It was worth getting up at 3 in the morning. And it was a deserved win for Spain. England played well enough to make it interesting, but really, Spain looked the better team. The best description was on Twitter, where one person said, "Spain’s passing is how the US used to move the ball. Sigh." Two-time US World Cup champion Julie Foudy replied, "Very kind, but we have never moved the ball like Spain does... their grace on the ball is gorgeous to watch."

Aitana Bonmatí won the Golden Ball as the best player, but don't sleep on Teresa Abelleira, Jenni Hermoso (despite her penalty miss in the final, her 3 goals and 2 assists matched Aitana's), and 23-year-old Olga Carmona, a defender who scored two wonderful goals. England's Mary Earps won the Golden Glove as the best keeper, Japan's Hinata Miyazawa won the Golden Boot, and Spain teenager Salma Paralluelo was named the Young Player of the Tournament.

No one was more excited than Natalia Astrain, the Telemundo color commentator who is from Spain:

and so, the final

Part of the joy of a World Cup is watching a gazillion matches, and that's a joy I've missed out on because of the time difference between Australia/New Zealand and Berkeley. I've managed to see some good games and have spent a lot of time watching highlights, but that's not the same. But I got up in the wee hours to see Spain defeat Sweden, and this morning (or more accurately, tomorrow morning) I will be up at 3:00 AM to watch the final between Spain and England. I have no idea who will win, but it's always nice to have a rooting interest, and as has been the case for a long time in international soccer, after the USA falls short, I have Spain to fall back on.

Meanwhile, I was up at 7:00 this morning to watch Wrexham. The difference between the Wrexham of the past decade-plus and now is evident in the quality of the telecasts ... it's not just the professional camerawork, it's the fact that there is more than one camera at a match. The highlight post on YouTube wins this week's award for hyperbole: the video is called "BEST GAME EVER?!", when it is more on target to say "Worst Defending Ever". But it certainly was exciting.


Three points:

1: The woman who just misses opening the scoring at the beginning of the highlights (Olga Carmona) is the same woman who scores the winning goal at the end of the highlights.

2: There are only 95 seconds between Sweden's late equalizer and Spain's winner.

3: You don't need to understand Spanish to realize that the color commentator in these highlights, Natalia Astrain, is from Spain.

bye bye usa

For the first time during the tournament, I got up in the middle of the night specifically to watch a match: Sweden-USA. First, hats off to Zecira Musovic, the Swedish goalkeeper who made 11 saves in the 120 minutes that preceded penalties. Amazingly, she didn't make a single save in the penalty shootout that resulted in the Americans' elimination ... each miss by the U.S. came from poorly-kicked balls, Musovic never touched any of them. Swedish coach Peter Gerhardsson offered an interesting theory on what happened to the USA:

I don't know what [Musovic] did, what mental thing that she did to make them put them over the bar and things like that.... She was good in the game. Even if she didn't save any penalties, I think for the other team, maybe they put it outside because they know that if it's not a good penalty, maybe she takes it.

I leave it to others, more expert at soccer analysis, to explain what went wrong for the Americans. It's ironic that the U.S. keeper, Alyssa Naeher, had the best performance of the goalies on the penalties. She saved two, and even stepped to take one for her team, which she made.

The U.S. played their best game of the Cup, and they leave having not lost any matches in regular time. After beating Vietnam 3-0 to start, they had three straight draws, not scoring in either of the last two matches. It's kinda hard to win if you don't score.

Why didn't they score? I have my opinions, but they're not that informed ... I'm just a guy who watches matches. To my eye, the players didn't seem to fit comfortably into the scheme provided by coach Vlatko Andonovski. Alex Morgan is the best example on the offense ... I don't think she played that badly, she was offside a bit too often, but she had her chances, and against Sweden, again you tip your cap to Musovic. Morgan, like a lot of the players, seemed to tire ... she's 34 years old, she played 342 minutes over 4 games. If I take one memory away from the U.S. in this World Cup, it's that Andonovski seemed to forget he was allowed to make substitutions. He made the allowed five subs against Vietnam, then made only one sub against the Netherlands, bringing on Rose Lavelle at the half. He again made all 5 subs against Portugal, but two came in the 84th minute, and two more came in added time. Finally, against Sweden, he subbed in Lynn Williams in the 66th minute, then nothing until the extra time, when he took off Morgan for Megan Rapinoe in the 99th minute. He made no other subs in the 120-minute match, other than to add two good penalty takers in the 120th minute.

Is any of this relevant to why they couldn't score? You got me. The easier explanation is probably the best: the rest of the world has caught up with the USA in women's soccer.

Here is the centimeter that sent Sweden through:

round of 16

In the first of the rare posts I've made about this World Cup, I only mentioned one player: Sam Kerr of Australia. I quoted Michael Cox:

Everything is set up for Sam Kerr to have a tournament incomparable with anything else any women’s footballer has experienced. The obvious poster girl for a tournament played in her home nation, Kerr can reasonably claim to be the most dangerous striker in the game.

Australia won 2 of their 3 group stage matches to advance (co-hosts New Zealand were not as fortunate ... they are 3-and-out). They won their group, thus winning the opportunity to play Denmark in the next round. Sadly, Sam Kerr was injured just before the tournament started ... she has yet to play (curse of the blog, I guess).

That's the bad news. The good news is that Australia won their group anyway, and rumors are Kerr will be available to play against Denmark.

Meanwhile, Brazil was eliminated in the group stage, meaning Marta has played her last game in a World Cup. Marta is the GOAT in women's soccer. She finishes her international career with 115 goals for Brazil. She scored 17 goals in World Cups, a record. I've posted this many times in many places over the years ... this all-time Marta World Cup goal:

And there's the USA. They were unbeaten during group play, yet everyone agrees they were subpar, and they are likely to be underdogs against Sweden in the next round.

daniella lópez guajardo

It's been a pleasure hearing so many women's voices coming from the announcer's booth during this World Cup. Perhaps my favorite is Daniella López Guajardo. My viewing is erratic because of the time zone difference, but I think she is the only woman doing play-by-play in Spanish (there are lots of women doing color commentary, and there are some fine women doing PBP in English). López Guajardo has the enthusiasm of the best Spanish-language announcers, as can be seen/heard in this recap of the great Germany-Colombia match:

trying to keep up

In 2002, I struggled to watch all of the matches in the World Cup, because it was played in Japan and South Korea, so most of the matches took place in the middle of the night in Berkeley. I did what I could.

Now it's 2023, and the Women's World Cup is being held in Australia and New Zealand, and the same problem occurs. Probably the biggest difference is that I am now 70 years old, not 49, and while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. So I've only seen a few complete matches live, relying instead on highlight reels and radio broadcasts (where I inevitable fall asleep).

So I have little to say about the tournament, because I am experiencing it in a cut-and-paste way.

Here's are the highlights from Panama-Jamaica, wherein Jamaica picked up their very first World Cup win:


Where were the subs?

Set aside questions about Vlatko Andonovski's selection of a starting eleven. In the particular cases of Rose Lavelle and Megan Rapinoe, there are still worries about their ability to play for 90 minutes (well, Rapinoe isn't expected to play 90, no matter what). And while it seems to some that Andonovski has people playing in uncomfortable positions, there have been injuries that he has to fill.

But at halftime, the U.S. was down to the Netherlands, 1-0. The Dutch were dominating possession, and although the Americans had a big advantage in shots taken, only 2 of their 9 were on target. No U.S. player, outside of Lindsey Horan, was having a good game.

So, as everyone expected, Rose Lavelle came on to start the second half. As usual, Lavelle was a bright spot. In the 62nd minute, Lavelle assisted on a goal by Horan to equalize.

There were tired players out there on both sides. Andries Jonker ended up making a total of 4 subs for the Netherlands, and they didn't have great games, but at least they had the proverbial fresh legs. Meanwhile, on the American side, Trinity Rodman's game got progressively worse, and it was hard not to believe it was because she was tired. The entire vaunted front line of Rodman, Alex Morgan, and Sophia Smith looked a bit under their best. But Andonovski made no further subs after bringing on Lavelle, who among other things offered a sense of what some fresh players might do to help the team.

And so, the match ended 1-1, a result that will likely send both teams into the knockout rounds. The U.S. is still atop the table. But the stalwarts of the American team are not getting much rest, so far, and that may work against them as the tournament gets into the later rounds.

it's not just the world cup

There is a lot of soccer going on right now. The World Cup continues to be a difficult watch here in the Pacific Time Zone. I got to watch the USA-Vietnam match, with Andres Cantor on the call (the U.S. did their job but weren't overwhelming, credit to the Vietnamese). I've caught bits and pieces of other matches. The oddest thing comes in the middle of the night. I have my bedside radio set to the SiriusXM channel that simulcasts the Fox Sports TV broadcasts, and I have my little "pillow speaker" so I can hear without bothering my wife. So a couple of times, I've woken to the voices of Kate Scott and Danielle Slaton, not an experience I've had before.

Meanwhile, Wrexham are touring the United States, which remains rather unfathomable. They lost 5-0 to what amounted to a Chelsea youth squad, and won 4-0 to a third tier LA Galaxy team. I can't say I know what this means about the quality of play in England's fourth division (League Two), where Wrexham will play this year. Saying they aren't as good as Chelsea is obvious. Saying they are better than a team that is two levels below MLS doesn't say enough. Eyeballing it, I think it's clear Wrexham is not yet up to the level of MLS yet ... I'm not sure how the English Championship (their second level) would fare against MLS. Whatever ... it's fun seeing Wrexham play in front of their new American fans.

But the biggest non-World Cup soccer news came when Lionel Messi made his debut for Inter Miami. He came off the bench in the second half. The place was packed, including attendees like LeBron James, Serena Williams, Kim Kardashian, David Beckham, and Posh Spice. A tie game, extra time, last play of the match before it went into penalty kicks, and Miami got a free kick. Of course, we know what had to happen next:

spain-costa rica

The match between Spain and Costa Rica had special significance for Bay Area fans, thanks to the announcing team of Kate Scott and Danielle Slaton. Scott has been a trendsetter for a long time, going back to her time as a student at Cal, where she was a Mass Comm major. She has a number of firsts in her career, and among other things is currently the television play-by-play announcer for the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA. We first met in the stands at Spartan Stadium during an Earthquakes match, and it has been a delight to watch her career blossom. Slaton is from San Jose and played her college soccer at Santa Clara. A former national team member, she has become well-known to local fans for her commentary on Quakes matches. It's a great thing to see the two of them working together on the national stage.

women's world cup 2023

It begins tomorrow. It won't be easy to follow in real time ... the matches are played in Australia and New Zealand. Tomorrow kicks off with four matches, and the starting times here in California are Midnight, 3:00 AM, 7:30 PM, and 10:00 PM.

As usual, I will be rooting for the U.S., and then Spain. The Americans are going for their third straight championship, and they are favored. Probably the best match to watch if you only check out one will be hosts Australia vs. Ireland at 3:00 AM, since Australia has Sam Kerr. Quoting Michael Cox at The Athletic: "Everything is set up for Sam Kerr to have a tournament incomparable with anything else any women’s footballer has experienced. The obvious poster girl for a tournament played in her home nation, Kerr can reasonably claim to be the most dangerous striker in the game."

Meanwhile, here is the ad that has gone viral. I've seen it twice now, and I'm still not sure I understand it, but everyone else seems very impressed:

fever pitch

Andrés Cantor was born in Argentina.

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

day twenty-three

France looked tired in the first half, and for much of the second half as well. I found myself wondering about the stories out of the French camp that a rash of flu had taken many of the players down. And then, in the 80th and 81st minute, France scored twice to equalize.

In extra time, I thought Messi was looking his age. Oh, he spends a lot of time just walking around anyway, but he had the ball taken away a couple of times, and I figured he'd reached his limit. Then, in the 108th minute, he scored the goal that put Argentina back on top.

France wasn't done, of course. Kylian Mbappé had to finish his hat trick to send the match and the tournament to penalties. Even with Messi at his best (two goals, and then he scored the first penalty), Mbappé was the best player on the pitch. But it's Messi's team who are now champions.

the broadcasts

I began watching the English-language broadcasts on Fox, because they had the 4K. Their 4K picture wasn't much as a 4K, and the regular HD on Telemundo wasn't too bad, so I ended up spending almost the entire Cup watching in Spanish.

For the most part, I didn't catch enough of the Fox teams to make an evaluation. From what I did see, the team of Derek Rae and Aly Wagner was quite good. Probably the best thing about Fox was that no one sucked ... we've come a long way. I mostly skip in-studio pre-and-post-game shows, so I have no opinion there.

The lead team on Telemundo was the legend, Andrés Cantor, with Manuel Sol as analyst. They've worked together for a long time and have an easy feel. The other play-by-play announcers are Copán Álvarez, Jorge Calvo and Sammy Sadovnik. I'm a long-time fan of Sadovnik ("aroma de gol!"), Alvarez is solid, and Calvo didn't make enough of an impression on me to say much. Telemundo have had a variety of analysts ... they seemed to have three people in the booth for every match, and they tended to bring in at least one person who was from a country in the particular match. Cantor was ebullient whenever things went well for Argentina, but all of the commentators with a personal stake did little to hide their loyalties, and it was kinda fun, to be honest. The quality of the analysts was OK across the board, without anyone standing out too much. But I'd mention Natalia Astrain from Spain, the USWNT U-17 coach who has been interesting. Also, my daughter and her husband enjoyed Brazilian Mauro Silva ... they found his accent when speaking Spanish delightful.

No real surprises in any of this. Well, I wish the Fox 4K picture had been better, but then I wouldn't have spent most of my time enjoying Cantor and company.

day twenty-two

The Croatia-Morocco third-place match is about to begin. I'll have it on, but won't be paying much attention.

Argentina-France. Useless to predict a winner ... whoever wins, it will likely make sense. I think France has been the most fun team to watch in the tournament. I'm still rooting for Messi, though, so an Argentina win will make me happiest.

A continuation of a theme: players I mentioned at the beginning of the competition ... did I know what I was talking about?

France: It took no expertise to note Kylian Mbappé. He has been France's best player.  Ousmane Dembélé and Aurelien Tchouaméni have also had fine tournaments, although Dembélé hasn't yet played a full 90. Tchouaméni has, several times. I did a good job spotting top French players, but as I say, it didn't exactly take much foresight to pick those three. Antoine Griezmann has been the best French player I didn't single out at the time.

Argentina: Lionel Messi has been the best player at the Cup, but duh. Enzo Fernández has been one of the better stories at the tournament, getting a lot of attention and possibly about to win an award or two. Lautaro Martínez has been a disappointment, although there are stories that he has been fighting an injury.

day twenty-one

France-Morocco. Both sides did themselves proud, but in the end, quality showed. For all their spirit and their dominance in possession (61/39), Morocco always seemed more threatening than dangerous. They pushed France throughout, yet somehow it isn't a surprise that they never managed to score. Meanwhile, France once again got excellent performances from multiple players. Goal scoring defender Theo Hernández was arguably the best of them this time around, but I was impressed once again by Antoine Griezmann. He seemed to be all over the field. Outside of his brief 17-minute showing against Tunisia after France had already qualified for the knockout rounds, Griezmann has had one top match after another.

A continuation of a theme: players I mentioned at the beginning of the competition ... did I know what I was talking about?

This one is easy. I didn't mention a single Morocco player when they made their first appearance. That shows I did not know what I was talking about, but Morocco was the great surprise of the tournament ... I don't think I was alone in neglecting them.

more on grant wahl

A note from his wife, Dr. Céline Gounder:

"An autopsy was performed by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office. Grant died from the rupture of a slowly growing, undetected ascending aortic aneurysm with hemopericardium. The chest pressure he experienced shortly before his death may have represented the initial symptoms. No amount of CPR or shocks would have saved him. His death was unrelated to COVID. His death was unrelated to vaccination status. There was nothing nefarious about his death."

The complete statement is here:

"A note from Grant's wife, Céline Gounder"

day twenty

Argentina-Croatia. Much of the drama ended after Argentina scored two goals in five minutes late in the first half. But they were still fun to watch. Julián Álvarez had a great game, scoring twice ... the first (Argentina's second) was a Goal of the Tournament contender, a long run from his own side of the field. It wasn't the kind of slalom made famous by Maradona and Messi ... Álvarez just tore down the middle, shrugging off all defenders, and sticking it into the net. Álvarez' second goal was made by a remarkable play from Messi, who embarrassed the otherwise excellent Joško Gvardiol, setting up Álvarez. Luka Modric went out after a fine match ... there's always a chance he'll play in the third-place match on Saturday, but if this was his swan song at the World Cup, he did himself proud, as always.

A continuation of a theme: players I mentioned at the beginning of the competition ... did I know what I was talking about?

Croatia: I can't take credit for naming Luka Modric as a man to watch. He's been great for a long time. Joško Gvardiol is only 20 years old, and he a great tournament. Yes, he got pantsed by Messi on that third goal, but he's a good one.


I suppose I should make predictions about the semi-finals, but my opinions are pretty mainstream: Argentina over Croatia, France over Morocco.

Argentina-Croatia. Argentina misses at least two players to suspension (Marcos Acuña and Gonzalo Montiel), and Croatia's goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic is a real force. But only one of these teams has Messi, and I want to see him in the finals.

France-Morocco. Yes, Morocco is a great story, and yes, the history of the two countries makes for some interesting stories, as well. But the defending champs are loaded, with Kylian Mbappé (although England shut him down pretty well), Antoine Griezmann (had both assists in that England match), and 36-year-old Olivier Giroud, who has 4 goals in 4 matches. It's not that Morocco lacks talent ... Achraf Hakimi has been especially good. And their defense in this tournament has been unbeatable. But they have injury problems (Romain Saïss and Nayef Aguerd are out, Noussair Mazraoui and Abdelhamid Sabiri are doubtful) and Walid Cheddira is suspended (not a big deal, he has barely played anyway). Morocco's defense will keep this close, but I sure hope France wins, because they are much more fun to watch.


"Sources: United States midfielder Giovanni Reyna almost sent home from World Cup"

Jeff Carlisle for ESPN:

United States midfielder Giovanni Reyna was almost sent home from the World Cup in Qatar due to a lack of effort in training and in a pre-tournament scrimmage against Qatari side Al Gharafa SC, sources told ESPN on Sunday.... Reyna was confronted by coaches and teammates and eventually apologized.

day nineteen

Morocco-Portugal. It's safe to say I didn't expect to see Morocco advancing as the first African team to make the semi-finals in the World Cup. They have only allowed one goal in five matches (and that was an own goal). They aren't the most exciting team, although their fans are a lot of fun. Moroccan goalkeeper Bono has been great, and Portugal somehow never looked like scoring even though they dominated possession.

England-France. A wonderful match. England has nothing to be ashamed of ... they came within a missed penalty of taking the defending champs into extra time. And they have a lot to look forward to ... Saka and Bellingham were their best players on the pitch. But France just has too much ... Griezmann and his two assists, Giroud and Tchouaméni with the goals, Lloris in goal. Even an off-game-for-him Mbappé didn't stop the French.

A continuation of a theme: players I mentioned at the beginning of the competition ... did I know what I was talking about?

Portugal: A sad goodbye for the 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, who has likely played his last World Cup game. He was relegated to the bench for the last two matches, and only managed one goal. Rafael Leão came off the bench in all five matches, and scored two goals. Nuno Mendes only played 42 minutes before being injured.

England: Harry Kane. He'll be remembered for the penalty miss, and that's not fair. He had an excellent tournament, with 2 goals, 3 assists, and at least 3 excellent matches.  Jude Bellingham (19) and Bukayo Saka (21) are stars of the future. Bellingham might have been England's best player overall, and the only reason Saka wasn't the best is that he missed the Wales match.

day eighteen

There's no way I can match today's excitement in words, so I'll just say a couple of things so when I look back on this some day, I'll be reminded.

Croatia-Brazil. It was a decent 0-0 match through 90 minutes. Neymar was good, but Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was brilliant, keeping Brazil off the scoreboard. Extra time saw the real thrills. Neymar scored one of the best goals of the tournament, but with three minutes to go, Bruno Petkovic equalized, and off to penalties we went. Croatia never loses in penalties, plus Livakovic was having a Man of the Match moment. Croatia go through, while Neymar inexplicably never got to take a penalty.

Netherlands-Argentina. This match had everything. Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz couldn't control things, issuing so many cards I lost count (18?). He gave yellows to guys on the bench, he gave a yellow to someone during the penalty shootout ... it couldn't have been easy, what with a team fight and two cranky teams on the field. Messi was great, assisting on a first half goal and converting a penalty in the second half to put Argentina up 2-0, seemingly putting a cap on the game. But then substitute Wout Weghorst (one of the guys who got a yellow while on the bench) got one back for the Dutch. Mateu Lahoz added ten minutes, and in the last of those minutes, Weghorst scored another on a wonderful drawn-in-the-locker-room free kick to send the game into extra time. No one scored in extra time, although three more yellow cards were given, leading to another penalty shootout. Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez stopped the first two Dutch penalties, Messi was first up for Argentina (no "where's Neymar" this time), the Argentines will go on to meet Croatia in the semi-finals, and Messi still has a shot at that World Cup title.

A continuation of a theme: players I mentioned at the beginning of the competition ... did I know what I was talking about?

Brazil: Neymar had two goals and an assist, and was terrific when he played (he missed two matches in the group stage). Vinícius Júnior was erratic, but he still managed a goal and two assists. GK Alisson wasn't up to his usual form, while Ederson played one match that didn't matter.

Netherlands: Cody Gakpo scored three goals and was the best Dutch player. Virgil van Dijk was OK, although I imagine he's disappointed in his performance, plus he missed a penalty in the shootout. After Gakpo. Frenkie de Jong was the Netherlands' best.

death is a natural part of life

"Qatar World Cup chief Nasser Al Khater on migrant worker casualty: ‘Death is a natural part of life, at work or in sleep’"

Adam Crafton reports for The Athletic.

The Qatar World Cup’s chief executive Nasser Al Khater responded to a question about a recent migrant worker casualty by telling reporters that “death is a natural part of life”, as well as saying journalists shouldn’t “bang on” about the topic....

Earlier on Thursday, FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura refused to answer questions on the incident.

Samoura said she did not think the question was “appropriate” when she was asked to comment on the death.

“We’ve already elaborated long interventions on what we are doing with Qatar,” she said.

“I don’t think that’s appropriate when people are coming here to learn things, that we are talking about things that we’ve already discussed months and months and months and time and time ago.”


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).

Australia: Aziz Behich, Miloš Degenek, Garang Kuol, Jamie Maclaren, Marco Tilio.

Brazil: Gabriel Jesus, Fred, Vinícius Júnior.

Canada: Sam Adekugbe, Milan Borjan.

Costa Rica: Jewison Bennette, Joel Campbell, Keylor Navas.

Denmark: Alexander Bah, Jonas Wind.

England: Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling, Kieran Trippier.

France: Kingsley Coman, Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda, Kylian Mbappé.

Japan: Daniel Schmidt.

Mexico: El Cachorro, Charly, Chucky, El Machín, Memo, Principito, Henry Martín.

Netherlands: Wout Weghorst.

Poland: Matty Cash.

Portugal: André Silva, António Silva, Bernardo Silva. João Cancelo, João Félix, João Mário, João Palhinha.

Qatar: Ró-Ró.

Senegal: Alfred Gomis, Nicolas Jackson.

South Korea: Kim Jin-su, Kim Min-jae, Kim Moon-hwan, Kim Seung-gyu, Kim Tae-hwan, Kim Young-gwon.

Serbia: Grujić, Kostić, Lukić, Maksimović, Milenković, the Milinković-Savić brothers (Sergej and Vanja), Mitrović, Pavlović, Tadić, Veljković, Vlahović, Živković, Nemanja Gudelj.

Spain: Gavi, Koke, Pedri, Rodri.

Switzerland: Xherdan Shaqiri, Djibril Sow, Ruben Vargas, Granit Xhaka.

Tunisia: Dylan Bronn.

United States: Sergiño Dest, Yunus Musah.

Uruguay: José Giménez.


day seventeen

After Spain put up seven goals against Costa Rica, I wrote, "Before they won a World Cup, I used to bristle when people said Spain's soccer team was boring. Post-championship, I don't listen to those people any more. Of course, they're right most of the time. But not much was boring about this match for a Spain fan." From that point on, Spain scored two goals in 300 minutes, went winless in three games, and crapped out in a penalty shootout to end their Cup. They dominated possession (64/36 vs. Germany, 82!/18 vs. Japan, 77/23 vs. Morocco). They passed efficiently (91% success rate over the course of the tournament). They got excellent performances from individuals (especially Rodri). And they were boring.

Meanwhile, Portugal scored six against Switzerland with Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench for most of the match. His replacement, young Gonçalo Ramos, became an instant World Cup legend with three great goals and an assist. A bit of "beware what you ask for" ... Morocco-Spain was dull, so here comes seven goals, but in a match that was pretty much decided by halftime.

Two days off now before the quarter-finals begin: Croatia-Brazil, Netherland-Argentina, Morocco-Portugal, and England-France.

A continuation of a theme: players I mentioned at the beginning of the competition ... did I know what I was talking about?

Spain: Pedri and Gavi (one goal) were OK. Ansu Fati only played 45 minutes.

Switzerland: Xherdan Shaqiri. I'm a longtime fan of Shaqiri's, and he had a decent tournament, with a goal and an assist in the two Swiss wins, although he only played in three of their four games.

day fifteen and si(cks)teen

For a variety of reasons, most related to the starting times of some of the matches, I have struggled to keep up with my desire to see every match. Finally, the 2:00 and 5:00 are gone, but meanwhile, I've been under the weather for a while. So I watched France-Poland with painful sinuses and half-closed eyes, didn't wake up until England-Senegal had finished a half. And, of course, I missed a day on this blog.

For today, Japan goes out via the cruel penalties. They deserved their halftime lead, but Croatia outplayed them in the second half, held on in extra time, and ... well, Croatia never seems to lose a penalty shootout. Luka Modrić gets at least one more game for his national team. Meanwhile, Brazil-South Korea was such a blowout that Andrés Cantor started talking about Xuxa.

Tomorrow, the final Round of 16 matches. Spain should have no trouble with Morocco. Portugal will be favored against Switzerland, but that could be a tricky one.

A continuation of a theme: players I mentioned at the beginning of the competition ... did I know what I was talking about?

Poland: Robert Lewandowski had 2 goals and an assist while playing every minute and was probably the best outfield player on the team. 20-year-old Nicola Zalewski only played a total of 65 minutes.

Senegal: Kalidou Koulibaly was one of Senegal's best players, and scored a goal.

Japan: Junya Ito had a decent tournament, and picked up an assist, but there were a handful of better Japanese players, most notably Ritsu Doan and his two goals off the bench.

South Korea: Son Heung-Min had a great match against Portugal, wasn't up to his high standards otherwise.

day fourteen

Netherlands-USA. The second Dutch goal in first-half extra time was the crusher, but the Americans had looked pretty bad throughout the half.  The U.S. looked better in the second half, and when Haji Wright scored, it seemed anything might happen. Dumfries' goal five minutes later took away any suspense. The U.S. didn't embarrass themselves ... they were beat by a better team. And least Gio Reyna got some playing time. And, as many pointed out, this is a team with a future. In 2026, Pulisic, Adams, and McKennie will be 27 years old ... and they are the old guys!

Argentina-Australia. Argentina was coasting, Messi had scored, and then, in the 77th minute, Australia got on the board via an own goal that made it 2-1. The match was hot and heavy after that, and Australia never gave up, but honestly, both teams looked tired by then. Great ending, great Messi, I'll take it.

A continuation of a theme: players I mentioned at the beginning of the competition ... did I know what I was talking about?

USA: Yunus Musah, 20 years old, great promise for the future, had excellent match vs. Iran but fell off significantly against the Netherlands, likely because he was exhausted. Fellow 20-year-old Gio Reyna only got 52 minutes over two games, and it's hard to know why. If we are giving grades, he gets an imcomplete.

Australia: Garang Kuol. Another youth story. Kuol is only 18. He got 35 minutes during the tournament. Remember his name.


France-Poland, England-Senegal. France and England are favored. I'll miss the Senegalese fans when they are gone ... nothing against England, but I wouldn't mind seeing Senegal get the upset. No surprise that Kylian Mbappé has been France's best (3 goals and an assist), but Antoine Griezmann has been almost as good. Poland has only scored two goals so far ... they will rely on goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. England has several players doing well so far ... Harry Kane is goalless, but he has 3 assists, and Marcus Rashford has 3 goals in only 107 minutes. Ismaïla Sarr and Kalidou Koulibaly have been among Senegal's best.

how am i doing

16 teams have been eliminated. Here are the players I mentioned at the beginning of the competition ... did I know what I was talking about?

Ecuador: Piero Hincapié, Moisés Caicedo, Gonzalo Plata. Caicedo scored a goal, none of the three had great Cups.

Qatar: Forward Akram Afif played every minute for Qatar, and did nothing, managing only 2 shots in 3 games.

Iran: GK Alireza Beiranvand only played 110 minutes before being injured. Mehdi Taremi was Iran's best player, with 2 goals and an assist.

Wales: Gareth Bale had one goal, got progressively worse, stunk vs. England.

Mexico: Chucky Lozano played well but didn't score. Orbelín Pineda got only 77 minutes of playing time.

Saudi Arabia: Salem Al-Dawsari scored 2 of the Saudis' 3 goals.

Tunisia: Anis Ben Slimane only played 67 minutes.

Denmark: Christian Eriksen played all 270 minutes, first game was good.

Germany: I didn't mention any of their players. Maybe there's a reason.

Costa Rica: Jewison Bennette was arguably their worst player.

Belgium: Kevin De Bruyne played every minute, but was a disappointment.

Canada: Alphonso Davies was their best player, scored one goal. Jonathan David was a huge disappointment.

Cameroon: Goalkeeper André Onana had a terrible Cup. He was sent home after the first game.

Serbia: Dušan Vlahović and Strahinja Pavlović had so-so tournaments. Vlahović scored a goal.

Uruguay: Luis Suárez played about half the time, had an assist. Federico Valverde played every minute and was one of their best. Darwin Núñez was a complete dud.

Ghana: Another team about which I said little or nothing.


day thirteen

This will be quick. I spent part of the day at a memorial service for a friend, missing the last two matches in the process. South Korea beat Portugal on an extra-time goal, and even though Uruguay beat Ghana 2-0, the Koreans advance because they scored more goals than the South Americans. Cameroon are out, as well, although they beat Brazil with their own extra-time goal. That goal resulted in one of the more delightful moments of the Cup. The scorer, Vincent Aboubakar, celebrated by removing his jersey, which is a yellow-card offense. Aboubakar already had a yellow, and two yellows means a red. So Aboubakar scored the winning goal against Brazil in a World Cup, and was immediately sent off.


Netherlands-USA, Argentina-Australia. The Dutch and Argentina are favored, Argentina especially so. Dutch players to watch, based on their form so far in the tournament, are Frenkie de Jong and Cody Gakpo. American hopes lie with Christian Pulisic, who may be injured, and goalkeeper Matt Turner. Argentina revolves around the inevitable Messi, while the surprising Socceroos have benefitted from the defensive play of Harry Souttar.

day twelve

To get Group F out of the way, the matches were underwhelming, the results unsurprising. Morocco ended up at the top of the group, with Croatia second, which matters in a way I'll get to in a second.

In Group E, the standings at the start of play were Spain 4, Japan 3, Costa Rica 3, Germany 1. Germany were expected to beat Costa Rica, and if Spain beat Japan, as I thought would happen, the world would resemble something normal and the two European countries would advance. But their opponents had other ideas:

10' Germany scores. SPA 5 GER 4 JAP 4 COS 3.

11' Spain scores. SPA 7 GER 4 JAP 3 COS 3.


48' Japan equalizes. SPA 5 GER 4 JAP 4 COS 3.

51' Japan takes lead, 2-1. JAP 6 SPA 4 GER 4 COS 3.

58' Costa Rica scores, 1-1. JAP 6 SPA 4 COS 4 GER 2. (I admit I'm losing track at this point of tie-breakers, but Spain beating Costa Rica 7-0 seems important.)

70' Costa Rica scores on a German own-goal, 2-1. JAP 6 COS 6 SPA 4 GER 1!

At this point, Costa Rica will advance at the expense of Spain, even though Spain beat them 7-0.

73' Germany equalizes. Spain fans (i.e. me) say "whew!". JAP 6 SPA 4 COS 4 GER 2.

85' Germany takes the lead. JAP 6 SPA 4 GER 4 COS 3.

89' Germany goes up 4-2. The Germans are still five goals behind Spain on goal differential, so the finish is effectively decided.

Now, about that Morocco team. They finished first in their group, meaning they get to meet the second-place team in Group E. Which, thanks to the upset Japan win, means instead of facing Croatia in the next round, Spain will get Morocco. Which, if I'm Spain, is a good thing.

Tomorrow, the group stage ends. In Group G, Brazil has qualified. They play Cameroon (1 pt.), while the Swiss (3 pt.) meet Serbia (1 pt.). A Swiss draw sends them through (unless Cameroon somehow wins). Brazil should squash Cameroon, leaving Serbia-Switzerland as the match to watch. In Group H, Portugal is through. They play South Korea (1 pt.), while Ghana (3 pt.) meets Uruguay (1 pt.). It's basically the same situation in both groups ... Ghana is in the driver's seat. Having said that, Uruguay is fully capable of beating Ghana and stealing second place.

P.S. That wasn't a goal:

May be an image of 2 people, people playing football, grass and text that says 'COPA MUNDIAL DELA C FIFA™ JPN ESP 50:58 T EN VIVO'

day eleven

Tuesday was excruciating until it wasn't for USA fans. Today topped it for the neutral, with the events of Group C, which was the best example yet of how tense the final matches of group play can be. At the start of the day, the table was:

  • Poland 4
  • Argentina 3
  • Saudi Arabia 3
  • Mexico 1

No one scored in the first half, so the "live table", accounting for each team getting one point for a draw, was:

  • Poland 5
  • Argentina 4
  • Saudi Arabia 4
  • Mexico 2

One minute into the second half, Argentina scored (1-0 over Poland). Two minutes into the half, Mexico scored (1-0 over the Saudis).

  • Argentina 6
  • Poland 4
  • Mexico 4
  • Saudi Arabia 3

Poland and Mexico being equal, tie-breaking rules applied. First up is goal differential, and at that point, Poland was +1, Mexico -1. So the Poles had the tenuous lead.

In the 52nd minute, Luis Chávez scored one of the goals of the tournament to put Mexico up, 2-0. Poland +1, Mexico 0.

In the 67th minute, Argentina scored to take a 2-0 lead. Poland 0, Mexico 0.

Another Argentina goal or another Mexico goal would put the Mexicans ahead of Poland on goal differential. If that didn't happen, though, you had to go through a bunch of tie-breakers, none of which broke the tie. Which led to Rule 7, "Fair Play". "The fair play system determines which team will advance based on which team has the fewest penalties following their respective matches. Each team loses a point for each yellow card, three points for an indirect red card (second yellow card), four points for a direct red card and five points for yellow and direct red cards." At that point, Poland had 4 yellow cards, Mexico 7. Advantage Poland.

So the last half hour depended on Argentina or Mexico scoring, otherwise Mexico would be eliminated due to yellow cards.

The excitement finally ended 4 minutes into stoppage time, when Saudi Arabia scored a goal to give Poland the goal differential advantage.

After the match, Mexico coach Tata Martino said, "My contract ended as soon as the referee blew the final whistle and there is nothing more to be done."

Group D was much less stressful. France lost to Tunisia 1-0, but claimed top spot via goal differential. Australia surprised Denmark 1-0 to advance.

Upcoming matches: Argentina-Australia on Saturday, France-Poland on Sunday.

As for tomorrow ...

Group E is Spain 4, Japan 3 (0 GD), Costa Rica 3 (-6), Germany 1 (-1). If Spain beats Japan (likely) and Germany beats Costa Rica (extremely likely), those two will advance. Germany must win their match to have a chance at advancing. Spain can advance with a win or a draw. The rest is up in the air.

Group F sees Croatia 4 (+3), Morocco 4 (+2), Belgium 3 (-1), and Canada eliminated. I have claimed throughout that this is the closest group, and anything is possible (other than Canada advancing). Morocco has the benefit of playing the Canadians, while Croatia has to get by Belgium. I expect the top two teams to advance, but I wouldn't bet on either of these matches.

one story at the world cup

What Alex Shultz wrote last week is still true, even as we enjoy the matches:

"Qatar's World Cup is an unparalleled disgrace"

Having made itself outrageously wealthy with the world’s worst pollutant, Qatar’s ruling class is on the doorstep of completing the dream of authoritarian regimes throughout the region: diversifying beyond fossil fuels by carving out highly lucrative, heavily restricted tourist playgrounds. “Sportswashing” means hosting sporting events to improve a reputation damaged by abuses in other realms. It’s not a sufficient term for what happened here. This is a sports tsunami that has killed thousands to date.

day ten

Some matches really matter now, because the end of the road beckons for some.

In Group A, Netherlands 2-0 Qatar barely mattered. Qatar was already eliminated, and no one expected them to offer much of a challenge to the Dutch. That left Ecuador and Senegal to fight for second place. Ecuador entered the match with a one point lead, but Senegal scored a penalty at the end of the first half to take over second place. Ecuador rallied with a goal in the 67th minute, only to see the African champions regain the lead just three minutes later on a goal from Kalidou Koulibaly, who had his best match of the Cup so far. I'm glad to see Senegal remain ... their fans are great fun to watch.

In Group B, England 3-0 Wales is the one that barely mattered, although some held out hope the Welsh might surprise. Once again, we had a match for second place. Iran advanced with a draw or a win, while the U.S. had to win to grab second place. The Iranian attempt to park the bus didn't work, as the Americans dominated the first half, with Pulisic scoring a fine team goal to put the U.S. up at the half. The second half was more even, and late in the match, Gregg Berhalter made a batch of defensive subs hoping to hold on for the win. But the Iranians, try as they might, didn't ever really mount a comeback, and while it was tense at the end, the U.S. deserved their victory.

This sets up Netherlands-USA on Saturday and England-Senegal on Sunday. The European teams will be favored in both matches.

Group C will be interesting tomorrow. Poland is the current leader with 4 points, but they'll be playing an Argentina team that should squash them, to be honest. Mexico is favored against Saudi Arabia, but the Mexicans only have 1 point so far ... even a win may not get them to the next round.

Europe should look good in tomorrow's Group D matches, as well. France has already qualified for the next round, so the big match will be Australia-Denmark. The Danes should win, and they will have to, since at the moment, Australia has 3 points to Denmark's 1.

pulisic's goal

How the goal went at my house:

1) power goes off for 1/2 second
2) everything shuts down and needs to reboot ... computer, wi-fi, TV, cable box, receiver
3) while it reboots, I frantically load the Comcast streaming app on my phone
4) I click on Telemundo and match comes on
5) It's England-Wales
6) I switch to the other Telemundo
7) I hear "Qué golazo!"

day nine

Here are the scores for the Tuesday-Sunday matches that started at 2:00 AM my time: 2-1 0-0 1-0 2-0 1-0 1-0. These weren't necessarily bad matches ... Saudi Arabia's 2-1 upset of Argentina was especially interesting. But five clean sheets, and a total of 8 goals in 6 matches made it easier for me to miss out because I couldn't stay awake.

And the 5:00 AM games weren't a whole lot better. Yes, England put up 6 against Iran, but there were two scoreless draws, and arguably only one unmissable match (Japan's comeback win over Germany).

So I was keeping my eye on every game, as I have throughout the Cup, but I was also aware that after today, there would be no more 2:00 or 5:00 matches, and I wasn't going to be sorry they were gone.

So, of course, those early games went out with a bang. Cameroon and Serbia was 3-3, Ghana-South Korea 3-2. At least I saw the highlights.

The marquee matches didn't have the goals, although they had the excitement. Brazil left it until the 83rd minute to score in their 1-0 win over the Swiss, and it took two second-half goals for Portugal to beat Uruguay.

Now the fun begins. All group matches will be played simultaneously within the group, so tomorrow we'll have Netherlands-Qatar and Ecuador-Senegal from Group A starting at 7:00 AM (my time), and Group B matches (Iran-USA, Wales-England) will start at 11:00. For an explanation why this has been the case since 1986, check out this Wikipedia article (Disgrace of Gijón).

This makes for nail-biting table watching. Let's take Group B. At the start of play, the standings are England 4, Iran 3, United States 2, Wales 1. If both games end in draws, England and Iran advance, the USA and Wales go home.

Suppose the Americans score an early goal. That will make the "live table" read ENG 5 USA 5 IRN 3 WAL 2. The U.S. would advance, Iran would be out. But then say Iran and Wales both score. Now it's ENG 4 IRN 4 WAL 4 USA 2, and goal differential starts to matter. Iran scores to take the lead? IRN 6, ENG 4 WAL 4, USA 2. Basically, every goal in both games changes the table. It will take a lot to eliminate England, who have a big goal differential. But all other teams are still in the hunt.

Meanwhile, in Group A, Qatar are already eliminated, leaving the others with everything to play for. As the day starts, the table is Netherland and Ecuador 4, Senegal 3.

day eight

We're still at the point where every match matters, but since Spain played today, I was mostly distracted away from the other matches.

In Group E, Costa Rica, who looked so terrible losing 7-0 to Spain, managed to defeat Japan, who had beaten Germany earlier. Germany got a late goal to earn a draw with Spain, leaving a complicated table going into the final matches:

Spain 4 points (+7 Goal differential)
Japan 3 points (0)
Costa Rica 3 points (-6)
Germany 1 point  (-1)

Spain will advance with a win or draw against Japan. It's possible they will advance even if they lose. Costa Rica probably needs to beat Germany, although a draw and a Japan loss would send Costa Rica into the next round. If Japan beats Spain, they win the group, if they draw they might advance, if they lose and Germany also loses they will probably advance. Germany needs to beat Costa Rica and hope Spain deals with Japan, although if Spain-Japan is a draw and Germany beats Costa Rica by 2+ goals, they will pass Japan.

I think. I'm calculating all of this in my head, so I may have it all wrong.

Group F is also a bit bonkers. Canada scored their first-ever World Cup goal in the 2nd minute against Croatia. They then proceeded to lose, 4-1, and are now eliminated. Anything is possible with the other three teams, after Morocco surprised Belgium, 2-0:

Croatia 4 points (+3)
Morocco 4 points (+2)
Belgium 3 points (-1)

Morocco gets Canada in their final game ... hard to know how the Canadians will react to being eliminated. Croatia-Belgium is the crucial match, with Belgium probably needing a win.

Meanwhile, tomorrow's big match is Brazil-Switzerland (both teams won their first games in Group G).

day six and seven

It's a sign of how I experience this World Cup that I can't keep up. The 2:00 AM games are the biggest problem, one which will soon be over (starting Tuesday, no match will begin earlier than 7:00 AM my time). Once I'm behind, everything falls apart. I had plans of watching matches on a delay, but my sleep patterns insist on preventing that. So I wake up in the middle of the night, find out the current score of the first match, go back to sleep, wake up sometime in the middle of the second game, maybe watch the end of it, and then lock in for the final two matches of the day. Which is still pretty excessive, but in World Cups past, I came close to watching all 64 matches.

Which partly explains why this post was originally titled "Day Six" but became "Day Six and Seven" when I was too tired to finish the post.

Then came a situation that would have been simply unthinkable in the past. Wrexham's FA Cup match today against Farnborough was on U.S. television, and it conflicted with the France-Denmark match, which started 45 minutes later. I appreciate that this was no choice for most people ... it was no choice for me, either. I watched Wrexham advance to the next round with a 4-1 victory.

Add the fact that our grandson is visiting. We watched England-USA together on Friday, and Argentina-Mexico on Saturday. But we also had to go out for breakfast on Saturday, and ... well, I guess I have to fess up: I ended up watching only one of the four matches today.

So there's no use writing up little previews of the Friday and Saturday matches, and not much reason to write about the results, either, since I missed many of the matches. Of what I saw, I felt the U.S. could have benefitted from earlier substitutions, and I still want to see more of Gio Reyna, but they have set up a beat-Iran-and-advance scenario, so what the heck. As for Argentina-Mexico, I was torn between wanting Mexico to do well and wanting Messi to get his World Cup championship at last, so I wasn't really brokenhearted at Mexico's loss.

Which leads to tomorrow's games. At our house, and perhaps at many neutral houses, the big match is Spain-Germany, which thankfully is the 11:00 AM game. Germany's shock loss to Japan means they are on the verge of elimination; Spain's 7-0 trouncing of Costa Rica makes them seem unbeatable. I expect a Spain win, and if Japan also beats Costa Rica, the group will be effectively decided with one date to go. Germany is well aware of this, and will bring their A-game, I assume.

In Group F, Belgium can advance with a win, but as I have noted, this is the closest group in the tournament, and it's hard to pick a favorite ... only one goal has been scored among the four teams so far. I'd like to see Canada pick up a win.

day five

Uruguay-South Korea. Someone forgot to wake up Luis Suárez to remind it this is his last hurrah. The highlights of the match were the two times Uruguay hit the post with shots. Combined with the Switzerland-Cameroon match, which featured one goal and a goalkeeper Man of the Match, it was turning out to be a dull day.

And for 65 minutes of Portugal-Ghana, it wasn't much better. But then Cristiano Ronaldo won a penalty-that-wasn't-a-penalty and converted, and suddenly, everyone woke up (except, perhaps, Luis Suárez). Eight minutes later, André Ayew equalized for Ghana. Seven minutes later, Portugal had stormed back with two more goals, to make it 3-1. In the 89th minute, Osman Bukari scored to bring Ghana within one goal. And that's where the scoring ended, although Portuguese goalkeeper Diogo Costa provided one last thrill when he placed the ball on the ground to kick it away, failing to notice the Ghana player right behind him. That player almost stole the ball away from Costa, i.e. almost scored another equalizer, but he seemed to slip, and disaster was thwarted, ending a most entertaining half hour.

Brazil-Serbia. More fun than I expected. Serbia held off the Brazilians for 60 minutes, until Richarlison scored twice to make sense of the world. His second was the best goal of the Cup so far. Serbia were outmatched throughout, but goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic kept them in the game.


Group A: Qatar-Senegal, Netherlands-Ecuador. Neither Qatar nor Senegal managed a point in the first batch of games. A loss for either here would spell doom. Not sure either team will advance, but Senegal should win the match. Netherlands should beat Ecuador, but a low-scoring match could help Ecuador pick up a point.
Group B: Wales-Iran, England-USA. Wales has 1 point, Iran 0. Wales is marginally better, but neither team is particularly impressive, and a draw is certainly possible. A draw for the USA would be a victory of sorts, leaving them open to beat Iran and advance. I don't think the USA can beat England, though. Gio Reyna must start for the Americans unless he is seriously injured.

day four

Germany-Japan. I used to root against the German national team, but I got over that a long time ago. But Japan's comeback was delightful. I was bothered by Argentina's collapse vs. Saudi Arabia ... if I'm honest with myself, I like sports to make sense, and I might not enjoy upsets as much as they deserve. If Saudi Arabia can beat Argentina, what can we rely on in this world? I had no such problems with Japan's win. Spain-Costa Rica. Before they won a World Cup, I used to bristle when people said Spain's soccer team was boring. Post-championship, I don't listen to those people any more. Of course, they're right most of the time. But not much was boring about this match for a Spain fan. Meanwhile, as I said on Facebook, "Folks who only tune in every four years: despite what you are seeing today, in his day, Keylor Navas was one of the greats, often called the best goalkeeper in the history of CONCACAF."

Meanwhile, Morocco-Croatia sounds like the perfect match to sleep through when it starts at 2:00 AM my time (and yes, I did sleep through it). Yesterday, I said Group F was the closest group of the tournament. Nothing demonstrates this like a scoreless draw with only 2 shots on target by each team, where Dejan Lovren is the best player on the pitch. Belgium-Canada didn't do anything to clarify the group ... it was as close as a 1-0 match could be. Canada outshot the Belgians by more than 2-to-1, had more possession, had twice the expected goals (2.13-1.06). But Belgium has Thibaut Courtois, current holder of the Yashin Trophy as the best goalkeeper in the world. Courtois stopped a penalty kick by Alphonso Davies, the Belgians grabbed a goal just before halftime, and that was that. Belgium tops the group, even though it could be said Canada looked better than any other team in the group on the day (nonetheless, they now sit at the bottom of the table).

Tomorrow, after which everyone will have played one match:

Group G:

Switzerland-Cameroon., Brazil-Serbia. I've had a soft spot in my heart for Cameroon since their delightful performance at the 1990 World Cup. Goalkeeper André Onana will help keep them competitive. I also have a soft spot for Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri, but in this group, the best they can hope for is to beat out Serbia for second place. Brazil ... well, what do I need to say? The only remotely negative thing is that there have been a couple of big upsets in the Cup thus far, so maybe Brazil can be beaten. They have won five World Cups, although it has been 20 years since their last victory. You know Neymar, but this is a squad full of riches, like Real Madrid's Vinícius Júnior, and many more. They are even loaded in goal ..  #1 Alisson is one of the best, #2 Ederson is #1 for the great Manchester City. Serbia has prolific young goalscorer Dušan Vlahović and the even-younger defender Strahinja Pavlović. They will hope to keep the score down against Brazil, as goal differential will be important in the fight to finish second.

Group H:

Uruguay-South Korea., Portugal-Ghana. The probable last hurrah for two again veterans, both of whom have plenty of detractors. Uruguay has Luis Suárez, about whom Wikipedia says, "Due to his diving, biting, stamping, and other antics, Suárez has been frequently labelled as a pest and a cheat." He has also scored 68 goals for his country, and more than 350 at the club level, including for the likes of Ajax, Liverpool, and Barcelona. Uruguay's youth movement is led by Federico Valverde and Darwin Núñez. Portugal has all-time great Cristiano Ronaldo, who makes Suárez look second-best (117 goals for Portugal, nearly 500 at club level, including 311 for Real Madrid alone). They also have young players like Rafael Leão and Nuno Mendes, but their fortunes will likely rise and/or fall with Ronaldo. South Korea and Ghana will fight for also-ran status. The Koreans have the better chance to surprise, although their talisman Son Heung-Min is coming off of recent surgery to fix a fracture around his eye.

day three

Yesterday, I wrote:

Argentina-Saudi Arabia. Argentina are strong contenders to win it all. The Saudis are not. Besides Argentina's incomparable Lionel Messi, look out for Lautaro Martínez and Enzo Fernandez. Salem Al-Dawsari might be the best Saudi player.

It was the best match of the day. Things went as expected. Messi scored a penalty in the tenth minute to put Argentina up, 1-0. Lautaro Martínez didn't have much of a match, and Fernández didn't even start, but with Messi being Messi (their best player, even if not at his best), things looked fine for Argentina. The numbers were unsurprising ... Argentina outshot the Saudis 15-3, with 6 on target to 2. They controlled possession almost 70% of the time. Their offense was so potent, only a Man of the Match performance from Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al Owais kept things close. The Saudis tried what many underdogs attempt: they committed 21 fouls to Argentina's 7, and received 6 yellow cards to Argentina's 0. The Saudi attack was ineffective ... the Argentina keeper, Emiliano Martínez, didn't make a single save the entire match.

There were two statistics that told the ultimate story. Argentina were called offside 10 times. And Saudi Arabia scored two goals, while Argentina never scored after that early penalty.

Well, I got one thing right, I suppose. The winning golazo came from the aforementioned Salem Al-Dawsari. Some are saying this was the biggest upset in World Cup history (they are forgetting 1950, when the USA beat England, 1-0).

Denmark-Tunisia. I said this match might decide second place. I mentioned Christian Eriksen for the Danes, who had a good game, and Anis Ben Slimane for Tunisia, who had a so-so game. Don't have much else to say ... I slept through most of the match, and when I was awake, I was listening to the audio, not watching.

Mexico-Poland. A second-straight scoreless draw, although this was entertaining. I said Mexico had an old squad, and sure enough, the Man of the Match was 37-year-old Memo Ochoa, who saved a penalty from Robert Lewandowski. (It was Memo's fifth World Cup.) The Group C table after one match is unbelievable: Saudi Arabia 3, Mexico 1, Poland 1, Argentina 0.

France-Australia. I can't brag about saying France would win easily ... everyone else thought the same thing. Of course, we all thought that about Argentina, too. France was fun to watch in this one.


Group E:
Germany-Japan., Spain-Costa Rica. Germany and Spain should advance from this group. Players who might surprise from the underdogs: Junya Ito of Japan, and Jewison Bennette of Costa Rica. I'll be pulling for Spain (Pedri, Gavi, Ansu Fati).

Group F:
Morocco-Croatia., Belgium-Canada. A fairly close group. The difference between the best team (Belgium?) and the worst (Canada?) is smaller than that of any other group. Players to watch: Luka Modric, Joško Gvardiol (Croatia), Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium), Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David (Canada).

day two

When I list a few players on each team, it's mostly for my own records. But I didn't do too badly with England-Iran. For Iran, I mentioned goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and top player Mehdi Taremi. The keeper was injured early on, left with the score 0-0, and after his replacement took the field, England scored six goals. Meanwhile, Taremi scored both of Iran's goals. Among the England players I noted were Jude Bellingham (one goal), Bukayo Saka (two goals), and Harry Kane (two assists).

I didn't do too badly for Senegal-Netherlands, either. I mentioned Dutch players Cody Gakpo (scored the goal that put Netherlands ahead) and Frenkie de Jong (who assisted on that goal and was the best player on the field). It wasn't a great match, and the score does an injustice to Senegal, who held off the Dutch until the 84th minute (the second goal was unimportant).

Finally, I was half-good for USA-Wales. I said "Gareth Bale is known for rising to the occasion", and he scored the equalizing goal and was probably the best player in the match. I also singled out U.S. youngsters Yunus Musah and Gio Reyna ... Musah had a so-so match before subbing out in the 75th minute, while Reyna never appeared. The draw was a tough one for the Americans ... it was a fair result, they were outplayed in the second half, but now they've got England in a match they should lose, leaving them needing help to advance to the knockout rounds.

Reading material: "World Cup Teams Drop Armbands Supporting LGBTQ Community After FIFA Threats".

Tomorrow, the first four-match day:

Group C:

Argentina-Saudi Arabia. Argentina are strong contenders to win it all. The Saudis are not. Besides Argentina's incomparable Lionel Messi, look out for Lautaro Martinez and Enzo Fernandez. Salem Al-Dawsari might be the best Saudi player.

Mexico-Poland. I think Mexico is the team to beat here, but Poland has Robert Lewandowski and Nicola Zalewski, so anything is possible. Mexico has an old squad, but top player Chucky Lozano is only 27 and Orbelín Pineda only 26. I expect big things from Chucky in particular.

Group D:

Denmark-Tunisia. France, the defending champs, are in this group, so this match may be crucial for deciding second place. Denmark has one of the great stories in Christian Eriksen, while Tunisia has tall midfielder Anis Ben Slimane, born in Denmark, only 21.

France-Australia. The champs should have no problems here. Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Aurelien Tchouameni, and many others should shine, but the absence of Karim Benzema could be a reason the French don't win their second Cup in a row. Australia has the interesting Garang Kuol, who is only 18.

day one

I found a way to watch in 4K, which meant I watched an English-language broadcast, missing out on Andres Cantor. It reminds me of a few Cups ago, when HD was new, and the Spanish-language network hadn't gotten HD yet, so I watched in English. Not sure how this will play out over the course of the tournament ... there are multiple 4K options on replays. (Back then, I used two televisions, one with an HD picture on mute, a second without HD but tuned to the Spanish-language channel with the sound up, syncing the audio and video as best I could.)

If I don't have a rooting interest in a sporting event, I often don't know who I will support until a game has begun. So I'll be rooting for the U.S., and for Spain, and then for CONCACAF teams in general (Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica). I tend to root for Spanish-speaking countries, meaning anyone from South America except Brazil (and Brazil are pretty hard to root against). I probably assumed in advance that I'd take Ecuador's side in the opener, and I did, but not for the reasons I thought of beforehand. No, when Ecuador scored a goal in the third minute (that was disallowed), I threw my hands in the air ... because I want Qatar to lose.


Group A:

Senegal-Netherlands. Senegal will be missing the great Sadio Mane, the African Footballer of the Year, who is out for the tournament. Senegal captain, center back Kalidou Koulibaly (check out his essay on The Players Tribune, "You Are Welcome to Be a Senegal Fan, Too"), is familiar to fans of Chelsea, where he joined this season. The Netherlands are loaded (Cody Gakpo, Virgil van Dijk, Frenkie de Jong), and they are the best team in this group. They are a possible opponent for the United States in the next round.

Group B:

England-Iran. England (Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka) should have no problems with Iran (goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, FC Porto's top player Mehdi Taremi).

USA-Wales. I think the U.S. will finish second in this group. They need a good start. Look for young players Yunus Musah and Gio Reyna. Gareth Bale is known for rising to the occasion ... this is his first chance to do so in a World Cup, as Wales returns for the first time since 1958.

football manager does the world cup

In my most recent FM23 save, the World Cup was won by ...

Those advancing out of the group stage were Qatar, Netherlands, England, Wales (no USA), Mexico, Argentina, France, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Morocco, Switzerland, Brazil, Portugal, and Uruguay.

In the second round, Qatar crushed Wales 5-2, three matches went to penalties (Holland beat England, Argentina beat France, and Germany beat Morocco), and Mexico, Switzerland, Spain and Brazil also advanced.

In the quarterfinals, Qatar was finally eliminated, 1-0 in extra time against Mexico, Switzerland beat Germany, Argentina defeated the Netherlands, and Spain won 1-0 over Brazil.

In the semifinals, Switzerland defeated Mexico 2-1, and Spain got past Argentina 3-1 in extra time.

Argentina beat Mexico on penalties in the third place playoff.

And Spain defeated Switzerland 2-1 to win the Cup.

Silvan Widmer of Switzerland was the Best Player, Unai Simón of Spain the Best Goalkeeper, Nicola Zalewski of Poland the Best Young Player, and Kylian Mbappé the Golden Boot winner.

final pre-cup thoughts

Sticking just to the play on the field.

Who I think will win: Brazil.

Who I will root for: USA, then Spain.

Who I hope will win other than USA or Spain: Argentina.

Tomorrow's opening match is between hosts Qatar and Ecuador. Qatar is the worst of the four teams in Group A, and even given the home-field advantage, I expect them to lose all three matches. Akram Afif should shine in defeat. Ecuador has plenty of young talent (Piero Hincapie, Moises Caicedo, Gonzalo Plata), and they could conceivably squeak past a Senegal team missing Sadio Mane for second place in the group.

human rights soccer 2022

I did this four years ago. Might as well do it again, given that the Cup is being held in Qatar.

Can't decide who to root for in this year's World Cup? Here's a list that can help you feel good about yourself: all 32 teams, ranked by "degree of civil liberties and political rights". The list is dodgy ... the primary source is the annual Freedom in the World report, which is not perfect ... none of these lists are, they are all susceptible to one extent or another to ideological biases. But I admit I was being lazy, and just checked out the most available report to go by. I adjusted for "ties" using the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index. All to be taken with a large grain of salt, but I decided, why not? So here they are, the 32 World Cup teams, ranked first to last in terms of civil liberties and political rights.

1 Netherlands
2 Canada
3 Uruguay
4 Denmark
5 Australia
6 Belgium
7 Japan
8 Portugal
9 Switzerland
10 Germany
11t Wales (UK)
11t England (UK)
13 Costa Rica
14 France
15 Spain
16 Croatia
17 Argentina
18 South Korea
19 United States
20 Poland
21 Ghana
22 Brazil
23 Senegal
24 Tunisia
25 Ecuador
26 Serbia
27 Mexico
28 Morocco
29 Qatar
30 Iran
31 Cameroon
32 Saudi Arabia

No one doing these things seems to want to split up the UK, so Wales and England's ranking are actually the UK ranking. Also note that the opening match, between Qatar and Ecuador, will be the worst match of the first batch of matches. Finally, perhaps nice guys finish last ... the best country using these rankings in 2018 was Sweden, who did not qualify this time around.

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