Lotta goals in the desert – World Cup Daily Diary: Day 12

Advertisement

Lukaku missed a header a few minutes later that may have gone over the endline anyway before being crossed to him, but then toward the final whistle he just forgot to apply any kind of finish to this:

Advertisement

That goes beyond rustiness. This is one’s entire existence turning into putty.

That doesn’t mean Belgium deserved much, as they were a hard watch for most of their games. They spent the first half trying not to concede, as a goal against would have meant death, but it was still hard to figure out what Roberto Martinez was trying to do. He did finally un-crowbar Eden Hazard out of the starting lineup and inserted Leandro Trossard, but where he was playing, where Kevin De Bruyne was playing (again stationed wide right most of the game), where Yannick Carrasco was playing, no one could tell you. It looked something like a 4-2-huh-maybe that guy? Not a huge shock that Martinez resigned from the job before everyone got back to the dressing room.

Advertisement

Canada 1 – 2 Morocco

So we all had Morocco winning the group here, yeah? Absolute gimme.

Morocco has ended this one before anyone was able to get their illegal beer. I had always suspected that Canadian keeper Milan Borjan was a boob, and his sweatpants act during qualifying suggested as much. He gave away the first goal by passing the ball directly to Hakim Ziyech when he was already 30 yards out of goal, leaving about as simply of a finish as one can have from 45 yards.

Advertisement

Borjan probably could have done better for Morocco’s second, a low shot that he was slow to react to. Canada fought well after the break to try and find a tying goal and get a first ever World Cup point, but as has been the case for most of the tournament they just couldn’t find the final touch.

Advertisement

Goal of the day: Costa Rica’s second goal was utterly hilarious and Germany at their keystone kops best defensively (and I’m always up for a good laugh at Germany), but we like excellence here, and Ritsu Doan’s leveler for Japan is the pick:

Advertisement

Save of the day: Been ignoring the keepers here for a while, but Keylor Navas’s save deserves its own section…

Advertisement

That was almost certainly Navas’s swan song at the World Cup, and that’s how to go out on your shield.

Advertisement

A Eulogy for the departed

Germany – As stated above, there is going to be a fair amount of navel-gazing in Deutschland over yet another early exit. It is probably worth asking how much Munich’s dominance in the Bundesliga is affecting things, as the part of the national team that comes from there doesn’t get a whole lot of looks against teams that can match them. But it can’t be that simple.

Advertisement

In the end, the World Cup can still come down to just three games, and Germany’s can be boiled down to the second half against Japan where they gave up two goals and couldn’t find another. We knew they needed a striker. We knew their defense was slow. The other two results they mustered are more than acceptable. It was a tough draw, it’s a strange World Cup, and this exit probably isn’t a treatise on the state of German soccer. Sometimes, shit happens. It’s just funny that it’s finally happening to Germany, who seemed immune for pretty much their entire existence.

Costa Rica – They got a look at the biggest upset in this tournament possible for three minutes, but have now left the US as the only CONCACAF representative in the second round. In the end they were pummeled by both Germany and Spain, and caught Japan cold. They are a squad in need of overhauling to a new generation. And they can do that, because it’s going to be an awfully soft landing for them now. The US, Mexico, and Canada won’t be in the qualifying process next time, CONCACAF will get additional spots thanks to the 48-team tournament in 2026, and they’ll be the favorites to claim one. Life isn’t so bad.

Advertisement

Canada – The other CONCACAF dry heave. Canada will be disappointed that everything that worked so well for them in qualifying just went to shit when the tournament came around. They gave up only seven goals in 14 games of the last round of the Ocho. They surrendered seven in three games here. Cyle Larin and Jonathan David couldn’t miss in qualifying. Neither scored in this tournament. Stephen Eustaquio getting hurt complicated their midfield plans (though Atiba Hutchinson getting tire tracks on his innards against Croatia), but their manager leaving them outnumbered in the center against Croatia was the complete opposite of John Herdman pressing every right button in getting Canada to the World Cup. You have to say that every facet of this team simply froze when the brightest lights came on.

Belgium – They didn’t want to be there, and now they’re not. They couldn’t wait to tell you how old they were and how they had no chance to win, and they were right. They may not have a next generation to turn the team over to now, and they feel like a team you’ll talk about with your friends at the bar in 10 or 15 years and just say, “Man, how did they fuck this up?” Only Roberto Martinez could have the best midfielder in the world in Kevin De Bruyne and decide to try to build the team around Eden Hazard, who only eats from the training table now.

Advertisement

Did VAR fuck anything up?: Maybe? Japan’s second goal is definitely a weird one. At the time that Ao Tanaka turned in the cross to give Japan the lead, it certainly felt like the goal had been ruled out. He stopped celebrating, everyone turned to the ref, and the announcers said something about the flag going up. So it certainly felt like the goal was never given. If that’s true, where is the evidence that the ball didn’t go out to overturn that?

Advertisement

Is that enough? Is this?

Advertisement

Or was the goal given and that wasn’t enough to rule it out? It would have helped if the refs on the field made a definitive call instead of waiting for the VAR.

Also, I’m pro-VAR on offside calls but this one against Croatia is…well, hard to defend:

Advertisement

Maybe it’s art and you can just read into it what you want. I don’t know anymore.

 

Balls of steel

CP10 didn’t look any worse for wear, beating the team back to its Qatari hotel after getting checked out at a local hospital. He made have hidden his ailment well, but the shot to the groin didn’t affect his mobility to hug his teammates after the Yanks clinched a spot in the knockout stages without him in the second half. The medical status of Pulisic’s nether region wasn’t expected to be a central topic of the American’s journey at the World Cup. The investigative work packaging together details on Captain America’s package is based on whether he’ll play against the Dutch. Regardless of whatever injury Pulisic suffered against Iran, it would have to be way worse than an unfortunate collision to not be playing in the tournament anymore.

Advertisement

If day-to-day is Pulisic’s medical designation to keep the word out that he’s more injured than we know, the lucky part for America is that he plays the deepest position for the USMNT. Moving Brenden Aaronson into the starting lineup — or actually giving Gio Reyna a chance — wouldn’t see much of a dip in the team’s performance. Pulisic is a game-changer for the United States and when in form, is the squad’s best attacking option. Losing Tyler Adams would be detrimental to the Yanks’ chances of upsetting The Netherlands. Pulisic not playing would be less than ideal, but not catastrophic.

The USMNT hasn’t played a team like the Dutch at the World Cup thus far. Then again, the Americans haven’t played a team that has as good of an up-tempo playing style as The Netherlands with Gregg Berhalter as head coach ever. It’ll be a stiff test, but not one the USMNT can’t pass with or without its biggest star. Just in case, if you’re so inclined, pray for Pulisic’s pelvis. 

Lotta goals in the desert – World Cup Daily Diary: Day 10

Advertisement

Let’s eulogize the departed

Wales and Qatar – Oh they got it! Wales and Qatar! They ate it! Way way too bad! They got it! Wales and Qatar! (that’s a little Sleater-Kinney joke for all you lovely people).

Advertisement

Ecuador – They should have beaten The Dutch but couldn’t find a winner and got their chins above the bar for just an instant before crashing to Earth. They will likely be back, as a majority of the squad was under 25 and Ecuador has been one of the hotbeds of development lately. But it’s a lesson in that in a short tournament, you better win the games you dominate, as they did against the Netherlands. With Qatar being so terrible, everyone got a free spot on the bingo card and the sample for everyone was down to just two games. Ecuador, quite simply, didn’t score enough while doing most everything else right.

Iran – I would love to touchdown dance on Carlos Quieroz ending up on his ass again, just as he did in the AFCON, just as he did in African qualifying, because he’s one of the last true authors of sufferball that is such a chore to watch. Hopefully more nations will move on from the Quieroz type and attempt to play their way out of the group stage instead of just trying to repel, repel, repel. But limited teams will always think this is their surest way to gaining points in a group stage, and because of that managers like Quieroz will still have jobs.

Advertisement

But the Iranian players will be missed, who risked so much in this tournament. Their no-selling their own anthem in the first game reportedly got their families back home threatened. They showed everyone what place sports can hold in a society, and gave more oxygen to the protests and movements back home that will hopefully author significant change there. They took on far more than just trying to get Iran to the Round of 16 for the first time, which is more than enough pressure for any player. Applause to them.

Did Alexi Lalas say anything stupid?

He was definitely feeling his oats at halftime, claiming Iran “wanted no part of this game,” given the way they had sat back and tried to defend and created nothing. Which makes one wonder if Lalas had watched Iran or a Quieroz-led team play before. But would it make any difference if Lalas actually watched any other games?

Advertisement

Also his power rankings bit every day is a Geneva Convention violation.

Did VAR fuck anything up?

Boy we sure thought it was going to with the handball on Shaq Moore or the late penalty shout on Carter-Vickers, didn’t we? But neither were anywhere close to being worth a look, and thankfully we didn’t get the one ref in the booth having a bad day who just wanted to fuck shit up. Phew.

Advertisement

Did Qatar fuck anything up?

More stories of fans with rainbow attire being detained before ultimately being let go, which just smacks of doing it to do it because all the security must know how this ends by now. They just want to harass fans now.

Advertisement

Anything else?

THE FUCKIN’ YANKS ARE MOVIN’ ON!!!!!!

World Cup Daily Diary Day 3: Whoops!

Advertisement

If you mean to tell me that Saudi Arabia’s defense is so well-tuned that they can plan to catch Lautaro Martinez off by the length of his sleeve cuff…that sounds a bit like a crypto sales pitch. But they did, so good on them, and they don’t ask how.

The other thing to note is that the xG count was 2.26-0.15 in Argentina’s favor. Here’s another xG score from this tournament — 2.11-1.75. That’s England-Iran. England’s finishing was just that good. So the story will be how excellent Saudi Arabia’s plan was, but play that exact game again (perhaps without semi-automatic offside reviews) and Argentina might (or probably will) win 3-1 or so. So sure, the tight defensive shape that Saudi Arabia featured in the first half kept Argentina at bay other than a Messi penalty, but by design or divine intervention?

Advertisement

But that said, it was this game that they played, not a theoretical one, and Saudi Arabia had two shots, buried both of them, And then with something to defend, they only had to funnel Argentina to the outside and clear a host of crosses, Which just about any team can do at this level. And they did valiantly, so fair play to them. Argentina showing a lack of invention in the second half helped their cause, that’s for sure.

It’s certainly a hallmark result, and given how balloon-handed both Mexico and Poland looked, they’ll fancy getting another point or two to go through. Especially as they’re playing at home, essentially.

Advertisement

Denmark 0-0 Tunisia

This wasn’t the kind of 0-0 draw that makes you question what you’ve done with your life, mostly thanks to the presence of Tunisia midfielder Aïssa Laidouni. Sometimes there’s a player you watch and you ask yourself, “Did the trainers put cayenne pepper on that dude’s jock?” Laidouni seemingly covered more ground than the other 19 outfield players combined. He was a defensive midfielder, box-to-box, No. 10, No. 6, No. whatever, No. everything. The stats say he only had two tackles and eight ball recoveries, but watching the match you’d have sworn he had 112 of each.

Advertisement

Laidouni set the pace for Tunisia, who perhaps unexpectedly pressed Denmark all over the field. The worry about the Danes is that they just don’t have that major weapon up front, and especially don’t have one with pace. Christian Eriksen is a lot of things but quick isn’t one of them either, and he was hassled before he ever had a chance to get his head up to pick a killer pass. Tunisia didn’t really fear anyone getting behind them, and they didn’t have to.

Mexico 0-0 Poland

Now this was the 0-0 draw that makes you wonder if, when you arrive at the Gates of St. Peter, he isn’t going to list out all the time you wasted watching matches like this. I’ve seen enough Poland matches in qualifying for various tournaments, and seen some of their players play for some of the biggest and best clubs in the world, to know that there should be something to them. They keep qualifying for tournaments, after all. And yet every time they show up to a World Cup or European Championship, it looks like they’ve lost all feeling in their feet and were only told the rules yesterday.

Advertisement

They even somehow were the recipients of a penalty thanks to FIFA’s insistence on proving that VAR is worth the time (more on this in a bit), and Robert Lewandowski, only one of the greatest strikers of all time, couldn’t bury it. This is Poland on the big stage.

Mexico at least looked like they were trying harder to score than their opponents, which is about the lowest bar to clear, but they also never looked like they might actually do so. This is about as blunt of a Mexican side as there’s been in a long time. And seeing as how their next match is against what should be a pissed-off Argentina team…well, have fun with that.

Advertisement

France 4-1 Australia

“You’re only going to get more wrath.”

That’s apparently how France felt after Australia opened the scoring, because instead of freezing like Argentina had earlier in the day, they proceeded to tear the Socceroos about four new assholes. Ousmane Dembélé and Kylian Mbappé were unplayable on the wings, which only gave Antoine Griezmann more space in the middle, and this is what you get when that happens. And Olivier Giroud continues to do nothing more than just score big goals and knit an attack together.

Advertisement

There was one moment in the first half where Dembélé knocked a ball past Aussie left-back Aziz Behich, with Behich having about a 10-yard head start to get back to the ball. Dembélé won that race by about two or three yards. This was an absolute mauling all over the field. The worry about France isn’t the first 11, as put on display today. The worry is that when they have to dig past that first 11, which they will later. For now, they looked incredible.

Goal of the day

All of France’s goals were basically team-worked art, but we have to choose the one that will live in history, Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari’s thunderbastard that was the winner against Argentina in the biggest upset at the World Cup in at least 32 years.

Advertisement

OK, yeah, there’s defending from four Argentines there that looks like they’re all in detention, but what a hit. You know you’ve got all of it when the keeper can get a hand to it and all that does is soften the landing into the net.

Advertisement

Did VAR fuck anything up?

Sorta? The Martinez offside is the correct call, but man does it seem picky. Worse yet, the semi-automatic graphic that was supposed to speed reviews up and make things clear for everyone isn’t shown to the fans until minutes later after the decision. If fans could see it processing the call live, it would help greatly. Otherwise, it gets into the whole “show us your balls” when people question the validity of any draft lottery and we only see envelopes. Show the math.

Advertisement

In Mexico-Poland, by definition, a shirt-tug in the box is a penalty. But did this rise to the level of obvious error? The ref on the field didn’t think it was a penalty, though the shirt tug may have been out of his line of sight. Again, that bar is being decided by just another referee, who is going to have his/her own definition of what’s a mistake and what isn’t. Justice may have been done with Memo Ochoa’s save on the penalty anyway, which did provide us all this:

Advertisement

Did Qatar fuck anything up?

Day ending in -y and all that. The day started with news that Wales fans were not allowed to wear rainbow bucket hats to their match against the US yesterday, yet another example of Qatar inviting the world to their party and then complaining that everyone came to the party. Also complaining that gay people exist.

Advertisement

Other than that, there were more shenanigans about how the tournament is going with the announced crowd of the Argentina-Saudi Arabia match being 88,000 when the stadium holds 80,000. And we could all see some empty sections in the corners.

Oh, this too:

Advertisement

Yes, person near the Qatari officials, we’re also wondering why you bothered.

Did Alexi Lalas say anything dumb?

Seems like he farmed that duty out to Ian Darke and Landon Donovan, though only by accident. As the news came across that Manchester United were terminating Cristiano Ronaldo’s contract, they had this exchange:

Darke: “Ronaldo’s contract will be terminated by mutual consent.”

Donovan: “Is there ever mutual consent?”

No Landon, not with Ronaldo there isn’t.

The best from the start

Advertisement

Rare is the player you know is among the greats from the moment they start. You may know, or strongly suspect, that a rookie or second-year player could grow into a legend, if things go right. You wait for the dips, the learning curves, no matter how much you expect that player to overcome those and then burst out. “When he puts it all together.”

But there are some who are fully assembled as soon as they arrive, and Makar is one of the very few. He showed up in the middle of the 2019 playoffs and immediately looked like the best player on the ice. Makar began weaving in and out of traffic in all three zones, opening up lanes in the offensive zone with his unseen agility, and creating chaos around the net with a wrister that always seems to get through to the crease no matter the tightness of the window to shoot through. There was little question that he was something truly different.

Advertisement

Makar’s metrics are down a bit this season, though still glittering, as the Avs have had to use him more in the defensive zone more than they have before. The percentage of his shifts that start in the offensive zone so far this season is down seven percent, and his defensive zone shifts are up the same. Hasn’t really stopped him from flipping the ice.


Bellingham’s Palace

Makar wasn’t the only alien on display yesterday accomplishing something on the fields where people play yesterday. England’s Jude Bellingham became the second teenager ever to score for England in a World Cup, and when he wasn’t doing that he was simply dominating the game from all parts. Midfield is supposed to be just as hard to learn as defense is in hockey, and it has more facets. And yet Bellingham has already mastered them all at just 19. He can shield a defense, he can pass from deep to release forwards, he can be the late man in the box to score, whatever. And he did it all against Iran.

Advertisement

A goal for you.

Advertisement

Or maybe you need him releasing a perfect through ball on the stretch to set up England’s last goal.

Bellingham’s price tag seemingly goes up every week, and turning over opponents in the World Cup will only expedite that process. He’s been so good from jump street that his first club, Birmingham City, retired his number at the age of 17, when he left for Dortmund.

Advertisement

It’s rare that historic greatness slaps you about the face the first time you see it, but yesterday was one of those days where you can’t miss it.


Devilish

Let’s cap things off with Tomas Tatar’s goal to seal the New Jersey Devils’ 13th win in a row:

Advertisement

It’s not often in hockey a player gets to try the Ichiro, chipping the puck over the goalie with the puck in midair. Tatar even shortened up like there were two strikes. Except he did it on skates.

DeAndre Yedlin is USMNT’s only bridge to last World Cup appearance

USMNT 26 Stories: DeAndre Yedlin

Yedlin isn’t expected to start in Qatar, as Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson have locked down his outside back spot for most of World Cup qualifying. He’s one of the more intriguing options off the bench, however. Remember his appearance at the 2014 World Cup against Portugal? His pace on the right side helped turn the tide of that game, bringing the USA from down 1-0 after an early own goal to up 2-1 late. Cristiano Ronaldo had a moment of brilliance to keep the USMNT to one point that day instead of three. Without Yedlin, the Yanks likely don’t advance to the knockout stage.

Advertisement

What should we expect from Yedlin in this World Cup? If you tuned out for eight years, basically the same thing he did in 2014, but a more mature version. While his speed and vision toward goal from defense stood out then, the USMNT is loaded with that style of player on this roster. His defensive ability has improved a little, and he’ll likely have to cover more at the back with the USA’s guaranteed opponents in Wales, England, and Iran. Relying on the center backs to solely do that grit work will lead to the Americans leaving Qatar after three games.

“There’s a state you can get in called flow state, which is basically when you’re not even thinking about what you’re doing. You’re just doing it and almost, you don’t know how. And (at the 2014 World Cup) I was in that state,” Yedlin said in a recent US Soccer video. “For whatever reason, everything was just flowing for me. And it was obviously a life-changing experience.”

Advertisement

In recent days, some experts, including former USMNTer Landon Donovan, have called for Yedlin to start Monday’s World Cup opener against Wales over Dest. Their reasoning is while Dest is a better version of 2014 Yedlin in attack, his lack of recent play due to injury and defensive missteps have made some clamor for experience to be the deciding factor. I’d still give Dest the first chance at starting in Qatar over Yedlin. Dest’s best is worth the risk over Yedlin, which would be the safer move. When you’re guaranteed, you go with the best possible path, even if a crash and burn may occur.

The U.S. has had eight years to think about a return to the biggest stage in the sport. It has 270 guaranteed minutes to prove itself. Dest still provides a top-level quality Yedlin hasn’t shown consistently. The AC Milan right back may have an incredibly short leash to remove his starting tag in Qatar, as most players not named Christian Pulisic should. It’s impossible that Yedlin doesn’t touch the field in Qatar. Providing a super-sub spark will be ideal if the USA wants to advance out of the group stage. 

Qatar definitely understands how this whole 'sports media' thing works

Advertisement

And a Danish news team had a similar experience.

Advertisement

So, just to recap, Qatar invited the entire world to come to Doha for a sporting event, built massive stadiums, and decorated the town with slogans they created and approved, but the media is not allowed to visually document any of it.

That tracks.