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!!!!!!

Lotta goals in the desert – World Cup Daily Diary: Day 9

Advertisement

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:

Advertisement

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:

Advertisement

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!

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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:

Advertisement

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:

Advertisement

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:

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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:

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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:

Advertisement

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

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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:

Advertisement

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:

Advertisement

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

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.

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.

Advertisement

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.

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.

This is what inexperience looks like

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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…

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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