So we are down to the Semi-Finals of a World Cup that most experts agree has been the most exciting EVER! How about shootouts deciding 2 of the 4 Semi-Finalist — wow!! Anyone feel like joining us at the Stacked Pickle off of Old Meridian across from Meyers Wed 2 pm for the England game? England advances and the cry of is it Coming Home? (Remember England invented the game and the cry of bring it home as been there since their 1966 World Cup Win). Russia who many considered to be one of the weakest host countries ever took heavily favored Croatia to penalty’s (both team’s 2nd straight penalty shootout) in an epic battle to the death with both team’s players utterly exhausted after the game. The most compelling games of the Quarterfinals Brazil vs Belgium (2-1) and England vs Sweden 2-0 both somewhat surprising but not shocking. I like Belgium to squeeze by France perhaps in penalty’s as both teams are fantastic, while Saturday England will survive a tired Croatia 2-0. Man has fantastic Goalkeeping make a difference this world cup or is it me?? Wow – I have a solid group of Saves from the World Cup – check out to see them all – http://theoleballcoach.com. Oh and I love the continued dogging of Neymar with the Neymar Challenge taking off Worldwide and this which includes this KFC Ad in South Africa. Speaking of Commercials what are your favorites? For me the new Coke Commercial, the Holyfield Bite Comercial and this new Wish One featuring Buffon are near the top. Here are some of the older ones Top World Cup Commercials so far.
Tues, July 10
2 pm Fox Belgium vs France (WC Semis)
Wed, July 11
2pm Fox Croatia vs England (WC Semis)
Indy recovered Sat on a comfortable night at Lucas Oil and came from behind to win 2-1 over Charlotte. Huge late goal by subbing forward Ben Speas. At 8-4-4 and ranked 4th in the East with 28 pts, the team is on the road Wednesday night on ESPN+ as they travel to Charleston for their 6th game in 15 days. Join the BYB for the Watch party in Broad Ripple at Union Jack Pub or Union Brewing Company in Carmel if over 21. The Indy 11 return home Wed Aug 15 and of course discount tickets below $15 are available Click here for Discount Tickets for the Game and enter 2018 INDY as the promo code.
Buffon to PSG
So I am not sure how I feel about my favorite Goalkeeper Italy’s Gigi Buffon coming out of pre-retirement to sign with Paris St. Germaine. In one sense – PSG was seriously a great goalkeeper away from advancing a few times in the past. Their inability to get to the Quarterfinals a huge issue for one of the highest payrolls in the world. But is Buffon at 40 years old – (still unquestionably a top 10 keeper) really good enough to help get PSG into the Final 4 of Champions League? I am not sure but I will certainly be rooting him on!
World Cup Cool Stuff
Ogden: Who will reach the World Cup final?
Kuper: Why it is folly to buy players who starred at a World Cup
Project Russia: Host nation’s Cinderella run to remember
Photos: No sleep til Moscow — fans’ travels through Russia
Ogden: Southgate’s new-look England have changed perceptions
Marcotti: Croatia’s resilience propels them into the semifinals
Project Russia: The England dream continues
#FCExtraTime: Penalties, Subasic, Martinez and ‘Three Lions’
England fans balance weddings and World Cup
Strini: Brazil leave Russia with bittersweet emotions
Laurens: France acting like a team that believes
Why the Biggest Countries in the World – Like the US Fail with the World Cup USA Today Martin Rogers
GAMES ON TV This Week
Tues, July 10
2 pm Fox Belgium vs France (WC Semis)
Wed, July 11
2pm Fox Croatia vs England (WC Semis)
7 pm ESPN+/Utube Charleston vs Indy 11
8:30 pm ESPN+ Chicago vs Philly Union
Sat, July 14
10 am Fox World Cup 3rd Place Game
7 pm Yes NYCFC vs Columbus Crew
7 pm ESPNNews Utah Royals vs Orlando Pride (NWSL)
8 pm ESPN+ Dallas (Matt Hedges) vs Chicago Fire
Sun, July 15
11 am Fox World Cup Final
2 pm FOX Atlanta vs Seattle
6 pm ESPN LAFC vs Portland
Wed, July 18 – US Open Cup
8:30 pm ??? Chicago Fire vs Louisville City FC
Fri, July 20 ICC – International Champions Cup Starts
9 pm ESPN2 Sevilla vs Benfica
9 pm ESPN2 Man City vs Borussia Dortmund (Pulisic)
Sun, July 22 ICC – International Champions Cup
4 pm ESPN Liverpool vs Borussia Dortmund (Pulisic)
Wed, July 25 ICC – International Champions Cup
7 pm ESPNU Juventus vs Bayern Munich
8 pm ESPN+ Borussia Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Benfica
8 pm ESPN 2 Man City vs Liverpool
10 pm ESPN 2 Roma vs Tottenham
11 pm ESPN Milan vs Man United
Thur, July 26
8 pm ESPN Orlando City vs NYCFC
10:30 pm ESPN LAFC vs LA Galaxy (we should be at the game !)
Indiana Soccer League Discounted Offer for Chicago Fire Games
The Chicago Fire Soccer Club would like to invite all families and members involved with ISL out for a Chicago Fire MLS match this Summer and Fall. On-field experiences for children age 5-17 before every match! This offer includes discounted group ticket pricing for anyone interested. Please email Stew with the Chicago Fire – Sgreen@chicago-fire.com – for more information about on-field experiences for kids for specific game days, or any other questions!
Wed, July 11 at 7:30 pm vs Philly Union
Saturday, July 21st at 6:00pm vs Toronto FC
Sunday, September 16th at 4:00pm vs Orlando City SC
World Cup semifinals: Pressure on Belgium’s golden generation, England can outlast Croatia
Mark Ogden, Senior Football Writer
With the quarterfinals done and dusted, there are just four teams left standing at the 2018 World Cup.Out of Belgium, France, England and Croatia, who will book a place in the final on July 15?
Belgium vs. France, Saint Petersburg
It’s a game between two European neighbours and arguably the two teams that have produced the most outstanding performances so far.Belgium’s so-called golden generation have fallen short in recent tournaments, failing to deliver at the past two European Championships and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but their destruction of the Brazilians in the quarterfinal was the performance of a team that believes it can become world champions.France, who laboured through their group with only three goals in three games against Australia, Peru and Denmark, showcased their incredible depth of talent when teenager Kylian Mbappe led their second-round dismantling of Argentina in Kazan.
France are perhaps peaking ahead of their time, with Didier Deschamps’ young team viewed by many as not likely to mature into potential World Cup winners until Qatar 2022.Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann will almost certainly all be around in four years’ time, but for Belgium, this World Cup has to be their moment. With so many players in or approaching their 30s, Roberto Martinez’s men have to grasp this opportunity or risk seeing it evaporate forever.But Belgium — led by outstanding efforts from Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku — were so hot against Brazil, they go into this game against their big-brother neighbour as favourites.France have the greater pedigree — winners in 1998 and finalists in 2006 — but Belgium are the team that seems to have come together at just the right time in Russia.The Belgians, having kept Neymar quiet against Brazil, must find a way to do the same with Mbappe, but Vincent Kompany’s return to fitness ensures that Martinez can rely on the Manchester City captain’s experience to marshal the defence.
France, in turn, have to find a way to nullify De Bruyne and Hazard, but the Belgians possess more match winners.Do they have the mentality to beat France in a huge game? That is the only real question.
Croatia vs. England, Moscow
An unlikely semifinal matchup at the start of the tournament, Croatia and England now stand on the verge of the World Cup final after negotiating a favourable route to reach this stage of the competition.England have eliminated Colombia and Sweden, while Croatia, so impressive having won their group with three victories, have been taken to penalties by Denmark and Russia in the knockout rounds. But having twice endured the draining yet ultimately successful ordeal of extra time and penalties, the big question over Croatia going into Wednesday’s semifinal will be how much they have left in the tank.Will goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, the shootout hero against Denmark and Russia, be fully fit after appearing to injure his hamstring late in Saturday’s game against Russia?
England have no such fitness concerns after coasting to a 2-0 quarterfinal win against Sweden in normal time in Samara, but manager Gareth Southgate does have tactical questions to answer before the Croatia clash. Should he break up the attacking midfield trio of Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli to accommodate an extra holding midfielder (Eric Dier) to help snuff out the threat of Luka Modric, or did their combined performance against Sweden make a change a gamble? If it boils down to a football contest in Moscow, Croatia’s ability on the ball will be a huge test for England. The two countries have a colourful history, having met seven times since Croatia earned its independence in the early 1990s. England won 4-2 at Euro 2004 in the only meeting at a major tournament, but the most famous encounter was in November 2007, when Croatia’s 3-2 win at Wembley denied England a place at Euro 2008 and earned manager Steve McClaren the nickname of the “Wally with the Brolly” after he forlornly patrolled the touchline under an umbrella.The past two meetings have ended in big wins — 4-1 and 5-1 — for England, so Southgate’s men will have no fear on Wednesday, and their extra energy could be decisive.
Key battles in World Cup semifinals
With the 2018 World Cup semifinals taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday, the focus is switching to where each of the games will be won and lost.Below we focus on France vs. Belgium and Croatia vs. England, as some pivotal battles will take place across the pitch to decide who makes the final on Sunday in Moscow.Take a look below as we break down the big battles to watch. My goodness, this will be epic.
France vs. Belgium (Tuesday, 2 p.m. ET in Saint Petersburg)
N’Golo Kante vs. Kevin De Bruyne
With KDB deployed further forward against Brazil for Belgium, the battle between the Man City playmaker and Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante will be intriguing in front of France’s back four. De Bruyne may play a little deeper against France but that still lines up a collision course with the most destructive holding midfielder on the planet in Kante. His main job will be to stop Belgium from launching their blistering counters and keeping De Bruyne locked down is key to halting those attacks. What a battle this will be.
Raphael Varane vs. Romelu Lukaku
The power of Lukaku against the finesse of Varane. Lukaku has scored four times for Belgium at this World Cup but you can argue that his hold-up play and the timing of his runs has been even more impressive. Varane scored in France’s quarterfinal win over Uruguay and the Real Madrid center back has looked as calm and composed as always at the heart of the Les Bleus defense. Lukaku will try and bully Varane who loves to step high and intercept balls into a targetman.
Kylian Mbappe vs. Vincent Kompany
In all honesty we could have picked any one of Belgium’s back three with Jan Vertonghenand Toby Alderweireld expected to start alongside Kompany, but there’s no doubting that Mbappe will try to target Belgium’s veteran leader in Kompany. Mbappe, just 19 years old, has searing pace and with Belgium eager to attack he may get plenty of chances to rip their defense open on the break, just like he did against Argentina. Kompany has proven his fitness but the Man City skipper has shown a few shaky moments so far. His nous and supreme reading of the game is undoubted and he will need all of it to shut down Mbappe.
Croatia vs. England (Wednesday, 2 p.m. ET in Moscow (Luzhniki)
Luka Modric vs. Jordan Henderson
This may be the biggest challenge of Henderson’s career. The Liverpool skipper has been a rock in front of England’s fluid three-man defense but he will have the unenviable task of stopping Modric from dictating the tempo of the game. Real Madrid’s magician has won the Man of the Match award in three of his five games at the World Cup and is a serious contender for the Golden Ball as the best player at the 2018 tournament. If Henderson can’t stop Modric linking up with his central midfield partner Ivan Rakitic then England is in big trouble. Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard won’t offer Henderson much defensive help in midfield, so maybe Eric Dier will come in to help shore things up. Modric is the man of the moment.
Dejan Lovren vs. Harry Kane
This particular battle hasn’t gone well for Lovren in recent times with Kane bullying him at Wembley Stadium last season en-route to a 4-1 win for Tottenham against Liverpool. Kane leads the World Cup with six goals but what has been more impressive is the way he has lad the line, held up the ball and taken a battering for his team. Lovren played superbly for Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League final and has played well for Croatia in this tournament, despite the occasional slip-up. Lovren will have to play a near perfect game to stop Kane given his current form. This battle will perhaps be the key to determining who reaches the final.
Ivan Perisic vs. Kieran Trippier
An intriguing battle this will be down England’s right flank. Trippier has been a revelation at right-wing back but Perisic will be a huge test for the Tottenham full back. The Inter Milan star not only has the ability to score and create goals at key moments but his work rate sees him buzz down the left channel tirelessly and Trippier will not be able to switch off for a minute. That channel between Trippier and Kyle Walker has been a slight problem for England at times as Walker pushes forward from center back and Croatia may look to thread balls to Perisic as soon as they can when launching counter attacks.
Why they’ll win the World Cup: France
Nicholas MendolaNBC Sports•Jul 7, 2018, 1:15 PM
First of all, relax — This is part of a four-post series making the case for each of four World Cup semifinalists in their respective bids to win the 2018 edition of the tournament.
That said, let’s talk about why France will be lifting the World Cup trophy on July 15 in Moscow.
Why France will win the tournament: Following a 2-0 defeat of Uruguay in Friday’s quarterfinal, manager Didier Deschamps noted that Les Bleus relative inexperience peeks out at times.That might be helping France, who has built its tournament acumen back up following the embarrassment of 2010 in South Africa. France lost to eventual champions Spain at EURO 2012, then again fell to a champion when Germany knocked the French out at the quarterfinal stage of the 2014 World Cup.The French then (mostly) bossed the home EURO 2016 and the final despite losing to Eder‘s extra time tally in setting the stage for this summer in Russia.France has survived legacy-desperate Lionel Messi and Argentina (just, really) and a feisty Uruguay despite still waiting to get consistent star turns from Samuel Umtiti and Hugo Lloris (though the backstop made a magnificent save late in the first half Friday versus the South American side.Olivier Giroud, a man known for big goals, also is still waiting to break onto the score sheet. France has thrived through a kid (Kylian Mbappe), a dominating should-be Ballon d’Or candidate (N’Golo Kante), and two stars attackers doing it loudly (Antoine Griezmann) and quietly (Paul Pogba).Throw in Raphael Varane, and France has been steady up the middle. If they can get past Belgium, which this post assumes they do thanks to the title, find us a team on the other side of the bracket equipped to punish the French. England? Sweden? Russia?No, it would come down to Croatia. And right now we’d sign up for that feast of football… and expect Les Bleus to emerge victorious.
Factbox: Belgium and France World Cup semi-final history
Reuters•July 9, 2018
ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) – Belgium and France meet in the World Cup semi-final at the Saint Petersburg Stadium on Tuesday.
It will be only the second semi-final appearance for Belgium, but for France it is a sixth:
– Belgium’s only previous semi-final appearance came at the 1986 finals, where Diego Maradona turned on the second half magic and ensured for Argentina a place in the final with both goals in a 2-0 victory.
– In that tournament, Belgium squeezed through the first round in third place in their group after losing to hosts Mexico, before needing extra time to beat the Soviet Union in the last 16 and penalties to overcome Spain in the quarter-finals.
– Defender Eric Gerets rated the class of 2018 as more talented footballers than his 1986 team mates but said he did not believe they had the same fighting spirit until he saw their 2-1 win over Brazil in Friday’s quarter-final.
– After losing in the 1986 semi-final, Belgium faced France in Puebla for the bronze medal in the third place playoff and were beaten 4-2 after extra time despite taking an early lead.
– Belgium made it to the last eight at the last World Cup in Brazil but their hopes of a semi-final spot were snuffed out by one early Gonzalo Higuain goal for Argentina.
– There are 15 players from the 2014 Belgian squad who have returned for the tournament in Russia, having picked up considerable experience in the meantime.
– Just Fontaine’s record of 13 goals in a single tournament from the 1958 finals still stands as he helped propel the French to their first-ever semi-final, where they lost 5-2 to Brazil in Stockholm, with teenager Pele scoring a hat-trick.
– France lost on post-match penalties to West Germany in Seville in the 1982 semi-final, best remembered for an unpunished kung-fu style challenge by goalkeeper Harold Schumacher on France’s Patrick Battison that saw the Frenchman stretchered off 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute with a cracked vertebra and damaged teeth.
– Four years later in Mexico, France were again semi-finalists but once more thwarted by the Germans, losing 2-0 in Guadalajara.
– France won the World Cup when they hosted the 1998 finals, beating Croatia in the semi-final 2-1 with both goals from defender Lilian Thuram, but they had big defender Laurent Blanc sent off, meaning he missed the final win over Brazil.
– Current coach Didier Deschamps captained France that year as they lifted the trophy for the first time. He is now seeking to return to the final as he chases the double of winning the World Cup as both a player and a coach.
– France’s fifth semi-final appearance came in 2006, when Zinedine Zidane’s penalty was enough to beat Portugal 1-0.
England inspire nation as Premier League stars shine
England have reached their first World Cup semifinal since 1990 and in doing so they’ve inspired an entire nation to once again believe in their national team.After plenty of heartbreak over the past five decades since their only major trophy, the World Cup in 1966, England is united behind the Three Lions.Ahead of the 2018 World Cup tournament, nobody either at home or abroad gave Gareth Southgate‘s young side much hope of advancing to the latter stages.But with the Three Lions, the youngest team left in the competition, facing Croatia in Moscow on Wednesday for a place in the final, an entire nation is behind their likable, hard-working squad.
[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]
“Football’s Coming Home” is the new mantra for every English man and woman, even if many started signing it ironically as they didn’t believe this would be the case at all. The song, originally released to help England win on home soil at EURO ’96, has now surged back to the top of the charts in the UK amid the patriotic euphoria surrounding captain Harry Kane and Co.“It’s amazing to meet any heroes from ’66 and it gives you so much inspiration, obviously it’s been a long time since England have done well in a major tournament,” Kane said. “As a player and as a professional I know that I have a job, on and off the pitch, to inspire people and inspire kids watching this tournament. It’s amazing because I was one of those kids growing up who wanted to play for England. So to be here now, leading this team out, I’m so proud.”Pride. Unity. Respect. All three have been forthcoming in recent weeks as England’s youngster have eased into the semifinals in Russia. Most of their fans have looked on delighted, yet slightly bemused, as all they’ve known is heartache and disappoint as the “golden generation” of David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard came and went without a trip past the last eight of a major tournament.On the streets of England the words “it’s coming home” is being muttered, yelled and sung by millions as the Three Lions, for once, have inspired a nation with huge watch parties up and down the land leading to pints of beer flying into the sky in celebration time and time again.Even Southgate, who got the England job after being promoted from the U-21 boss following Sam Allardyce’s disgraceful sacking, has become a symbol of hope as his kind, courteous demeanour has been a breath of fresh air. He looks, and acts, like your favorite uncle as his waistcoats have become legendary and #GarethSouthgateWould sums up his character perfectly.With England, and the rest of the UK, currently embroiled in political turmoil regarding Brexit and a deteriorating relationship with Russia, the national team have brought the nation together at least for a few weeks.Southgate hit the nail on the head when he spoke about England fans from different backgrounds now feeling that this is their team with his players representative of the multi-cultural British society.“We are a team with our diversity and with our youth that represents modern England,” Southgate said. “In England we’ve spent a bit of time being a bit lost as to what our modern identity is and I think as a team we represent that modern identity, and hopefully people can connect with us.”And it’s not just the English national team who have benefited from fielding youngsters used to playing in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.Both Belgium and France, who face off in the other semifinal in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday, have been led by young squads, many of whom flourish week in, week out in England’s top-flight.In total there are 40 Premier League players remaining at the World Cup out of a total of 92 players. That’s quite remarkable.England have 23 PL players. Belgium have 11. France five. Croatia one.
When you look at the Europe’s other top leagues, 12 players from La Liga remain, plus nine from the Bundesliga, 12 from Ligue 1 and eight from Serie A. The Premier League has been one of the biggest winners from this World Cup, as stars such as Harry Kane, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Hugo Lloris have shone.
Tottenham Hotspur has more players remaining at the World Cup than any other club on the planet with nine and you can point to the likes of Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino mangaging in the Premier League in having a huge impact on how England have fared due to their faith in giving young English players a chance to shine.The financial muscle of the Premier League makes it tough for young Englishman to break through, but we are starting to see that the ones who do make it are not only worthy of their spot on the national stage but also the global one.England have given their nation reason to dream and the Premier League stars who litter the final four will make sure those dreams continue to be met in stadiums across the country for the 2018/19 campaign and beyond.Even if football isn’t coming home, the state of the English national team and the Premier League is very healthy indeed.
England Coasts, Croatia Perseveres as Both End World Cup Semifinal Droughts
By GRANT WAHL July 07, 2018
MOSCOW — England and Croatia set up a World Cup semifinal showdown on Wednesday after England beat Sweden 2-0 and Croatia eliminated Russia on penalties after a crazy 2-2 tie that included two goals in extra time.The World Cup hosts needed a 115th-minute goal from Mario Fernandes to stay alive, but it couldn’t conjure a second straight PK triumph in a row. Croatia, however, could. Fernandes missed everything on his spot kick, tilting the balance Croatia’s way, and Ivan Rakitic scored on the clinching kick for a second consecutive match, allowing Croatia to go through on a 4-3 edge. It marks Croatia’s second trip to the semifinals–the other came 20 years ago–and is the culmination of another talented side having its golden generation meet its potential after Belgium secured its last-four berth on Friday.
England, Croatia, Belgium and France make up an all-European semifinal, with the latter two kicking off the last four on Tuesday in Saint Petersburg.But before then, here are my three thoughts on the day:
• THIS ENGLAND TEAM HAS A FRESH KIND OF APPEAL
England is in the men’s World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1990, but the appeal of this particular England team lies in much more than just the length of its tournament run. This is a refreshing, young team. It’s one that has a clear identity, one that has put in the time to build chemistry on and off the field and one that has worked on combination plays that you can see on set pieces and during the run of play. That was the case against Sweden on England’s first goal, yet another set-piece strike off a corner kick, and it was the case on the second goal, which scorer Dele Alli said was a combination with passer Jesse Lingard that they had worked on in practice sessions.Another aspect of England’s appeal is its likeability. Most of that comes from the players. The captain, Harry Kane, is leading the Golden Boot race with six goals, and his youth, his normal-guy-ness and his ability to handle pressure-packed situations have won him even more fans globally during this World Cup. Across the board, players like Lingard, Raheem Sterling, Kieran Trippier, Ashley Young, John Stones and Jordan Pickford just seem like team-first personalities instead of what we have seen at times in the past from England players at World Cups.Then there’s the coach, Gareth Southgate, who has pushed so many of the right buttons during the tournament, preparing his to take advantage of set pieces better than any team in the World Cup and defusing situations off the field—the Sterling tattoo story, the leaked lineup story—that would have caused bigger problems in previous World Cups.England may not be the best team in this World Cup, but it has a real chance to win the World Cup, and that’s a credit to the selfless work of the coach and his players.
- WILL ENGLAND HAVE A SIGNIFICANT ADVANTAGE ON REST IN THE SEMIFINALS?
You can be certain that it will be a talking point heading into the semifinal: England played only 90 minutes on Saturday, and it will face a team that has played 120 minutes in each of the last two games. But my sense is that while it will be a talking point, it’s not that big a deal when it comes down to it.Consider that England also played 120 minutes against Colombia and went to penalties in the round of 16, and having a full three days off between the quarterfinals and semifinals should be enough time for players to recover. The questions for Croatia will surround starting right back Sime Vrsaljko, who was forced off with an injury in extra time, and goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, who appeared to tweak his hamstring at the end of regulation before toughing it out through the shootout.
- LUKA MODRIC IS STRANGELY UNDERRATED
It’s crazy to write that about a player so vital to Real Madrid, but it’s true. Modric hasn’t gotten enough credit for his role in his club’s three straight Champions League titles, and now he’s not getting enough credit for being the best player of this World Cup (so far).In a wild victory on penalty kicks against Russia, the fantastic Modric took over the game in the latter stages, and his energy output and surpassing skill were evident at a time when other players were struggling to move. He had some good fortune in the penalty shootout, when Igor Akinfeev got a hand to his kick only to put it off the post and in, but his leadership and control were vital for Croatia to see out the result.Croatia is now in its second World Cup semifinal in the country’s history, the last time coming in 1998, and it will be fascinating to see how England tries to contain Modric in the midfield. It could well determine which of the two sides advances for a final berth that few saw as a real possibility before the tournament began.Grant Wahl has covered soccer for 22 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, Masters of Modern Soccer, details the craft of soccer position by position. You can order it here.
The Factors and Figures Behind Europe’s World Cup Dominance Trend
By BRIAN STRAUS July 08, 2018
- PETERSBURG — For Uruguayan coach and soccer sage Óscar Tabárez, this story really isn’t much of a story.“Don’t ask me something that is self-evident. I think there are other things that are worth commenting on,” he said following La Celeste’s round-of-16 loss to France.The question, from a Bolivian journalist, was about what had gone wrong with South American soccer. Why was the continent that had produced Pelé and Messi, Uruguay’s garra charrúa and Brazil’s joga bonito—and which as recently as 2002 had won more World Cups than Europe—now struggling to contend at the very highest level? Why were European teams on the verge of an unprecedented fourth straight title?Tabárez correctly pointed out that Brazil remained alive at the time, and insisted, “We can’t take this match today as a point of reference.”A few hours later, however, Brazil was out—defeated by Belgium, a small European nation whose best World Cup was a fourth-place finish back in 1986.The big picture, for those looking for one, was best summed up by the well-known Spanish daily, Diario AS. A few days after its front page lamented “El Fin De Una Generación”—the end of a generation—AStrumpeted sustained hegemony. La Furia Roja were out. But Europe remained dominant.“EUROMUNDIAL” was the one-word headline superimposed over a picture of dejected Brazilian players.The World Cup is European. Again.
In part, this is a story about sample size. When does a pattern emerge? Tabárez certainly was correct when he suggested that the 2-0 win by that specific French squad over that specific Uruguayan squad was emblematic only of the fact that France was better that day in Nizhny Novgorod. After all, La Celeste already had eliminated the reigning European champion, Portugal, in this World Cup’s second round. One game, team or tournament isn’t sufficient to create a trend. And if one of Brazil’s numerous second-half chances goes in against Belgium, perhaps we’re not even having this conversation.But they didn’t, and so European rule has become one of the themes of the 21st World Cup here in Russia. When Brazil secured its fifth star in 2002, no continent (meaning, Europe or South America) had won more than two in a row. And Europe hadn’t claimed consecutive titles since Italy went back-to-back in the grainy, black-and-white days of 1934 and 1938.But now, with France and Belgium (Wednesday in St. Petersburg) and Croatia and England (Thursday in Moscow) set for the semis, a UEFA country will be crowned world champion for the fourth straight time. And the fact that four nations will have built that streak is a testament to the continent’s depth. Since Brazil’s fifth title, European sides will have taken seven of the eight available spots in the World Cup final (Lionel Messi’s Argentina claimed the eighth after defeating the Netherlands on penalties four years ago), 13 of the past 16 semifinalists and 11 of 12 medals.Yes, Europe gets more teams than each of the other five confederations. But its rate of advancement and success is higher than the 43.75% of the field it occupies. A continent’s World Cup allotment should be evaluated in part by the performance of the bottom teams, not the top, because any increase will come from there. And there’s no depth of talent and potential like the depth in UEFA. Among those 13 recent European semifinalists are nine nations. Over the past four tournaments, 16 European countries have advanced past the group stage. Some that aren’t good enough to qualify in one cycle may be primed for a deep run only four years later.That ’02 World Cup won by Brazil looked like it might represent the turning of the page, staged as it was in the new football frontier of Japan and South Korea. France’s title defense began with a loss to Senegal, an African debutant. Seven non-UEFA nations qualified for the round of 16. And thequarterfinalists included Korea, Senegal and the USA. It appeared the olde world order was on the verge of subversion.Instead, in hindsight, 2002 looks like an outlier, or maybe even a last hurrah. Europe has assumed control, with only the occasional foray by Brazil or Argentina threatening its dominance. It could be luck. It could mean nothing. It could be a temporary, self-sustaining trend sparked by internal competitive combustion that’ll inevitably wane or reverse, kind of like the NFC’s 13-year Super Bowl streak over the AFC that ended in the late ‘90s.Or, it could be the result of a genuine evolution in the sport, a quasi-permanent seizure of the continental balance of power resulting from factors as diverse as player recruitment and movement, youth development and sport science, finance and marketing, or even coaching and tactics. The best clubs, leagues and players are in Europe, whether they were born there or not. And now the best national teams are as well.When Tabárez brushed off the Bolivian reporter’s question, it wasn’t because it had no merit. It was because the answer was “self-evident.”Said Tabárez, “You have said European football is stronger … and saying that, means ignoring football reality, from a financial point of view [and] from a historical point of view.”Recent history certainly suggests that the global game has been reshaped by the money and power flowing to a narrowing number of leagues and clubs. At its apex, soccer is more elite than ever, even as the sport’s base expands. The global demand to watch these top teams on TV fuels massive rights and sponsorship fees. In the 2016-17 season alone, the 20 clubs in England’s Premier League produced revenue of around $6 billion. Money from continental competition pours in as well. UEFA estimated that next season’s Champions League, Europa League and Super Cup would generate around $3.8 billion. According to Deloitte, the sport’s top 20 clubs—all European—earned revenue in excess of $9 billion in 2016-17.The last time a club from outside Europe finished in the top 30 of Deloitte’s revenue ranking was 2014 (No. 24 Corinthians).
A lot of that money is spent on stuff that improves domestic soccer, from coaching education and facilities to technology and nutrition. It’s all significant, and you’d have to think that eventually the investment shows on the field. Fans in North and South America, Africa and Asia want to watch Barcelona play Manchester City, and the money flows from their TV networks and corporate partners—essentially their own pockets—into European soccer, likely making the players developed by its clubs even better.Wealth in general probably is a factor as well. Of the planet’s top 30 countries in GDP, 14 are European. Latin America, the only region that currently can challenge Europe’s footballing obsession and depth of talent, is home to three. On a per-capita basis, the highest-ranking Latin American country in 2017 was Chile, at 56.Meanwhile, the top talent from outside Europe, especially from Latin America and Africa, is scouted, recruited and signed at increasingly younger ages. This obviously is a generalization, but perhaps there are enough players leaving non-European homes, and at an earlier age, to impact chemistry or tactical cohesion back with their senior national sides, which gather and play only intermittently. Even though European nations make up less than half the World Cup field, around 74% of the tournament’s rostered players are on the books at European clubs.For example, Brazil’s 2002 winners featured 13 players from its domestic Serie A. This summer’s quarterfinalist had three. Tite’s Brazil was good enough to win it all, and three also is the number of domestic players on the Argentina team that came so close in 2014. That’s a reminder that none of these issues, on its own, comes close to a potential explanation. But maybe in combination, they paint an impressionist picture. It’s worth noting that African countries like Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast have been loaded with players starring for clubs in quality European leagues, but there’s been next to no World Cup dividend. For some reason, talent flowing into Europe seems to benefit mostly Europe. Perhaps it raises the bar for domestic development as much as it helps those incoming foreigners, all while weakening imports’ connection with home ever so slightly.None of these are definitive reasons. But to whatever extent Europe’s four straight World Cup titles constitute a trend, it seems that it may be partially fueled by these dynamics.Another potential influence is tactics and style of play, which at a World Cup may shade toward the things at which more European sides stereotypically embrace. In short, defensive structure, set pieces and vigor are probably easier to implement in a few short weeks of national team training time than complex attacking patterns or individual game-breaking skill and flair. The fact that this has been the World Cup of the set piece, penalty kick and own goal is illustrative. There certainly have been South American sides with grit (see, Dunga), and tiki-taka powered Spain to a star in 2010 (although one could argue that pressing and possession are as much about defense as attacking). But we’re talking about a small shift in what works at the World Cup that might benefit European teams just enough to offer another slight nudge toward a title.Possession hasn’t necessarily been helpful here in Russia. According to TruMedia Networks, the top six teams in average possession at this World Cup already have gone home. Interestingly, Croatia, England, France and Belgium rank 7th through 10th, respectively. Uruguay, the CONMEBOL side that held the ball the least, still stands 19th overall. Four years ago, Germany finished second in the possession standings at 60%, but none of the other semifinalists were in the top eight.South American teams have more of the ball than European teams on average (53% to 50%) since Brazil won in 1994. And European sides appear to be more comfortable without it. Across the past nine tournaments, 10 UEFA teams have gotten out of their group with less than 45% possession. South American sides have managed that just twice. In short, apart from Spain’s legendary 2010 side, it’s going to be tough to “Olé” your way to the World Cup trophy. This tournament is just as likely to reward bare-bones soccer.All of which may mean little when so many games are decided by such miniscule margins. Or, perhaps all of it, in concert, moves those margins just enough. Four straight is four straight, and 13 of 16 is 13 of 16. And so for some, like Tabárez, the definition of World Cup success may have shifted slightly as well.“Today we have lost,” he said after falling to France. “But it seems the four games we won before this one are worth nothing. That’s not true. Today we played against opponents that were stronger than we were. We have to admit it and we have to congratulate them. That’s all we can do.“And I think the world has seen what we have achieved,” he continued. “The world knows what we were able to do and they also know what kind of country we are. We’re a small country, and of course certain things are more difficult for us than for other countries like France or Germany or England.”
Why the world’s biggest countries fail with the World Cup
Martin Rogers, USA TODAYPublished 3:30 p.m. ET July 8, 2018 | Updated 6:01 p.m. ET July 8, 2018
SportsPulse: Fox Sports’ Cobi James breaks down Belgium’s win against Brazil and France’s triumph over Uruguay.USA TODAY Sports
MOSCOW — Nowhere does the idea that “size matters” feel more out of place than in soccer.Lionel Messi, all five feet and seven inches of him, is one of the sport’s all-time greats. Even seemingly towering goalkeepers stand no taller than your typical NBA point guard.Yet size seems to be even less of an advantage when it comes to factors of national population. Indeed, in relation to the World Cup the bigger a country is, the more likely it will be sitting at home watching on television.Compared to their lofty standing in tables detailing the sheer scale of humanity, the planet’s largest countries punch well below their weight in the global game. And yes, count the United States squarely among the underachievers – this year at least.The four most populated nations on earth make up nearly 44 percent of all the humans in existence. However, not one of those countries is present at the World Cup, and most of them didn’t even get a sniff of it.So why is it that the likes of the U.S., China, India and Indonesia are bad enough to be excluded from a field of 32 that included Iceland, Uruguay, Panama and Croatia, whose numbers combine for slightly more than the state of North Carolina?“They share large populations which would make you think that they’d all be capable of producing highly talented players (from that) big pool,” Stefan Szymanski, co-author of the book Soccernomics, told USA TODAY Sports. “The reasons are all different.”
India, the biggest country on earth, has never truly prioritized soccer. While India got through a playoff against Nepal, it placed bottom of its first qualifying group for this World Cup behind Guam, population 162,000 and not even an official country.
Indonesia took part once, as the Dutch East Indies, back in 1938. It played one game, got hammered 6-0, and has been nowhere near since. In 2014, it lost all six games in its qualification group, conceding 26 goals in the process. It was likely spared further embarrassment this time by being suspended by FIFA for government interference in its soccer federation.
China has played once at the World Cup, back in 2002, losing all three games without even scoring a goal. This time it got a qualifying win over South Korea, but still finished fifth out of six teams in its Asian pool.
As for the United States, you know what happened there and we don’t need to talk about it. We do? Okay, well, needing only a tie against Trinidad and Tobago (population 1.3 million and having lost eight in a row), the Americans stumbled to defeat and missed out. Panama (population of 4.1 million) qualified from the CONCACAF region instead.“Not that soccer’s not played (in the U.S.), but it’s not an important activity,” Szymanski added. “It hasn’t been. The potential is there because it has a wealthy economy, but schools, colleges, people…have mainly been interested in other big sports rather than soccer. That may change in the future, but that’s been the way it has been.”All of the populous nations mentioned also occupy huge areas. Smaller geographic nations can benefit from elite players being able to collect in close proximity.The four semifinalists come from the 78th (Belgium), 128th (Croatia), 21st (France) and 22nd (England – though stated population is for the United Kingdom) most populated nations on the planet. Brazil (5th) is the most populous country at the World Cup and got bumped by Belgium in the quarters.“Our team are like brothers,” Icelandic soccer agent Magnus Magnusson said. “One of the disadvantages of being so small is obvious – you have less players. But the big advantage is these guys have played together since they were young.”Being an underdog can also foster spirit.
“We have big hearts and we fight for our people back home,” Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic said.In many countries soccer is not just the national sport, but the only one that truly has a serious following. In India, the same can be said instead for cricket – at the expense of all else. India did qualify for the World Cup once, in 1950. It promptly withdrew – for reasons that are still entirely unclear – and didn’t participate in the tournament. Indonesia finds things tough due to factors both economic and geographical. It is spread out over several islands, making it hard to pull together strong and cohesive national teams at all age group levels.Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Ethiopia and Bangladesh all have more people than any of the semifinalists. None of them have ever played in a World Cup.The U.S. qualified for the seven World Cups before this one and is unlikely to miss out again in four years’ time. The Americans aside, China is the most viable high-population nation to do something about its soccer struggles. President Xi Jinping has taken up the soccer cause as a personal pet project, ordering that it be made part of the national school curriculum and encouraging major businesses to invest as a way of currying favor.After years of being a corrupt joke, the Chinese league has gotten serious by investing huge sums in signing elite international players. Xi’s blueprint is to qualify for a World Cup, host a World Cup and eventually, one day, win one.Given China’s economic clout and ability to rally behind a cause, at least two of those outcomes seem plausible.Yet ultimately, the impact population has on soccer success boils down to a simple reality. However many people might live in a country, only 11 of them can be on the field at any one time.Contributing: Jack White
RECAP | INDY ELEVEN CLAIM THREE POINTS AGAINST CHARLOTTE INDEPENDENCE, 2-1
By Trey Higdon, 07/08/18, 12:00AM EDT
“Indiana’s Team” ends third home match in seven-day span with a win
Indy Eleven close out their third home game in a seven day span with three points after downing a 10-man Charlotte Independence squad, 2-1. The “Boys in Blue” came back from a one goal deficit with strikes from forward Ben Speas and defender Carlyle Mitchell.“We had a lot of adversity in that game,” said Indy Eleven head coach Martin Rennie. “We had two players go off in the first fifteen minutes, we lost a goal and were down, but we managed to keep fighting and get the win. We showed a lot of character and confidence and we’re really happy with that.”The night started in favor of the visitors after “Indiana’s Team” was forced to make two early substitutions within the first 20 minutes of play. The first of the two subs occurred in the 10th minute when Indy forward Justin Braun hobbled out of play while tracking the ball into Charlotte’s 18-yard box. The speedy forward was immediately opted out of the game upon inspection from the team’s medical staff. The second occurred seven minutes later when forward Eugene Starikov came on in place of defender Kevin Venegas.Both sides had solid looks at goal in the first half, but neither side could find the back of the net.Charlotte’s first attempt came in the 15th minute. Independence midfielder Cordell Cato managed to settle a falling ball inside Indy’s keeper’s box. A slight nudge from Cato created an opportunity at goal for Charlotte forward and former Eleven frontman Eamon Zayed. The Irishman tried to catch Eleven goaltender Owain Fon Williams off his line but the the Wales international did well to deflect the strike up field.Charlotte managed to find their lead in the 50th minute. A pass from Charlotte defender Sam Vines found forward Jorge Herrera’s legs in the center of Indy’s 18-yard box. The 37-year-old’s right-footed strike from the top of the box split between Mitchell and defender Karl Ouimette and in goal near the right post. The goal placed Herrera as Charlotte’s leading goal scorer with nine goals in 2018.Charlotte’s lead lasted 12 minutes before Indy’s pressing resulted in a response from Speas. In the 62nd minute, Speas volleyed a shot past Charlotte goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra from a midair chain between defender Ayoze and Starikov. The goal marked Speas’ first of 2018 and his first since August 26, 2017 against former rivals Jacksonville Armada FC.The level scoreline turned into a lead for Indy in the 70th minute. A corner kick from Ayoze squared the pass to the top of the six-yard box where Mitchell headed the airborne ball into the upper left corner of the goal. The goal makes for Mitchell’s second of the season, nearly mirroring his first against Atlanta United 2 in Week 13.Charlotte made a last ditch effort to equalize in the 90th minute when Cato struck from the corner of the six-yard box. Fon Williams denied Cato’s shot with a sprawling save, securing three points for the home team.Right now we’ll enjoy this game. Then, we’ll start thinking about Wednesday’s game,” Rennie said. “There is a little break after that which will be well deserved and well-earned but before that break we have to make sure we do well in the next game against Charleston.”The “Boys in Blue” hit the road for the remainder of July. “Indiana’s Team” will return to Lucas Oil Stadium on Wednesday, August 15 to take on North Carolina FC for Networking Night. Fans can get tickets by visiting IndyEleven.com/Tickets or by calling (317)685-1100.
USL Regular Season Indy Eleven 2:1 Charlotte Independence
Saturday, July 7, 2018 – 7:00 p.m. Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis, Indiana
CLT – Jorge Herrera (Sam Vines) 50′
IND – Ben Speas (Eugene Starikov) 62′
IND – Carlyle Mitchell (Ayoze) 70′
Indy Eleven lineup (4-4-2, L–>R): Owain Fôn Williams (GK); Ayoze, Carlyle Mitchell, Karl Ouimette, Kevin Venegas (Eugene Starikov 17′); Brad Ring (Juan Guerra 90′), Matt Watson (C), Nico Matern, Seth Moses, Soony Saad, Justin Braun (Ben Speas 10′)Indy Eleven bench: Lundgaard (GK); Brad Rusin,Tyler Pasher, Ben Speas, Juan Guerra, Eugene Starikov, Jack McInerney
Charlotte Independence lineup (4-3-3, L–>R): Andrew Dykstra (GK); Bilal Duckett, Lee Jung-Soo (Greg Jordan 73′), Joel Johnson, Sam Vines (Mutaya Mwape 86′); Kay Voser (Jake Areman 82′), Kevan George, Cordell Cato, Alex Martinez; Eamon Zayed, Jorge HerreraCharlotte Independence bench: Brandon Miller (GK); Jake Areman, Greg Jordan, Mutaya Mwape, Ricardo Perez
Buffon: Champions League not an obsession for me or PSG
Associated Press•July 9, 2018
PARIS (AP) — Despite it being the only trophy missing from a glittering collection, veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon says the Champions League is not “an obsession” for him after joining Paris Saint-Germain.The 40-year-old Buffon completed his free-agent move last week after 17 years with Juventus, during which he became established as one of the best goalkeepers in the world.Buffon won his ninth Serie A title this season, leading the Bianconeri to a fourth successive league and cup double.He also won the World Cup with Italy in 2006 and the UEFA Cup with Parma in 1999, but has never lifted the Champions League, losing three finals with Juventus.”I don’t think it’s an obsession for me and neither for Paris Saint Germain,” said Buffon at his first PSG press conference on Monday. “I accepted this offer because I think there are the conditions here for me to grow as a player and a person.”I think I can also help PSG to grow a bit on the pitch and then we can aim for even more important goals. But when the season begins you can’t think of enveloping all this in the aim for the Champions League because that would be complete craziness and we’re not crazy here.”French champion PSG has spent more than 1 billion euros ($1.175 billion) on players since Qatar Sports Investments took over in 2011 with the aim of turning it into a world-class team.The club has so far failed to transfer its domestic dominance onto the international stage. It was eliminated from the Champions League at the round of 16 this season, having reached the quarterfinals the previous four years.Buffon will miss PSG’s first three matches in the 2018-19 Champions League, after being suspended for his red card in this season’s quarterfinal defeat against Real Madrid and for comments about the referee.Buffon, who made 656 appearances for Juve, was expected to retire at the end of the season and had said he was “planning a different future” until PSG made contact in May.He has penned a one-year deal, with the option for an additional season, and has no idea when he will hang up his boots.”I’ve stopped making these calculations because when I was 30 I thought I had two or three more years, then when I got to 34 I thought I had one or two years maximum, then I got to 37, 38 and now I’m 40,” said Buffon.”Until this year I played in the national team too and when someone plays in the national team it means they’re at the top level. I don’t want to ask myself this question again because I think it’s wrong and I think it creates a negative situation for myself that I don’t need.”Buffon, former captain of Juve and Italy, retired from the international stage in November after the Azzurri lost a World Cup playoff to Sweden, although he returned for a couple of friendlies.He made 176 appearances for Italy — a European record — and was voted Serie A’s goalkeeper of the year 12 times.Buffon has never played for a club outside Italy. He even stayed with Juve when it was demoted to the second division in 2006 following the Calciopoli refereeing scandal, which also saw the Bianconeri stripped of two Serie A titles.
Indiana Soccer League Discounted Offer for Chicago Fire Games
The Chicago Fire Soccer Club would like to invite all families and members involved with ISL out for a Chicago Fire MLS match this Summer and Fall.
On-field experiences for children age 5-17 before every match! This offer includes discounted group ticket pricing for anyone interested.
Please email Stew with the Chicago Fire – Sgreen@chicago-fire.com – for more information about on-field experiences for kids for specific game days, or any other questions!
Wed, July 11 at 7:30 pm vs Philly Union
Saturday, July 21st at 6:00pm vs Toronto FC
Sunday, September 16th at 4:00pm vs Orlando City SC