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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Is that enough? Is this?

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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:

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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.

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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 9

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By the way, could you find a more Serbian looking guy than Pavlović? You’ve seen this guy smoking an unfiltered cigarette outside a bar with no sign, haven’t you?

After the break, the lead only caused Serbia to purr even more smoothly, with Dusan Tadić and Sergej Milinković-Savić (who scored the second Serbia goal) dovetailing with striker Aleksandar Mitrović, culminating in this gorgeous third goal that should be set to some killer smooth piece of music like the Pink Panther theme or a Sly song:

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And this was over. Or it should have been. A funny thing happened. Cameroon manager Rigobert Song introduced striker Vincent Aboubakar, switched his team to a 4-4-2, and Serbia reacted as if they’d subbed on a dinosaur. Twice Aboubakar broke Serbia’s defensive line/offside trap, both times Nikola Milenković on the right side of Serbia’s three-man defense being the one caught too deep and keeping Aboubakar onside. The back three found covering one forward to be a breeze. Throw a second one at them at it was a kindergarten firedrill back there. The first, when everyone assumed the flag would go up and it eventually did, only for VAR to retrieve the goal back from the trash, was finished off by Aboubakar himself with the kind of scoop you’d only try when you’re pretty sure it doesn’t matter anyway:

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If Aboubakar was sure that he was onside, is he quite as relaxed? Doesn’t matter now.

The second time saw Aboubakar square for Eric Choupo-Moting. And suddenly, without Cameroon really deserving it, they had tied the game and looked the more likely winner. Sadly, they only generated two more shots after the equalizer, but got what they needed to at least go into the last day with something to play for. Just have to beat Brazil! Easy peasy!

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At 3-1, it seemed it would be the same story for Cameroon that it’s been since last winter’s AFCON, where something broke. After going out on penalties at home, they’ve been pretty wishy washy, and showed a lack of anything against Switzerland, especially after going behind. They did show gumption and fight on Monday.

For Serbia, they’ll rue not clinching all three points here, especially with everything riding on an already boiling match with Switzerland, that only needs a draw. It is strange that after featuring both Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahović together in qualifying, they’ve shied from that in this tournament. Especially with Mitrovic certainly not 100 percent. They played a great 50 minutes or so. But in a World Cup, you can’t leave the other 40 on the table.

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Other Games

South Korea 2 – 3 Ghana

This was another game that saw a team that hadn’t shown much storming back out of nowhere, except the Koreans couldn’t then hang on. The worry about South Korea before the tournament, especially with Heung-min Son barely fit, is that their careful and intricate way of building attacks would end up looking like the worst of tiki-taka, with no end product and opposing teams yawning as they easily held them out before rushing the other way. And that’s what the first half pretty much looked like. Ghana barely under any threat (0.37 xG against) and were able to cash in on a set piece. With the comfort of a lead, Ghana then took a page out of South Korea’s book and pieced together 31 passes to set up Mohammed Kudus for his first of the day:

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Nothing spurs a team like staring into the abyss, though. Finally, for the first time in two games. South Korea played with some pace and urgency in the second half,and the whole game flips with two Gue-song Cho headers. The second is a prime example of just wanting it more than anyone around you:

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From there, Korea battered the Ghanian goal, as they should have…except for the small problem of leaving the back door open. Which Ghana strolled right through just seven minutes later:

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Great dummy from Inaki Williams. At least that’s what he’ll say.

Ghana wasn’t great. They scored when they needed to. South Korea couldn’t one more time. There’s your game.

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Brazil 1 – 0 Switzerland

Well this was a comedown. Brazil without Neymar are certainly a different beast, both missing his enormous talent as well as their usual tendency to try and find him. With him missing for the rest of the group stage, Switzerland didn’t find it too hard to make Brazil look pretty flaccid. Without their #10 in the heart of attack. Brazil were far more dependent on going out wide, and Vinicius Jr. had moved more inside in the first half to combine with Richarlison up top.

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Not fearing anything in the middle, Switzerland simply deployed a 4-5-1, and doubled up on Brazil’s wide players with their fullbacks and wide attackers. You can do that against this Brazil team because unlike in the past when they had real cowboy fullbacks such as Cafu or Roberto Carlos or Dani Alves, manager Tite prefers his fullbacks to stay where they are. Éder Militao, who started at right-back today, is really a centerback for a living. Switzerland cut off any links to glory from out wide, with Brazil not having too much to answer in the middle.

The second half didn’t change all that much, even with Vinicius restored to his normal left wing and Rodrygo brought on to link with Richarlison. The goal came from Brazil simply solving the problem of going through the middle with numbers instead of having Neymar, as Casemiro found himself in the box to volley home an absolute rapier. There was too little time for Switzerland to respond, and they didn’t seem much interested in doing so.

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Neymar will be back for the important games, but if he’s not fully healthy then Switzerland’s blueprint will be used again.

Portugal 2 – 0 Uruguay

And the real comedown. Here are two teams that are capable of really setting off a fireworks show that spent the first 45 minutes kicking each other into seven different kinds of shit and bitching to the ref when they weren’t doing that. Uruguay came for a point and didn’t get it.

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It did contain maybe the most Ronaldo moment ever, as he tried to claim this was his goal in every way possible, even throughout the celebrations:

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Dress for the job you want and all that.

Finally, after going a goal down Uruguay actually tried to cross the halfway line with more than just Darwin Nunez and the corpse of Edinson Cavani, but could only find the post again. Now they need to beat Ghana and hope Portugal don’t rest everyone and have enough left on the field to not let South Korea sneak a win past them. It didn’t have to be this way, but this is apparently how Uruguay has it drawn up.

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Goal of the day: Aboubakar’s trampoline-flick was a contender, but Casemiro may never hit another shot like this again:

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Did VAR fuck anything up?: We saw both sides. Aboubakar’s goal is exactly why referee’s assistants have been holding raising their flag until the play is completed, because he was onside and VAR saved a goal that should stand. But Portugal’s penalty came off a handball from Jose Giminez when he was merely putting his hand down as he slid to the ground, the only place his hand can go and something explicitly stated is not supposed to be a penalty.

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And yet the VAR official called the on-field ref to the screen, and that almost always ends up in a reversal. The system is still dependent on the opinion of people, and it’s not hard to get two people who see the world cockeyed making these decisions.

Did Alexi Lalas say anything stupid?: No Alexi, Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t have “haters” just because he’s good. You mentioned his “off the field matters,” so go all the way, bud. Once you open that door you can’t just dip a toe through it and then run away from it.

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The one true Ronaldo: It is truly inspiring to see the OG Ronaldo, and more to the point the level of consistent contentment he seems to have achieved. Maybe you have to be the best forward of your generation to exude such a relaxed state, but maybe it’s there for all of us. Follow the OG Ronaldo to freedom:

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Lastly, I know many people out there don’t follow sports. Most of their arguments are sound. Sometimes I even envy them. But the question I always come back to is, if you don’t follow sports, what makes you feel like this?

Lotta goals in the desert – World Cup Daily Diary: Day 8

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Both of these results set up the group to be Group Chaos come Thursday, as all four teams can go through.

Belgium 0 – 2 Morocco

Now here’s a team that doesn’t give a shit. In the latest installment in why Roberto Martinez is a blithering idiot, it appeared that today he sent out his Belgium side to at least attack in a 4-2-3-1, but with Kevin De Bruyne wide on the right of the attack. Which is great if all you want him to do is hit crosses, but he happens to be the best midfielder in the world for a host of other reasons and abilities. It also forces the attack to hinge on Eden Hazard in the middle, who is both cooked and out of shape and practice thanks to not having played regularly in three seasons. De Bruyne is effective when getting three or four runners ahead of him at City. Belgium essentially gave him one, and that’s Michy Batshuayi, which as everyone knows isn’t an answer at all. No wonder Belgium looked so utterly without spark or verve.

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And if Martinez isn’t going to get his formations or tactics right, then his job should be about creating a harmony or energy within the team that carries over that and lets the talent on the team (admittedly old talent) go on display. Belgium slogged through this match with all the spice of a trip to their boss’s son’s bar mitzvah. Morocco didn’t really have to work all that hard to keep the Belgians at bay, nor to look threatening when attacking at pace. All it took was one Tibault Courois fuck-up and it was over.

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Croatia 4 – 1 Canada

Nice stories don’t get results. Neither do analytic stats on their own. Yeah, Canada was better than Belgium in their opening game. Yes, they should have one, but their lack of finish is also their responsibility. They don’t have to worry about either of those things now, because today they did find a way to finish, as Alphonso Davies finally scored their first ever World Cup goal just three minutes in. And then they got their ass thoroughly kicked afterwards. 4-1 tells no lies as the 1-0 against Belgium did. No injustice from the soccer gods here.

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Canada tried something similar to the US did against England, which is defensively setting up in a 4-4-2 to cut off the Croatian midfield from the defense and using their wide players to try and spring attacks against fullbacks that aren’t all that fast. Here’s the problem: The US midfield contains players that are very mobile and very energetic. The Canadian midfield contains Atiba Hutchinson, who is 39 and moves like an ice float (and Canada should consider putting him on one after this match). When any of the Croatian midfield wanted to drop a little deeper to get the ball, he couldn’t follow. Or when they wanted to dribble by him, they did it while facing barely toilet paper level resistance. So even after going behind, Croatia strutted to a 2-1 halftime lead thanks to their midfield’s dominance and ease they could find killer passes. To wit:

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Canada attempted to switch to a 3-5-2 at halftime, but with Hutchinson still out there Modric, Kovacic, and Brozovic still had the run of the place, and Canada was lucky they didn’t rack up more than two goals. So Canada’s World Cup is already over, their plucky underdog story vanquished before we even had time to care. But don’t worry, it didn’t keep their journalists from acting smug:

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He’s not mad guys, really.

Goal of the day

Not the cleanest strike but given how late and how dramatic, has to be Fuller’s goal to give Costa Rica all three points.

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Did VAR fuck anything up?

Dodged that today, and actually the rapidity with which Antonio Rüdiger’s goal for Germany in the first half was ruled out for offside was a demonstration of how the system is supposed to work.

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Did Alexi Lalas say anything stupid?

Ducked that too, As they say, even God rests on Sunday. 

World Cup Daily Diary Day 4 — Germany are who we thought they were

Did VAR fuck anything up? Of course! Canada can feel totally screwed because they should have had a second penalty 10 minutes after their first. Eden Hazard, looking as rusty as someone should who hasn’t played regularly in years, deliberately passes the ball back to Tajon Buchanan in the Belgium box, which makes Buchanan onside. He was then completely cleared out by Jan Vertonghen But because the assistant was flagging for offside, wrongly, the foul was ignored. Janny Sikazwe never went to review nor was he asked to, as it was claimed that Vertonghen got a touch on the ball, which I can’t find with a microscope.

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Sikazwe is the same ref who blew a game final short of the final whistle twice during the AFCON, though it was later revealed he was suffering from heat stroke. But this is what having two sets of eyes is supposed to solve. This was glaring, and it didn’t even get looked at.

Did Qatar fuck anything up? Nothing more than usual, it would seem.

Did Alexi Lalas say anything stupid? Not today, though his clear jealousy of not having a shared handshake that Clint Dempsey and Stu Holden have from their time on the national team together was kind of adorable.

Thanksgiving special: The Cowboys-Giants OBJ Bowl

Forget the fact that this has huge NFC East implications. This one is about influencing Odell Beckham Jr. and his decision on which team to sign with when he’s ready to return in a few weeks. It’s essentially coming down to the Cowboys and Giants vying for the affection of Beckham, the same way Dwight and Andy dueled over Angela in The Office.

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This showdown will take place one day after the eight-year anniversary of OBJ’s magnificent catch over Brandon Carr on Sunday Night Football in 2014. Some have called it the greatest catch of all time, as it was an outstanding display of athleticism. The level of concentration it takes to catch a football one-handed while falling backward with a defender tugging at your jersey is impressive.

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But this isn’t the same Odell the Giants or Cowboys would be signing up for. He’s a 30-year-old wide receiver who’s had two ACL tears in the last two years. The last time we saw Beckham was in the Super Bowl against Cincinnati, looking like the early MVP front runner until his knee gave out.

After two bad knee injuries in such a short amount of time, it’s hard to predict what OBJ brings to any team now. Dallas could use another receiving threat outside of CeeDee Lamb. They haven’t gotten a ton out of the rest of their receiving core this year. Michael Gallup missed the first few games recovering from an ACL injury, and since his return, he has just 19 catches in seven games. It’s been Lamb or bust for the ‘Boys. Lamb has 58 catches in 10 games, while no other target (WR, RB, or TE) has more than 28 receptions. The simple threat of another option in OBJ could help Dallas tremendously down the stretch.

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For the Giants, it’s a little trickier — though New York recently lost WR Wan’Dale Robinson to a season-ending ACL injury — as this would be a reunion tour should Beckham return to New York. His first stint as a Giant did not end well, although he did some spectacular things. The team eventually grew tired of his antics and traded him to Cleveland, where that eventually fell apart. While Beckham is older and more mature (hopefully), it’s hard to see him choosing Daniel Jones over Dak Prescott. Indeed, he’d like to win, but he still wants the ball.

Both teams are in the playoff hunt and still in the race for a division crown behind the Eagles. It’s funny how this all feels orchestrated by Beckham, knowing the teams played on Thanksgiving and reports coming out that he’d like to sign by the end of November. None of this seems coincidental, as Beckham plays puppet master in this scenario.

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Oh, this should be a fun game with all the theatrics of a broadway musical. Expect OBJ to be mentioned at least once per quarter during the broadcast. The NFL should up the stakes and make the decision for everyone. Winner takes all. Whoever wins the game signs Odell, no questions asked. Of course, under those circumstances, the Cowboys would undoubtedly find a way to lose since they don’t perform well under pressure. 

The Cowboys are desperate for Odell Beckham Jr.

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The latest member of the Cowboys to voice his support for the franchise signing Beckham is the person who might directly benefit the most from that transaction — Dak Prescott.

“You’re able to add a talent like Odell, that can be special,” Prescott told the media on Tuesday. “Obviously that creates more weapons for not only me but for this offense, the play caller, more things for the defense to worry about.

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Hopefully everything is going great in the recruiting process. He knows how much I want him here, and a lot of guys in this locker room have reached out on their own, in different ways, to make sure that he understands that this is a team that he can help and we want him to come help.“

Prescott must have been wearing out some Temptations or the first TLC album, because he most definitely “Ain’t too Proud to Beg.” A wide receiver who has the ability to blow the top off of a defense — and with Tyron Smith likely returning to the roster in December — Prescott knows that this Cowboys offense could surge from strong to outstanding in a hurry. If he, Cowboys’ starting quarterback and Sleep Number mattress salesman, has to metaphorically hold the boombox in the rain to ensure Beckham is on the roster, it’s not like he would be the only member of the Cowboys’ organization in that driveway.

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Jerry Jones has already said on his weekly radio show — get a podcast, Jerry, I want to hear good stories with no commercial interruption — that OBJ “could look pretty good” wearing a star on his helmet. Ezekiel Elliott and Micah Parsons have also both said that he is a player that they would want on the team.

No need to be cryptic or evasive in the Big D, they know what they want and if you ask them they will tell you. Good for Rapoport that he got the information first, but the Cowboys were ready to pursue Beckham like LSU did a decade ago.

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Now all they need to do is be ready to offer him the deal that he wants. Begging is good for the ego, but it’s the contract dollars that will get his name inked on the paper. Beckham didn’t like the Los Angeles Rams’ offer this past summer, and that’s largely why he’s still a free agent. It was expected that he would be cleared to play in November, after tearing an ACL during the Super Bowl in February. ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that Beckham is waiting until after Thanksgiving to make a decision. Also in Schefter’s report, “No team has expressed a greater interest in Beckham than the Dallas Cowboys.”

At this point, Jones might as well send the Louisiana native pickup truck bed full of crawfish, a rack of brisket, and a case of Johnny Walker Blue for the holiday.

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Anything to keep Beckham in good graces, as long as there’s salary to match behind all the begging.

Hockey still needs to be shamed into doing the right thing

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He felt compelled to go public, because the Big 10 didn’t do anything to punish Ohio State player Kamil Sadlocha. As Sadiocha was the only player given a game misconduct in the game Joshua was referring to, it’s pretty easy to finger him as the player that hurled multiple racial slurs at Joshua.

And of course, the conference at first did nothing, feeling satisfied that the game misconduct was a sufficient penalty for racially abusing an opponent. The idea of “sufficient evidence” was laughable of course, because Sadiocha has been tossed by an on-ice official. It wouldn’t seem that hard for the conference to ask the official why he ejected Sadlocha and get all the evidence they would need.

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What the conference’s motivations for letting this pass is unclear, but any conclusion one could draw in their own head would be infuriating and sad. One, they actually do think being ejected from a part of a game is enough for dipping into racism on the ice. Of course, their claim of insufficient evidence wouldn’t support that. It could be their investigation never included talking to the ref, which would be a farce of an investigation. Or they didn’t want to have to hold all their other officials to the same standard. None of this is acceptable.

After Joshua’s statement on Twitter gained traction, Ohio State was forced into action late last night, which feels suspiciously like a news dump, doesn’t it?:

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This was after MSU and OSU released an earlier statement saying they had come to a sort of resolution, not explaining what that was or whom they had spoken with or whatever else, while also never saying any word that had to do with racism. It was as mealy-mouthed as could be, perhaps in the vain hope that it would all just blow over. That would be the usual hockey way.

In the end, the situation was resolved as it should have been, with Sadlocha booted off the team. But hockey once again had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the right choice in what is a pretty cut-and-dried situation. Maybe one day they’ll get there merely dragging their feet instead of kicking and screaming.

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Cristiano go

Cristiano Ronaldo finally got what he wanted, which was to be let out of his contract with Manchester United as publicly declaring everyone is an idiot that you work for usually works. What he really wanted was everyone talking about it when he wasn’t even playing, which he also got.

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The funniest outcome, now that he’s a free agent, is that Ronaldo finds that no Champions League club wants to pay him what will still surely be an outrageous salary ask because Ronaldo can’t really do anything anymore. Unless you’re a team that can accommodate an obelisk that can only stand around the penalty spot and have your other players bank the ball off him into the net. Fingers crossed.

Though the news came out on the same day that the Glazers are reportedly putting the club up for sale. Perhaps the Ronaldo affair was the straw that broke their back, in which case he’ll be a United hero to fans forever if it rids them of the Glazers. Somehow he always wins.

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Were they porn yesterday?

Finally, missed this on Sunday:

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Not that I know who that is, of course. 

Messi, who? World Cup favorites Argentina suffers shocking upset to Saudi Arabia

In one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, Saudi Arabia scored two early second-half goals to take down Argentina and put a huge dent into the South American giant’s chances of advancing to the knockout stage, much less winning the whole damn tournament.

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In a group completed by Mexico and Poland, Argentina’s route just got a lot harder to win Messi his first World Cup in what’s likely his final opportunity. Saudi Arabia was written off as Group C’s punching bag, with Argentina easily advancing alongside someone else. That script is over. It’ll be a massive push for Messi and friends to make the final 16 now.

Multiple Argentina goals were taken off the board by VAR, with each of those callbacks being inches from standing. That’s why the biggest tournament in the world has help from video officials, to get the calls right. And with those correct decisions, Argentina is on the wrong side of one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.

This is what inexperience looks like

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Sargent to Pulisic to Weah and pick that out. It made you wonder what the US could have done had they moved the ball quicker more often, but having it under total control was hardly a bad thing. Sure, they could have played more balls over the top to Weah or tried more quicker interchanges, but leading 1-0 at half without facing a shot on target or even anything close to one, with Gareth Bale merely a rumor, is everything you’d ask for.

But then there’s another 45 minutes.

In a vacuum, wanting to counter when Wales came looking for their equalizer is an excellent plan. But it’s an excellent plan for the last 10-15 minutes, not the whole half. And what the US lacks, which Musah or Adams or Reyna could turn into one day but aren’t now, is that midfielder who decides and forces whatever tempo is necessary. In the second half, the US needed the proverbial guy to “put their foot on the ball” and take the air out as Welsh pressure grew. Someone who forces the rest of the team to play the ball around, be the release valve for the mounting anxiety, and calm things down. Sure, there were openings for counters, but you have to choose them when they’re obvious. The US was in too much of a hurry at times to get on the counter when it wasn’t on offer. Just keep the ball. The US doesn’t have some midfielder sitting at home who could perform this service, unless they can somehow de-age Michael Bradley or Maurice Edu 10 years. This is just what happens when you bring a squad full of children to this tournament.

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That doesn’t mean there weren’t windows, and the US just chose the wrong pass too many times or missed the right one by just enough to not kill the game off. At this level, there isn’t an unlimited supply of good looks on the break that you get. You have to choose correctly between firing a cross across the six-yard box or going for the pullback. You have to connect. It only takes getting one right to end a match like this, but a team has to make that one out of a limited supply.

All that said, the US still had Wales at basically arm’s length. While the Dragons had the ball a lot, they only created two chances off the same corner, with Matt Turner saving brilliantly from Ben Davies and then the ensuing corner being headed over by Kieffer Moore when Turner also decided to go for a roam that seems to be contagious among keepers so far this tournament. That was in the 64th minute. Wales didn’t have another shot…until…

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There’s no reason for Walker Zimmerman to make this challenge. Bale has his back to goal and he’s contained. But this is Zimmerman’s biggest game of his life, on a stage he’s never seen. The chemistry is there to do something rash, and voila. It’s hard to get too angry at him for that, because this is how players learn, but this is the most frustrating time to have to learn a lesson. The US also fell asleep on the throw-in right before this, which is something an inexperienced, tiring team just does.

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Yes, the US should have been more in the face of Wales for the second half. They dropped their lines, and the Welsh midfield had more time to ping balls up to Moore where in the first half every time they took their first touch they had a Yank up their ass. Moore then was able to be a focal point to get Wales up the field and attack. Did the US run out of energy? Young players tend to be rife with nervous energy, which is the most draining. There’s no other reason this team should be out of gas after an hour.

So now what? It feels like this group will come down to how badly either or both of Wales and the US can beat Iran and have a goal-difference-off. It’s hard to see how the US can keep England out when under the cosh for a full 90 minutes, after they let a pretty limited Wales side grow pretty big over just 45 minutes. England will leave more space for counters, but you still have to defend first. England have so many weapons from so many angles.

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It’s hardly over. It’s just going to be a tortuous path. But the USMNT has never known any other way.