Yes, it’s Day 17. Even though the previous day had no World Cup action, we’re choosing to call it a World Cup day. Subject to debate? Probably. But an undisputed fact was that today marked the beginning of knockout action in Russia 2018, and if this sets the standard for the rest, then we’re in for a barnstormer:

 

France 4-3 Argentina

Never has a meeting between sides like France and Argentina had one side as a clear underdog, but that was the case ahead of this game in Kazan, Argentina had laboured and were lucky to get out of their group, and not many fancied them here. But that last-gasp win over Nigeria might just be the jerk they required in this tournament, and France, despite winning two out of their three group games, hadn’t thrilled anyone either. But Les Bleus flew out of the traps here, or rather Kylian Mbappe did, only 13 minutes had gone when the teenager turned on the afterburners towards the Argentine defence, too much for Marcos Rojo, who brought him down in the box. France had an early penalty, and Antoine Griezmann, who hit the bar from a free-kick earlier, sent Franco Armani the wrong way from 12 yards, his second goal of the tournament- both penalties. France were in control here, Mbappe too quick to handle, while Argentina had most of the possession, but it was mostly pedestrian. But four minutes before halftime, parity was restored, and brilliantly so, Angel Di Maria given too much space by the French, and his shot from over 30 yards out found Hugo Lloris’ top corner. Out of nothing, La Albiceleste were level, and three minutes after the break, they’d go in front, an Argentine free-kick fell the way of Lionel Messi, whose shot was deflected in off his teammate Gabriel Mercado.

Now France were in trouble. One of the favourites to win the World Cup now stared elimination in the France. The criticism towards coach Didier Deschamps wasn’t going to let if it stayed like this, as the French hadn’t quite provided much excitement in this tournament. But that would come just before the hour mark, a Lucas Hernandez cross was deflected towards the path of Benjamin Pavard, and the right-back produced a volley of deluxe class to find the top corner. Both teams had once led, both teams had forced levellers, and the game was all-square once more. But not for long, seven minutes after Mbappe was fed by Olivier Giroud, and his shot was too fast and powerful for Armani’s right hand, to put France ahead. Then four minutes later it was the same combination, Giroud to Mbappe, to the back of the Argentine net, France had a cushion, and surely a winning lead. Sergio Aguero pulled one back for Argentina in the 92nd minute with a header, but it proved academic. Les Bleus were heading for the last eight. Messi and company were home for Buenos Aires.

Hit…

France: Recovered well in a rollercoaster game, fighting back after initially throwing away a lead. The football is still to totally convince, but this was a step in the right direction.

Kylian Mbappe: The best player on the pitch by a mile, and don’t be surprised if that was the distance he ran. His pace and trickery too much for the Argentine defence, winning the penalty for the opener, and scoring a second-half brace that killed off the opposition. Showed what the fuss is all about, and there could hardly be a better mode of announcing yourself on the world stage if a Public Address System yelled your profile out loud.

Benjamin Pavard: The technique for his 57th minute leveller for Les Bleus was golden.

Miss…

Argentina: It’s rare that a team scores three goals in a World Cup knockout game and still get knocked out, it’s even rarer that a side gets three goals, and were still lucky not to lose heavily. For the umpteenth time, Argentina were at sixes and sevens, especially at the back. The gameplan didn’t work, the point of starting with a false nine is irrelevant if you use direct wingers who keep putting crosses into the box. They should have gone home earlier, they have now.

 

Uruguay 2-1 Portugal

The game of tactics in Sochi. Two sides who are known for defensive solidity and collective compactness met in the second knockout game. It was expected to be a close contest, with chances few and far between, but only seven minutes had gone when Uruguay struck first, Edinson Cavani sending a long ball towards Luis Suarez, whose terrific cross was headed home by the former. Uruguay hadn’t conceded a goal in 2018, but that would have to change if Portugal were going to make the last eight, but every time they ventured forward, they found blue bodies between them and the goal, and at the break they were frustratingly a goal behind. But Fernando Santos’ men upped the tempo at the start of the second period, and 10 minutes in, from a short corner and a Raphael Guerreiro cross, Pepe headed home their equaliser. Parity was restored, but it was short-lived, Pepe turning from saviour to culprit after his poor header down let to the ball at the feet of Nahitan Nandez, who laid off for Cavani to produce a wonderful finish. Portugal took 48 minutes to find their equaliser, they took seven to concede after levelling the scores. Now they had to score again, but it didn’t look like it would come. On came Ricardo Quaresma and Andre Silva, but no sign of a rescue, the closest they came was when Bernardo Silva lifted one over after an error from Fernando Muslera. Cristiano Ronaldo was booked for dissent in stoppage time, while at the other end Cristian Rodriguez almost added a third for La Celeste. But it mattered little in the end, as Uruguay held on for their second quarter-final appearance in the past three World Cups. Portugal haven’t gone beyond the last 16 since 2006.

Hit…

Uruguay: Demonstrated their collective doggedness once more, and closed out the win that gives them a last-eight meeting with France.

Edinson Cavani: While others hit the limelight, Cavani continues to be effective, for both club and country. In a game billed by many as ‘Ronaldo v Suarez’ it was the Paris Saint-Germain forward who stepped, with a match-winning brace- not bad for a supposed ‘big-game bottler’. Uruguay will hope the injury that sent him out of this game early doesn’t rule him out of the quarters.

Miss…

Portugal: Had more shots in this game than any of their three previously, but their wastefulness cost them. Credit to Uruguay’s defence, but up front Portugal didn’t cover himself in glory. As Ronaldo went quiet, the rest failed to step up, as always.

 

Matter of Fact

  • Kylian Mbappe is the first teenage to score twice in a World Cup game since 1958, after a certain Pele.
  • Pepe’s goal for Portugal was the first Uruguay have conceded since October 2017.
  • France have never lost a last-16 game in the World Cup.
Published in International Watch

FIFA World Cup 2018: The Final 16

Friday, 29 June 2018 10:59

Uruguay

World Cup so far: It’s been ‘so far, really good’ for Uruguay, especially results-wise, with three wins from three in Group A. Uruguay are the only side in the World Cup that haven’t conceded a goal yet, in fact they haven’t done so in the whole of 2018.

How far can they go: Oscar Tabarez’s side have shown defensively solidity and compactness, and will come up against a side with similar traits in Portugal in the last 16. The belief of going past the last 16 and last eight, especially when their defence has a front two like it does to look up to.

Best player: Uruguay’s biggest selling point at this tournament has been their defence, with a centre-back pairing of Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez, who are the defensive at club level for Atletico Madrid. Gimenez has complemented his defensive solidity with contributions at the other end, bagging that late winner against Egypt.

Russia

World Cup so far: Despite defeat in their final group game against Uruguay, Russia have had a wonderful tournament so far. Ranked lowest of the 32 teams at the start of the World Cup, and tipped by many to go home after three games, the hosts began with a bang, two wins from two- with eight goals scored- sealed them a place in the last 16 with room to spare.

How far can they go: Russia will meet Spain in the next round, but, despite coach Stanislav Cherchesov’s given target of the semis, have surely matched expectations at the very least. Elimination would be by no means disastrous, qualification would spark mayhem.

Best player: No Russian player has caught the eye more than Aleksandr Golovin. The CSKA Moscow midfielder was instrumental in those two wins, playing a role in five of the eight goals scored, and sat out the defeat to Uruguay.

Spain

World Cup so far: On the face of it, finishing top of Group B after the crisis that rocked their camp right before the tournament began would constitute a really good World Cup so far for Spain. But the football hasn’t been as swift, or fluid as expected, it’s come in flashes, but no consistency: of the four six goals they’ve scored, only one was typical La Roja. But it could easily have been worse.

How far can they go: It’s still Spain, so winning the World Cup isn’t out of the question, particularly if they hit stride. Cutting some uncharacteristic errors and sloppiness is key, though.

Best player: After the talk of whether he’d fit into the Spanish style, Diego Costa has offered Spain a secondary outlet in attacking. Without his goals, they’d be back home by now.

Portugal

World Cup so far: So far, so Portugal. The European champions haven’t thrilled anyone so far, but they’ve got the job done, as expected. There were a few scares for La Selaccao, but they’re in the knockout stage.

How far can they go: Portugal are not short of the belief, nor the tactical discipline, to go as far as lifting the trophy on July the 15th. It won’t be pretty, but they know how to make it effective.

Best player: I don’t know, some bloke named Cristiano Ronaldo.

France

World Cup so far: On one hand, top of Group C, two wins from three, no losses and one goal conceded for France. On the other, Les Bleus have scored just three times themselves, and have managed to conjure up the dourest of displays with the most talented of squads. There’s a definite room for improvement.

How far can they go: The expectation is still to be champions come the end of the tournament, and France still have the ability to match that. Improvement is still very much required, or maybe not, sometimes keeping it tight till the end can land the ultimate prize anyway.

Best player: No one has really stood out for Didier Deschamps’ team, although Paul Pogba has played a part in all of their three goals so far.

Denmark

World Cup so far: The second round was the immediate aim for the Danes, and it’s been achieved.

How far can they go: Denmark face Croatia in the last 16, a game they may well considered to be of nigh-equal opponents. The last eight isn’t beyond them.

Best player: Pione Sisto has done his growing reputation no harm so far, but it still has to be Christian Eriksen.

Croatia

World Cup so far: An excellent tournament so far for Croatia, who are one of only three teams to have gone through with a 100% record.

How far can they go: A meeting with Denmark in the next round means a quarter-final place is very much achievable. Problem is Croatia have had wonderful group stages of tournaments in the recent past, only to falter at the first hurdle of knockout football.

Best player: The midfield pair of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic have had wonderful tournaments so far, Modric with two goals in as many games.

Argentina

World Cup so far: Close to shambolic, performances have been nowhere near convincing, and they did ride their luck to get past the group stages.

How far can they go: Many back home have declared that their tournament starts now, but performances need a massive upgrade, especially at the back, if they’re to stay in it for long.

Best player: It’s hard to not say Lionel Messi, but Ever Banega’s performances have been more than commendable so far.

Brazil

World Cup so far: There have been a few scares for Brazil, but they reached the last 16 with two wins out of three, topping their first round group for the 10th time in a row, and the surprise early departure of Germany means Tite’s team are the highest-ranked side in the tournament.

How far can they go: Winning the World Cup is as much the expectation from the fans as it is with the players.

Best player: Two goals and one assist in three games makes Philippe Coutinho Brazil’s standout man so far.

Switzerland

World Cup so far: Seven points from three games is no mean feat, and Switzerland, if they needed to, have given evidence to those who doubted why they should be ranked sixth in the world.

How far can they go: They haven’t gotten to the last eight in well over half a century, a meeting with Sweden in the last 16 is one in which they’ll fancy their chances.

Best player: Xherdan Shaqiri is always the go-to man in attack, but a side with such a gameplan as theirs, goalkeeper Yann Sommer is important, and has been showing it with some impressive saves.

Sweden

World Cup so far: Qualifying for the second round was the achievable aim before the tournament began. Topping a group with the world champions, and topping convincingly, almost defies belief.

How far can they go: They face Switzerland in the next round, and are not short of confidence on going beyond that game.

Best player: Andreas Granqvist has kept a cool head in this tournament, both at the back and from the penalty spot.

Mexico

World Cup so far: For the seventh World Cup in a row, Mexico have made the last 16.

How far can they go: El Tri haven’t gone beyond the last 16 in any of the previous six World Cups, and face Brazil in this year’s.

Best player: Guillermo Ochoa continues his wonderful time on the world stage, following up from four years ago.

Belgium

World Cup so far: Three wins out of three, with nine goals scored, Belgium have been arguably the most impressive side so far in this World Cup.

How far can they go: Winning the World Cup is not out of the question, but a potential last-eight meeting with Brazil could be tough. They play Japan on Tuesday in the last 16, though.

Best player: Romelu Lukaku has four goals in two games in this tournament.

England

World Cup so far: Qualified from the group with some comfort, not something common with English sides of recent past, although the selection and display in the final game has left many less than thrilled back home.

How far can they go: The departure of Germany means they probably won’t be knocked out on penalties. A meeting with Colombia on Tuesday will provide its own stern test, but the semi-finals no longer look implausible.

Best player: Harry Kane currently leads the golden boot chart with five goals.

Colombia

World Cup so far: Los Cafeteros started the tournament with a defeat which looked to set the tone for a troubling World Cup, but recovered well to finish top of Group H.

How far can they go: Colombia face England in the last 16, they’ll do so with little fear. The semis doesn’t seem such an outlandish target.

Best player: James Rodriguez has tried to pick up where he left off in Brazil, but, despite his displays so far, has struggled to stay fit. His replacement for the first game, Juan Fernando Quintero, has done himself no harm, and now looks like he can’t be dropped.

Japan

World Cup so far: Perhaps the least fancied side in Group H when the draw was made, Japan started with a win against Colombia, and, despite defeat to Poland in their final group game, have made the next round, by virtue of having less yellow cards than Senegal.

How far can they go: Akira Nishino’s side have never made it past the last 16, and face a tough test in the form of Belgium on Tuesday.

Best player: Takashi Inui and Yuya Osako haven’t done badly in this tournament so far. Keisuke Honda continues to play the role of impact sub very well.

 

Last 16:

June 30- France v Argentina (Kazan)

June 30- Uruguay v Portugal (Sochi)

July 1- Spain v Russia (Moscow)

July 1- Croatia v Denmark (Nizhny Novgorod)

July 2- Brazil v Mexico (Samara)

July 2- Belgium v Japan (Rostov-on-Don)

July 3- Sweden v Switzerland (St. Petersburg)

July 3- Colombia v England (Moscow)

 

Published in International Watch

The former Super Eagles captain said that the Nigerian players gave their best, but admitted their best was not enough on the night.

According to Okocha, inexperience in the Nigerian team was pivotal to the team lost to the La Albiceleste.

Gernot Rohr boys were on the verge of booking a place in the next round of the World Cup, after Moses had cancelled out from the spot Messi’s first half opener, but an 87th close range finish from an unmarked Marcus Rojo dashed all hopes of such dream.

Okocha, who represented Nigeria at the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cup said that the Nigerian players never capitalised on their chances – saying the La Albiceleste deserved their place in the next round of the competition.

“If you want to be harsh on the Nigeria team, is that we didn’t capitalise,” Okocha as quoted by Goal. “We didn’t keep two or three players up there to hurt them. We were limited in terms of experience.

 “Credit to Argentina, they threw the kitchen sink at it, and they deserved to win.”

Read Also

Maradona hospitalised after Argentina’s victory

On the second goal Nigeria conceded on the night, the former Bolton Wanderers man added, “Poor defending there. We should have recognised to come in a good position at the time the cross came in.

“Moses acted late there. I can’t fault the effort of the players, they gave their all, but at the end of the day, it was not good enough.”

On the VAR call not to award Nigeria a second penalty, as Rojo was seen on replay to have headed a Musa’s cross to his arm, Okocha rather put off the blame from the VAR call – saying Ighalo should have converted the resulting effort.

He said further, “Ighalo should’ve scored or he should’ve at least worked the keeper.”

Published in Awa Football

The Argentine great has been reported to have been hospitalized after the La Albiceleste 2-1 victory over Nigeria on Thursday.

Goals from Messi and Marcus Rojo saw the two time World Champions through to the next stage of the World Cup – where they will be meeting France.

Read More

Argentina are a disgrace - Maradona

Maradona, was seen acting erratically during the match -dancing with a Nigerian female fan before the match commenced, shown to have fallen asleep at the halftime break, and also seen on screen pointing his middle finger while celebrating Marcus Rojo 86th minute winner, according to New York Post have been reported to have been hospitalized.

According to the reports, Reason the football great was hospitalised remains unclear.

Published in International Watch

The Real Madrid and Spanish national team captain has proclaimed the Barcelona forward as the La Albiceleste greatest player of all time.

Sergio Ramos has said that Lionel Messi was the best player in the Argentine football history.

Speaking on various issues after his country’s hard-fought 1-0 victory over Iran on Tuesday, the former Sevilla man, who described Maradona as ‘one of the greats of the game,’ said Messi remained the number one player in Argentina.  

"I respect Maradona because he's one of the game's greats,” Ramos, as quoted by AS .

“In my opinion he was a genius, but I'd also add that in Argentinian football everyone knows that Maradona is light years behind the number-one, which is Messi.”

Read Also

Argentina are a disgrace, Maradona

Messi has failed to inspire the La Albiceleste to winning a trophy – losing three finals in the space of two years.

With the 3-0 defeat to Croatia on Thursday, the Argentine are on the brink of crashing out of the group stage of the World Cup – with their hopes of qualifying  lying on the outcome of a favourable outcome in the match between Croatia and Iceland, and if they could slog out a win in their game against Nigeria on Tuesday.

Published in International Watch

And so the World Cup has circled. Completed a whole week since kicking off, and perhaps this was the day it delivered its most jaw-sinking result yet, a rather earth-shattering scoreline in Nizhny Novgorod:

 

Australia 1-1 Denmark

Denmark sought qualification as they went up against Australia in Samara, and got off to the perfect start, Christian Eriksen giving them the lead with a wonderful finish after seven minutes. Denmark could have added a second soon after, but Nicolai Jorgensen put a header. Then the Socceroos would be handed a lifeline back into the game, after referee Mateu Lahoz awarded them a penalty after consulting with VAR on what looked like a debatable decision, at least. Mile Jedinak, just as he did in the first game against France, stepped up from 12 yards and restored parity for Australia, seven minutes before halftime. Chances were few in the second period, Tom Rogic firing a shot straight at Kasper Schmeichel for Australia while at the other end Pione Sisto curled an effort wide, as the game finished one-all, a result which means Australia have to win their last game to stand any chance of getting past this group.

Hit…

Christian Eriksen: The Spurs midfielder finally came to life in Russia, with his wonderful finish giving the Danes an early advantage.

Miss…

Mateu Lahoz: Pep Guardiola’s best friend didn’t cover himself in glory with a rather contentious call for an Australian penalty.

 

France 1-0 Peru

France also had a chance to seal their progress from Group C against Peru in Yekaterinburg, and began with a flier; Antoine Griezmann firing wide with one shot, then testing the Peruvian goalie with another. Paul Pogba also had a decent attempt at goal, as did Raphael Varane with a header. Peru also threatened at the other end, Paolo Guerreiro foiled by Hugo Lloris from close range, but Les Bleus would make the deserved breakthrough. Pogba won possession in midfield, slipped a pass to Olivier Giroud, whose deflected shot was turned home by Kylian Mbappe. The French took their foot off the gas after the break, creating very little, and Peru grew into the game. But try as they may, the Peruvians wouldn’t find a way through, the closest they came was Edison Flores grazing the outside of the post with a shot. The 1-0 scoreline means France are headed to the last 16, while Ricardo Gareca’s team are heading home.

Hit…

Kylian Mbappe: The youngest player to appear at a major tournament for France also became their youngest scorer in a tournament, with his goal enough to send them to the knockout round.

Paul Pogba: The Manchester United man was a key part in France’s attack, especially in the first half, and it was the pass that fashioned out the only goal. Has been involved in all of France’s three goals in the tournament so far.

Miss…

Peru: They’ve have two good displays so far, but their toothless streak up front has been their downfall, and they are the fourth side to be eliminated from this World Cup.

 

Argentina 0-3 Croatia

Well, what happened here! Argentina sought recovery after their stalemate against Iceland in their first game, while opponents Croatia were a win away from qualifying. The first half was similar for both sides, mistakes at the defensive ends, big chances spurned at the other, as it finished goalless. But just past the hour mark, Argentina would shoot themselves in the foot, goalkeeper Willy Caballero’s sloppiness gifting Ante Rebic, which he took superbly. Jorge Sampaoli threw on Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala in search of an equaliser, but they conceded a second with less than 10 minutes to go, a wonderful finish from Luka Modric just about condemning them to defeat. Croatia added the gloss on their victory with a third from Ivan Rakitic, to send themselves through to the next round. Argentina, meanwhile, are on the tethers of elimination.

Hit…

Croatia: The dubbed ‘golden generation’ finally came good in the World Cup, reaching the knockout phase with room to spare. They won’t be short of belief over going far in Russia.

Ante Rebic: Still had much work to do despite being gifted that chance by Caballero, but took his goal with superb technique.

Luka Modric: Another typical midfield orchestration from the Real Madrid was capped off with a delightful goal.

Miss…

Argentina: Reliant on Lionel Messi, and short of quality, but at least they were supposed to get past the group stages! If they looked lacklustre against Iceland, here they were shambolic, up front as well as at the back. Their qualification hopes hang by a thread, and it’s fair to say, even with one of the world’s greatest ever players in their ranks, the World Cup wouldn’t miss them should they go home this early.

Willy Caballero: Got away with his unassured footwork against Iceland, and in the first half of this game, but was always going to pay its price sooner rather than later.

 

Matter of fact

  • Peru have had 27 shots in this tournament, and have as many goals so far as they do points: none.
  • Croatia have made it past the group stage for the first time since 1998. They made the last four that time.
  • Argentina have failed to win any of their two group games for the first time in 44 years. The last time, in 1974, they eventually progressed past the group. Silver lining? Probably not.
Published in International Watch

Maradona: Argentina are a disgrace

Monday, 18 June 2018 19:16

Diego Maradona was the man in the dugout for the La Albiceleste at the 2010 World Cup, where they were knocked-out by Germany in the quarterfinals.

The Argentine icon was in the stands on Saturday where his country drew 1-1 with debutant Iceland.

He labelled the two time World Champions on Saturday a ‘disgrace’ and has told Jorge Sampaoli that he could not afford to come back home with his team playing like that.

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team, Maradona, as quoted by BBC football.

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all 1.90m tall.”

Sergio Aguero’s first World Cup goal put the La Albiceleste ahead on Sunday, but Alfred Finnbogason restored parity for the smallest nation ever to play in the World Cup.

Messi should have given Argentina the lead, but his 63rd-minute was saved by Hannes Halldorsson.

Maradona has leaped behind the five time World Player of the Year – saying the Barcelona forward gave it all on Sunday.

He added, “I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

Argentina will face next group leader, Croatia on Thursday at the Saint Petersburg Stadium.

Published in International Watch

 

Now you can come out of that house and take a look outside, husbands can go back home to their wives and look for the best excuse as to why they’ve been away, sons the same to their parents, after that 10-hour marathon of World Cup games today. From Kazan to Kaliningrad, footprints were left again on another day of global football action:

French paper over cracks in Kazan

The would-be champions kicked off in Kazan, and the star-studded Les Bleus were expected to lay down their marker to the rest of the world against Australia. They began in a flash, and by the eighth minute opposition goalkeeper Mat Ryan had made four (albeit comfortable) saves. But it went downhill from there, creativity was lacking, passes not coming off, the Socceroos were a tough nut to crack, and but for the palm of Hugo Lloris, France would have gone behind. The second half followed a similar pattern, even though they would get the goals needed to win. It was just like the start of EURO 2016 on home soil, quality set of players banking moments of individual brilliance rather any sort of cohesion, riding their luck at the back, and grinding out a hardly-merited victory. But unlike 2016, there’s no home crowd to galvanise them when the going gets rough, no buoyant support when the quality of opposition increases. The only positive, other than the win of course, is that France can get better, and they’ll have to. As always, the French have the squad that can go far, or just as well go home early. The fans are onside, but not a patient bunch.

 

Australia show mettle against France, but are they capable of more?

Build-ups to tournaments are and the actual tournaments are never the same. Australia have had a chaotic time from even before qualifying ended, managerial and administrative tumult, as well as supposed sponsor-interference, meant expectations were practically null ahead of Russia, and with France on the opening, things might get ugly real fast, was the assumption. Yeah right. If the Socceroos’ players were bothered by the state of things off the pitch, on the pitch they didn’t show it, a performance of grit and discipline certainly didn’t merit defeat. They’ll face the other games with a fair bit of optimism, but if the game in Kazan showed their defensive resolve, it also highlighted their lack of bite up front. A lack of cutting edge in the final third is likely to be their undoing, and it’s hard to see them actually bettering this performance.

 

Iceland remain the people’s heartthrob

What do you say about Iceland? The fairy-tale was supposed to be just qualifying for the European Championship in 2016, they bettered that by getting past the group stage, then past England in the last 16 and into the quarters. Their story had been written, never to be forgotten, but they keep showing they’re no one-off. First, topping a qualifying group involving Ukraine, Turkey and Croatia to reach their first ever World Cup, then holding Argentina to a draw in Moscow. As always, they defending was one to commend, even when their backs were against the ball, they wouldn’t budge. Not even Argentina took the lead, not when Argentina had a second half penalty (which was saved); and the Scandinavians could easily have taken all three points themselves. Even despite Argentina’s attacking efforts, it was hard not to want Iceland to get something out of this. The last 16 is far from impossible for this side.

 

La Pulga’s strains starting to show?

There’s pressure, and there’s pressure. Lionel Messi is under both, from his manager stating the world ‘owes’ him a World Cup, to his teammates, and even other sportsmen in his home country demanding he delivers the trophy. In Moscow, barely 24 hours after (we have to say it) Cristiano Ronaldo single-handedly gave Portugal a point against Spain with a hatrick, all eyes were on Leo to deliver. Then a quiet day started taking the shape of a disappointing one for La Pulga, after he missed the chance to give Argentina the lead from the spot. After that squandered opportunity, Messi seemed to- dare say this- try too hard, entering something of a ‘fine, I’ll do it myself’ mode. It didn’t come off. Argentina left the capital with a point, and Messi, on evidence of his rather under-par display, is starting to feel like he has a debt to pay.

 

Nigeria fall short from a set-piece: What else is new

It was apparent in those warm-up, that Nigeria are not so much susceptible as rather out of place when it comes to set-pieces, or crosses, and midway through our first game of this World Cup, opposition. Sure, it wasn’t quite routine, it needed a final touch off our man, the unfortunate Oghenekaro Etebo, but that only came about after our marking from the corner was non-existent. The goal set the tone for our tame defeat, which leaves us with an uphill task of qualifying from Group D, and considering the opposition we face next have considerable strength, not to talk of height, in aerial situations, another slackness at the back means an early ticket home.

 

Results

France 2-1 Australia

Argentina 1-1 Iceland

Peru 0-1 Denmark

Croatia 2-0 Nigeria

Published in International Watch

Oluwaseun Aleshinloye

The European Union ’s General Court has ruled that Barcelona and Argentina star, Lionel Messi, is free to trademark his name of sporting goods.

According to BBC, the court case started seven years ago when Massi, a Spanish cycling brand challenged Messi application to the European Union Office for Intellectual Property (EQUIPO) in 2011 arguing that the names are almost identical visually and phonetically.

But the EU’s General Court ruled that the footballer was too well known for confusion to arise.

The EU’s second-highest court said: “The football player’s fame counteracts the visual and phonetics similarities” with Massi.

“Mr Messi is, In fact, a well-known public figure who can be seen on television and who is regularly discussed on television or on the radio,” the court stated.

According to Forbes, Lionel Messi ($111 million) is the second highest paid player in the world for 2018, edging out Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo ($108 million) who drops to third this year after being the highest paid in the world in 2017.

 

Published in International Watch

FIFA World Cup 2018 Preview: Group D

Monday, 04 June 2018 21:14

Argentina

Glass half-empty: Argentina are heavily reliant on Lionel Messi, who is under given this is just about his last crack at the World Cup title. Three managers were used during qualifying, the current of which- Jorge Sampaoli- still seems unsure over how to line up. A vulnerable defence isn’t helped by injury to goalkeeper Sergio Romero, while despite an array of star-studded names up front, only Bolivia scored less than their 19 goals in South American qualifying.

Glass half-full: Argentina are reliant on Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest ever player, who can decide games on his own. The team is lit with star names who’ll be looking to step out of their skipper’s shadow, and despite a worrying defence, no South American side conceded less in qualifying.

How they qualified: A 3-1 win in Ecuador- Messi scoring a hatrick of course- in October saw them finish third in the CONMEBOL qualifiers.

Last voyage: Argentina came close four years ago, losing to Germany in the final, in extra-time.

Best adventure: La Albiceleste haven’t won the World Cup since 1986, having won it on home soil eight years before that.

Coach: 57-year-old Sampaoli was courted from Sevilla at the end of the 2016/17 season. Winner of the 2015 Copa America with Chile- beating Argentina in the final- Sampaoli retired from playing at the age of 19 after a tibia and fibula injury with Newell’s Old Boys.

Expectations: ‘Win the World Cup’ would be the cry from home, but recent performances and results make that seem way off. But for Messi and a few others, it’s just about last chance saloon.

 

Iceland

Glass half-empty: Newbies on the world stage, Iceland might look out of place in Russia. Goals are a bit of a problem for the Scandinavians as well, their top scorer in qualifying was Gylfi Sigurdsson with four.

Glass half-full: Iceland did arrive at the European Championship two years ago as debutants as well, yet stunned the continent by reaching the last eight. An organised and determined side not afraid to punch above their weight, they’ll fancy their chances.

How they qualified: Iceland topped a group involving Turkey, Ukraine and Croatia in UEFA qualifying, losing only twice.

Last voyage: None

Best adventure: Read ‘last voyage’.

Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson solely took the reins after Lars Lagerback for Norway, following Euro 2016. Continuing his ‘Dentist by day, tactician by night crusade’, he turns 51 four days before the tournament kicks off.

Expectations: It’s a case of more support than expectations from the Icelandic fans, cheering on no matter what happens. A last 16 spot, though, isn’t unrealistic.

 

Croatia

Glass half-empty: Plagued by constant fans discontent towards the FA, Croatia are something of perennial underachievers in tournaments, they’ve only gone past the group stage once in their last seven major tournaments.

Glass half-full: They’re still a more than capable side, who possess arguably the best midfielder in the world in skipper Luka Modric, and on their day are more than a handful.

How they qualified: Finishing second in UEFA Group I (below World Cup opponents Iceland), Croatia saw off Greece in the play-off round.

Last voyage: Croatia exited the group stage in 2014, after two defeats and just one win.

Best adventure: In fact, they haven’t gone past the group stage of the World Cup since 1998, when they reached the semis, and made off with bronze.

Coach: Zlatko Dalic was appointed as caretaker boss in October, then got the full-time reins after beating Greece. Has managed mostly in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and was runner-up in the AFC Champions League with Al-Ain in 2016.

Expectations: Coldness of the fans towards the FA, as well towards Luka Modric following the retraction of his testimony against Zdravko Mamic, doesn’t show the supporters as expectant. The players, though, would be disappointed should they go home after three games.

 

Nigeria

Glass half-empty: Gernot Rohr’s plans of trimming his squad bit-by-bit has left many impatient. Left-back and goalkeeping spots are more than questionable, the young squad is still in need of improvement.

Glass half-full: Nigeria shouldn’t feel fazed by opponents in Russia, having followed up cruising through qualifying (in a group with three of Africa’s toughest sides) by beating Argentina in Russia in November. There’s a long lost sense of organisation and proactivity in terms of administration, and the frontline isn’t without quality. Oh, and we have a pretty slick kit!

How they qualified: Nigeria cruised through a supposedly-daunting group involving Zambia, Algeria, and African champions Cameroon, qualifying with room to spare.

Last voyage: The Super Eagles reached the last 16 four years ago, losing to France.

Best adventure: The last 16 has been the furthest they’ve gone so far, as they also did in 1994 and 1998.

Coach: German Rohr was appointed in 2016, on a two-year-deal, and turns 65 during the tournament. Has formerly the Gabonese and Nigerien national teams, he also led Bordeaux to the UEFA Cup final in 1996.

Expectations: Rohr has described expectations from Nigerians to overblown, as he was quick to play down semi-final once qualification was sealed. Nevertheless, elimination in the group stage is unacceptable.

 

Flashback: Argentina and Nigeria have met at this stage so many times, they should probably mark their calendars once the World Cup comes around. The Eagles haven’t won any of their previous meetings, two 1-0 defeats (2002 and 2010), a 2-1 loss (1994) and a 3-2 setback in Brazil last time out. La Albiceleste have also faced off against Croatia previously, with a 1-0 win in 1998.

 

Fixtures

June 16- Argentina v Iceland (Moscow)

June 16- Croatia v Nigeria (Kaliningrad)

June 21- Argentina v Nigeria (Nizhny Novgorod)

June 22- Nigeria v Iceland (Volgograd)

June 26- Nigeria v Argentina (St. Petersburg)

June 26- Iceland v Croatia (Rostov)

Published in International Watch

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