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?

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. 

World Cup Daily Diary Day 3: Whoops!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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.