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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.