Monday. July 16. It is finally over. Whichever team or nationality one supported, this world-cup quite often was at least a challenging or even torturing matter rather than a feast.
That includes supporters of the teams involved in this final weekend’s action. If there is one game standing as an example for the football of the entire tournament, it is this final: A defensive favourite playing counter-attacks only, highly questionable decisions based on questionable player actions, wrong use of VAR, disadvantages for the underdog, goals from strange play.
The French contribution to yesterday’s final in the first half was what was to be expected – or feared: No active play, no combinations, no football energized by the occasion. That was delivered by Croatia only. Of course France took the lead. Based on a terrible and despicable dive by Griezmann, the resulting free-kick resulted in an unfortunate own-goal, Mandzukic heading into his own net. The penalty for France was given according to the rules. But these rules are an orientation, decisions should be made by referees, true to the occasion and importance of the game – respect for both teams, not one. No referee of the past, not Collina nor any other great would have ever given this penalty in a final. Today, this is of course no problem, a team only has to dramatically claim hand-ball knowing full well that VAR will give evidence no one can deny. Bad taste, bad sportsmanship. Not elegant, Messieurs. And this lack of class is why refs should be the ones deciding whether VAR is used or not. Of course, such a decision could not be expected by the other classless entity on the pitch Pitana, who did his obedient utmost to whistle France to the title. A fine example here is the Croatian free-kick in the final minutes he interrupted because he himself had not declared the ball free to play. That is neither a must nor a given and a good neutral referee would have never held Croatia back this way. Pitana’s long conversation with Infantino at the trophy-ceremony had an interesting taste after such a display.
Besides all the lament, of course, it has to be stated that France probably would have won this even without the two FIFA-gifts in the first half. Too quick their counter-attacks, too clinical the finishing of Griezmann, Pogba and Mbappe. This trio always scores, no matter who stands in their way.
So what are the major things we learned during this world-cup? Possession is out, defensive game-control is in. Ergo: Attacking football is out if your soul is replaced by a designed concept, counter-attack coming out of your box is in. Fairness is out, play-acting, time-wasting and diving is in because VAR is the Hollywood star-player’s friend.
In light of this, the game for third place was no real eye-opener either. Once it was clear that Belgium would field their first team (and chapeau/kudo for that, gentlemen), everyone knew that England would get beaten soundly. And lucky show-pony-football did not to get punished with five goals since Belgium also took it easy on that Saturday afternoon. What remains from this one is the goldbronze-shoe for Harry Kane for having scored penalties and poaches against lower teams in group stage. No better example for the over-pricing of Premier League Football. Scathing remarks aside, the English team gave belief to their people. Now add some hard work, lose the showboating and it will also work against good teams. Other awards went to Mbappe, deservedly young player of the tournament and the outstanding Courtois goalie of the tournament. Most importantly, however, this year was not another brown-nosing of the player with the highest profile. In Luca Modric we have the by far most outstanding team- and football-player honoured. Just as in 2014 Schweinsteiger should have been instead of Lionel Messi who did nothing but carry his face around. Giving this award to Griezmann would have been the insult of the tournament. That award, however, goes to another instance.
So what remains from such a tournament? Russia has delivered a great event judging from organisational and infrastructural perspective. Questions remain, as in any FIFA-project with totalitarian or 3rd world states, how and based on what kind of human-rights violation this was achieved. Finally, of course, manners. The picture of Putin protected with an umbrella while the Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović got absolutely soaked will forever be the prime example earning the gold medal of rude and disrespectful behaviour by an event-organizer. But then we are living in Trump times and to hell with good behaviour, especially towards women. This is a man’s world, so let’s keep Zarewitsch Vladimir I. dry because that is what matters. Positive Russian memories surely are the celebrating Russian people, who were surprised not only by their team but also meeting all these nice foreigners wanting to party and not overthrow the government as predicted.
What also remains is that there is no break and no rest this time. Starting in September all European teams – the big ones in their own group – will agonise through a new money-printer tournament called Nations League. After the final in 2019 this will in some confusing way blend into the Euro-qualifiers. Add to that national and international league cups, extra games and times and you have the hellish blend of a sport overplayed, overfed and not in the least resembling the fine game we all came to love. This is the 21st century and it is about money: Player wages, transfer-fees, TV and merchandise revenue plus loads of money for struggling UEFA and FIFA – which is why we’ll se more teams playing like France.
Brave new world
Friday the 13th. Yes, it is that day again. Michael Myers is back, both on the screen and as orange re-incarnation on the streets of London.
We pity our friends in England. It is hard enough to lose a semi-final – justified or not, it hurts all the same. Witnessing the US-president two days later invading your personal space like the filthy encroaching cousin on a horrible family gathering is an additional totally unnecessary punishment. England is having a bad summer-spell indeed. Brexit is basically going south, rats are jumping the governmental ship and now the mad piper from DC has taken the stage. It is good to see London protest and people setting up a Facebook campaign to get Green Day’s American Idiot back on top of the charts. Kudos, people. We feel for and we’ll sing with you.
You might have guessed it, we are enjoying a football-free day. In fact, the last one as this weekend will see the two games that define things, then we’ll be done with it. Time for a little resumé, what has this world-cup given us, what were the observations from a footballing standpoint, how did we see Russia and did this entire thing give us what we wanted? So many questions but there are answers.
From a match-quality viewpoint this world-cup was complete shambles (we worked hard to find a different word starting with sh…). People are accusing the likes of France and Didier Deschamps to over-abuse Mourinho tactics but that’s way too easy. Bad teams arrived and barricaded themselves in their box, making you wonder how these lemons ever qualified in the first place. Good teams simply did not turn up, for different reasons at that. Germany paid a heavy price for complacency, not changing their system, not including the great youth we have, not designing a strategy and game-plan, not dealing with crisis and political pressure so basically doing Sweet FA. And guess what, the three people responsible, true politicians that they are, looked at this mega-collision and decided to go on. And that is how it’s done these days, responsibility is dead. Irresponsibility is the stuff that makes survivors. In consequence, it is the reason for most if not all catastrophes we witnessed during the past weeks. Want examples? Here we go:
Spanish manager Juan Lopetegui switches to managing Real Madrid. While this is dynamite in itself, he feels the best moment to let his FA know is 5 minutes before a press-conference one day before the world-cup, in consequence he getts fired 5 hours later by his miffed president. Did anyone of these two gits think about the team? German FA president and manager performed the biggest U-turn since the retreat of the Spanish Armada: First ramming a lid on the Özil-Erdogan affair and once bottling the tournament declaring both affair and involved player scape-goats and free game for the xenophobe nationalists. Together we stand? Brazil were favourites, because they had the new messiah Neymar in their ranks. That changed when holy moly was treated like any rookie-prophet by getting kicked which he did not like very much. So he invented the triple Shittake-Maki-Roll with extra Wasoughbi demanding red cards for the heretics who fouled him. Do I care about shitstorms for my team? FIFA did what they always do: Be political while claiming not to be, claim to be pro while being twats. Employing Maradona as ambassador is like letting Donald Trump host Saturday Night Live. Sending home a ref who stood up to Serbian political harassment gets a taste when overlooking the same aggression by two Swiss players. The only surprise was that VAR basically worked and that Russia did not have to answer any questions about their players’ running speed during extra-time. Motivation by Gulag? Argentina, again, thought a match-plan means passing the ball to Messi and cutting clear any opposing player in a 5-meter radius around him. Once that backfired, they appointed Messi unofficial manager who left out the players he doesn’t click with. Play for the country, anyone?
Speaking of which – sometimes there is a comeuppance for such people. One Croatian will enter the world-cup analogy as the dummest egomaniac this game has seen in a while. Refusing to enter the group stage match against Nigeria as a late substitute, the striker was sent home only to watch his team-mates progress to the world-cup final. It doesn’t get any better than this. Truly a worthy contestant and subsequent winner of the newly created trophy Orang of the Month, in true respect of the new American way of life: MeMyself&IamProudTwat. The award goes to Nikola Kalinic, the man who threw it away because he is bigger than his team. Congrats and have fun digesting this honour.
The two final games ahead depict everything this world-cup will stand for in times to come.
The final France against Croatia is ice-cold strategic calculation vs. heart and soul. It means that you can have the best players and still kill the game because selling t-shirts as acupwinner is more important than honouring a sport, its beauty and competitive nature. Sportsmanship was yesterday. We treat this as a business because people are watching this shit anyway, even if they hate it. But this and maybe for the last time, people will watch. Croatia is a true underdog in the shape of a team with heart and soul, wanting this for the greatness that is a world-cup title brought home to a small nation with a difficult history. And the world will side with them.
The game for the golden pineapple includes two teams who also made their mark. England finally have a future and a plan. They have understood the need for apprenticeship, strategic planning, professional management and humility. Now they need to explain the latter to the egomaniacs in Fleet Street and the Empire-Brexiteers singing Rule Britannia. One fine day they might become a footballing-nation capable of winning the cup. Belgium is already there. They lost very closely and won many sympathies with their wonderful team and play. And they had a point when complaining about the way they lost. Then, however, as the Germans had to admit after their French bus-parking experience in 2016, one must score goals, even if it is against nihilists who refuse to play ball. It might be that on Saturday there will be a lot of compensation happening in the English box.
So much for today. Ok, one last little gem. The referee for the final will be coming from Argentina. No hard feelings, messieurs, surely he will be positively neutral and nice since both teams hammered his homeland-squad. And his name is Pitana. You can’t make this up.
But you can look forward to two great games!
Thursday, July 12. It’s going home. The best news around yesterday’s result is that this song, in the top 3 of the Guantanamo charts next to Last Christmas and 4 Non Blondes, will disappear in the doldrums and thank every available god for that.
Written in this space before, bad luck for a highly sympathetic young team. No pity at all for the English press and those fans greeting each other with a conspirative murmur „It’s coming home”, then singing this ad lib as infinite loop from the third pint onward. That is why it needs to be stated once and for all: No, England, you are not the home of football, nor are you its birthplace or cradle and when you win the cup, you will take home a trophy, not an entire sport you don’t own either, no matter how many sheiks and oligarchs you’re letting into the country and sell your league and clubs to.
The game this entire rant is about was a first for this tournament. It happened exactly as forecasted by experts. Yes, experts, not English pundits who were pouring derision over Croatia pre-game and with that perfectly motivated them (well done, you slick strategists). The expert prediction was a game typical for both sides with a superficial advantage for England and the better end for Croatia. Et voilà.
And England looked good as they always do, then took the lead with a set-piece as they always do. That surely felt fantastic but also sealed their fate. England rarely score from open play because they lack the quality personnel and midfield set-up for that. Croatia on the other side looked tired. Although technically much more advanced than their young counterparts, Croatia played imprecise, pass-play without timing or any perfect length, crosses with terrifying persistence sailing into LaLa-Land. Surviving this first half worked for Croatia because England could not or did not want to play. And so it happened as predicted in the pub at half-time: One good moment for Croatia would decide the match. It came when cross number 1647 sailed past the hapless Walker and found Perisic who kung-fu-kicked the ball into the net. Many pundits said and are writing today that this moment turned the match around. Wrong. England had lost the match long before when they decided to defend, wait and perform some nice-looking counter-attacks. But then they are not France. Sterling and Alli are not Mbappe or Griezmann, they can run and do neat things but they are utterly ineffective. Kane did not have a game yesterday and so it was a question of time until Croatia would score again. It almost happened during regular time again for Perisic, but in extra-time it was Mandzukic who wasn’t covered and you don’t – absolutely cannot – give a finisher of his calibre such an opportunity.
England lost their semi-final which is actually not a bad thing. It was the first real match after an easy run through the tournament against a demanding and experienced opponent. England were simply weighed and found too light. However, they have a young and very promising team. So, chin up, find and groom a playmaker, gather experience and then you might win the cup in the motherland of football, in China.
Discussions now are very simple. The majority favours France and rightly so. All praise aside on the other hand, Les Bleus will have the problem that Croatia can and will have to house-hold strength and sit back. That will give France a good sip of their own medicine and it remains to be seen how well they’ll deal with that. If the Balkan lads manage to control Mbappe, Giroud and Griezmann, they have a great chance on Sunday. It would therefore be no surprise, if this went through extra-time again and we’ll see a shootout. And there, the Croatians simply have the best practice.
Saturday, it should be third place for Belgium who can and will beat England soundly and Sunday we’ll have the dessert. We are truly excited and awaiting the final games.
Wednesday, July 11. Juli. So France did it. To be expected and yet no walk in the park either. In terms of passing we probably witnessed the best technical display of the tournament. True to the occasion, we also saw French president Macron on the stands cheering his team. Something we won’t see tonight. Boris Johnson would have had difficulties landing at Moscow (or finding it in the first place), Theresa May probably won’t leave 10, Downing Street as she might get thrown out while travelling.
Onto the game. The French may have the more compact team and the better tactical set-up, but Belgium passed and pressed well. Especially during the first half France had to thank the outstanding Hugo LLoris for not trailing by two goals. A big French thank you also must go to the referee, who made it abundantly clear which team he preferred. Funny, that the man from Uruguay did not take revenge as Rizzoli did against the Germans in the Euro semi-finals. But then it might also be the French connection of UEFA-Platini-disciplebuddymateandpal Gianni Infantino. As was the case with Le Big Michel, the path for France was well paved: No physical touch too soft for a French player not to get a free-kick while committing tactical fouls against Belgium did not merit a whistle, let alone a yellow card. The kick against the dazzling Hazard in the final minutes, again not given, was nothing but scandalous, as was the protection of Griezmann who on top of that seems to enjoy carte blanche by FIFA officials. Another sad revealing was the dark side of the so far sympathetic Mbappe, who showed his unsportsmanlike tricks along some blatant dives. Watch out at PSG, Neymar, there’s a new sheriff in town.
All that aside it must be stated again, that Belgium had their chances and it was simply bad luck and Monsieur Lloris standing in their way, otherwise we would have seen at least extra-time. Belgium played a strong, partially super-direct passing game, but the last pass often did not work and find the disconnected Lukaku. That, however, was also due to a very organized French defense, who also managed to subdue DeBruyne. In this shape, Les Bleus are almost sure winners of this world-cup, although their style isn’t exactly a nice thing to watch. Apart from a ten-minute spell of sheer magic right after they took the lead, their game had the congeniality of a press-conference with Jose Mourinho, the man we have to thank for such tactics.
So today it’s England. Difficult to decide with whom to sympathize. Croatia was a grand footballing team in the 90ies, however, with a highly questionable mentality. Their tactics 96 and 98 were simple: Bring the war to the pitch. Players of Germany and France still remember the insults and conniving fouls. Today there is nothing left of this. We are seeing a highly focused, harmonizing and sportsmanlike team. They are so fixated on the game, they did not even react when Argentina kicked them in the most despicable way. On the contrary, they just hammered goals past them. Legendary.
Legends already are the players of the English team. At least as far as the media and the fans are concerned. True to the English understanding of things, the semi-final is a formality and the final will be won just because “we’re England”. Right. Or weird, because this time the team has nothing of such arrogance. In fact, we would really grant these young guys to win this. If it weren’t for these bawling hordes who understand an English victory not as a trophy won but the beginning of English football world-domination (the latter is a quote). While Brexit already is a cry for the Commonwealth to be re-established, a win on Sunday would be nothing less than the return of the British Empire. Irony aside, the song Football’s Coming Home already feels like the burglar alarm the neighbour can’t stop as he is on vacation. So, in every aspect, a Croatia win would be good for our nerves.
Okay, seriously now. Let’s see who wins. Chances are 50:50 and the feeling is at least extra-time. So let the next big game begin.
Tuesday, July 10. Semi-finals. Time to take a closer look at teams and backgrounds.
Belgium, like England, are celebrating their team ecstatically and so are we. A dark horse favourite for the last 4 years, the Red Devils had to work their way through various managers and styles. It is, however, the current manager set-up truly accelerating the players, both strategically and in terms of play.
Manager Roberto Martinez may not be the illustrious magician with a trophy-cabinet on club-level, but then few national teams have such managers. His footballing heritage is pure English having managed the likes of Swansea, Wigan and Everton. It might also be this very British air making him click with DeBruyne, Hazard and Lukaku as all of them had to combine their technical abilities with the sheer physicality of the Premier League. That is one big reason why Belgium are a mix of elegance and athletic prowess.
Another representative of this style is the man who is the other big story of today, standing between two nations, two hearts beating for him tonight: Thierry Henry. Every football-loving follower knows and respects this player. Part of a breath-taking era of French national football, with Arsenal part of the most intelligent team set-ups modern football has seen. Some might want to credit this to Alex Ferguson and FA-pets ManU. However, it was Arsène Wenger who devised a tactical line-up combining brute force (Parlour, Viera, Keown) and elegance (Henry, Bergkamp, Pirez, Wiltord) and defined the modern ways of Premier League football. Tonight, Thierry Henry will be the assistant manager of Belgium, another step in his coaching career orchestrated as intelligently as his playing career. God knows why this man isn’t part of the French coaching staff, but then our friends from Paris have a history of clashing with ex-players coming into the FA and modernizing things. Another aspect surely the current rather dry style of Deschamps which is not really Henry’s cup of tea.
Enough has been written about Les Bleus, including this space. They haven’t really whipped our blood pressure with drama, but this world-cup isn’t the place for that anyway. Excitement may come from high-speed back and forth exchange – honestly, we have seen that merely in two games: Between Belgium vs. Brazil and Russia vs. Croatia. The formula these days is careful counter-attacking, the protagonists of possession clinically eliminated. That is why we are critical, when the entire press sucks up to the French team but at the same time honestly admit that l’Equipe delivered exactly what was needed. Like tomorrow’s game for England, however, today’s opponent will be the first demanding challenge. Until now and including Argentina there was no serious contender.
That will change today, massively. Next to Henry-worthy technical gods DeBruyne and Hazard from City and Chelsea, we have clinical finisher Lukaku, in the back there are high-tech cleaners and fellow Mancunians Kompany, Fellaini and Hotspur Vertonghen, backed up by Chelsea goalie Courtois. The Belgian line-up is as internationally top as that of France. This is why the speed of Mbappe, the wonderful set-up quality of Giroud or the mix of passing and dribbling of Griezmann will come as no surprise. The French defense, however, will encounter their first real test against the Belgian midfield and attack. In between roaming no man’s land we’ll probably see Pogba meandering around regretting the decline of his market value.
All this makes up a pack of good reasons why tonight is the advanced world-cup final. Whether it will be fast-paced drama or a snore-fest remains to be seen. Still, these two are by far the best teams of the tournament.
More on England and Croatia plus tonight’s story tomorrow. Right now, we are looking forward to a wonderful semi-final line-up.
The stage is ready, the game is on – Allez, Messieurs!
Monday, July 9. World-Cup is still on and for us Germans still a very entertaining thing on one hand. For the die-hard fans, the cheering and even the every-2-years party-people, current times are hard of course. The sight of orphaned the German fan-miles, called off street parties and the thought of money pub-landlords and caterers have lost is surely depressing. While this is part of the deal when you traumatically exit a tournament the way the Germans have, it might also be a normal thing to deal with this together. Or so we thought.
After the despicable lashing out of the manager last week it was now stage-time for Reinhard Grindel, president of the German FA. Together with Bierhoff he demonstrated to a stunned German audience, what responsibility and ruthless assessment mean in business and sports. And who will be at the receiving end.
Bierhoff had already made a fool of himself as reported earlier in this blog by blaming team-disruption mainly on the Özil-Erdogan incident and the player for not clearing it up. When he got stick and shitstorms for singling out one player as a scapegoat, he responded with a super-lame excuse about unprofessional proofreading, only to be contradicted one day later by his own boss Grindel.
Being a seasoned politician of the conservative Merkel-party CDU, the president not only repeated the allegations against Özil intensifying the allegations towards one player. Interviewed by Germany’s bible of football-magazines Kicker, he threw punches and shot charges in literally every direction, blaming the size and lacking professionality of the infrastructure around the team, ominously threatened about heads rolling and delivered the icing on the cake by questioning the clubs’ capability to educate young players’ integrity and attitude.
In other words, the man slammed an overblown and out of touch structure he himself is heading, criticised a silent player he himself had gagged, selected a hapless co-managereveryone had told him for two years to be obsolete for the chop and while he was at it, doubted the attitude of a young player generation that was largely shunned aside by the team-management.
There might be quitters who have exculpated themselves in a more loathsome way but somehow no one comes to mind. But then we are dealing with a politician and thus cannot expect responsibility here. Let’s be real, folks, working your way up the ranks on such a rocky career-path you need to learn and execute backhand-returns of grenades heading your way. This is learned behaviour in grand tradition and good company. After all, the man’s ultimate hero and former boss, chancellor Angela Merkel, speaks about individual mistakes and communication gaps whenever she is asked to explain a failure on her watch. And no one will contradict her, let alone communicate displeasure.
Communication, however, is what is direly needed here. A press holding these ruthless escapist-skin-preservers responsible and showing not an inch of mercy. An inch of backbone and standing up on the other other hand by the leading players of the Mannschaft™, whose usually buzzing Twitter-accounts are screaming in telling silence these days. No trace of Bierhoff’s last marketing gag which was the hashtag #ZSMMN, the German word for together Zusammen without vowels – in English this would be #TGTHR. This tag is not only backfiring in the most embarrassing way, it is turning into the entire opposite: The rats leaving the ship, kicking other rats of the life raft.
Togetherness, however, is what brought tomorrow’s semi-finalists to this stage. Sure, none of these teams have a flat hierarchy nor is it all hunky dory. That’s a myth anyway. But it still is a team that has one shared goal, wins together and loses together.
In Germany and politics which everything seems to become these days, we are learning from the powers that values we were given or a multicultural team we were so proud of wasn’t a virtue. It was a marketing fluke, a replaceable value. We’re being taught that the message of the 21st century is everyone for himself and that #TGTHR is when you’re winning. Losing is what the #SCPGT does #ALN.
Sunday, July 8. Nothing happened, basically. Both quarterfinals saw the favourite progress. Still, you can feel the special magic surrounding yesterday’s victories.
There is England, for a decade the running joke of tournaments, for almost three decades no world-cup semi-final. Hard to take for a nation considering itself to be the best in this game for whatever reason. Sure, the English style of physicality, devotion, speed, the magic power and singing of the fans, all this is surely special and part of football-magic’s definition. It’s just that this specialty never found its way into to the national squad. To the eternal dismay of English fans there always were better teams from whateverelsewhere ousting the motherland of football. Then the English FA had the idea that should change it all. No academies like the nerdy French or industrial Germans, it was simply to sell the highest league to the highest bidder. Now British football was the best and the most expensive. Worked well all the way to the bank. Players, however, had the fight against foreign expertise on their doorstep. And no, that did not help one bit.
Meanwhile, a few traumas later the FA has seen the error of these ways. There are now academies and in employing Gareth Southgate there finally is a young manager with ideas instead of a zombie wo mumbles prehistoric tactics into microphones and doesn’t know what a tablet is. And, lo an behold, there now is a young and inspired team playing some really good stuff. That might not be enough this early, but reaching the semis is a statement very much like the German team delivered it 2010. But then, if one thing was proven this year it is the fact that nothing is impossible.
If you owned a time-machine, travelled back with the results so far and turned up in the betting-shop or office pools – you would have been greeted with roaring laughter and carried off by the boys in white. Now we are in a tournament that has one expected semi-finalist, one not so expected and two surprises.
England has surely delivered a solid performance yesterday, Until now, however they have not played one demanding opponent given the path their part of the field laid out. Of the two games close to a challenge, one got lost (against Belgium’s reserves) and one was on the brink of defeat (Colombia). Southgate is surely aware of this, whether he can get this out of his players’ heads ist another question. For now, it is Croatia looming and this is a tournament team, playing like it and going through all motions and emotional roller-coasters that come with it.
They are as well flying on cloud 19, finally having stepped out of the looming shadows of the Prosineckis, Bobans and Sukers and into the limelight of the final four. And they had to survive two extra-times plus penalty shootouts. Never, ever, underestimate the adrenaline and determination coming from such moments. Surely, the first extra-time against a Denmark as nastily defensive as Sweden was more than unnecessary. Against Russia, powered and whipped in front by roaring spectator euphoria to run rings around the Croatians, this was almost to be expected. Limited technically, Russia compensated imprecision with determination and amateurism with heart. And continued to run at high speed when the Croatians were more or less stumbling over the pitch, believe it or not…
And so it will be another two grand games this week, when England play Croatia and France play Belgium. In both cases, opponents are more or less on par with a slight favourite (Croatia and France) but an occasion of this magnitude can produce any outcome
We will see who plays the best mind-game, the best skill-game and who wins the game.
Saturday, July 7. The first semi-final is complete and as a first in many years, it will be without South American contribution. That, we found out yesterday, is a good thing
Uruguay were a shadow of their usual selves yesterday. Sure, missing a player like Cavani is a huge loss but still they could have done better against a French team that again did not have to do much to win this game. Two major mistakes decided a match that was in every respect a low-key affair. But then, however, we Germans might remember a similar low-key quarter-final against these French guys that at the time was no clear and dominating win either. Still, a very important win as it opened the door to a semi-final that would write history.
Historical is definitely what the golden Belgian generation achieved yesterday. Finally these hugely gifted boys did something extraordinary and kicked a hapless Brazilian team out of the tournament and, man, was that fun to watch. As usual in Brazil, both wins and losses are the doing of either God or a single person. Was it diving Fred in 2014, now the botch-master is Fernandinho who scored an own-goal. Still, there are voices multiplying criticising the divine Neymar who played a world-cup to forget. At his worst yesterday both in play and play-acting, he did not deliver during this world-cup.
Delivery of reliable quality is the key factor in this world-cup anyway. All teams in the quarterfinals have their central key player, from Rakitic over to Griezmann, DeBruyne and finally Harry Kane. The rest of the team builds around them, services them and gets results. Key-players who don’t deliver like Suarez and Neymar yesterday leave their teams in the doldrums and go out. And no, Germany did not suffer this fate as they did not bring a key player in the first place.
In German TV one could watch and listen to Oliver Bierhoff instead. There is no more word or thought to describe his superficial droning and whatever one can say was written in yesterday’s blog. The only joy was to hear the other Oliver goalkeeper-legend Oliver Kahn dissecting Bierhoff’s lame attempts to explain the ruthless attack on Mesut Özil or the managerial shortcomings of which there were too many to make this a fruitful interview. In the end we all had the same conclusion in our minds: The inevitable continuance of German deadlock politics have now reached football. Innovation was yesterday, today we have no Vorsprung as we don’t even have the Technik.
Momentum is was the English team is enjoying at this very moment. Of course there is that little thing of having to win the quarter-final against Sweden, their first real opponent in this tournament. England would do well to forget any heroics and focus on avoiding mistakes because with Sweden they’re playing the one team that exploits the smallest mistake in absolute ruthlessness.
The other game should be a clear thing unless a referee or Dr. Everythingwillbealright takes influence on the game. But that is the game. Let it begin.
Friday July 6. The manager is back. Not the coach – in Teutonic realms a manager is the business operations strategy and media go-to-guy. In Germany, that would be the ever so eloquent Oliver Bierhoff. His marketing, both as a player back then and as an executive producer now, polished and perfectly designed on the outside.
It was a question of time when discussions in Germany would become heated. After a trauma of such magnitude there would of course be a phase of shock and suppression, an intensifying abreaction in forums and commentaries soon after. Then, after a good while an official reaction of the responsible FA-body, answering the demand of Mrs. Public. Not this time. Now, after the fit hit the shan and management careers are at stake, crisis management had kicked in fast, finally. Barely a week had passed until Joachim Löw proclaimed his brave decision to continue, immediately followed by a meagre press statement, its superficial managerial speak as unnerving as is the inflationary business-bullshit-prose coming out of Oliver Bierhoff’s mouth.
The creator of Die Mannschaft™ has emerged from the thinktank of his personal horse-whisperer and is now launching the reprocessing overhaul identification realignment reboot of Die Mannschaft™ – live on TV today on German ZDF. No kidding here, the man means – terrible but unavoidable pun – business. It has been a theory on this blog previously that an error analysis performed by the very people who drove the car over the cliff is as fruitful as an ethic commission consisting of FIFA-people. However, Oliver Bierhoff speed-sinking to FIFA low-levels was not foreseeable.
Yesterday’s headlines had him “disavow” Mesut Özil. An understatement when you read the lines the man dictated into the microphones. Talking about an unreasonable obstinacy of the player and that one cannot force people into admitting and publicly repairing broken public relations, he ended with depicting the tension and disruptions inside the Mannschaft™ in general but pareticularly as a consequence of this affair. The avid football fan and seasoned media professional in us has to hold there, breathe, sit back and digest such comments. Then, two minutes later, the verdict is crystal-clear:
A manager, downplaying the Erdogan-incident with the cold arrogance of a politician, overlooking disruption plus personal and professional player discrepancies, not sending this unfit bunch into a team-building-resort like Campo Bahia but incarcerating them in a Russian KGB-slammer and who now thinks, rehabilitation starts with the public execution of a singled-out player – such a manager needs to go. Straight to Munich reinforcing the local president’s Bavarian electoral-campaign slander-team or to Switzerland joining the Infantino gang. Both are always on the look-out for professionally challenged and ethics-resistant backstabbers.
Talking of FIFA. Another show of governing rule-execution was to send German referee Felix Brych home. Politically quite harsh, professionally comprehensible. The logical question emerging now is whether we’re going to see new referee poster-boy Geiger again. Maybe in a final Croatia vs. Uruguay. Imagine the odds…
Enough football-politics, on to matchday! Excitement and tension are rising by the minute. Today is the day we’ll have two games both of which qualify for a world-cup final as well.
On one side Uruguay, operating with a fantastic team-approach and the side strategically most organized featuring the best attacking duo of the tournament. No unrealstic bet seeing this team in front today. Unlike the brown-nosing media, us footballing veterans haven’t seen Les Bleus exactly setting anything alight so far. Sure, they have great players, but basically there is Mbappe. Underneath the shiny polish there is a bit of passing but ultimately the long-ball to Mbappe or Griezman, hovering there as well. Sorry, but this is by no means enough for a world-cup winner, especially when played with a presumptuous laissez-faire attitude. Won’t be enough tonight, Messieurs.
Belgium faces the mammoth-task of having to beat Brazil. But why should this be anymore difficult than other big matches? Again, screw the sycophant palaver of the press. Sure, they have fantastic players in Willian, Jesus, Coutinho, Silva. Even Neymar, whenever he stands. But then this doesn’t have to be impossibly complicated. Especially not, when a Brazilian defense still missing Marcelo is facing DeBruyne, Hazard and Lukaku. The Copacabana-Boyz have all reason to be nervous about this thing too.
Forecast? Not here, amigo. This blog has predicted to much wishful-thinking-nonsense already and got its ass kicked for it. Nope, we do this the proper way, switch on our plasma and be in the game.
Thursday, July 5. Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse/dumber/brazen someone pops up and delivers proof that they can.
The newest example for this unwritten law of Murphy-proportions is the latest PR-statement of money-printer, erm, football governing body FIFA. Now even the football layman knows that ethics and FIFA exclude each other, a fact that has been established by the unforgotten Sepp Blatter and is now bravely carried on by Ex-UEFA spin-doctor and Platini-buddy Gianni Infantino. Under his reign, football will become the ultimate money-machine, powered by an unforgiving economy and communicated by celebrities in need.
One of those desperate heroes is Diego Armando Maradona, the man who is chiseling tirelessly on his own monument. Surprising for many to hear, he is not just invited to the World-Cup as a football celebrity of the past, he is in fact an ambassador. While this fact alone bears enough comedy material, one should look behind the surface such as his salary of £ 10,000 per game. Maradona’s celebrations of life, inspiration, (the holy) spirit and goals of his Albiceleste are still fresh in everybody’s memory, burned onto our retinas, reminding us of our first head-on collision with the forbidden stuff in dad’s pantry. And herein lies the congeniality, the divine touch of the master, the Matrioshka-trick, the ultimate message within the message: Look at me, fool, and decide for yourself. Brilliant, this is. Compared to Diego, any say-no-to-drugs-campaign has the sex-appeal of a tax return.
Now, however, Diego Armando has committed the ultimate sin by setting his foot on forbidden territory: He criticised FIFA. In fact, he criticised referee chairman and demi-god Pierlugi Collina for fielding American referee Geiger, called Geiger incapable and accused him of daylight-robbery. An interesting statement coming from a South-American, particularly from the man with the hand of God. While, however, this might be the shared belief of a vast global football watching majority, FIFA is indeed no club for truths, inconvenient ones included. And thus the PR-toreros of the mighty organisation forked out a press statement, officially turning this into a comedy by condemning Maradona’s statements, bemoaning such inauspicious clumsiness during “a time when FIFA is doing everything within its power to ensure principles of fair play, integrity and respect are at the forefront of this World Cup and how the organisation is now run…” Sure. Next thing you’ll read a tweet by Donald Trump claiming to be a bestselling novelist. He did? Oh my….
Meanwhile we all relax and enjoy a free day and the calm after the emotional turmoil of the past days. In England, the game of all games is still the story of the day, more so little anecdotes such as water-bottles and whatever else put the team on the winning path. Such euphoria lets the English press break its own vow and return to their old ways forecasting a glorious world-cup win. Well, let them have their fun. Either Count Dooku was right about pride and fall or England win against Sweden and crown themselves tournament winners after the game, screw the remaining two matches.
Meanwhile, tomorrow’s unofficial semi-final is taking shape in people’s minds. Experts disagree who will win and who will be the protagonists of the unfolding drama. Surely, Neymar will feel miffed after the antics of the England match and will add a double twist into his floor-flips. In Uruguay, the entire focus is on Cavani’s calf-muscle. Since they have officially posted the diagnosis, however, one can expect him to magically recover for this big match that could fell the French giant favourites. Just like Belgium have it in their hands to relieve Brazil’s best paid stuntman from his misery and put him safely on track to Waikiki-Beach.
And so the tension grows again. Let the big matches begin.
Wednesday July 4. Independence Day. No, aliens haven’t landed – yet. After a ten-year ordeal, England have not only survived the group-stage without embarrassing themselves, they have actually won the first knock-out game. On penalties. That is quite an accomplishment after a pointless group-stage in the previous world-cup and the loss against Iceland in the first 2016 Euro knock-out stage, when before the game goalkeeper Joe Hart had asked an official before match-start if a loss would mean England were out. Water under the bridge. England now have personnel with IQ and they’ve also done their homework.
In German realms people these days muse about modern quality management, an updated strategy and professional preparation which would see Germany playing England in the quarterfinals and having loads of fun. Well, 2018 is different. Like our hapless chancellor and our right-wing Bavarian foreign minister, our national football-Jogi was allowed to keep his job as well. All three of them can safely continue their botch-jobs without being disturbed by the consumer/voter infantry. Sign’o times, performance assessment was yesterday, today we have alternative facts.
Back to our friends from the British Isles. They are back. Bringing with them everything we hold dear about British football. Beautiful Premier League stars performing cute tempo-runs, nice looking zone layouts, kung-fu-ish attack and chance at times. Once things should settle and go deeper, however, there isn’t much left. A bit like the awesome tasting and looking but in terms of nutrition absolutely futile English Breakfast. After a phase of said showboating the game disintegrated, not least because England let themselves get taunted by the unimpressed and motivated Colombians. And so we descended into the lands of brawls and terrible play-acting. And yes, we must admit that we have finally understood: Neymar is God. Sorry, good. Because when he does it, he really looks like he is dying. The show put on by both teams yesterday was bush-league in comparison.
First highlight in the hunt for the Golden Football Raspberry was provided by players Kane (root cause) and Sanchez (root canal) with a wrestle so pathetic it hurt watching. Hulk Hogan, where are you, when we need you? But then, the referee was from the USA and must have been one of the rejected presidential cabinet nominees, sold to Russia.. Or FIFA, same thing anyway. Geiger’s (yes, he was probably named after the instrument) match-control and rule-intelligence are basically that of a state of the nation address by Donald Trump after his third beer. The ultimate climax of embarrassment: A 3.5-minute fracas between whistle and penalty involving players from either side. Impressive in such moments: The ability of England supporters to hurl 5 insults per second toward the opponent and hailing their heroes for exactly the same action. More acting, an equalizer and the shaky road of overtime. Pressure. Elation and jubilance when England won the penalty shootout. Impressive also the assuredness of the players in the aftermath about a curse being broken, although this was, again, a close shave. But hey, they deserve their moment as they truly beat a trauma and haunting ghost, at least for now. Saturday it is Sweden and that will be a different ball-game altogether.
Yes, Sweden. Scored a lucky goal in a subdued training-game sold to us as knock-out match. Against Switzerland who also happened to be there.
Quarterfinals are now complete. Friday will be the absolute mega-cracker showdown with Uruguay vs. France and Belgium vs. Brazil – basically the semi-finals of this tournament deciding the final favourite for the crown. Surely Croatia can and will up their game and should make it to the finals as neither Sweden or England are by any means world-cup-winner material. Or so we say. Then, of course, it will all go different. At the latest when Russia awaits in Sochi bringing yet another hapless referee and fuelled by red b…*cough*, support of their fans.
Tuesday, July 3. There was a time not long ago in the earlier days of the writer, when a Brazilian team played breath-taking easy football. The ball flew through the ranks of Samba-driven conductors and wizards such as Junior, Zico, Falcao, Eder and, of course, Socrates. One was ultra-cool and relaxed, did not win a world-cup but was a highly respected and honoured team. Us German fans adored these guys in a mixture of awe and respect. Our national team might have been a bit more successful in that decade but rather limited technically and nowhere near their lightness – during a friendly in Stuttgart they received standing ovations from the entire audience.
Not today. Sure, the team is quite sympathetic. Especially we Germans feel for these guys who really deserve rehabilitation and success to eliminate the trauma of 2014. Or so it seems. There is one factor souring it all. A feeling ruined by one player, more than once the target of irony and sarcasm in this blog too. And why not? Ever since Neymar Jr. started haunting European football, stardom and cult have climbed to unknown dimensions. In Barcelona descended like an alien on ID4, the club was rattled by preciousness rather than ball-play. Until, of course, the limelight shared with that Messi-dude was not sufficient anymore. So it had to be Paris. After an atrociously expensive price-tag paid only three years before, the obscene amount for this transfer had to be forked out by the Quatar-sheiks financing PSG. Part of this deal was Neymar becoming the ambassador for the highly questionable world-cup in Quatar. No moral obstacle, and well paid too. The newest rumours now report his grace to be unnerved by the French hype around his person (tell that to his team-mates) and so it might unfold that this divine player will once again set foot on the Basque shores. Financed by Quatar as well we’re sure that all sides will rake in some good money paid from the petty-cash-box of the forthcoming oil-barons. Well done, everybody.
Not much happening on the pitch though. Passing play not much better than other players, nothing making us moan in adorance as we did when Zidane waltzed through the opponents. Goals can be designed and put into action by genius moments of team-mates such as Willian yesterday, it doesn’t matter. All eyes and cameras are on Neymar, holding his foot into the pass, scoring like no other did before. The other much more accomplished way of holding his foot occurs when opponents dare to step on it. The pain-display that follows is pure Hollywood. A numbing mixture of Terminator and Saving Private Ryan. Neymar may be a star. His air, however, makes Christiano Ronaldo look like a Buddhist monk during his 5-year vow of silence.
It might very well be because of this that on Friday a considerable global majority will root for Belgium. These guys together with the brave Samurai from Japan gave us the first real cracker of a world-cup decider in an otherwise rather subdued tournament. Both teams went to their limit and beyond. The Japanese, typically disciplined and untypically belligerent, had Belgium on the brink of defeat. Until the game turned due to a mixture of desparate footballing-daze and sheer team-spirit. A real and good fight between to great sides of sportsmen, finally. That and only that is what we want to see, no narcissistic jogging and yammering in front of the camera. Real competition.
That will be the order of today as well. Both Sweden vs. Switzerland and England vs. Colombia will be games of teams absolutely on par. Destined for drama and great sport. Real emotion between despair and triumph. It is possible. It is a question of attitude. And money.
In light of this: Hopp – Vamos – Come on und låt oss gå – the game goes on!
Monday, July 2. This World-Cup works like the song of the ten little.. wait, this is going to be politically super-incorrect. Well, one favourite after the other is going out. Sounds unerotic this way but we need to be ethically 100% bio-degradable.
So, after Germany, Argentina and Portugal, Spain got the chop. Their game a mirror-image of the German approach: Possession until deep sleep and the hope for an angel to descend and carry the ball into the net. Ironically, the game decider was a hand-ball. Ironic, because we saw a similar incident in the orchestrated destruction of Germany by Italian referee Rizzoli during the Euro-Semifinal against France. Back then, Schweinsteiger rose to a header, hit the ball with the hand (behind his head) and had a penalty given against him. In any league game, referees wouldn‘t even bother to think about the location of their whistle. In a match where host France was to be conveyed into the final, this was an opportunity not to be missed. And it was a hand-ball. Like 235,563 others when defenders got the ball at their hand (not vice versa and yes, there actually is a rule defining deliberate play). Like yesterday, when Pique rose to a header and had the ball headed at his hand. From behind. One must admire the reasoning behind this: Deliberation without Orientation. There is of course a much simpler explanation: Gerard Piqué is a Jedi.
But, as we Germans had to admit back then, if you don’t show up with an attacker and don’t score, you’re open game for referees with a match-plan. Like Germany back then, Spain dominated the game. Possession, however, was out of fashion in 2016 and is even more so today. The victorious spell of Iceland and the fact that 10 clowns on the goal-line could win the Euros is living proof of that. A passing rate beyond 1k may wack football aesthetes out, but there is zero to be won with that. And so the Russians got their equalizer, frenzied through the penalty shoot-out and, wallowing in euphoria, kicked Spain out. Now they are in the quarter-finals. Against Croatia. End of the road for Russia you think? Not by any means. Same game, same tactics. On we go.
The Balkan-Boyz, favourites in this blog as well, also hit their limits yesterday. It might be they need a playing opponent like Argentina. They might be dependent on attacks they can counter. There is no other explanation for two early goals during the disorganized opening minutes, a few attacks after and total mutual neutralisation afterwards. Granted, this is the Denish game and that’s why they were part of the four most boring games of the tournament. But we have mentioned it before: Playmaking, attacking, goals – water under the bridge. Still, it might have been a more powerful game from Croatia if their key players Rakitic, Modric or Mandzukic hadn’t been rested too long, losing their rhythm of tournament play in the process
This might become a problem for Belgian players tonight and even worse for the players of England, who by tomorrow will have 9 days without competitive play. Good luck, boys. Meanwhile, we will polish our glasses for the rest of the show. For now, a player’s dream has come true: Neymar is the only superstar left in the World-Cup. Yes, dearly beloved, the man with the pasta in his hair, the walking definition of team-play with the humility of an American president is our last superstar-hope. Wonderful.
So we are looking forward to further action and entertainment. And great games.
Sunday, July 1. It has happened, the two kings of football, tabledance-princesses of FIFA and UEFA, high-flyers, divine walkonwaterboys – or in short: Messi and Ronaldo, are out. In both cases more than justified. With all due respect to their abilities, the unnerving hype around their personas and the negative impact on their teams made this a question of time. And justification.
Portugal. Sure, there is Quaresma, but then there is no one. Symptomatic for this, yesterday’s goal for Portugal: A header went in because El Cristiano rose like the holy spirit, missed (yes, it can), the ball fell on Pepe’s head and went in. That is Portugal’s problem in a nutshell. Not only a team, a team-sport and the entire media-communications around it is focused on one person. Even Portuguese fans cried out loudest when their almighty angel touched the ball. There is no bigger disrespect for the other players and the team they are carrying on their shoulders with little or no appreciation. Uruguay on the other side of the pitch was a completely different act altogether. Organised, a perfect diamond set-up in midfield, young and old players working together (dear German FA: Look, it is possible), all acting in unison with a good feel for the moment. The entire control and allocation of the ball focused on positioning two great attackers, who in turn worked and sprinted tirelessly to be available, set up or receive the final pass. Yes, Suarez has also found his bag of dirty tricks again, but the sacrifice he and Cavani impersonate for the team is truly inspiring. This is simply one of the two most compact teams of the tournament
Which brings us to the other Messiah. That guy seems a nice bloke, or so it seems. Like his divine colleague his concerns do not include earthly pettiness such as taxes but on the pitch he seems quite humble. At least he doesn’t pull his pants up to bolster his privates before taking free-kicks knowing that an entire planet is forced to adore his body on hi-definition tv. But Messi has his own pitfalls. The newest being the whispering rumours that told about him being the true manager and enforcing his own team line-up. And true, the Albiceleste tried a different one each game, every single one unfolding around Messi, not one putting another of his truly great colleagues let alone a group plus strategy into the spotlight, Higuain or Dybala not even on the pitch yesterday. And so the game went as it was destined to. Again, the French did not want to (and probably can’t) do some play-making. They played counter-attack and in the moment of trailing sent their defenders a bit more upfront. The rest was done by Monsieur Mbappe. Nice and easy? We’ll see.
If everyone is now being enthused about Les Bleus, it is again mulishly focusing on a few players. However, if this tournament and the way things happened is teaching us one lesson it is that this is the cup of teams and team play. You can hype players into oblivion trying to sell shirts, lusting for the ultimate shot of the hero and the cup. No, champion will not be anyone of these clowns advertising shampoo or doing videos on their decision-making which big club to join.
That is why today is Paella-day. We revere a dish composing its beautiful taste by the collaboration of simple and therefore awesome ingredients: The fat and meat of the fried chicken, saffron, seafood and fish-stock, tomatoes, lemon and a pinch of fresh tarragon – all this becomes a pan of culinary joy. The result: perfect harmony. That is what we wish the Spanish team after their managerial ordeal caused by their hapless FA during group-stage. The Spaniards weathered this storm as a team. And teams are going to make the difference today.
And, if this beautiful trend is persistent, what is not unlikely to happen is a quarterfinal that will not see Les Formidables, not the SambaPasta-Fanclub and not the FootballComingHome-Heroes progress. It might very well happen that we will see a semi-final of teams. Because the team is everything. And only as a team will you be able to win the decisive game.
Saturday, June 30. While the jury is still out in Germany analysing everything that has been analysed to death and add analysis no one would ever think of, the tournament goes on.
Yesterday it was public holiday here and the mood must have been the same in the final matches of Thursday. No competition, no real deciders, stress-free play all over. Resting key-players is a good thing, resting entire teams or telling them to jog for 90 minutes is not. Doing so because the first decider-game opponent doesn’t matter as much as the one in the quarterfinal is arrogant – and pretty stupid too.
This and other verdicts are being hurled at the English team and manager Southgate in particular for breaking the team’s rhythm, playing a reserve side and all this because playing Colombia and then the winner of Sweden vs. Switzerland seems to be the better option. Ok, England rarely progress that far so their experience in tournament play is a bit rusty. Still, guys: A team needs challenges to grow together and collect adrenaline moments – that is the fuel that propels winners. Momentum comes from overcoming hardship and surfing on the cliff of defeat. If this strategic thinking and the rested player wow-performance against Colombia goes wrong, England’s homecoming will be like that of Germany who had not collected such spirit this time and look where that got them.
Today, however, we see the beginning of the real tournament. Two favourites who have so far been anything but need to find their momentum and play tournament football. Argentina might be capable as they always are when things get hard, although without a manager. How that chaos will pan out no one knows but we’ll definitely see some entertaining moments, at the latest when the Diego-Cam comes into action. France on the other hand are more known to fold as they did in the Euro-finals and so far haven’t exactly played like the elite players they supposedly are. Still, this game will be today’s cracker.
The other one seems to be clear on paper. Even a thunderous performance of El Christiano cannot overcome the sturdiest defence and the strongest attack of the tournament. Uruguay should manage this, unless they let themselves get teased and start the physical fight too early. Or Uncle Luis gets hungry. Then everything is possible.
We’ll see and the game, again, is on!
This was a film of the 80ies, depicting a nuclear strike and the aftermath in clear and horrifying images. While it caused fear, it also caused awareness, discussion and reaction.
Thursday, June 28. The worst case happened yesterday to German football. The good news in all this: The ultimate low always marks the beginning of something new and initially the start of the healing process.
In 2000, Germany went out of the Euros in group stage after being beaten 3-0 by Portugal’s reserves in the final group-match. The president of the German FA sat on the terrace through that night and decided to change the entire national team set-up, structure, strategy, system, workflows, schooling and league academies. Then Klinsmann and Löw turned up, the rest is history.
Today we see a team with great skill and possibilities but lacking one essential ingredient: Hunger. It was this kind of desire, the greed for success and recognition that drove the generation of 2009 to topple the World-Cup 2010 and win it 2014. The strategic vision of the famous team resort Campo Bahia, communicated and implemented by Co-Manager Hansi Flick, was: A good beginning needs elation, a good end discipline.
A strategic coach such as Flick, his game-planning and vision are lacking badly in the German set-up of 2018. And without this, without hunger and paralized by saturation you end up hearing greats like Mats Hummels remembering the last good game to be in 2017 or Manuel Neuer musing about a lacklustre team that would have gone out in the first knock-out match anyway. Statements like that speak books. What’s needed now is the reboot of a basically brilliant system that needs fresh blood and inspiration, from the manager down to the players.
This process is about to finish with teams like Brazil, Belgium, Croatia, Spain (although jeopardized by their FA and the stupidest sacking in decades) and in good progress with England or Switzerland. Yesterday showed a still fragile but improving Brazilian team, we have seen Croatia dominating and even Switzerland are delivering this year and will now face Sweden with good chances to progress further.
Today we’ll have the third cracker in Belgium vs. England, the eternal dark horse against the eternal self-proclaimed powerhouse. Today we’ll see, who will join the forces deciding this tournament. So let us all – and the Germans in particular – lean back, relax and enjoy the game reaching the next level.
Wednesday, June 27. Argentina won. Well done, Slytherin. And so they reached the knock-out stages. It remains to be seen whether Maradona will make it there too. It might also be a good idea to include spectators into doping tests. But then we are in Russia where doping could also be part of the nutrition. Small wonder that Maradona after being shunned from the opening match now has been awarded a personal assistant, enabler and living safety-belt. Next episode of the has-been soap on Sunday when Argentina play France in the first cracker of the knock-out stages.
Ah, Les Bleus. So far the biggest disappointment and in this shape the logical originators of the first goalless draw in this competition. But this was more than just a flop, it was pact of non-aggression almost as bad as the Germans and Austrians in 1982 when they caused what became known as the Shame of Gijon. For the Millenials: Don’t bother – or check Youtube and yawn. In any case, they now meet Argentina and that was surely not the idea when cruising through group-stage with 0.1 mph. The Denish won’t be thrilled either looking at an entertaining evening with current red-hot favourites of the tournament Croatia.
And favourites they are. Yesterday at the latest it became clear when even their reserve played a strong, close and good game against Iceland that this might just be the time for Croatia’s golden generation. Belgium still has to prove its worth against demanding opposition, so favourite No.2 at this point is Uruguay, fielding the strongest defence and with Suarez and Cavani the most dangerous attacking duo. They also still have to prove themselves against tough teams but that will happen this weekend which is why on Sunday St. Christian of Gellingland will probably be sent packing.
Today the showdown of the tightest group and a lot of things to be decided, not least whether the Löw-era will come to an end. South Korea might be weak on paper, but they do have quick players and Son, Bundesliga-veteran and high impact player at Tottenham Hotspur. He knows the Germans, but then they know him too, especially former team-mate Julian Brandt. The latter might again not make it into the starting line-up, as Jogi Löw will surely keep things tight and secure. We will probably see Bayern’s Süle alongisde Hummels, Gündogan securing Toni Kroos and Özil returning for the unlucky Draxler.
Tonight we will find out who will play this afternoon’s winners. It is a sign of the times that even Brazilian fans are getting annoyed by the finicky chichi airs of their mega-superduper-star. In a country that is probably the football-craziest and known for cultish hero-worshipping that is quite an achievement. Meanwhile, Switzerland can count on their two politically challenged stars which is good to see. So, again we will find out who is made of stern stuff, who has the knack to fight and go through and who will struggle. Again, the game is on!
Okay, Morocco and Iran, what were you thinking?
Tuesday, June 26. Let’s go back to day 2 of this world cup when the two played each other. Two hangovers pub-teams, tackles basically bodychecks, passing quality matching blood-alcohol level, the goal a product of coincidence, incapability and bad karma.
And now this. The Moroccans partially outplay Spain. Spain, people, the Jedis of football, masters of the Hypno-TikiTaka. And Iran, having the final chance to win and kick Portugal out of the tournament. And his royal, well, what happened to little Christian? A penalty as bad as messiah-brother Messi, a yellow card? Fifa, really? Agreed, straight red for mortals but how can you brandish a yellow card into Christian’s face? The mother of sacrilege. Do that again, he’ll walk off pouting and never play with us again. Yes, and there you’ll have it. And it will be all your fault.
Finally, the hard ride for Spain ended on a better note, topping the group and playing Russia. A walk in the park on paper, after yesterday’s display maybe not so much but still a feasible challenge for El SackMyManageros. The bigger Clash will surely be football’s remake of The Beauty & The Beast when the Portuguese one-man-team meets Uruguay who have Cavani besides Dr. Lecter. A big challenge for Christian, advantage Hannibal so far.
Today it won’t be much of a thrill between France and Denmark, all eyes are on the showdown between Argentina and Nigeria. Croatia could meddle here and simply field a reserve side just to stuff it to the Gauchos and who would blame them? They could go easy singing I’m a rebel just for kicks and laugh all the way to the knock-out stages. Hopefully, though, we’ll see a fair game and Nigeria red-facing Argentina. Yes, this sounds biased because it is. A lacklustre display, matched only by the amount of unfairness and sheer brutality makes Argentina a prime target for an educational measurement: Flying home early and defeated. And that would be a good thing for humility and fairness of sports. So there it is: Come on Nigeria, play the game!
Monday, June 25. Day 2 after an emotional and cardiological surf on the edge. It was good not to read too much team-bashing of so-called experts and frustrated has-beens in the German press. And there was no reason, the team played well in the second half, albeit not very effective in front of the goal. That, however, is a phenomenon we are seeing for the past years now and which frankly cost Germany the title in 2014. The problem is not an out of shape Thomas Müller, it is the football we dissected yesterday when entire teams assemble in the box and stay there for most of the game.
Sweden still had to digest the last gasp sucker-punch of Saturday night. Much and heated talk emerged about two German officials, one of them ironically a media-consultant, celebrating the final whistle into the Swedish faces who answered with shoving and the whole pushing around thing. Yes, you shouldn’t do that in the moment of victory. But then, neither should you shout for red-carding of opponents or start time-wasting five minutes into the game, let alone kick players’ faces when they lie on the ground. In any case, such adrenalin happens on the pitch and that is where it should stay. The Swedish frustration is understandable, whingeing into every microphone doesn’t make things easier though and isn’t Viking-style either.
A nice Sunday-Lunch goodie was to see the expected and hoped for result: England’s win over Panama. It’s reassuring to see the Three Lions delivering on all typical English competition levels: They beat an 8th division opponent, media / experts / everypunditunderthesun accredit them title-worthiness and here we go again, the gravy train is well on track. The team is on cloud nine, the rest of the country on 19. Then come the Belgians and the first knock-out stage when they will all find out that there are teams who actually field attackers. Honestly, England deserves a bit of success after the past years. But then, where would be the fun in all that? We Germans know very well how it feels right now as the entire rest of the world is letting us know how refreshing it is to see an actual favourite playing like Snodsbury FC.
Another surprise in Group H yesterday. The table leaders are, yes, Senegal and Japan. While Colombia came back impressively against Poland, this group is far from decided except for the fact that Poland’s stint is a complete disaster.
The mother of Hollywood crisis banana republic frantic chaos awards of this week goes to….. Argentina. And again, we are witnesses of novelty and innovation : You can actually fire a manager and leave him on the bench. What Sampaoli will do there is his personal secret. Decisions will be made by Messi, now playing manager with whoever will be his trusted sidekick. Whether they will shoulder responsibility if the whole farce goes south is anyone’s guess. It is highly rewarding to see players earning millions now experiencing a first encounter with the other side of the coin: Liability.
And with that we are heading for Showdown-week. Until Thursday there will be two group-deciders and these are going to be clashes. Opening today we’ll have the direct fight for 1st place between Russia and Uruguay, the stadium will surely erupt. Indirectly battling are Spain and Portugal. The winners of each will face the loser of the other clash, so there is pepper in all games – let them start!
… of 22 people running around and in the end the Germans win.
Sunday, June 24. While Gary Linker took yesterday’s game to re-use his old phrase, the occasion was correct.
A game of never-ending tension, another stupid counter-attack goal and the title holders on the brink of following the fate of the last three title defending nations. It was Reus and then a genius stoke by playmaker Kroos to keep Germany in the tournament. It might be a different one now that the probable opponent in the knock-out phase might be Brazil but it could be just the wake-up call the Germans needed.
The tense game yesterday showed another development, first diagnosed during the Euros 2016. Then, Germany played an entire game on one goal, holding the ball for 90% of the match, losing two two counter-attacks from an otherwise defending team. Their opponent: France, At home, with world-class footballers in their team and yet, defending, waiting, destroying the match. While it is understandable, that the likes of Panama, Iran, Iceland or Sweden can’t play attacking football even if they wanted to, it is a growing concern that big teams do the Chelsea play. A disease born from Jose Mourinho’s egotistical mindset. The end result counts, screw sports and craftsmanship. Tactics are everything, trophy-winning play without soul leads to glory. Does it now?
Let’s all hope that we will see emotional play, like Croatia, Germany and Belgium showed us. Let’s hope, that courage and heart will be rewarded, not the cowardly destructive non-entity driven by mathematicians and glory-hunters. Let the game stay a game.
Saturday, June 23. It has happened, Saint Neymar has apparated (outside Hogwarts). And scored. Yippie ya yeah. His team guided by divine, his body guided by centrifugal forces. But enough with the verbal sacrilege. For us mortals, we have a new messiah. Fred was yesterday, but no one falls on his butt as angelic as Neymar.
A hard landing as well for our viking-friends form Iceland. The Nigerian lions played a wonderfully relaxed game, both goals from beautiful counter attacks by Musa. The first will make its way into the worldcup-highlights, such was the beauty he engineered plucking the ball out of the air in mid-run. Now Iceland must score against Croatia, impossible. And the entire world will back Nigeria to make it happen and send Argentina packing.
On the night it was the first political match when Serbian fans had to boo and whistle the two Swiss players of Kosovar ancestry. Justice happened when these two scored the goals against Serbia, political gestures to the Serbian supporters included which is not the thing to do in a sports competition. But then, this is political, and always was, whatever the officials and softdrink purveyors are trying to tell you. Ask Putin.
Today is the day. Will we waltz around or smash our BBQs? We will know whether holders Germany find their potential or go home. Hummels is out with a jammed neck, but the rest of the team is burning and we will surely see an completely different display. And that is what this tournament needs, good teams for good and tense matches. Sorry, Sweden, you’re nice, but not really that good.
Mexico will try and seal their group-win while Belgium will bolster their position, before next week the clash is on with England. The game is on.
Friday, June 22. Straight into the face. Not only a metaphor but reality when Rakitic lay defenseless on the ground and had the ball kicked and another kick aimed at him. Foulplay might be an integral part of Argentinian dna, but yesterday’s brutality was beyond anything. We all knew this team wasn’t going to set the footballing world alight, we also know that after 30 minutes of goalless frustration they start kicking and punching opponents. Ask Christoph Kramer.
Starting the infight from kick-off, however, and doing that against Croatia of all teams, that is incredibly unwise, to put it nicely. Messi was again powerless, the rest of team clueless, especially their hapless goalkeeper who produced the howler of the tournament. That more or less sealed the match. A few brutalities later the Argentines had lost all concentration, collected the final sucker punches and, man, did they deserve it. That was the unanimous view on the pub terrace across all watching nationalities. Astonishing, how efficiently you can get the entire world to hate you. And that in the era of Donald Trump.
Earlier on, Denmark had won the snoring contest against Australia, France collected yet another happy-go-lucky victory. Les Bleus need to seriously up their game or it’s au revoir when they meet the first team fielding an attacker.
Auf Wiedersehen must also have been the idea of journalist Ludvig Holmberg and his Swedish tabloid Expressen. While the paper’s standard and intelligence is even below The Sun (yes, that is possible), one might wonder whether there are more efficient ways to antagonize and motivate your opponent. In any case, football-Germany is already deeply grateful for Ludvig. Tomorrow, his team will get the crap knocked out of their shirts and the entire German social media community will make it abundantly clear to their Swedish fellows whom they’ll have to thank for that. Just remember Ludvig, that the last laugh is on you. And, always look at the….
Today we’re expecting the first decider as Iceland can seal the actual return-ticket for Argentina. Which means that after St. Christiano (resting on his laurels), the now unemployed Messi(ah) we are awaiting the apparition of his holiness Neymar the third. And in the first watch of the day He came to them, walking on the grass. When the disciples saw Him walking on the grass, they were terrified, and said, “It is pasta!”. And so his yellow hair kept blowing in the wind of the unforgiving Vuvuzelas of Jericho.
On that note: It has yet to be confirmed whether there truly is a reward for the rascal who had snapped up, stored and re-dispensed these acoustic torture instruments. Whoever he is, he’d better run.
Saludos, and enjoy….
Thursday, June 21. Two days. Worde, 56 horribly long hours until Germany play Sweden. German players surely would have loved to get this over with the day after their collective blackout. The team, however, seems to have less problems with the long wait compared to the German media. Since Monday the running gag on the tube is to watch ZDF-journalist Thomas Skulski and veteran-champion/pundit Thomas Berthold suffer. The first professionally aghast and appalled, the latter not interested (veteran) but professionally worried (paid pundit). Sadly, this did not even provide enough content for three arduous features on Monday. Since then, the ZDF Morning Magazine audience is commiserating with these two on their depriving odyssey through the parks and tea-rooms of Moscow, desperately seeking distraction and meaningful conversation. They are included in everyone’s nightly beer-prayer as they deserve a knock-out-stage commentary for Germany. They really do.
Yesterday’s games delivered but two lasting scenes. Numero Uno for sure St. Christiano’s divine apparition and goal 4 minutes into the game, followed by 86 minutes of bewilderment. Like messiah-colleague Neymar he seems to be highly irritated still being mortal and hence feeling the fouls. Big moment No.2 definitely was the flic-flac-throw-in attempt by Iran’s Milan Mohammadi. A moment for eternity when it works, a moment of eternal ridicule if you land on your butt. In any case, the man now has many friends on social media.
Today now we’re in for the second cracker and no, it’s not France, they aren’t cracking anything. The big one is Argentina vs. Croatia. This is the defining game for the two with advantage for Croatia leading the table. These two will literally fight out the group header, with everything it takes. Absolutely everything.
Wednesday, June 20. It is beginning to be a pattern that any prediction of this blog gets rebutted the same evening. Twice yesterday. For one, there is the Sbornaja surprising us wannabe-experts. Running about like a bunch of headless chicken before the tournament – a tactical feint as it turns out – this is a team playing with their hearts and verve and now as good as booked for the knock-out stages. With a little luck as group header although it will go against Spain or Portugal then, well….
Then there is the group announced as sleeping-pill yesterday. Ok, not really. Not that a Japan victory was on the cards against Colombia and James in particular. But a winning header (!) by a Japanese player (!!) against Colombian treebeards (!!!), now that is a first. Screwball comedy then the Polish art of back-passing. While the ref’s timing of return to pitch by the side-lined Senegalese player was unfortunate to say the least, it was regular and happened during Polish possession. If the lads screw up their passing this badly then Mr. Niang can enjoy a little dash and tap the ball in. That’s life.
The German debate around Sunday’s hapless performance has now died down after reaching calamitous heights during the week. The highlight being a political spin doctor for this occasion setting up his inquisition show on football and inviting the most ridiculous has-beens of the last decades to rip into the team in general and Mesut Özil in particular.
Witnessing this new low in media-coverage, the more objective German observer has recovered from Sunday’s shock in the meantime, remembering the group stage in Brazil 2014 with games against Kamerun, USA and 1st knock-out clash against Algeria, all of which were appalling performances. Then the memory turns into the revelation of what such negative moments can spark, most notably the return of Phillip Lahm to the defense. Fans therefore are now hoping for a team having debated, let fly rage and frustration and now arrived in sunny Sochi, the venue of last year’s Confed Cup win. Let there be a defiant reaction and then let the tournament begin, no more – no less.
What’s on tonight? Luis Suarez will take another bite, this time chasing some innocent Saudi Arabians around the pitch. Spain will hopefully have recovered from their shock, Portugal will have to prove that there is more to them than just CR7. We’ll see. In the meantime….
Tuesday, June 19. All is quiet in the forest near Moscow and that is good. Worldcup-business has now settled into normal tournament mode. Sweden started off with a weird game against South Korea. Basically an uplifting sight for the German team, not for Germany itself though. The shock of Sunday runs deep and the fact that various newspapers saw a strong Swedish team is proof for the unease and the fact, that there are far too many interns writing articles nowadays. In any case, the fear is on but that might be a good thing, because complacency is the first and biggest enemy of quality. It might help a lot of German spectators and especially pundits to understand, that tension is an important part of a competition.
Belgium played Belgian, very handsomely, promising and very unclear how all that is going to pan out once under pressure. Pressure is also what the English team must have felt when they narrowly avoided their own Armageddon against Tunisia. In the end it was Harry Kane saving the day and it makes you wonder what will happen to the team once he is taken out of the game by man to man defending.
Today we’ll see the most challenging group starting into the tournament. Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan together with millions of spectators will fight against sleep. Wake-up calls come from news and gossip. Sepp Blatter will land in Moscow and meet Vladimir Putin, basically an eco-political meeting of Sith-Lords. Staying with the metaphor, Madeira has finally replaced the bust of Christiano Ronaldo. The original one, looking as if Chucky the murder doll had just been frozen to carbonite, had creeped people out massively. Now that a more reverential artist had a go at it, the thing looks more like the emperor CR7 is going to be one day when he takes over the reigns in Portugal. As regards your emperor career….
Monday, June 18. Desperately seeking the spirit of Campo Bahia, last seen on July 14th 2014 in company of players Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm. If you have any information or sighting, please contact the German FA press office in Frankfurt, Germany.
This is not satire, it is the sad truth. It’s been clear for a while now that both mood and anticipation for this tournament were somehow more anticlimactic on fans and teams, given the yawning we meet anytime conversation turns to football these days. While no favourite has yet really set the pitch alight, what the German team delivered yesterday doesn’t even qualify as work refusal. This was not the healthy footballing diet of the new century, this was time-travel back into the age of the greasy pork-knuckle kick German teams were so famous for. Seeing the quality of the players, it is more than obvious that the spirit has gone. There is hope in the shape of one Marco Reus as he might be the wake-up call badly needed before things are getting ridiculous.
Ridicule is a label for yesterday’s performance of the self-proclaimed best player of the world. While it’s been clear for a while now what to expect from Neymar (big head, bigger headlines, biggest wages), it becomes more and more obvious that he seems to be his own version of football’s Donald Trump – rich, spoiled, in love with himself and basically delivering hot air. What we witnessed last night was a medley of football’s worst playacting. That and a hairstyle reminding you of your most traumatic pasta-encounters during college. And lo and behold, no puff of wind was too farty for the messiah of football not to go crashing down in absolute agony. Like Monsieur Griezmann, Neymar seems to prepare for a Hollywood career, for which we would recommend the wonderful example of O.J. Simpson and his unforgotten wheelchair-stunt on the Anaheim stands of the California Angels.
So today it’s England. This team is always a surprise. In light of the last days, this will probably mean they will play extremely well and man, are we hoping for that. Why? Because then Fleet Street will explode in glorious madness and we finally get back to entertainment.
Sunday, June 17. While the world is still dribbling over Ronaldo who simply scored three goals, worldclasssuperdupermega-star No.3 took the stage yesterday. Granted, Argentina never really were a team but yesterday they met Poor Lionel really didn’t have a good day but you have to give it to CR7 though, there couldn’t have been a bigger quality-gap between the penalties of the two boys with the golden balls. Nope, the Gauchos are looking at a difficult time ahead.
Not very convincing either the team of notquiteworldclasssuperdupermega-star but self-appointed filmmakingselfmarketing-expert Antoine Griezmann. This victory was in every aspect technical. As do the Argentinians, France also have a severe problem focusing too much on one man while having a selection of world-class but for some reason unimportant players. Favourites for the title, however, are not to be seen anywhere at this point.
Today, the curtain rises for title-defenders Germany. The starting eleven is more or less an obvious choice. The only question is whether Özil will play which will send a good and bad message to player/fans or whether the immensely strong Reus will pull the strings which would be a great and bad message to team and Özil respectively. Jogi Löw has a difficult life indeed.
Closing the day will be the best player of the world. Not that anyone of us said that, he had the grace of letting us know before anyone might forget. Seeing all the hype around him and the total ignorance handed towards his poor teammates in Paris and Brazil, we are only left with a shirty Hop Schwiiz!
Saturday, June 16. There is much more clarity now that the first games are behind us. Uruguay, coined as one of the best attacking formats of the tournament turned out to be a snore-festival. Spain, well they obviously haven’t recovered from their shock.There is no other explanation for one man beating the fridge out of them. Iran and Morocoo, well, we’ve all seen that kind of game on a drunken pub-sunday morning…
Topic numero uno in social media is the Griezmann-Show. While the suffering majority of football-enthusiasts is trying hard not to vomit and get the image out of its system, many bemoan the demise of football. They have a point. In times of obscene transfer fees, more obscene salaries and totally obscene verdicts exonerating tax evading Goldenball-winners, Mr. and Mrs. Public must suffer a video depicting the unbearable hardship that is the life of a football-superstar. The ominous problem is not the decision poor Antoine has to make, it is the turgid drama-slime dripping off the screen making Donald Trump’s Korea video, the other cinematic catastrophe of the week, look like a contender for the Cannes Golden Palm. Indeed, the times, they are a changing.
So today, we’ll have Antonio Griezmeras and on the night enter showpony No.3, old pal Lionel. Nowadays disguised as a hipster, he must face real beard-experts, the Vikings from Iceland, We expect a lot and at least one goal from a throw-in. HU!
Friday June 15. You gotta give it to them, that opening yesterday was anything but boring. Not as predicted in this now officially un-clairvoyant blog, the ceremony was surprisingly short and a definite thing to remember – thanks to two boys who always deliver. Vladimir Putin, a declared friend of using his body to deliver a message, inaugurated a new microphone-type called the furry bikini. Knowing him we can rest assured that both producer and cameraman are now safely on their way to Siberia.
Robbie Williams, a declared friend of using his body to deliver multiple messages, gave the bird to the world in general and his homelands in particular. Probably an answer to allegations he would sell himself to oligarchs and dictators. While this might be true, yesterday he did (and sang) this for free. A free ticket to the game was also in Diego Armando Maradon’s pocket, yet he was stopped by the Russian defence, whose security set-up simply did not recognize the man. A clear message that one should do sports coming of age and, most importantly, face recognition software is nowhere near as dangerous as conspiracy-bloggers want us to believe.
And then there was some football. Host Russia sank Saudi Arabia with a bit of luck by five goals. While the Sbornaja did not impress in play, especially after their playmaker Dzagoev had to leave due to injury, his replacement Cheryshev enjoyed the biggest day of his career. Still, it remains to be seen whether this team can beat Egypt let alone Uruguay to progress into knockout-stages.
Today we will get the answer to two important questions the footballing world is asking: How well did Spain recover from their mega-shock and does Portugal have anything to offer beyond Christiano Ronaldo? We will see.
Thursday, June 14 The competition starts, Finally. Hooray, yippieyahyay. Okay, that could come out a bit more enthusiastic, people. But then, there isn’t much tension in the air, not like 2014. No discussion at the grocer’s, no spontaneous street parties. Somehow, there isn’t much coming from Russia for now.
So today is the grand opening. Worldcup-hosts Russia play Saudi Arabia. After a show that will feel like a 6-hour marathon of obeisance worshipping of Máximo Líder Wladimir Putin with his image projected, danced and whispered, we finally get the game to start. Or whatever the Russian team will consider to be the game and that isn’t much if you believe Russian punters and fans. Quite the opposite with our friends from the shores of Oilistan who almost embarrassed holders Germany in their last test outing. So today might be the first surprise when the outsider is tipped to win this first game.
In Spain and the Spanish training camp, people are meanwhile trying to deflate the situation. With the arrival of new manager Fernando Hierro’s three (!) assistants however, it becomes abundantly clear just how big the impact of yesterday’s personnel tsunami actually is. One might feel sorry for a brilliant team many experts saw as the real dark horse. We will see very soon, actually tomorrow, when Spain fight their new demons plus his royal hairgelness Christiano Ronaldo and his 10 domestiques. This will either be a team united by the odds against them or a national catastrophe. In any case, Real Madrid have very few friends in Spain at the moment. So let’s hand Spain some energy...
A mere 24 hours to kick-off, basically the quiet before the storm. All stories are done, all headlines written, the entire footballing world lies in wait. All but one, a brave football FA from the south of Europe is working hard to bring us the first newsblast. Thanks, Spain, you own the headlines. Big time.
Define Bad Timing. Bursting out with laughter on a funeral, lose your pants in the shopping-mall glass-elevator, light a cigarette at the gas station. From today the grandmaster in the World League of Embarrassmrents once again is a Spaniard. Granted, a national coach managing Real now or later holds some kind of tension. But then, firing him, one day before the tournament starts? And to do what exactly, keep tension away from the team? Interesting. Or let’s put it this way, Donald Trump has lost his global top spot of bad personnel management. If Spain’s president of the football FA starts tweeting now, politics will own football for good.
Another reason why tomorrow’s opening game isn’t exactly a cracker for anyone. Especially since footballing qualities of both teams equal those of their ethical commissions. So the sportsbetting wires continue to glow on Spain, odds changing by the second. Not at Quasar though. Here you can win on both teams. As always. In every game.
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