one point of first place in the prediction contest I entered. I am still hopeless at picking goal scorers, though, so this time, along with my game predictions, I'll just note a few players who have had good World Cups so far.

France-Belgium.  I think this will be close enough to go 120 minutes, with France winning before it goes to PKs. Kylian Mbappé has been France's best ... he's only had one poor match, against Denmark, and he only came on for 15 minutes or so at the end of that snoozer. He was brilliant against Argentina, and solid against Uruguay. Meanwhile, a case can be made that Eden Hazard has been the best player in Russia. Four games, all excellent at the least, two goals, two assists. And he's not alone ... Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku have been great, as well. In short, if Belgium were to win, I wouldn't exactly be shocked. These two last met in a World Cup in 1986, one of those wild third-place games that are both pointless and, usually, exciting with lots of goals. Sure enough, there were six goals, scored by six different players, France coming out on top, 4-2. The '86 World Cup was the last ride for the great French teams led by Michel Platini. They won the 1984 Euros, and Platini was amazing in that competition.

Croatia-England. I'm predicting England in the regulation 90. Croatia has some really good ones ... Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic. But they've gone to penalties twice in a row, and that's a lot of minutes. Meanwhile, England has Harry Kane, who has scored more goals than anyone else at the tournament. Kieran Trippier has been outstanding, and we can't forget Harry Maguire, who has a goal and an assist from his centerback spot. These teams last met in qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, with England winning both matches by a combined score of 9-2.

 


quarterfinals

Uruguay-France. First, a tip of the cap to El Maestro, Óscar Tabárez, in what is probably his last match in charge. It wasn't a great match ... even if Edinson Cavani had been available, it's unlikely Uruguay would have stopped what is looking like a French onslaught. The first half was fairly even until Raphael Varane's late goal, and once France picked up a second on the howler from Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera, it was over. Antoine Griezmann had a goal and an assist. I picked the winner in this one, I just didn't know it would be this easy.

Brazil-Belgium. Another case where the winner seems unbeatable in retrospect. Belgium went up 2-0 after half an hour, and Brazil fought hard ... in the second half, Brazil took 17 shots, Belgium took one. But Belgium had Thibaut Courtois in goal, and he picked a good time to have his best game of the World Cup so far. This may have been the best match of the tournament so far, with Belgium deserving their early lead and Brazil charging forward in the second half. I would have liked to see more of Douglas Costa for Brazil ... he only played 77 minutes in the tournament. At one point, Andres Cantor looked at the players on the field and said with admiration, look at all the talent out there! He was right, this was a good match for fans of starpower within the context of powerful teams ... Messi and Ronaldo only wishes they had such teammates.

Sweden-England. It's hard to say if this match or Uruguay-France was the worst of the quarterfinals, but that's really unfair ... both matches were decent enough. But in both cases, the 2-0 final score was appropriate. France and England deserved to advance, and the drama inherent in a World Cup quarterfinal made these good to watch. But they took a back seat to the other two matches.

Russia-Croatia. I didn't have a rooting interest here, and it's always tough to lose by penalties. Russia's performance was one of the best stories of this World Cup. But, in the end, I'm glad Croatia won. France, Belgium, England, Croatia ... these are strong teams and we should get good semifinal matches. Russia wasn't really up to their level, which to some extent is why their story was so impressive. If I was rooting for anyone, it was Luka Modric, who was frighteningly good in this one. In the 30 minutes of extra time, when everyone was exhausted, Modric was still running around getting things done. Very impressive.




penalties

John Doyle writes "In praise of penalty shootouts at the World Cup: All human frailty is there".

Here’s what to say to persons who assert that a penalty shootout is a terrible way to end a soccer game: There has to be an ending. A divorce. The conflict can’t go on forever. As much as two sides are fully engaged in an endless tug of war for dominance, the niggling fouls and attempts at ascendancy must stop. An ending is a good thing.


scouting

My nephew, who works in the field and knows whereof he speaks, pointed me to this interesting article:

"When the World’s Greatest Soccer Players Gather, Scouts Stay Away"

The World Cup is the planet’s most-watched sporting competition. It is soccer’s marquee event. Thousands spend fortunes to attend it, supporting their nations. It commands global television audiences of more than a billion people. Devoted fans tune in to every minute.

To soccer’s elite scouts, though, it is almost an afterthought. They will all watch it, of course, though with a personal as much as a professional eye. Some have sent staff members to Russia to take in a few games, to keep track of possible targets.

None, however, believe it will teach them anything they do not already know....

For most clubs, the tournaments that are most useful are much less glamorous: youth competitions across the planet, the continental championships of Asia and Africa, and North and Central America — anywhere that is likely to expand their knowledge base, and ensure they are aware of any player that might be of interest as soon as possible.


quarterfinal matches

I have mentioned a little competition I'm in ... seven of us in a complicated prediction game where I admittedly don't really understand how the scoring is done. I am currently in second place ... I did well in the Round of 16. You get points for picking winners, picking scorelines, picking goal scorers, and in the knockout phase, how long the match goes (90/120/PK). I am first in picking winners, I am tied for first in scorelines, and I am first in 90/120/PK. But I stink at picking goal scorers ... the only reason I'm 6th instead of last is that one person forgot to pick goal scorers for the group stage.

So when you see me predict a winner, I might actually know something. But if you see me predict who will score goals, ignore me.

Thus, I offer my predictions for the next round.

Uruguay-France. I predict it will go to penalties after a 1-1 draw, goals by Suárez and Mbappé. France will win the shootout.

Brazil-Belgium. Brazil, 2-1, in regulation 90 minutes. Goals by Neymar and Firmino for Brazil and Lukaku for Belgium.

Sweden-England. England, 2-1, in regulation time. Goals by Kane and Lingard for England and Toivonen for Sweden.

Russia-Croatia. Croatia to win, 2-1, in 120 minutes. Goals by Rakitic and Mandzukic for Croatia and Golovin for Russia.


england v colombia analysis from michael cox

"England vs Colombia, World Cup 2018: Drop in performance raises question about Gareth Southgate’s tactical nous"

[A] dramatic drop in performance towards the end of normal time raises a question about Gareth Southgate’s ability to influence matches tactically. ...

Southgate will surely spend the next couple of days assessing England’s performance towards the end of normal time and at the start of extra-time, when Pekerman’s changes handed Colombia the initiative. England struggled to find solutions, from players or manager, and while they’re safely into the quarter-finals, they must learn to weather the storm if they’re to lift the World Cup.


announcers

Telemundo:

Andres Cantor and Manuel Sol. They have been joined by others on occasion, but Sol is the regular partner of Cantor. Cantor has been at the top of his game ... nothing new there, you already know what you're getting. Sol has been OK at color commentary, but as I say every Cup, I can't really be trusted to evaluate the color folks, because my Spanish isn't quite good enough to trust. Cantor's best call so far was probably Marcos Rojo's game-winner against Nigeria (Cantor was born in Argentina):

 Sammy Sadovnik and Eduardo Biscayart. I'm a big fan of Sammy's, and he has had a fine tournament. There really isn't any drop in quality when Sadovnik takes over from Cantor.

Copán Álvarez and Viviana Vila/Claudio Borghi. I've seen them do a few matches, but they haven't made an impression one way or the other. Vila has been good ... both women commentators have been a pleasure.

There's also Horacio Elizondo, an ex-referee who comments on rules stuff and the like.

FOX:

I only watched a few matches in English, and only saw the #3 team of Derek Rae and Aly Wagner. Rae has been doing soccer in the U.S. seemingly forever, and is a solid choice. Wagner has done quite well as color commentator.

The breakout star of the announcers has been someone I've only seen/heard on YouTube highlights. Jorge Perez-Navarro is familiar to Spanish-speaking listeners in the States for his work on MLS and Mexican League matches, but this is the first time I've heard him do English-language. What he's done in this Cup is bring the style of the Spanish announcing to English broadcasts. Not as easy as it sounds; even the great Cantor loses something in English. Perez-Navarro has been a delight.


today's matches

Sweden-Switzerland.

Colombia-England. Now that's more like it. The number of yellow cards reflected the scrappy play of Colombia more than it did any shortcomings by the referee.  Between the 52nd and 69th minute, he gave four yellows to Colombia, two to England, and awarded England a penalty. They played more than 40 minutes after that, with only one yellow card just before the end of the match. In other words, the players got the message at last, well done by the ref. (Oh, let's say his name, since he's American: Mark Geiger.) There were a couple of standouts, particularly England's Kieran Trippier, but overall, the play wasn't great. But both teams were trying their hardest to score, and if they were too tired to add any goals in the half hour of extra time, well, they were deservedly tired. It was nice for England to finally get over their penalty-shootout curse. I didn't think I had a rooting interest in this match, until Colombia finally score and I shouted and thrust my hands in the air. Guess I was rooting for Colombia after all. That goal was the only non-penalty of the match.

 


tomorrow's matches

Sweden-Switzerland. Not exactly the match everyone is looking forward to, but then, who expected Belgium-Japan to be a classic? Sweden's only loss in the group stage came via Toni Kroos' wonder strike ... they shut out South Korea and Mexico in their other matches. Defender Andreas Granqvist has been their best player ... he even has two goals from penalty kicks, and was Man of the Match in both their victories.  Switzerland has yet to lose, and they managed a draw against Brazil. Xherdan Shaqiri has been their best ... he scored a 90th-minute goal to beat Serbia. His performance fell off against Costa Rica, and Switzerland will need him to rebound. The Swiss are also missing two starters to suspension. Sweden should win this one. Although they have met each other 27 times, this will be their first meeting in 16 years. They played a six-goal scorcher in Euro qualifiers in 1994:

Colombia-England. James had a terrific match against Poland, but left the Senegal match with an injury and is doubtful against England. Juan Quintero has been Colombia's top player so far in the tourney, with a goal and two assists. Any discussion of England must begin with Harry Kane, who already has five goals despite being rested against Belgium. Kieran Trippier has also looked good. I get the feeling that England fans are already assuming this match is theirs, but I wouldn't be so sure. It should be a good, even, match. But my predictions haven't been right too often. The teams have only met five times previously, with England winning three and drawing the other two. They met in group play at the 1998 World Cup, with England knocking Colombia out of the competition.

 


today's matches

You never know.

Today we had one of the favorites of the tournament, Brazil, against what amounts to a local favorite, Mexico. And, oh yeah, Belgium was going to destroy Japan.

Brazil-Mexico was a decent match. Memo Ochoa was great in goal for Mexico, and Carlos Vela and Chucky Lozano did well up front. Chicharito apparently injured a hamstring early and was eventually subbed out. And what was Rafa Marquez doing in the starting lineup? None of that really matters, because Brazil was clearly the better team, and they remain favorites to win it all. Mexico poured on the pressure early, which might have been a bad idea, given the 93-degree heat ... they appeared to tire as the match went on. Neymar pissed everyone off with his diving, but he had a great game. And after a mediocre group stage, Willian had his best match by far. Also worth noting: Brazil's defense has been excellent.

And then came Belgium-Japan. The match this reminded me of was Brazil-Netherlands in 1994. That match, too, had a scoreless first half and five second-half goals. Brazil got two early in the second half from Romario and Bebeto, one minute later Dennis Bergkamp got one back for the Netherlands, then Aron Winter equalized with 14 minutes to play. Then 9 minutes from time, Branco smashed home a tremendous long-range free kick to put Brazil ahead to stay.

That was the best half of World Cup soccer I can remember. But I think today, Belgium and Japan topped it.

The first half wasn't without interest, but if felt a bit like the teams were still feeling each other out after 45 minutes. But then it got crazy. Japan got a quick goal from Genki Haraguchi, made easier by poor defending from Jan Vertonghen. Four minutes later, Takashi Inui scored from distance, and it looked like a World Cup full of surprises was about to add another to the list. Belgium manager Roberto Martinez brought in Nacer Chadli and Marouane Fellaini in the 65th minute, but was it too late? Four minutes later, Vertonghen made up for his earlier gaff by scoring an accidental goal off a very bizarre header. Five minutes after that, it was Fellaini with a header to equalize. Belgium clearly looked to have more than Japan, but time was running out. What followed was a play that will remind U.S. fans of Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria. As the clock ran out, Japan took a last corner. Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois made the grab and quickly rolled out a pass to start a last-gasp attempt before time ran out. It worked. Five Belgian players rushed down the field. Romelu Lukaku took a defender with him, then dummied a cross, leaving it to Chadli to score on the last kick of the match.

 


tomorrow's matches

Brazil-Mexico. It would be nice if Mexico gave a good performance here. I don't expect them to win, but it would be nice if they lost without looking as crappy as Spain did against Russia. Chucky Lozano has been their best player, as he was for PSV Eindhoven during the recently-completed season. Trivia note: the Spanish-language announcers pronounce his nickname "Chooky". If the Mexico we saw against Sweden shows up, the will be a blowout. Let's hope the team that beat Germany returns. Marcelo is a question mark for Brazil ... he played well in their first two games. Truth is, only Brazil can beat Brazil. It may happen ... they're weak in goal, and ... oh, let's face it, they have lots of good-to-great players. The two teams have met many times over the years, with Mexico being held scoreless the last three matches. In the World Cup, they have met four times, with Brazil picking up three wins and a draw and outscoring the Mexicans, 11-0. Here are a couple of clips of Mexico's last win over Brazil, six years ago in a friendly:

Belgium-Japan. I've been wrong before, but this should be no contest. Japan only got this far because they didn't get very many yellow cards ... Belgium won all three of their matches by an aggregate score of 9-2. I'm not sure who Japan's best players are ... Yuya Osako was Man of the Match against Colombia, but hasn't done much since. Defender Gen Shoji had a couple of good matches before sitting out against Poland. Maya Yoshida is another who crapped out against Poland after a good start to the tourney. Meanwhile, Romelu Lukaku scored two goals for Belgium in both matches he played in, and Eden Hazard has two goals and an assist in two matches. Japan's only hope lies in the possibility that Lukaku will miss the match, but Belgium manager Roberto Martinez says Lukaku is good to go. Japan and Belgium met in the 2002 World Cup in Japan. It was an exciting match, with a tremendous goal from Marc Wilmots:

 


today's matches

First, I should note that overall I've been enjoying this World Cup. I told myself ahead of time to try not to bitch and moan constantly, but I needn't have bothered ... the matches have been fine, and occasionally great.

Today, though, I felt like I was experiencing the past.

Let's talk about goals, although I know there is more to appreciating soccer than actually scoring. Yesterday, there were 10 goals in 180 minutes. Today, there were 4 goals in 240 minutes, and one of those was an own-goal and another was a penalty. (That both of those came in Spain-Russia says a lot about the entertainment value of that match.) The "better" match of the two suggested better things, with two goals in the first four minutes. Unfortunately, they played another 116 minutes without scoring another, although there was a missed penalty.

To finish what little I have to say about Spain-Russia, I point to an article on ESPN. The title says it all: "Spain's shocking exit - 1056 passes, 1013 touches, 0 chemistry". Or, to go to The Simpsons well again:

I predicted Isco and Golovin would be the best players for their respective teams, and I was right about Isco (Golovin played well, too, but their keeper, Igor Akinfeev, was the Man of the Match).

As for Croatia-Denmark, I tabbed some good players for that match, as well. I had Rakitic leading Croatia, and he had a good game and scored the final, winning, penalty. And I singled out Kasper Schmeichel, which was easy ... he had a great World Cup, and was the best player in this match. For the rest, I go to Twitter. First, there was the great Jennifer Doyle, who tweeted, "I am just gonna go to France and wait for the Women’s World Cup. Because watching this is work!" To which I replied, "Hopefully by the time you get to France, this match will be over." Even better was Jeff VanderMeer, who tweeted, "I've come here from a week in the future to tell you the Denmark / Croatia match is still going on -- and it's glorious and surreal and a lot of us now need a shower quite desperately, but we'll keep staring into the sun. Oh god. Send help. Help. Help. ".

I was glad Luka Modric had a chance to take a second shot at a penalty ... I've been a fan of his for a long time. And I'm glad Croatia advances ... nothing against Denmark, but in four matches, they scored 3 goals and allowed 2. Almost as boring as what we saw from Spain today.

Still, I remain optimistic. Brazil-Mexico should be a good one.


tomorrow's matches

Spain-Russia. This is where the party ends for the hosts. Spain haven't always been at their best so far, but Russia's 3-0 loss to Uruguay is probably more telling than anything else. The Russians beat up on lesser opponents, and deserve props for that, since they were supposed to be one of those lesser opponents. But they aren't going to beat Spain. I wouldn't be surprised if they are held scoreless once again. I expect Isco for Spain and Aleksandr Golovin for Russia being their team's best players.

Here are highlights from a match between the two at the 2008 Euros. Ten years ago, but some familiar faces for 2018 World Cup fans, although the faces are older and the hairstyles have changed:

Croatia-Denmark. Croatia should roll on, having won all three of their group matches. Ivan Rakitic was dominant against Argentina, and he might find good pickings here, as well. Denmark's hopes lie in keeper Kasper Schmeichel, who is having a great tournament. Denmark only allowed one goal in three games, and that came via a penalty. On the other hand, Denmark has only scored twice so far. I think they will struggle to score in this one.

These teams haven't played a non-friendly match since 1997, so here's a different kind of highlight: Croatia-Denmark 2018, played on FIFA 18. Fun for a bit, but spoiler alert: no one scores until around 21:50 of the video.

 


today's matches

I said Messi would be the best player on the field. Close ... he was Argentina's best, with two assists. But Kylian Mbappé ... whoa, he's fast! In one game, Argentina their goal total from the first three matches. It wasn't enough. Mbappé was the best example ... Argentina didn't have an answer for all the fast Frenchmen.

In the late match, I had mentioned Diego Godin's excellence on defense for Uruguay. That wasn't a bad "prediction", but really, Uruguay's defense as a whole is very good. The goal they allowed today was the first in this World Cup. Cavani made up for that goal and more, and Ronaldo wasn't able to truly affect the match (he barely touched the ball in the first half).

One of the teams I was rooting for won, the other lost. But 10 goals, both matches at least close to competitive. I'll take it.

 


tomorrow's matches

France-Argentina. Messi will likely be the best player on the field, and I'll be rooting for Argentina, but I don't think that will be enough. N'Golo Kanté was excellent in France's two wins. France in regular time.

Blast from the Past: Here are the two teams in a 2009 friendly. You'll recognize Argentina's manager ... you'll also recognize the guy who scores the second goal.

Uruguay-Portugal. Ronaldo's been on fire, of course, although not so much against Iran. Diego Godín has been excellent on defense for Uruguay. I can see this going to penalties. I'll be rooting for Uruguay, although again, I think the other team will win. In both games, I see the European team beating the one from South America.

Blast from the Past: I don't think these two have ever faced each other. So here's a highlight reel from Luis Suárez' time with Liverpool:


goodbye to some good players

Wilfred Ndidi, Nigeria. He was Nigeria's best player, playing every minute, leading them in tackles and interceptions. Rumored to be headed for Liverpool. He is also the only player who doesn't get a video here ... he's truly an unsung hero.

Cho Hyun-Woo, South Korea. Goalkeeper was unbeatable against Germany. Rumors connect him to Liverpool, too.

Wahbi Khazri, Tunisia. Had two goals and two assists. The entire team only scored five times.

M'Baye Niang, Senegal. Did a little of everything ... scored a goal, assisted on a goal, was Man of the Match in their win over Poland, even picked up two yellow cards.

Keisuke Honda, Japan. This veteran came on twice as a substitute, played a total of 38 minutes, still managed a goal and an assist. Plays for Pachuca in the Mexican league.

 


names

Time for the stupidest post of every World Cup: the list of great names. Stupid, because the list always looks like it was chosen by a 12-year-old boy. Stupid, because its assumptions are U.S.-centric. But I do it, anyway.

The criteria for making the list? Well, I like names that don’t seem to fit the country. I don’t really know this, of course … that criteria is based on my ignorance about the world. I also like names that seem funny to my ears … this is the stupidest of all, really, people don’t choose their name based on what sounds right to someone from the USA (I know that “Steven Rubio” sounds silly to someone out there).

Argentina: Willy Caballero.

Australia: Milos Degenek, Tim Cahill, Massimo Luongo, Tomi Juric, Jamie Maclaren, Aziz Behich, Dimitri Petratos.

Brazil: Gabriel Jesus, Fred.

Costa Rica: Ian Smith, Joel Campbell, Rodney Wallace, Patrick Pemberton.

Egypt: Mohamed Salah, Mohamed Abdel-Shafy, Mohamed Eineny, Mohamed El-Shenawy.

England: Raheem Sterling, Kieran Trippier, Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

France: Hugo Lloris, Kylian Mbappé, Steven Nzonzi, Steve Mandanda.

Germany: Sami Khedira, Mario Gómez.

Iceland: Halldórsson, Sævarsson, Friðjónsson, Guðmundsson, Ingason, Sigurðsson, Guðmundsson, Bjarnason, Sigurðarson, Sigurðsson, Finnbogason, Rúnarsson, Árnason, Eyjólfsson, Skúlason, Gunnarsson, Magnússon, Gislason, Hallfreðsson, Traustason, Böðvarsson, Skúlason, and Frederik Schram.

Iran: Reza Ghoochannejhad.

Mexico: El Kaiser, Memo, Chicharito, Principito, Chucky.

Panama: Harold Cummings, Erick Davis.

Peru: Andy Polo.

Russia: Mário Fernandes.

Senegal: Moussa Sow, Alfred N'Diaye, Alfred Gomis.

Spain: Nacho, Saúl, Koke, Rodrigo, Thiago, Isco.

Switzerland: Michael Lang, Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri.

Uruguay: José Giménez, Jonathan Urretaviscaya.


today's matches: fair play

It was an odd day, when the most important things happened just to the side of the actual events.

Group H went first. The live table as the matches began: (Senegal 5 Japan 5) Colombia 4 Poland eliminated.

In the 59th minute, Jan Bednarek scored to put Poland up 1-0 against Japan. SEN 5 (JPN 4 COL 4).

In the 74th minute, Yerry Mina scored to put Colombia up 1-0 against Senegal. COL 6 (SEN 4 JPN 4).

Senegal tried for an equalizer, but Colombian keeper David Ospina made a couple of saves, and, to be honest, Senegal didn't show much. Colombia ended atop the table with 6 points, Senegal and Japan with 4. Which led to tiebreakers.

The first two tiebreakers are Goal Differential and Goals Scored. Both teams scored 4 and allowed 4.

Next is head-to-head. (I'm skipping some that don't seem necessary to me, important only if more than 2 teams have tied.) When the two teams met, they drew, 2-2, in one of the more entertaining matches so far.

Which leads to the "Fair Play" tiebreakers. The team with the best record in yellow and red cards finishes ahead of the other team.

In three games, Japan received 4 yellow cards. Senegal received 6. Japan advances, Senegal goes home.

You might say Polish star Robert Lewandowski, who had a disappointing tournament, was as crucial as anyone. In the 66th minute of today's game, he was fouled by Tomoaki Makino, leading to a yellow card. In the second half of the match between Senegal and Poland, the African team received two yellows for fouls on Lewandowski. In a group where Fair Play mattered, Lewandowski drew three yellows from the teams in question.

Of course, Senegal had two more yellows than Japan, so Lewandowski wasn't the only reason Japan advanced. But I'll put him forward as the Forgotten Man of this World Cup thus far, for his mediocre play, and for his ability to draw yellow cards.

Group G

Here's how important Group G action was today: I'm writing this at halftime, because the only match that matters is largely a sham. As I type, Panama leads Tunisia, 1-0, at the half. Both teams are already eliminated, and the only goal of the match was an own goal. Meanwhile, England and Belgium are scoreless at the half. The crucial stat in that game: Belgium has gotten two yellows, England none. If the teams finish the game tied, this one will also go down to Fair Play, and in the "Live Table", England is leading the table. (In fairness, Belgium just scored, so it won't finish 0-0.)

It gets better/worse: there is some debate whether either team actually wants to win the group. The winner faces Japan in the next round, the second place team takes on Colombia. But it's what might come down the road that has people wondering. If the winner beats Japan, their likely next opponent would be Brazil. If the second place team beats Colombia, their next opponent would be Sweden or Switzerland. So, all else being equal, the Group G winner would face Japan and Brazil, the second place team would face Colombia and, say, Sweden. Some people think this means the second place team is in better shape than the winner.

Should I wait until the matches are over to post this? Nah.


tomorrow's matches

OK, so this is actually today's matches, which begin in less than ten minutes. But I was too high to type last night. Hey, a guy needs a break.

Group G is easy. England-Belgium decides which team finishes first and which finishes second.

Group H is more complicated. I'll cheat and cut-as-paste from ESPN:

Group H

- Japan need at least a point against Poland to guarantee qualification, and will be through with a defeat if Colombia lose too. They will definitely top the group if they win and Senegal do not.
- Senegal need a point against Colombia to qualify, and can only qualify with a defeat if Japan lose too. They will top the group if they better Japan's result.
- Colombia must beat Senegal to guarantee going through. They will also qualify with a draw if Japan lose to Poland. They will top the group if they win and Japan do not.
- If both Japan and Senegal draw, both will be through and the team in the highest-scoring draw finishing top. If both draws are the same score, top spot will be decided first by Fair Play and then drawing of lots.
- If both Japan and Senegal win, both will be through and the team that wins by the biggest margin, or is in the highest-scoring win of the same margin, will finish top. If both wins are the same score, top spot will be decided first by Fair Play and then drawing of lots.
- If both Japan and Senegal lose then Colombia win the group. Second place will go to the team that loses by the smallest margin, or is in the highest-scoring defeat of the same margin. If both defeats are the same score, second place will be decided first by Fair Play and then drawing of lots.
- Fair Play is currently Japan -3, Senegal -5, so the Asian side has the edge at the moment.


south korea

"South Korea's Performance Is Why The World Cup Exists", by Tom Ley.

There is almost no other scenario in sports in which players could find themselves simultaneously ambushed with such conflicting emotions. Over the course of about 15 minutes the South Koreans went from experiencing the creeping dread of an increasingly likely 0-0 draw or 0-1 loss, to the blinding, exhilarating thrill of a 2-0 win, all followed in swift succession by the cruel comedown of learning it changed exactly nothing and helped them not at all. What comes after all that? Pride? Devastation? Some sort of perverse euphoria? ...

No moral victory is ever an adequate substitute for the real thing, but maybe there’s some solace in the fact that the same circumstances which made today’s result such a crushing one for South Korea will also make their victory one that won’t be soon forgotten. Once Mexico’s meltdown had reached its full suck-o zenith, the entire soccer-watching world was fixated on South Korea. They didn’t disappoint themselves or anyone who was watching, and for a brief moment they were the stars of a tournament that had already closed itself to them. If any team playing in this morning’s games truly deserved to advance, it was South Korea, but teams don’t always get what they deserve. Sometimes they just get a glorious moment, and sometimes those moments end up mattering more than the results.

 


today's matches

It's not that nothing happened today ... at least one thing was historic. But after two days of intense drama, today was less emotional, unless you were a fan of the teams whose chances disappeared.

In Group F, I started watching Mexico-Sweden. All Mexico needed was a draw, which they had after a first half that was fairly even and mundane. But things fell apart for El Tri in the second half, with Ludwig Augustinsson scoring five minutes into the half. The Swedes added two more on their way to a 3-0 victory and first place in the table. Mexico looked awful, especially on defense.

Meanwhile, South Korea-Germany didn't look too thrilling, either, although I was only watching out of the corner of my eye. That match, too, was scoreless at the half. All the group needed was for Germany to take the lead, and the possibility of a three-way tie for first was there. When Sweden took the lead, the Germans, knowing they needed the win more than ever, brought in Mario Gomez and Thomas Müller. Germany was dominant, but outside of Korean goalkeeper Cho Hyun-Woo, no one was having a particularly good game. When Sweden went up 3-0 in the 74th minute, I switched to the other match. It was still fairly equal, and the table was SWE 6 MEX 6 GER 4 KOR 1. South Korea's only chance to advance depended on Sweden losing, so they were out, leaving the Germans chasing Mexico and needing two goals. They had most of the possession, they took shots, but it looked more and more like a scoreless draw. But then the bottom fell out. Kim Young-Gwon scored a VAR-approved goal in the first minute of extra time, as the Germans poured forward ... even keeper Manuel Neuer, who didn't have a good match, joined the attack, leading to a second Korean goal as Neuer left his goal open.

So Germany is out ... that's the historic part. Mexico snuck in and became big fans of South Korea.

Serbia was the wild card in Group E ... they had 3 points, Brazil and Switzerland had 4. But the good Brazil showed up. Paulinho scored late in the first half, Brazil always looked the better team, and the final 2-0 score just told us what had been clear ... that Brazil and the Swiss would advance.

Hard to pick a highlight. Perhaps this will do: Mexico fans cheering wildly after their team's 3-0 defeat, when South Korea scored a goal. Local angle: the footage is from Mexico City, Moscow, and ... San Jose, California? Yes, the Earthquakes have been opening Avaya Stadium for fans to watch matches, and several thousand were there for the Mexico match.

Or this brief clip ... what happens when Mexican fans meet a Korean fan after the matches?

 


tomorrow's matches

First, here are the Round of 16 matches that are already set:

Saturday, June 30: Uruguay-Portugal, France-Argentina.

Sunday, July 1: Spain-Russia, Croatia-Denmark.

On to tomorrow:

Group F: Mexico-Sweden, South Korea-Germany. Not sure why, but Group F plays before Group E. This is a complicated group. Despite having won both of their first two matches, Mexico is not yet guaranteed to go through. Despite losing both of their first two matches, South Korea still has a shot at advancing. There are a bunch of 3-way tie scenarios. I can't keep up ... if you're interested, check out ESPN's explanation. I'm rooting for Mexico, and a win or a draw puts them through at the top of the table. That simplifies things, so hey, El Tri, win or draw tomorrow! Another possible simplifier: if Mexico wins or draws, and Germany beats South Korea (which seems likely), Mexico and Germany will finish first and second. But ... if Sweden beats Mexico, well ... read that ESPN thing.

Group E: Serbia-Brazil, Switzerland-Costa Rica. Costa Rica is out. Beyond that, anything goes. One note: when these matches are played, the Group F results will be in, which means we'll know which teams from Group F will play which teams from Group E. Say Mexico and Germany finish 1-2. Then the first-place team in Group E will play Germany, the second-place team will play Mexico. This will be more apparent once Group E action begins. I'm guessing the group will be Brazil and then Switzerland, which would set up the proverbial mouth-watering quarter-final match between Brazil and Germany. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

 


today's matches

Group C:

Australia-Peru: Australia's chances were slim, and when Peru's André Carrillo scored in the 18th minute, they got slimmer. Veteran Paolo Guerrero added another in the 50th minute, and the group was decided. This meant Denmark-France devolved a pointless bore, the first 0-0 draw of the tournament. The crowd of 78,000 booed the players off the field at the end. Which set up ...

Group D:

As play begins: CRO 6 NIG 3 ISL 1 ARG 1. On the opening whistle, the live table adds one point to everyone: CRO 7 NIG 4 ISL 2 ARG 2. Croatia will advance no matter what. All three of the other teams have a chance at second place.

14th minute: Messi scores, Argentina leads 1-0. CRO 7 ARG 4 NIG 3 ISL 2 .

51st minute: Victor Moses on a penalty to equalize: Nigeria 1, Argentina 1. CRO 7 NIG 4 ISL 2 ARG 2.

53rd minute: Milan Badelj gives Croatia the lead. CRO 9 NIG 4 ARG 2 ISL 1.

76th minute: Gylfi Sigurdsson brings Iceland level with a penalty. CRO 7 NIG 4 ISL 2 ARG 2. At this point, second place is still up for grabs. If the scores remain the same, Nigeria advances, if Iceland scores two, they advance, if Argentina scores, they advance, unless Iceland ... well, you get the idea.

86th minute: Marcos Rojo puts Argentina up to stay, 2-1. CRO 7 ARG 4 NIG 3 ISL 2. Only a few minutes left, Iceland is probably doomed, Nigeria can still advance if they put one more past Argentina.

90th minute: Ivan Perisic scores for Croatia, ending the hopes of Iceland.

Final whistles: Croatia and Argentina advance, Nigeria and Iceland go home.

Absent context, the best goal of the day was Argentina's first. Éver Banega's pass was perfection, and Messi's control was unworldly: two quick touches and then the shot from his "worst" foot.

I posted the call from Andres Cantor earlier. Here is the audio from Argentina television for Rojo's goal:

 


tomorrow's matches

Quickly:

Group C: Denmark-France, Australia-Peru. France has already qualified, and Denmark only needs a draw. If Denmark wins or draws, the other match doesn't matter. Peru is already out, but they have a decent chance of beating Australia. In other words, I think France and Denmark are advancing from this group.

Group D: Nigeria-Argentina, Iceland-Croatia. Croatia is through, all the others have a chance, even Argentina, who have played so poorly. I suppose people are rooting for Iceland, and people are rooting against Argentina, but I want to see more of Argentina, so I am rooting for them. If they win and Croatia wins or draws, Argentina will advance. If Argentina and Iceland both win, goal differential will matter. If Nigeria beats Argentina, nothing else matters, and they will advance with Croatia.


today's matches

I told you these four days would be crazy.

To get the boring part out of the way, Uruguay put Russia in their place. It was even for about ten minutes. Then Luis Suárez scored, and the match was essentially over. In the 23rd minute, Uruguay went up 2-0 on an own-goal by Russia's Denis Cheryshev. In the 28th minute, Igor Smolnikov received a yellow card ... eight minutes later, he got a second yellow and was dismissed. All that was left was a goal by Edinson Cavani in the 90th minute. Uruguay 3, Russia 0. The primary importance of this is that Russia finished second in Group A. This meant whoever finished first in Group B would have an easier opponent in the first knockout round than the Group B second-place team, who would face Uruguay.

The less said about the meaningless Saudi Arabia-Egypt match, the better, but it was our last opportunity to see this man at this World Cup:

Then, the proverbial all hell broke loose.

When the Group B matches began, it was ESP 4 POR 4 IRN 3. Spain was ahead of Portugal on the "Fair Play" tiebreaker. When the opening whistle was blown, each team added one point to the "live table", as they were all playing draws. So ESP 5 POR 5 IRN 4.

14th minute: Khalid Boutaïb of Morocco scores! POR 5 ESP 4 IRN 4.

19th minute: Isco scores for Spain, restores order. ESP 5 POR 5 IRN 4.

45th minute: Ricardo Quaresma scores for Portugal. At the half, POR 7 ESP 5 IRN 3.

52nd minute: Ronaldo misses a penalty

81th minute: Youssef En-Nesyri puts Morocco back on top. POR 7 ESP 4 IRN 3.

89th minute: Iran calls for a handball in the box, referee didn't see it. But it goes to VAR.

91th minute: Iago Aspas seems to score for Spain, which will settle things. Except the assistant referee has the offside flag up.

91:39: VAR overrules, penalty to Iran.

91:57: VAR overrules the assistant, Spanish goal stands, match tied, 2-2.

93rd minute: Karim Ansarifard converts the penalty. Iran 1 Portugal 1. Which, after a few more minutes of extra time in both matches, meant the table ended up just where it started: ESP 5 POR 5 IRN 4.

You could say much ado about nothing. But as someone who was pulling for Spain, I guarantee you, when Morocco went ahead in the 81st minute, I was freaking out. My brain knew, to some extent, that Spain was still likely to go through to the next round. My heart didn't accept that fact. And I had two different screens showing both matches.

Final result? Spain will play Russia, Portugal will play Uruguay.

I should also show this, since it was likely the Goal of the Day:

 


david silva and racism

From 2012, inspired by watching David Silva on Telemundo today:

"‘It’s Just a Nickname”: AntiBlackness & AntiAsian Racism in Latin American Soccer" by Blanca E. Vega

And what if Silva said it was ok to call him “El Chino”? Would it make the nickname more acceptable?

I contend that even if Silva is “ok” with being called “El Chino” it is still not suitable for a soccer federation and its announcers to continue to call him “El Chino”, particularly if they are trying to build anti-racist campaigns.  For one, Silva is not Chinese.  He is not even of Chinese descent.  Calling Silva “El Chino” continues to perpetuate the racial ideology in Spain and Latin America and among Latinos in the U.S. that it is appropriate for us to continue to call Asians “Chinos” simply because it is easier.

Secondly, we don’t call white soccer players “El Blanco” and we do not overtly call Black soccer players “El Negro” (I say overtly because words like “Negro” are still being hurled at players in private). Why is this acceptable to do to players of Asian descent?

Finally, this example points to the well-rehearsed perspective that is commonly attributed to people of Asian descent, particularly those in the US  — that of the “passive” Asian.  By saying, on Silva’s behalf no less, that it is “just a nickname” we take it upon ourselves to speak for a whole race of people. It denies the vast impact that racism has on its soccer players of color. By us ignoring this “one incident” we deny the opportunity for referees and soccer announcers to learn about the different ways racism manifests; the ways that racism differentially and differently impact people of color.

 


the final group-stage round

(A revised version of what I wrote at this point, four years ago.)

This is where it gets crazy.

This World Cup has been filled with amazing matches, so it’s silly to suggest the best is yet to come. But for the obsessive-compulsives in the crowd, nothing matches the next four days, when the eight groups are decided. Each group’s matches take place simultaneously … tomorrow at 7:00, Uruguay-Russia, the only Group A match to matter, will begin. At 11:00, Iran-Portugal and Spain-Morocco will close out Group B.

The reason why the groups’ final matches are held at the same time can be found here.

The reason these four days are made for us obsessives is that the “live standings” for the group will change with every goal scored in either game.

Having said that, we’ll be able to ease our way into things, because as mentioned, Group A is the first one up, and it has already been decided that the Uruguay and Russia will advance.

But Group B at 11:00 will be the first full-blown craziness. Morocco is out, everyone else has a chance. At the start of play, Spain and Portugal have 4 points, Iran has 3. Spain gets Morocco, who they should beat, meaning Portugal and Iran will play for second place. Since Portugal has an extra point, they can advance with a draw, while Iran has to win. This is, of course, a simplification ... if Morocco somehow beats Spain, everything changes.

For what it's worth, I had Uruguay-Russia down as a draw in my pre-tourney predictions, which would put Russia first, Uruguay second. I predicted a 3-0 by Portugal over Iran, which would put Iran out.

Finally, I can get a bit more sleep now ... the early starting time moves from 5:00 AM to 7:00.


today's matches

Two blowouts meant a lack of drama to some extent, but there was a lot going on nonetheless. And now 50% of the matches are finished.

England-Panama. A ridiculous mess for Panama, an endless party for England, as they join Belgium in qualifying for the knockout rounds. Panama is out, having done CONCACAF's reputation no favors. Harry Kane had a hat-trick, and he did have a great game, but it was one of the lesser hat-tricks you'll see, with two of the goals from penalties and the third goal an accident:

Then, on to Group H, and the only nailbiter of the day, Japan-Senegal. I admit when Sadio Mané scored, 11 minutes in, I thought the rout was on, but Japan equalized later in the half, and when Senegal went back on top in the second half, Japan equalized once again. Takashi Inui was especially good, with a goal, an assist, and a shot off the post. A draw was a fair result, leaving the two teams tied atop the table.

Poland-Colombia. Poland is eliminated, Colombia stays in the race, and they looked really good doing it. Radamel Falcao's first-ever World Cup goal was well-deserved, but the real highlight of the match was not the goal by Juan Cuadrado (although he took it in stride, you might say), but rather the pass from James that gave Cuadrado the chance:

 


jonathan wilson on the lack of goals

This interests me particularly because it addresses something I've bitched about at every World Cup, yet thus far I've found this year's edition fairly compelling. ("World Cups tend to be defined as much by their storylines and drama as by the actual quality of the football and so far there has been plenty of that", writes Wilson.)

"World Cup’s lack of goals is down to issues that stretch back decades"

But goals, clearly, are an issue. The pattern has been clear for at least three decades and is predictable and natural. The lack of time available to coaches mean that they, naturally, make a priority of defensive structures over attacking ones: while an under-drilled attack can always conjure a goal from nothing, an under-drilled defence will always concede. Besides, defensive principles are relatively universal; much less adaptation is required than for attacks that can vary wildly....

That is not to blame those sides, who have a duty to do what they can within the laws of the game to achieve the best possible result. But it is perhaps to wonder how dangerous the pattern is for the general spectacle. It is an issue that has faced the World Cup for some time and will become even more prevalent after the expansion to 48 teams. It is an issue in football generally as the gulf between rich and poor grows ever greater and matches even within the same league become ever more unbalanced.


tomorrow's matches

England-Panama (Group G). If England wins, which is very likely, they and Belgium will be through to the next round, Panama and Tunisia will be out. My pre-tourney prediction has England winning, 3-1, with 2 goals by Harry Kane and one by Danny Welbeck, with Luis Tejada scoring the consolation for Panama. The possible absence of Dele Alli could be a problem for England, but not enough for them to lose.

Japan-Senegal (Group H). Both winners in their first match, and if there's a winner in this one, that team could guarantee a spot in the knockouts. I predicted that Sadio Mané would score two in leading Senegal to a 2-1 victory, Japanese goal for Shinji Okazaki. But Japan is fully capable of a win. I am not the person to rely on with this group ... I predicted Poland and Colombia would advance, and they both lost their opening match.

Poland-Colombia (Group H). The loser of this match, if there is one, is likely to be eliminated, although a draw would keep both team's hopes alive. I predicted a 1-1 draw, goals by Robert Lewandowski and Radamel Falcao, but that's when I thought these two would advance. Colombia could squeak out a win, especially if Lewandowski doesn't improve on his performance against Senegal.


today's matches

A great day to watch some soccer, perhaps the best so far.

Belgium-Tunisia. This one set the table. It was a blowout, as expected, but there were two goals from Romelu Lukaku to put him into a tie with Cristiano Ronaldo for the Golden Boot with 4 goals. Eden Hazard had two, as well. Even Tunisia had two goals. (Anyone who thinks I know anything about soccer should understand that I do not recognize the names of any of the players on Tunisia, nor could I name a single Tunisian player in their history.)

South Korea-Mexico. Mexico continued their run. Chicharito scored in his third consecutive World Cup. I've loved Hernández since his days with Chivas. The Mexican fans delighted with "Cielito Lindo" and seem to have finally stopped that stupid chant at opposing goalkeepers.

Germany-Sweden. After the above, all we had left was this match, full of drama and suspense. The Swedes took a deserved 1-0 lead into halftime, but Germany scored a quick goal just minutes into the second half. They seemed to be taking charge, and no one really believed they would lose their first two matches and drop out after the group stage, did they? But Jérôme Boateng received two yellow cards in eleven minutes (the first German player to be sent off at the World Cup since 2010), leaving the Germans shorthanded with 8 minutes plus stoppage to go. A draw would have sent Mexico through and made Germany's task much harder. It looked like a draw was the best Germany could hope for, and those were pretty small wishes for the defending champions. The referee added five minutes, and Germany got one last chance with less than 30 seconds to go. Leading to this:


tomorrow's matches

South Korea-Mexico (Group F). 2-0 to Mexico, goals by Chicharito and Chucky Lozano.

Germany-Sweden (Group F). 1-1 draw, goals by Toni Kroos and Marcus Berg. I don't remember why I predicted a draw ... I have Germany to win it all, and Sweden to drop out in the group stage. If Mexico and Sweden win, they would both have 6 points and the others 0 points. If it comes out how I predict, it will be MEX 6 SWE 4 GER 1. If Germany beats Sweden: MEX 6 SWE 3 GER 3. If South Korea somehow beats Mexico, everything becomes a mess.

Belgium-Tunisia (Group G). Belgium 3-0 over Tunisia. If Belgium wins, they will advance and Tunisia will be done. Goals by Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, and Kevin De Bruyne. Remember these predictions were made before the tournament began. Having said that, I think Belgium will prevail here.

 


today's matches

Brazil-Costa Rica. A triumph, I suppose, of parking the bus, as Costa Rica held the Brazilians until the 91st minute. For me, their best player, today and always, is keeper Keylor Navas ... the defense-first strategy worked largely because of Navas, who was my Man of the Match. Brazil had 72% of possession and took 22 shots to Costa Rica's 3. They had 9 shots on target, Costa Rica had none. Navas saved the first 7 of those 9, but it wasn't enough.

Serbia-Switzerland. An entertaining match. Serbia controlled the first half, Switzerland came back in the second. The winning goal came in the 90th minute. There was extra emotion from the Swiss scorers, as told by Matthew Henry:

Shaqiri and Xhaka celebrated their goals wildly - strikes made even more emotional as both are of Kosovan descent.

After the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Serbia responded to separatist pressure from Kosovo by launching a brutal crackdown on the territory's Albanian population, which ended with Nato military intervention in 1999 - while the country became independent from Serbia in 2008.

Xhaka's father spent three and a half years as a political prisoner in Yugoslavia while Shaqiri was born in Yugoslavia before emigrating to Switzerland as a child.

Both appeared to make an eagle gesture with their hands as they celebrated, a symbol of the two-headed eagle on the Albanian flag.

Shaqiri also sported a Kosovan flag, stitched onto his boots, and was booed by the Serbia fans when his name was read out before kick-off.

Here's Shaqiri's goal (hey, I predicted he'd get the winner), with Sammy Sadovnik on the call, a lucky move for an entertaining match, since Sammy is arguably the most entertaining of their play-by-play men. (I am aware that many/most of these videos don't play on this site, but you can follow the subsequent link.)

Group E, like Group B, will make for some exciting third matches. Both groups feature two teams with four points and one team with three points.

Nigeria-Iceland. Beloved Iceland is in big trouble now, which can happen when you only score one goal in two games. This one was close for a half, and then it was the Ahmed Musa Show (Musa is now Nigeria's all-time leading goal scorer at World Cups). Amazingly, with this result, Argentina still has a chance to advance to the knockout rounds (they have to beat Nigeria and hope Iceland doesn't win against Croatia).

 


raheem sterling

"It Was All a Dream"

If people want to write about my mum’s bathroom in her house, all I have to tell you is that 15 years ago, we were cleaning toilets in Stonebridge and getting breakfast out of the vending machine. If anybody deserves to be happy, it’s my mum. She came to this country with nothing and put herself through school cleaning bathrooms and changing bed sheets, and now she’s the director of a nursing home.

And her son plays for England....

If you grew up the same way I grew up, don’t listen to what certain tabloids want to tell you. They just want to steal your joy. They just want to pull you down.

I’m telling you right now …

England is still a place where a naughty boy who comes from nothing can live his dream.


angels with dirty faces

Two years ago, the great Jonathan Wilson published a book, Angels with Dirty Faces: How Argentinian Soccer Defined a Nation and Changed the Game Forever. He knows Argentine soccer. So his words regarding today's pitiful showing against Croatia carry some weight.

"Shambolic, frenzied, anarchic – and Argentina crisis has Messi at its heart"

It was in 1913 that Racing became the first non-Anglo side to win the Argentinian league title. For much of the century that has followed, Argentinian football has defined itself in opposition to the English, distancing itself from its British heritage. And yet, under pressure, in their frenzied desperation on Thursday, Argentina resembled nobody so much as England.

This was shambolic. Too many players tried to do too much themselves. There was altogether too much running, too much frenzy, too many fouls conceded as they desperately tried to regain possession, too little thought. By the end, as Ivan Rakitic casually rolled in a sarcastic third for Croatia, Argentina were gone, any semblance of defensive structure blown to the winds.


tomorrow's matches

I'm settling in to a bit of a pattern. First I figure out which of the three matches I am most interested in ... tomorrow that will probably be Brazil-Costa Rica. I will make sure I see that entire match. Then, I'll catch short naps, meaning I don't always see the other matches in their entirety. (I could watch them on time delay, but my DVR's been acting up.) I'll watch highlight videos to fill in anything I might have missed in those other matches. Today that meant I made sure I was awake for Argentina-Croatia at 11:00, and since I woke up early, I saw the entire 5:00 match. But after that, I took a nap and didn't wake up until about 20 minutes in to France-Peru. Tomorrow, I'll make sure I'm up for the 5:00 Brazil-Costa Rica match, pick up Nigeria-Iceland when I wake up, and then either coast into the 11:00 match, or take another nap and hope for the best.

Nigeria-Iceland (Group D). Croatia's thumping of Argentina means these two teams play knowing what is necessary (current standings: Iceland, Argentina, Nigeria). An Iceland win almost guarantees they will advance, while a draw or a Nigeria win will leave it all to do in the third matches. My early prediction: Iceland 2-1 winners, goals by Gylfi Sigurdsson and Albert Gudmundsson for Iceland, Victor Moses for Nigeria.

Brazil-Costa Rica (Group E). By now it should be clear how useless my pre-tourney predictions were, but I'll keep including them. Brazil 3-0, goals by Neymar, Roberto Firmino, and Philippe Coutinho. Since I made that prediction, Neymar's health has become an issue, although to the best of my knowledge, he will play. Normally I'd stand by that 3-0 prediction, but the Brazil result against the Swiss gives me pause.

Serbia-Switzerland (Group E). You've got Serbia, the only team in the group with a win so far, and Switzerland, feeling their oats after holding Brazil to a draw. My prediction was 1-0 for the Swiss, goal by Xherdan Shaqiri. If the Swiss lose and Brazil beats Costa Rica, Switzerland is close to elimination, so they will hope my prediction comes true.