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?