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.

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.


"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.


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.