12/29/22 Pele Dies, EPL/La Liga Games on TV, USWNT She Believes Cup in Feb before July WWC

Interesting as all the talk after the Magnificent World Cup win by Messi and Argentina was about Messi being the GOAT.  But Pele’s death happening yesterday reminded us who the GOAT really was the Man who Coined Soccer – the Beautiful Game- King PELE.   Pele was before my time – I simply was not a soccer guy until the 1982 World Cup – so I just didn’t experience the PELE phenomenon first hand.  But looking back now – there isn’t really any question.  Pele scored a record 1283 goals in 1367 – that’s almost 1 goal a game average.  He is also the ONLY player to EVER win 3 World Cups (1958, 1962, 1970).  Much like Muhammed Ali, Pele transcended from Sport – he was perhaps THE BEST Known athlete of his day.   Sad that back then Brazilian players did not play in European leagues – so Pele (who played professionally for Santos in Brazil) never got to play in the well known European Competitions – for this reason he never won the Baloon D’Or or Player of the Year honors – no doubt he would have won it 10 plus times if he had.  Santos would travel the world and play Exhibition games around Europe and the World beating the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Milan, Paris, Juventus, Liverpool, Man United and many more– but since they weren’t in the league European competition didn’t lead to Champions League or Europa League trophies like it does now.  Love this Pele did it first comparison .   (Pele the Birth of a Legend Movie)  Of course Pele did come out of retirement to thrill US crowds as part of the New York Cosmos in the NASL in the late 1970s and scored the greatest goal in NASL history.  (Once in a Lifetimee- the NY Cosmos Story).  He played himself in 1 of the Best Soccer movies ever – Victory, he wins it with the Bike.     Messi or Pele?    Pele & the USMNT video 

Games to Watch

American’s in the EPL take the field Sat AM as Leeds United States of America look to stay above the relegation zone as they travel to New Castle United at 10 am on USA.  Meanwhile Fulham (in 8th overall) with Jedi and team Captain Tim Ream (who just signed a 1 yr extension after scoring his first EPL goal this week) will host Southampton at 10 am on Peacock.   Sunday Tottenham faces Aston Villa at 9 am on Peacock before Chelsea and Puliisic (who started and played 70 min last game)  travel to Nottingham Forest at 11:30 am on Peacock.  It’s a busy week of soccer as EPL, La Liga and Italy all have games on the docket.  Mckinney and Juve play Cremonese on Wed at 12:30 pm on Paramount+, while Leeds United hosts West Ham at 2:45 pm on Peacock while Inter Milan and Napoli square off same time on Paramount+.  Thurs we get Chelsea and Pulisic hosting Man City again on Peacock, while Friday gives us Man United hosting Everton in FA Cup play on ESPN+ at 3 pm.  FA Cup Dominates the schedule next weekend along with Athletico Madrid vs Barelona and AC Milan vs Roma on Sunday. 

CARMEL FC GOALKEEPERS: TRAINING NEXT WEEK – Wednesday Night Trainings Jan-Mar – Badger Indoor Fieldhouse 5:30 pm U12//6:30 pm U13-U14//6:30 pm HS U15+. 

The King Pele – the GOAT dies this week. The Only 3 Time World Cup Winner – dubbed The Beautiful Game!


Fri, Dec 29                         

2:45 pm USA                      West Ham vs Brentford 

3 pm Peacock                   Liverpool vs Leicester City

3:30 pm ESPND, +             Real Valladolid vs Real Madrid

Sat, Dec 31                       

7:30 am USA                      Wolverhampton vs Man United  

8 am ESPN+                       Barcelona vs Espanoyl.

10 am USA                        New Castle United vs Leeds United (Adams, Aaronson)

10 am Peacock                 Fulham (Ream, Jedi) vs Southampton

10 am Peacock                  Man City vs Everton

10:15 am ESPN+               Villarreal vs Valencia

12:30 pm NBC                   Brighton vs Arsenal (Turner)

Sun, Jan 1                           

9 am Peacock                    Tottenham  vs Aston Villa

11:30 am  Peacock          Notingham Forest vs Chelsea (Pulisic)  

2:45 pm beIN Sport          Lens vs PSG

Mon, Jan 2

12:30 pm USA                    Brentford vs Liverpool

11 am bein sport               Lille (Weah) vs Reims

Tues, Jan 3                          

2:45 pm USA                      Arsenal vs New Castle United  

2:45 pm Peacock             Leicester City vs Fulham (Ream, Jedi)

3 pm Peacock                    Man United vs Bournmouth

Weds, Jan 4                        

12:30 pm Paramount+   Cremonese vs Juventus (McKinney)

2:45 pm Peacock             Leeds United (Adams, Aaronson) vs West Ham  

2:45 pm Para+                  Inter Milan vs Napoli

3 pm USA                            Crystal Palace vs Tottenham

3 pm ESPN+                       Intercity vs Barcelona

Thu, Jan 5                            

3 pm Peacock                   Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Man City  

Fri, Jan 6                            

3 pm ESPN+                      Man United vs Everton FA Cup

Sat, Jan 7                          

7:30 am ESPN+                  Tottenham vs Portsmouth FA CUP

10 am ESPN+                     Hull City vs Fulham (Ream, Jedi) FA CUP

10:15 am ESPN+               Villareal vs Real Madrid

10 am ESPN+                    Coventry vs Wrexham  FA Cup

12 noon Para+                   Juventus vs Udinese

12:30 pm                            Luton Town (Horvath) vs Wigan FA Cup

3 pm ESPN+                       Liverpool vs Wolverhampton

Sun, Jan 8                         

10 am ESPN+                    Cardiff vs Leeds United (Adams, Aaronson) FA CUP

10:15 am ESPN+               Villareal vs Real Madrid

11:30 am ESPN+               Man City vs Chelsea (Pulisic)  FA Cup

11:30 am ESPN+               Aston Villa vs Stevenage FA Cup

2:45 pm Para+                  Milan vs Roma

3 pm ESPN+                      Athletico Madrid vs Barcelona

Mon, Jan 9                       

3 pm ESPN+                      Oxford United vs Arsenal (Turner) FA CUP

Tues, Jan 10                     

3 pm ESPN+                      Man United vs Charlton Athletic  League Cup

3 pm Para+                         Inter Milan vs Parma  Copa Italia

Weds, Jan 11                    

3 pm ESPN+                       Man Coty vs SouthamptonLeague Cup

3 pm Para+                         Milan vs Torino Copa Italia

3 pm ESPN+                       Real Madrid vs Valencia  Supercopa

Thu, Jan 12                       

3 pm USA?                         Fulham (Ream, Jedi) vs Chelsea (Pulisic)

Fri, Jan 13                          

3 pm USA?                         Aston Villa cs  Leeds United (Adams, Aaronson)

3 pm Para +                       Napoli vs Juventus (McKinney)

Sat, Jan 14                         

7:30 am USA                     Man United vs Man City

Thu, Feb 16                       She Believes Cup

7 pm Fox Sports 1?          USWNT vs Canada

Sun, Feb 19                      

3:30 pm Fox                      USWNT vs Japan

Wed, Feb 22                     

7 pm FS1                            USWNT vs Brazil

Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw

CARMEL FC PLAYERS : Winter Players League (WPL) – Badger Indoor Fieldhouse
As the fall season comes to a close over the next month, we wanted to let you know that we will be launching an indoor soccer league over two six week sessions within our new Badger Fieldhouse. Games will be played on either Friday night ( 6pm to 10pm) or Sunday afternoon (1pm-5pm) depending on age groups: U8s, U9&U10, U11&U12, U13-U15 and U16+ (Coed Teams allowed). Referees for each game, 50 minute games, 5v5, 7v7 and 9v9 matches.
Session One (6 weeks): Jan 6th, 13th, 20th, 27th / Feb: 3rd, 10th
Session Two (6 weeks): Feb 17th, 24th / Mar 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th
Gather teammates and be ready to play!

US Women – She Believes & World Cup Coming

What should the USWNT have on its holiday wishlist?












USWNT’s Catarina Macario could be on the move from Lyon


Tim Ream’s big Day

American’s in the Transfer Window Mix
Marsch: No US-style salary cap makes PL tough
Grant Wahl’s life celebrated at NYC gathering

England’s Jude Bellingham, USMNT’s Yunus Musah named most promising U21 players
Pelé invigorated US soccer, paved way for ’94 World Cup, MLS

The Only player to Win 3 World Cups is Pele.


We mark the passing of the legendary Pelé, known to many as the king of the “beautiful game.” This image of a spiral galaxy in the constellation Sculptor shows the colors of Brazil.

Image of a spiral galaxy with spiral arms dotted with blue stars of varying intensity. The core of the galaxy is brightest and that's where the stars appear yellow-green. The image was taken by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer satellite, or GALEX. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Pele dies aged 82: Lionel Messi, Sir Bobby Charlton and Joe Biden lead tributes to Brazil footballing great

Examining the incredible legacy of Brazilian soccer legend Pelé

‘Football in four letters’: Global media bows to ‘King’ Pele

Mbappé, Neymar, President Biden, Obama among those who pay tribute to Pelé

Pelé, who rose from a Brazilian slum to become the world’s greatest soccer player, dies at 82

Pelé was a hero to many but especially to young American Black soccer players … like me | Opinion
USA Today
Appreciation: Pelé was the greatest soccer player. Was that good or bad for Brazil and for soccer?

Pelé remembered for transcending soccer around world

Pele: The greatest footballer of them all

Pele: Key dates in life of a football legend

Nobody disputes Pelé’s greatness but goal count fuels debate

Loyal to Santos, Pelé toured and scored in Europe

Mbappe, Ronaldo and other soccer stars mourn Pelé I The Rush

Pele and his NY Cosmos filled NFL Stadiums to watch NASL games in the late 1970s and early 80s.


Messi to Stay at PSG 1 More Season
Report: Cristiano Ronaldo signs $75 million-per-year deal with Al Nassr

Qatar splits with coach Sanchez after World Cup defeats


Best Saves in the World Cup

2022 FIFA World Cup: GK Golden Glove Winner Argentina’s Emiliano Martínez …

Emiliano Martinez – All Crucial Saves In World Cup 2022.HD

Dominik Livakovic All Saves At The World Cup 2022 – YouTube  

Golden Glove Contenders

Best 5 GKs  at the World Cup

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USMNT’s Tim Ream signs new one-year deal with Fulham

Tim Ream

By Peter Rutzler Dec 26, 2022

U.S. men’s national team and Fulham centre-back Tim Ream has signed a new one-year deal with the west London club.Ream, 35, impressed at the 2022 World Cup and scored the first Premier League goal of his career during Fulham’s 3-0 win against Crystal Palace on Boxing Day.The veteran defender has started all 16 of Fulham’s league matches this season, helping Marco Silva’s side to eighth place in the table. And after the victory over Palace, Silva hailed Ream’s, saying, “(He has had) a brilliant year. Collectively for us but as an individual, he has been fantastic.

“No one believed (he would play) the way he’s been performing right now. No one believed before that probably he would be involved in World Cup, playing all the games 90 minutes, in the way he played.

“I think coming back in very good shape like he showed this afternoon, it shows how is a great professional, a very good player.

“He is a really important player for me, that is leading by example.”

Speaking on the deal, which will see him remain at Fulham until the summer of 2024, Ream told Fulham’s club website: “I’m still not retiring! I’m going to be here for year number nine, and I’m excited.

“I feel the best I’ve ever felt, as confident as I’ve ever been. To extend it another 12 months into 2024 is a proud moment for myself and my family.”

It caps a memorable year for Ream, who was recalled to the USMNT for the World Cup, having previously not played since October 2021. He went on to play 90 minutes in all four of his country’s World Cup matches as they reached the last-16, ultimately losing 3-1 to the Netherlands.

On club level, a new deal culminates an impressive ascent, as the USMNT international started all 46 matches in Fulham’s title-winning Championship season, which earned them promotion back to the Premier League.

It also extends the west London club’s deep links with the USA. For example, Fulham have seen 91 goals scored by American players in the Premier League (excluding own-goals) — the same number as scored by every other team in the competition combined.

Pele: Brazil football legend dies aged 82

Pele: Brazil football legend dies aged 82

By The Athletic Staff 5h ago

Pele, one of the greatest footballers of all time, has died at the age of 82.The former Brazil, Santos and New York Cosmos striker died after being hospitalised at the Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo since November 29 due to his battle with colon cancer.Pele is Brazil’s joint all-time leading goalscorer, with 77 goals in 92 internationals. He is the only player to win three FIFA World Cups, in 1958, 1962 and 1970.A tribute to Pele on his official Instagram page read: “Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pele, who peacefully passed away today.“In his journey, Edson charmed everyone with his brilliance in sport, stopped a war, performed social work around the world, and spread what he most believed to be the cure to all our problems: love.

“Your message in life will become a legacy for generations to come. Love love and love forever. Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pele, who peacefully passed away today.“On his journey, Edson enchanted the world with his genius in sport, stopped a war, carried out social works all over the world and spread what he most believed to be the cure for all our problems: love. His message today becomes a legacy for future generations. Love, love and love, forever.”Pele’s daughter — Kely Nascimento — shared a picture of several hands touching the Brazil legend along with the caption: “Everything we are is thanks to you. We love you infinitely. Rest in peaceTributes have poured in since Pele’s death was confirmed.Neymar, who is Brazil’s joint top scorer alongside Pele, said: “Before Pele, 10 was just a number. I’ve read this phrase somewhere, at some point in my life. But this sentence, beautiful, is incomplete. I would say before Pele, football was just a sport. Pele has changed it all.“He turned football into art, into entertainment He gave voice to the poor, to the blacks and especially: He gave visibility to Brazil. Soccer and Brazil have raised their status thanks to the King! He’s gone but his magic remains. Pele is FOREVER!!”

Kylian Mbappe tweeted: “The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten. RIP KING.”

Santos, the Brazilian club he represented from 1956 to 1974, paid tribute to Pele by changing their Twitter display picture to a crown.In 1999, he was named Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee and one year later he was voted World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics.

FIFA, world football’s governing body, refers to him as ‘the Greatest’.

Pele was born in 1940 in the municipality of Tres Coracoes, the son of Fluminense footballer Dondinho and Celeste Arantes.

He made his debut for Santos aged just 15 and was handed his first full Brazil cap at 16. He scored on his debut for his nation, and remains the youngest-ever scorer for Brazil 65 years later.

Pele is Santos’ all-time top goalscorer with 643 goals from 659 games and helped the Brazilian side to win multiple trophies, including six league titles, the 1962 and 1963 Copa Libertadores and also 1962 and 1963 Intercontinental Cup.

Later in his career, he moved to the New York Cosmos. Pele became one of the stars of the North American Soccer League. He scored 37 goals in 64 games for the club, and in 2010 he was named their honorary president.

His total of 1,279 goals in 1,363 games — which somewhat controversially includes friendlies — is recognised as a Guinness World Record.

But it is for his feats in the famous yellow shirt of Brazil that Pele will be best remembered.

He became one of the world’s first truly global black sports stars at the 1958 World Cup and is the only player in history to win that tournament three times.

Pele was admired by his peers. Three-time Ballon d’Or winner Michel Platini compared him to “a God” while in 2015 Cristiano Ronaldo said: “Pele is the greatest player in football history, and there will only be one Pele.”

Follow live tributes and reaction to Pele’s passing 

Ronaldo’s future, Haaland’s record goals chase, Women’s World Cup: What to watch for in 2023

1:09 PM ET Mark OgdenSenior Writer, ESPN FC

Cristiano RonaldoLionel MessiKylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland all made the headlines in 2022, while Argentina and Real Madrid claimed football’s biggest trophies by winning the World Cup and Champions League, respectively, but there are already big storylines brewing for 2023. Some of the game’s biggest players will move to new teams, and there’s likely to be a change of ownership at two of football’s most high-profile clubs.

And although 2023 will be a quiet year on the international front in the men’s game — with the Asian Cup, to be staged in Qatar, the only major tournament on the calendar — the FIFA Women’s World Cup will see its champion crowned in Australia and New Zealand in July and August.

There are some big issues to be resolved in the months ahead, so how will they all play out?

Where now for Cristiano Ronaldo?

Ronaldo has been a free agent since Manchester United cancelled his contract during the World Cup, so there has been nothing to stop the 37-year-old from already finding a new club. But although the Portugal forward has been training with former team Real Madrid to stay in shape, Ronaldo has yet to announce his next destination.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga and more (U.S.)

The most likely outcome for Ronaldo is a move to Saudi Arabia, with Riyadh-based team Al Nassr having made a hugely lucrative offer for the player. Sources have told ESPN that Al Nassr are prepared to pay Ronaldo £175 million a year to join the club.


Ronaldo cited a desire to play in the Champions League when he attempted to force a move from United during the summer, but a move to Saudi Arabia would end his prospects of a Champions League swansong. Yet as it stands, any hope of a major European team making a move for him now seems unlikely to come to fruition.

A move to MLS is another possibility, but not even the glamour teams in Los Angeles or Miami could come close to competing with the money on offer in the Middle East.

Haaland on course for Premier League history

Predictions are always a risky business in football, but if you want a safe bet for 2023, there’s probably nothing safer than tipping Haaland to smash the Premier League record for goals in a single season.

Andy Cole (Newcastle 1993-94) and Alan Shearer (Blackburn 1994-95) jointly hold the record of scoring 34 goals in a Premier League season, but those two recorded their goal tally when there were 22 teams in the top division and 42 games a season, rather than today’s 20-team / 38-game Premier League season. Meanwhile, Manchester City forward Haaland took his Premier League goal haul to 20 during the 3-1 win at Leeds on Wednesday. He also became the quickest player ever to reach that figure, doing so in just 14 appearances.

It seems inevitable that Cole and Shearer will be erased from the record books in the weeks ahead, with the only real question surrounding how many goals Haaland will score. The last player to break the 40-goal barrier in England‘s top division was Chelsea‘s Jimmy Greaves, who scored 41 in the 1960-61 season. The Norway international is almost certain to be the next.

Can Erling Haaland score 50 goals this season?

Shaka Hislop and Julien Laurens discuss Erling Haaland’s performance vs. Leeds and whether it’s possible for him to reach 50 goals on the season.

New owners at Manchester United and Liverpool

Manchester United and Liverpool are the Premier League’s two biggest and most historic clubs, and both are on the market to be sold.

With Chelsea sold by former owner Roman Abramovich to an American consortium led by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly for £2.5 billion in May — with another £1.75 billion committed to future investment — it is expected that United and Liverpool will be sold for figures much higher than the Chelsea sale price. Sources have told ESPN that United’s owners, the Glazer family, believe they can raise over £6 billion for the club, while Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owners, are expected to command a figure in excess of £4 billion for the six-time Champions League winners.

– Explainer: What’s next for Glazers, Man United?

The rarity value of two such historic and globally renowned clubs being on the market is likely to inflate the sale price of both United and Liverpool, but sources have said that the Glazers’ asking price is optimistically high. With champions Manchester City (United Arab Emirates) and an emerging Newcastle (Saudi Arabia) owned by oil-rich states, United and Liverpool risk falling behind in the race for honours unless they can find new owners capable of matching the incredible financial power of two of their Premier League competitors.

Laurens impressed by Mbappe’s response to Argentina celebrations

Julien Laurens praises Kylian Mbappe for his mature response to France’s defeat in the World Cup final.

Will Kylian Mbappe stay at PSG or go?

Every transfer window brings a Kylian Mbappe saga about whether he will stay at Paris Saint-Germain or move to Real Madrid.

During the past two summer windows, PSG fended off strong interest from Real to keep Mbappe at Parc des Princes, and the Qatari-owned French champions were able to persuade the 24-year-old to sign a three-year contract when his existing deal expired this summer. But Mbappe has cut a frustrated figure at PSG at times this season, with constant reports of his unhappiness at the club and ongoing desire to move to Madrid.

– Laurens: Why Mbappe wants to leave PSG already

Mbappe’s PSG contract is reportedly worth more than £540 million over three years, so the financial cost of doing a deal to take him from Paris would be huge for Real. But having missed out on Mbappe and Haaland last summer when they wanted both, Real will push hard again for Mbappe this time around. In short, expect another big transfer showdown this summer.

A three-peat for USWNT or England’s first time?

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup promises to be the most competitive ever, with reigning champions the United States facing a real challenge from European champions England in Australia and New Zealand.

A 2-1 England win against the USWNT in a friendly at Wembley Stadium in October has given the Lionesses an early psychological advantage over their big rivals, but the Americans remain the team to beat in July and August. After all, Vlatko Andonovski’s team will be attempting to win their fifth World Cup and third in a row — something that has never been achieved in the women’s or men’s World Cup — while England head Down Under in pursuit of their first world title.

– Thompson: What to expect from Women’s World Cup

Although SwedenGermanyFrance and Spain will also expect to challenge for the title, England and the USA are the outstanding teams in the tournament, and with those two on alternate routes to the final, it is already set up for them to meet in the World Cup final in Sydney on Aug 20.

Marcotti: No need for Messi to rush PSG contract extension

Gab Marcotti believes it makes sense for Lionel Messi to extend his PSG contract, but feels there is no need to rush a new deal.

What will Lionel Messi do next?

Messi’s Paris Saint-Germain contract runs out on June 30, so the 35-year-old can start to negotiate in January with clubs over a free transfer move at the end of the season.

Both Messi and PSG have the option to extend his contract in Paris for a further 12 months, and sources have said that is the most likely outcome, with PSG determined to hold on to the player who inspired Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar. But Barcelona president Joan Laporta has spoken publicly in recent days about his desire for Messi to return to Camp Nou and see out his playing days at the club where he enjoyed such incredible success.

Sources have told ESPN that Inter Miami have spoken to the Messi camp about a move to MLS, in 2023 or 2024. Right now, a move to MLS seems unlikely in the coming year with Messi still having unfinished business in the European club game, although that could change if he helps PSG win their first Champions League this season.

Ultimately, nobody can compete with PSG’s financial might, which means a return to Barcelona or a move to MLS seem to be at least 18 months away.

Who’ll win the race to sign Jude Bellingham?

Borussia Dortmund will be at the centre of the biggest transfer chase of the summer for the second successive year, with Jude Bellingham set to be the 2023 version of Haaland.

Every major club in Europe tried to sign Haaland from Dortmund last year before Manchester City won the race for the striker by triggering his £51 million release clause at the German team. The same clubs are already vying for position to sign Bellingham, who emerged from the 2022 World Cup as one of the stars of the tournament with England, despite being just 19 years old during Qatar 2022.

Sources have told ESPN that Liverpool, Manchester City and Real Madrid are leading the chase to sign the midfielder, with Manchester United accepting that they cannot compete for a player they came close to signing as a 17-year-old when he left Birmingham City for Dortmund in 2020.

Liverpool have spent more than 12 months attempting to put themselves in pole position for Bellingham, and sources have said they remain a strong contender, but with the player not having an escape clause like Haaland had in his contract, Dortmund will expect a transfer fee in excess of £120 million — a sum that could price Liverpool out.

If it comes down to which club can pay the biggest fee, City and Real will be the final two again, just as they were with Haaland. But don’t rule Liverpool out. They have done so much groundwork on Bellingham that it might yet prove decisive.

Celebrating Pele, the greatest player in World Cup history

Celebrating Pele, the greatest player in World Cup history

Michael CoxDec 29, 202240

It is a matter of opinion whether Edson Arantes do Nascimento was the greatest footballer in the history of the world, but there’s little doubt he was the greatest footballer in the history of the World Cup. One simple fact concisely demonstrates that: Pele won it three times. No one else in history, man or woman, can match that.


Pele was nine years old when Brazil suffered a shock loss to Uruguay at the Maracana in the 1950 final, surely the most devastating defeat any nation has suffered in a World Cup. In the days before television, Pele’s family listened to the game on the radio, while Pele ran in and out of the house, playing football while periodically checking the scoreline.

At full-time, Pele saw his father — himself a renowned footballer — cry for the first time. He says he promised he would bring the Jules Rimet trophy back to Brazil one day.

But even Pele himself couldn’t have imagined it would be only eight years before he fulfilled his promise — and he remains the youngest ever World Cup winner, at 17 years and 249 days. When the Brazil side departed for Sweden, it was the first time Pele had been on a plane.

He nearly didn’t make it. The 17-year-old, who only had a year’s experience of professional football, was a highly controversial pick ahead of Corinthians legend Luizinho. Before departing for Sweden, one of Brazil’s warm-up matches was against Corinthians — and, with tremendous predictability, Pele was hacked to the ground by a defender, which threatened his participation in the tournament — and briefly re-opened the door for Luizinho.

Pele missed Brazil’s subsequent warm-up games and the first two games of the tournament, before making his World Cup debut, still far from 100% fit, in a comfortable 2-0 win over USSR. Pele didn’t score, although he was confident enough to try an audacious chip over Lev Yashin, still widely regarded as the greatest goalkeeper ever.



Pele scored six goals at his first World Cup, and all came in the knockout stage. His first came in a 1-0 victory over Wales, a tight game settled by a moment of brilliance that was typical Pele. It consisted of three touches, all of which would become familiar across subsequent tournaments.

The first touch was with his chest, which Pele used more successfully than any player in football history.

The second touch allowed him to turn past the defender in a typically smooth way. This was Pele’s real speciality, his ability to beat players on the spin. “[You have to] know how to receive a pass, to touch the ball onto wherever you want it to go,” he later explained. “Many of my team-mates could run well with the ball, tackle well and perform tricks, but not all of them knew how to receive the ball. They didn’t have this extra vision that I seemed to have. Maybe it’s something you can’t teach.”

The third touch was also classic Pele — although two-footed, he would shoot with his right foot when possible, even if the ball was slightly awkward to reach. He always got his head over a bouncing ball, keeping the shot down.

Pele’s only World Cup hat-trick came in the semi-final, a 5-2 win over France. The first was an open goal after the goalkeeper had spilled it into his path.

The second came when Pele produced another of his signature moves, receiving the ball and trying to tee himself up for a mid-air shot. However, he then selflessly attempted to pass to Vava, and when the shot was blocked, he pounced. Again, Pele decided to shoot with his right foot, cutting across the ball with the outside of his boot, when others might have swung their left leg at it.

The third, once again, came when Pele received a bouncing ball and set himself for a mid-air shot — this time, a dipping effort dispatched perfectly.



A freeze frame just before he takes the shot shows what a beautifully elegant player Pele was. This feels almost like a cartoon, a textbook diagram of a perfect volleyed effort.

The final pitched Brazil against hosts Sweden, who took an early 1-0 lead. But Brazil stormed back with two goals from Pele’s strike partner Vava, both close-range finishes after the sublime Garrincha had made inroads down the right.

In between, Vava set up Pele for what was nearly his greatest moment. Brazil’s No 10 received the ball 25 yards out with his left foot, did his usual thing of knocking it up for a mid-air smash with his right, but then touched the ball back onto his left foot, let it drop, and crashed a remarkable half-volley against the top of the far post. It would have been the greatest World Cup final goal of all time.

Pele shakes hands with Gustaf VI Adolf, king of Sweden, before the final (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)

But Pele still earned that honour later in the same game.

Towards the end of the first half, he received a long cross from left-back Nilton Santos with his chest, controlled with his thigh, then knocked the ball past a defender and, with everyone waiting to see the net ripple… he scuffed a shot wide with his left foot.

That was a warning sign. Ten minutes into the second half, he again received a deep cross from Santos, again controlled the ball with his chest, again flicked the ball over a defender — who desperately tried to bring him down…

… before producing another of his classic finishes, again with his head over the ball, dipping the shot down underneath the goalkeeper.

After Mario Zagallo added the fourth and Sweden got one back, Pele completed the scoring in stoppage time with a header.

Pele was outstanding in the air, primarily because he boasted such an impressive leap. He was only 5ft 8in, yet would score a huge number of headers throughout his career, particularly for someone who played as a No 10 rather than a No 9. Almost all his headed contributions came when hanging wide at the far post on the right and receiving a cross from the left.

(Photo: Getty Images)

But footage from the final often only shows the finish itself. That, sadly, omits what Pele did beforehand. Yet again he received the ball with his chest, glanced over his shoulder to check the position of the defender, before bringing his right foot in front of his left and backheeling the ball through to Zagallo, who provided the cross.

That backheel was, in the context of 1950s football, in the context of a World Cup final, a wondrous piece of skill that even Pele often forgot about when later recalling the goal.

Sigge Parling, the defender who had marked Pele in the final, said, “After the fifth goal, even I wanted to cheer for him.” The Brazilian side lifted the trophy and then conducted a lap of honour — not with their own flag, but with that of the host nation, thanking the Swedes for their generosity and sportsmanship.

This was a marked contrast to the scenes after the previous two finals. The 1950 final was treated as a national disaster in Brazil, while the 1954 final, an ugly game where West Germany defeated Hungary in atrocious weather conditions, was dominated by controversy about refereeing decisions, and the fact Ferenc Puskas was still suffering from an ankle injury sustained by a German defender earlier in the competition.

In 1958, though, the world fell in love with Pele.

An unknown in 1958, by the 1962 World Cup he was a global superstar. That status wasn’t enough to get him out of doing military service, however, and therefore in a period of a few months Pele represented five teams: Brazil, Santos, a representative state side, the army national team and his barracks team. Unsurprisingly, this caused physical issues, and Pele developed a persistent groin strain that he attributed to playing too many games.

Brazil started the 1962 World Cup with a battling 2-0 win over Mexico, with Pele assisting Mario Zagallo for a headed opener and then scoring his most underrated World Cup goal, when he essentially outwitted five opponents.

Receiving the ball on the right flank, he knocked the ball past one defender and ran around a second to reach the ball before a third defender, before simply surging past another opponent and belting the ball home with his left foot before a fifth defender could intervene.

It’s a clip barely ever shown on television, which only underlines quite how many remarkable World Cup moments Pele contributed.

In Brazil’s second game, a 0-0 draw with Czechoslovakia, Pele struck a dipping left-footed strike from range, which the goalkeeper parried — and as Pele attempted to get on the end of the rebound, he pulled his groin. With no substitutes allowed in those days, he was forced to soldier on.

At this point, the standard procedure in 1960s football would be for the opposition to kick Pele out of the game. Notably, they didn’t — and in much the same manner that modern-day defenders seem genuinely apologetic when fouling Lionel Messi, the Czechs didn’t go in for the kill.

“I felt as though I was handed a lifeline by the generosity and spirit of the Czech players,” Pele later said. “They could see I was suffering, but rather than exploiting that weakness and seeing me off the pitch for the rest of the game, perhaps even permanently, they chose to gently neutralise me. That’s the definition of fair play… that experience with the Czech players was really moving.”

But that was the end of Pele’s tournament. He sat out the next three games, intending to return for the final, before pulling up in a training session just beforehand. A distraught Pele wanted to return to Brazil, but the management convinced him to stay to make Brazil’s starting XI less predictable for their opponents — who, once again, were Czechoslovakia.

Brazil retained the World Cup, with Amarildo as Pele’s replacement, Vava becoming the first man to score in two World Cup finals, but right-winger Garrincha the true star. Pele had earned a second World Cup winners’ medal.

Pele hugs a team-mate after missing the final through injury (Photo: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Despite two World Cup successes, in some ways Pele’s life had barely changed — he still lived with his brother, briefly of Santos, and several other team-mates in a shared house in Sao Paulo.

Brazil went into the 1966 World Cup in England as overwhelming favourites, but complacency and poor preparation hampered their performance and they dramatically exited in the group stage.

Brazil arrived in England as the favourites (Photo: Len Trievnor/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Pele did score in their opener against Bulgaria, a blasted free-kick — although it wasn’t even the best Brazilian free-kick of that game, as the wonderful Garrincha scored a memorable outside-of-the-boot swerving effort into the top corner. It was the last time the two legendary attackers would play together.

Pele’s World Cup, though, is remembered primarily for the physical treatment he suffered, and Bulgarian defender Dobromir Zhechev was particularly aggressive. “He seemed to mistake my ankles for the ball,” Pele wryly observed.

Pele after being fouled by Bulgaria (Photo: PA Images via Getty Images)

But this was relatively common practice. “I think every team will take care of him in the same manner,” offered Hungary boss Lajos Baroti by way of defence. That proved prescient.

A hobbling Pele was rested for the second group game against Hungary. Brazil lost — and then, in the final group game against a Portugal side coached by the legendary Brazilian Otto Gloria, Brazil lost again. Pele was back in the side but clearly well short of full fitness, exacerbated by the fact that he was again kicked out of the game, particularly by Joao Morais, who hacked him down twice in one move.

Pele had to be carried from the pitch — again, no substitutes were permitted — and returned to limp around for the final hour, still surprisingly effective despite his obvious limitations.

(Photo: PA Images via Getty Images)

Brazil were eliminated and Pele was so furious by the failure of referees to penalise foul play that he announced his international retirement. “The games were a revelation to me in their unsportsmanlike conduct and weak refereeing,” he later explained. He suggested there was a conspiracy from FIFA president Stanley Rous to have Brazil eliminated from the tournament, to the benefit of Rous’ home country, England.

It was certainly true that the 1966 World Cup was dominated by physicality and strength rather than finesse and technique. That wasn’t for Pele.

For two years Pele kept his word and stayed away from the national side. He focused on Santos, whom he believes peaked in 1968 — they were renowned for their attacking football and their spirit of fair play, in stark contrast with the physical football which was increasingly dominating both the club and international game.

But then Pele had a change of heart, frustrated he’d played in three World Cups without being able to complete them because of physical issues. He’d missed the first two matches in 1958 through injury, the final four matches in 1962 because of injury, and was kicked out of the game in both matches he played in 1966. He’d won two winners’ medals and had scored in all three tournaments. But he was determined to truly dominate a World Cup.

So in 1970, that’s what he did.

Brazil’s preparation for the tournament was, by 1970 standards, extremely advanced. They stayed in Mexico for three weeks before the tournament to adjust to the altitude and manufactured revolutionary kits that didn’t accumulate sweat. Mario Zagallo, with whom Pele had combined excellently in his first two World Cups, was now the manager.

And Pele’s opening goal of the tournament against Czechoslovakia was a throwback to the legendary one Zagallo had assisted for him in the 1958 final — a deep left-footed cross towards the right of the box, which Pele typically brought down with an outstanding leap and perfect chest control, before lashing it home.

(Photo: Allan Olley & Monte Fresco/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

He had now scored in four World Cups, a feat that West Germany’s Uwe Seeler also achieved on the same day when he scored against Morocco.

But Pele’s historic goal was actually overshadowed by one he didn’t score — when he famously shot from inside his own half, only for the ball to drop inches wide of the goal.

This was not an entirely improvised move — Pele had previously noticed that Ivo Viktor, the impressive goalkeeper who would later finish third in the Ballon d’Or voting in 1976, had a tendency to position himself a long way off his line. Pele had looked up and checked his positioning a couple of times beforehand and turned down the opportunity to shoot.

This time he went for it and was inches away from the most famous World Cup goal of all. In a post-Beckham world, and with the internet offering us thousands of goals every weekend, we’ve become a little blase about goals from the halfway line.

But this would have been the first time anyone watching had ever seen anything like this, which is why that near-miss remained such a major part of Pele’s legacy.

Amazingly, it arguably wasn’t even Pele’s most famous near-miss of the tournament. And that’s not even a reference to Gordon Banks’ famous save from Pele’s header in the next group game — another reminder of how Pele was such a tremendous aerial force despite his slight stature. Brazil defeated England, the world champions, 1-0.

Brazil then confidently defeated Romania 3-2 to top the group with eight goals. Pele scored twice in that game, in completely different situations. The first was another blasted free-kick, reminiscent of his sole goal from the 1966 tournament, and the second a good poacher’s effort.

Next came two knockout victories over fellow South American opponents, 4-2 against Peru and then 3-1 against Uruguay. They couldn’t have been more different in style: the quarter-final was a thrilling end-to-end contest. Pele didn’t score, but he hit the post twice (the first time after having yet again brought down a long pass with wonderful chest control) and later produced a wonderful side-footed chip that dropped just wide. He also created a goal for Tostao.

The semi-final was as expected: Brazilian flair against Uruguayan physicality, with the favourites running out 3-1 winners. Pele played a lovely disguised backheel in the build-up to the second, scored by Jairzinho, and then assisted Rivelino for the third.

Then came Pele’s second — or third, if you count the Banks save — legendary miss of this tournament.

As the game went into stoppage time, Brazil charged forward and Tostao played the ball in behind for Pele — perhaps slightly overhit — which invited Pele to throw an outrageous dummy to take Ladislao Mazurkiewicz out of the equation, before running past him, putting the brakes on and turning to collect the ball, before dragging a shot just wide of the far post, with the goal gaping.

“I sometimes dream about both of them hitting the net,” Pele later admitted. “I didn’t attempt those shots thinking about how they would look, though.” Like all the greats, Pele’s trickery was for a purpose.

Speaking to The Athletic last year, the former Brazil centre-back Roque Junior said: “He scored so many goals, but I will always remember that famous one he didn’t score, when he let the ball run past the goalkeeper (against Czechoslovakia in 1970 World Cup.) That was emblematic of his genius. He’s the best player in the history of football. He set a standard that no one has matched since. The fact he was Brazilian was just a bonus.”

And then came the 1970 final for Pele and Brazil, surely still the most celebrated team display of all time. Brazil destroyed a defensive, physical Italian side, with Pele at the heart of everything.

He opened the scoring with another trademark header, beating the ultra-physical Tarcisio Burgnich in the air courtesy of his wonderful spring, and powering a header home.

Rosana, a left-back who made 112 appearances for Brazil women’s team, told The Athletic: “I always think about his goal against Italy in 1970, when a cross came in and he jumped up to an absurd height to head it. It was fantastic, so athletic, and the technique was perfect. That was Pele.”

Pele beat the same defender Burgnich to put the ball in the net a second time, although the referee had adjudged him to have fouled Burgnich. Considering how often the reverse was true throughout this game, it felt somewhat ironic.

(Photo: Mario De Biasi/Mondadori via Getty Images)

After Italy equalized, Gerson scored a long-range thunderbolt to restore Brazil’s lead. Then Pele rounded things off with two assists. The second is more famous, but the first was arguably more stereotypical — yet again, it came from a high ball to the far post, where Pele had pulled off Burgnich to nod the ball across for Jairzinho to bundle the ball home.

Then came the crowning glory, a goal that looks — in isolation — like a fairly standard team move played at walking pace, but in the context of the match overall is the epitome of icing on the cake. Brazil played wonderful football throughout that final, their elegant passing leaving Italy exhausted in the Mexico City heat — the game, incredibly, kicked off at midday. It was, as Brian Glanville wrote, “a marvellous affirmation of what could still be done with attacking football, a splendid reassurance that cynicism, caution and negativity had not, after all, gained a stranglehold on football”.

The fourth goal, like much of Brazil’s fantastic football at this World Cup, wasn’t based upon spontaneity but upon a pre-decided tactical plan. Brazil knew that Italy captain Giacinto Facchetti, the outstanding left-back of his generation, would man-mark right-winger Jairzinho, and therefore tasked him with drifting inside and opening up space on the outside for the onrushing Carlos Alberto. Brazil would switch the play to him making late runs.

In fact, go back to the quarter-final and Brazil nearly scored the same goal against Peru. On that occasion, the shot was blocked.

This time around it worked perfectly. Note that when Pele receives the ball, Tostao, the centre-forward, is directing the play and pointing to the space Alberto is about to sprint into.

(Photo: Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images)

In truth, Pele probably knew what to do anyway. Not that anyone officially recorded assists back in 1970 but that was Pele’s sixth of the tournament — a record that stands today.

More importantly, in terms of the record books, Brazil became the first nation to win the tournament for a third time — and therefore they were allowed to keep the original Jules Rimet trophy forever, as had been stipulated in 1930 by Rimet, the competition’s originator. A new trophy was commissioned by FIFA ahead of the 1974 World Cup.

If the nation that won the World Cup three times were allowed to keep the trophy, surely the only man to have won the World Cup three times deserves something comparable. The new trophy remains known as the rather bland “FIFA World Cup Trophy”. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to rename it after the greatest World Cup player of all, Pele.


Ream’s Big Day, Mixed Championship performances, Cremaschi to Argentina?

Tim Ream’s great year just keeps getting better with a goal and a new contract. Also, Americans abroad had a very mixed Boxing Day. Finally, U.S. Soccer seems set to lose a top prospect to Argentina. ASN’s Brian Sciaretta offers up his thoughts on the news. 


CHRISTMAS IS OVER, the World Cup is over, and American soccer is set to return to normal. European leagues are gradually coming back with England resuming on Boxing Day. MLS preseason is set to open at the end of next week. The transfer window will also soon open, and the normal course of events will resume.

With the start of the first week after Christmas, here is a brief rundown of the news.


Tim Ream, 35, is a finalist for U.S. Soccer’s Player of the Year on the men’s side. The evidence continues to mount that he should win it. On Monday, Ream helped deliver Fulham a 3-0 Boxing Day win on the road over Crystal Palace in a London Derby.With Fulham up 1-0 and Crystal Palace reduced to nine players after two defenders were sent off, Ream got on the end of a scramble following a corner kick to send home a classy finish for a 2-0 lead. It was his first Premier League goal.Fulham’s comfortable win saw it move to eighth in the Premier League table (at least for now, they have played more games than most teams).But for Ream, the news got even better as it was announced after the game that he had signed a new deal with Fulham to remain at the club through the end of the 2023/24 season. He was set to be a free agent after this season but he is playing the best soccer of his career despite now being 35.

There has always been speculation that Ream would be a target for St. Louis SC which will mark its inaugural season in MLS in 2023. Ream told ASN in November that he felt he could play another three seasons. Ending his career in his hometown in St. Louis makes sense, but he is well settled in London and is well loved in Craven Cottage. Why change a good thing?

  • But Ream should win U.S. Soccer’s Player of the Year. His 2022 resume is stellar.
  • Guided Fulham to promotion in May
  • Will finish 2022 with Fulham top 10 in the Premier League
  • Has captained most of Fulham’s games
  • Has played 99% of Fulham’s minutes in 2022
  • Had a terrific World Cup for the United States where he played every minute over four games. Led the U.S. to advancing from the group stage.

Tyler Adams and Christian Pulisic both had great moments in 2022, but Ream has the most complete resume.


 Ream was not the only American to play in Fulham’s 3-0 win over Crystal Palace. The game also featured Antonee Robinson and Chris Richards.

For Robinson, it was his usual steady self although Fulham was not tested much defensively after Palace went down to 10 men. He continues to be a dangerous attacking left back who has the athleticism and the speed to be a valuable asset in the Premier League.

It’s obvious that the plan wasn’t for Richards to play in this game. He didn’t play much in recent friendlies since teams returned to camp from the World Cup break. Usual starter Marc Guéhi was suspended for Palace against Fulham. But Palace boss Patrick Vieira went with James Tompkins instead of Richards. Tompkins was eventually sent off.

Richards, 22, has had a tough year. He made just six appearances for Hoffenheim in the second half of last season. Now he’s made just three for Palace (for a total of 44 minutes). He’s barely played 600 minutes of league soccer this year. Injuries have set him back this year.

The problem for Richards is knowing where the minutes will come from in 2023. He will have to seize any opportunity he gets. If suspensions and injuries allow him to play on Saturday vs. Bournemouth, he must seize the opportunity.


 A busy slate of Boxing Day games in the Championship didn’t yield anything particularly positive.

The best news came from the goalkeepers. Zack Steffen made four saves and allowed one goal for Middlesbrough in a 4-1 win over Wigan Athletic.

Boro was once sitting in the relegation zone but now has five wins in its last six games to move all the way into 10th place. The club is surging, and Steffen has been part of that.

Meanwhile, Ethan Horvath also made four saves from five shots in a big 2-1 win over Norwich City. The win lifted Luton Town into 12th place.

Those games also brough news for other Americans. Matthew Hoppe, 21, played the final six minutes for Middlesbrough and his club situation is concerning as he sparsely plays for Boro (54 minutes all season) and is limited to mop-up time.

In my opinion, Hoppe doesn’t need a move. He doesn’t need to join his fourth club in under two years (none of which were loans). He hasn’t gained traction under two managers at Mallorca and now two at Middlesbrough. He needs to fix the reason why that’s the case.  

Josh Sargent, 22, meanwhile went the distance for Norwich in a very ugly loss. The U.S. national team attacker played mostly on the wing. But Luton Town’s winning goal came in stoppage time after Luton Town was reduced to 10 men in the 80th minute. Sargent fought hard, won his duels, but was limited to just one shot (which was blocked). He is handling the physical side of the game in the Championship very well, but his production on the wing hasn’t been great.

But changes are coming for Sargent and Norwich as head coach Dean Smith was fired on Tuesday. We have no idea how this will affect Sargent until we know the new manager.

Lynden Gooch has been converted into a right back this season at Sunderland and is doing well. The Santa Cruz native went the distance on Monday in a 2-1 win over Blackburn. His attacking nature and his physical strength have seen him fit well into the position.What is most impressive is that he’s been a key part of Sunderland’s strong start to the season. Fresh off earning promotion to the Championship, Sunderland is currently sitting in eighth place. The club clearly looks to be relevant again and Gooch has been a part of that (after being affiliated with the club since he was 10).

Daryl Dike started and played 64 minutes for West Brom in a 2-0 win away at Bristol City. Dike, 22, was quiet and managed just three shots. He is still getting his rhythm back as he missed most of the first half of the season due to injury. This was his fourth appearance since play resumed since the World Cup. He had one great outing off the bench against Sunderland with a goal and an assist but has been quiet in the other games.

For Dike, he needs to return to the level where he is always dangerous and can impact games by his presence – even if he doesn’t score. He isn’t there yet, but it should come with time.

Duane Holmes started for Huddersfield and played very well in a 2-1 win over Preston North End. It was a much needed win because while Huddersfield remains in last place of the Championship, the gap for clawing out of the basement is now down to two points.

Finally, in League One, Hartford-born Alex Mighten started and went the distance for Sheffield Wednesday in a 2-1 win over Fleetwood Town. Mighten, 20, has been playing as a right wingback in a 3-5-2 formation. On loan from Nottingham Forest, Mighten is gradually playing more in the third tier and has Sheffield Wednesday in third place as they contend for promotion.

Mighten’s agent has said that he is in the process of switching his international representation from England to the United States. He could be a factor for the U.S. U-23 team in 2023 as it prepares for the 2024 Olympics.


In what was very surprising news on Monday, Genk lost to Kortrijk 1-0 on Monday. It was a big upset and Genk’s first loss of the season. In its last 16 games before the World Cup break, Genk won 15 games a drew one. With the loss, Genk’s lead atop Belgium’s First Division shrunk from 10 to seven points.

Mark McKenzie, 23, went the distance for Genk. The former Philadelphia Union product is looking to build up his case to be a regular on the national team and winning the Belgian league will only help that case. A loss was always going to happen for Genk, but the concern is that the World Cup break really hurt the team’s momentum.


 Turkey’s Super Lig has resumed from World Cup break and Haji Wright hasn’t had a great time. On Tuesday, Antalyaspor dropped a 2-0 decision to Istanbul Basaksehir and that comes off a 2-0 loss to Ankaragucu at home on December 23rd. 

Wright has had a big year in 2022 where he scored 19 goals in the Super Lig and then a World Cup goal (albeit with a bit of luck). But the year will conclude with two tough outings where he really struggled to get involved.


Argentina’s U-20 team will take part next month in the CONMEBOL U-20 Championships. Inter Miami homegrown signing Ben Cremaschi is on the verge of making Argentina’s U-20 team as he was named to the final 28 player list by head coach Javier Mascherano.

That in and of itself is a massive accomplishment as Cremaschi is the only 2005-born player on the roster and is actually playing up a U-20 cycle.

Cremaschi was born and raised in Florida and has represented the United States youth national teams. This year a lone he has played with the U-19 team twice and the U.S. U-20 team in October when it worked with the domestic-based full national team players ahead of the World Cup.

Cremaschi has not made Argentina’s U-20 Championship team yet but he has an excellent chance as Argentina clearly rates him and surely understands U.S. Soccer will put him on their U-20 World Cup team if Argentina does not. If Cremaschi plays for Argentina in the CONMEBOL tournament or the U-20 World Cup, he could then only return to the United States via a one-time switch.

Should Cremaschi bolt for Argentina and make their team, it would be a significant loss for U.S. Soccer as Cremaschi is one of the country’s best 2005-born prospects. At this point, U.S. Soccer cannot afford to lose top prospects.

Regardless of what country he chooses, Cremaschi is in a great position – as is Inter Miami. Having the youngest player on Argentina’s U-20 team and one of their top 2005-born prospects as well is a big deal. His value will surge as a result. It will also be very interesting to see how Cremaschi plays this season for Inter Miami as he is likely to break into the first team.

The loss of a top prospect would sting for U.S. Soccer and if Argentina wants Cremaschi and Cremaschi wants to play for Argentina, there isn’t much that can be done to stop it. Free will always wins. But the fact that top programs like Argentina are looking here for talent is encouraging and as more MLS teams become invested in youth development, more prospects like Cremaschi will emerge. The U.S. U-20 team remains very good and the 2005-born class is still strong, although it would be much stronger with Cremaschi. 



The U.S. women’s national team will face off against two of the top 10 teams in the world as part of the 2023 SheBelieves Cup.Canada (No. 6) and Brazil (No. 9) will feature in the February tournament alongside Japan, which sits just outside of the top 10 in the FIFA women’s ranking at No. 11.USWNT maintained its hold on the No. 1 spot in the final ranking of 2022, released Friday, despite losing three straight games for the first time since 1993.Canada features in the tournament for the second time after first appearing in 2021. Both Brazil and Japan have played in the tournament twice, with Japan’s last appearance coming in 2020 and Brazil’s in 2021.n last year’s SheBelieves Cup, the USWNT won for the third straight time, beating out the Czech Republic, Iceland and New Zealand.The 2023 SheBelieves Cup will be held in Orlando, Nashville and Frisco, Texas. The three-city showcase will be the first tournament of the year for the USWNT, which will make a run at a third consecutive World Cup title starting in July.The tournament will begin on Feb. 16, with the USWNT facing off against Canada at 7 p.m. ET. Japan will play Brazil at 4 p.m. ET.From there, the teams will play again Feb. 19 and 22.


Thursday, Feb. 16, in Orlando:

  • Japan vs. Brazil @ 4 p.m. 
  • USWNT vs. Canada @ 7 p.m. 

Sunday, Feb. 19, in Nashville:

  • USWNT vs. Japan @ 3:30 p.m. 
  • Brazil vs. Canada @ 6:30 p.m. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22, in Frisco, Texas:

  • Canada vs. Japan @ 4 p.m.
  • USWNT vs. Brazil @ 7 p.m.



The start of 2023 is fast approaching. And with it comes a World Cup year for all women’s soccer fans.Here’s everything you need to know about the tournament, which is set to kick off in less than seven months.


The tournament is set to kick off on July 20 and will run through August 20. The co-hosting countries will play in the opening matches: New Zealand will face Norway to start the festivities, and Australia will begin its run a few hours later against Ireland.


Matches will be split between Australia and New Zealand, with four sites in New Zealand and five sites in Australia.

  • Adelaide, AU – Hindmarsh Stadium
  • Auckland, NZ – Eden Park
  • Brisbane, AU – Brisbane Stadium
  • Dunedin, NZ – Dunedin Stadium
  • Hamilton, NZ – Waikato Stadium
  • Melbourne, AU – Melbourne Rectangular Stadium
  • Perth, AU – Perth Rectangular Stadium
  • Sydney, AU – Stadium Australia and Sydney Football Stadium
  • Wellington, NZ – Wellington Stadium


The 32 teams at the tournament are divided into eight groups of four countries. In each group, the two highest-finishing teams will advance to the knockout rounds.

  • Group A: New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Switzerland
  • Group B: Australia, Canada, Nigeria, Republic of Ireland
  • Group C: Costa Rica, Japan, Spain, Zambia
  • Group D: China, Denmark, England, Playoff Group B winners
  • Group E: Netherlands, United States, Vietnam, Playoff Group A winners
  • Group F: Brazil, France, Jamaica, Playoff Group C winners
  • Group G: Argentina, Italy, South Africa, Sweden
  • Group H: Colombia, Germany, Morocco, South Korea

To view the full schedule for the entire World Cup group stage, click here.


The USWNT will play three games during the group stage, beginning July 22.

Group E includes the team the United States beat in the 2019 World Cup final, the Netherlands. Still, USWNT legend Julie Foudy said the squad landed a “very winnable group” — one that became even more winnable with Dutch star Vivianne Miedema’s recent ACL injury.

  • Saturday, July 22
    • United States vs. Vietnam (Eden Park, Auckland)
  • Thursday, July 27
    • United States vs. Netherlands (Wellington Regional)
  • Tuesday, Aug. 1
    • United States vs. Intercontinental playoff winner (Eden Park, Auckland)


Out of the 32 total spots in the World Cup, three are yet to be decided. An intercontinental play-in tournament in February will determine the final three entrants.

Ten teams from the six continental confederations have been split into three groups, and the winner of each group will stamp their tickets to the World Cup.

  • Group A
    • Feb. 18 – Cameroon vs. Thailand (Semifinal)
    • Feb. 22 – Portugal vs. Semifinal winner (Final)
      • The winner of the final will join Group E at the World Cup.
  • Group B
    • Feb. 19 – Senegal vs. Haiti (Semifinal)
    • Feb. 22 – Chile vs. Semifinal winner (Final)
      • The winner of the final will join Group D at the World Cup.
  •  Group C:
    • Feb. 19 – Chinese Taipei vs. Paraguay (Semifinal #1)
    • Feb. 19 – Papua New Guinea vs. Panama (Semifinal #2)
    • Feb. 23 – Winner of SF1 vs. Winner of SF2 (Final)
      • The winner of the final will join Group F at the World Cup.



If you do it right, the best kind of World Cup preparation years eventually render themselves irrelevant. No one will remember the growing pains of roster reconstruction or the dropped friendly results if you are the last team standing in 2023.

We don’t know if that will come to fruition for the USWNT in the new year, but let’s revisit the moments we will look back on when we remember the team’s 2022.


This year will likely be remembered forever as the one where the U.S. turned back the clock, dealing with growing pains as the team got young fast. The USWNT started 13 players with five or fewer caps this year as a result of both circumstances and a philosophical shift.

Major injuries rocked the women’s game in 2022, and the USWNT was not immune to the developments. Catarina Macario, Lynn Williams, Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis, Julie Ertz, Tierna Davidson, Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara, and Crystal Dunn all missed significant time due to absences or injuries, though Dunn had begun to make her return by the end of the calendar year. Players like Christen Press and Tobin Heath also dealt with injuries before they could make their cases for their own USWNT returns.

The U.S. has long been criticized for relying on certain players with too much consistency, but Vlatko Andonovski was forced to change that philosophy and give a number of new players more experience in big games. Ertz’s absence loomed over the midfield in particular, and Macario’s ACL tear disrupted momentum on the team’s new-look front line. But some of the choices were more intentional and not just byproducts of injury rotation.

Mallory Pugh and Sophia Smith etched their names into the starting XI with strong performances in 2022, and more young players meshed with big personalities as the second half of the year wore on. Alex Morgan made her return to center forward in July, and Megan Rapinoe continued her role as a locker-room leader and super substitute. Getting that mix exactly right will be key for the USWNT to make 2023 a success.


The U.S. had their struggles in 2022, but when they had an important job to do, they pulled it off. The Concacaf W Championship doesn’t have the same parity as other confederation tournaments, but the USWNT that walked into World Cup qualifying in July didn’t have the experience of its predecessors and still came out on top.

Qualifying for the 2023 World Cup is a basic expectation for the U.S., and despite starting players with very little big-game experience, the reigning champions made it through to the semifinals without conceding a single goal. They were put to the test against Costa Rica in the semifinal and managed to make the championship game against Canada, the reigning Olympic gold medalists, that most had expected when the tournament began.

With an Olympic spot on the line, the U.S. had a chance to regain the upper hand over their regional rival, and they stepped up to the challenge. While a few missed chances kept the game close into the second half, the USWNT came out in the Concacaf W final looking confident and unfazed by Canada’s ascension to the higher tier of international soccer. The breakthrough in the run of play never quite presented itself, but Alex Morgan gave the U.S. a 1-0 victory with a goal from the penalty spot.

Canada now has to play one more game against Costa Rica to qualify for Paris 2024. The fact that the U.S. avoided the same fate is a commendable feat as they prepare for a crucial 2023.



The USWNT’s last four friendlies of the year — which resulted in three losses and a win — will be remembered either as the iron that sharpened the group going into a World Cup or as a sign of trouble to come. The trip to Europe to play England and Spain (without Morgan or Pugh) culminated in a decent performance against the Lionesses and another performance against Spain that was incredibly troubling.

In the following two games against Germany at home, the team appeared to be in a holding pattern, waiting for player returns in 2023 that will propel the group toward New Zealand. But the world of football has changed, and the U.S. can’t afford to take it slow when other national teams are completing their own preparation cycles. Any one of England, Germany, and Spain could end up World Champions next year due to a combination of player development and a sense of cohesion that the U.S. has not achieved this year despite their Concacaf success.

The final win against Germany did showcase the fight fans have been looking for, and that could be the biggest difference-maker as the international competition stiffens. Pugh and Sophia Smith carried the team on their shoulders, Naomi Girma became the steadiest presence along the backline, and suddenly the newer faces were the backbone the team needed in the moment.



It’s possible that the greatest decision made in 2022 came at the coaching level. Even as the results began to waver, U.S. Soccer appeared committed to granting Vlatko Andonovski a full cycle to see his vision for the team through.

Andonovski’s 2022 could end up being the beginning of a new and exciting era for the USWNT, when new players finally got their chance to show what they can do as the future of the team. Roster rotation can be thankless work, and it’s difficult to know whether mistakes are being made or if it’s better to stay the course.

Still, the struggles that led to listless performances in 2021 seemed to linger even with new players on the pitch. The USWNT always looked somewhat constricted, overthinking their formation to the point of ineffectiveness. The rigidity of Andonovski’s 4-3-3 formation doesn’t always give players the room to be their best creative selves, and disjointedness in the midfield often gave opponents the opportunity to flip a match. It’s possible that 2023 yields the effortless football the team is looking for, but it’s also possible that the principles aren’t sticking with the players and they will be exposed again against top competition.

All too often, the U.S. came out looking like a team overly focused on improving vulnerabilities rather than just playing in a style that suits them. The U.S. needs a short project, not a long one, and Andonvoski is now moving into the definitive year of his tenure.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.




  • The United States women’s national team have just months left before the start of the 2023 World Cup
  • Here’s what Vlatko Andonovski and Co. need to accomplish before that tournament kicks off

While the United States women’s national team still sits in the number one spot in the latest FIFA rankings, their recent performances and results have raised some questions. The USWNT lost three games in 2022 – all of them came in the last few months in matches against England, Spain, and Germany.What does the USWNT have to do to get back to their winning ways ahead of the 2023 World Cup? Let’s run through their checklist for the start of 2023.


This is the most obvious item on this list, but that doesn’t make it any less important. The USWNT’s injury list neared double digits for most of 2022 and impacted the defense, midfield, and attack. Some of these players, like Tierna Davison (ACL), Catarina Macario (ACL), and Lynn Williams (hamstring), are set to return early in 2023, per head coach Vlatko Andonovski. Others have a longer – and less certain – recovery timeline, like Abby Dahlkemper (back) and Sam Mewis (knee). 

Once these players return, Andonovski will have to figure out how and where they fit into his system, and do so rather quickly. He mentioned back in November that “no matter what, we have to get better, but there are some things that may change by changing the personnel.” It’s clear the USWNT will look a little different next year as injured players return to strength. 


There is no shortage of starpower in the United States’ attack.

With Sophia Smith, Mallory Pugh, and Alex Morgan in the lineup, the U.S. should be scoring a lot of goals. However, they’re averaging one goal-per-game in their last four outings, games against England, Spain, and two against Germany. That’s not terrible, but it’s not great, either.

The USWNT have been inconsistent in the final third. They’ve been playing a heavy crossing game for most of 2022. For reference, in one of their matches against Germany, the USWNT registered 3.5 times more crosses than their opponent (StatsPerform).

Crosses aren’t always bad, but the attack looks best when the USWNT build up play and finds runners darting through their opponents’ backlines. Coincidentally, that’s also when the national team’s leading scorer in 2022, Sophia Smith, excels both for club and country. Smith scored the eventual game-winning goal in the NWSL Championship earlier this fall after receiving a ball through Kansas City’s backline. 

this in a U.S. uniform! 

While the U.S. would benefit from limiting aimless crossing, it would be unfair to say that the USWNT attack has been awful. They’ve been doing a decent job at creating chances, even if they’re not finding the back of the net.

Regardless, expected goals can’t win trophies – and some of the team’s inconsistency is troubling. The USWNT will have to figure out ways to convert these chances into goals and put themselves on the scoreboard more often.3.


I have been beating the “USWNT needs a No. 6” drum all year. I’m just not convinced that Andi Sullivan – who has gotten the most defensive-midfield minutes in 2022 – is the right pick for this position.Don’t get me wrong, Sullivan is a good player. She can see the field well and excels at connecting the backline to the attack, but she’s only done that in flashes for the national team. One such flash of brilliance was in the USWNT’s last game of the year.z

So, who should slot in for Sullivan? It’s worth seeing what Sam Coffey can do with extended minutes in the USWNT midfield since she was lights out in Portland last season. She made four international appearances in 2022, and I’m hoping we see her on the field more often next year.


While Alyssa Naeher has been a mainstay in the USWNT defense for the last several years, Andonovski has been exploring his options. Of the 17 games the USWNT played in 2022, Casey Murphy was tabbed nine times, Naeher seven times, and Aubrey Kingsbury once.It’s interesting to see this goalkeeping swap from Naeher to Murphy (and back), since neither player had the best club season this year. Of goalkeepers that recorded at least half of their team’s regular-season minutes, Murphy and Naeher ranked in the bottom five in goals minus expected goals and goals added per 96’ (American Soccer Analysis). Though these stats don’t paint either player in the best light, they should be considered with North Carolina’s defensive struggles and Chicago’s defensive injuries in mind. Recent NWSL stats aside, I doubt Andonovski’s starting goalkeeper next year will be anyone other than Murphy or Naeher. Either way, though, he needs to make that decision soon. It’s obviously important for a goalkeeper to get game reps, but it’s also important for them to gel with their backline, which brings me to my last point…


Andonovski rotated his starting lineup a ton this year, and that certainly includes his backline.There were many combinations of players at the center back position, but Alana Cook, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Naomi Girma made the most center back starts in 2022. Cook started the most consistently, making the lineup 15 times. She was paired with Sauerbrunn six times, and Girma five. It’s likely that Tierna Davidson would have gotten significant minutes this year, too, if she hadn’t torn her ACL at the start of the NWSL season. Though signs are pointing to some combination of these four players, it’s hard to tell which will be called on. Sauerbrunn has been a staple in the U.S.’s backline for the last two World Cups, but she’ll be 38 by the time the next one kicks off. Davidson has World Cup experience, and she has the most international experience of defenders not named Becky Sauerbrunn (48 appearances). Cook and Girma have fewer than 20 international appearances each, but Girma especially has begun to make her case as a USWNT-caliber defender, having won Rookie of the Year and Defender of the Year in the NWSL last season. All this is to say that Andonovski probably can’t go wrong with any pairing of Sauerbrunn, Davidson, Cook, and Girma. The winning pair will undoubtedly need game minutes in front of the USWNT’s starting goalkeeper ahead of the World Cup, though.Much of the USWNT’s success next year will hinge on Andonovski’s – and the team’s – ability to complete this checklist as soon as possible. And whether they’re ready or not, the World Cup is set to kick off in just seven months. 

USWNT and NWSL players associations, achieving generational change: Our U.S. Women’s Soccer Persons of the Year

Meg Linehan

Dec 15, 2022

In December, The Athletic will be highlighting the coaches, athletes and other figures who made the biggest impact in the U.S. sports we cover, as well as in the fields of sports business, media and culture. Next up in the series is our honoree in U.S. women’s soccer: the U.S. women’s national team and National Women’s Soccer League players associations, who fought for groundbreaking CBAs to improve pay and other conditions. The full schedule is here.

There were many significant accomplishments that occurred on the field in American women’s soccer in 2022, but this was a year defined by the strength and importance of players associations. Both the U.S. women’s national team PA and the National Women’s Soccer League PA successfully negotiated historic collective bargaining agreements that will have larger impacts than any goal scored or championship won this year.



After a three-year legal battle, the USWNT PA found a compromise with the U.S. Soccer Federation to reach a proposed settlement for their equal pay lawsuit via their new CBA that brings not only wage equality, but equal working conditions and equal World Cup prize money with the men’s national team, as well.

At the league level, 35 NWSL players served on the bargaining committee that finally achieved the first CBA in the 10-year history of the league. It was an agreement that, amongst other victories for the players, won a 160 percent increase to the league’s minimum salary. That number is still only $35,000 for the 2022 season, set for an increase to $36,400 next year.

The players did more than just solidify their own financial security, though. These two documents, now ratified and in effect, serve as tangible accomplishments in the wake of the tremendous upheaval in American women’s soccer over the past two years. There are improved protections for players’ health and safety, more control over their own names and likenesses, and more control over their own careers via the introduction of free agency in the NWSL.

These accomplishments — the two CBAs, the work ahead to fix the NWSL in the wake of numerous accusations of misconduct against coaches and executives, and the challenge to FIFA to make a greater investment in the women’s game — all are deeply intertwined. In 2022, the two players associations achieved the beginning of generational change, making them The Athletic’s U.S. Women’s Soccer Persons of the Year.

“What hill are you willing to die on?”

For the players of the NWSL, those eight words were the foundation they rallied around as they negotiated their first CBA. What were the non-negotiables? What did they not just want to fight for, but need to fight for? The talks between the two sides began in 2020, and by January 2022, the players were ready to refuse to report to their clubs if a CBA wasn’t in place for the start of preseason on Feb. 1.



“If that means we don’t go into preseason, then we’ll do whatever it takes, because the CBA is historical and the first of its kind,” Angel City FC forward Simone Charley, who served on the bargaining committee, told The Athletic in February after the agreement was reached. “But it’s also setting a standard, not just for us, but for the future of women’s soccer. I think that was in the back of everyone’s mind. It’s not just about us and what we’re doing now. It’s about the next generation. That’s what brought everything into focus.”

The PA had already launched two campaigns in 2021, both addressing the realities of life as NWSL players, though the first was more geared toward rallying public support of the union and its players. “No More Side Hustles” highlighted the reality that players were working multiple jobs in order to survive as professional athletes, and provided the PA with a catchphrase for social media and merchandise. In December, the PA launched a support fund to directly benefit current and former players by addressing their financial needs for any number of reasons, whether it was mental health support or covering the expenses of a move following an unexpected trade to another team.

The completion of the NWSL CBA came down to the wire — it was announced the night before preseason was due to start. The two sides avoided the work stoppage with the NWSL board of governors ratifying the agreement on Feb. 1. The document was signed in person by NWSLPA executive director Meghann Burke and incoming NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman ahead of Angel City’s inaugural regular-season home game on Apr. 29.


Defender Addisyn Merrick, now with the Kansas City Current, was playing for Racing Louisville FC and served as a player rep for the team during negotiations. As one of the younger players working on the CBA, she said the project as a whole was exhausting, but rewarding and instructive at the same time.

“There were so many times, on really important topics, that we would have over 100 players on a call,” she said. “I feel like it was a huge movement. We truly were all together.”



With so much at stake in the first CBA, many players had their own topics of focus. For Merrick, that focus was guided by her experience of getting a second opinion on a medical issue — a second opinion that helped her avoid what she called a “life-altering” surgery she did not actually need. She pushed for higher standards for medical staff at NWSL clubs.

North Carolina Courage defender Merritt Mathias’ non-negotiable was playing surfaces. She recalled a time where former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird asked the players why playing on baseball fields wasn’t OK. “I think my head rolled off my shoulders,” she said. The players weren’t asking for every team to go out and build multi-million dollar, soccer-specific stadiums, after all. “We’re just asking to play on safe grass or turf that has regulations to it.”

In the end, there were compromises on both sides, but also a better sense of a shared destiny. There’s a provision to potentially get a 10 percent cut of media/broadcast revenue if the league becomes profitable over the final three years of the CBA. There’s fun stuff too, like an article overseeing a potential all-star game for the league.

But for the next five years, the NWSL and the players have an agreement in place that will ensure teams aren’t skating by on the bare minimum, even as the sport enjoys a huge wave of greater attention and investment, that player safety won’t be the first thing cut on the way to profit for owners.

As former Houston Dash player Bri Visalli put it, there’s a roadmap. For a league with so much potential yet so many struggles, the gift of a concrete plan cannot be overstated.

“The Players Association agrees that, beginning with compensation and benefits provided by the Federation to Players after the CBA Implementation Date, the compensation structure in the CBAs is identical and does not discriminate in favor of or against either the MNT or WNT or either team’s players individually.”

The language in section B of Article 7 “Equal Pay Acknowledgement” in the USWNT CBA with the federation is fairly dry, despite how monumental the accomplishment is. The first piece of that equalized prize money is already known: the 23 players (maybe 26, depending on FIFA squad-size regulations) heading to New Zealand for the 2023 World Cup will split their share of the men’s national team’s prize money for reaching the round of 16 in the 2022 World Cup, a pool of $5,850,000 for the WNT.


6 – The US men’s prize figure, divided in half, means the US women will get $5,850,000 of the men’s prize split. More precisely, the 23-26 players who make the 2023 Women’s World Cup roster will get that money.

— Rachel Bachman (@Bachscore) December 3, 2022

The women will get their chance to add their own contribution to the shared pool next summer; with the final number only limited by FIFA’s imbalanced approach to Women’s World Cup prize money compared to that for the men’s World Cup.



Much like the NWSL CBA, the USWNT’s document has a sense of shared destiny — not just with the men, but with the federation itself. Both national teams are on agreements that run through 2028; both national teams are incentivized not just to maximize their own performances to ensure a maximum payout, but to work with the federation to grow the sport so all may benefit via revenue sharing.

The history behind the U.S. national team CBA is vastly different for the women, though, even beyond the players filing a lawsuit against their own federation to force the issue of equal pay. The context of the USWNT CBA can’t entirely be divorced from the history of the NWSL, considering how the majority of the players have spent most of their time as pros playing stateside.

USWNT players were able to accept more risk with the national team CBA as the security of the NWSL increased, player salaries rose, and that CBA was also implemented. The USWNT PA’s bargaining committee reflected multiple experiences with the league, from players like Midge PurceTierna Davidson and Lynn Williams, who were all top draft picks, to Alex Morgan and Kelley O’Hara, who had also played in a previous American pro league.

NWSL and USWNT rookie Sam Coffey was all smiles in the mixed zone this summer, following a USWNT win at Audi Field and a ceremony held to celebrate the new CBA. She’s one of the players who’s only stepped foot on the field with both the NWSL and USWNT CBA in place. She called the money at stake “life-changing,” but also didn’t take for granted the long fight that had taken place before she got to this stage.

“You hear so many horror stories about players ice-bathing in trash cans, living in homes that have broken doors and windows,” she said. “So many of those things are still happening, but maybe don’t get the spotlight. This is unbelievably deserved and long overdue.”

The power of the players and of their unions doesn’t end with the CBAs, though. As we’ve seen revealed through investigative reporting and independent investigations, there has been a painful cost to the growth of women’s soccer in this country. As the sport still grapples with the full accounting of the systemic abuse across the professional game (and beyond), the players are still demanding better of the leaders who have previously failed them — and in some cases, outright calling for the ouster of people in power who failed to protect players from harm.

Sometimes this has been through individual players, like Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn’s comments following the release of the Yates report in October.


Megan Rapinoe: “I don’t think Merritt Paulson is fit to be the owner in Portland. I don’t think Arnim is fit to be the owner in Chicago.” #NWSL pic.twitter.com/pRSi8LgOYD

— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) October 6, 2022

Sometimes it’s been through team statements, shared by a unified group of players on social media. It’s not a new trick for female athletes, or even NWSL players, but it’s still an effective way to make a point as a collective unit.

The players, with support from fans and sponsors, are reshaping the sport and the league. As of December, both Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson and Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler have announced their intention to sell their respective clubs following public pressure related to their handling of accusations of misconduct within their respective organizations.

On Wednesday, the NWSL and NWSLPA joint investigation team released their final report, which once again showed that widespread misconduct occurred throughout the league.

“From the early days of the league, they were told to be grateful, loyal, and acquiescent, even as they were not afforded the resources or respect due to professional athletes,” the report states.

But those days are now hopefully over; instead, the players have shown their willingness and desire to not just demand better, but lead the way themselves.

There’s still much work ahead off the field. There’s plenty of work on the field, too. The USWNT are looking to threepeat at next summer’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia; the players of the 12 NWSL clubs are all looking to lift a trophy come next November. Thanks to their own work and the power of their unions, they’ll all be a little more secure as they push to keep this momentum going into 2023 and across generations to come.

The Interview: Catarina Macario

The USWNT star and Champions League winner, who finished No. 9 in the Ballon d’Or voting, has been in Doha rehabbing an ACL injury for the last two months.


DOHA, Qatar — It was an absolute pleasure to meet up again a few days ago with Catarina Macario, the USWNT and Lyon star who has been in Doha for the past two months rehabbing after an ACL injury in June. She had a breakout season in 2021-22, winning the Champions League and French league titles with Lyon and finishing No. 9 in the Ballon d’Or voting. We caught up just before the USA-Netherlands game on Saturday at the World Cup.

The entirety of the written interview below is reserved for paid subscribers. As always, you can still get the entire free audio version of my podcast when it publishes Thursday on Apple PodcastsSpotify or wherever you like to go for your pods.

Grant Wahl:

Big thanks to Adidas for helping set up today’s interview. We’ve got a good one today. Our guest is with me here in Doha, and she has been rehabbing here for a little while now. Catarina Macario is working her way back to the U.S. women’s national team and her club Lyon after suffering an ACL injury in June. She’s also attending some of the World Cup games, and we’re recording this on Saturday, just a couple hours before the U.S.A-Netherlands game. Cat, it is great to see you again. Thanks for coming on the show.

Catarina Macario:

Thanks, Grant. Thanks for having me.

Grant Wahl:

First question, how are you?

Catarina Macario:

I’m doing well. Yeah. Thank you. Just rehabbing away, so yeah, just hoping to get back on the field as soon as possible.

Grant Wahl:

And what led to you coming to Doha for your rehab, and how much time have you spent here?

Catarina Macario:

I’ve been here for about two months now, and I’m here because I’m doing rehabilitation at Aspetar, which is one of the best rehab centers in the world, actually. And I just wanted to be treated by the best. And I have my goals of going to the World Cup. And just want to make sure that I’m a hundred percent. And so I just figured that here would be the best place to get back to the best version of myself.

Grant Wahl:

I mean, the facilities here are incredible. I’ve taken a tour of them before, so I totally understand why you’re here doing this. How many World Cup games have you attended? What’s it been like?

Catarina Macario:

That’s a good question. Thankfully, Adidas has been very kind to me since they know that I was already here. So I’ve just been going to about one game per day or so. I’ve never been to a World Cup before, and this was a very once in a lifetime opportunity, obviously, because I’m supposed to be playing instead of being injured and being here. But it just happened that the World Cup was here, so we’re able to make it happen.

Grant Wahl:

How many U.S. games? How many Brazil games?

Catarina Macario:

All the U.S. games, and all the Brazil games except one.

Grant Wahl:

So, this time off from playing for the U.S. national team and Lyon. I know it’s not what you wanted, but how have you tried to approach these last six months?

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Catarina Macario:

It’s been five months since my surgery actually. But like you said, it’s definitely not what I wanted. But things happen. Injuries are part of football, and I’m just kind of taking it one day at a time and just knowing that this would make me a better player and this would make me a better person. And I feel like injuries really help you almost get grounded in a way. And just knowing that’s like, okay, I’m not just a football player, and I have way more to life than just football. And so it’s been very eye-opening, actually, and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

Grant Wahl:

Are there any human things that you’re doing during this period that maybe you weren’t doing as much of before?

Catarina Macario:

I’ve honestly never been really able to travel, and this has been a really cool period just to do that, a few weekends here and there, just because when you’re playing, even if you have one or two days off, you have to think about the next week and recovery and things like that. But this time, I was like, you know what? I’m going to treat myself, and I’m going to go on a trip. I’ve been able to spend more time with my dad, which has been cool. Just reading more books and just really practicing more mindfulness. And it’s been really cool, yeah, just getting more in touch with myself, and obviously connecting more with my friends, which sometimes I don’t necessarily get the opportunity to. And just getting to know the world a little bit better.

Grant Wahl:

That’s really interesting. That’s cool. Thanks for sharing. When are you hoping to be back on the field?

Catarina Macario:

That’s a good question. I would love to be back around March. Yeah, we’ll see. March, April. Obviously, it depends. There’s no set timeline. Sometimes, unfortunately with injuries, you have some good days, you have some off days, good weeks, off weeks, so it just kind of depends. And again, I’m thankful that I’m here at the best place in the world, and so I know that I’m in good hands. I’m itching to be back with a team again, but I just want to do it as safely as possible, so taking my time.

Grant Wahl:

It makes sense. The U.S. women’s team, they won their last game. They’ve had an extremely rare, epically rare three-game losing streak recently against top European teams, England, Spain, Germany. What was it like for you watching those games?

Catarina Macario:

I mean, it was I think kind of what every fan was feeling. I was like, whoa, what’s going on? But I feel like the one thing that you get with the U.S. is that they have a crazy mentality, and they’ll always bounce back. And I was so thankful to be able to see that in the fourth match. I think the team lacks experience right now. Obviously we have a lot of young players. And first and foremost, I wish that I was there to be getting that experience and obviously be with the team and help them as much as I can. 

But also, I think it’s a good thing. It’s a good wake-up call. It’s a good experience to have, and it’s better to happen now than later. And so you have to make the adjustments and just get back to the winning ways and the standard that the U.S. team has. And sometimes that takes a couple losses, but after all, I think this will set us up in a good path for 2023.

Grant Wahl:

The first U.S. game at the Women’s World Cup is July 22. Not that many months away, actually.

Catarina Macario:

I know, yeah.

Grant Wahl:

Seven months from now. Are you still hoping to make a big impact with the U.S. at the World Cup?

Catarina Macario:

Yeah, of course. I mean, I think not just individually but collectively. You’d say, of course we want to win again. Not just that, but we want to win and play well. And whether it be against Vietnam, Netherlands, whatever, just the whole tournament, it’s a great opportunity to show who we are, not only individually but also collectively. And I think it’s been really cool just to see the different nations stepping up in their investments, just stepping up in how they’re growing the women’s game, and it’s been really cool and exciting to be a part of. So I’m super excited for Australia and New Zealand.

Grant Wahl:

I mean, when you go to these U.S. games and you feel the tension in the stands, does it make you think about what it might be like to experience? Obviously you wouldn’t be a fan at the women’s World Cup, you would be on the field.

Catarina Macario:

No, a hundred percent, a hundred percent. Honestly, there are times when I hear the anthem and I almost feel like crying, just because I get a little bit emotional. It’s the fact that you get to represent your country on such a big stage, and that’s so special. And so it’s going to be different for sure walking onto the field hopefully in 2023, but it’s something that I’ve been looking forward to my whole life. And I hope to do it whenever I’m feeling at my best possible self.

Grant Wahl:

What sort of conversations have you had with the U.S. coach, Vlatko Andonovski?

Catarina Macario:

He’s here actually.

Grant Wahl:

I’ll track him down. I didn’t know that.

Catarina Macario:

Yeah. Yeah, he’s here. He’s doing some scouting to help with the men’s team, obviously.

Grant Wahl:

Oh, okay.

Catarina Macario:

But we just catch up here and there, obviously keeping him updated on my injuries and whatnot. But yeah, kind of just talking. We talked a little bit about the games and things like that, the games that the U.S. has had recently. He’s just a great guy, honestly. Overall, we just talk kind of human to human, and he makes you feel comfortable, which is something that you don’t find in every coach, honestly, and it’s something that I really appreciate, just because he trusts you. No matter what, he tries to get the best out of his players. It’s been good to see him here. And obviously we’re supporting the U.S. and hoping that they go as far as possible, but also in the back of our minds, we both know, okay, we enjoy watching football, but also we have work to do for 2023.

Grant Wahl:

We have seen superstars in the women’s game have ACL injuries in the last year. It’s an experience I can only imagine, but you, Alexia Putellas, Beth Mead recently with England. Do you ever wonder what’s going on with that, why it’s happening?

Catarina Macario:

Yeah. I mean, I’m no scientific expert or anything like that, but I think first of all women are already more predisposed to having ACL injuries. I think something with the hips or whatnot. Again, I’m not an expert.

Grant Wahl:

No, I understand. I put you in a tough spot.

Catarina Macario:

And also we have periods and things like that, just different things that can increase your rate of injury, your likelihood to get injured. And I just think that there’s a big, big lack of research right now in the women’s field, just really focusing on women’s players. And everything that’s done is generally concentrated on males. And it’s like, okay, but we’re completely different people. And so I think now that we’re playing more intense games, obviously the demand is higher, and I think that maybe the research has not followed. And same with the medical field. I don’t think that some clubs are necessarily doing everything that they can to help with the prevention side of injuries and whatnot. And unfortunately, we are seeing this a lot right now. It’s just really unfortunate, but I hope that we’ll come to a day that’s like, we’ll put this behind us.

Grant Wahl:

I hope sports science hears this and makes some progress-

Catarina Macario:

I hope so too. Yeah. Yeah.

Grant Wahl:

… on this, because I think it’s important for the growth of women’s sports.

Catarina Macario:

For sure.

Grant Wahl:

And until your injury happened in June, it had been really a dream season for you with Lyon. You took back the Champions League title from Barcelona, the league title from PSG. You personally were number nine and the highest American in the voting for the Ballon d’Or Award. It’s funny because the story I wrote about you in January, we had an artist do a picture of you at the start of it, and we had in the artwork holding up a shirt that said, “Ballon d’Or ‘24?” And it made me think we were too conservative in saying ‘24. Congratulations on that.

Catarina Macario:

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Grant Wahl:

When you look back on that season, how would you describe it?

Catarina Macario:

Yeah, I mean, it was a tremendous, tremendous season. It kind of went by in a blink of an eye, I’m not going to lie. Obviously, it was like my first professional season, my first full season, and I’m just so glad that we were able to just get the Champions League and get back the trophy as well. And obviously individually, it wasn’t bad. So I am very, very thrilled just, because in the beginning, it was definitely tough making the transition to professional football. 

So I’m very happy. Obviously at the end I had my injury, but it was a tremendous year. I wouldn’t change anything about it. And I just hope that this is only the beginning that will keep getting better and better. And obviously I have my eye set for the World Cup.

Grant Wahl:

We are only 28 days away from New Year’s Eve parties. It’s weird to be at a World Cup in December. I’m wrapping my mind around it still.

Catarina Macario:

I know. It doesn’t even feel like December.

Grant Wahl:

That’s a time when people think about the year ahead. What will you be thinking about when the clock hits midnight on New Year’s Eve?

Catarina Macario:

Well, I will be thinking about just getting as healthy as possible as quick as possible, but as safe as possible, and just doing absolutely everything I can in order to help the United States win another World Cup.

Grant Wahl:

Catarina Macario is hard at work to get back on the field for the U.S. women’s national team and Lyon. Cat, thanks for coming on the show.

Catarina Macario:

Yeah. Thank you. Always a pleasure, Grant.



It’s the end of the calendar year for the U.S. women’s national team, with 2022 performances all wrapped up in a bow. Naturally, that also means it’s time for end-of-year report cards to evaluate how each player did in the run-up to the 2023 World Cup.First, a quick set of criteria: Despite the team’s first three-game losing streak in decades, the U.S. lost only three games total in 2022. A failing grade would indicate a player is wildly unprepared for the game at this level, which is not something we saw from the group playing the lion’s share of minutes this year. Likewise, an A+ indicates a player with all-star, team-on-their-back, best-in-the-world status.Throughout this series, which will grade players by position, I’m going to avoid those who didn’t get minutes in 2022 and those who have missed significant time due to injury.Today, let’s take a look at the goalkeeping pool.


Naeher started all eight matches she played in 2022, conceding only four goals over the course of the year. After returning from a hyper-extension in her knee that kept her sidelined for the USWNT’s post-Olympics stretch in 2021, she looked especially sharp coming off her line. Her kick-save in the final match of the year against Germany, which was essentially a must-win game, swung momentum back in favor of the U.S. and spurred their 2-1 comeback victory.Naeher is 34 and appears to have her successor developing closely behind her. But in the minutes she did get in 2022, she gave no clear reason to think that now is the time to shake up the USWNT’s hierarchy at the top. Naeher’s wealth of experience in big moments has led to discipline and calm control of a rotating defense in front of her, and she’s still the keeper I’d call upon in a high-profile matchup.



When evaluating a new USWNT goalkeeper, it can be important sometimes to grade on a curve. The point of getting Casey Murphy as many minutes as possible in 2022 was to prepare her for 2023 should she find herself in the same situation as AD Franch at last year’s Olympics, when Naeher hurt her knee and Franch was thrust into the lineup. Murphy’s caps jumped from four to 12 in 2022, and the USWNT newcomer did show some nerves in high-pressure moments.

The 26-year-old clearly has the mechanics to be a great USWNT goalkeeper, but hesitation at the back stopped her from becoming the team’s obvious No. 1 when presented with the opportunity. Murphy played very well against Australia last December but looked less comfortable in Concacaf W competition, including the team’s semifinal against Costa Rica. She actually played her best game of the year in the USWNT’s loss to Germany in November, perhaps setting the stage for steps forward in 2023.


Kingsbury performed perfectly well in her first and only USWNT cap of the year, a 9-0 blowout win over Uzbekistan. But her inability to break into the team’s current two-player rotation makes her spot on the 2023 World Cup roster far from a guarantee. Kingsbury is one of the best American goalkeepers in the NWSL, but her consistent call-ups came in the wake of the Washington Spirit’s championship win in 2021.

In 2022, Washington struggled and Kingsbury eventually found herself on the outside looking in of the USWNT as AD Franch made her return to camp at the end of the year. Franch herself never saw the field for the USWNT this year, but the choices made in January camp will indicate where Kingsbury currently stands on the depth chart and whether she needs different results in the NWSL to move back up.



I’m already breaking my own rules here, but Franch deserves a mention because she probably should have had USWNT minutes in 2022. Franch held her own in the midst of a difficult situation at the Tokyo Olympics, and she certainly was not the reason Canada advanced over the U.S. and to the gold-medal match off a penalty. She led her NWSL club, the Kansas City Current, all the way to the 2022 Championship and received a USWNT call-up in November. Naeher and Murphy split the two games, leaving Franch without an opportunity to prove herself.

It’s possible that Franch has played herself back into the conversation for the USWNT’s third goalkeeper spot, but she should also be in consideration for on-field time. As a pure shot-stopper, Franch continues to excel above the competition.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Tyler Adams

Tyler Adams, leader on and off the pitch: Our U.S. Men’s Soccer Person of the Year

Jeff Rueter

Dec 21, 2022


In December, The Athletic will be highlighting the coaches, athletes and other figures who made the biggest impact in the U.S. sports we cover, as well as in the fields of sports business, media and culture. Next up in the series is our honoree in U.S. men’s soccer: Tyler Adams, who won a trophy in Germany, found a home in the Premier League and met the moment on the pitch and off it as the captain of the U.S. men’s national team at the World Cup. The full schedule is here.

It was less than a month into 2022, and Tyler Adams was already facing a setback.



After injuries slowed his initial involvement with RB Leipzig following his January 2019 transfer from his boyhood New York Red Bulls, Adams spent the next two years securing a place in the Bundesliga side’s rotation. But in January, he headed into the USMNT’s fourth World Cup qualifying window primed to do what he’d done all cycle long: playing every minute possible at the base of Gregg Berhalter’s midfield.

Following a frigid 1-0 win over El Salvador in Columbus, Adams was set for a pivotal match at Canada. Cyle Larin opened the scoring at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario, for the hosts within seven minutes, when a quick deflection off of Jonathan Osorio caught Adams out of position and rendered him unable to slow the sequence, as he listlessly tried to keep a read on the ball while Canada snatched a decisive goal.

Adams’ day hardly improved. In the 65th minute, he picked up a hamstring injury that would require him to come off four minutes later. The following day brought news that fans dreaded: Adams, the tireless midfield linchpin, would miss a must-win match against Honduras in Saint Paul.

Although the U.S. won that game without Adams, it was a frustrating sequence just two weeks before his 23rd birthday. When Adams left New York, it seemed that he and fellow MLS prospect Alphonso Davies would lead a new era of league-developed exports to become regulars with prominent European clubs.

As Davies quickly helped Bayern Munich to a Champions League title, Adams was still struggling to become a regular starter with Leipzig, who had employed four managers in Adams’ three years with the club.

With all of this fluctuation, it was almost inevitable that Adams would be linked with moves away from Leipzig. And yet, the January window closed with Adams still in Germany.



What transpired in the 11 months following his hamstring pull has radically altered the course of Adams’ career. Despite a rough first month, Adams closes 2022 having won his first trophy since leaving MLS. He earned a move to ensure first-choice status with a familiar voice barking instructions from the touchline. He ended a years-long captain’s vacancy for the United States men, donning the armband throughout their four World Cup matches. And, after perhaps being overshadowed by many of his fellow precocious compatriots, he’s become a highly respected midfield general. For all this, Adams is The Athletic’s U.S. Men’s Soccer Person of the Year.

Thomas Dooley. Christian PulisicGiovanni Reyna.

Germany has rostered players from U.S. shores for decades. In total, 67 U.S.-eligible players have competed in the Bundesliga, but only those three had ever won the DFB-Pokal, Germany’s preeminent cup competition, heading into the 2021-22 season.

After finishing as runners-up the year before, Adams and Leipzig again made a run for their first German cup this season. Adams was an unused substitute in Leipzig’s quarterfinal and semifinal victories and was again listed as a substitute for the final between Leipzig and SC Freiburg. At last, nine minutes into extra time, Adams threw his jersey on. Playing with 10 men since a 57th-minute red card, Leipzig desperately needed fresh legs to keep an inspired Freiburg at bay.

In the ensuing shootout, Freiburg missed twice, as Leipzig made all four of their shots, giving them the historic victory. It wasn’t a full shift for Adams, nor was it a particularly glamorous one. Nevertheless, it was a reinforcement of why Leipzig brought Adams over from New York less than three years earlier.


Still, Adams’ name was again in circulation as the summer transfer window neared.



Leeds United had just narrowly avoided relegation in the Premier League, and they needed to replace starting midfielder Kalvin Phillips, giving Adams a potential outlet for more consistent match action than he’d found with Leipzig. The club also made fellow U.S. international Brenden Aaronson its record signing upon avoiding the drop, ensuring a friendly face would be making a similar adjustment to life in West Yorkshire.

And, as if all of that wasn’t enough, their survival was secured after hiring Adams’ two-time coach, and one of his staunchest supporters, as their manager: Jesse Marsch.

On July 6, a day before Leeds played their first preseason match, they announced they had secured their man, bringing Adams in just two days after selling Phillips to Manchester City. Adams relished the chance to not only re-reunite with Marsch, but to help a storied club find more stable footing.

“When Leeds came calling, I knew a lot about the club through the (Amazon) documentary (about the club from 2019), and the history of the club,” Adams said in November. “I didn’t completely understand the (magnitude) of how big the club is. The fans, the culture is a completely different level.”

Sure enough, Adams has been given ample opportunities to make a strong first impression on his new fan base as he became an instant starter in Phillips’ stead. He hasn’t looked like a player who’s only there because of a relationship with the coach, either. Adams has been a standout in his first Premier League season, making a smoother transition from Germany to England than many manage — it’s a perk to know your new coach’s system better than most of the locker room before even signing a contract.

Passes attempted60.1674
Pass completion %84.768
Progressive passes4.2366

*Percentiles (via fbref dot com) compared to positional peers in men’s top five European leagues, Champions League, Europa League since Dec. 20, 2021. Based on a minimum of 1,350 minutes played (Adams has played 1,873 minutes).

Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Brendan Aaronson — USMNT teammates in Qatar — talk during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Chelsea on Aug. 21. (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt / AMA / Getty Images)

Adams started all but one of Leeds’ 14 league matches before the World Cup break, missing their clash with Fulham with a minor muscle issue. He would’ve had a perfect record by turning in a full 90 minutes for each shift if it weren’t for the final game before the tournament, when he was shown a second yellow card in the 87th minute against Tottenham.



It’s a far cry from rotating in and out of Leipzig’s lineup, to say the least. The move to Leeds provided him with a perfect lead-in to the World Cup. He was getting consistent starts against some of the game’s best midfielders playing a style that’s comparable to Berhalter’s system.

The near-inevitable was confirmed as Adams was among the marquee names when Berhalter finalized his World Cup roster on Nov. 9. Adams would be adding to his 32 senior caps on the world’s biggest stage. Ready or not, here it was.

As a student from the school of Red Bull Football, Adams knows a thing or two about pressure.

In his installment of The Athletic’s “My Game in My Words” series, Adams discussed the nuance of both applying pressure on opponents with the ball as well as anticipating their own pressing when he’s about to collect it. With a more holistic approach to retaining the ball rather than relying on heroic dribbling tricks, Adams sees the latter circumstance as a time to recirculate.

“You want to create numerical advantages in soccer, so I think if I’m getting pressure right now from any player, I’m switching the ball immediately.”

That mental balance served Adams well in the U.S.’s first two group contests in Qatar. He was a vital presence to keep Wales at bay in the Americans’ opening draw. In the Black Friday blockbuster against England, Adams covered a bit more ground as midfield partner Weston McKennie was shunted wide to create numerical advantages on the right flank. All the same, Adams was impactful, marking Jude Bellingham into his worst game of the tournament while seeing out a scoreless draw.

To play so consistently in his first two World Cup matches was achievement enough, but Adams’ calm presence extended beyond the pitch, as well. After taking a rotational approach to the captain’s armband throughout qualifying, Berhalter named Adams the indisputable skipper in the days before the Wales match. It was an obvious pick: a player whose leadership chops extend far beyond his youthfulness.



“We used to have conversations in New York about whether we make Tyler the captain at 17, 18 years old,” Marsch said in an interview with The Athletic last year. “Everyone talked about his potential as a leader.”

On the field, the responsibility never appeared to burden Adams. In press conferences, however, he had to navigate a different kind of pressure on his own — particularly before the United States’ game against Iran.

Factors from both the U.S. Soccer camp and beyond raised the tension for that final group-stage match beyond the usual anxiety which comes with win-or-go-home stakes. Within Iran’s borders, anti-government protests have been staged since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody just three days after being arrested for not covering her hair while visiting her brother in Tehran. Days before the match, U.S. Soccer tweeted out a graphic that erased the Islamic Republic iconography on the Iranian flag.

Also, Iran coach Carlos Quieroz had fielded several questions about the country’s restrictions on women’s rights. Quieroz repeatedly asked reporters why coaches like Gareth Southgate of England and Berhalter don’t face similar lines of questioning about their own country’s policies and actions. With Berhalter and Adams taking their coach and captain responsibilities to field questions on the eve of the match, Iranian reporters took the opportunity to take a similar approach to questioning.

Berhalter was asked to explain U.S. Soccer’s decision to omit the Islamic Republic symbol on social media, the presence of an American fleet in the Persian Gulf and high national inflation rates. Another writer directly asked Adams, who is Black, how it feels to represent a country with “so much discrimination against Black people” immediately after scolding the midfielder for mispronouncing “Iran” in his previous answer.

In response, Adams showed his level-headedness and maturity in the moment.


“There’s discrimination everywhere you go,” Adams said. “One thing that I’ve learned, especially from living abroad in the past years and having to fit into different cultures and kind of assimilate into different cultures, is that in the U.S., we’re continuing to make progress every single day. Growing up for me, I grew up in a White family with obviously an African-American heritage and background, as well.

“So I had a little bit of different cultures and I was very, very easily able to assimilate in different cultures. Not everyone has that ease and the ability to do that, and obviously, it takes longer for some to understand. Through education, I think it’s super important. Like you just educated me now on the pronunciation of your country. So yeah, it’s a process. I think, as long as you see progress, that’s the most important thing.”

For all of his skill on the field, it was in this press conference that Adams became the USMNT’s indisputable captain. Now, all that was left was the easy part: A game against a fired-up and well-organized opponent where anything less than a win would send the United States home sooner than they would’ve liked.

No pressure.

It’s easier to find areas in which Adams didn’t make his presence known in the match against Iran than those which he impacted. From box to box, he put in a shift worthy of his now-burgeoning reputation. He completed 62 of his 69 pass attempts, with 11 directed into the final third to facilitate attacking opportunities. He was 3-for-3 in tackling, won six of his nine ground duals, completed seven of his eight long passes, and made a staggering 12 ball recoveries.

And yet, the U.S. still narrowly clung to a 1-0 lead entering nine minutes of agonizing stoppage time. After some conservative substitutions by Berhalter, Iran would be the aggressors for the duration. Less than two minutes in, center back Morteza Pouraliganji got on the end of a free kick for a diving header which narrowly went wide of goal. U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner collected himself and prepared to take a goal kick. Crisis averted thanks to a slightly misplaced attempt, right?

As ever, Adams was there to quietly play the hero once more. In the commotion around the defender’s attempt, the officiating crew missed a slight deflection from Adams which nudged the ball just off frame from Turner’s goal. While the ensuing seven minutes were no less stressful, Iran didn’t manage another attempt with the same level of promise as Pouraliganji’s dive. The final whistle mercifully blew after nine minutes and 53 seconds.

Going into the tournament, the U.S. was optimistic about getting out of the group stage. Even after the draw handed the young side one of the toughest groups among the field, a generation with so many promising players doesn’t expect to just play the minimum of three matches at a World Cup. Ahead of a 2026 tournament which will feature Adams and his peers in their projected prime years playing on home soil in North America, achieving success in Qatar was earmarked as a necessary step ahead of a competitive run in four years’ time.

While the U.S. lost to the Netherlands in the round of 16, the tournament gave a foundation for what’s to come. It’s a back-handed sort of compliment to Adams, but the fact that a rare mistake from him (failing to mark Memphis Depay after a turnover) led to the opening goal highlights just how consistent the midfielder had been throughout the previous three matches. Without Adams, it’s hard to imagine they would have fared as well in Group B.

“In the past three games, I’d say we defended the moments really, really well,” Adams said after the defeat. “And today the three goals come from moments where we’re probably sleeping a little bit.”

The strong tournament showing has once again put Adams into the conversation ahead of a transfer window. Thanks to the bizarre reality of a non-summer World Cup, the breakthrough comes just as teams on the fringes of contention for the Champions League are looking for sure-thing reinforcements to push them into the qualifying places. Manchester United and Inter Milan have reportedly been among the marquee early inquirers, although it’s hard to imagine Leeds will be in any rush to move such a vital part of a team they hope will grow together under Marsch’s leadership after a rocky start to the season.

With the first month of the year leaving his club status in a state of flux as an injury kept him from a must-win qualifier, 2022 was shaping up to be a pivotal year for Adams. Not only did he navigate it well, but he launched himself into a new plane of respect in the face of adversity. While it’s unclear what this bright young generation of U.S. men will accomplish both independently and as a collective, one thing is undeniable: Adams will play a massive role in that assessment, both now and likely for years to come.

Andres Cantor’s emotional Argentina World Cup victory call was 36 years in the making

Andres Cantor’s emotional Argentina World Cup victory call was 36 years in the making

By Christopher KamraniDec 20, 202222

The voice on the other line answered at 4:50 a.m. local time. It’s a famous voice, but a tad raspier than its typical eloquent baseline. Of course it was. It had to be. Imagine the demented multiverse we’d exist in without Sunday’s World Cup final, without the greatest and circuitous two hours the sport has potentially ever allotted to us, without Telemundo’s Buenos Aires-born play-by-play announcer Andrés Cantor belting out the most appropriate signature phrase in the sport. 

In the way-too-early hours in Doha, nearly eight hours after Gonzalo Montiel went left with his winning spot kick to secure Argentina’s first men’s World Cup crown since 1986, Cantor, the emphatic voice who never fails to rise to the vital moments, is still searching for the words. 

Aye…” he says, scrolling through the Rolodex of his mind, before arriving at his destination: a 30-second clip from 1978, the intro to ABC’s “Wide World of Sports”.



“The ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat,” Cantor said. 

In his Doha dwelling on Monday morning, with his voice bouncing off the walls, Cantor recalled experiencing both the ecstasy and the agony within those irreplaceable two hours that Argentina and France provided. Sunday was Cantor’s ninth World Cup final either on television or radio. 

“I don’t remember, out of all the World Cup finals I’ve been to, a more dominant final like Argentina dominated — until the 76th minute of this match,” he said. “But, I know this is soccer. This is football.”

Nonetheless, in the 74th minute, Cantor turned to his broadcast partner, 1986 World Cup champion Claudio Borghi, and asked without any sarcasm: “Is this real?”.

“Argentina was playing so well and we were just 14 minutes away,” Cantor explained. “I regret saying that because I know from experience. This is football. When France tied the match, obviously I had the responsibility of calling the World Cup final match and the tying goal.”

A double dose of Kylian Mbappe in the 80th and 81st minute immediately evaporated the elation that Argentines worldwide possessed. You can risk sounding hyperbolic by just claiming that this final had it all, but it did. It went from one-sided to all-out chaos, which Cantor was still laughing about over the phone eight hours later. Messi poking the ball over the line in the 108th minute, Mbappe cooly equalizing again 10 minutes later, and the moment Cantor kept mentioning: Emiliano Martinez’s otherworldly save in the 123rd minute, keeping Argentina very much alive at the death: “I get goosebumps. I get chills,” said Cantor of the decisive moment. All of it was a ridiculously entertaining, gut-churning precursor to penalty kicks. Martinez showed up again when the lights burned brightest and shimmied with unbridled arrogance. Eventually, it was up to Montiel, a 25-year-old full-back, to restore Argentina’s place as a soccer power. hat came out was love. “What came out were my true emotions,” Cantor said. “I said from the very first interview in 1990 that I would be a hypocrite if I said I don’t want Argentina to win the World Cup. But I had the composure and professionalism when France scored the tying goal and then almost went ahead and won the World Cup.”ADVERTISEMENT


What poured out of the sport’s venerated voice was a joy that hadn’t coarse through his veins in 36 years. “I showed I was human after all when Montiel hit the winning PK,” he said. Cantor grabbed hold of Borghi’s white dress shirt as he screamed and screamed and his voice cracked and he said the words five decades in the making.“I shortened the ‘GOOOOOOOL!’ because the scream every Argentine wanted to hear was ‘Argentina Campeon!’ I repeated it and repeated it,” Cantor said. “I remembered not only (Diego) Maradona, but the great world champions that have also passed away like (Jose Luis) Cuciuffo, (Jose Luis) Brown, (Leopoldo) Luque. I just remembered everyone who had so much to do in the history of Argentine football for these kids to be crowned champions today.”Cantor covered his first World Cup in 1986 aged 23 as a media member working for Argentine magazine El Grafico. He’d been to two previous tournaments as a fan, but the tournament in Mexico was his first doing his best to pry apart love for his national team and the objectivity required by the job. He watched Maradona and La Albiceleste lift their second World Cup trophy in three attempts (Argentina won as the host nation in 1978). In the four-year cycles since, there had been a frustrating mixture of sorrow and pitfalls and debacles — there were group-stage exits, title-caliber teams who never got going at a tournament, and a 113th-minute heartbreak in the 2014 World Cup final at the hands of Germany. “It’s been such a long wait,” Cantor said.Like everything, Cantor said he will have to let the adrenaline smooth itself out in the coming days before he is back on the headset on Boxing Day for the return of the Premier League. When asked if the final was the best match he’s called in his illustrious career, Cantor said he was still overwhelmed and will be overwhelmed for a while. 

“I don’t know if it was the best game I’ve called in my career because it was kind of one-sided,” he said. “I was really, really controlling my emotions through the 75th minute. Then we had a game and then talk about a rollercoaster of emotions. The last 15 minutes, the extra 30 and then PKs? Oh, my God. That was the most intense game of my life for sure. I don’t know if it was the best play-by-play. The public will be there to judge. But for me, it was the most intense moment of my career, for sure.”

As if the jubilation wasn’t tangible enough, Cantor had the unique pleasure of soaking in the triumph with his kids in attendance. His son Nico was working pitchside for radio network Futbol de Primera, and daughter Andrea was in the stands in a No. 9 Argentina shirt. Nico had the luxury of traveling to the last four World Cups, either as a fan or, like his father, as a media member. 

“This year he told me, ‘You know, you’re so lucky you got to see Argentina lift the World Cup twice. I’m heartbroken every time I go to the World Cup and Argentina can’t lift it’,” Andres said. 

When Montiel’s penalty made the back of the net flutter, Nico cried on air, too. In the same stadium as his dad. In the same stadium as his sister. In the same stadium as thousands of exalted Argentines having experienced the ecstasy and the agony.

“If I was crying pitchside, I couldn’t imagine what my dad was going through live on air,” Nico said. “It’s part of my blood. It’s how I identify. I didn’t even need to see the video because I knew my dad was going to break down crying the way he did. I knew it. We’ve been waiting for this my entire life.”

After 36 years of waiting, Andres Cantor let it all out. The wait was over. Finally.

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12/21/22 A World Cup for the Ages 4-3 (Pks), Messi Wins the Cup for Argentina, Mbappe wins Golden Ball, Martinez Golden Glove, English Cup games this wk, EPL back 12/26

Wow I am pretty sure I just witnessed the Best World Cup Game Ever –much less Final.  It had all the elements – World Superstar Messi close to retirement from international football looking for his swan song performance and to lift the World Cup Trophy for his native Argentina to be rightfully mentioned at the GOAT of the sport.  Possibly the Best Player ever.  Champions League titles, Copa America Championship, multiple Balon D Or’s Player of the Year Trophies –but the one thing missing to be mentioned with reference to the Great Diego Maradona – Messi needed this Trophy and have it he does.  He claims the Golden Ball for a 2nd time in a World Cup. Versus France  – looking to become the first repeat Champ almost 60 years.  Mbappe – the heir apparent and certain GOAT in Waiting taking home the Golden Boot as he and Messi battled to the end to see who would win it.  Mbappe’s hattrick of 3 goals giving him the nod over Messi by 1 goal.  Mbappe’s 4th a PK making him the leading scorer in Finals history with 4 goals scored (only 3 count though). The 2-0 Argentina lead with a dominating performance so complete that French Manager Deschamps  Made 2 subs before the half and 2 more at the 65 minute mark.  Then like that it’s 2-2 as Mbappe explodes into action like only he can.  Then its 3-2 in Extra time – as Messi scores this spectacular goal that if the World Cup only had a 2nd ET of Golden Goal would have provided the storybook ending to Messi’s spectacular career.  But no – Mbappe would score another on a PK in the final minutes again to tie her up at 3-3 – then this SAVE OF THE GAME by Argentina’s Martinez saved the blue and white stripes and sent them into the 5th shootout of this World Cup.  In prime form Argentine GK Emilio Martinez (Aston Villa) bossed his way to a save and a forced miss and won the Shootout for Argentina sending the close to 100K in the stadium and around the grounds into a frenzy unmatched in World Cup’s Past. 1986 Was Argentina’s last World Cup title –a lifetime for some – for Messi a dream realized.  And for the largest TV audience to EVER WATCH A SPORTING EVENT – A CLASSIC FOR THE AGES.  Perhaps the Best ever Final, perhaps the Best Ever World Cup Game, in my mind one of the Greatest Sporting Events I have ever watched on TV.   Ton’s of stories all about the game and more below.   I had picked 3-2 win for Argentina. But 4-3 in PKs was even better.

World Cup News  The Bracket

A record 25 million watched the World Cup Final in the US making it the most watched Soccer game on TV in the US ever. That’s more than the NBA Game 7 or NCAA Final or the College Football Final game last year. Yeah no one watches soccer. Here’s my Favorite Soccer Announcer Andre’s Cantor born in Bueno Aires but living in the US since his teenaged years as he calls the final whistle for Argentina.  Final Goals in Spanish  Messi being Carried Around the Stadium was classic!   Full 9 minute Highlights   Closing Ceremony World Cup

If you get a chance and you want to cry a little ESPN’s E60 Remember the Blue & Yellow is out now – about the Urkraine National Soccer team and their quest to make the World Cup in the middle of the Invasion by the Evil Russians.  Its definitely worth the watch. Oh and the Women’s World Cup is just 6 months away!


Wed, Dec 21                      League Cup

2:45 pm ESPN+                  Blackburn vs Nottingham Forest

2:$5 pm ESPN+                  Newcastle United vs AFC Bournemouth

3 pm ESPN+                      Man United vs Burnley

Thur, Dec 22                      League Cup

3 pm ESPN+                      Man City vs Liverpool

Mon, Dec 26                      Boxing Day

7:30 am USA                      Brentford vs Tottenham

10 am USA                         Leicester City vs Newcastle United

10 am Peacock                  Crystal Palace vs Fulham (Robinson, Ream)

12:30 pm NBC Aston Villa vs Liverpool

3 pm Peacock                    Arsenal vs West Ham United

Tues, Dec 27                     

12:30 pm USA                    Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Bournmouth

3 pm USA                            Man United vs Nottingham Forest

Wed, Dec 28                     

3pm  pm USA                   Leeds United (Adams, Aaronson) vs Man City 

Thurs, Dec 29                   

1 pm USA                            Queens Park Rangers vs Luton Town (US GK Horvath) 

Fri, Dec 29                         

2:45 pm USA                      West Ham vs Brentford 

3 pm Peacock                   Liverpool vs Leicester City

Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw

CARMEL FC PLAYERS : Winter Players League (WPL) – Badger Indoor Fieldhouse
As the fall season comes to a close over the next month, we wanted to let you know that we will be launching an indoor soccer league over two six week sessions within our new Badger Fieldhouse. Games will be played on either Friday night ( 6pm to 10pm) or Sunday afternoon (1pm-5pm) depending on age groups: U8s, U9&U10, U11&U12, U13-U15 and U16+ (Coed Teams allowed). Referees for each game, 50 minute games, 5v5, 7v7 and 9v9 matches.
Session One (6 weeks): Jan 6th, 13th, 20th, 27th / Feb: 3rd, 10th
Session Two (6 weeks): Feb 17th, 24th / Mar 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th
Gather teammates and be ready to play!


Born into poverty, Messi was a football prodigy from practically the day he could run. He was the talk of the town, attracting crowds even as a 5 year old. But at just age 10, Messi received some terrible news. He was diagnosed with Growth Hormone Deficiency, meaning that without expensive treatment, he would never grow normally and would never have the chance to live up to his talent.After local teams declined to pay for his $1000 a month injections, something that never before happened took place. One of Europe’s biggest teams, Barcelona, took a chance on this unknown foreign child and signed him, committing to pay for all his treatments, and providing him and his family with lodging. Remember, this is not an 18 year old star, this is sickly 12 year old child no larger than a 7 year old!

Messi’s treatment worked and boy did he repay Barcelona’s favor. He became the greatest player in its history (and any club history) winning them every possible trophy many times and weaving dizzying performances that made the entire world sing his name.That tiny boy who was born one year after the great Maradona stunned the world with his 1986 magical performances that last won Argentina a World Cup, overcame the odds of abject poverty and debilitating health to seal his legend as the greatest ever and launch millions into Argentina’s streets again. Even Hollywood could not write a story like this.

This is football. Mythical.

 Ten years ago, a Moroccan mother, Soad Al Affani felt all hope was lost after failing to find the funds necessary to help her 12 year old son, Waleed Kashksh, receive treatment for his Growth Hormone deficiency. Desperate, she took the long shot as only a mother could and wrote to Messi.To her surprise, Messi answered promising to help. And he kept his promise. He continued to consistently fund Waleed’s monthly treatment till only 4 years ago when he became 18 and no longer needed medical help.

This is football. Real.

I love football because it is a level playing field and an equalizer like no other, a truly global space like no other, a uniter of the world’s diversity in camaraderie like no other, a shared language of the people like no other, and a source of mass euphoria like no other. I love football because every side of every conflict in Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Egypt or Senegal – whether political or economic or social – will only stand shoulder to shoulder and together flood the streets in common purpose should their national team win a tournament.I love football because boys and girls who grow up playing barefoot with coconuts can be teammates with those born into aristocracy – and even get ahead. Because this is one space where your true value is in the joy you bring.


 Messis Status a GOAT Solidified but Mbappe proves he’s not far behind – Henry Bushnell Yahoo Soccer
Lionel Messi Argentina kits are sold out after historic World Cup victory
– that’s why I ordered mine a month ago – arrived Sat – a sign !
Lionel Messi Sets Instagram Record With World Cup Victory Post

Messi Emulates Maradona in Epic Fairytale Ending = The Guardian

World agrees that we’ve just witnessed the greatest World Cup final ever – the 18

Analysis: Most dramatic World Cup final caps a unique tournament in Qatar

No asterisk to Lionel Messi’s career. His brilliant resume now includes World Cup title. | Opinion
USA today
Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé among winners of World Cup. Not hard to guess the losers | Opinion
USA Today
Lionel Messi made to wear traditional Arab bisht for World Cup trophy lift

Lionel Messi finally wins a World Cup — and, after years of heartache, Argentina’s love

2022 World Cup awards: Best XI, Golden Ball, Golden Boot, Top Moments

Argentina vs France, player ratings: Lionel Messi dazzles with Kylian Mbappe perfect in defeat

Messi: “I wanted to close my career with this, I can no longer ask for anything else”

Messi Sits Atop a Different Mountain Now
‘Qatar put on maybe the best football tournament ever’

Argentina gets record $42 million for winning World Cup. See every team’s prize money

Goal of the Tournament Nominees Announced for 2022 FIFA World Cup

France fly out of Qatar as FIFA acclaims World Cup attendance

Thousands in Paris welcome France home after World Cup loss

Who are the best soccer players of all time?

Why Messi and Argentina can’t keep the trophy

World Cup rankings: How history’s previous editions were rated


 Best World Cup Saves – Vol 4

Shoot out Drama –
How Emiliano Martinez’s mind games created shoot-out glory for Argentina

Emiliano Martinez’s shoot-out shenanigans take gamesmanship to a new level

From Fan in 2018 to World Cup Savior in Qatar – Argentine keeper Martinez is Improbable Hero – Bushnell Yahoo
Pictured: Emiliano Martinez performs lewd trophy gesture after Argentina’s World Cup win

Emiliano Martínez shimmies, saves and secures Argentina’s World Cup with vital saves at the end

FIFA World Cup 2022: Argentina goalkeeper Martinez wins golden glove
Lloris says ‘time for Mbappe’s generation’ after World Cup final loss


Everything to know about MLS SuperDraft 2023: How to watch, order, more


Ballon D’Or winner Benzema ends tumultuous France career after Qatar blow

Messi’s World Cup triumph leaves America his last frontier to conquer as Inter Miami waits | Opinion  Miami Herald
League Cup: How to watch live, schedule, scores, updates

Fantastic EPL Commercial Show’s what Erlend Haaland Has been Doing While Everyone is At the World Cup –the 18


American MLS Ref Ismail Elfath: was the 4th official for the Final!

Austin Ref to do World Cup Final

U.S. Soccer referees to officiate FIFA World Cup Final for first …

CARMEL FC GOALKEEPERS: NO TRAINING NEXT WEEK – Wednesday Night Trainings Jan-Mar – Badger Indoor Fieldhouse 5:30 pm U12//6:30 pm U13-U14//8:30 pm HS U15+. 

Not sure what other clubs have – but Carmel FC has former US Men’s National Team World Cup GK & Coach Juergen Sommer coaching the high school age, Hall of Fame Canadian World Cup GK Carla Baker coaching the U15s and myself coaching the U12s this winter. 

World Cup: A storybook ending

Lionel Messi of Argentina lifts the World Cup after winning the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France

The GIST: The legendary Lionel Messi and No. 3 Argentina are your 2022 FIFA men’s World Cup champions after taking down Golden Boot winner Kylian Mbappé and No. 4 France yesterday in perhaps the greatest sporting event ever. Couldn’t have written a better ending.

How it happened: With a 2–0 lead and less than 11 minutes to go in regulation, it seemed as if Argentina would sail to the title. But Mbappé took matters into his own feet, er, hands, scoring twice in under two minutes to send things to extra time.

  • That’s where both squads’ brightest stars traded late goals, with Messi netting what looked like the game-winner before Mbappé equalized, notching the first men’s World Cup final hat trick since 1966 to force anxiety-inducing penalty kicks (PKs).
  • It wasn’t too stressful for Argentina keeper Emiliano Martínez, though. He danced his way to a clutch save before Gonzalo Montiel netted the game-sealing PK to secure Argentina their third World Cup title and their first in 36 years. What a moment.

The significance: Yesterday marked Messi’s record-setting 26th and final men’s World Cup appearance, and he celebrated by nabbing the trophy that eluded him in his four previous tournaments. He also won the Golden Ball (aka tourney MVP), becoming the first man to do so twice. Consider that GOAT “debate” settled.

Off the field recap: As thrilling as yesterday’s action was, the confetti and fireworks can’t cover up Qatar’s atrocious human rights abuses in the lead up to and throughout the tournament. From quelling player protests to ignoring the deaths of migrant workers, Qatar and FIFA need to pay up and do better.

What’s next: FIFA will have a chance to do just that when the women’s World Cup kicks off from Australia and New Zealand in just 213 days. Not like we’re counting…

USMNT’s Christian Pulisic ‘still thinks’ about first-half chance during Netherlands World Cup loss

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 03: Andries Noppert of Netherlands makes a save from Christian Pulisic of United States during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Netherlands and USA at Khalifa International Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

By Jacob Whitehead5h ago6

United States forward Christian Pulisic has revealed he still dwells over a missed first-half chance over two weeks after his side’s loss to the Netherlands.In the third minute of the last-16 tie, Pulisic was through on goal, presented with a one-on-one chance against Netherlands keeper Andries Noppert.His weak effort was saved however, and the Netherlands took a 2-0 lead by the end of the first-half after goals from Memphis Depay and Daley Blind.Haji Wright’s goal could not spark a comeback, and the Netherlands completed a 3-1 win thanks to Denzel Dumfries. The Netherlands would lose on penalties to Argentina in the quarter-finals.Speaking on teammate Tim Ream’s ‘Indirect’ podcast, Pulisic revealed he still dwells on the moment.“Had I finished that chance, the game goes differently,” he said.“I would love that back. I still think about it. It’s a learning experience. I think there’s a reason why it didn’t go in, things happened the way it did. It all happens for a reason.”However, he revealed that results did give him optimism for when the United States host the World Cup alongside Canada and Mexico in 2026.“I think my most significant takeaway would just be the experience that a lot of this team now has under their belt,” Pulisic said. “Coming back here with my Chelsea teammates, for example, they’re all talking about like, ’You guys actually have a good team. We didn’t know. You guys looked good, you guys looked good against England, you guys have a strong team.“I knew we had a strong team, and once everyone kind of came together, you could see that. And also now with the World Cup in the States next time around, I think these experiences are so important.”

LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - DECEMBER 18: Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates with teammates and the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Winner's Trophy after the team's victory during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Ranking all 22 World Cups: How Qatar compares in unpredictability, goals and controversy to past editions

Dec 20, 2022

  • James Tyler
  • Bill Connelly
  • Phew! The 2022 World Cup is over, Lionel Messi has that elusive prize and Argentina have bragging rights over the soccer world for the next four years. So, it’s time to re-rank.

Every FIFA representative near a microphone has been quick to call this one of the best World Cups ever, but in one way or another, most of them have been pretty good. While recency bias will almost certainly play a role here, let’s go category-by-category and see how the last month shapes up with its historic peers.Before we begin, we must address the obvious. The World Cup is where sports and politics overlap and intersect in the messiest ways. This tournament was awarded in the shadiest possible fashion, hundreds (at least) of migrant workers are believed to have died during its preparation, and Qatar leaned too far for comfort into “Respect our culture!” when its criminalization of being gay was raised and rainbows threatened to appear on shirts or armbands. This isn’t a new thing for the World Cup: The tournaments in 1934 and 1938 were vehicles for Italy Prime Minister Benito Mussolini to promote fascism, while the 1978 edition in Argentina was held while the country was governed by a military junta.Also, on a personal note, the shocking death of journalist Grant Wahl at Argentina’s quarterfinal with the Netherlands was a reminder to all of us how fragile life is.Regardless prior to this tournament, Bill Connelly and I tried to put every previous edition into a highly scientific and rigorously analytic ranking from worst to best. With the festivities in Qatar wrapped up, now let’s figure out where the 2022 edition fits into everything.

Great players (1-10): 5

Bill Connelly: When the primary storyline of the final pits Kylian Mbappe vs. Lionel Messi, both playing at or near the peak of their effectiveness, that’s a pretty good start. And you certainly get some points for the number of incredible international talents almost certainly playing in their final World Cup — Messi, Luka ModricCristiano RonaldoRobert LewandowskiLuis SuarezSergio Busquets, et cetera.

The competition is also noteworthy, however, for who it lackedErling HaalandMohamed Salah and [pick your favorite player from the Italian team], plus injured stars like Karim BenzemaN’Golo Kante and Christopher Nkunku. There is always star power at the World Cup, but in the end I don’t feel like this competition had any more than others even if the two biggest stars shined particularly bright.

– World Cup rankings: How history’s previous editions were rated

James Tyler: I agree with you here. Also, this World Cup has been about the surprise packages (MoroccoJapan) as well as the more surprising names on various rosters. (Did anyone have Alexis Mac Allister as one of their players of the tournament? Me neither.) This has been a tournament where the collective has broadly outdone the individual talent, not to mention the drop in star power either through those injuries or through failure to qualify.

Oh, and some of the players to really impress aren’t quite at that level, either, from Hakim Ziyech to Julian Alvarez (he’ll be there someday, though) to Cody Gakpo. They might be on the billboard four years from now, but their performances in Qatar this winter certainly weren’t the ones we were watching for pre-tournament.

BC: And honestly? That’s the kind of tournament I tend to enjoy even more. I knew Messi was awesome, so nothing he could do here would have surprised me. Getting to know someone like Alvarez and getting a huge reminder of what Ziyech can do when he actually plays was delightful.

France sure could have used Benzema, Kante, Nkunku and Paul Pogba in the final, though, huh?

Goal quantity/excitement (1-5): 5

JT: I’ll take this one first. The excitement has been there from start to finish, with a number of knockout round games going to the wire and several others showcasing the best that soccer has to offer — that’s right: all-gas, no-brakes attacking soccer and heroic, last-ditch defending. But at the same time, we did get more 0-0 games than the past World Cup and I think more than 2014 as well, while some of the games (any involving CroatiaBelgium) were simply lacking in quality and finishing.

The US huffed and puffed but failed to blow anyone’s houses down, and if you take out some of the more lopsided results — Portugal‘s 6-1 rout of the Swiss in the round of 16, England thundering Iran and Spain laying waste to Costa Rica — it definitely lacked some of the pizzazz of tournaments past. I do think the midseason fit had an impact here, as players were a little tired at times and tactics were mercifully kept quite basic. Several games had the feel of something attritional rather than attractive.

BC: On the flip side, we got the most goals ever and a 3-3 final. Really, this was a “something for everyone” situation. The group stage gave us six 0-0s, nine 1-0s, three 3-2s, two 4-1s, a 3-3, a 4-2, a 6-2 and a 7-0. The knockout rounds gave us a shootout after 0-0 and two shootouts after 1-1 — so, four total goals in 360 minutes, plus a 1-0 after 90 minutes as well — along with two 3-0s, a 4-1, a 6-1 and a glorious final. In the end, I’d say the latter outweighs the former.

Upsets (1-5): 4


BC: Morocco beat Belgium, Spain and Portugal. Japan beat Germany and Spain. (In between, Costa Rica beat Japan.) Saudi Arabia nearly derailed Argentina’s title bid before it even got started with a 2-1 win. Croatia beat Brazil, which was an upset even though it was also a defending finalist beating a 2018 quarterfinalist. South Korea advanced over Portugal and Uruguay. If we’re including what amounted to dead rubbers, Cameroon beat Brazil and Tunisia beat France, which likely mattered quite a bit to Cameroon and Tunisia.

That’s a lot. Upsets were this competition’s calling card in the group stage.

JT: Even though we mostly got chalk in the knockout stages — with the notable and joyous exception of Morocco — the group stage had plenty of humble pie for overconfident superpowers.

BC: One more knockout upset, and it gets the full five points.

Location/Fans (1-5): 2

BC: When the host nation doesn’t bring an enormous and vocal fan base to the table — and a percentage of the fans it does bring are hired hands from elsewhere — and its team quickly exits the tournament (Qatar lost its three group stage matches by a combined 7-1), and the location itself is pretty expensive and hard for millions of fans to reach, it’s going to be difficult to give a score of more than 1.


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• Gent vs. Standard Liege (2:25 p.m. ET)

• Sunderland vs. Blackburn (7:25 a.m. ET)
• Sheffield Utd vs. Coventry City (10 a.m. ET)
• Cardiff City vs. QPR (12 p.m. ET)
• Luton Town vs. Norwich City (2:40 p.m. ET)

• Bolton vs. Derby County (10 a.m. ET)
• Reading vs. Swansea City (12 p.m. ET)
• Burnley vs. Birmingham City (3 p.m. ET)

I say we should add a bonus point, however, and for basically one reason: The Arab and North African fans showed the hell up. Morocco fans made this tournament. Tunisia and Saudi Arabia matches popped as well. And with the noise that Argentina fans made (as always), some of the most important matches had great atmospheres. That’s worth something, I say.

JT: The lack of visible fan groups definitely meant we were struggling for those defining images off the pitch of wild celebration or melting pot-like joyous collisions of culture and custom, as well as some of my fave World Cup stories around the journeys taken by fans simply to get to the games. That said, the stadiums were packed with regional support, the surprise teams were warmly embraced by the host nation, and the scenes of Morocco celebrations in particular will stick for a long time. Not to mention the Japan fans cleaning up after their games.

We still got some cool fan moments, but not as many.

Marcotti: Qatari fans’ disinterest disappointing for organisers

Gab Marcotti gives his thoughts on the reaction of Qatar’s fans after many were seen leaving the stadium from half time onwards.

On-field controversies (1-10): 10

JT: The use of semi-automated VAR did rub fans the wrong way on many occasions, and the officiating of Antonio Mateu Lahoz in that Argentina-Netherlands game was a kind of chaos we tend to expect from World Cups. (Eighteen yellow cards? Really?) But by and large, results were accepted as largely fair based on VAR reviews, officiating and the lack of any sinister subtext. From that perspective, we got a reasonably clean event on the pitch.

There were also more than a few gripes and frustrations with the revised approach for added time, too, with several goals scored after what seemed like 10 or 15 minutes tacked on at the end of the first or second half. Not to mention that players clearly struggled with it most of all, with several (namely Uruguay’s players after realizing they were eliminated) getting up close and personal with the officials.

BC: When we were putting together the initial rankings, this was the part I struggled with the most. I finally made peace with the idea when I realized we were ranking these competitions by memorability as much as anything else. And we’ll remember all of it as much as the exploits of Messi and Mbappe, and that’s FIFA’s fault.

Great final (1-5): 5

JT: OK, this wasn’t just a great final, but perhaps the best World Cup final ever? It wasn’t just the six goals and penalty shootout that makes me think this, but the flurry of narratives (Messi’s cruising to his first World Cup!), the explosion of those narratives in favor of crazier ones (Mbappe is about to win his second World Cup before turning 24!) and the eventual return to Messi finally holding that elusive trophy.

We had 79 minutes of Argentina control before 93 seconds of Kylian Mbappe brilliance — one converted penalty, one emphatic volley — took the game to extra time. We had two of the best nations in the world defending like deer on ice to stop further goals. We had dives in the box and legitimate penalties. We had Hugo Lloris and Emi Martinez conceding three times apiece but also making enough saves to feel like they could have won Player of the Match, with Martinez’s sprawling shin-stop to deny Kingsley Coman with seconds left in extra time the most crucial stop of all.

We had enough momentum swings to power the electricity needs of a small town, we had goals in extra time, we had a gripping penalty shootout and a partridge in a pear tree.

BC: I think only three finals have a claim for competing with what we just saw: 1974 (West Germany 2-1 Netherlands), 1954 (West Germany 3-2 Hungary) and 1950 (Uruguay 2-1 Brazil, which technically wasn’t a final, but whatever, it basically was). Both 1950 and 1954 were among the greatest upsets the sport has ever seen, all three had plenty of plot twists, and both 1954 (Ferenc Puskas, Nandor Hidegkuti) and 1974 (Johan Cruyff, Gerd Muller, Franz Beckenbauer) featured some of the greatest players in the history of the sport. At worst, this final was equal to those. We gave all those matches 5s, so this one is a 5 too. But that almost doesn’t feel like enough.

Moreno: World Cup final the best game I have ever seen

Ale Moreno says the World Cup final delivered on every level as Argentina took the trophy in dramatic fashion.

Bonus points (1-10): 4

JT: Richarlison‘s goal. The glut of 90-plus-whatever-minute goals that were either decisive or heartbreaking thanks to the revised guidelines around added time. (Like Iran over Wales thanks to not one, but two strikes in that injury time window.) Every single group (bar maybe A?) literally coming down to the final 5-10 minutes. Mexico‘s second half against Saudi Arabia, including that Luis Chavez free kick. The denouement of Group E in which every single one of Spain, Japan, Germany and Costa Rica was through or eliminated. Every game involving SerbiaJose Maria Gimenez‘s naked rage when Uruguay were knocked out by South Korea’s win over Portugal. England thinking It’s Coming Home until Harry Kane had other ideas, skying that second penalty against France into the heavens. Cristiano Ronaldo’s sadness juxtaposed by Lionel Messi’s joy.

In short, there were more than enough magical moments to merit a decent score, but a decade from now, I’ll remember this World Cup for who ended up holding it in Lusail and probably little else. (That said, this World Cup, the last one with 32 teams, actually made the best possible argument for why it should remain at 32 teams. Alas …)

BC: I say all that you just mentioned is worth a few bonus points, as is the fact that it was Messi and Mbappe driving the best final of our respective lifetimes. So … six points for all of that, and then a two-point deduction for the weird timing (and the fact that everything was crammed into the shortest possible time frame imaginable, which meant the whole thing just raced by us with minimal time to react), and we end up handing out four bonus points? How’s that sound?

JT: I’m good with this. The fact that I’m sitting here knowing full well I’m forgetting some other epic moments is all thanks to the dizzying speed at which this tournament went ahead. And I also feel like we could be stingy and knock another one off for all the superstars who simply didn’t turn up at this tournament, for one reason or another. We’ve talked Ronaldo, but Kevin De Bruyne was quiet by his standards, Romelu Lukaku had a hattrick of “how did he miss that” attempts, and Uruguay had three all-world forwards (Suarez, Edinson CavaniDarwin Nunez) who didn’t trouble the scoresheet.

Total: 35

So, after all of that, we’ve arrived at 35 points for this World Cup — some granted through raving, some through ranting. Here’s where that fits into the overall ranking:

1. 1982 (40)
2. 1986 (39)
3. 2006 (38)
4. 1998 (37)
5. 1970 (36)
6-T. 1994 and 2022 (35)
8. 1966 (34)
9. 1974 (33)
10. 1950 (32)
11. 2002 (31)
12. 2014 (30)
13. 1954 (29)
14. 1958 (28)
15. 2010 (27)
16-T. 1962 and 1990 (26)
18. 2018 (25)
19. 1978 (24)
20. 1938 (23)
21. 1934 (19)
22. 1930 (14)

BC: So, Qatar 2022 goes down as the second-highest-ranking competition of the 2000s and the second among competitions won by Argentina. Messi has tied or topped Maradona in just about every possible category now, but it appears we’re still giving Maradona’s run the higher billing in this regard.

JT: We should absolutely give Maradona a higher billing for the surrounding moments of his crowning accomplishment, though Messi has certainly etched his name in soccer lore by finally claiming this. And maybe there’s a weird bonus point in our scoring for Messi’s sake, too.

It’s also somewhat fitting that the US-hosted World Cup shares the same rarified air of sixth place — good enough for the Europa League! — given that it’ll be North America’s turn up next. Considering that 1994 was the USA’s real maiden voyage on the global soccer scene, and you look at the frenzied popularity of the sport here in 2022, it’ll be fascinating to see what comes next in 2026. I mean, 48 teams playing across three countries should be fun, right? Right?

The night Messi won the World Cup – told with some help from the man himself

Oliver Kay Dec 18, 2022

When the moment comes, Lionel Messi falls to his knees and looks to the heavens.Most of his team-mates have already set off in celebration, but Messi stays on the halfway line, overwhelmed not just by emotion upon reaching the end of his odyssey but by exhaustion after a breathless, enthralling, unforgettable World Cup final.Argentina are world champions for the first time since 1986, the year before Messi was born. At 35 it is the crowning glory of an extraordinary career that had never lacked mbellishment.Messi craved World Cup success because he felt he owed it to himself and his country. And now, after Argentina overcame France in a penalty shootout after a pulsating 3-3 draw in which he scored twice and his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Kylian Mbappe hit a hat-trick for France, Messi has delivered that success, just as the great Diego Maradona did 36 years ago.

Messi lifts the trophy (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

In the build-up to this final, The Athletic wrote extensively about Messi’s journey through four World Cup tournaments, about the parallels with Maradona and about the way both players have redefined the meaning of greatness in football.We decided to approach Sunday’s final with a different perspective, reflecting Messi’s experiences — and the final steps of that odyssey before he leaves the World Cup stage for the final time — through his own words in the past as well as through his actions on a day which promised to define a glorious career.As he said on Sunday evening, “This was the trophy I wanted all my life. This was my dream from childhood.” At the fifth and final time of asking, he has fulfilled that fantasy — and he did so in a way which, among other things, called upon the joyous, free-spirited football of his youth.

“I have fun like a child on the street.”

The first two minutes go by without Messi touching the ball. Others seek to get an early touch, eager to impose themselves on the game and on the opposition. Julian Alvarez is charging everywhere, tryingo unsettle the French defence, but Messi looks passive. He often does.Then he comes to life: first a clever ball out to Angel Di Maria on the left-hand side, which becomes a recurring problem for France, and then, when the cross is overhit, an exchange of passes with Rodrigo De Paul. A minute later the Argentina captain is caught from behind by Dayot Upamecano while contesting an aerial ball.Suddenly Messi is involved in everything, helped by De Paul’s tenacity in forcing the play on Argentina’s right-hand side. Alexis Mac Allister, having tested Hugo Lloris from distance, looks up to be reminded that Messi was free five yards to his right. It is remarkable how often he is in space.

Argentina look so much more energetic all over the pitch. On eight minutes, receiving possession from Enzo Fernandez, Messi plays a lovely ball through the middle for the excellent Mac Allister to run onto. That leads to a De Paul shot which is deflected wide.Again and again, receiving the ball in the inside-right channel, Messi looks for that pass into space for Di Maria on the left wing. From one such move, Di Maria moves forward menacingly and Messi hangs back, ready to attack the ball when, as he anticipates, it will be cut back to the edge of the penalty area. Sure enough, that is where Di Maria delivers the ball, but Aurelien Tchouameni makes the interception, at full stretch, just as Messi is preparing to connect.

As well as that dinked pass to Di Maria, Messi is looking to make little lay-offs when he receives the ball in tighter spaces with his back to goal, very much having fun like that child in the street. One such lay-off, in the 17th minute, sends De Paul scurrying down the right-hand side and Messi goes off in search of the return pass. De Paul picks him out, but Messi overruns the ball. A let-off for France, but not for long.

“The penalties. I would like to be more effective. But when the moment comes it’s much more difficult to do it than it looks.”

Inside Lusail Stadium, you can sense the moment is coming for Argentina. Their attacks are in waves and France, the world hampions, have no idea how to stem the tide.On 21 minutes Di Maria moves in from the left-hand side, away from Ousmane Dembele, and Messi, having initially hung back, darts towards the near post in the expectation of cross. It doesn’t come because Di Maria is tripped. Szymon Marciniak immediately points to the spot — a soft penalty, but a legitimate one.And now it is Messi time.For the fifth time in this World Cup (the sixth if you include the shootout in the quarter-final against the Netherlands) he is about to take a penalty.

Messi scores his opening penalty (Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The strange thing about Messi is that his penalty record, in contrast to just about every other aspect of his game, is distinctly average. His overall career record, going into the World Cup final, was 108 successful kicks out of 140 — a conversion rate of 77.1 per cent. To draw the obvious comparison, this is an area where Cristiano Ronaldo’s stats are far more impressive: 146 successful kicks out of 175, a conversion rate of 83.4 per cent.In the past 12 months alone, Messi has seen high-pressure penalty kicks saved when playing for PSG against Real Madrid in the Champions League and for Argentina against Poland in the World Cup group stage — and that is before we think back to the most painful miss of all, in the shootout against Chile in the Copa America final in 2016.Coaches and analysts have come to recommend two courses of action when taking penalties.The first is for the taker to absent himself or herself from the shenanigans that precede almost every penalty, when their opponents are arguing, remonstrating or trying to cause a distraction. Messi does that, removing himself from the scene until the inevitable fuss has died down. Only then does he step forward and pause, closing his eyes and composing himself, awaiting the referee’s whistle.The second is to take the penalty in your own time, not to regard the whistle as a starter’s pistol and rush the kick. Messi ignores that bit. Barely has Marciniak blown his whistle than the Argentina captain is on the move, but his kick is confident, stroked to the left of Hugo Lloris, who goes the other way. Off Messi goes in celebration, sliding on the turf in front of the cameras. Argentina are on course.

“What I do is play football, which is what I like. I do it because I love it — and that’s all I care about.”

There are few things in sport like watching Messi when the entire game is flowing through him. For the period of 15 minutes either side of the opening goal, he is irresistible.

As the first half goes on, everything he does seems to work perfectly: the lay-offs, the delicate passes out towards Di Maria, one of them preceded by a delightful body-swerve away from Antoine Griezmann in midfield.

As well as Messi’s deft touches, there is so much movement around him. On 36 minutes, with his back to goal, he controls the ball and plays it, with the perfect amount of back-spin, to Alvarez, who releases Mac Allister with a brilliantly weighted pass. The timing of Mac Allister’s run is matched by that of his pass to pick out Di Maria, who sweeps the ball home for a wonderful second goal that has Messi, his team-mates and their fans in dreamland.

Di Maria celebrates with Messi and others (Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

At this point, it is beginning to feel like a procession, leading to a coronation. France coach Didier Deschamps has made a double substitution as early as the 41st minute, replacing Dembele and Olivier Giroud with Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani in search of more energy and industry on the wings, pushing Mbappe through the middle, but half-time comes and goes without, initially, any real improvement in France’s performance.

It is, however, no longer the Messi show. His contributions — and Argentina’s attacking threat — become more intermittent. Messi still seems to be having the time of his life, enjoying himself just as he did as a kid playing on the streets of Rosario.

“I get more nervous today than when I was younger. To lose today means so much more. When you lose as a 15-year-old, that’s part of growing up. But today we’re fighting for titles.”

France’s comeback seems to happen without warning. On 79 minutes Kolo Muani goes beyond the Argentina defence and is wrestled to the floor by a desperate Nicolas Otamendi. Mbappe dispatches his penalty even more confidently than his PSG team-mate had done earlier. Messi, walking back towards the halfway line, puts his hands on his head, as if to say, “Surely not. Please, no.”

Mbappe sprints back to restart the game after France’s first goal (Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

It gets worse for Argentina, though — and for Messi. Barely has the game restarted than the Argentina captain is dispossessed by Kingsley Coman, allowing France to set off on the counter-attack. Mbappe moves ominously down the left-hand side, plays the ball infield to Thuram, who sends it back to him. On the half-volley Mbappe strikes a shot of outrageous power and precision. France, almost unimaginably, are level, having scored twice in 97 seconds.

Messi looks dismayed, his shoulders sagging, his chin dropping to his chest. As France’s players celebrate, Messi looks up to the scoreboard and sees the replay of Mbappe’s equaliser. Seeing that, sensing that clear shift in momentum — and knowing better than almost anyone just how formidable his PSG team-mate is — he must be fearing the worst.

Messi looks on in disbelief (Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

The closing stages of normal time are chaotic. Both teams are going for it, as if desperate to avoid an extra half-hour let alone what might lie beyond. Mbappe threatens at one end, Messi likewise at the other, deep into stoppage time, with a rising shot that Lloris pushes over the crossbar.

Just as they had done in the quarter-final against the Netherlands, Argentina have let a 2-0 lead slip. Argentines of a certain age could be forgiven experiencing for a feeling of deja vu. In that 1986 final they led West Germany 2-0, only to be pegged back by two goals in quick succession.

On that occasion Maradona intervened, his superb through-ball releasing Jorge Burruchaga to score the winner. But Maradona was 25. Messi is 10 years older — and he looks utterly exhausted.

“You have to fight to achieve your dream. You have to sacrifice and work hard for it”

There have been occasions over the years, when huge matches in the Champions League and the World Cup have run away from his team, when Messi has appeared lost.

Against Croatia at the last World Cup, as Argentina fell to a 3-0 defeat, he looked like a man whose world was collapsing around him. When his team needed leadership, Messi looked like he needed someone to show him the way.

We have seen a different Messi at this World Cup — shouting, imploring, sometimes even snarling. He will never be a natural, dominant leader in the manner of a Daniel Passarella or an ebullient, outrageous personality like Maradona, but we have witnessed Messi becoming a quietly authoritative captain. It is as if the challenge of leading this young Argentina team has brought out another side to his character.

During a gruelling, anarchic period of extra time, both teams are scrapping for every ball and even Messi, who has usually been above such primitive stuff, is getting involved. At one point, having lost the ball to Eduardo Camavinga, he resorts to something like a rugby tackle to stop his opponent getting away. A yellow card would not go amiss.

Messi got stuck in to tackles (Photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Messi looks spent, as if he is only being kept on in the hope of it reaching a penalty shootout. Is this a legacy of staying on until the end with the match won against Croatia on Tuesday night? That looked like questionable at the time. As that first period of extra time draws to a close, with Argentina hanging on and still looking to their tired leader for inspiration, it looks more so.

But he comes again. Four minutes into the second period of extra time, Argentina attack down the inside-right channel and Messi slips a first-time pass through to substitute Lautaro Martinez, racing into the penalty area. Lloris saves Martinez’s fierce shot, but the ball runs loose and Messi scores perhaps the scruffiest goal he will ever score, scrambling the ball over the line just before Jules Kounde can scramble it out.

Messi bundles in Argentina’s third (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

As Argentina’s substitutes flock from the bench, the celebrations that follow are those of a team who believe they have the World Cup in their grasp once more. Messi milks the moment for all it is worth. He is crying. Then, heading back to the halfway line, he gestures to the fans, imploring them to keep the noise up. He and his team-mates are going to need help to get through the next 11 minutes plus stoppage time.

Of course France fight back again. They — and Mbappe in particular — look irrepressible the way they responded at 2-0 and then 3-2 down. With time running out, Mbappe’s shot strikes Gonzalo Montiel on the forearm and Marciniak points to the penalty spot for the third time.

Mbappe lashes the ball past Martinez to make it 3-3, becoming the first player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final since Sir Geoff Hurst in 1966. It is as if anything Messi can do, Mbappe can match it. Messi looks shattered. Mbappe, having taken so long to get going, seems to have plenty left in the tank.

Messi produces one lovely ball over the top for Martinez, who is crowded out, and then plays a part in one last incisive move, which ends with the Inter Milan forward missing the target. Marciniak signals the end of extra time and Messi shakes hands with Upamecano as he trudges across the pitch, confronted with the absurdity that his quest is going to come down to a penalty shootout.

“For me, the national team is over. I’ve done all I can. It was the thing I wanted the most, but I couldn’t get it.”

At the Copa America final against Chile in 2016, Messi took his team’s first penalty and he missed in what was to prove a traumatic defeat. It was his fourth final for Argentina and his fourth loss. Broken, it seemed, by the pressure of having to shoulder the febrile hopes of a nation, he announced his Argentina career was over.

But he soon changed his mind, believing he owed to himself and his nation to carry on. That decision was vindicated not by the chastening experience at the 2018 World Cup, but by the Copa America triumph that followed in Brazil last year, Argentina’s first title since 1993.

Now it is penalties again, this time with the World Cup at stake.

Messi takes his shootout penalty (Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Messi, undeterred by his bitter experience against Chile at the Copa America final in 2016, prefers to go first. He believes that, by taking the responsibility, whether he scores or misses, he has set as an example for his team-mates to follow. It worked against the Netherlands in the quarter-final and he opts to do the same again here — as indeed does Mbappe, whose successful conversion increases the pressure on his PSG team-mate.

It is Argentina’s first penalty, but it is also the last ball Messi will ever kick at a World Cup. He needs to make it count.

This time he takes longer over his run-up. He stutters and slows down as he approaches the ball, as if expecting Lloris to move first, but the goalkeeper doesn’t commit himself. It is an awkward-looking penalty, not unlike one that Maradona had saved in the quarter-final against Yugoslavia in 1990, but Lloris can’t quite get to it. Argentina are level and Messi walks back to the halfway line, his job done. Now it is all down to his team-mates, particularly Martinez.

Martinez does the business, pulling off a great save to deny Coman. All of Argentina’s players on the halfway line celebrate, but none more than Messi. The same applies when Paulo Dybala converts their second kick. When Leandro Paredes scores their third, Messi walks 25 yards to meet and congratulate his team-mate.

Argentina scored their first three penalties, France just two of their first four. If Montiel scores, the trophy is heading back to South America.

As Montiel strokes the ball past Lloris, winning the World Cup for Argentina, the crowd lets out the most enormous roar and Messi, on the halfway line, falls to his knees. The quest is over.

Argentina celebrate their victory (Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

“I wanted to close my career with this. I can no longer ask for anything else. Thank God, he gave me everything.”

The scenes at the final whistle — and for at least a couple of hours afterwards — will live long in the memory.

From being mobbed by a handful of team-mates on the halfway line, Messi eventually emerges from the scrum and walks towards where his family are sitting in the stands and he waves to them, grinning from ear to ear. He looks drained, but he also has the air of someone experiencing a sense of weightlessness, that burden lifted at last.

Every team-mate and every staff member embrace him. In those moments you are reminded of the unusual dynamic of this Argentina set-up. In an age when every coach wants to build his team around a system rather than around individuals, it is rare to see a team — every player, every staff member, the coach Lionel Scaloni — regard one individual with such a visible sense of awe and adulation.

Messi is hoisted up and mobbed (Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

They hoist him on their shoulders. Whether or not they are consciously replicating the image of Maradona on his team-mates’ shoulders in the Azteca Stadium in Mexico 36 years ago, it is hard to say, but the image is equally evocative.

Likewise the images of Messi and his team-mates singing and dancing in front of their supporters, joining in with their chants, demonstrating that they share the same passion and fervour for the Argentinian cause.

Afterwards Messi confirms he will carry on. He had said this was his last World Cup, but he adds, “I love what I do, being in the national team, and I want to continue living a few more games being world champion.”

“It was never my goal to be the best. I don’t think about trying to be the best in history. Because that doesn’t change anything.”

That was something Messi said years ago, when the comparisons with Pele and Maradona felt a little premature and when, as well as trying to scale new heights with Barcelona on a weekly basis, he was locked in a perennial battle with Cristiano Ronaldo for the Ballon d’Or award.

These arguments should never be allowed to come down to success or otherwise in a knockout tournament in a low-scoring team sport. Evaluations of Messi’s greatness should not come down to which team held its nerve in a penalty shootout in his 36th year.

Messi is, quite simply, astonishing. To call him a once-in-a-generation talent probably does him a disservice. In future, there might be players — potentially Mbappe — who score more goals than Messi, score more spectacular goals than Messi, spot a pass better than Messi, weigh a pass better than Messi, dribble better than Messi, understand space and time better than Messi, but… surely we will be waiting a long, long time to see another player who does all of things as well as Messi and performs as consistently, relentlessly brilliantly for long as he has done.

Messi poses with the trophy (Photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images)

It has been an extraordinary career. This was not the greatest performance of his life, but it was his crowning glory, the one that secures his legacy not only as one of the greatest players of all time but one who led his nation to the World Cup — and who, like Maradona, did so by leading a group of largely unheralded players.

There have been times in his international career when Messi’s greatness has cast a shadow over others in the Argentina team. His greatest success in the twilight of his career has been to illuminate the team in a way that has lit the path. Finally his odyssey is over.

LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - DECEMBER 18: Randal Kolo Muani of France has a shot saved by Emiliano Martinez of Argentina  during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Emiliano Martinez’s starring role for Argentina: The spread saves, the penalties, the mind games

Liam Tharme and Matt PyzdrowskiDec 19, 2022

In psychology, the butterfly effect describes how small, seemingly insignificant moments can have huge, unforeseen long-term effects.A butterfly flapping its wings and causing a typhoon on the other side of the world is an example. As s Brighton striker Neal Maupay accidentally inflicting a season-ending injury on Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno in June 2020 as the Premier League played out Project Restart after three months of pandemic lockdown.That paved the way for Emiliano Martinez, who had been at Arsenal for a decade but made only six league appearances for them before moving to Aston Villa, to become part of their starting XI and end up, 911 days later, lifting the World Cup with Argentina last night. He was central to not only the team that squeezed past France on penalties in Qatar, but also the side that won last summer’s Copa America in Brazil, winning the Golden Glove — the award for the best goalkeeper at the World Cup, and for most clean sheets at Copa America — at both events.So, what does Martinez bring to Argentina?

The spread

Big players are made by big moments. With the World Cup final deep into stoppage time of extra time, an Argentina error defending a long ball gave Randal Kolo Muani a chance to grab victory for defending champions France…

By holding his position, Martinez forces Kolo Muani to either lift the ball over him (curved black arrow) or beat him for power (white arrow); not rushing out meant he cannot be dribbled around either.

As analysed by John Muller using John Harrison’s model in March, goalkeepers should “wait and react” in one-v-one scenarios when the shooter is closer to the edge of the penalty area.

Kolo Muani opts to try to shoot past him — the pressure cooker of added time and a World Cup final means players must rush their decisions even more than usual, but Martinez spreads himself incredibly well and fully extends his left leg to make the save.

In a starfish-like spread that increases his surface area and maximises his chances of touching the ball, he can get a big surface (left-foot instep) onto the ball to deflect it away from his goal and so prevent a rebound or the concession of a corner.It is one of the saves of the tournament.In the round of 16 against Australia two weeks ago, Martinez made a similar spread save late in second-half stoppage time to preserve a 2-1 lead.Argentina fail to defend a cross and it drops to Garang Kuol at the back post…

… as the young forward swivels to control the ball, Martinez steps out to close the angle.Again, this narrows the finishing options to: one — chipped finish (black arrow), two — high finish to the near post (white arrow), or three — a shot through the goalkeeper (red arrow).Under pressure, Kuol fires straight at Martinez. The Argentina and Aston Villa ’keeper repeatedly forces opponents to make the least optimal decisions by narrowing their options and then rushing them to execute one.

You may have heard the goalkeeping term “make yourself big” before — Martinez’s use of the spread against Kolo Muani and Kuol are perfect examples of that phenomenon.When it’s impossible to predict the direction of the strike, the goalkeeper will cover as much of the target as possible by moving forward quickly and keeping their legs, arms and head between the ball and the middle of the goal.This should not only decrease the area of the goal for a player to shoot past them but should also decrease the saving area for the keeper, as well.Martinez’s consistency in big moments is borne out by the statistics — Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni had played seven different goalkeepers in his first 49 games in charge before settling on him as first choice.Including Sunday’s World Cup final, Martinez has kept 17 clean sheets and conceded just 13 goals (excluding penalty shootouts) in 26 appearances for his country.

The penalty shootout

In penalty shootouts, Martinez is notably aggressive and disruptive to put pressure on the taker and encourage hesitation. And as we’ve seen time and again in recent years, it works — academic research shows that the longer players are forced to wait to take a penalty, the more likely they are to miss.

For every France penalty last night, Martinez came all the way out to the spot and was presumably engaging in some verbal warfare — the referee had to force him back and he was eventually booked for his antics and delaying tactics.

“We’d have conversations about what you can do to maximise your chances (against penalties),” said former Aston Villa goalkeeper coach Neil Cutler when speaking to The Athletic about the Argentinian last month.

“The plan, whoever took the penalty, was to get into their head.”

Martinez has routinely been disruptive, loud and effective for Argentina in his three international penalty shoot-outs.

Firstly against Colombia in last summer’s Copa America semi-finals, after which Lionel Messi called him a “phenomenon”, and in the quarter-finals of this World Cup as they beat the Netherlands.

Cutler stressed how central this is to Martinez performing at his peak: “He’s so emotional, he’s driven, he’s typical South American. He’s so driven to win and improve every day. The point you need to get Emi to is when his confidence is verging on arrogance. I don’t like to see Emi play dull.”And in terms of technical ability, Martinez’s detail is fantastic.His size (6ft 4in; 195cm) means he does not need to dive early and usually Martinez makes his move as the opponent takes their penultimate step, not giving them time to change their mind.

But when he dives, Martinez puts his body weight initially through the opposite leg to the side he is diving — see his left leg here when diving to the right to save Kingsley Coman’s penalty last night…

… but then initiates a power step, pushing off from the leg of the side he is diving to — in this case, his right leg — to generate extra force across the goal, but also propel him forward and closer to the approaching ball.

This use of power and smart footwork help Martinez consistently save penalties to either side of him and ensures he keeps one foot over the line as the ball is kicked, to stay within the game’s laws.

His reaction to saving Coman’s penalty — France’s second — would make you think Argentina had won the shootout already (it was only 1-1). Fist pumps. Kissing the shirt.

Perhaps he has read the academic literature that finds celebrations for saving or scoring penalties is linked to increased team success in shootouts.

Then, when it was Aurelien Tchouameni’s turn for French penalty number three, Martinez took the ball from the young midfielder and threw it away at the final moment, delaying the kick and disrupting his routine.

It is marginal but there were no such antics from opposite number Hugo Lloris when Argentina took their penalties, and the France captain made no attempt to secure the ball for his team-mates before they stepped up to take.

Martinez went the right way again — he guessed correctly on three of France’s four penalties — but did not need to make the save as Tchouameni dragged the shot wide.If the goalkeeping was David Seaman, the dancing was David Brent:

“There could not have been a World Cup that I have dreamed of like this. I was calm during the penalties,” said Martinez after the game. These celebrations are not a reflection of emotional uncontrollability; they are all part of his mind games.On their own, these actions, behaviours and details seem small, but add them together and they make a big difference.In Martinez’s three penalty shootouts for Argentina, opponents have scored only seven times from 14 attempts, a conversion rate of 50 per cent.Martinez has made a save against at least one of the first two takers in all three shootouts, too.Martinez — WC and Copa America penalties

FranceKylian MbappeScored
FranceKingsley ComanSaved
FranceAurelien TchouameniMissed
FranceRandal Kolo MuaniScored
NetherlandsVirgil van DijkSaved
NetherlandsSteven BerghuisSaved
NetherlandsTeun KoopmeinersScored
NetherlandsWout WeghorstScored
NetherlandsLuuk de JongScored
ColombiaJuan CuadradoScored
ColombiaDavinson SanchezSaved
ColombiaYerry MinaSaved
ColombiaMiguel BorjaScored
ColombiaEdwin CardonaSaved


Dealing with aerial balls is challenging because it involves almost every attribute of goalkeeping — a combination of timing, technique and confidence, but making the right decisions at exactly the right times is equally important.

You only have a split second to decide whether you stay or go and must make your move (or not) as soon as the cross is hit. Then you have to judge the trajectory of the ball and be aware of where surrounding players are located, before finding a route to catch it at the highest point possible. All with bodies in the way.

It all makes this particularly difficult to do at set pieces.

Argentina’s zonal line of three provides aerial cover but also leaves space for Martinez to have a clear run at the ball…

… so that he can claim without pressure…

… and immediately launch a counter-attack.

Martinez’s confidence is evident in how he handles long, lofted balls from deep with total domination. He takes an aggressive starting position a few yards from his line and isn’t afraid to come and challenge for the ball anywhere in his penalty area.

See this take in the World Cup semi-final against Croatia, starting on the edge of the six-yard box before claiming the ball almost 12 yards from goal…

Martinez is incredibly effective at claiming the ball at the highest point of his jump, getting well above the heads of team-mates and opponents to take the ball cleanly.

He cleverly takes short steps to reposition and prepare as the cross is delivered, before making big strides to attack the cross at pace…

… and then laying on it to kill some time.

“I’m not being funny but no one catches more balls than me from open play,” Martinez told The Athletic in February 2021.

The 30-year-old is almost spot on.

His 11 crosses stopped and 16.4 per cent rate of stopping crosses were both the best of any goalkeeper in the 2021 Copa America and his 13.8 per cent stop rate was fourth-best at this World Cup.

This take against the Netherlands was pure Martinez — the timing of his exit, claiming at the highest point despite pressure from the opposition striker Luuk de Jong

… before squaring up to him.

Former Arsenal goalkeeping coach Gerry Peyton has said Martinez is a “natural” at defending crosses and ex-Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, a team-mate in 2015-16 during one of the Argentinian’s six loan spells while at Arsenal, has described the now-world champion as “really good” when defending his box.

A goalkeeper’s size and reach can give them an advantage when dealing with high balls, but more important than any physical trait is positioning. Martinez has both.

Proper positioning allows a goalkeeper to extend their range and minimise the distance between themselves and their defenders, which helps clarify the decision of when to come versus when to stay closer to your line. It helps with your timing and being able to attack the ball at its highest point.

Martinez has great hands, exceptional footwork and timing and unwavering bravery when balls are pumped into the box. His aerial ability gives confidence to the defence because they know that any pass in and around the box belongs to him and he can bail them out.

He was crucial to Argentina throughout their World Cup campaign, both in open play and at set pieces.

From a fan at the 2018 World Cup to a savior in Qatar, here’s Argentina’s most improbable hero

Henry Bushnell Mon, December 19, 2022 at 8:59 AM EST

LUSAIL, Qatar — Argentina’s World Cup life flashed before its collective eyes in the 123rd minute of the eternal game. This was before King Leo’s coronation and after most of the madness. In stoppage time of extra time of the World Cup final for all time, France’s Randal Kolo Muani had escaped from a drained defense and, 8,000 miles away, from Buenos Aires to Córdoba to Rosario, Argentine tears readied themselves beneath hope and faith.They’d been flowing for three decades, uncontrollably after successive soccer heartbreaks. Emiliano Martinez was one of the millions who’d cried them. He was, throughout the last decade, a journeyman backup goalkeeper scrounging together a career in the lower leagues of England. Four years later, after thoughts of retirement, he traveled with his brother to the 2018 World Cup as a fan. He was, and still is, in his own words, “Just a regular guy.”

But here at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday, with Kolo Muani racing onto a bouncing ball, and with Lionel Messi’s last World Cup chance suddenly imperiled, the 30-year-old Martinez crept out of his goal mouth, chopped his feet and spread his wings.He became an Argentine legend with a sprawling save, and then with his penalty-shootout heroics. With shenanigans and classic s***housery, he slithered into the minds of nervous French players, then repelled one penalty and saw another flash wide of the post. He punched the air in celebration. He shimmied, mischievously, to celebrate mind-games won and a World Cup trophy within reach.

And then he collapsed to the grass, to a stage he never even imagined he’d grace. He dabbed at tears as he scanned a delirious crowd for his family, and as he processed his critical role in Argentina’s first World Cup title in 36 years.“This,” Martinez said in a postgame interview, through a translator, “is beyond my dreams.”

LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - DECEMBER 18: Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saves the penalty from Kingsley Coman of France in the shoot-out during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)
Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saves the penalty from Kingsley Coman of France in the shootout during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on Dec. 18, 2022, in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

The need to support his family

Argentina’s latest flamboyant hero grew up in Mar del Plata, a port city on Argentina’s Atlantic coast where, as Martinez said this weekend, “You’re not born with a silver spoon in your mouth.”He was raised, instead, in a house without doors and toilets. Dinners sometimes consisted of white rice. His dad, Alberto, worked long hours as a truck driver delivering fish throughout the region. His mom, Susana, cleaned apartments, trying to provide for the young family. She’d drop off Emi and his brother, Alejandro, at the bus stop around 6:30 or 7 a.m. Or, at times, Emi would walk to school alone.He then ventured alone into the soccer world. He left home at age 12 for Buenos Aires, to join Independiente, one of Argentina’s Cinco Grandes, its Big Five clubs. He lived out of a hotel with youth teammates. His parents, hesitant to spend hard-earned pesos on gas, could only visit him twice a month.All of which is why he eventually left Argentina, like so many ambitious teens unfortunately must. At age 17, Arsenal invited him to England for a trial, then offered him a youth contract. His mom and brother cried and begged him: “Please don’t go.” But he’d also seen his dad crying, late at night, under the stress of unpaid and unpayable bills.

He remembered the evenings when his parents didn’t eat so that he and Alejandro could.He knew the Arsenal contract would change his life and theirs, even if the language would be foreign and the journey arduous.“I left when I was very young, before I got the chance to play for Independiente, because I needed to support my family financially,” he’d later explain.So he said goodbye, and promised his mom after settling in London“I don’t want to come back to my country with nothing. I want to make a career here.”What he soon learned, though, was that contracts did not guarantee opportunity. From his 2010 arrival through 2019, he made just six Premier League appearances at Arsenal. The club shipped him out on “emergency loans” to Oxford United, Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham. His English debut ended in a 3-0 defeat in the fourth division.

He hopped from those clubs to Wolverhampton Wanderers, where he suffered an injury and subsequently lost his starting spot. He went to Getafe in Spain, where he barely played, and there, at age 25, he pondered giving up. “I was that low,” he recently told The Athletic. He pushed on, and went to Reading United on loan in 2019.And all the while, of course, he’d slipped far out of the national team picture. He watched the 2014 World Cup final at an asado, a barbecue, with friends back home in Argentina. He went with his brother in 2018 to Russia, where Argentina’s goalkeeping was calamitous.“That’s why I can and do relate to fans,” he’d later say here in Qatar, “because I’m just another Argentine.”

LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - DECEMBER 18: Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez aka Damian Martinez kissing the World Cup during the trophy ceremony following the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez kissing the World Cup during the trophy ceremony following the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on Dec. 18, 2022, in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Martinez’s big break

His first break arrived, finally, in 2020, at age 27, when Arsenal lost a goalkeeper to injury and called on him as games resumed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He started and won the FA Cup final that year, a trophy which brought him to a different type of tears.His exploits there earned him a transfer to Aston Villa, his current club — and the platform he needed to impress Argentina.“It wasn’t until I was 26 or 27 that Argentina saw me the way I deserved or wanted to be seen,” he said this past weekend.In fact, ahead of last year’s Copa America, 34-year-old River Plate keeper Franco Armani remained Argentina’s No. 1. Then Armani caught COVID. Martinez stepped in for his national team debut in a June 2021 World Cup qualifier. And he never looked back.He sustained Argentina’s breakthrough Copa America run with three saves in a semifinal shootout against Colombia. He shut out Brazil in the final, and he’d later realize that it was the first time, in his 28 years of consciousness, that he’d seen his nation, in unison, erupt into celebration. But it was nothing compared to Sunday.Martinez came to Qatar as La Albiceleste’s undisputed starter. He spared a few moments upon arrival to reflect, he said, on “the hard work needed to get here.” Then he toggled back into character, into the free-spirited smack-talker who has won over English hearts at Aston Villa. He first popped up in a quarterfinal shootout, pushing away two Dutch penalties. Then he repeated the feat in a frantic final.He made the stunning save on Kolo Muani at the end of extra time, then one-upped himself in the shootout. In the tensest of moments, with Messi’s legacy essentially in the palms of his — Martinez’s — hands, he danced side to side on his goal line, flapping his arms. He nearly clawed away Kylian Mbappé’s opening attempt. Then he smothered Kingsley Coman’s.As Aurélien Tchouaméni stepped up next, Martinez grabbed the ball and naughtily rolled it to the side of the penalty box, forcing Tchouameni to break stride and rhythm to retrieve it. Tchouameni then missed. Martinez gloated.Later, after claiming the golden glove award as the tournament’s top goalkeeper, he turned it into a prop for a lewd gesture, with hundreds of millions of people watching.Later still, he appeared to mock Mbappé in the locker room.He had won a World Cup for his people; for Messi, and the country they both left as teens. He had become one of the World Cup’s, and Argentina’s, most improbable heroes.

Comebacks, a virus and dastardly antics: The ingredients for a crazy World Cup final

LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - DECEMBER 18: Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates with teammates after scoring the team's third goal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

By Jay Harris Dec 18, 2022

Even before a ball was kicked, the 2022 World Cup final between Argentina and France had all the ingredients needed to become an all-time classic.Was Lionel Messi about to finally triumph in his last-ever appearance at the tournament or would he be denied by Kylian Mbappe? Could France become the first back-to-back champions since Brazil in 1962, or were Argentina going to win for the first time since a Diego Maradona-inspired victory in 1986?In the end it somehow smashed and surpassed all expectations, but for 80 minutes, Argentina were in complete control. Then Mbappe exploded into life. There was a hat-trick, a penalty shootout, an incredible counter-attacking goal and devious mind games.This final was the perfect antidote to all those tense, cagey finals we’ve been subjected to down the years — this is what made it so good…

The mystery sickness 

France faced the grim prospect of lining up against Argentina with a completely new defence. Centre-backs Ibrahima KonateRaphael Varane and Dayot Upamecano were all struggling with the symptoms of a mystery illness a few days ahead of the final. Left-back Theo Hernandez and holding midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni missed training on Thursday with minor hip and knee injuries respectively too.In the event, all five ended up playing a part in the final, but the uncertainty would surely have created tension within the camp as France sweated on the fitness of so many key players. Could this have been a factor in their sluggish start?

Lionel Messi’s last dance

Messi has had to live with the pressure of trying to match Maradona’s achievements with Argentina throughout his entire career. The biggest threat to his chances of finally lifting the World Cup trophy was Mbappe, his team-mate at Paris Saint-Germain and one of the potential heirs to his throne as the world’s greatest player.Messi lost the 2014 final with Argentina to Germany and history repeating itself was unthinkable. Maybe winning it would finally end the debate about whether or not he is better than Cristiano Ronaldo too…

Messi opens the scoring

The game seemed to be following the fairy tale as Messi opened the scoring from the spot after just 23 minutes. Angel Di Maria twisted Ousmane Dembele inside-out to win the penalty and Messi coolly strolled over to pick the ball up.He started bouncing it around the edge of the box without a care in the world as France’s players argued with the referee. The 35-year-old stared down Hugo Lloris and effortlessly sent him the wrong way.The goal made him the first player to score in the group stage, last 16, quarter-final, semi-final and final of a World Cup.

Di Maria’s special moment

It was the perfect counter-attacking goal. France were completely ripped apart by a couple of gorgeous passes. Alexis Mac Allister passed it to Messi and he elegantly flicked it around the corner for Julian Alvarez. The forward returned it to Mac Allister who played a no-look first-time ball for Angel Di Maria to slam past Lloris.Argentina fans inside the Lusail Stadium were sent into delirium as they tried to work out how they were outclassing France so easily. Any questions about why Di Maria started on the left wing instead of Marcos Acuna had been emphatically answered.

The strike went straight in at No.5 of The Athletic’s ranking of every World Cup final goal.

Deschamps’ early subs

France were in serious danger of getting humiliated by Argentina. Every time their opponents attacked, France’s defence creaked under the pressure. Messi and Rodrigo De Paul started toying with Adrien Rabiot as they flicked the ball over his head, while Jules Kounde looked vulnerable at right-back. Something had to change, so in the 41st minute Didier Deschamps took off Olivier Giroud and Dembele.

It was a brutal move. Giroud became France’s all-time top scorer at this tournament while Dembele is a consistent threat on the wing, but they had been completely anonymous. Randal Kolo Muani and Marcus Thuram came on, yet took a while to get warmed up.

Mbappe’s masterclass

At one stage in the second-half, it felt like Argentina had ruined the contest for the neutrals (not to mention their opponents). They were in complete control and France were overwhelmed.



Aurelien Tchouameni was trying to single-handedly run their midfield while Adrien Rabiot and Antoine Griezmann looked completely lost. Kolo Muani and Thuram were energetic, but they lacked finesse in the final third.

France, the 2018 champions, were about to give up their crown without landing a single blow until, finally, in the 80th minute, Mbappe decided to turn up to the party.

Within the space of 97 seconds, Mbappe demonstrated why he is one of the best players of his generation. The 23-year-old tucked away a penalty to make it 2-1 before he produced a sublime equaliser.

Kingsley Coman had charged down Messi on the halfway line and initiated a counter-attack. The ball was switched out to the left and headed it into Mbappe’s path. It was a tight angle, but he volleyed it past Emiliano Martinez into the bottom corner. France were alive after all.

Messi’s moments of fear

Messi had one hand on the World Cup trophy and suddenly he had been tackled, France scored and the game’s momentum completely shifted. He stared up at the screen in disbelief at how Argentina, for the second time at this tournament, had blown a 2-0 lead.

When Thuram went down in the box in injury-time, Messi could not even look at what happened afterwards. He was looking at the floor, contemplating if his World Cup dreams were about to be shattered, when the referee booked Thuram for diving instead. To add insult to injury, the host broadcaster then cut to Thuram’s father — 1998 World Cup-winner Lilian — looking rather disappointed in the crowd.

Messi used that moment as fuel and a couple of minutes later had the entire stadium on their feet. He picked up the ball on the right wing, drifted past his markers and unleashed a shot towards the top corner, but he was denied by Lloris.

When the whistle blew to signal the end of normal time, Argentina’s squad gathered in a circle. Lionel Scaloni gave a passionate team talk while Messi was hunched over with his hands on his knees trying to process how Argentina collapsed.

Argentina chances in extra time

France dropped their intensity in extra time and Argentina started creating chances again. There was a beautiful sequence of play as Messi quickly exchanged a one-two with Mac Allister and then set up Lautaro Martinez inside the box. Martinez’s barren run at the World Cup continued though as he fired straight at Lloris.

Gonzalo Montiel volleyed the rebound towards the top corner but, just as it looked like this match was going to get another wondergoal, Varane headed it away.

Messi and Mbappe exchange blows again

Messi was never going to let his last shot at glory slip through his fingers so easily. Argentina burst through on the counter and Messi followed up Lautaro Martinez’s rebound to put them 3-2 ahead.

Incredibly, Martinez had only been played onside by the very extremity of Varane’s backside.

France looked desperate and ragged. Their tactic was to hit the ball long and hope they could unleash Mbappe’s speed. Deschamps’ side won a corner through sheer persistence which proved to be crucial. The corner dropped towards Mbappe and he fired a shot from the edge of the box which hit Montiel’s arm. The referee pointed to the spot, but a large section of Argentina fans wrongly thought he had awarded a goal kick.

Mbappe stepped up and scored again to force a penalty shootout.

Emiliano Martinez — sh*thouse king

If the people of Argentina ever decide to erect a statue of Emiliano Martinez, it will depict him trying to get into the head of one of France’s penalty takers. The goalkeeper’s antics during the penalty shootout were dastardly. As Coman approached the spot, Martinez picked up the ball and turned around to Argentina’s fans and demanded they make more noise. The sound was deafening inside the stadium and it was not a surprise Coman’s shot was saved.

Did Martinez’s antics put Kingsley Coman off? (Photo: Getty)

Martinez took it up another level for Tchouameni as he threw the ball away and made the midfielder retrieve it. It was a pure masterclass in mind games. He received a yellow card from the referee, but the damage had been done. Tchouameni’s shot went wide and Argentina were on their way to victory.

Who is reffing the World Cup Final between Argentina and France? American is AR4

Ismail Elfath

© Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

The Professional Referee Organization (PRO) will have strong representation as the final places are determined at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

PRO refs in World Cup Final

Sunday’s marquee final between Argentina and France (10 am ET | FOX, Telemundo) will be overseen by Polish referee Szymon Marciniak, though four PRO officials are in various roles for the international game’s biggest match.

  • Ismail Elfath: 4th official
  • Katy Nesbitt: 5th official
  • Kyle Atkins: Offside VAR
  • Corey Parker: Standby AVAR

Elfath is a two-time MLS Referee of the Year award winner (2020, ‘22). While in Qatar, Elfath has been the center ref for Croatia vs. Japan (Round of 16), Cameroon vs. Brazil (group stage) and Portugal vs. Ghana (group stage).

Nesbit (2020) and Parker (2015, ‘17) are both MLS Assistant Referee of the Year award winners, while Nesbitt is part of a pioneering list of female officials who are the first women to officiate in a men’s World Cup.

PRO refs in World Cup third-place game

Saturday’s third-place match between Croatia and Morocco (10 am ET | FOX, Telemundo) will be overseen by Qatari referee Abdulrahman Al Jassim. But his crew includes one PRO official.

  • Armando Villarreal: Support VAR

Referees for World Cup knockout games are selected by FIFA, taking their performance and expertise into consideration.

A note from Grant’s Wahl Soccer SportsWriter who died at World Cup from his wife, Céline Gounder


First and foremost, on behalf of myself and our family, I want to express our deepest gratitude for the outpouring of support, love, and sympathy from around the world. This continues to be a very difficult and painful time as we grieve a beloved husband, brother, and friend. It is some comfort to know that so many people Grant reached—countless colleaguesreadersathletescoachesfriends, and fans—are grieving alongside us. 

Grant arrived home Monday, December 12, and this transition was handled with the utmost care and sensitivity. This was an international matter that required coordination from multiple agencies domestically and internationally, and there was full cooperation from everyone involved. Our sincere gratitude to everyone involved in repatriating Grant, in particular the White House, the U.S. Department of State, FIFA, U.S. Soccer and American Airlines.

An autopsy was performed by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office. Grant died from the rupture of a slowly growing, undetected ascending aortic aneurysm with hemopericardium. The chest pressure he experienced shortly before his death may have represented the initial symptoms. No amount of CPR or shocks would have saved him. His death was unrelated to COVID. His death was unrelated to vaccination status. There was nothing nefarious about his death.

While the world knew Grant as a great journalist, we knew him as a man who approached the world with openness and love. Grant was an incredibly empathetic, dedicated, and loving husband, brother, uncle, and son who was our greatest teammate and fan. We will forever cherish the gift of his life; to share his company was our greatest love and source of joy. Grant curated friends from all cultures and walks of life, for whom he was a generous listener, an enthusiast, a champion of others. To know Grant was to know a true renaissance man; he was endlessly curious about the world, and a lover of literature, art, music, food, and wine. He was equally in his element cooking a quiet dinner of sole provencal for two, walking his beloved Zizou and Coco through Manhattan, gathering friends for a raucous dinner party, and traipsing across Moldova chasing a story. 

Portrait by Grant’s collaborator, Dan Leydon

As a journalist, Grant began his career in 1996 at Sport Illustrated, straight out of Princeton University. As he grew into a feature writer, he captured some of the biggest stories in the sports world, like his celebrated cover story on LeBron James at age 16, his account of the US Women’s World Cup win in 1999, and his story of one soccer family’s loss and resilience. In 2009 he began covering soccer exclusively, and became an influential voice in elevating both men’s and women’s soccer in the U.S., becoming a New York Times bestselling author of two books on some of the greatest players in the game. 

In 2021, when he began working independently, he continued pursuing the same levels of journalistic rigor that had marked his career. Grant had a deep respect and appreciation for his audience. He devoted his work life to earning their—your—time and respect in turn. Above all, he expressed his values through his work: his commitments to seeking truth through reporting, supporting fundamental human rights, and fighting for equality. 

Grant radiated pride about my professional life, which he supported with all of his being, as I did his. But our lives together were about so much more than our work. What drew us together were shared values. Shaped by strong women like his mother Helen and the late New York Times war correspondent Gloria Emerson, Grant was a feminist, by which I mean a staunch advocate for equality, and not just on the basis of sex.

We were also both deeply invested in one another’s families. Grant knew when someone was in crisis and he needed to drop everything to be there for them—be that his family or mine. Grant and his brother Eric were the ballast to our family after my father passed away suddenly, just as I coordinated the care for Grant’s parents in their last years of life. 

Our families shared many fun times together, too. We gorged on his father Dave’s deep dish pizza over beers. My little sister Stephanie was eight when she met Grant and can barely remember a time when he wasn’t part of the family. The first time they met, they spent hours playing chess. Grant and I traveled to wine country with my sister Sabine and her husband. We shared a love of art house films with Grant’s brother Eric. We hiked with my uncles in the French Alps, picnicking on bread, saucisson, and wine. Grant joined me on my first trip to my father’s village in India, endearing himself to everyone. My family in France and India are mourning him, too. Grant wasn’t just my family. He was our family.

A memorial service to celebrate Grant’s life is being planned and details will be forthcoming.

from the referee, but the damage had been done. Tchouameni’s shot went wide and Argentina were on their way to victory.

Argentina are the most tactically flexible World Cup winners we have ever seen

LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - DECEMBER 18: Lionel Scaloni, Head Coach of Argentina, celebrates with the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Winner's Trophy after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

By Michael Cox Dec 18, 2022 56

This is how World Cups are won. They are rarely won by truly legendary sides, and they are often not won by the outstanding side in the tournament. The World Cup isn’t about playing spectacular football all the way through; it’s simply about finding a way. It usually involves shutting down the opposition, and generally depends upon fine margins.Argentina were not a perfect side. They lost to Saudi Arabia in the group stage. On two occasions, against the Netherlands in the quarter-final and France in the final, they blew two-goal leads and relied on a penalty shootout to triumph. They were slightly fortunate not to suffer the same fate against Australia in the second round. But tactically, they neutralised the opposition for long periods, particularly at the start of matches. They also maximised the influence of their best player.Lionel Scaloni didn’t have a Plan A at this competition. He used a 4-4-2 against Saudi Arabia and Mexico, before moving to 4-3-3 against Poland. He then reverted to 4-4-2 against Australia — and after switching to 5-3-2 at the start of the second half in that game, stuck with the 5-3-2 against the Netherlands. He switched to 4-4-2 again against Croatia, and then to 4-3-3 against France. No other World Cup winning side has been this flexible.Even the one time he didn’t change formation between matches, for the win over Mexico, Scaloni changed half of his outfielders. And as often happens with the eventual winners, Scaloni suddenly found key players midway through the tournament.Alexis Mac Allister didn’t start the opening game, but started the other six, and was excellent in the final. Leandro Paredes started the first game in the holding role, and Guido Rodriguez started the second. It was the third choice in that position, Enzo Fernandez, who made the role his own. Julian Alvarez started the tournament on the bench, and came into the side in a left-sided position against Poland, before leading the line in the knockout stages, when Scaloni’s formation choices worked well.Against Australia the 4-4-2 was used, with Messi playing a more withdrawn role against an Australia side that spent long periods without the ball. He was able to exert his influence in deeper zones.

Against the Netherlands the 5-3-2 was introduced, providing a spare man at the back and using wing-backs against wing-backs. Nahuel Molina and Marcos Acuna didn’t simply nullify Denzel Dumfries and Daley Blind — Molina ran in behind to open the scoring from Messi’s pass…

…and Acuna won the penalty for the second.

The 4-4-2 used against Croatia in the semi-final featured a narrow midfield to essentially block up the midfield against Croatia’s wonderful passers in that zone, and Alvarez, full of running, dropped back onto Marcelo Brozovic without possession…

…and sprinted forward through the Croatia defence for the first two goals. He then finished the move for the third, courtesy of Messi’s wonderful assist.



That assist, surely the best of the tournament, summed up why Messi was allowed freedom from defensive responsibilities, allowed to save his energy for brilliant attacking bursts. This is ultimately Messi’s World Cup victory: seven goals, three assists. Scaloni based the side entirely around Messi’s needs, even if he was used in three different roles: second striker, right of a front three, false nine. Whatever the formation, Messi ended up in his favoured positions.

He is surrounded by good rather than great players, who understand his genius and happily do his running for him — Alvarez and Rodrigo De Paul in particular. The comparisons to Diego Maradona in 1986 are inevitable considering their shared nationality, but it’s appropriate even without them both wearing the albiceleste. No other World Cup-winning side in the intervening years has been squarely based around one player. Even Brazil in 2002 were generally billed as the ‘Three Rs’ of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho until Ronaldo dominated the final.

Scaloni’s plan for the final was his most attack-minded, and his most effective from the outset.

It wasn’t a huge surprise that Di Maria returned for the final, in place of Paredes. But it was a surprise to see him deployed on the left.

Di Maria had played from the right in this tournament, and it was from the right that he was the match-winner in last year’s Copa America final victory against Brazil. It seemed most likely Di Maria would come into the side to help block up the flank occupied by Kylian Mbappe and Theo Hernandez. For all Di Maria’s attacking qualities, he’s always been a worker, accustomed to playing balancing roles to help Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mbappe shine for Argentina, Real Madrid and PSG respectively over the years.

Instead, Di Maria played from the left of a 4-3-3, with Messi playing from the right. This was a significant gamble, leaving Hernandez free to fly forward and combine with Mbappe.

They combined dangerously just before Argentina’s opener, winning a free-kick by the byline, which Olivier Giroud headed over. De Paul, playing to the right of Argentina’s midfield trio, was overworked.



But there were two benefits to this approach. First, Messi — given freedom from defensive duties, as ever — was left free to wander into space behind Hernandez, and was regularly involved. Secondly, and more significantly, Di Maria had a stormer down the left. Scaloni’s precise logic for using him down that flank is a little unclear. France’s makeshift right-back Jules Kounde hadn’t struggled defensively in this tournament, whereas Hernandez on the other flank certainly had. Perhaps Scaloni, a former right-back himself, sensed that a regular centre-back playing out wide wouldn’t relish playing against speed and trickery.

If so he was right. Di Maria won the penalty for the opener, from Ousmane Dembele’s foul.

He then popped up to round off a brilliant move for the second, which stemmed from Argentina breaking into the space behind Hernandez again.

He was outstanding throughout the first half, whether going down the outside of Kounde or looking to combine with Messi. It brought to mind his strong performance in the 2014 Champions League final down the left.

The curious thing about Scaloni’s approach in the second half was that, having shown a determination to switch to a five-man defence earlier in the competition, he didn’t opt to do so here. Maybe he considered that his switch against Australia was too cautious, and invited too much pressure. There had, in truth, been minimal sign that France were set to launch a comeback, so you can understand why he opted to stick with his initial shape, and when Di Maria inevitably ran out of steam after 64 minutes, Scaloni brought on left-back Marcos Acuna to play in tandem with Nicolas Tagliafico. That was what Scaloni did at a similar point in last year’s Copa America final, albeit it made more sense in that match after Brazil’s change of formation.

Argentina continued to play in a 4-4-2, simply with a left-back on the left of midfield. And with Didier Deschamps having essentially switched to a front four boasting bags of pace — Mbappe, Randal Kolo MuaniMarcus Thuram and Kingsley Coman — it was surprising that Scaloni didn’t do what he did against Australia, bringing on Lisandro Martinez to provide a spare man at the back.

Suddenly, Argentina looked ragged.

The thrilling extra-time period felt like tactical anarchy. Whereas some have suggested that the increased number of substitutions available hands managers too much control, maybe it’s the opposite. By the end of extra-time, Argentina had made six substitutions and France seven, as Adrien Rabiot’s departure was as a concussion substitution. The more changes, the more fresh legs, the less managers seem able to control the game. After Messi put Argentina ahead, this time Scaloni did change to a back five for the last few minutes, although Argentina conceded another penalty when trying to see out the game.

To what extent do Argentina feel similar to recent World Cup winners? Before the tournament The Athletic listed six common themes from the last World Cup winners.

The first: you don’t need to impress in the group stage. Argentina lost their first game, and at half-time of their second game against Mexico, were only a goal away from elimination.

The second: managers tend to stick with tried-and-tested star players. Scaloni changed more players than most World Cup-winning managers, although in the final he was rewarded for showing faith in Di Maria, when others might have stuck with those who played well — or played at all – in the knockout stage.

The third: there’s often a major system change along the way. That box was very much ticked.

The fourth: knockout clean sheets are vital. This wasn’t the case here — Argentina only kept one in their four matches.

The fifth: you don’t need a prolific No 9. That largely applies here. Argentina’s strikers, Lauturo Martinez and Alvarez, managed only three goals. Funnily enough, the only game where Messi started as the central attacker, against Poland, was the only game he didn’t score in.

And finally: you generally need extra-time and/or penalties. Argentina needed two shootouts to win this World Cup, just as Italy needed two shootouts to win last year’s European Championship.

Still, you won’t find many who will suggest Argentina didn’t deserve it. They were the better side in all four knockout games. They ‘won’ in expected goals terms in all seven matches. Their boldness created possibly the greatest World Cup final, and their captain is surely the greatest footballer the game has seen. They will be remembered fondly.

Tim Weah’s famous name stands out, but an NYC neighborhood built his foundations in soccer

Tim Weah’s famous name stands out, but an NYC neighborhood built his foundations in soccer

Sam Stejskal Nov 11, 2022

To better understand the U.S. men’s national team before it begins the World Cup in Qatar, The Athletic traveled to the hometowns of several of its most important figures. We found a squad shaped not only by American society, but also influenced by traditions from every corner of the globe.Taken together, their stories provide a glimpse into a growing, increasingly vibrant American soccer culture that will be on full display between now and the World Cup final on Dec. 18.

For many people around the world, to think about Tim Weah is to think about his father.

It doesn’t matter that Weah is a talented 22-year-old who, despite his age, has already won three Ligue 1 titles and played 25 times for the U.S. men’s national team. It doesn’t matter that he may be poised for a breakout at the World Cup. Neither his achievements nor his potential can change the fact that he will begin the tournament in Qatar viewed through the lens of his famous dad, George.Though he never could carry his country to a World Cup, the elder Weah is one of the greatest players of all time. He is the only African to win either the Ballon d’Or or the FIFA World Player of the Year award, claiming both honors in 1995, smack in the middle of his decade-plus run of stardom at AS Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan. Today, he’s the president of his native Liberia, an office he’s held since 2018. He’ll watch games in Qatar not with the friends and families of other U.S. players, but from an official FIFA suite, as is custom for all attending heads of state.For years, his father’s high profile has put the younger Weah under a bright spotlight. There are advantages and privileges associated with that, to be sure, but there’s a burden, too. Weah has been dealing with outsized expectations from the moment he began to emerge with U.S. youth national teams as a teenager. He’s never run from any of that, consistently coming across as understanding and unbothered when asked about the dynamic. But, at this early stage in his career, many define Tim not by granting him his own identity but instead subsuming it under the legend of George.Those kinds of characterizations, of which there will no doubt be many made during the World Cup, miss so much of his story. Yes, Tim is the son of an all-time footballing legend, but his early path in the game was shaped less by his father than by his mother, Clar.“I give his mother a whole lot of credit,” said Michael Duncan, Clar’s older brother and Weah’s uncle. “She really dedicated her time to Timothy. Seventy-five percent of where he’s arrived is down to Timothy’s skill and dedication, but the other 25 percent to get him over the hump, it’s his mom.“His father, here and there, but he was busy, playing and then with his work. When he was here, he’d be giving Timothy directives and so on, but his mother did the lion’s share of the work.”Clar was born in Kingston, Jamaica, the youngest child of a large family that immigrated to Brooklyn in 1979. She and her siblings all grew up around the game, starting out playing in Jamaica and continuing after the family arrived in the U.S.She and George met in the early 1990s in New York City when George stopped at a bank branch in Manhattan where Clar was working. They married in 1993, not long after George had moved from Monaco to Paris, then had their first two children, George Jr. and Martha. Tim, the youngest, was born in 2000 in Brooklyn.Apart from a brief stint in South Florida, Tim spent his childhood in New York, mostly in the far southeastern corner of New York City in a part of Queens known as Rosedale. Sandwiched into a marshy stretch of land between John F. Kennedy International Airport and Nassau County, Long Island, Rosedale is an overwhelmingly Caribbean neighborhood. According to recent data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 30 percent of Rosedale’s total population of just over 26,500 was born in non-Hispanic Caribbean countries like Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago. Another 10 percent was born in Guyana, which, though located in South America, is considered part of the Anglophone Caribbean.Around the time Clar and George got married, Rosedale became the home of the extended Duncan family. Clar, Michael and several of their siblings raised their children in the area. George’s political work meant he spent lots of time overseas during Tim’s childhood, but he was a presence, as well. The couple now lives in Liberia full-time, but they still own a home in Springfield Gardens, the neighborhood just to the west of Rosedale. It’s where Tim stays when he visits New York.Michael remains a local resident. He and Clar co-own a buffet-style restaurant in the neighborhood called Jamaica Breeze. It’s located on a stretch of Merrick Blvd. packed with Caribbean spots like Jerk Hut, Creole Plate, Irie Island and Home Chef Roti. He’s also the president of Rosedale SC, a long-running club where Tim and his cousin Kyle Duncan (Michael’s nephew), a former New York Red Bulls defender who now plays for KV Oostende in the Belgian top flight, both got their starts in soccer.One crisp Saturday morning in late October, I drove out to Rosedale to meet with Michael. As I pulled up, he was busy overseeing the club’s recreational program at their home field, which is tucked between P.S. 181 elementary school, a small pond backing up to a row of single-family homes and a wooded area that leads into the rest of Idlewild Park.A group of 20 or so 8-to-10-year-olds warmed up on one end of the turf field, decked out in an assortment of beanies, gloves and layered clothing to ward off the autumn chill. Michael wasn’t on the main field, but on a small, bumpy grass pitch located just off the far sideline.

The Rosedale SC side field. (Sam Stejskal)

He shepherded a group of what looked to be four- and five-year-olds as they played a small-sided game. Parents and grandparents were parked in lawn chairs on the sideline. A mix of New York and Caribbean accents floated through the air, encouraging and instructing the kids. Just about everyone at the field, Michael said, had a Jamaican background.That same tiny patch of grass is where a very young Weah got his first taste of soccer.“Timothy was here before he could walk, this little field here,” Michael said. “Clar was coaching Timothy’s older sister, and Timothy would be right there, she’d be holding him, even before he could walk. By a year-and-a-half, he really started kicking the ball. And I remember even then, saying, ‘For a little boy, he really kicks the ball hard.’ It was just amazing having Timothy out here.”As he grew older, Weah began playing on Rosedale’s travel teams. He and Kyle, who is two-and-a-half years older, would play up several age groups, often dominating their competition. They’d spend entire days together on Rosedale’s home field.“This was a family environment for them,” said Michael. “This still is a family environment. So Timothy and Kyle, after we finished their game, they would be out here from 11 o’clock in the morning until 7 o’clock in the evening. There’d be 11 or 12 of them playing, every man for himself. When you get the ball, 11 others are trying to get it from you.”Eventually, the boys progressed to the point where they needed a higher level of competition. Both ended up at BW Gottschee, a club from Ridgewood, Queens that now plays in MLS Next, the top academy league in the U.S. Weah joined up when he was about 10, along with Kyle and a few other Rosedale players including now-Trinidad and Tobago international Noah Powder.

Read more: What does USA draw against England mean for their knockout stage hopes?

But, even after they started playing for Gottschee, both Weah and Kyle continued to suit up for their family club in Rosedale.“There was one day when Timothy had a game with Gottschee, Kyle had a game with Gottschee and a few more of our boys had games with Gottschee at the same time we were playing a game here,” said Michael. “Five of them were late. The (opposing) team had us down 7-0, and then Timothy and Kyle and the others come in. The other parents start up, ‘Who are these players? Who are these players?’ Then the boys make it 7-1, 7-2, 7-3, we end up getting it to 7-7, then we ran out of time.”

Weah’s career from that point took him to the academies of the New York Red Bulls, then that of PSG. He moved to Lille in search of first-team minutes, which he got mostly off the bench in his second season – one that ended with a surprising Ligue 1 title. In time, he emerged as a key player for the U.S., putting in a man-of-the-match performance in the Americans’ 2-0 win against Mexico last November, assisting on Christian Pulisic’s opening goal and wreaking havoc all night with dangerous play down the right wing.The day after that game, the U.S. flew to Kingston to take on Jamaica. Weah met with traveling reporters the day before the match, offering stories about his mother, advice on where to find the best patties in New York City, the Jamaican-curriculum private school he attended as a kid and Rosedale SC (to which he recently made a significant financial contribution, according to Michael). The prospect of playing a World Cup qualifier just a few miles from where his mom grew up clearly meant a lot to him.“For me, it’s our national anthem that matters. I know on the pitch tomorrow, I’m going to be singing it like my heart’s about to pop out my chest. But hearing the Jamaican national anthem, seeing the players from the other team take pride in that culture, that’ll be huge for me, as well,” he said. “I take pride in the culture, too. It’s gonna be a fun game.”Weah said before the match that his parents joked with him about not going too hard on Jamaica in Kingston. He didn’t exactly listen, scoring an incredible goal to put the U.S. up 1-0 in the 11th minute of a match that ended in a 1-1 draw.While he’s been a regular starter for the U.S. for more than a year, it’s not a sure thing that Weah will be in the XI at the World Cup. He struggled with an injury to start this season, missing eight Ligue 1 games for Lille and the U.S.’s two friendlies in September because of a foot problem. He returned to action in early October, but the standout play of the now-healthy Gio Reyna at Borussia Dortmund and Brenden Aaronson at Leeds United means Weah might come off the bench against Wales on Nov. 21.We’ll no doubt see plenty of shots of George during match broadcasts, watching his son on a stage that he was never quite able to reach during his own playing career. Clar will be there too, of course — as will Michael, who flew to Liberia this week and will travel with his sister and brother-in-law to the Middle East ahead of the U.S.’s opening match.The world knows him now as the son of one of the sport’s all-time greats, but Tim Weah will take the field in Qatar having lived a beautiful, uniquely American soccer story. The child of an immigrant from Jamaica and a Liberian legend, a product of a close-knit family, shaped by a largely-Caribbean community in New York City who struck out and made his name abroad.He not only has a shot to add a chapter to his already-remarkable journey at the World Cup, but he also has a chance to make his narrative more his own, too.

Inside the school that prepared Gregg Berhalter to lead the USMNT in its return to World Cup

Inside the school that prepared Gregg Berhalter to lead the USMNT in its return to World Cup

Sam Stejskal

Nov 9, 2022

To better understand the U.S. men’s national team before it begins the World Cup in Qatar, The Athletic traveled to the hometowns of several of its most important figures. We found a squad shaped not only by American society, but also influenced by traditions from every corner of the globe.Taken together, their stories provide a glimpse into a growing, increasingly vibrant American soccer culture that will be on full display between now and the World Cup final on Dec. 18.

“You’ve come on the perfect day,” athletic director Tom Leahy says as he greets me in the lobby of St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J., the alma mater of U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter.Leahy doesn’t say much more, he just smirks and tells me to follow as he leads the way up a set of stairs, across a footbridge, into a cramped old elevator and toward the school’s indoor pool. We arrive on the deck a few moments after the entire sophomore class has filed in.A middle-aged man wearing black shorts, a black exercise top and a black baseball cap is standing near some scaffolding set up beside the deep end. He’s deadly serious, shouting through a megaphone at the 100-plus assembled students. Per his instructions, they break into designated groups of six to eight, sit in single-file lines spanning the length of the pool and face the nearest wall, backs to the water. Apart from the man in black, no one makes a sound.The mood is intense. The scene feels more like a military boot camp than a high school physical education class. After barking a few more pointed reminders, the man in black sets the megaphone down. Someone who seems to be his coworker hops in the pool and begins setting up a pair of lane lines.Leahy passes me off to head soccer coach Jim Wandling, whose son is among the sophomores sitting on the other side of the deck. Wandling explains that the students are about to begin the final test of a four-and-a-half week “water adversity challenge” run by Victory Road Leadership Development Group, which bills itself as “a dynamic organization committed to delivering advanced leadership solutions to driven leaders and high performance teams in the world’s most competitive environments.” They typically work with professional sports teams and Fortune 500 companies, Wandling says. The man setting up lane lines is a former Navy SEAL.The first group of students soon slink over to the deep end. Describing the kids as palpably anxious would be an understatement — they look petrified. They’re in hooded sweatshirts, sweatpants and sneakers. Two jump in, fully clothed. The man in black hands each a pair of goggles that are completely blacked out. The kids put the goggles on, shutting out the entire world, and begin their task of swimming two lengths of the 25-meter pool. Once each member of their group finishes, they return to the deck, sit down in their soaked clothes and resume staring at the wall. Apart from the sound of splashes and the occasional encouraging shout from one of the adults in the room, the pool remains mostly quiet.

Roughly 45 minutes later, after everyone is finished swimming their two lengths, the initial group marches back to the deep end of the pool. The first student climbs up the scaffolding to a platform stationed about six feet above the water. He puts on a weighted backpack, then the blackout goggles. The man in black pushes him into the pool. The former SEAL awaits.

The kid quickly sheds the backpack. Still blinded by the goggles, he takes off his shoes, then ties the laces together. He removes his sweatpants — they’re all wearing shorts underneath — then begins the arduous process of turning the clothing into a flotation device. It takes a minute or two, but he eventually succeeds, dipping his pants into the pool and tying them off to trap the air bubble that had formed inside. The bubble works surprisingly well, noticeably adding to his buoyancy as he continues to tread water.On the deck, I’ve made my way over to Father Edwin Leahy, brother of athletic director Tom. A member of St. Benedict’s class of 1963, Father Leahy became a monk in 1966 and has been headmaster of the school since 1973, when he helped reopen it following a brief closure. Now in his late-70s, he’s an incredibly engaging man, a physical and mental dynamo whirling in his cowl, cheering individual students by name, regaling me with stories of Berhalter as if the USMNT coach graduated from the school in 2021, not 1991.I’m thinking he’s the type of guy who could’ve been a U.S. senator had he not entered the Newark Abbey when Father Leahy stops mid-sentence and focuses on the pool.“Watch this,” he whispers.The first student has just finished turning his sweatpants into a life preserver. The former SEAL begins to swim toward him stealthily. He sneaks up on the kid and dunks him from behind, submerging the teenager, flipping over him and holding him under for a few seconds. The kid comes up for air. The former SEAL pushes the kid under a second time, then a third. The kid emerges, gasping, and the man starts splashing him in the face. The kid is still wearing the blackout On the deck, so stunned that I forget I’m standing next to a Benedictine monk, I mutter something about Jesus Christ.At some point during the attack, the improvised flotation device ceased being a flotation device. As he’s being splashed, the kid, who, like all of his classmates, trained for this specific test during the previous month-plus of the so-called “water adversity challenge,” begins trying to create a new air bubble in his sweatpants. He somehow does so in about 30 seconds. Job done, he lays back in the water, floating calmly, catching his breath. The former SEAL swims up, taps him on the shoulder and removes his blackout goggles. The kid has passed. The entire pool area erupts in applause.Father Leahy is beaming. I ask what on earth that exercise — either extreme or dangerously unhinged, depending on one’s perspective — is meant to teach the students who are required to complete it.“Determination, confidence, competence,” he says. “That in an adverse situation, I can figure out a way to get through it. No matter what it is, no matter how difficult it might be, I can find a way to accomplish it. It’s about dealing with adversity. Adversity comes in life, right? And building more and more confidence in being able to deal with adverse situations is what this does.”

The water exercise (Sam Stejskal)

Berhalter didn’t participate in the water adversity challenge during his time at St. Benedict’s — this year was the first that the school had its students go through the program. He was, however, exposed to an incredibly demanding and unique environment at the school.“What goes on in here is probably not what goes on in the rest of the world, but this is a different way of being and discovering who you are, and who you are for the sake of others,” Father Leahy said.Located in downtown Newark, St. Benedict’s was founded in 1868. The school boomed along with the city itself in the first part of the 20th century, but struggled to keep up as the area changed.Deindustrialization, suburbanization and prejudice contributed to Newark becoming the center of one of the worst examples of the White flight that affected many American cities in the mid-20th century. By the late 1960s, the majority Black population that remained was subject to racial profiling, redlining and a general lack of opportunities. The city became a powder keg. In 1967, after two White police officers brutally beat a Black cab driver, it erupted. Large parts of Newark burned in a four-day riot that left 26 dead. Monks watched the blaze from the roof of St. Benedict’s.After the riots, White flight accelerated, further eroding the school’s population base. In 1972, faced with an enrollment they deemed unsustainable, the monks closed St. Benedict’s.“Racism,” Father Leahy says when asked why the school closed. “That’s what I’d say. Others would say diminishing numbers and financial problems. I’d say racism.“The school was becoming more and more Black at that time and it scared the hell out of some people. Huge problems in the monastery, huge conflict. We lost 14 guys who dressed like me. Left and went to another place out in Morris County because they didn’t agree with the direction. So we were left here with no common work, which we absolutely need to live this life, and we said, ‘What are we gonna do?’”Father Leahy and the monks who stayed decided to take another shot at running the school. They came back in 1973 and, with a lot of help from local residents, dreamed up a reimagined approach. Instead of trying to cater to a White community that had left the city, the St. Benedict’s staff learned that it needed to try to be rooted in Newark. The school reopened with a student body that primarily consisted of children of color, many of whom came from disadvantaged backgrounds. The school, which now has an enrollment of nearly 1,000, has a similar makeup to this day.“People in town taught us and loved us, loved us into another way of being and living,” Father Leahy says. “They completely taught us how to do this. The community here reopened St. Benedict’s Prep. Not us. It was absolutely the community, the Black community.”From the start, the monks have been using experiential tactics at St. Benedict’s. All ninth-grader begins their time at the school with “freshman overnight,” a week-long program in which they sleep in the school gym, learn the school’s history and traditions and participate in activities that form a sense of community and dependence on each other. They close their first year by splitting into small groups and hiking a 55-mile portion of the Appalachian Trail in western New Jersey over the course of five days. Each student has an assigned role to perform for their team: cook, navigator, medic, etc. Like the water adversity course, the hike is mandatory. Anyone who doesn’t finish has to complete it at a later time.An overarching idea at St. Benedict’s is to build an environment in which students are individually empowered and a strong team ethic is emphasized. Kids here are granted a rare amount of autonomy. “Never do for students what they can do for themselves” is one of the school’s guiding principles. Teachers and administrators feel that the atmosphere can create a thriving community and allow for the development of real leaders.In some ways, it sounds pretty familiar to how Berhalter, who puts great emphasis on culture, tries to run the USMNT. He often goes for bonding exercises, once leading the team up a Swiss alp, another time introducing the players to a cheetah and having them listen to a brief lecture on African painted dogs.“We’re real heavy into team building,” says Wandling. “We spend a lot of time getting to know one another. Embracing each other’s differences. I think when you put as much time as we do into team building, and it’s something that we’ve been doing for decades now, it really allows kids to compensate for each other’s weaknesses, maximize each other’s strengths and make the most of their time together.”

The St. Benedict’s soccer field. (Sam Stejskal)

Sports, naturally, became a big part of the overall equation. After the school reopened, the student body was too small and funds were too limited for St. Benedict’s to field an American football team, leaving room for soccer to grow into one of the school’s main athletic pursuits. The soccer program took a massive step forward in 1980, when Father Leahy was tipped off to a teenage talent who had just moved to the States from Uruguay and was tearing up pickup games in nearby Harrison, N.J.“That was Tab Ramos,” Father Leahy says.

Ramos starred at the school for four years, leading St. Benedict’s to its first state championships in soccer before embarking on a career that would include representing the U.S. at three World Cups. The school became so determined to win that first state title that Father Leahy arranged for a helicopter to pick up Ramos from LaGuardia Airport and fly him to Newark so he could arrive in time for a playoff match following a late return from a U.S. national team camp.A year after Ramos graduated, Father Leahy hired Rick Jacobs as head coach. Jacobs brought a new level of sophistication to the team, whose previous strategy mostly entailed booting the ball toward Ramos and letting him do the rest. He also added a new level of intensity; Father Leahy fondly remembers the coach regularly losing his mind on the sideline about referee decisions as he brought even better results.Around the same time that Jacobs took over at St. Benedict’s, a preteen Berhalter and future U.S. star Claudio Reyna began playing together under Claudio’s father, Miguel, at a youth club called Union County SC. In the fall of 1987, when Berhalter and Reyna were freshmen at nearby high schools, Jacobs got a call from Miguel Reyna.“Miguel was looking around for places to potentially send Claudio to play in high school,” Jacobs says. “So I got to know Miguel, got to know Claudio, watched him play and, after a certain point, Miguel told me that he was comfortable, Claudio was comfortable, and they were going to send him to St. Benedict’s. And in one of those conversations, he told me, ‘Rick, Claudio is on this team in Union County, and one of his best friends might be interested in coming to Benedict’s, too.’ And that was Gregg. Both of them entered school together as sophomores.”From the moment Berhalter arrived at St. Benedict’s, Jacobs remembers him being ultra-competitive and serious about soccer. He wasn’t as talented as Reyna, and wasn’t as highly recruited by colleges as a couple of his other teammates, but, as a three-year starter at sweeper, he was always putting out fires, maintaining a cool head and keeping the defense organized.

“Gregg was always a step ahead,” Jacobs says. “Always analytical, always tactically sound. Probably the best compliment you could pay an athlete like Gregg is, when you play in the back and speed isn’t one of your top three or four attributes, you must be doing something else really well to be able to always be in the right position, always be in a place, where instead of having to run 14 yards, you only have to run 10. He was really smart in that way. His overall intelligence of the game was pretty special.”

Berhalter was never voted team captain in high school. In his senior season, that honor went to Reyna and stopper Richie Dunn, who played collegiately at Duke. Still, Leahy, Jacobs and Wandling, who was a year behind Berhalter at St. Benedict’s but played with him for parts of two seasons, all remember him as engaging both on and off the field, a great player and good student who had an easy way about him, and naturally commanded a certain level of respect.

He also had a good sense of humor. On the pool deck, Father Leahy, who attended Berhalter’s wedding, spends a minute or two imitating how Berhalter would typically react to something he disagreed with or found inconsequential. A slight turn of the head, a little tsk, a wily grin. He also reveals Berhalter’s high school nickname: Chuckles.

Father Leahy, Jacobs and Wandling couldn’t remember the origin of the moniker, which is a bit difficult to square with Berhalter’s typically understated public demeanor. Berhalter later clarifies that there wasn’t much reason behind it. A teammate gave everyone nonsensical nicknames early in his time at Benedict’s. Berhalter was dubbed Chuck, which later morphed into Chuckles.

“He was endearing to all the guys in the program,” says Wandling. “Regardless of their age, regardless of their level, he was just endearing. I think he embraced the differences here in the program.”

St. Benedict’s is significantly different from Berhalter’s hometown of Tenafly, N.J. He didn’t just find a high-level soccer team and demanding overall environment at the school; he also was exposed to a much more diverse group of peers than he would’ve been in Tenafly, which is Whiter and richer than Newark. Father Leahy, Jacobs and Wandling all think that exposure helped positively mold Berhalter, who has done a nice job with the USMNT of recruiting dual nationals of varying backgrounds and helping to create a strong, positive environment among a set of players with disparate life experiences.

“What I think he left with, what I think most guys who are not of color leave Benedict’s with, is they leave with a new, refined sense of who people are,” says Jacobs, who still keeps in regular contact with Berhalter. “How they can be judged by the world, how the world communicates to them, how the world can see them as unequal. And seeing that, having that experience of learning and relating to kids of color, adults of color, I think is one of those things that makes a guy like Gregg leave here a different person. The question is, do you allow that person to influence the rest of your life? And I think Gregg allowed Benedict’s to make him a better listener, a better learner, someone with more empathy, someone who can get guys to better trust him. And as a coach, when you get an entire group to trust you, that’s magic.”

In 1990, Berhalter helped make history at St. Benedict’s, marshaling from the back as it finished the season as the No. 1-ranked high school team in the country. It was the school’s first national title in soccer. St. Benedict’s has gone on to win 12 more since, with Jacobs running the show until he retired and was succeeded by Wandling in 2010.

The St. Benedict’s program has changed markedly from when Berhalter was a student. The facilities have been upgraded, for one thing. The school has two turf fields, a sizable grandstand and dedicated, well-appointed locker rooms and offices for the squad, which are a huge improvement on the broom closet-sized dressing room that Berhalter, Reyna and Wandling shared with the baseball team when they were in school.

The national championship-winning team featuring Berhalter (seated, third from left) and Reyna (seated, third from right). (Sam Stejskal)

The U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which Gregg’s older brother, Jay, who attended a nearby school, helped create when he worked for the federation, also shifted things dramatically for soccer at St. Benedict’s. The USSDA prompted top youth players to stop playing for their school teams so they could instead play year-round for clubs. St. Benedict’s wasn’t prepared to take that kind of step back in the sport, so the school formed a partnership with Cedar Stars SC, which competed in the old DA until it was shuttered. The club now plays in MLS Next, the new top youth league in the U.S. In the fall, St. Benedict’s players suit up for their school. As soon as that season ends, they begin playing for Cedar Stars, which trains and plays matches at St. Benedict’s.

Because many top local players still end up in the academies of the New York Red Bulls or NYCFC, the school also now recruits a high number of players from abroad, who live in dorms on school grounds. One such recruit, Ghanaian midfielder Ransford Gyan, was named 2021-22 Gatorade New Jersey boys’ soccer player of the year as a sophomore. Reyna won the same award in his senior season of 1990.St. Benedict’s has evolved in ways beyond the soccer team. When Berhalter attended, it was an all-boys high school. It now includes grades K-13 and recently welcomed its first female students.Back on the pool deck, as the sophomores continue to struggle in the water, Father Leahy calls over the man in black. His name is Chris Firriolo; he’s the founder and president of Victory Road. Firriolo tells me that one of the organization’s employees was hired by Berhalter a couple of years ago as the USMNT’s leadership and team dynamics coach. He’ll remain with the team through the World Cup.As Firriolo returns to his duties, Leahy begins to explain how he feels everyone and everything is interconnected.“Every experience in life helps to shape the way you view the world and the way you view others,” he says.Difficult circumstances shaped St. Benedict’s, which, in turn, helped shape Berhalter. Father Leahy doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s now shaping the USMNT ahead of the World Cup.

12/17/22  WC Final Argentina vs France Sun 10 am Fox, Pregame 9 am

So its defending Champs France vs sentimental Favorite and Copa America Champion Argentina with the legendary Lionel Messi needing just this win to cement his legacy at the GOAT in the minds of many around the world.  The matchup of powers combined with Messi’s quest for immortality leads most to predict this will be the most watched ever World Cup game in History.  Over 1 billion worldwide are expected to tune with close to 20 million expected in the US.  Honestly this is much watch TV  !!  In case you had any questions about the GOAT – Lionel Messi and Argentina – put those concerns aside as Messi once again showed why he is the greatest – as he carried his Argentina to victory.  His PK goal and Assist moved him into a tie with his PSG teammate Mbappe for the Golden Boot with 5 goals and 4 assist.  This play where he challenges the Croatian defender Josko Gvardiol that many are calling the best defender in the World Cup – turns him and completely embarrasses him as he drives past him and tucks the assist for an easy goal for his teammate – just personified the game he had against the outmanned Croatians.  Play in the proper Spanish. Sad to see the warrior Luca Modric  lose his final World Cup game but the GOAT’s quest to win his first ever World Cup is still in reach.  Again I picked Argentina partial because I want so much for Messi to win it – but also because I think they are the BEST team in the World.  Messi finally has the type of players around him that can carry some of the load.  Of course Messi and Mmbape are neck and neck for the Golden Boot with the final likely to decide.  The Vote here is for Messi and Argentina to win it all 2-1 though I would love to see a 3-2 Argentina Win instead. 

World Cup News  The Bracket

The World Cup commercials are out – which ones do you like best?  Nike  Addidas  check them all out hereIts Called Soccer – Classic Commercial    Here are some of the Best World Cup Commericals of all time..

Still Devestated by Soccer Writer Grant Wahl’s passing at the World Cup but relieved to hear he died of natural causes.  This World Cup did not need more controversy.  If you get a chance and you want to cry a little ESPN’s E60 Remember the Blue & Yellow is out now – about the Urkraine National Soccer team and their quest to make the World Cup in the middle of the Invasion by the Evil Russians.  Its definitely worth the watch. 

CARMEL FC GOALKEEPERS : Wednesday Night Trainings Dec-Mar – Badger Indoor Fieldhouse 5:30 pm U12//6:30 pm U13-U14//8:30 pm HS U15+. 

Not sure what other clubs have – but Carmel FC has former US Men’s National Team World Cup GK & Coach Juergen Sommer coaching the high school age, Hall of Fame Canadian World Cup GK Carla Baker coaching the U15s and myself coaching the U12s this winter. 


Sun, Dec 18                       FINALS                

10 am  Fox                         Argentina vs France

Wed, Dec 21                      League Cup

2:45 pm ESPN+                  Blackburn vs Nottingham Forest

2:$5 pm ESPN+                  Newcastle United vs AFC Bournemouth

3 pm ESPN+                      Man United vs Burnley

Thur, Dec 22                      League Cup

3 pm ESPN+                      Man City vs Liverpool

Mon, Dec 26                      Boxing Day

7:30 am USA                      Brentford vs Tottenham

10 am USA                         Aston villa vs Liverpool

10 am Peacock                  Crystal Palace vs Fulham (Robinson, Ream)

3 pm Peacock                    Arsenal vs West Ham United

Tues, Dec 27                     

12:30 pm USA                    Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Bournmouth

3 pm USA                            Man United vs Nottingham Forest

Wed, Dec 28                     

3pm  pm USA                   Leeds United (Adams, Aaronson) vs Man City 

Thurs, Dec 29                   

1 pm USA                            Queens Park Rangers vs Luton Town (US GK Horvath) 

Fri, Dec 29                         

2:45 pm USA                      West Ham vs Brentford 

3 pm Peacock                   Liverpool vs Leicester City

Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw

CARMEL FC PLAYERS : Winter Players League (WPL) – Badger Indoor Fieldhouse
As the fall season comes to a close over the next month, we wanted to let you know that we will be launching an indoor soccer league over two six week sessions within our new Badger Fieldhouse. Games will be played on either Friday night ( 6pm to 10pm) or Sunday afternoon (1pm-5pm) depending on age groups: U8s, U9&U10, U11&U12, U13-U15 and U16+ (Coed Teams allowed). Referees for each game, 50 minute games, 5v5, 7v7 and 9v9 matches.
Session One (6 weeks): Jan 6th, 13th, 20th, 27th / Feb: 3rd, 10th
Session Two (6 weeks): Feb 17th, 24th / Mar 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th
Gather teammates and be ready to play!

World Cup Final Sun 10 AM FOX

Argentina v France – Keys to the World Cup final

Three keys for Argentina and France to win 2022 World Cup final

Messi vs Mbappe final gives under-fire Qatar its dream World Cup showpiece

World Cup final predictions: Argentina vs France – who our experts think will win

France’s foot soldier Griezmann pivotal on run to World Cup final

Scaloni answers critics with Argentina’s World Cup final run

Lionel Messi’s Final World Cup: By the Numbers

The Maradona vs Messi Debate
Key points to how France can win another World Cup title

Deschamps, France feeling ‘alone’ ahead of World Cup final

France camp in chaos with Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate latest to be hit by virus

‘It’s already Messi’s World Cup’: How the world reacted to Argentina’s thumping victory over Croatia

Gritty Croatia edges underdog Morocco to win World Cup third-place match
Hakim Ziyech Donates 2022 World Cup Earnings to Poor in Morocco

Jose Mourinho considers taking Portugal job as he weighs up whether to quit Roma

FIFA may reverse World Cup change for 2026 tournament

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FIFA convinced soccer will become No 1 sport in North America — Gianni Infantino

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 16: FIFA President Gianni Infantino speaks to media during the Press Conference ahead of the Third Place and Final matches of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at the Main Media Center on December 16, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

By Jacob Whitehead

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has said the organisation “is convinced” that soccer will become the most popular sport in North America. The 2026 World Cup will be jointly-hosted by the United States, Canada, and Mexico.The president was speaking at a press conference in Qatar ahead of Sunday’s final between Argentina and France, but also looked towards the next edition. Projecting revenue of $11billion from the 2026 World Cup, Infantino said: “We are more than bullish (about the tournament’s potential success), we are convinced that the impact of the game will be massive. “We are bullish about the power of football (soccer). It will become the number one sport in North America.”

Infantino also discussed the format for the upcoming tournament, which is set to feature 48 sides for the first time, saying the plan to stage three-team groups may need to be “revisited”. As part of the move to 48 teams at the next tournament, the plan had been to have 16 groups, each containing three teams. The final round of group stage games at the 2022 World Cup — featuring simultaneous matches between the four teams — was praised for its excitement. Concurrent games would not be possible under a three-team group format. Discussing this, Infantino said: “Here the groups of four have been absolutely incredible; we have to at least revisit, or re-discuss”. He later confirmed this would be on the agenda at the next FIFA council meeting.

Three keys for Argentina and France to win 2022 World Cup final


Fri, December 16, 2022 at 7:41 AM EST

This wasn’t the final many expected when the World Cup began almost a month ago, what with France hollowed by injuries and Argentina losing to Saudi Arabia in its opener. Yet here we are, the defending champions and Lionel Messi and Co. emerging as the class of a tournament as both chase history.

If Argentina wins, it fills the one blank space on Messi’s long list of accomplishments. If France wins, it becomes the first defending champion to repeat since Brazil in 1962 and makes Kylian Mbappé, at 23, the youngest player to win two World Cups since a 21-year-old Pelé.

WORLD CUP 2022: Schedule, scores and latest news

So how does each team win? Here are three keys for both:


Be ruthless 

The Netherlands scored two goals after the 83rd minute, including one in the final minute of stoppage time, to force extra time and then a penalty shootout. Argentina didn’t make the same mistake against Croatia, capitalizing on its early chances – a Messi penalty in the 34th minute followed five minutes later by the first goal of Julian Alvarez’s brace – and refusing to extend Croatia any lifelines.

France has shown a tendency to disappear for large chunks of time during games, and if it does in the final, the Albiceleste must pounce. Pour it on so a late comeback, if there is one, doesn’t matter.

Forget what’s at stake

Lionel Messi will play in his second World Cup final after Argentina was defeated in extra time in the 2014 final by Germany.
Lionel Messi will play in his second World Cup final after Argentina was defeated in extra time in the 2014 final by Germany.

Messi desperately wants to win a World Cup title, and his teammates and coach are equally desperate to help him do it. They have to put that out of their minds, however, or they won’t be able to play with the ease and flow that they have since that loss to Saudi Arabia.

Messi has been tremendous at this tournament – go back and watch him spin Josko Gvardiol around to set up Alvarez’s second goal against Croatia – and his teammates, the young ones in particular, have fed off that.

“Argentina has grown in confidence thanks to Messi’s brilliant performances,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said after losing to France in the semifinals.

Play free, without a thought of what a victory will mean, and Messi’s legacy will take care of itself.

Corral Kylian Mbappé

I know, I know. Easier said than done.

Like Messi, France’s young star has an otherworldly ability to create space where there is none, cut through defenses and do things with the ball even cats can’t imagine. Somewhere, Morocco’s players are still muttering about his run that led to France’s insurance goal.

Argentina’s defense must shut down the flanks and funnel Mbappé through the midfield. He can still do plenty of damage, but not nearly as much as when he has free range outside, and this will allow Argentina at put more numbers on him.


Stay present

As already mentioned, France has had a habit of disappearing, especially when it gets an early lead. It hasn’t cost Les Bleus yet, but Argentina is a different caliber of team. Lose intensity for an extended period of time, or lose track of Messi, and he and his teammates will take full advantage.

“We weren’t perfect against England, we weren’t perfect against Morocco,” France coach Didier Deschamps acknowledged.

“But in a final, against Argentina, both teams are playing a better team than they’ve played so far in the tournament,” Deschamps said. “We have two sides with a great deal of quality. It will be up to key players to make a difference, maybe a team who makes fewer mistakes is going to win the game.”

Let that be a word of warning to his players, not a prediction.

Don’t overlook Argentina’s youngsters

Sublime as Messi has been in this World Cup, Argentina isn’t playing for the title without its young stars. Of Argentina’s 12 goals, seven have come from players who are 24 or younger and are in their first World Cup.

Julián Álvarez, 22, leads the group with four, second only to Messi and Mbappe. Enzo Fernandez, who turns 22 next month; Nahuel Molina, 24; and Alexis Mac Allister, who turns 24 next week, each have one, and Fernandez and Molina both have an assist, as well.

That’s why Deschamps cautioned against reading too much into France and Argentina’s last meeting, a 4-3 win by Les Bleus in the round of 16 in 2018.

“This Argentina side is different to the side we faced four years ago,” he said.

Don’t mess with what’s working

Karim Benzema has recovered from the thigh injury that knocked him out of the World Cup, and Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo said Real Madrid has given the Ballon d’Or winner permission to rejoin France.

Tempting as it might be to bring back a player of Benzema’s quality for the World Cup final, France has been doing fine without him. More than fine, in fact. Benzema’s replacement, Olivier Giroud, had four goals in his first four games to become France’s all-time leading scorer, while Mbappé continues to do Mbappé things and Antoine Griezmann has turned back the clock.

Trying to work in a new player at this late stage, even Benzema, risks disrupting France’s chemistry and flow.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Argentina, France in World Cup 2022 final: Three keys for each to win

France, the imperfect back-to-back World Cup finalists

AL WAKRAH, QATAR - NOVEMBER 22: Olivier Giroud of France celebrates with teammates after scoring their team's fourth goal   during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group D match between France and Australia at Al Janoub Stadium on November 22, 2022 in Al Wakrah, Qatar. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

By Oliver Kay Dec 15, 2022

L’Equipe called it un exploit venu des trefonds, a feat from the depths, and when you look at it that way, as a triumph over adversity as well as a valiant opponent, France’s progression to a second consecutive World Cup final looks that bit more impressive.The performance? Not so much, in truth. France coach Didier Deschamps admitted his team “weren’t perfect” in beating Morocco in Wednesday’s semi-final and that they “weren’t perfect” when they overcame England in the quarter-final either. Over the course of those two matches they rarely looked like reigning world champions, but, ultimately, with a squad ravaged by illness and injury, only the result mattered.France’s 2-0 win over Morocco means that this strangest of World Cups will end with the showpiece final its organisers would have desired beforehand. Argentina vs France means Lionel Messi vs Kylian Mbappe, which means the greatest player of his generation against his heir apparent, both of them under the employment of Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain.If the “dream final” was in doubt for a time in Al Khor on Wednesday evening it was because Morocco, the surprise package of this World Cup, made France sweat for it.For periods of the game, with Sofyan Amrabat outstanding again in midfield, Morocco pushed Deschamps’ team harder than England did on Saturday. After conceding the first goal to Theo Hernandez within five minutes, Morocco went on the offensive, taking risks, committing players forward and threatening an equaliser until Randal Kolo Muani came off the bench to tap home France’s second goal on 78 minutes.

(Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

With that, Deschamps and his players could finally begin to focus on Sunday’s final. “We could have played better,” the coach said. “But we’re in the final and both finalists will be playing a better team than they’ve played so far in the tournament. Maybe the team who makes fewer mistakes will win the game.”hinking back to France’s last World Cup final four years ago, that 4-2 victory over Croatia in Moscow was a strange game, strewn with errors at both ends of the pitch. So was Wednesday’s semi-final as both teams played at a frantic pace and left large gaps for the opposition to exploit. If Morocco were left to pay the price, eventually, for allowing Mbappe too much space in the build-up to the second goal, similar could be said of France’s defending; they can’t afford to give Messi as much time, space and encouragement as they gave Azzedine OunahiHakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri.For France, there were mitigating circumstances. It is well-documented that they went into this tournament without Presnel Kimpembe, N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Christopher Nkunku and Karim Benzema due to injury. Since then they have lost Lucas Hernandez to a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and, on the day of the semi-final, Dayot Upamecano and Adrien Rabiot to what Deschamps called “an illness going round in Doha”. “We’re all trying to be careful so it doesn’t spread,” the coach said, adding that he expects both players to be fit for Sunday.

Where to go next on The Athletic

The France squad is much-changed from that in Russia four years ago, but by the time the team sheets dropped for the semi-final it barely felt recognisable. Only five of the starting XI against Morocco (Hugo LlorisRaphael VaraneAntoine GriezmannOlivier Giroud and Mbappe) had started in the 2018 final. Jules Kounde (24), Ibrahima Konate (23), Theo Hernandez (25), Youssouf Fofana (23) and Aurelien Tchouameni (22) represent a new wave, as do Marcus Thuram (25) and Randal Kolo Muani (24), who came off the bench to kill off Morocco’s resistance.Tchouameni has started all six of France’s games in Qatar. Kounde and Konate, who performed well in a makeshift defence against Morocco, are now up to four and three starts respectively. Griezmann is looking better and better in a roaming midfield role. Mbappe, without being at his best against Morocco, still provided moments of real quality.The concern was that Mbappe was too focused on going forward and offered Theo Hernandez insufficient defensive support. Achraf Hakimi was linking well with Ziyech and eventually Deschamps decided intervention was needed, replacing Giroud with Thuram, who came on at left wing under orders to track Hakimi when he goes forward and, where possible, to push him back. That worked well, as did the decision to replace Ousmane Dembele with Kolo Muani, who scored within 44 seconds of coming on.When you consider how many players are already missing, the strength in depth is particularly creditable. But how good is this France team? Good enough to beat Australia 4-1, Denmark 2-1, Poland 3-1, England 2-1 and Morocco 2-0, but their impressive progression through the knockout stages in Russia four years ago has not been matched. Maybe Mbappe and his team-mates are saving themselves for Argentina, whom they memorably beat 4-3 in Kazan in 2018.

Mbappe, France, ArgentinaMbappe in the win against Argentina in 2018 (Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

How well do you have to play to win the World Cup, though? The accepted wisdom is that you have to reach the form of your life, but international football is not always like that. Sometimes it requires the squad with the best players simply to hold their nerve, work together and avoid doing anything stupid. A sensible squad with talented players and the right mindset will always have a chance. Under Deschamps, France are certainly sensible.France have reached this year’s final having hit top gear only briefly, against Australia. Against England and Morocco, they rode their luck slightly but had just enough quality, know-how and ruthlessness to see off an opponent without the same winning tradition.They will be expected to have to raise their game to defeat Argentina in the final, but Deschamps would happily accept any kind of performance just as long as they get their victory — especially in the circumstances of this tournament, when they have had to draw on deeper reserves in more ways than one.Morocco coach Walid Regragui, who was born and raised in the suburbs south of Paris, declared in the post-match press conference that “over the past 20 years you can say France is the top footballing country in the world. They have the best players and the best coaches and they are the best team in the world.”SpainGermany or Italy might have something to say about the past two decades if we are talking purely about international football, but France have become the first team to reach consecutive men’s World Cup finals since Brazil in 1994, 1998 and 2002. They will hope to become only the third team (after Italy in 1934 and 1938 and Brazil in 1958 and 1962) to win back-to-back titles. All of this — plus runners-up in the European Championship final in 2016 and winners of the Nations League in 2021 — would have been unimaginable when they were failing to qualify for the World Cup in 1990 and 1994.As for Deschamps, who was a France international in those dark days, he led Les Bleus to World Cup glory as captain in 1998 and as coach in 2018. A third winner’s medal would do him nicely, but when this was put to him on Wednesday evening, he said little beyond suggesting that “the team is more important than me”.Increasingly, he finds himself meaning the squad rather than the team he originally had in mind when France qualified for this World Cup. Barely a day seems to go by without France enduring some setback or another, but, from the depths of their squad and their depleted energy reserves, they have found enough to get the job done. If they are to overcome Messi and Argentina, they might have to dig deeper still.

Lionel Messi winning World Cup would define him but he’s already among the greatest of all

Lionel Messi winning World Cup would define him but he’s already among the greatest of all

Oliver KayDec 15, 2022

There have been times when the weight of a nation’s febrile hopes and dreams appeared too great a burden for Lionel Messi.

It made him anxious, sick with nerves. It made the fear of failure unbearable and the pain of defeat even worse.Fernando Signorini, Argentina’s former fitness coach, recalls seeing Messi stagger into their dressing room, zombie-like, after a crushing 4-0 defeat by Germany in the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals, and collapse to the floor. There he sat, slumped in a gap between two benches, inconsolable, shouting, wailing, howling, “almost convulsing”.

Messi never asked to be his country’s saviour. If Diego Maradona had the ebullient, rebellious personality to back up his extraordinary talent as a footballer, making him an Argentine cultural icon in the tradition of Che Guevara or Eva Peron, then Messi has always been a different type. His gifts earned him a status that was at odds with a quiet, shy, introverted nature.

Some mistook it for indifference to the national cause. Messi had left his homeland for Barcelona at the age of 13 and he mumbled his way through the national anthem before games whereas Maradona — in the stands, on the touchline, on grainy old VHS footage of his 1980s pomp — belted it out proudly and passionately. But Messi did care. Every failure on the international stage cut deep. If anything he cared too much.By 2016, the burden felt too great. He had been to three World Cups: twice a beaten quarter-finalist, once a beaten finalist. Now came a fourth consecutive failure at the Copa America: a beaten finalist for a third time when, after a stalemate with Chile,  he missed the target in the penalty shootout. Sergio Aguero said he had never seen his team-mate and close friend so “broken” as in the dressing room afterwards.Messi on his way to a soul-crushing collapse (Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP via Getty Images)

Messi couldn’t take it anymore.“For me, the national team is over,” he said after that Copa America final, holding back the tears. “I’ve done all I can. It’s been four finals; I tried. It was the thing I wanted the most, but I couldn’t get it. It’s very hard, but the decision is taken. There will be no going back.”Barely five days later, Argentine newspaper La Nacion reported that Messi had had a change of heart. Rather than listen to those who insisted he could never do what Maradona had done, he was desperate to defy them and lead Argentina to glory.He had felt he could no longer live with the burden of his nation’s hopes and dreams. But on reflection, he couldn’t live without it.

Spool forward to December 2022, a Tuesday night in Qatar, and Messi, aged 35, looked like a man free of the burden that had weighed so heavy on his shoulders for so long.



He had just produced another masterclass as Argentina swept past Croatia to reach his second World Cup final. At the end, standing on the halfway line, he doubled over, hands on his knees, looking down at the turf.

Was he crying? No, he was smiling — and his grin got wider and wider as Leandro Paredes embraced him and lifted him off the ground and then other team-mates, fellow veterans including Nicolas Otamendi and Angel Di Maria, flocked towards him to do likewise.

Watching Messi in those minutes after the final whistle was heart-warming. He looked so incredibly happy, linking arms with his team-mates in a celebratory throng as they bounced up and down and sang along with the supporters:


Ahora nos volvimos a ilusionar

Quiero ganar la tercera

Quiero ser campeón mundial

Y al Diego

Desde el cielo lo podemos ver

Con Don Diego y La Tota

Alentándolo a Lionel

Translation: “Guys, now we’re getting excited again. I want to win the third. I want to win to be world champion. And Diego, in the sky we can see him, with Don Diego and La Tota (Maradona’s parents), encouraging Lionel.”

The soundtrack to their campaign sounds better in Spanish, with an Argentinian accent. But then again, what doesn’t? There is another line about how “you will not understand the finals we lost, how many years I cried for them” but how victory over Brazil in the final of last year’s Copa America changed everything … and, yes, now they’re getting excited again.

Lionel Messi, ArgentinaMessi, triumphant, is heading for a World Cup final (Photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images)

So much of that excitement stems from Messi.

Enzo FernandezJulian Alvarez and others have impressed more and more as the tournament has gone on, but really Qatar 2022 feels almost as much like the Messi show as the 1986 World Cup felt like it was all about Maradona. Not quite the same — Maradona was 25, at the peak of his powers — but you don’t have to be obsessed with narrative and sporting history to recognise certain parallels.One significant difference is that we know Sunday’s final against holders France will be his last shot at glory in the World Cup. He suggested as much before the tournament and reiterated that when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday night.“It’s my last World Cup,” he said. “There’s a long way to go until the next one (in the summer of 2026), many years, and surely because of age I won’t get to it.”But in many ways, he defies age. He cannot dart between defenders as quickly or as frequently as he used to, but the run that set up the third goal on Tuesday was a thing of beauty. Up against Josko Gvardiol, the most coveted young central defender in world football, Messi bamboozled the 20-year-old once on the right-hand touchline, then again, then again, along the byline, before teeing up Alvarez to make it 3-0. It really was glorious.And now he stands on the threshold of… what exactly? Greatness? As subjective as the word might be, by any standard Messi achieved sporting greatness years ago. Greatest of his generation? To some of us, that also ceased to be a serious debate long ago, despite the brilliance, longevity and prolific strike rate of his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo.Greatest of all time? Now that is a debate, albeit impossible to answer definitively when comparing players from eras as different as Pele, Maradona and Messi.The lack of a World Cup winner’s medal has always been the one argument that can be held against Messi — for now at least. And here we come back to his struggle, in the past, to handle that suffocating pressure as confidently as, say, Maradona did. But is that a fair portrayal?

Remember Nike’s Write The Future advert before that 2010 World Cup? It proposed the tournament in South Africa as something that would define the lives of Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Franck Ribery, Fabio Cannavaro and others for better or for worse.

In Rooney’s case, the ad proposed that a misplaced pass might mean an angry boy tearing down his Rooney poster, England fans rioting in the street and the stock market crashing, leaving him to work as a groundsman while living in a caravan (a bit far-fetched, but the bearded version of this future self was, it turns out, spot-on), whereas racing back to retrieve the situation and tackle Ribery would see him knighted and his face carved into the White Cliffs of Dover.

We were never given a picture of what Ronaldo’s nightmare scenario might be, perhaps because anything less than a glorious future seemed inconceivable.

Instead we saw a glimpse of a future in which he cuts the ribbon on the Estadio Cristiano Ronaldo, makes a cameo in The Simpsons, is adored everywhere he goes and gets feted as he arrives at the premiere of Ronaldo: The Movie.

The ad concluded with Ronaldo standing over a free kick, a moment of truth, and imagining that a giant statue of him would be unveiled back home if he scores it. And as he struck the ball with that famous right foot — clad in a Nike boot, of course — the screen faded to black and we were left to contemplate how that World Cup might define the legacy of some of the game’s biggest stars.

It didn’t really, which is just as well. Rooney had a terrible tournament, lacking sharpness after injury, and got a lot of stick on his return home. Drogba scored one goal, against Brazil, but didn’t make the impact he had hoped as Ivory Coast failed to make the last 16. Cannavaro and Ribery also suffered elimination at the group stage with Italy and France respectively.

As for Ronaldo, he scored just once for Portugal — the sixth goal in a 7-0 victory over North Korea. After his team were eliminated in the round of 16, he looked down a TV camera’s lens and spat angrily. Afterwards he said, “I feel a broken man, completely disconsolate, frustrated, and an unimaginable sadness. I am a human being and I have the right to suffer alone.”

Messi, as mentioned at the start of this article, fared no better in South Africa. And the memory endures, having been beguiled by his performances for Barcelona that season, of him looking pale, almost ghost-like, as he walked through the mixed zone past the waiting journalists after that 4-0 thrashing by the Germans in Cape Town.



Reading Guillem Balague’s Messi biography, in which Signorini describes the harrowing scenes in the dressing room before that, it all adds up.

The World Cup is brutal.

Is the standard of the football as rarefied as it is in the later stages of the Champions League? Almost certainly not. But that is a double-edged sword. At Barcelona, particularly under Pep Guardiola, Messi played in one of the most fluent, cohesive teams ever to have played the game. Then he went to South Africa and played for an Argentina side which, under Maradona’s management, was predictably chaotic — just as it was, more surprisingly, under Jorge Sampaoli at the 2018 World Cup.

Unlike Olympic athletes, who work in four-year cycles, trying to build towards a peak of performance at that precise point, footballers typically tend to turn up at World Cups mentally and physically drained at the end of a long season at club level. And in teams that are often makeshift by nature, star players such as Messi and Ronaldo — and Rooney back in the day, when he always seemed to arrive at tournaments carrying an injury — are expected to work their magic under extreme pressure, knowing that every game is do-or-die.

That didn’t stop Maradona producing a series of superhuman performances as he dragged Argentina to victory in 1986.

Contrary to some of the revisionism, it was hardly a team of no-hopers; many of them, including Jorge Burruchaga, had previously won or would go on to win the Copa Libertadores, while Jorge Valdano had just won La Liga with Real Madrid. But, whatever you have heard or read about Maradona in Mexico, his performances in the first three knockout ties against Uruguay, England and Belgium in particular were every bit as jaw-dropping at the time as legend suggests.

But that is the exception. To expect or demand that Messi and Ronaldo perform like Maradona in 1986 is simply not realistic. Maradona’s own experiences tell you that.

Maradona’s first World Cup, in 1982, ended in disgrace; having spent a fortnight in Spain being kicked from pillar to post, he planted his boot into the groin of Brazil midfielder Batista and was sent off. The second, four years later, everyone knows about. At risk of labouring the point, it was magnificent.

Maradona’s World Cup triumph in 1986 defined him but other tournaments were far less glorious (Photo: Getty Images)

His third, in 1990, was perhaps a notch or two down from Messi’s 2014 one — excellent by anyone else’s standards, but a little disappointing by his own. And his last, in 1994 at age 33, ended in disgrace like the first, this time for testing positive for the banned drug ephedrine after a group-stage victory over Nigeria. The World Cup experience brought out the worst in Maradona, as well as the best.

You could say similar of Zinedine Zidane.

He, more than anyone, is synonymous with hosts France’s World Cup triumph in 1998, scoring twice in the final against Brazil, but he was sent off against Saudi Arabia in the group stage for stamping on an opponent and didn’t return until the quarter-final. Four years later, he missed France’s first two games through injury and was unable to spare them from defeat by Denmark and an early exit. His swansong in 2006 is much romanticised, but his red card in the final, for headbutting Marco Materazzi, seemed a classic example of a star player cracking under intense pressure as well as provocation.



Zidane’s best moment vs Brazil was in the first minute. Was he really that good in 2006 quarter-final?

The great Brazilian striker Ronaldo returned from career-threatening injury to score eight goals at the 2002 finals, ending up with the Golden Boot as well as a winner’s medal, but he too would identify with the pressure Messi and others have experienced on the biggest stake.

Four years before that, he was mysteriously withdrawn from Brazil’s team for the final against France, only to be restored to the starting line-up at the last moment. The situation was shrouded in secrecy at the time, but rumours persisted that he had suffered a seizure and been sent to hospital for tests on the morning of the final — a story he verified in the recent documentary about his career and in an interview with The Athletic.

“A phenomenon cannot fail, cannot feel pain, cannot stop scoring,” the Brazilian said, referring to the pressure to avoid showing weakness as a 21-year-old superstar. “What happened in France in 1998 was what happens at the World Cup. Everyone’s attention is focused on it. The whole world stops to watch it.”

And in those moments, even the greatest players — Messi, both Ronaldos, Zidane and, yes, even Maradona — have been known to find the pressure overwhelming.

It would seem a little too convenient to suggest this is the first time Messi has appeared free from the burden of carrying Argentina’s hopes and dreams. He certainly showed no sign of feeling the pressure as a teenager in 2006, making a series of eye-catching cameos before surprisingly being left on the bench as his team were beaten on penalties by Germany in the quarter-finals.

Without question the pressure got the better of him in 2010 — there was too much noise around him, and Maradona the manager was not exactly a calming presence — but in Brazil four years later he looked far more like his Barcelona self.

He scored four times in the group, including characteristically superb strikes to defeat Bosnia & Herzegovina and Iran, and then laid on the decisive goal for Di Maria against Switzerland in the last 16. Messi dominated the quarter-final against Belgium too, albeit without scoring, but he was quieter in the semi-final, as Argentina edged past the Netherlands on penalties, and in the final against Germany, when Mario Gotze broke the deadlock in the second half of extra time. Germany took their best chance and Argentina, specifically Gonzalo Higuain, missed theirs.

On such moments does history turn.

At Russia 2018, Messi clearly struggled. That was an old Argentina squad, mediocre in some areas, that had only narrowly scraped through the qualifying campaign thanks to his hat-trick in the final game away to Ecuador. In the group stage, he missed a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Iceland and then looked defeated and demoralised during a 3-0 loss to Croatia.

Back home, newspaper La Nacion quoted one squad insider as saying, “The Leo I know did not come to Russia. He is absent even when he is standing in front of you.”

Messi struck back decisively in the final group game against Nigeria, a sublime piece of control and equally adroit finish helping to take Argentina through to the knockout phase. Next they faced France, where Kylian Mbappe, more than a decade his junior, stole the show in a 4-3 win and Messi was left to wonder whether his last shot at World Cup glory had passed him by.

Messi was said to be present but absent in Russia as another World Cup slipped by (Photo: Getty Images)

Prior to his death in 2020, Maradona often spoke sympathetically about Messi, pointing out the challenges and pressures he faced. On other occasions, he was withering.

“We shouldn’t deify Messi any longer,” Maradona said in late 2018. “He’s Messi when he plays or Barcelona (…) and he’s another Messi with Argentina. He’s a great player, but he’s not a leader. It’s useless trying to make a leader out of a man who goes to the toilet 20 times before a game.”

This seemed a cheap shot, but it has been a recurring theme throughout Messi’s international career: his lack of leadership, his lack of personality, his inability to do as Maradona did. And yet he has produced world-class performances year after year after for Barcelona and now Paris Saint-Germain at club level and, at times, for Argentina.

Maradona was a phenomenal, generational talent whose temperament drove him to glory at one World Cup, undermined him at two others and sadly curtailed his career at the highest level. There is no perfect personality type for team sport, but is hard to embrace the notion that Messi, still irresistible in his mid-30s, is the one of the two men with a fatal flaw.

But maybe Messi’s less obvious faults have held him back on occasions when the stakes have been highest and the pressure at its most intense.

As Balague writes in Messi: The Definitive Autobiography, “Leo has to co-exist with anxiety, nerves, mistrust, mood, security, motivation, distress — and his handling of them can increase or decrease his performance levels. Well managed, they bring with them wisdom. Out of control, they ensure chaos.”

And never is the threat of chaos greater than when playing for Argentina at the World Cup.

Easy to forget now, but it is less than three weeks since Argentina were facing up to the threat of humiliation.

Beaten by Saudi Arabia in their opening game, they were deadlocked for over an hour against Mexico four days later and, as the pressure increased, Messi seemed to be having one of those games where, like against Croatia in 2018, he was getting quieter and quieter, as if retreating to his shell.

And then … one touch to control and BANG, a fierce left-foot driven past Guillermo Ochoa from 25 yards and Argentina were on a roll at last.

As he ran off in celebration, before being mobbed by his mostly younger team-mates, you could see the sense of wonder on his face, eyes and mouth wide open. It looked more like relief than joy. The joy only set in when he set up Fernandez to make it 2-0 with three minutes of normal time to play.

Messi and Argentina haven’t looked back. He didn’t score against Poland in the final group match — in fact, he had a penalty saved by Wojciech Szczesny — but his all-round performance was mesmerising. Likewise in the last 16 against Australia, when he scored one of those goals which he alone is capable of making look so easy.

He converted a penalty against both the Netherlands in the quarter-final (as well as one in the shootout) and Croatia in the semi-final, but in both of those matches his assists were what really took the breath away: a no-look pass threaded between Nathan Ake’s legs to set up Nahuel Molina against the Dutch and then that beguiling, bamboozling run past Gvardiol to set up Alvarez for the third on Tuesday.

Argentina have followed Messi’s character at this World Cup (Photo: Getty Images)

If you were watching Messi for the first time, those moments would bring you to your feet. When you have been watching him for years, you know they are second nature to him, even at this stage of his career, but they don’t happen quite as often as they used to.

The difference is that this time he is doing it in the knockout phase of a World Cup — somewhere, remarkably, he and indeed his great rival Ronaldo had never scored a goal before.

Messi puts his new-found sense of tranquillity with Argentina down to various things: maturity, fatherhood, even diet, but he also cites the spirit of his team-mates — a far less star-studded squad than in 2006, 2010 and 2014 — and the influence of the coach, Lionel Scaloni, who has brought a greater sense of calm and unity than Sampaoli in 2018 and in particular Maradona in 2010.

That victory over Brazil in the Copa America last year brought Argentina’s first trophy since 1993, a huge weight lifted from their shoulders.

“This brings us more calmness,” Messi said after that nervy win against Mexico. It wasn’t easy to detect much of that in the closing stages against Australia or the Netherlands, but it has been fascinating to see the way Messi has shaped his team’s mood in Qatar.

Against Poland he was frantic, setting the tone for a hyper-energetic display. Against the Netherlands, he was on a war footing, stung by perceived slights from Louis van Gaal and some of his players. Against Croatia, he appeared calmer and more sure-footed than ever before in a game of such magnitude for his country.

All of which brings us to Sunday, a World Cup final and an opportunity for… greatness? Immortality? In sporting terms, Messi is already there, at or very near the top of the pantheon, along with Pele, Maradona and, at a stretch, one or two others.

Imagine watching someone perform as Messi has done for the best part of two decades — not just a total of 791 goals for club and country but the range of his finishes, the beguiling dribbles, the slide-rule passes and the game intelligence to appreciate space and geometry in a way he couldn’t begin to explain — and trying to argue that his claims to greatness will hinge on one match he plays when he is 35 years old. He marked himself for greatness at a young age and has constantly underscored that status ever since.

Yes, it is tempting to look at it through the prism of that Nike ad from 12 years ago — this way greatness, that way oblivion — but there are a handful of players who are so exceptional that they have elevated themselves far beyond such conversations.

Cristiano Ronaldo is one of them.

He made history by becoming the first player to score at five World Cups, but his only real “Write The Future” moment across those five tournaments was a spectacular free kick to complete a hat-trick in a group match against Spain in 2018.

A disappointing total of eight goals across those five tournaments does not begin to reflect Ronaldo’s talent, but nor does it begin to define him. He is defined by being the record goalscorer in the history of Real Madrid, the Champions League and men’s international football and indeed by being one of the most famous people on the planet. That is all without ever coming close to winning a World Cup.

Messi could feasibly produce a vintage performance on Sunday but be unable to prevent a French victory. Or he could stay on the margins of the game and Argentina still win. In a team sport, conversations about greatness can never be reduced to a single match at the very back end of a player’s career — particularly when the player in question has proven his greatness over and over and over again.

But winning the World Cup final at this stage of his career really would be the crowning glory.

It would define an incredible career the way 1970 defined Pele and 1986 defined Maradona. It would mean achieving all he ever wanted — not just holding the World Cup in his hands at last but bringing joy to a nation which, perhaps more than any other, longs for success on the football pitch.

Messi has carried that burden for so long. As he nears the end of his odyssey, he finally looks comfortable with it.

Pochettino: This Argentina know that when you have Messi, you need to run for him

Pochettino: This Argentina know that when you have Messi, you need to run for him

Mauricio Pochettino Dec 16, 2022

I will always remember where I was the last time Argentina won the World Cup. It was June 1986 and they were playing West Germany in the final at the Azteca in Mexico City.I was 14 years old and just starting my career. I had been at Newell’s Old Boys for six months but I was back home in Murphy for the final. At my first club, Centro Recreativo Union y Cultura, they set up a big screen to show the game. There must have been 500 people, including me, my family and my friends.It was amazing to watch this game together, to watch my hero Diego Maradona and all the other players out there fighting for us, and winning 3-2. I will always remember that sight of Maradona lifting the trophy. It was really my first memory of a World Cup that I can still recall now in detail, coming at an age when I was just starting to feel football in different ways.Afterwards, we all went into the town to celebrate together. It was amazing: there was a queue of cars heading into town, and then in the main square — there is only one square in Murphy — we were celebrating, shouting, sharing the happiness. Just like you saw in Argentina on Tuesday night after the semi-final win.Our feeling was that this was our victory. Our own World Cup. And looking at the scenes in Argentina now, I think that is how the people will feel on Sunday if Argentina win our third World Cup. And there are a lot of similarities between this campaign and 1986.

A mobbed Maradona cradles the trophy in 1986 (Photo: David Cannon/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

I was talking with Mario Kempes (who played in 1978) and Jorge Valdano (who played in 1986) about exactly this. It feels like a similar history. In 1986, the team understood that if they built the team around the best player in the world — Maradona then, Messi now — then everything would be possible.For me, this is the most important thing about this Argentina team, and why they are in the final on Sunday. It is because the players fully understand their jobs: when you have Messi in your team, you need to run for him. And when you have the ball, you need to give it to him as soon as possible so that he can create something. So the players know what they need to do in every single moment, to give Messi everything he needs to be decisive, like he was on Tuesday night against Croatia.Of course, Argentina need Messi, but Messi needs the other 10 players to fight for him in every single moment. It has been one of the keys of this side, how they all believe that by playing for Messi, they can win the World Cup. And you can see the players are giving 120 per cent to do this. Different players: Rodrigo De PaulAlexis Mac AllisterEnzo Fernandez, Julian Alvarez, they are giving all they have and more, and they are doing it for Messi. They are giving everything because this is their dream, they are so close, and when they have Messi, they know everything is possible.And then there is Messi. I am Argentino, I played for Argentina, and always the dream when I was a kid was to win the World Cup. Messi is no different. I know very well that his dream is to lift that trophy. Everyone in Argentina and, I think, every single person who loves football wants Messi to do it on Sunday. Because Messi is football. And as he has said, this will be his last World Cup game.Watching Messi this World Cup, I feel he has arrived here in his best condition, both physically and mentally, to help win it for Argentina, even at the age of 35. Maybe this is because he knows this will be his final World Cup, but he is so mature now. He knows exactly how he needs to behave, not only on the pitch but off it as well. And I think that leadership he is showing is why people finally believe this could be the time when the World Cup comes back to Argentina.You can see it in how he manages the game, how he talks with the referees, with Lionel Scaloni, even with the opponents. After the quarter-final against the Netherlands, when Argentina won on penalties, I heard some people comparing Messi’s leadership with the leadership that Maradona used to show.Messi is now the leader that Argentina need, and for me, that is a massive step for him. It’s not just the performances, which are what we expect. People think he is quiet, but sometimes what you perceive from the outside is wrong. He has a very strong character. He doesn’t talk too much, but he talks when he needs to. Maybe we see him talking more now because of the cameras and the technology. We are seeing the real Messi. He was always like this. People like to talk in myths and we all know there are a lot of those in football.Right now, Messi is performing at his best in every single area, and when you have that on your side, only good things can happen.

Messi is excelling at this World Cup (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Argentina deserve special credit because they arrived as one of the favourites and then started with that defeat against Saudi Arabia. There were plenty of doubts about the team then but they were very calm, very mature, and showed that game was an accident. And then they came back against Mexico and Poland, showing great unity and belief in their approach. And now after Australia, the Netherlands and Croatia, people believe they can win. Credit should also go to Scaloni and his coaching staff. They have built a really balanced team that respects Messi and respects the shirt.And respecting Messi is so important. He knows what he needs to do because he is the best player in the world and very mature. All the decisions he makes on the pitch are for him and for Argentina.

Is Messi the greatest? It’s OK to debate it – don’t let people ruin your fun

I know what it is like to manage Messi, I had him last season at Paris Saint-Germain. He represented the same things Maradona represented for me. You admire him from a distance and think he is the best player in the world. He is the type of player who, when he plays football, makes you smile and makes you feel proud. You can call him special, a superhuman or a super-player. And when you meet players like that — like Maradona — you can only admire them.So Messi is a player that knows everything. He has the ability to read exactly what is going on on the pitch and what the team needs him to do. And if you have him, just like with Maradona, you have to enjoy it. To have him there training for 90 minutes or two hours with you, it’s unbelievable. So for me, it was an amazing experience, to be able to share the training ground with him.Messi’s own motivation is amazing. You cannot find a more competitive player than him or Maradona. They hate to lose, even more than normal players. They have a capacity to be ready to compete in every single game, every single area of their life. Messi is competitive to arrive first at the training ground to be ready to be on the pitch. Even in a small-sided game in training sessions, there is another level of motivation.

‘To have Messi there training for 90 minutes or two hours with you, it’s unbelievable’ (Photo: Aurelien Meunier – PSG/PSG via Getty Images)

People talk about defensive work and pressing, but the point with Messi is that he does not need to press. When you have Messi, you need the other players to understand that they need to recover the ball and give it to him so that he can conserve his energy and then be decisive, just as Argentina are showing now. Honestly, I think the debate about Messi’s defensive work is so stale, almost silly. You cannot pretend that Maradona or Pele — along with Messi, the most important players in football — were focused on trying to win the ball back. He cannot be involved in that. He just needs to keep his position and for the others to run for him.So it is difficult to compare this Argentina team to PSG. There, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar needed their space, too, needed to feel like they were big guys at the club. And sometimes the other players had a difficult time to understand if they needed to play for Messi, or play for Mbappe, or play for Neymar. Mbappe needs to have a team behind him to play for him, but so do Neymar and Messi. That’s why they are all leaders in their national teams. Everyone knows that when those three are together, amazing, unbelievable things can happen on the pitch. But of course, it’s not easy to find the right balance.

I remember talking with Messi about Newell’s Old Boys, the club where we both started our careers. He told me he remembered his father Jorge taking him to Parque Independencia to watch Newell’s when he was really, really young. We talked about whether he would have come to watch Newell’s when I was still playing for them.Messi is a great ambassador for Argentina, but also for his hometown of Rosario, a city that smells of football. Rosario is a special place, the home of Che Guevara, the home of truly special and creative people (like Messi), and plenty of footballers.

Fans unveil a Messi banner at Newell’s Old Boys (Photo: Marcos Brindicci/Getty Images)

Football is the most important thing in Rosario. It is divided between two clubs, Newell’s Old Boys (my old team) and Rosario Central. I know Rosario Central fans will hate me for saying this, but I think now there are more Newell’s Old Boys fans there. Over the past 20 or 30 years, they have attracted more fans because of Messi, Maradona, the people who played there and the trophies we won.

I know it’s unbelievable, but I think in Rosario even more than in Buenos Aires, you feel that people are crazy about football, more than you could even imagine. First, it’s football, second it’s football, third it’s football. But it’s an amazing city, it grew up around the Parana river and it has the monumento a la bandera, the monument of the flag, because that is where the flag of Argentina was created. It’s an important place in the history of football and the history of Argentina. And if anyone from England has never been to Argentina, I recommend you go there. You will feel very welcome, it’s an amazing city, and you can go to the Parque Independencia to watch Newell’s Old Boys, just like Messi used to do as a boy.

Pochettino watched the 1986 final in his hometown of Murphy and played for Newell’s Old Boys of Rosario, where Messi is from

If I have one sadness about Sunday’s final it is that my hero Maradona is not here to see it. I think we all miss seeing Diego up in the stands celebrating the Argentina goals, whether from Messi or Julian or any of the other players. It is really sad because he was such a presence in Argentinian football, even after he retired playing. Remember that he was the Argentina coach for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He is also part of the history of football, and the history of Argentina, too. I don’t know what Maradona would say to Messi now if he had the opportunity, a genius is a genius, they are different from the rest of us people. I only know that Diego would want to give Messi a big hug and a kiss, and to bless him with his hands. It is amazing to think about that, but sad to remember Diego will not be there on Sunday to support Argentina. But I feel he is supporting Argentina from the other side and is present in our thoughts. He will help us all, and the national team, to play their best and to win.

Is Messi the greatest? It’s OK to debate it – don’t let people ruin your fun

Is Messi the greatest? It’s OK to debate it – don’t let people ruin your fun

Nick Miller Dec 13, 2022

And so, Lionel Messi has reached his second World Cup final with a dazzling performance people will be talking about for years. So have the rest of the Argentina team, but most of the discussion in the next few days is likely to ignore Angel Di Maria and Julian Alvarez and Enzo Fernandez, and centre on the man many believe to be the greatest footballer of all time. Many people also dispute that he is the greatest footballer of all time. There will be lots of talk, echoes from debates down the years, about whether Messi needs to win a World Cup to be considered the greatest. People will compare him to Pele, to Zinedine Zidane, and most pertinently to his Argentine countryman Diego Maradona. There will also be comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo, the spicy old to-and-fro argument that will still be going aboard some spaceship somewhere long after our sun explodes and the Earth is consumed by the fires of the apocalypse. And as a counter to this line of debate, there will also be lots of sensible, centrist types who will say things along the lines of ‘Why can’t we just enjoy them both?’ or, ‘Does it matter who the best is?’, or ‘We shouldn’t compare players like this’, or ‘Let’s just all be friends and have a big hug’.Granted, that last one might actually be quite nice and we should all take note. But the others are best ignored. Essentially, that sentiment is telling you not to have an opinion. Walk the middle ground, don’t feel strongly about anything, drift on through life without committing to anything. It is, in a roundabout way, a method of shutting down debate. Is that a bit of a dramatic thing to say about what is a fairly frivolous football opinion? Maybe, but surely the frivolous things are the things everyone can have opinions about. Who are they going to harm?If you speak your mind about, say, Palestine, you’d better be sure you know what you’re talking about because otherwise, you could cause some damage. But an opinion on the best footballer of all time? Who’s that going to negatively impact in any material way?

Maradona and Messi worked together for Argentina (Photo: Stanley Chou/Getty Images)

Half the point of being a football fan is to have opinions about things. Whether that’s in conversations with friends, conversations with strangers, conversations with taxi drivers, builders, cafe owners, bar staff, people in the street. Radio phone-ins, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, TikTok or whatever your social media of choice is. Before games, at games, during games, after games, outside games. At home, at work, at the pub, over dinner, in the street. To fill uncomfortable silences with your in-laws, to form bonds with your parents or siblings, to break the ice with a stranger at a wedding. To bore a partner, to fall out with a friend, to maybe even make new friends.Opinions about relatively frivolous football things are great. They’re also terrible. They’re often really entertaining. They’re also frequently tedious. But nobody should be able to tell you not to have an opinion, about things that matter and about things that don’t.The British radio hosts Danny Kelly (now of this parish) and Danny Baker used to say in terms of football opinion that they were “Sometimes right, sometimes wrong, always certain”. There’s plenty of value in that. We in the media are constrained by the often boring need for those opinions to be informed, relatively sensible and backed up with some sort of logic, facts and a foot in reality. But the rest of you aren’t bound by those shackles. Say what you think about football, make it outrageous, be polemical; forget moderation, facts are optional, leave logic behind.You’re allowed to be unreasonable, to have opinions without anything to back them up, to like someone because they share a name with your friend or to take against someone because you don’t like their face. 

Messi and Ronaldo at the Ballon D’Or ceremony in 2014 (Photo: Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)

It’s absolutely fine to not have an opinion about whether Messi is the greatest. It’s absolutely fine not to care. It’s absolutely fine to watch the final few days of this World Cup without putting the action on the pitch into any sort of historical or contemporary context. It’s also absolutely fine to turn off the TV as soon as the final whistle goes, to not pay any attention to what happens next or about what people are saying. But if you have an opinion, express it. Don’t be made to think that your preference is invalid, or that everyone is just going to shout “BOOOOOOOOOORING!” at your face and insist that you sit on the fence. Does it ultimately matter who people think is the best player in the world? Not really. Is the constant comparison between players of the same or different eras boring? For a lot of people, yes.But settling on one side is far more interesting than the alternative. 

USMNT’s Tim Ream calls controversy surrounding Gio Reyna at the World Cup a ‘non-story’

Nov 29, 2022; Doha, Qatar; United States of America defender Tim Ream (13) celebrates after winning a group stage match against Iran to advance to the round of sixteen during the 2022 World Cup at Al Thumama Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

By Paul TenorioDec 16, 2022

U.S. national team center back Tim Ream said on his podcast, Indirect, that the controversy surrounding teammate Gio Reyna at the World Cup is a “non-story,” and that the situation was handled at the tournament by the team.

“I mean for us, it’s a non-story,” Ream said. “We dealt with it in camp, things moved on, we moved past it and that’s where we are. The players, there was no vote. So we can put that to bed. And like I said, we addressed it in camp and (Reyna) did what he had to do, and obviously came on against the Netherlands and played a pretty solid 45 minutes for us and helped to kind of drag us back into the game. So yeah for us, that’s it. That’s the end of it.”



Here’s what you need to know:

  • Ream’s star U.S. teammate Christian Pulisic was a guest on the episode.
  • Pulisic did not address the situation.
  • Ream also shot down reports that the players voted on whether Reyna would stay in camp at the tournament.


At a leadership conference, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter spoke about the situation without naming the player under the off-record Chatham House Rule, but the full comments were published by the newsletter Charter. The newsletter later added an editor’s note that said the leadership forum erroneously greenlit their publishing of the comments.

The Athletic reported Sunday that Reyna apologized to the team for a lack of effort during training at the World Cup. Reyna confirmed in an Instagram post that he “let my emotions get the best of me and affect my training and behavior for a few days after learning about my limited role. I apologized to my teammates and coach for this, and I was told I was forgiven. Thereafter, I shook off my disappointment and gave everything I had on and off the field.”

Reyna also addressed Berhalter’s comments on the Instagram post, saying he was “disappointed” that the story was being covered and that he was “surprised that anyone on the U.S. men’s team staff would contribute to it.”

The podcast comments from Ream were the first from any member of the U.S. World Cup team about the Reyna situation.

What they’re saying

Pulisic and Ream both picked Argentina to win the World Cup on Sunday, backing Lionel Messi to secure his legacy against a very strong France team. They touched on the Ronaldo versus Messi debate and Pulisic spoke about how he sees Kylian Mbappe as the best player in the world, at the moment.

Pulisic and Ream spoke about the pressures of going through deadline day and rumors swirling about going to new clubs or new players coming in, managers they’ve played under — Pulisic praised his time under Frank Lampard — life in London, the season so far at their respective clubs and rule changes they’d like to see in soccer.



Pulisic on what he took away from his first World Cup experience and what it could mean for the USMNT going forward:

“I think my most significant takeaway would just be the experience that a lot of this team now has under their belt. Coming back here with my Chelsea teammates, for example, they’re all talking about like, ‘You guys actually have a good team. We didn’t know. You guys looked good, you guys looked good against England, you guys have a strong team.’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ I mean, I knew we had a strong team, and once everyone kind of came together, you could see that. And also now with the World Cup in the States next time around, I think these experiences are so important.

“People don’t understand, it’s just gaining that experience and having that bit of calmness next time around. And a lot of the core guys who will probably still be there (in 2026), is the best part about it. So I think that’s what I take away from it the most. Now that I feel like I have this experience, I feel even more comfortable out on the field. I’ve been in and played on the highest stage there is.”

Pulisic when asked where he sees himself playing in February:

“Right now, I’m absolutely back at Chelsea and focused and that’s where my mind is at. Ready to finish the season. But you know how things work in football, things change. Anything can happen. Things change quickly, for sure. We all know it. At the moment, I’m just pushing myself in training and working at Chelsea because that’s where I am right now.”

Ream on the best managers he’s played under:

“I think the best ones that I’ve had are really good at, and this goes along with what Christian was saying with Lampard, is that they’re really good at communicating with the players. The ones who, even if they didn’t play at that super high level, it’s the ones that will communicate with you good, bad or indifferent. Whether you’re not playing at the weekend or whether they’re asking about your family and how you’re doing off the pitch, or just having a random talk or random chat about life or football and everything in between. They’re the ones that are usually good at keeping the changing room happy. Because, listen, at the end of the day, players just want honesty. Whether they like it or not, at least they know where they stand. And so the managers who let you know where you stand, whether you’re in the team or out of the team, what their plans are, whether you’re in those plans or not in those plans, players may not be happy about it, but at least you know where you stand. And for me, those are the ones I’ve appreciated the most in my 14-year professional career.”

Prominent soccer journalist Grant Wahl died from aortic aneurysm, wife says

October 10, 2014: Grant Wahl. The Men's National Team of the United States and the Men's National Team of Ecuador played to a 1-1 draw in an international friendly at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

By The Athletic StaffDec 14, 202261

Prominent American soccer journalist Grant Wahl, who died last week while covering the quarterfinals at the World Cup in Qatar, suffered an aortic aneurysm, his wife said Wednesday.

In a post on her husband’s Substack site, Dr. Céline Gounder wrote that Wahl’s body was returned to the U.S. on Monday and an autopsy was performed by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office.



“Grant died from the rupture of a slowly growing, undetected ascending aortic aneurysm with hemopericardium,” wrote Gounder, who is an infectious disease specialist. “The chest pressure he experienced shortly before his death may have represented the initial symptoms. No amount of CPR or shocks would have saved him. His death was unrelated to COVID. His death was unrelated to vaccination status. There was nothing nefarious about his death.”An ascending aortic aneurysm is a weak spot at the top of the aorta, the main blood vessel in the body, which may cause it to bulge, tear or break open. While many patients with aortic aneurysms don’t experience symptoms, the condition can cause chest pain, coughing or wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Wahl, who had just turned 49, wrote on his Substack a few days before his death that he’d been feeling ill with cold symptoms that had worsened and included pressure in his upper chest. He sought treatment at a medical clinic where doctors suspected he had bronchitis, he wrote. He was covering the World Cup quarterfinal between Argentina and the Netherlands on Friday when he collapsed. He received medical attention at the stadium before being taken to a local hospital by ambulance.

In an interview on “CBS Mornings,” Gounder said Wednesday the aneurysm had “been likely brewing for years.” The autopsy report puts an end to rampant speculation on social media about the cause of Wahl’s death.


Throughout a career that spanned more than 25 years, with most of that time spent at Sports Illustrated, Wahl covered multiple World Cups and Olympic Games. In 2009, he wrote the bestseller “The Beckham Experiment.” On Monday, Wahl was among a group of 82 journalists who were honored for covering eight or more men’s World Cups.“For him, soccer was more than just a sport,” Gounder told CBS. “It was this thing that connected people around the world. There’s so much about the culture, the politics of soccer. To him, it was a way of really understanding people and where they were coming from.”Tributes to Wahl have poured in from around the globe.“It is some comfort to know that so many people Grant reached — countless colleagues, readers, athletes, coaches, friends, and fans —are grieving alongside us,” Gounder wrote.“While the world knew Grant as a great journalist, we knew him as a man who approached the world with openness and love,” Gounder wrote on Substack. “Grant was an incredibly empathetic, dedicated, and loving husband, brother, uncle, and son who was our greatest teammate and fan. We will forever cherish the gift of his life; to share his company was our greatest love and source of joy.”Gounder said details on a memorial service will come later.More on the life and career of Grant Wahl:

The World Cup trophy: Stolen by robbers, found by a dog, weighs the same as a cat

World Cup, trophy

By Nick Miller Dec 16, 2022

What do Franz Beckenbauer, Daniel Passarella, Dino Zoff, Diego Maradona, Lothar Matthaus, Dunga, Didier Deschamps, Cafu, Fabio Cannavaro, Iker Casillas, Philipp Lahm and Hugo Lloris have in common?

Granted, as quiz questions go, it’s not the most taxing. The captains to have lifted the World Cup from 1974 are a distinct and illustrious group — one of a small number of people that are actually permitted to touch FIFA’s most iconic prize.



The trophy itself is theoretically just a symbol, a physical representation of success and something for the winners to hold up and goon about with after their victory. The real prize is the ephemeral notion of being world champions, but ephemeral notions don’t come across quite as well in photographs or on TV, so something shiny is required.

The current World Cup trophy made its inaugural appearance in 1974, after Brazil had won the first cup for the third time in 1970. As decreed by Jules Rimet himself, the first team to win the trophy that bore his name thrice would be allowed to keep it in perpetuity.

Jules Rimet (left) presents the original World Cup trophy to Dr. Paul Jude, the president of the Uruguayan Football Association, after his country win the first tournament in 1930 (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)

But that trophy was stolen from Brazil in 1983 and its fate uncertain. Or maybe it went missing some time in the 1960s. Perhaps it was stolen in the 1950s and the one that we all thought was the real thing was actually a replica.

Whatever its end, its beginnings came in 1928. When our old friend Rimet thought that a quadrennial global football tournament was a good idea, he needed something to award the victors. He employed a Parisian sculptor named Abel Lafleur, who came up with a design loosely based on the ancient Greek sculpture the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’ (which is still available to view in the Louvre), with Nike the goddess of victory holding an octagonal cup with her wings.

To briefly defend the old boy against accusations of extreme egotism, the trophy was initially simply known as ‘Victory’, and was only named after Jules Rimet following his passing in 1956. The trophy was relatively modest in size, 35cm tall and made from silver, coated with gold: remember that latter piece of information, as it will be relevant in a few paragraphs.

The trophy was passed from the Uruguayans, after they won the first tournament in 1930, to the Italians before someone made a concerted attempt to steal it: those someones were the Nazis — up to no good again — who during the Second World War attempted to swipe it from Rome, where it was being held in a bank vault.



Reasoning that would be the first place they would look, head of the Italian Football Federation Ottorino Barassi smuggled the trophy out of the bank for safe keeping. In his apartment. Those blundering Nazis did think of that, but in their search of his rooms they didn’t check the shoebox underneath his bed.

From the shoebox it went back to Uruguay after the 1950 World Cup, then to West Germany in 1954, but that’s where things get a bit complicated, and where some believe it went walkabout.

According to an Italian documentary called “The Rimet Trophy: The Incredible Story Of The World Cup”, it may have been stolen by thieves unknown around this time: a photojournalist called Joe Coyle reckons the trophy that made its way to Sweden for the 1958 tournament was 5cm taller and had a different base to the one the Germans won.

That does have the whiff of conspiracy theory, but an entirely unscientific survey conducted by The Athletic (we looked at some photos) suggests Coyle might have a point: the base does look quite different, but of course that doesn’t mean the whole trophy was spirited away somewhere. Perhaps the base was replaced for some reason. Perhaps another part was added. In short, nobody appears to know for sure, simply adding to the mystery of the trophy.

Then we get to 1966, the trophy stolen in London, Pickles the dog and all that. If you don’t know the story, the CliffsNotes version is that the Rimet trophy was on display at the Westminster Central Hall in London in March 1966 as part of a stamp exhibition, but on a Sunday lunchtime thieves forced open the back doors, undid the small lock on the display case and made off with it, leaving a pair of suitably red-faced security guards in their wake.

Pickles the dog and his owner David Corbett after finding the stolen Jules Rimet trophy in 1966 (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)

There followed a slightly farcical hunt for the trophy, including a botched ransom exchange, before a week later a man named David Corbett took Pickles out for a walk in south London, and the hound sniffed it out from underneath a hedge. Corbett received a reward of around £6,000 (roughly $7,300), Pickles got a year’s supply of dog food and was officially recognised as a Very Good Boy, but he perished a year later, strangling himself on his lead as he tried to chase a cat.



This is where things get interesting. According to the book “The Theft Of The Jules Rimet Trophy”, by Martin Atherton, the FA secretly got a replica made, to avoid chaos like the Westminster theft. So secret in fact that they didn’t even tell FIFA about it until a silversmith called George Bird had completed his task. When England won the tournament they were presented with the real trophy, but that was quickly taken from them by a police officer tasked with keeping it safe, swapped with the replica.

Pickles poses for photographers near the spot where he found the stolen trophy (Photo: Central Press/Getty Images)

So which one made it to Mexico in 1970? The short answer is: almost certainly the real one. But even FIFA weren’t sure — when Bird died in 1995, his family auctioned the replica, hoping that it would fetch around £20,000-30,000 ($24,500-36,700).

But a mystery bidder ultimately paid an extraordinary £254,500 ($311,000), and that bidder turned out to be none other than FIFA. Why? Well, they suspected it was the real Jules Rimet Trophy, that somewhere in the journey to 1970 a mistake had been made and the replica took its place, or perhaps it was deliberately switched by persons unknown.

This isn’t idle speculation: FIFA confirmed as much to Simon Kuper, writing about the Rimet in the Financial Times. “Yes,” a FIFA spokesperson told Kuper in 2012. “FIFA took the decision to buy this trophy as it was thought to be the original one.” An examination of the trophy revealed that to be untrue, so not for the first time in football, a very wealthy organisation had bought an expensive dud. That replica is now on display at the National Football Museum in Manchester.

Bobby Moore receives the Jules Rimet trophy from Queen Elizabeth II after England win the World Cup at Wembley in 1966 (Photo: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The real trophy — unless you believe that it was switched in Germany at some point during the 1950s, or in England a decade later, which it probably wasn’t — was thus presented to Carlos Alberto in Mexico City in 1970, and then given to Brazil to keep following their third success.

It stayed in Brazil until December 1983, when it was stolen by gang of armed robbers from the Brazilian Football Confederation’s offices in Rio de Janeiro. It was displayed in a bullet-proof glass case but — and spot the error here — the case had a wooden back, which wasn’t especially difficult for the thieves to prise off.

Several people were arrested, but nobody was charged and the trophy was never recovered. The prevailing theory is it was melted down for gold bars, but as you’ll remember from earlier, the trophy wasn’t made of solid gold, but gold-plated silver, so that seems unlikely. So where is it?

Who knows? We may never know. Either way, after Brazil’s triumph in 1970, FIFA needed a new trophy.

West Germany captain Franz Beckenbauer holds the new World Cup trophy aloft in 1974 – the first tournament to feature the new design (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)

And so, in 1971, they did what any large, enterprising organisation would do: rather than directly commission someone, they set up a competition. Designers, sculptors, trophy-makers and just about anyone who fancied having a go were invited to come up with a brand new World Cup trophy. 53 designs were submitted from seven different countries, but one stood out.

“While the others just sent sketches,” Giorgio Gazzaniga tells The Athletic, “which you have to interpret and imagine what the final result will be like, he sent a model made of chalk — it was fragile, but it was there on the table, so the judges could see what it was like to hold, to take a picture with.”

The “he” Giorgio references is Silvio Gazzaniga, his father and the man who designed the World Cup trophy we know today. Giorgio describes his dad as a ‘maniac of art’, who studied art in Milan, in particular art of the Bauhaus tradition — essentially the idea of incorporating art and aesthetics into everyday, functional items and buildings.

In the below video, part of The Athletic’s meeting with Giorgio starts at 3:50.

After the war Silvio went to work for Bertoni (now known as GDE Bertoni), a company that made medals and trophies, often for the military but also for religious items, for which he became very familiar with classical arts. He also worked for the 1960 Rome Olympic committee on the medals for those games. In short, by the time 1971 and the World Cup trophy contest came about, he had essentially been preparing and studying for the gig for a couple of decades. That experience is partly why the trophy looks nothing like most other football trophies.

Brazil captain Dunga receives the World Cup from U.S. Vice President Al Gore after his country’s triumph in 1994 (Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

“He had been working on sports trophies for 20 years,” says Giorgio, “so he was willing to try something different. The Jules Rimet trophy was an expression of art nouveau. He wanted to give a new version of the spirit of art in the 20th century.”

Silvio made the initial model out of plasticine, helped by the then 14-year-old Giorgio, before making the chalk prototype that was sent to the judges. That’s still around: it’s currently being displayed in a museum just outside Milan.

Every element of the trophy was carefully thought through. The first thing is the globe, which serves a couple of purposes, as Silvio explained in 2013: “As this is the World Cup, it’s only logical that the world should form part of the Trophy. Of course the world is spherical and, as such, very similar to a ball. The human figures that emerge from the base material extend upwards and support the world, which I also imagined as a ball.”

The globe is held up by two men — and it’s important that there are two. “It was to show that football is not something for a single person,” says Giorgio. “The two men represent the two teams that play in a game.”

The idea of the characters raising their arms to the sky is to depict the moment of joy in victory, literally lifting up the world after winning the tournament. And not just the players, either.

“It’s also a symbol of those people watching the match: even in the stands people lift their arms up into the sky. It’s a vision of victory, in a lively and tough way. He was trying to communicate that sport is an effort, even painful when you’re going for victory.

“He wanted to show symbols that weren’t abstract. He wanted to give a symbol that everybody worldwide could read.”

He also didn’t want it to be static: while the Rimet depicts a still figure, there is movement in the more modern trophy,” Silvio said, “and it’s this ascension that gives it its harmony — or more precisely its powerful harmony, energy and dynamism.”

There’s more. The two distinct sections — the globe and the figures holding it — are supposed to depict the glory of victory but also the graft that goes into achieving that glory. Giorgio explains: “If you look at the cup, you can see that the continents on the globe are shiny, but the body is matte. The metal is expressing the effort of the athletes.”

Philipp Lahm and the Germany team celebrate with the trophy after winning in Brazil in 2014 (Photo: Martin Rose/Getty Images)

At the base of the trophy are two green bands, made from malachite. It was initially intended that the trophy would have a limited shelf life — until the 2030 tournament — so Silvio carefully included 20 rectangular spaces for the names of each winner to be engraved on it. The names of those winners are also now engraved on the bottom of the base.

Did you think it had some sort of secret, cool name? Sorry, no dice there: it’s officially called the FIFA World Cup Trophy. It’s made from 18-karat gold with those malachite bands at the base, it’s 36 centimetres tall and weighs 6.142kg. For reference, that’s about the same weight as a domestic cat, albeit one that probably needs to go on a short diet.

It cost about £7,690 ($9,390) to make, which is about £90,000 ($110,000) in today’s money. Not that Silvio saw much of that: as an employee of the company, he was given a small bonus, but the main reward was seen as the glory and the reputational enhancement of having made the World Cup trophy. That’s right — even the guy who designed the World Cup was paid in exposure.

And, in fairness, it did change Silvio’s life. He went on to become the go-to guy for anyone who wanted a football trophy. He designed the Europa League trophy, the European Super Cup, the European Under-21s Championship trophy and a host of others. His company, GDE Bertoni, still make the official replicas of the Champions League trophy, even though that wasn’t their design. He even designed the trophy for the baseball World Cup (not the World Series), plus for a range of other sports. “He became ‘The Lord of the Cup’,” says Giorgio.

Silvio passed away in 2016, but not before he was awarded the “Commendatore Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana” — a bit like a knighthood — and a clutch of other honours. Giorgio and the rest of the family now work to ensure his name is remembered, not least because he wasn’t much of a self-publicist. “Usually my father was extremely shy,” Giorgio says. “Millions — billions — of people know his work, but almost nobody knows his name. He was a sort of secret designer.”

Giorgio is still immensely proud of his father’s achievements, even though every four years, as new groups of men get familiar with the trophy, he has to endure some fraternal pain. “I am the brother of the World Cup. Unfortunately everyone kisses my sister — I am the brother and I have to suffer.”

West Germany were the first winners of the new trophy, and have lifted it twice subsequently, but unlike the Jules Rimet they don’t get to keep the original. The winners don’t even get to keep the trophy at all these days: until 2006 the winners held the real thing until the next edition, but now it’s swiftly taken off their hands and they’re given a gold-plated — rather than solid gold — replica to display. The actual trophy otherwise stays at FIFA HQ in Zurich, and only a select few are even allowed to touch the thing, which includes former winners and heads of state. So, for most of you, unless you’re reading Lothar/Fabio/Hugo: unlucky.

The new World Cup trophy is kept under tighter security than its predecessor. If you’re a would-be thief bent on getting your hands on it as those did before, good luck. But just because its fate isn’t quite as mysterious as the Jules Rimet, that doesn’t mean its history and design isn’t as fascinating.

Zack Steffen: ‘I was shocked, I was sad, I was mad, I was heartbroken’

Michael WalkerDec 11, 202280

The Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough, Saturday: barely five minutes after the final whistle had blown on Middlesbrough’s 2-1 win over Luton Town in the Championship, Zack Steffen was walking down a corridor to a small office adjacent to the home dressing room.

Steffen had removed his jersey but was still in the rest of his kit. Middlesbrough’s winning goal had come in added time and the noise from the two sets of players was still in the air. It was matchday.



But Steffen was here to talk about something else – the World Cup. On November 9, Steffen had been big news, just not in the way the 27-year-old had envisaged. His name was the one missing from Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT squad; there were others, but Steffen was the shock omission.

Now, in this anonymous little room, he describes how he found out the day before, how it affected him and what it means for his today and his tomorrows. And Steffen concludes: “I was shocked, I was sad, I was mad, I was heartbroken.”

He also says: “Yeah, I would like to play again.”

If there is bitterness underlying his quietly delivered replies, it is well-hidden. There is, however, no disguising the anguish of a goalkeeper many expected not just to be in Berhalter’s squad, but in his starting XI in Qatar. “It hurt,” Steffen says.

On November 8, Middlesbrough were playing away to Blackpool in English football’s second tier, their fourth match in 12 days under newly-appointed head coach Michael Carrick. The squad were at the team’s hotel resting in the afternoon. After a short sleep, Steffen saw a text on his phone. It was from Berhalter.

Zack Steffen’s mental health meant he had to miss a camp (Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

Steffen called Berhalter, as requested. The two men go back a few years, to days together at Columbus Crew – when Steffen was MLS goalkeeper of the year in 2018, Berhalter was his head coach. Steffen had been in US camps under Jurgen Klinsmann, but he was viewed as Berhalter’s go-to ’keeper.

In March, Steffen played in the key World Cup fixtures that sealed qualification for Qatar, having also started in major games last November, such as the 2-0 victory over Mexico in Cincinnati. He seemed a certainty for the 26-strong finals squad; in March, it was Arsenal’s Matt Turner who seemed to be the US No.2. But Berhalter had news for everyone.

“It’s between him and I,” Steffen says of that phone call. “We had a 10, 15-minute conversation. I was shocked, I was mad. He said he wasn’t taking me on the roster.”



Steffen’s answers are brief, sometimes halting. His tone is phlegmatic – “That’s just how it goes sometimes, that’s life, it has ups and downs and unexpected turns” – but November 2022 will clearly stick with him in a manner unanticipated earlier this year. As recently as late October, The Athletic had been to interview him at Middlesbrough’s training ground and he had been looking forward to the World Cup. He said it would be “cool” to meet up with England’s Manchester City players – Steffen is on loan from City.

“Obviously it was a big blow,” he adds, “I definitely was heartbroken and it takes time to get over.

“Now that it’s been some time and I’ve had some reflection, it’s in the past. I move on. I’m just using that as motivation.”

To another question, he responds: “Like I say, that’s how life goes, how football goes. There’s only 26 players who can go. It’s just how it is.”

And to another: “I was shocked, I was sad, I was mad, I was heartbroken. I had a lot of feelings, different feelings. At the same time, I believe God has a plan for me, for all of us. I trust him. I walk in faith with him.”

Things perhaps began to change when Steffen did not appear in the US games in June. He was then not included in September’s World Cup warm-up friendlies.

Here, he reveals why:

“That was through my choice.

“I was… I decided to call out of camp because I was having mental health issues back in May and June. That’s why I missed that. I’d missed it to be home with my family.

“He’s the coach and he makes decisions. So, yeah, I was there in March and April … he made his decision.”

Had mental health been an issue for him before?

“That was really the first time with that, and with them. They were understanding, they didn’t want me to be … they wanted me to be the healthy Zack Steffen.”

Steffen in action for Middlesbrough (Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

That night in Blackpool, he put his conversation with Berhalter to one side, went out and kept a clean sheet. Carrick praised his professionalism and resilience. Steffen is at Middlesbrough for the rest of the season; he remains contracted to City until summer 2025. At club level, his career looks solid.



Yet November 2022 will sting for a long time.

“It hurt,” he says, “I try to be understanding and see both sides of everything, but it was tough, the last month, to deal with this.”

Middlesbrough, supportive and considerate, gave him time to go home to Philadelphia to be with his family while the club season was paused for the playing of the World Cup. Did he get to see the USMNT matches at the tournament?

“Yeah, I was able to watch the games. It wasn’t easy. But I still wanted to support them, see them do the best they can, prove the world wrong – that we can play and we’re a force to be reckoned with.

“It was hard to do that, but we’re only in the World Cup every four years.”

Was he in contact with anyone?

“No, I was just going to let them do their thing.”

One person Steffen has spoken to is Luton counterpart Ethan Horvath. Horvath did go to Qatar as part of the US squad and the coincidence of the Championship fixture list brought the two men together in the middle of the pitch at the end of Saturday’s game, two American goalkeepers locked together in freezing fog in the north east of England.

It was quite a scene. Middlesbrough’s victory lifted them to 12th in the table, three points off the promotion play-offs after a surprisingly slow beginning to the season. Maybe this will signal the re-start of Steffen’s USMNT journey. He confirms that he wants it to continue.

“It was good to see him,” Steffen says of Horvath. “We have great camaraderie. The boys in that camp, in the squad, are just amazing. I hope it’s not the end. I would like to play on. We’ll see. All I can do is move on, eat it up and use it as motivation and work to be at the next camp.”

There is always 2026, the next World Cup, a tournament the US will co-host with Canada and Mexico.

“Yeah,” he says with a smile. “I’ll be 31 then. That’s the goal.”

12/12/22  WC Final 4 is Set Games 2 pm Tu/Wed, Grant Wahl dies covering WC, IU Men in 17th NC Mon 6 pm, WC Final Sun 10 am

World Cup News  The Bracket

Wow this World Cup has really been unbelievable – the QF games between Argentina and the Netherlands along with Croatia and Brazil – both going over 135 minutes played with penalty kicks finally deciding both games. The GKs for Croatia, the Netherlands and Argentina all made spectacular saves. Messi was well – Messi – that pass for the first goal and both PKs were magisterial. (Goal call Cantor) (Full highlights) PK shootout.  I thought the reffing in the Dutch/Argentine game was horrific – but both teams were way out of line. A lot of hate/disrespect in the game started by Dutch manager Van Gaal- great coach but an absolute arrogant a$$. Sets up a fantastic Semi with defending finalist Croatia and sentimental favorites Messi’s Argentina. Brazil vs Croatia was equally exciting – as the Samba kings were sent home on penalties. Look at these SAVES by Croatia’s GK Dominik Livakovic. More Great Saves in GK below.  In the other bracket Morocco surprised Portugal and Renaldo, while France held on to beat England (I guess its not coming home boys) when England Captain Harry Kane missed a PK in the final 10 minutes. It sets up Argentina/Croatia Tuesday at 2 pm on Fox, while Morocco enjoys being the first African Nation in the Semi-Finals ever vs France on Wed 2 pm on Fox. I picked Argentina to start and won’t back off now – like them 2-1 over Croatia and I think France will inch by Morocco 3-2. Then give me Argentina 2-1 in a classic over France as the World’s top player for this generation Lionel Messi finally lifts the trophy. (then comes to MLS in 2024).

Gio Reyna Almost Sent Home During World Cup

Wow it should like we all owe US Manager Gregg Berhalter an apology (myself included) as word comes out that Reyna was almost sent home for lack of effort in practices leading up to the first game. See stories below in US Section. Negotiations continue as it appears Berhalter is keen on finding a club job in Europe after the World Cup.

Grant Walh US Soccer and Renowned Soccer Writer Dies At World Cup

Hugely sad news that US Soccer Writer Grant Wahl, the pre-eminent soccer writer in the United States has died at the World Cup.  Evidently he developed a horrible chest cold while covering the World Cup 24/7 and died in the press room at the Argentina vs Netherlands game of cardiac arrest.  Devastating news – I have followed him for over 20 years at Sports Illustrated, Fox and CBS and included at least 1 story of his per week in this blog from his private blog https://grantwahl.substack.com. The Twitterverse is full of 100’s of folks writing nice statements about how Grant helped their life. For me he was the my goto writer when it comes to what’s happening in Soccer around the world and especially from the US soccer fans perspective. I honestly feel like a best friend has died – and I never met him. Here’s Fox’s Rob Stone and his eloquent announcement on Fox Coverage this AM.  RIP Grant Wahl and Best wishes to your wife CBS and CNN contributor and Epidemiologist Dr Celine GounderQuestions regarding his sudden death will no doubt continue, he wrote scathing stories about Qatar and their treatment of migrant workers but that’s for another time for now appreciation for the Best American Soccer Writer of our generation. Indy Star Gregg Doyel’s Story on Wahl More Stories and Tributes below.

ALSO Congrats to Indiana University’s Men’s Soccer who advanced to Monday night’s NCAA Finals (their 17th) vs Syracuse at 6 pm on ESPNU after being Pitt 2-0.  (Highlights)

CARMEL FC GOALKEEPERS : Wednesday Night Trainings Dec-Mar – Badger Indoor Fieldhouse 5:30 pm U12//6:30 pm U13-U14//8:30 pm HS U15+. 

Not sure what other clubs have – but Carmel FC has former US Men’s National Team World Cup GK & Coach Juergen Sommer coaching the high school age, Hall of Fame Canadian World Cup GK Carla Baker coaching the U15s and myself coaching the U12s this winter. 

Coach Sommer showing technique to the high school group of Carmel FC Goalkeepers at Badger Field House. Wed nights 8:30.


Mon,  Dec 12                      NCAA Mens Final

6 pm ESPNU                       IU vs Syr/Creight

Tues Dec 13                        Semis – Final 4                  

2 pm  Fox                             Argentina vs Croatia

Wed Dec 14                        Semis – Final 4                  

2 pm  Fox                             France vs Morroco  

Sat, Dec 17                          third Place                         

10 am  Fox

Sun, Dec 18                         FINALS                 

10 am  Fox

Wed, Dec 21                       League Cup

2:45 pm ESPN+                  Blackburn vs Nottingham Forest

2:$5 pm ESPN+                  Newcastle United vs AFC Bournemouth

3 pm ESPN+                       Man United vs Burnley

Thur, Dec 22                       League Cup

3 pm ESPN+                        Man City vs Liverpool

Mon, Dec 26                       Boxing Day

7:30 am USA                       Brentford vs Tottenham

10 am USA                          Aston villa vs Liverpool

10 am Peacock                  Crystal Palace vs Fulham (Robinson, Ream)

3 pm Peacock                    Arsenal vs West Ham United

Tues, Dec 27                      

12:30 pm USA                    Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Bournmouth

3 pm USA                            Man United vs Nottingham Forest

Wed, Dec 28                      

3pm  pm USA                     Leeds United (Adams, Aaronson) vs Man City  

Thurs, Dec 29                    

1 pm USA                            Queens Park Rangers vs Luton Town (US GK Horvath)  

Fri, Dec 29                          

2:45 pm USA                      West Ham vs Brentford  

3 pm Peacock                    Liverpool vs Leicester City

Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw

CARMEL FC PLAYERS : Winter Players League (WPL) – Badger Indoor Fieldhouse
As the fall season comes to a close over the next month, we wanted to let you know that we will be launching an indoor soccer league over two six week sessions within our new Badger Fieldhouse. Games will be played on either Friday night ( 6pm to 10pm) or Sunday afternoon (1pm-5pm) depending on age groups: U8s, U9&U10, U11&U12, U13-U15 and U16+ (Coed Teams allowed). Referees for each game, 50 minute games, 5v5, 7v7 and 9v9 matches.
Session One (6 weeks): Jan 6th, 13th, 20th, 27th / Feb: 3rd, 10th
Session Two (6 weeks): Feb 17th, 24th / Mar 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th
Gather teammates and be ready to play!

US Men

Reyna Almosst Sent Home from World Cup – Yahoo Sports – Bushnell
Sources: US almost sent Reyna home from WC
5hJeff Carlisle

Contract Talks in Motion with US Coach Gregg Berhalter?  ESPN Jeff Carlisle

Will Berhalter be next US Coach? ESPN Jeff Carlisle
Where is the next FIFA World Cup? The 2026 tournament is coming to a city near you.

Despite World Cup exit, U.S. knows it’s heading in right direction

Culture USMNT built during this World Cup is central to its continued progress | Opinion

Grant Wahl

Grant Wahl, American Soccer Reporter, Dies at World Cup – Time Sean Gregory
American soccer journalist Grant Wahl dies at Qatar World Cup. Here’s what we know

FIFA joins tributes to journalist Grant Wahl after his death at the World Cup

‘This is a heartbreaking night’: Sports world reacts to death of soccer journalist Grant Wahl

LeBron James honors legacy of late soccer journalist Grant Wahl: ‘May he rest in paradise’

Indy Star Gregg Doyel’s Story on Wahl

Appreciation: Grant Wahl and the big, generous soccer life he …


Each Semifinalists’ Biggest Key to Winning the 2022 FIFA World Cup
Three Players From Each World Cup Semifinalist Nation Who Will Define Tournament

World Cup penalty records: How the 2022 quarter-finalists have fared through history

Croatia v Argentina: Keys to the World Cup semi-final

Mbappé to face good friend Hakimi in World Cup semifinal

Messi: Van Gaal ‘disrespected’ me before QF win
Argentina revel in ‘home’ support at World Cup

Croatia’s mental strength has deep roots, says World Cup hero Petkovic

Croatia’s masterful midfield trio key to World Cup dream

Morocco makes history, becoming first African nation to reach World Cup semifinals | Opinion

Metronomic Antoine Griezmann proves why he’s France’s ‘go-to guy’

In winning the Kylian Mbappe battle, England lost the war

What happened to the great dispatcher? Harry Kane folded in the face of close friend Hugo Lloris

Southgate future in focus as England digest World Cup exit

‘It’s utter heartbreak’: How the world reacted to France’s quarter-final win over England

Kane sends penalty, England’s World Cup hopes, over the bar

Right-sided thinking and old-fashioned crosses: How the quarter-final was won and lost

England vs France score and final result: Harry Kane’s missed penalty condemns Three Lions to World Cup defeat

Ronaldo won’t make ‘heat of moment’ decision after Portugal exit

World Cup that began with controversy and uncertainty will end with history being made

Neymar ‘psychologically destroyed’ by World Cup exit

Germany captain Manuel Neuer breaks leg while skiing

Koeman’s next in Dutch bench after World Cup exit


SAVES by Croatia’s GK Dominik Livakovic.
Bounou takes long and winding road to Morocco stardom

Bono Brings Spain to Tears with Saves

Bono PK Saves vs Spain

Bono big saves vs Portugal

Morocco’s Bono with his son post game

A little love for the Great Goalkeeping in this World Cup


Gary Neville calls Brazilian referee for England’s defeat to France ‘an absolute joke’
Pepe and Fernandes blast Argentine referee after Portugal exit

FIFA charges Argentina for disorder at World Cup match

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Gio Reyna apologized to USMNT during World Cup for his lack of effort, sources say

By Paul Tenorio and Sam Stejskal

Multiple sources close to the U.S. men’s national team have provided details to The Athletic that help explain attacker Gio Reyna’s lack of involvement at the World Cup.The sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said that Reyna showed an alarming lack of effort in training ahead of the U.S.’s opening match of the tournament against Wales on Nov. 21, including in a scrimmage against Qatari club Al Gharafa SC on Nov. 17. Reyna’s lack of intensity in the scrimmage — sources described him walking around throughout his time on the field during what was otherwise an intense session — caused significant frustration within the team. The lack of effort was so pronounced that it was unclear whether Reyna was protecting against an injury or just frustrated that he was not set to be a starter against Wales.The drama surrounding Reyna crescendoed during the Wales game, when Reyna threw his shin guards after not being subbed in, and then into a post-Wales training session in which Reyna’s lack of effort continued again. It prompted several veteran players to speak with Reyna, including DeAndre Yedlin and Aaron Long, who pulled him aside and urged him to show more effort moving forward.The sources said that the situation became untenable and that it had to be addressed multiple times, including with the coaching staff, until, finally, Reyna stood up before a video session and apologized to his teammates for his initial lack of intensity and said he understood he was part of a collective group. After the apology, several players on the team spoke up to hold Reyna accountable for his actions. Sources said players believed the group and its culture would be able to overcome the issues after Reyna’s apology, and that the 20-year-old turned a corner in regards to his effort in training. Within the team, the issues with Reyna ended there, the sources said.U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter appeared to reference the Reyna situation without naming the player at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York last Tuesday, comments that were published in a Charterworks newsletter this week. (UPDATE: A U.S. Soccer spokesperson said the summit in which Berhalter participated was supposed to be “explicitly off the record.”)

“In this last World Cup, we had a player that was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field,” Berhalter said. “One of 26 players, so it stood out. As a staff, we sat together for hours deliberating what we were going to do with this player. We were ready to book a plane ticket home, that’s how extreme it was. And what it came down to was, we’re going to have one more conversation with him, and part of the conversation was how we’re going to behave from here out. There aren’t going to be any more infractions.“But the other thing we said to him was, you’re going to have to apologize to the group, but it’s going to have to say why you’re apologizing. It’s going to have to go deeper than just, ‘Guys, I’m sorry.’ And I prepped the leadership group with this. I said, ‘OK, this guy is going to apologize to you as a group, to the whole team.’ And what was fantastic in this whole thing is that after he apologized, they stood up one by one and said, ‘Listen, it hasn’t been good enough. You haven’t been meeting our expectations of a teammate and we want to see change.’ They really took ownership of that process. And from that day on there were no issues with this player.“As a coach, the way you can deal with things most appropriately is going back to your values. Because it’s difficult to send a player home. It was going to be a massive controversy. You would have been reading about it for five days straight. But we were prepared to do it, because he wasn’t meeting the standards of the group, and the group was prepared to do it as well.”Attempts to reach Reyna’s agent, Dan Segal, about an hour before publication and after Berhalter’s comments were published by Charter, were not immediately successful. Segal later provided The Athletic with the following statement.“Gio obviously did not have the experience anyone hoped for at the World Cup. The situation, relationships and interactions among parties are far more complicated than what has been reported. It is disappointing and disrespectful for certain parties to be commenting on private team matters publicly, especially when some do so without full knowledge of the facts and others do so in a self-serving manner.“At this point, our view is that nothing more is gained by those associated with the national team turning on each other, and we plan no further comment on this matter.”Some of the issues with Reyna leaked out into the public during the tournament after Reyna did not play against Wales.Berhalter used his first four subs while the U.S. led that match 1-0, then chose to bring winger Jordan Morris on for Tim Weah after Wales equalized in the 82nd minute. After the match, Berhalter explained his decision to opt for Morris over Reyna, saying that “in the phase of the game that we were at, we went with Jordan, who we felt could give us something with speed and power.” He noted that the team had done a “last-minute check” on Reyna, deemed him “OK” and said that he envisioned him playing a role against England in the U.S.’s second match of the group stage.Asked to clarify what the last-minute check was for, Berhalter said “you could see there was a little bit of tightness” during the scrimmage with Al Gharafa a few days prior, that the team had been “building him up” and that “we think he can play a big role in this tournament — question is when, and hopefully on Friday (against England) he’ll be one further step ahead.”A few minutes later, Reyna told reporters in the mixed zone that he was fully healthy.“I felt good, I felt ready to go,” Reyna said. “But it was just his decision.”On the day of the England game, former U.S. national team forward Eric Wynalda brought up Reyna’s lack of playing time during a Twitter Spaces with LA Times columnist Dylan Hernandez. Wynalda claimed that there was “internal strife” within the team about Berhalter’s decision to not play Reyna. He also alleged that Berhalter lied to the media when he told reporters after the Wales match that he held Reyna out of that match because of an injury. Wynalda claimed that he had spoken with Gio’s father Claudio, the former U.S. captain and Berhalter’s childhood friend and teammate at multiple World Cups.

“With Gio Reyna out of the lineup right now, which has been a massive controversy within the team — even his own teammates are wanting him on the field and it seems to be (causing) internal strife with the (team) and manager Gregg Berhalter,” Wynalda said. “I don’t know how much I should comment on that, but I’ve been trying to console Gio’s father, Claudio, for the last couple of hours, well, the last couple of days with everything that’s been going on. He was fit to play, Berhalter did lie to the media and say that it was an injury, ask the player to kind of go along with that story, which caused a rift between the two of them and now he’s on the bench which is really unfortunate. The situation should have been handled very differently.”Wynalda slightly backed off his initial comments in a tweet posted to his account the day after his initial comments.

Berhalter wasn’t asked about Wynalda’s claims in his press conferences before or after the England game, though he did clarify in an answer that it was a “coach’s decision” not to play Reyna against Wales. Reyna played seven minutes against England. Berhalter then was asked before the Iran game if there was any rift between him and Gio Reyna and if he had, as Wynalda alleged, lied to the media and instructed Reyna to tell reporters that he was hurt after the Wales match.

“Speaking of the four-year journey, right, there’s been also four years of interacting with you guys (the press contingent). And what I’d say is, you know, I’ll leave it to you to decide if I asked Gio to lie about it,” Berhalter said. “That’s just not who I am. That’s not what I represent. So, you know, if you have to take Eric’s word or my word or whatever, feel free, but I know what happened, that’s not what I represent. Like every other person, Gio is a member of this team that we care deeply for and we know can help the team. It’s a matter of when he can help us and how he can help us.”Shortly after that response, Wynalda walked back his initial statement even further on his SiriusXM show.Reyna didn’t end up playing against Iran on Nov. 29 as the U.S. spent the second half protecting a narrow 1-0 lead.“I think a lot of it comes down to timing and circumstance,” Berhalter said before facing the Netherlands in the round of 16. “If you look at how the games have unfolded, we’ve had the lead and had to hold on to the lead later in games. The only game that we didn’t have that scenario, we actually put him in to help get the victory. So it’s just how we can use him in the most effective way. Really talented player, and we’re looking for the right moment. But he can, no doubt, help his team.”Berhalter did use Reyna more significantly in the U.S.’s loss to the Netherlands on Dec. 3. Down 2-0 at halftime, he brought the Borussia Dortmund attacker on for the second half, then shifted him to the wing when he inserted center forward Haji Wright. Reyna largely failed to make an impact in the contest, ending his first World Cup having played a total of 52 minutes as the U.S. were eliminated having scored just three goals in four matches.Reyna scored for Dortmund in a shortened, 60-minute friendly against Rapid Bucharest, the fourth-place team in the Romanian SuperLiga on Saturday in the “Christmas Cup” in Bucharest.

World Cup semifinals: Key team factors, predictions, schedule and more

11:57 AM ET ESPN

The 2022 World Cup semifinals are here. After a thrilling round of 16 and quarterfinals, we’re into the business end of the tournament with four teams remaining. There’s plenty of star power, great matchups and top players who all have their eyes set on hoisting the trophy on Dec. 18.

The action begins Tuesday with Croatia and Argentina kicking off, then defending champions France take on underdogs Morocco a day later. But before the games begin, preview each team with key things to reaching the final, players to know and predictions from our ESPN writers.


Croatia vs. Argentina
Lusail Stadium; 2 p.m. ET

Have they met recently? This is their third meeting at a World Cup, but first in the knockouts. Argentina won the first meeting 1-0 in 1998’s group stage, with Croatia winning 3-0 in 2018.

Odds to win World Cup (via Caesars Sportsbook): Argentina +155; Croatia +650.

Argentina are -150 to advance from the semifinal, while Croatia are +450.

Why Croatia will reach the final

Coach Zlatko Dalic spoke a lot in the aftermath of Croatia’s quarterfinal victory over Brazil on penalties about their “fighting spirit,” and even though it’s not something you can quantify with statistics or data, it will be the one thing that worries Argentina most.


Croatia have a fantastic ability to stay in a game. Their midfield three of Luka ModricMateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic have the technical ability on the ball to control large spells and when they have to defend, they are dogged and organised.

Argentina, even with Lionel Messi, will find it very hard to break them down and the longer the game stays even, Croatia will only grow in belief. Eight of their past nine knockout matches at major tournaments have gone to extra time, beating both Japan and Brazil on penalties during their run in Qatar. They also won two shootouts — against Denmark and Russia — on their way to the final in 2018.

Croatia will hope to disrupt Argentina and Messi long enough for panic to set in and then look to take advantage. Their record at the past two World Cups suggests it’s a well-formulated plan. If they can knock out Brazil, they can certainly do the same to Argentina. — Rob Dawson

Why Croatia won’t reach the final

The most obvious reason for Argentina reaching the final over Croatia is that, simply put, they have better players. There’s a reason that Argentina and Messi arrived in Qatar aiming to lift the trophy while Croatia and Modric turned up hoping to make it through the group stages — expectation based purely on the depth of talent each coach has available.

Aside from putting four past Canada in the groups, Croatia have found the net just twice in their other four games and scored in the 116th minute against Brazil with their only shot on target — and even that needed a significant deflection.

They had a marvellous run to the final in 2018, but once there, the final hurdle against France felt like one game too far. They conceded four goals in 65 minutes. It was hardly a surprise given they’d played the equivalent of an extra game in the knockouts after going for 120 minutes in the round of 16, quarterfinal and semifinal.

After extra time and penalties against Japan and Brazil, there is a danger Croatia might run out of steam against Argentina, particularly when coach Lionel Scaloni can turn to his bench and throw on a number of world-class players. — Dawson

Why Argentina will reach the final

Maybe it’s nothing more, or less, than fate. This is almost certainly Lionel Messi‘s last shot at winning a World Cup, and he has dragged Argentina to this stage by his brilliance and force of personality. He isn’t the player he was in his prime, with that electric burst of pace, but at 35, he has shown he is still capable of making the crucial difference.

His goals against Mexico and Australia set Argentina on their way to big wins, while his reverse pass for Nahuel Molina to score in the quarterfinal against Netherlands was one of the moments of this World Cup.

Messi will have to find something magical again to overcome a Croatia team that manages tournament football better than most. The 2018 World Cup finalists are a tough, proud team with Modric as influential as Messi. But there does feel a sense of destiny about Argentina this time around. — Mark Ogden

Why Argentina won’t reach the final

Take Messi out of the team and Argentina are a limited side. For a country that has produced some incredible players, there is a real shortage of world-class support for Messi. Julian AlvarezEnzo Fernandez and Alexis Mac Allister have all had a good tournament in Qatar, but they are not world beaters. How Argentina could use one of their former great strikers, such as Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Batistuta right now.

Argentina’s lack of pace and creativity hasn’t been a major issue so far, but as the tournament approaches its decisive stage, the key details matter and they will need to find something extra to beat Croatia.

Lionel Scaloni’s team need to find a way to stop Modric dominating the game with his movement of the ball in midfield, but that is the same challenge for all of Croatia’s opponents and few are able to pull it off. This game will come down to whether Argentina can stop Modric, but also how they can threaten Croatia in ways that don’t involve Messi. — Ogden

One Croatia player to watch: Luka Modric

Modric is the obvious choice because of his status and experience, but RB Leipzig centre-back Josko Gvardiol, 20, has been one of the best young players at the World Cup and Croatia will need him to be in top form again.

Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was the star against Brazil, and you would think he’s going to have to make at least a couple of saves against Argentina if there’s going to be another shock result.

If Croatia want to hurt Argentina, Celtic right-back Josip Juranovic is a good outlet. Argentina haven’t settled on their full-backs and Juranovic caused Brazil problems with his runs down the right flank. — Dawson

One Argentina player to watch: Emiliano Martinez

The Argentina goalkeeper has had his critics in this tournament, but he rose to the occasion during the penalty shootout win against Netherlands. And because no team takes games to penalties as often, and successfully, as Croatia, Argentina may need the Aston Villa No. 1 to produce heroics again.

But Martinez’s role goes beyond his ability with penalties. He is a commanding presence and one who will try to dominate the penalty area, so Argentina at least know they have a keeper they can rely on. — Ogden


Argentina 2-1 Croatia (AET): It’s Croatia, so it’s going to extra time, but this time they’ll find Argentina have too much firepower and won’t be able to hold on for penalties. — Dawson

Argentina 1-1 Croatia (Argentina win on penalties): This game feels like it will be a tense battle for 120 minutes and will eventually go to penalties. If that happens, both sides know from recent experience how to win on spot-kicks. — Ogden

Burley lauds history-making Morocco

Craig Burley is full of praise for Morocco’s performance and resilience after they become the first African team to make it to a World Cup semifinal.


Morocco vs. France
Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor; 2 p.m. ET

Have they met recently? This is the first time since 2007, when they drew 2-2 in a friendly. They have never met at a World Cup.

Odds to win World Cup (via Caesars Sportsbook): France +120; Morocco +1000.

France are -200 to advance from the semifinal, while Morocco are +625.

Why Morocco will reach the final

No team has the same momentum, no team has as much support locally and globally as these potential history-makers. This isn’t just the first African nation to reach the semifinal, it’s also the first Arab nation and only the second Muslim nation. In a sport that has traditionally been a closed affair between Europe and South America, much of the rest of the world is cheering them on … they’re not just playing for themselves here.

They also match up well with France. They’ve conceded just once all tournament (and that was an own goal), they’ve shown the ability to defend stoutly and concede very little space behind for Kylian Mbappe to run into. They have the World Cup’s outstanding keeper thus far (Yassine Bounou), they have two midfielders in Sofyan Amrabat and Azzedine Ounahi who are on fire in terms of quantity and quality, and they have wingers in Sofiane Boufal and Hakim Ziyech who can invent something out of nothing to get you a goal, which is often all it takes at this stage of the competition.

Most of all, they’re gritty and they’re hungry. You’d back them in a street fight and, let’s face it, this is knockout football. Games are tight and it’s so often about intensity, chutzpah and mental toughness.

Now, who do you think has more in that department? Morocco or France, who needed Harry Kane to blast a penalty over the bar and some slightly dubious calls to get past England? Look at the penalties Les Bleus conceded in the quarterfinal (especially the Theo Hernandez one), look at the way they were outplayed for much of the game and ask yourself: who is more focused right now?

That’s right. It’s Morocco. — Gabriele Marcotti

Why Morocco won’t reach the final

Let’s live in the real world here. France are the reigning world champions for a reason. They can throw up a stinker against England and still win. Morocco’s entire first-choice back four are physically hurting.

Achraf Hakimi is battle-scarred and hurting. Romain Saiss played carrying an injury against Portugal and had to come off. He may grit his teeth and play, but he’s held together by masking tape and adrenaline right now. Nayef Aguerd, the other outstanding centre-back missed the Portugal game, as did Noussair Mazraoui, the other fullback. Both are unlikely to feature, both would give a kidney to be there.

Next man up? Sure. But there’s a reason some stuff only works in movies. Battering ram cult hero supersub Walid Cheddira is also suspended after picking up two yellows in minutes against Portugal, which means Youssef En Nesyri, also banged up, will need to lead the line on his own.

What’s more is that France boss Didier Deschamps has no qualms about shutting up shop if he needs to. He won the last World Cup playing essentially counterattacking football. This time, France have been a little more expansive, but, fundamentally, they have so many one-on-one threats all over the pitch (Mbappe, Ousmane DembeleAntoine GriezmannKingsley Coman off the bench, Aurelien Tchouameni from distance) that a goal can come any time, from anywhere.

And, on set pieces, Olivier Giroud, France’s all-time leading goal scorer, who bagged the winner against England, plus the gigantic Dayot Upamecano are serious threats. There are a ton of ways France can win this game.

For Morocco, the path is far narrower. On paper, too narrow to squeeze through. — Marcotti

Why Mbappe is the best player at this World Cup

Mark Ogden gives his analysis on the best players in Qatar so far.

Why France will reach the final

France showed against England all their resilience, ruthlessness and mental strength. It will be a very different game against Morocco, but they have everything they need to beat them.

Morocco beat Spain and Portugal because these two teams were too one-dimensional. Les Bleus have so much variety. Giroud is the old school centre-forward always in the box. Mbappe and Dembele have the pace, skills and tricks to beat anyone on a one-vs.-one, which Spain and Portugal lacked. Griezmann will play between the lines, while you can expect Hernandez to bomb forward from his left-back position.

The French have been there before. They are used to playing big games, unlike the Moroccans. The current world champions have the experience and know-how in these kind of games when the pressure is high.

They are also fit. There are no injury worries (unlike for the Moroccans), no fatigue, no suspensions, no players missing either. They are full of confidence and momentum after the way they beat England in the quarterfinals. They have the best player in the world in Mbappe, who will face his best friend Hakimi, who he knows by heart and will want to beat so he can go back to scoring ways to clinch the Golden Boot award. — Julien Laurens

Why France won’t reach the final

It is well-known that this French team can get carried away and arrogant at times, and there is a risk that they could take this game a bit lightly and get surprised by a dangerous Morocco side. We saw it against Tunisia, albeit with a B team. It could happen again.

The French were under pressure against England. Harry Kane forced Dayot Upamecano to make some mistakes that could have proven costly. Morocco and En Nesyri will surely target Upamecano with long balls behind his back.They will also target Jules Kounde at right-back, the biggest weakness in the French defence. Boufal, the Morocco winger, is in great form this tournament and will have a go at Kounde.

On the other side, the pair of Ziyech and Hakimi will also target Hernandez and the not-so-keen-to-defend Mbappe. So France could suffer a bit defensively and they might not find the key offensively either against the best defence of the tournament so far.

Apart from Coman, Didier Deschamps doesn’t have an option off the bench who is as strong as the starters. He has good young forwards (Marcus ThuramKolo Muani) and midfielders (Youssouf Fofana) but no one who can realistically change the game. So the lack of depth could be an issue if France can’t break the deadlock. — Laurens

One Morocco player to watch: Achraf Hakimi

He’s arguably Morocco’s key attacking threat from deep, bursting down the right flank, overloading the midfield and delivering crosses. But he will also have the single toughest task on the day: containing his club teammate Mbappe, the fastest thing on two legs at this World Cup.

It’s a huge ask for any right-back, let alone one like Hakimi, a natural wingback who is more about technique than flat-out athleticism. You don’t shut down Mbappe, but you can contain him for most of the game, like Kyle Walker did for England. But there will be times he gets away from you. And that’s a problem. Hakimi will need to monster this game at both ends of the pitch. A huge task for a man who has been huge this tournament. — Marcotti

One France player to watch: Adrien Rabiot

The Juventus midfielder has been outstanding so far, and we don’t say it enough. He is complete. He defends, he attacks, he compensates, he shuffles, he tackles, he presses, he intercepts, he creates, he runs forever, he wins headers and he even scores goals and assists, too. He has been a revelation and such an asset for France in every single game.

In a match where Les Bleus will have a lot of the ball against a really low and compact block, his movement and impact with the ball will be important. France’s left hand side is the strongest with Rabiot, Hernandez and Mbappe, and Rabiot will have to make it work again. He will have to play high to bring a numerical advantage for the French to unlock the tight Moroccan defence. — Laurens


France 1-0 Morocco: After the scare against England, you can expect Deschamps to get Les Bleus at their minimalist best. Finding a goal through one of their superstars and then bolting the door. — Marcotti

France 2-0 Morocco: Morocco have been outstanding so far, but France will be a step too high. I don’t think they can recreate a third miracle in a row. The French will be too strong. — Laurens

This Argentina picture has everything that makes the World Cup great – just enjoy it!

Sam LeeDec 10, 2022

More joyless carping about footballers showing emotion then, is it? Fresh from Brazilians dancing it’s now Argentinians celebrating.In fairness, it was more than just celebrating. There was plenty of aggro in it but surely the first time you saw the photo (the one at the top of this article) you didn’t think, ‘Oh that’s out of order’ but, ‘Oh I wonder what the story is there’?There’s always a backstory, although that’s not really the point here.The first part of that backstory is that it was obvious the Netherlands players had done something to provoke Argentina. You don’t celebrate a penalty shootout victory by rubbing the opponents’ noses in it without reason.It can be seen from the overhead cameras that the Dutch players were approaching Argentina’s penalty takers on their way to the spot. And that’s fine too!This isn’t an absolution of the Argentina players and demonisation of the Dutch. It’s a celebration of all of it.The Argentina players did it as well. Emiliano Martinez, the goalkeeper, waited at the penalty spot for Steven Berghuis, held the ball out for his opponent to grab, then tossed it to the side (before then saving the spot-kick). Hilariously petty.

Steven Berghuis took the Netherlands’ second penalty (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

This kind of stuff is part of the game and, more than that, it’s part of what makes the World Cup special.And even if teams act like that without provocation, isn’t that part of the fun, too? A lot of people don’t like Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid and their ‘dark arts’ — just listen to the British commentators for a Champions League game — and they don’t need any provocation, but it’s all part of the rich tapestry of football.What’s the alternative? No bad guys? No trouble? How boring would that be? In fact, you need bad guys.Was Leandro Paredes out of order to nail Nathan Ake with a foul and then boot the ball at the Dutch bench? Yes, absolutely, but it was great fun. He got his comeuppance when Virgil van Dijk bounced him to the ground. Nobody was hurt, yellow cards all around and on we go.Even the referee, Mateu Lahoz, who irritated nearly everybody with his determination to book everyone — apart from Lionel Messi for an obvious handball, strangely — was part of the entertainment.We would genuinely all love World Cups, Champions Leagues and everything else to be full of thrilling, end-to-end games where both sides give total disregard to closing spaces between their lines and try to score as many goals as possible, but that’s not how football is now, and it’s certainly not how it is in these seismic matches.And that brings us to the second point. When have you ever seen Messi saying anything controversial after a match, cupping his ears at an opposition manager even? It doesn’t happen. So why did it happen on Saturday?Pressure. And pressure does strange things to people.This is his last World Cup and the pressure on his shoulders is incredible. The pressure on the rest of his team-mates is incredible too, for what it means to them and for what it means to him. The emotional investment in this tournament at home in Argentina cannot be overstated.

The 40,000 Argentine fans who have stolen the show off the pitch in Qatar will have given you some idea of that purely from watching it on TV. So you can imagine the scenes at the Obelisco in Buenos Aires or the Monumento in Rosario.)Messi has been living that for more than a decade and the whole Messi-Diego Maradona debate is going to be decided by whether he wins the World Cup or not. He has been at the top of the game for 12 years, with barely a bad run of form, but it will be this World Cup that has the biggest say in how he is remembered. And had that penalty shootout gone differently, it would have been over.

No wonder he was the only player to run to the goalkeeper, ‘Dibu’ Martinez, as the rest of them headed for Lautaro Martinez. Dibu kept his World Cup alive. His legacy, in a way.In fact, Messi was one of the few Argentina players not to get involved in the baiting of the Dutch when Lautaro converted the winning penalty, but he was certainly part of the aftermath.They’re already selling phone cases and T-shirts with ‘que miras, bobo?’ on them in South America, the words Messi said to Wout Weghorst in the middle of a post-match interview — ‘What are you looking at, dummy?’. It could be dummy, it could be dopey, it could be idiot. You get the idea.Dibu didn’t hold back either. “I heard (Netherlands manager) Louis van Gaal saying, ‘We’ve got an advantage in penalties. If we go to penalties we win.’ I think he needs to keep his mouth shut.” He told him that in person, too.This part of the story is harder to understand. It all stems from the fact the Argentina players had felt slighted by Van Gaal’s comments in the build-up, but nothing really stood out as controversial outside the camp.The Argentinian media, who will talk about absolutely anything regarding their national team at this World Cup given all the air time afforded to it, ran Van Gaal’s quotes about Messi not working off the ball and the Netherlands’ penalty advantage but they didn’t go overboard on it. It wasn’t a big controversy by any means.Clearly, it was a different story inside the Argentina camp. In hindsight it might be easy to see why Dibu would be annoyed, given he has a reputation for saving penalties — as he showed on the night — but it was fairly innocuous stuff on the whole, certainly not enough to provoke that kind of reaction.So maybe Argentina weren’t right to take those sentiments into the game. Maybe the Dutch players weren’t right to provoke the Argentinians, maybe the Brazilian players were disrespectful in their dancing.Maybe the opposite is true in every case… but that’s not really the point. It’s part of the game, it’s part of the fun. Enjoy it.

Free to Read: My 3 Thoughts on Brazil-Croatia

Luka Modric and Croatia are back in the World Cup semifinals after bouncing Brazil, incredibly, on penalty kicks (Photo by Hector Vivas – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

This post is presented by TENLEGEND, The Gentlemen’s Football Brand

Croatia advanced to the World Cup semifinals past Brazil in a jaw-dropping game decided by penalty kicks (4-2) after a 1-1 tie in which the Croatians equalized late in extra-time after Neymar had put Brazil ahead earlier in the extra stanza. Here are my three thoughts on the game:

• Croatia’s steel is absolutely legendary. This game appeared over after Neymar’s brilliant 106th-minute goal finally broke through for Brazil, which had 11 shots on goal compared to Croatia’s one. But that one shot on frame was a beauty. In the 117th minute, Bruno Petkovic’s shot took a deflection off Marquinhos and beat Brazilian keeper Alisson to silence the celebrating Brazilian fans and give Croatia a lifeline. Croatia is unstoppable when it comes to penalty shootouts—this is the second straight World Cup in which it has won two knockout games on penalties—and goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic got things started off right by saving Brazil’s first spot kick from Rodrygo. The Croatians were uncanny in converting all four of their penalties, which kept the pressure on Brazil dialed to the max until Marquinhos cracked in Round 4 and hit his kick off the post to give Croatia the spot in the semifinals. Why Neymar didn’t take one of Brazil’s first four kicks is beyond me. You shouldn’t be “saving” him for Round 5 if that round never comes, and it didn’t. But let’s hear it for Croatia. This tiny country of 4 million people punches above its weight unlike any other soccer nation. It has eliminated tournament favorite Brazil (population: 216 million) to reach Croatia’s second straight World Cup semifinal appearance (and third going back to 1998). Incredible.

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• Going out in the quarterfinals is catastrophic for Brazil. This was viewed as a defining World Cup for the Brazilians heading into the tournament. They were the favorite to win it. They hadn’t won in 20 years, since 2022. And during that time the gap had grown wider between the top European teams and the rest of the world (including Brazil and Argentina). This World Cup was the chance for Brazil, which had gone out to European teams in four straight World Cups, to close that gap. But in the end, the Brazilians couldn’t do it, and they went out to a European team for the fifth straight time. Neymar’s phenomenal goal, which came after not one but two wall passes, appeared to make the difference and serve as a career-defining moment for the Brazilian No. 10. It was a classic Brazilian scoring sequence, and it tied Neymar with Pelé for the most international goals scored by a Brazilian man. But Brazil couldn’t kill the game after that, and those players will regret that for the rest of their careers. The fact is that Brazil should have capitalized more on its chances in a game that didn’t need to even go to extra time. Brazil’s expected goals advantage was 2.63 to 0.66. What a way to go out.

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• This side of the bracket is wide-open now. Of the four teams on this side of the bracket, Brazil was the on-paper favorite to reach the final ahead of Croatia, Argentina and the Netherlands. A lot of people here were already foreseeing a Brazil-France final. And Croatia? They looked like they might go out against Japan, much less Brazil, and now, two penalty shootout wins later, they’re back in the World Cup Final Four. Can they make it to another improbable final? Why not? No matter whether the opponent is the Dutch or Argentina, Croatia has shown time and again that it can go toe to toe with any team in the World Cup. It has shown twice in this tournament’s knockout rounds that it can come from behind to force penalties, and then slam the door during the shootout itself. I’ll admit it. I thought Croatia was too old heading into this tournament. But I was wrong. Luka Modric keeps showing at 37 that he has the energy to go all the way in these games, and the fight these Croatians show is legendary. I can’t tell you how much I admire them.

Grant Wahl was my idol and my friend. A selfless, wonderful man

Alexander Abnos Dec 11, 2022

Everyone working in or covering American soccer has a Grant Wahl story. Some, like me, are lucky enough to have several.Here’s one.In 2014, while covering the World Cup in Brazil as a freelancer, I was mugged at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro. A man put a gun to my back, took me around an alleyway, then took my bag off my back and rode away. My laptop, wallet, phone, and several other valuables were gone. It was the first time anything like that had ever happened to me, and it was a shock to the system.Grant was one of the first people who found a way to contact me afterward. (I honestly don’t remember how he did it when I didn’t have a laptop or phone. I suppose there’s a reason he was such a good reporter.) He recommended we meet up at a nearby spot, Bar do Gomes in the Santa Teresa district. He greeted me warmly, and simply allowed me to talk about what happened, listening intently the entire time. He allowed me to process the experience in real time, on my own terms.Only at the end did he remind me of something I once read but had long since forgotten as a longtime fan of his work chronicling American soccer. He, too, was once mugged at gunpoint on a reporting trip.His experience was in Honduras in 2009, and he admitted to me that night in Rio that he went through a lot of the same feelings I was experiencing. He said that the things he lost that day were ultimately just material; he still had his life and the opportunity to continue living it fully.

The next morning, I woke up energized and hiked up the Corcovado, the 2,000-plus-foot high peak upon which rests the iconic Christ The Redeemer statue. At the top, I felt an exhilaration and triumph that simply would not have existed without Grant’s words the night before.

This sounds more like a story about me and less like a story about Grant, but that’s how Grant stories tend to go. Despite being one of the most prominent soccer journalists in the U.S. — someone whose rich, vibrant, and serious coverage on TV and in print helped grow the sports’ American popularity exponentially over his career — he had a way of making things about you.

Grant is honoured at England v France (Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Grant Wahl, my one-time idol, my former co-worker and my friend, died early Saturday morning in Qatar after being taken ill reporting on Argentina’s World Cup quarter-final against the Netherlands. So naturally, I’ve been thinking of a lot of my Grant stories, and how similar they are to others I’ve seen in the last 24 hours.My Grant stories aren’t special at all, and that’s the point: they are representative of his true nature. His habit. Search his name on Twitter and you’ll find countless others from hundreds more people — young writers who would get seemingly random compliments from him on recent work; editors who received his detailed recommendations on the up-and-coming talent to hire; behind-the-scenes producers who he treated like the professionals they are; fans who he engaged in enjoyable conversation.The people telling these stories come from women’s and men’s soccer at nearly every level and across most continents. They speak English and Spanish and French and all sorts of other languages. A mosaic of kindness big enough to cover at least 100 soccer fields — but that only became fully visible this weekend, when we all had the worst reason to share.

I remember being a teenager in the early 2000s, surprised to find out that the soccer guy at Sports Illustrated wasn’t just from the Kansas City area, where I grew up… he went to my exact high school. We profiled him in the school newspaper and he was gracious and kind to the reporter.If one professional soccer journalist could come from Shawnee Mission East High School, where at the time any semblance of soccer culture was minimal, why couldn’t there be another? My path was set instantly even if I didn’t know it yet, as were at least a few Kansas City-native soccer figures who realized the same thing, whose tributes I have been reading today. I am crestfallen every time I remember that Grant won’t be around to see the 2026 World Cup come to his hometown, played in the same stadium as his (and my) beloved Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL.

I remember moving to New York City in 2011, then taking nearly a full year to work up the nerve to email Grant out of the blue, explaining that I was a fellow Kansan just getting his start in soccer journalism, that my school newspaper did an article on him once, and that I’d like to buy him lunch and chat.He responded quickly and said congrats on what I’d been doing — though what I’d been doing was absolutely not worth congratulations.A week later, we were sitting in an all-but-deserted coffee shop on the ground floor of the Sports Illustrated offices, and he was asking me what I wanted to do in this business — and picked up the bill. It’s staggering how many times I’ve seen versions of that same story floating around in the past 48 hours, with different names, different focuses, different settings. I don’t know how the man had time to do anything else but offer young, soccer-mad people hope of a career working in or covering the sport.

I remember starting work at SI.com sometime later and occasionally being called upon to “edit” his stories for the website. I barely ever had to change a thing. I might have removed a double period once. His raw copy was as clean as a Lionel Messi first touch, and the ideas within it always crystal-clear and refined. I remember when he described Carli Lloyd’s half-field goal in the 2015 World Cup final as an “angry parabola”, and Mario Chalmers’ 2008 national title-winning shot as “a space capsule in low-earth orbit”.

Millions of people read his stories, which were replete with scenes and phrases just like that, to say nothing of the consistently informative content, which held power to account when need be. He built a huge platform and brought the world of soccer alive for a country that had been asleep to it for generations.

I remember his “congrats” and “nice work” or “good story” notes that would reliably accompany my professional milestones over the years, just like all the people here (and many more) probably do. I remember that these came regardless of whether the work I did was for Sports Illustrated or someone else. He was constantly checking in on my career; consistently interested in what I had to say… just like he did for so many others. He wanted the whole garden to grow, and it did.And yes, I also remember some of his less-glamorous moments — Twitter spats better left alone, occasionally-combative calls with PR officers and editors that I couldn’t help but overhear from his cubicle on the rare occasions he was in the SI office. Nobody’s perfect. But as I think back on those moments now, I realize that by and large they were based in a fierce protection of his work and his reputation, and it’s hard to blame him.I remember this past Wednesday night, when I visited Grant at the villa he was renting in Qatar. We discussed the tournament so far, his recent work, and new stories he found interesting. As always, he was quick to make connections, introducing me glowingly to those I did not know, and conveying the same about them back to me. At one point, he asked a colleague a version of one of his favorite questions, one he asked me in that first meeting in the coffee shop and one I’d heard him ask several people in the years we knew each other: “So, how’d you get into soccer?”Almost without fail, that question got people to open up about their lives. And it occasionally got him to return the favor. Grant truly fell in love with soccer in Argentina, he’d say — surely at least part of the reason he loved including “Fútbol” in his project titles. He finagled a way to travel there and write about it for college credit as an undergraduate at Princeton. He said in a few places over the years that, as a journalist, he isn’t really a fan of any soccer team in the world… except (Argentine club) Boca Juniors.The fact that an Argentina game is the last one he saw feels significant to me. Now, given his passing, even thinking about what my emotions might be if Messi and company win this World Cup next Sunday gets me teary-eyed.I don’t know what I’ll do if it happens.But thanks to Grant, I know I’ll be far from alone.

Out of respect for Grant’s family and friends we’d like to ask people to refrain from speculating about the details of his death and instead use the comments section to pay tribute or tell stories about his life. 

Doyel: Live like adored soccer writer Grant Wahl and smell those roses

Gregg Doyel Indianapolis Star

Editor’s note: This column was inspired by a series of tweets IndyStar’s Gregg Doyel wrote after learning of former colleague Grant Wahl’s death on Saturday morning.

Do yourself a favor, if you don’t know much about U.S. soccer journalist Grant Wahl, and search for his name online. See the response to his death early Saturday morning at the World Cup in Qatar, at 48. It is overwhelming. His death is overwhelming. His life was overwhelming.

This happens, though rarely, because Grant was rare. Someone dies unexpectedly, before the world has had a chance to give him or her their flowers, as the saying goes, and the outpouring is bittersweet. You love to see the impact, but wish they were here to see it too. To know.

But now I’ve decided: Grant knew. He wasn’t smug about it, but he knew the greatness he had shown, and I’m not talking about journalism, though he was GREAT, all caps. Quick aside: I met Grant in 1996. I’m the Marlins beat writer for the Miami Herald. He’s an intern.

I was 25, young and decent at my job and a bit cocky. Grant was 21, youngr and a lot better and so humble it hurt. He once wrote a sidebar from the Marlins game we covered together with some reference to the Pleistocene Era, and he made it sing. He had no idea how good he was.


Sports Illustrated hired him out of college, which didn’t happen in 1996, when print journalism was still our main thing and SI was everyone’s dream job. But he was unusually great. Read him once, and you know. But this is about another kind of greatness.

This sort of reaction happens rarely, as I said. Happened in 2012 when one of my bosses at CBSSports.com, Craig Stanke, died in his sleep at 56, hours after running a 5K in 22 minutes, 41 seconds. Oh my gosh I just found the obit I wrote at CBS. It was one of many, which is why I started mine this way:

For years I fooled myself, lied to myself, that Craig Stanke and I had a special, unique relationship.Well, don’t get me wrong. It was special. Almost every relationship he’s ever had, near as I can tell, was special. But what we had wasn’t unique, and I thought it was — and that discovery doesn’t make me sad.It is uplifting, inspiring, something good to hold onto today as people like me — and apparently there are a whole lot of people like me — try to process the tragedy that was Craig Stanke going to bed on Monday night and not waking up on Tuesday morning.


It always hurt me that I’d never told Stanke what he meant to me, that I’d never given him his flowers. I’ve seen this outpouring in my business a few times since, when ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure died in 2020 at 48, and Yahoo Sports NFL reporter Terez Paylor in 2021 at 37.

This sort of nationwide or even global outpouring of love — mourning the underlying goodness of a great talent — happens in other areas, of course, but it’s rare. Actor Robin Williams (“Good Will Hunting,” among other films) in 2014 at 63. “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman in 2020 at age 43. Basketball coach Skip Prosser in 2007 at age 56. Singer Selena in 1995 at age 23. Princess Diana in 1997 at age 37.

Now, Grant Wahl. But only now, with Grant, have I come to decide: Truly good people like this don’t live their life needing their goodness rewarded. Their goodness is their reward. They get joy from it, and down deep, I suspect, they know how we feel about them.So read about Grant Wahl. See the life he lived, and the worldwide mourning — from friends and family, FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Federation, world-class players, LeBron James and Billie Jean King — he has inspired. How do you want to be remembered by your circle, whatever its size? Then live in a way that deserves it. Enjoy those flowers.

Reporter Grant Wahl, Who Died at the World Cup, Elevated Soccer in America

Journalist Grant Wahl (right) works in the FIFA Media Center before a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between Wales and USMNT at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on November 21, 2022 in Al Rayyan, Qatar. He had been detained earlier by stadium security for wearing a rainbow-colored t-shirt before later being allowed to enter the stadium.

Doug Zimmerman/ISI Photos—Getty Images



In 1998, when American soccer journalist Grant Wahl covered his first World Cup, at 24, for Sports Illustrated, soccer was seen as a sort of a JV beat at America’s most influential sports publication. While most young writers of his generation yearned to cover more established U.S. sports like baseball, basketball or football, Wahl— who died on early Saturday, while covering the World Cup in Qatar, at 49 years old, had fallen in love with the game. He foresaw a global beat he could own. And in the process, he helped elevate a game, cherished around the world but long dismissed in America, to once unimaginable heights in the States.

“For much of its history, Sports Illustrated, like most major media companies, had been pretty dismissive of soccer,” says former Sports Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Stone, now a deputy managing editor at the Los Angeles Times. “A lot of people ride the wave of a sport’s popularity. Grant really helped create a great deal of the popularity around soccer in this country.”Wahl’s untimely death in Qatar, where he was writing daily World Cup stories for his own subscription website on Substack, shocked the soccer world. Wahl collapsed in the press box during extra time of the Argentina-Netherlands match on Saturday, and died in a Qatar hospital. Wahl was working around-the-clock in Qatar and had been sick during his time there. “My body finally broke down on me,” he wrote on Dec. 5. “Three weeks of little sleep, high stress and lots of work can do that to you. What had been a cold over the last 10 days turned into something more severe on the night of the USA-Netherlands game, and I could feel my upper chest take on a new level of pressure and discomfort. I didn’t have Covid (I test regularly here), but I went into the medical clinic at the main media center today, and they said I probably have bronchitis. They gave me a course of antibiotics and some heavy-duty cough syrup, and I’m already feeling a bit better just a few hours later. But still: No bueno.”“I’m coughing a lot,” Wahl also said in a podcast before he died. “It sounds like a death rattle sometimes.”

Wahl said he caught up on some sleep during the two-day break between the Round of 16 and the quarterfinals.

Wahl aggressively covered the struggles of Qatar’s migrant workers. “They just don’t care,” read a Dec. 8 sub-headline on Wahl’s Substack website. “Qatari World Cup organizers don’t even hide their apathy over migrant worker deaths, including the most recent one.” Before the United States’ opening World Cup game against Wales on November 21, Wahl wrote that security staff detained him at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium for wearing a rainbow shirt, in support of the LGBTQ+ community. Homosexuality is criminalized in Qatar. He was eventually granted access to the game, and Wahl said FIFA apologized. He wore the shirt in media center.

Stunned reactions poured out worldwide. “We offer our deepest condolences to Grant’s family, friends and his many close colleagues in the media,” a spokesperson for Qatar’s The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy wrote in a statement. “We are in touch with the US Embassy and relevant local authorities to ensure the process of repatriating the body is in accordance with the family’s wishes.” FIFA noted Wahl had recently been honored, along with other journalists, for covering eight straight men’s World Cups. U.S. Soccer confirmed Wahl’s untimely passing. “Here in the United States, Grant’s passion for soccer and commitment to elevating its profile across our sporting landscape played a major role in helping to drive interest in and respect for our beautiful game,” U.S. Soccer said in a statement. “As important, Grant’s belief in the power of the game to advance human rights was, and will remain, an inspiration to all.” “I am so thankful for the support of my husband @GrantWahl‘s soccer family & of so many friends who’ve reached out tonight,” Wahl’s wife, noted epidemiologist Céline Gounder wrote on Twitter. “I’m in complete shock.”

‘Rural Church Mouse’

Wahl grew up in the Kansas City area, and attended Princeton University. For his senior thesis, he spent a summer in Argentina studying the political culture of soccer teams. Wahl excelled as a sportswriter at the Daily Princetonian, his preternatural talent clear to anyone reading his coverage of Princeton’s soccer and basketball teams. (I was one of those awed readers, as a student two years younger than Grant). “Long after Pete Carril leaves the coaching profession, last night’s scene here will remain imprinted in the national consciousness,” Wahl wrote, in his senior year, about Princeton basketball’s now-famous upset win over UCLA in the 1996 NCAA basketball tournament. Princeton was led by Carril, the school’s irascible, diminutive coach who passed away in August. “Here was Carril, college basketball’s rural church mouse, scurrying about in some postmodern, ethereal dome, outcoaching the 1995 Coach of the Year, UCLA’s Jim Harrick.”

After college, Wahl turned down an offer from the Miami Herald for a fact-checking job at Sports Illustrated. But he quickly rose through the writing ranks, and was assigned to his first World Cup just two years after college graduation. For many years, Wahl split his time between soccer and college basketball. In 2002, he even wrote SI’s first LeBron James cover, headlined “The Chosen One.” (James was a high school junior when the piece came out).“He was always pretty cool to be around,” James said on Friday night. “He spent a lot of time in my hometown of Akron covering me over the course of time before that cover story came out. And I’ve always kind of watched from a distance. Even when I moved up in the ranks and became a professional and he kind of went to a different sport and things of that nature over the years, anytime his name would come up I would always think back to me as a teenager and having Grant in our building down at [St. Vincent-St. Mary High School]. So, it’s a tragic loss. It’s unfortunate to lose someone as great as he was and I wish his family, like I said, the best. And may he rest in paradise.”

Covering The Beautiful Game

Around 2010, Wahl convinced Sports Illustrated’s editors to let him cover soccer full-time. “For Grant, there was something about the sport and the internationalism and the excitement of a rocket ship about to take off,” says his long-time Sports Illustrated colleague L. Jon Wertheim. “For Grant, when the game started, it was the least interesting time. It was everything surrounding it—the politics and the force of good and the corruption. It was this prism for humanity.”

He built an enviable following, of nearly 855,000, for example, on Twitter, covering the game from all angles. He wrote profiles and books about the stars, like David Beckham and Leo Messi, while also sharing with readers stories of being robbed at gunpoint in Honduras and running for president of FIFA. Besides writing cover stories for Sports Illustrated, he worked in television, for Fox Sports and more recently, CBS Sports. In 2020, Wahl and Sports Illustrated parted ways under less than amicable circumstances, but Wahl went out on his own, building his subscription website into a must-read for any halfway serious soccer fan.

It’s not a coincidence that, for example, while Wahl’s career took off, Americans could watch Saturday Premier League Games on NBC, or began to follow the U.S. women’s team with great intensity. As the most prominent soccer reporter in America, he sparked interest in the machinations of international club teams, and analyzed the women’s game with the same care he did on the men’s side.

“He always covered the game with a conscience,” Leeds United coach Jesse Marsch tells TIME, through tears, after hearing about Wahl’s death. Marsch met Wahl in the winter of 1994, while they were stuck in the Princeton infirmary, watching the Lillehammer Olympics together. Wahl covered Marsch throughout his career in Major League Soccer, and his coaching stops in the U.S. and overseas. “He tried to talk about the women’s game as much as he talked about the men,” says Marsch. “He talked about the important topics, like the fight for LGBTQ rights, up until his death. He was aware that it’s a global game and knew how important it is to treat it as such. He did it with a heart, he did it with integrity. He did it the right way.”Wahl always made time to give back, whether it was speaking to journalism classes, or mentoring young reporters looking to follow in his footsteps. He singlehandedly elevated American soccer reporting. Those who follow Wahl can only try to meet his standard. “The one thing you can never say about Grant, was that he didn’t care,” says one of Wahl’s mentees, ESPN soccer analyst Luis Miguel Echegaray, who worked with Wahl at Sports Illustrated. “He cared so deeply, not just about the sport, but what the sport can do to communities. And that’s so deep, because we live in a day and age where everybody’s just about clicks. He didn’t give a shit. And that to me is the most important thing. We will never have another Grant Wahl.”

USA passed and pressed like a modern club side. Will they have convinced the world?

John Muller Dec 6, 2022

“On day one,” Gregg Berhalter said before the World Cup, “when I got the guys together, I said, ‘We want to change the way the world views American soccer’.”As mission statements go, that sounded pretty ambitious. Can you imagine some congressman getting appointed to a term as Secretary of Transportation and being like, “We want to change the way the world views the American commute?”. Sure, dude, you’ll probably make some strategic investments in light rail or whatever, but we’re still going to drive lifted F-250s with truck nuts. It’s just who we are as a people.In Berhalter’s case, however, the moment seemed ripe. A restructured youth development system and booming Major League Soccer academies were turning out better American players younger than before, and European scouts were noticing. Throughout this World Cup cycle, Berhalter rarely fielded a line-up that couldn’t have qualified as an Olympic under-23s squad, but these kids were playing for Champions League heavyweights such as ChelseaJuventusBorussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.

So why shouldn’t the USMNT play like those clubs?

Turns out there were a lot of reasons why not, ranging from “Have you seen international football?”, to “A global pandemic locked down the world at unprecedented scale and it was kind of hard to train for a year there”. (Not ideal, from a coaching perspective. Lot of tactics talks on Zoom. Lot of learning to bake sourdough.)Along the way, Berhalter’s vision for how exactly the world ought to view American soccer started to get a little hard to pin down.At first, the mantra was “disorganise the opponent with the ball to create goal-scoring opportunities”, which apparently meant “be Manchester City, but against Curacao”.By year two, the emphasis shifted to “a dynamic three in midfield who can cover ground, press in a 4-3-3, aggressive”. Be Liverpool — who, coincidentally, had just won the Premier League — but against El Salvador.Last year, “verticality” was the buzzword du jour (Bayern Munich ought to be able to handle Honduras, right?) and Berhalter’s line-ups favored the kinds of players Jesse Marsch might have liked (and some he actually did recruit when he got the Leeds United job).The road to Qatar 2022 had some memorable highs (beating Mexico in a final that one time; beating Mexico in a final that other time) but also lows (any game against Canada). The identity thing never seemed totally sorted out. Inconsistent qualifying performances were understandable from a liquid line-up that could never get the team’s highly-breakable best players on the field all at once, but that made it hard to know what to expect come tournament time.In the end, it was deja vu all over again.At the 2010 World Cup, the United States advanced out of the group stage with a plus-one goal difference from one win and two draws, including a ballyhooed stalemate against England, and then lost in the round of 16. Sound familiar?In 2014, they advanced with four points, including a respectable draw with Portugal, but lost in the round of 16 again.

Kevin De Bruyne scoring Belgium’s opening goal against United States in the 2014 round of 16 (Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

This time around, for all the world-changing talk, the result was more of the same: five points, a draw with England, got out of the group, and you can guess how the round of 16 tie went.

So was the whole Berhalter project a disappointment, a diaphanous dream of some idealised football altogether too beautiful for a country that remains one hundred per cent sure LeBron James could be the world’s best attacking midfielder if he ever felt like it?

Actually, you know what, maybe not.

Results aside, this team really did look different than before. They played like they knew what they were about, and what they were about wasn’t the scrappy counter-attacking game that’s kept the USMNT punching above its weight for the last 20 years. Maybe, just maybe, American soccer had changed.

“What I see is a vision,” Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal said after prepping to face Berhalter’s team in that round of 16 game, and that’s coming from a guy who knows a thing or two about coaching. “What I see is a team that is keen to execute that vision, and that is of the utmost importance.”

But what exactly was that vision, in the end, and how is America supposed to measure progress?

Warning: weird data ahead

First, a word of caution.

Taking stock of a World Cup side using stats is always a tricky business. There are only a handful of games to go on, and this is a chaotic sport where even a full club season of 30-plus matches is barely enough to draw conclusions from data.


World Cup games are especially wacky, too. Opponent strength varies widely. The schedule is cramped. One team might be fighting for its life while the other lets its third string stretch their legs. Penalties and red cards up-end matches. Even in close games, the stakes are so high that a single goal can dramatically change how teams play, as this year’s USMNT repeatedly reminded us.

Each new edition of the World Cup brings new, potentially data-distorting innovations, such as draconian digital offside mannequins and footballs that need charging. And since we only get a snapshot every four years, it’s tough to compare stats across tournaments in a game that’s always evolving.

Phew, that’s a lot of caveats.

Despite it all, there’s something to be said for trying to stake out a little patch of objective ground truth in the world’s most mythologised, most argued-about and probably most misremembered sporting event. Data has its limitations, but so too — and please don’t tell him this, it’s not worth it — does that extremely loud man at the end of the bar.

So sure, whatever, let’s try it.

In search of the cold, hard facts of Berhalter’s new American soccer, the play-style that was supposed to change the world’s mind about whether my editors should let me get away with not typing “football” there, let’s see what did and didn’t show up in the numbers…


Surprise! The one stat everybody thought would be synonymous with Berhalter’s preferred style of play didn’t stand out at the World Cup. The United States ranked 13th out of the 32 teams with 53 per cent possession — which is, by definition, just a little above average.

That did make them a more ball-dominant side than their Jurgen Klinsmann-managed predecessors in 2014, who took only 43 per cent of the attacking touches in their games, but not that much more than Bob Bradley’s 2010 team, who had 49 per cent possession.If the new American footballing identity was just “We will have slightly more of the ball than the other team, whereas before we had ever so slightly less”, you could maybe forgive the world for not snapping to attention.

Long balls

They did at least try to play like a principled possession side. The Americans only launched a little over four per cent of their passes at least 30 yards forward, good for eighth-lowest at the World Cup so far in a category where the six outliers are the powerhouses everyone liked to win this thing.

This stat is noteworthy in part because the US spent a lot of the group stage defending a lead and didn’t trail for the first time until 10 minutes into the knockouts.Teams that aren’t confident in their passing might protect a lead by shipping it long distance and taking their chances on second balls. This team tried to play through pressure on the ground instead. It didn’t always work, but it was ambitious in a betting-on-yourself sort of way.It also marked a cultural shift. The United States ranked in the bottom half of the 2010 and 2014 World Cups for their frequent long balls. Hitting and hoping has always been a cherished part of the national identity, like scratch-off lotto tickets and fireworks-related trips to the emergency room. We’re a nation of ill-advised gamblers.Score this one for Berhalter winning hearts and minds.

Field tilt

The United States may not have had a ton of possession but they had it at the right end of the pitch. By field tilt — a name for one team’s share of both sides’ touches in the attacking third — they ranked eighth again, just below some heavy hitters.

Berhalter said after the 3-1 loss to the Netherlands that his team “were clearly on top, clearly dominating” early in the game, which triggered a million arguments about what it means to control a football match. As a simple proxy for what he may have had in mind, you could probably do worse than field tilt.It’s good to have the ball near your opponent’s goal. It’s bad for them to have it near yours. If you can maximise one and minimise the other, you’re in control.There’s more to football than that, sure, and the struggle between field position and control on one side and space and speed on the other is part of what keeps things fun. But it’s pretty clear which side of that argument wins more games.Spain ranked first at the 2010 World Cup for field tilt. Germany in 2014 ranked second. Even 2018 France, an unusually counter-attacking champion with a dysfunctional midfield and Kylian Mbappe doing zoomy-motorcycle noises up the wing, still came in 12th for their share of final-third touches. Sort any competition by field tilt and the best teams are almost always toward the top.Against World Cup competition, the US has always been squarely in the “space and speed” camp. Even a pretty good 2010 team ranked a little below average for field tilt at the World Cup, and Klinsmann’s 2014 version finished second to last, between Algeria and Iran.If the USMNT really does become a field-tilt side after 2022, that could change the way even America views American soccer.

Possessions reaching the final third

Berhalter’s World Cup 2022 team may not have been great at scoring goals (three in four games, and the expected goals numbers weren’t that much better) but they were very good at getting the ball close to goal. As of the day they went out, only three teams in the tournament had successfully taken a higher share of their possessions into the final third than the Americans’ 46 per cent.

That’s not a totally new thing for the program — the US’s 37 per cent final-third entry rate ranked 10th at the 2010 World Cup — but it’s a reassuring sign of life from this year’s attack, which couldn’t put it all together in front of goal.“When you look at the difference of the two teams, to me there was offensive quality, offensive finishing quality, that Holland had that we’re lacking,” Berhalter said after the round of 16 loss. As in: we did all the other stuff — don’t blame me. He may have had a point.

Cross entries

This team’s inability to turn final third possession into chances wasn’t just bad luck, though. It also had to do with the way they tried to create chances.More than just about any team at the World Cup, the Americans’ approach to putting the ball in the box looked like a Texas jewellery store: lots and lots of crosses.

Compared to the other stats on this list, a low cross entry share isn’t really that related to winning. Croatia, for example, made the final of the previous World Cup four years ago with the third-highest cross entry share in the tournament. But they also had Mario Mandzukic up top, whereas Berhalter tended to prefer strikers who were good with their feet but didn’t exactly strike terror into opposing centre-backs as target men.Relying on crosses is nothing new for the USMNT, but this year’s team turned those balls into the box into just over one expected goal per game, much less than in 2010 or 2014.


If it wasn’t generating chances, what was the point of that whole high-and-wide possession game? Well, it made the US pretty good at the other part of football: keeping the ball out of their own net.

In particular, they joined some elite company as the fifth-best team in Qatar at winning the ball back quickly after losing it in attacking areas.

When other World Cup coaches looked at the Americans, that front-foot defending was the first thing they saw.Van Gaal called them “energetic”. England’s Gareth Southgate praised them as “a very athletic team who are very well organised defensively”. Their counter-pressing when they lost the ball could make it hard for opponents to get out of their half.This was another big shift from 2010 and 2014, when the US were bottom half for their counter-pressing. This team has always been athletic and energetic, but that energy has never been this organised and concentrated on winning the ball back fast and high.

Changing the way the world views American soccer

You know that old Jurgen Klopp line about how a good counter-press is the best playmaker in the world? Yeah, well, obviously it didn’t work out like that for Berhalter’s anaemic attack, but the sentiment does sort of tie together the different parts of the United States’ tactical identity at this World Cup.They passed well enough to tilt the field toward the opponents’ goal. They overloaded wide areas and crossed a lot because they didn’t really have a central playmaker. They pressed loose balls in the middle to cut off counter-attacks, then hoped for a few bounces to go their way.That’s exactly how they produced their tournament’s what-might-have-been moment in the opening minutes against the Netherlands, when a Sergino Dest cross led to Weston McKennie winning a loose ball in the middle and a big chance fell at Christian Pulisic’s feet…

It’s true that, as Michael Cox writes elsewhere on The Athletic, the chances the Dutch had on Saturday “came from more deliberate play and more obvious combination football” compared to the American opportunities, which “tended to come from freak events”. But this whole sport is made out of freak events.The new American style, if that’s what we saw at this World Cup, is about trying to control the chaos everywhere else on the pitch so that accidents will happen where they’re more likely to help than hurt.Was it successful? That’s up for debate. Results were same old-same old, and expected goals (another fraught measure of success for all the reasons caveated earlier) still had the US middle of the pack…

…but something had definitely changed.This traditionally counter-attacking side played on the front foot for long stretches of all four of its games, including against a couple of major European powers. The United States passed and pressed like a modern club side, which helped them take full advantage of a new crop of kids playing at some of the best clubs in the world.You could see the new style literally taking shape, as Berhalter’s emphasis on building from the back gave the US a series of well-structured pass networks in its adjustable 4-3-3 that captured the new tactical identity…

And you could see the new American soccer in the numbers, as metrics like long ball share, field tilt, and counter-pressing rates captured a style that has a lot more in common with the best teams in the world than it used to. The results may not be there yet, but the signs are encouraging.“I think the American public should be optimistic,” Berhalter said after what may be his final game in charge of the national team. “I think when you look at the way that we want to play — and did play — it should be positive. Guys should gain confidence about the fact that we can play with anyone in the world the way we want to play.”We’ll see if they managed to convince the world of that, too.

How Argentina vs Netherlands descended into chaos – taunts, tantrums and tears

Craig ChisnallLuke Brown and more Dec 10, 2022

There was a game of football amid the mayhem of a World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and the Netherlands that had it all. If feisty is your thing, then this was the match for you.Seventeen yellow cards, two of them to coaches, a red card after the final whistle, an all-in melee, and somehow Argentina’s hero Emiliano Martinez avoided a caution of any kind. Whether he does get punished for his post-match comments about referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz remains to be seen.The actual football will be remembered for an assist for the ages from Lionel Messi and a brilliant Dutch comeback that was inspired by Wout Weghorst, the 6ft 6in (197cm) striker who flopped in the Premier League at relegation-bound Burnley last season.But you’ve not got this far to read about that…

The first flare-ups

A sign of things to come came two minutes before half-time when Lahoz booked four players, including Weghorst, at the time a substitute yet to enter the action, and Argentina assistant coach Walter Samuel, no stranger to a yellow in his days as a no-nonsense defender. Marcos Acuna’s booking for fouling Jurrien Timber will cost him a place in Tuesday’s semi-final against Croatia.

But that was only a precursor of things to come. Ten minutes into the second half, Messi was penalised for the most deliberate of handballs but somehow avoided a caution, something Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk was quick to query with Lahoz.

(Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert showed he wasn’t afraid to indulge in the trash talk as Messi prepared to take his second-half penalty.

Messi ignored that and doubled the lead but that only ramped up the tension — as team-mate Martinez, no stranger to gamesmanship, went on the offensive.

The Argentina goalkeeper claimed a cross under pressure from Luuk de Jong before he stood over the striker and baited him. Those histrionics would come back to bite him before the end of normal time.

Tensions spill over 

But it was the 89th minute when the simmering tensions really came to a boil.

Leandro Paredes was rightly booked for clattering Nathan Ake

…but he wasn’t done. He sprung to his feet and hammered the ball into the Dutch dugout from close range. The defender hit the ball so hard that both his feet were off the ground — fortunately for the Netherlands’ coaches and substitutes, his time-wasting clearance strikes an empty seat, rather than an opponent.

(Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Dutch bench personnel emptied onto the pitch in reaction and a melee broke out, with Paredes lucky not to receive a second yellow and Van Dijk a similar fate after body-checking him to the ground in the aftermath. Steven Bergwijn, who had already been substituted, was booked for his part in the incident.

The fouls kept coming and Argentina were punished in the 11th minute of added time as Weghorst levelled from Teun Koopmeiners’ clever free kick.Messi was booked for dissent, which would have meant a red card if he had not avoided punishment for that handball earlier, and the Argentina bench staff and players could not contain their anger at the final whistle. Angel Di Maria had to be held back from remonstrating with Lahoz while his manager Lionel Scaloni confronted the Spanish referee face to face.

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

(Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Penalty shootout chaos

A semblance of calm descended during the 30 minutes of extra time before the penalty shootout became a free for all — with Martinez again front and centre with his antics.He saved the first two Netherlands penalties, but they were a sideshow compared to his mind games.Having kept out Van Dijk’s opening spot kick to give Argentina an instant advantage, he walked towards the second Dutch taker, Steven Berghuis, before lobbing the ball off to the side to delay the Ajax midfielder.

martinez kicking ball away

He is told off by Lahoz, but not booked.

martinez getting told off

The goalkeeper then came out on top again by saving Berghuis’ shot to leave the Netherlands up against it. Spurred on by that and his side’s two successes from 12 yards, Martinez then tries to get in the head of Koopmeiners, who took the third Dutch penalty.

The 24-year-old ignores him and finally gets Louis van Gaal’s team on the board in the shootout but Martinez continues to push his luck when fourth taker Weghorst steps up with some delaying tactics by his left post.

martinez told off again

Again Mahoz speaks to him, but again there is no card for the Aston Villa man.

Clearly rattled, Denzel Dumfries attempts to get back at Argentina with some mind games of his own but is accosted by Di Maria.

final penalty

Yet despite all of Martinez’s mayhem, Lahoz now books Dumfries.

This all proves to be the warm-up act for what follows, Lautaro Martinez converting the winning penalty as the victors get in the faces of the Dutch and goad them.

(Photo: Stefan Matzke – sampics/Corbis via Getty Images)

And it is all too much for Dumfries, who is shown a second yellow in the ensuing chaos.

Even Messi could not help but become embroiled in it. Apparently irked by the Netherlands coaching staff, the Argentina captain has a clear disagreement with head coach Van Gaal and assistant Edgar Davids.

Messi and Davids clash

For those watching from home, it was easy to miss that, after scoring his second-half penalty, Messi celebrated with his team-mates before walking on his own to the dugouts’ side of the pitch.There, and in full view of the Netherlands coaching staff, he did this:

Messi’s second-half celebration (Photo: Getty Images)Messi’s second-half celebration (Photo: Getty Images)

Which doesn’t seem so inflammatory until you see it from the opposite angle…

The pose — with both hands held around his ears — bears a remarkable similarity to former Argentina forward Juan Roman Riquelme’s trademark goal celebration, a fact not lost on Argentine fans who quickly began speculating as to the reason why Messi had adopted it.

Riquelme celebrating a goal in 2002 (Photo: Getty Images)Riquelme celebrating a goal for Barcelona in 2002 (Photo: Getty Images)

Messi did not elaborate on the reasons why after the match. But Riquelme’s short-lived Barcelona spell was effectively ended by Van Gaal in his 2002-03 debut season, starting him only six times in La Liga before he was sent to Villarreal on a two-year loan the next summer following the signing of Brazil international Ronaldinho. Messi was a Barcelona youngster by then and will have seen how his countryman was treated. After Lautaro’s match-winning penalty, as Argentina players continued their celebrations and Dutch players began to peel themselves off the turf they had fallen to in dismay, Messi calmly walked in the direction of the Netherlands coaching staff.

Television cameras caught Messi making a beeline for Davids, while pointing towards the tunnel and moving his thumb and fingers together in a ‘talking’ motion. 

Messi confronted the Netherlands bench after the game (Photo: Getty Images)

Davids — another who was a Barcelona player in Messi’s youth-team days — then placed a hand on the Argentina captain’s back, as the three engaged in an apparently heated conversation. Di Maria then led his skipper away, towards the tunnel.

Messi later told Mexican television network DeporTV: “I was angry because a coach like Van Gaal is, with the experience he has… That he talks the way he spoke, that he lacks respect.  “It didn’t have to be like that, it didn’t make sense. I feel like he had disrespected the Argentine national team.”

Messi and Martinez take aim at FIFA

Not content with picking a fight with the Netherlands, Messi and Martinez next turned their attention to referee Lahoz.Messi was up first, interviewed on the pitch by FIFA. “It’s very frustrating, very frustrating. (The match) didn’t have to end that way,” he said.

“I do not want to talk about the referee, because you’ll (himself) be punished. You cannot be honest. You can’t say what you’re thinking. If you do, they’ll sanction you for a match.”Messi then proceeded to… say exactly what he thought about the referee anyway:

“We were scared before the game because we knew what this was. I think FIFA must think about it, they cannot put a referee like that for these important games, for such a pivotal game — a referee who isn’t up to the task.” Martinez went even further when he was interviewed by beIN Sports a few moments later. “The referee was giving everything to them. He gave 10 minutes (of second-half stoppage time) for no reason,” he said.

“He gave a free kick outside the box to them two or three times. He just wanted them to score, that’s basically it. So hopefully we don’t have that referee anymore, because he’s useless.” FIFA’s disciplinary code forbids players from calling the integrity of match officials into question.The Athletic has contacted FIFA for comment.

Messi’s media round continues

The next incident came when Messi was shepherded over to Argentine sports channel TyC Sports. The interview began but Messi cut short one question by becoming involved in another altercation.“What are you looking at, fool?,” he says to somebody behind the camera. “Go on that way, fool. Go away.”It’s unclear exactly who Messi was talking to. But given the numerous on and off-pitch incidents before, during and after the game, there is no shortage of contenders.

What the USMNT needs if they’re going to have a better showing at the 2026 World Cup

By Christopher Kamrani Dec 4, 2022

In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. men’s national team getting eliminated from this World Cup, one report for The Athletic phoned fans speckled all around the country — from Manhattan to Missoula — to hear about their match day experience. These USMNT fans exuded pride and belief that, going forward, this young core has the makings to achieve something the team has never done before, even in the minutes after the U.S. were bounced 3-1 by the Netherlands in the round of 16.But there was one frustrating topic each fan volunteered to discuss unprompted. It’s one that’s all too familiar to American fans: the striker position. These fans lamented the what-could’ve-been aspect of this team, had there been a formidable goal-scorer installed in the spine of this, at times, tantalizing and youthful group.But as USMNT fans painfully know: It’s so much easier said than done.Yes, it’s still very early on the heels of the World Cup exit, but it’s never too early to peek forward in time through the looking glass at 2026 when the tournament will be held in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. One could argue the USMNT has never been this stocked with top-end talent across the senior team pool, but that doesn’t negate the reality of serious gaps that must be addressed in this next cycle in order for the U.S. to be a more well-rounded team against the world’s powerhouses.Of course, it starts with the position tasked with scoring and setting up goals.

A dire search for a reliable striker

Immediate caveat here: Some of this may depend on who the manager of the USMNT is in this next cycle. If it’s Berhalter, we already understand how he wants to play by primarily attacking down the wings, with the luxury of talented wingers the U.S. have. If it’s not Berhalter, then we will have to wait and see.But if you watched the U.S. through four matches in Qatar, you saw an attack that often had an easy time building up in possession toward the attacking third and then stalling out quickly. The Americans quickly became an easy scout. They were going to stick to their strengths out wide and overlapping with their attack-minded fullbacks. There was never a serious threat through the middle of the field, though, and that often led to stale launches forward.In this post-Jozy Altidore existence, the U.S. have been on the prowl for a go-to No. 9 in whatever system managers have trotted out, and they have yet to find one. The experimental stages of Aron Johannsson to Gyasi Zardes were maddening, but perhaps most frustrating is that, in theory, there is a cluster of young forwards playing overseas who haven’t yet risen to establish themselves as the primary option.Haji Wright (24 years old, seven caps, two goals) had his Julian Green moment in the Netherlands match, but overall he had a tournament to forget. Josh Sargent (22, 23 caps, five goals) had bright moments, but most soccer purists would agree he isn’t the type of center forward option needed. At Norwich, Sargent has carved out a spot in a system that either starts two forwards up top or he plays out wide as a right winger. Jesus Ferreira (21, 16 caps, seven goals) was a Berhalter favorite in the qualifying process, but the false 9 approach rarely works out on a stage like the World Cup (unless you’re, say, Spain!).

Revisionist history exists for a reason, but one can’t help but wonder how this U.S. team would have fared having Ricardo Pepi (19, 12 caps, three goals) on the roster. Wright over Pepi was the most dissected Berhalter decision when the World Cup roster was revealed and, yes, Wright scored a goal in a knockout match against the Dutch, but ultimately there was just so much left to be desired from the position.In four matches, the U.S. scored three times. Not all of that is due to lack of a primary threat down the middle, but having one the opposition has to account for undoubtedly helps. The Americans need a target man to develop in the coming years. Hell, even an opportunistic poacher who is a consistent thorn in the side of opposing defenders would do. Will Jordan Pefok (26, nine caps, one goal) be in the mix during this next cycle? What about Daryl Dike (22, eight caps, two goals), who suffered a serious thigh injury in August that derailed his hopes of being part of the roster? Had he been healthy, Dike could’ve provided a fascinating alternative for Berhalter, considering his mix of size (6-foot-2) and speed to keep a backline honest.Beyond that? There isn’t much in the youth pipeline. The U.S. U-20s won the CONCACAF Championship in July playing without a true striker. Either Berhalter or the next manager will surely comb the globe for potential dual nationals, too.Arsenal forward Folarin Balogun (21) was born in New York City to Nigerian parents but raised in England and can represent any of the three national teams. Balogun has represented England’s the youth national teams at the U-18, U-20 and U-21 levels. Loaned to Ligue 1 club Reims in August, Balogun has scored eight goals and notched two assists in 15 appearances so far this season.Moving forward, the U.S. has to build depth at this position because it’s obvious fans no longer want to see Gio Reyna thrust into a false 9 role in the final 45 minutes of a win-or-go-home match. Whether that’s Berhalter’s task once again or someone else’s, it is the paramount necessity ahead of the next World Cup on home soil.

A new generation of (healthy!) center backs

Is it fair to be critical of a central defense that conceded four goals in four matches at a World Cup? It is, unfortunately, when three of them came in an elimination match in the round of 16. At 35, Tim Ream played in his first and likely only World Cup in Qatar and fared well serving as a veteran left-footed presence on a back line that was, like the rest of the starting lineup, very green. Walker Zimmerman (29) unwisely conceded the penalty to Wales in the opener and had a decent tournament, but isn’t the caliber of technical center back the U.S. needs moving forward.

Zimmerman became a staple under Berhalter during qualifying and served a vital role in a backline that routinely suffered injuries to other potential starters. Who is the ideal center back pairing, though?Presumably it’s Miles Robinson (25) and Chris Richards (22), both of whom missed this World Cup through injury. Cameron Carter-Vickers (24) started in the 1-0 win over Iran and was solid. He should be part of the conversation during this upcoming qualifying cycle.

Depth behind the indispensable MMA midfield

The “MMA” midfield of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah and Tyler Adams overall had a very strong tournament. The trio struggled against the Dutch and it was impossible to not notice the heavy legs the trident had early on in the match. You have to achieve the primary goal of advancing out of the group stage, though, and Group B of Wales, England and Iran wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as difficult as it could’ve been, either. Berhalter understandably kept the MMA midfield out there together as often as he could, but having reliable depth in the midfield could’ve helped keep the trio fresher ahead of the round of 16.As the most indispensable player of the tournament, Adams went the full 90 minutes in all four matches, but McKennie (233 minutes out of a possible 360) and Musah (345 minutes played out of a possible) were nowhere near as effective against the Dutch as they had been in group stage play. While more attack-minded in nature, could Brenden Aaronson have earned a start against either Wales, England or Iran to spell either McKennie or Musah? While this starting midfield combination proved to be as formidable as hoped, there isn’t enough depth waiting in the wings to sustain the team through a series of matches in a compact tournament format or a significant injury to one member of the main trio.

Kellyn AcostaLuca de la Torre and Cristian Roldan were taken as potentially supplemental players in case of emergency, but as we move into this next qualifying cycle, who else should emerge? Gianluca Busio, Paxton Pomykal and the younger Aarsonson, 19-year-old Paxten, who recently was transferred to Eintracht Frankfurt come to mind. The Berhalter regime has also been high on Johnny Cardoso, who at 21 is a regular for Internacional in Brazilian Serie A, but Cardoso has struggled in senior-team caps.But again, the true game-changer for the U.S. is finding a striker. Over the next three and a half years, someone has to emerge…right?

The origin of penalties – and the dreaded shootout

By Michael Walker Dec 8, 2022 37

Were FIFA, or anyone else, making a film this week on the delicious, delicate subject of penalty kicks, the opening could go something like this:

Scene 1 – Morocco versus Spain, 2022 World Cup; as Achraf Hakimi steps forward confidently to dink the most audacious of penalties beyond Unai Simon and win a dramatic, historic last-16 shootout watched by multimillions from Casablanca to Caracas, the camera pans to Sergio Busquets 50 yards away, hands on hips, trying to comprehend the magnitude of his miss before Hakimi’s hit. Around the two men is vibrant colour and incessant noise, global noise.



Scene 2 – Silence. A church in rural Ireland. It is Saint Mark’s, Armagh. A grave. A white iron fence surrounds a family plot. It belongs to the McCrums, of nearby Milford. In the middle is a replica black and white football, World Cup 1970 vintage, on a small plinth. More silence. Pause.

What connects these two very different scenes is the man who lies buried in this seldom-regarded corner of County Armagh. His name was William McCrum and he invented the penalty kick.

McCrum grew up two miles away, down the Monaghan Road, where today the entrance to the village declares you are now in, ‘Milford: Home of the Penalty Kick.’

It feels a long way from Doha — from a World Cup, from Antonin Panenka, Roberto Baggio and all the penalty kicks that have ever been taken in the game — but this is where it began, between the ears of a young man dismayed at the lawlessness of early amateur and professional football.

William McCrum saw this first-hand, because he was a player. He was under-protected in a sport emerging from the physicality of rugby. He felt this sharply because he played in goal.

Yes, the penalty kick was the creation of a goalkeeper.

Who was William McCrum, and how did he come to change the nature of the most popular sport in the world?

McCrum was born in 1865 into a wealthy family whose fortune came from the linen industry. The McCrums built Milford — a model, redbrick village — for their workforce to live in. William, a keen sportsman and theatre-lover, left to attend university in Dublin and when he returned he joined Milford FC, founded in 1885.

Football, or soccer, was an embryonic sport then — the Irish League, which Milford would play in, was not yet formed. McCrum’s club were small but ambitious and were accepted into the league in its inaugural season, 1890-91. Centred on Belfast, the Irish League is the second-oldest national league in the world behind only England’s.



To McCrum’s dismay, Milford struggled. They played 14 games, and they lost 14 games; in those games, they conceded 62 goals (over four per match on average). These statistics were one source of frustration for the 25-year-old, another was the general roughness and inadequate protection given to players, particularly he and his fellow goalkeepers.

Concerned about these sporting crimes, McCrum took his thoughts of how they might be punished via some sort of ‘penalty’ to the Irish Football Association (IFA). He had seen enough with his own eyes with Milford but will have also heard tales of brutality over in England — in Leicester, a player died following a deliberately violent challenge. The perpetrator was charged with manslaughter.

As he was involved in local amateur dramatics in Armagh, McCrum may also have recognized the theatre his invention could bring to the game.

In Jack Reid, general secretary of the IFA, McCrum found an ally.

Reid was a player as well as a key administrator — he was a centre-forward for Belfast club Cliftonville. Crucially, Reid’s position at the IFA gave him a seat on the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the administrative group which still oversees the Laws of the Game.

In 1890, Reid took McCrum’s idea to the IFAB annual meeting in London.

It was not well-received.

There were worries about the game’s flow and lines on the pitch. ‘Gridiron’ said one, others called it ‘the death penalty’, while CB Fry, perhaps the most prominent sportsman of the era being captain of England at cricket and of the famed Corinthians FC, lamented loudly the perception that players would foul one another intentionally. “A standing insult to sportsmen,” he called it.

Thus McCrum’s proposal was rejected, labelled sarcastically as ‘the Irishman’s Motion’.



McCrum and Reid still believed in it, though, and some months later, Stoke City and Notts County met in an FA Cup quarter-final in Nottingham. County led 1-0 when Stoke had a shot cleared off the line by a player’s hand. The score should have been 1-1 but instead an indirect free kick was awarded, as was the ruling then. County massed their players on the line and the free kick was blocked. County went on to win 1-0 — they were jubilant, but the injustice was obvious to all.

Consequently, a year on from the previous IFAB annual meeting, the Irishman’s Motion was again placed on the table.

This meeting was in the Alexandra Hotel on Bath Street in the Scottish city of Glasgow. McCrum’s idea was given a more understanding hearing this time and his motion was passed.

‘The Penalty Kick’ became Law 14 of the sport.

So it remains.

There have been amendments — on its 1891 introduction, a line was drawn 12 yards from goal across the whole width of the pitch, the penalty taker could place the ball anywhere on this line and either dribble it or shoot. The goalkeeper was allowed to advance six yards off the goal line.

That lasted until 1902, when the ‘penalty spot’ was brought in. At the same time, the rectangular 18-yard line box we know today replaced the 12-yard line.

Three years later, goalkeepers were instructed not to move from their line.

In 1930, Manuel Rosas became the first to score a penalty kick at a World Cup — for Mexico against Argentina. McCrum had changed the geometry and language of sport.

The concept of a shootout — five penalties for each team and continuing ‘sudden death’ thereafter — came later. It was used in some minor tournaments and domestic cups in the 1950s and 1960s and gained credibility at senior level after the 1968 European Championship semi-final between Italy and the old Soviet Union.



That game ended 0-0 after extra time and the two teams then tossed a coin. Italy guessed right, and went on to win the competition.

There was a lack of sporting justice.

IFAB subsequently adopted the shootout proposal, in 1970, after the World Cup in Brazil. In England that year, the pre-season tournament known as the Watney Cup introduced the new system. Manchester United won the first shootout and George Best, McCrum’s compatriot, scored the first shootout penalty.

In 1976, the first major tournament to be decided on penalties was the European Championship. West Germany faced Czechoslovakia in Belgrade and the Czechs won with Panenka scoring their fifth kick with that unforgettable and much-copied chip over Sepp Maier.

That type of penalty became known as a ‘Panenka’. Hakimi would probably agree it is arguably the greatest ever taken.

Six years later, West Germany were also involved in the first shootout at a World Cup — the semi-final against France in Seville — and 1994’s final was the first in World Cup history to be decided by penalties after extra time. Against Brazil, Roberto Baggio struck Italy’s fifth shootout kick over the bar in California’s Pasadena Rose Bowl and would later say: “It affected me for years. I still dream about it.”

In Baggio’s defence, there were nine penalties taken in that climax and four of them were either missed or saved.

As has been seen this week in Doha, it gets no easier.

As for William McCrum, he went into the family business only to squander its fortune gambling in Monte Carlo. He died back in Milford, penniless, in 1932, was buried in Saint Mark’s graveyard and as his invention grew in sporting significance, faded from memory.

In 1997, the green space at Milford where McCrum had first kicked a ball was threatened with a new housing development; locals fought against it and today a bust of McCrum sits there instead. The grave at Saint Mark’s has been restored and the literary editor of British Sunday newspaper The Observer, one Robert McCrum, has added to the increasing recognition.



This McCrum discovered that William had been his great-grandfather and wrote:

“The penalty kick… is the kind of penalty that only a goalkeeper could have invented, a supreme moment of drama and self-sacrifice that places the goalkeeper, generally a bystander, at the centre of the stage. Yes, it stacks the odds against the goalie, but it does make him, heroically, even tragically, the star of the show.”

Morocco’s Yassine Bounou now knows the supreme moment, the noise. It contrasts with what Chris Waddle said after missing the final penalty in the World Cup semi-final shootout for England against the Germans in 1990: “I felt I was stepping off the edge of the world into silence.”

William McCrum came with a solution and delivered a drama. Noise and silence; elation and despair.

He left his mark. It’s there, 12 yards out, on every football pitch on the planet.

12/6/22  US loses to Netherlands, Semis Fri/Sat 10&2 on Fox, England v France Sat 10 Fox, Great WC Saves, Carmel FC GK Coach in NC Game

Grant Walh US Soccer and Renowned Soccer Writer Dies At World Cup

Hugely sad news that US Soccer Writer Grant Wahl, the pre-emminent soccer writer in the United States has died at the World Cup.  Evidently he developed a horrible chest cold while covering the World Cup 24/7 and died in the press room at the Argentina vs Netherlands game of cardiac arrest.  Devestating news – I have followed him for over 20 years at Sports Illustrated, Fox and CBS and included at least 1 story of his per week in this blog from his private blog https://grantwahl.substack.com.  Here’s Fox’s Rob Stone and his eloquent announcement on Fox Coverage this AM.  RIP Grant Wahl and Best wishes to your wife CBS and CNN contributor and Epidemiologist Dr Celine GounderQuestions regarding his sudden death will no doubt continue, he wrote scathing stories about Qatar and their treatment of migrant workers.

World Cup News  The Bracket

So the US is out – but man this World Cup is still hugely exciting!!  Brazil just makes me happy – wow the Brazilian Samba dances are just fun !!   Here’s Brazilian Coach Tite dancing here is one of the most spectacular goals ever by Richarlison of Tottenham.  I agree with Alexi Lalas Dancing YES.  Here are the full highlights. Croatia v Japan went to shootout.  France on a roll highlights.  Tons of stories below – on each of the Final 8 in the Quarterfinals. Keep on scrolling to find your team.

The World Cup commercials are out – which ones do you like best?  Nike  Addidas  check them all out hereIts Called Soccer – Classic Commercial   

USA loses to Netherlands 3-1

The US just didn’t have the firepower to hang with the Netherlands –disappointing to me that the very thing that got us to the knockout stage – our defense – is what let us down.  Our Captain Tyler Adams stayed on the grass for a good 15 minutes postgame with his head in his hands.  He knew his not tracking back on the first goal is what gave the Dutch the lead.  Tyler Adams who covered more ground than any player in this World Cup from his Dmid spot had relaxed on 1 play and it cost us dearly.  The 2nd goal was Dest being lazy – we know he’s not the best defender – and the 3rd just a boneheaded misplay by Robinson who had really gotten banged up a few minutes before.  

Think about this would anyone on the US team start for the Netherlands?  NO!!  The Dutch have no fewer than 5 players worth close to 100 million Van Dyke, Mephis, DeJong  – and 5 more worth more than 50M – we have 1 in Pulisic who might be worth 40M. We are young, talented but inexperienced.

I laugh at the folks calling our Manager Gregg Berhalter the complete reason we lost.  Do I disagree with some of his man decisions? Yes. I would never have even brought Jesus Ferraira on the plane – but Portugal brought their 21 year old home league playing star Ramos and started him over the legendary Renaldo then scored a hat trick.  Sometimes it works – sometimes not.  I did love his 2nd half move of Weah to the #9 and Reyna on the right (finally) – Reyna served no fewer than 5 balls that could have resulted in a score.  The bottom line is the US outpossessed and outshot the Dutch, and had twice as many corners – we just couldn’t finish.  What’s new – we have ZERO #9s in this country.  But Berhalter has us playing on the front foot, taking possession and controlling the tempo. We used to bunker – a la Iran last 30 minutes and pray for a Landon Donovan 2 v 1 counter or head ball goal on a Corner. That was it. That’s all the US scored in World Cups EVER.  At least now we are trying to possess and control the game.  This is partially because we have better young players playing at top clubs in Europe and partially because Berhalter has forced us to change our style of play.  I am ok with that.  Honestly this World Cup was about preparing our young stars for 2026 at home.  Now we have to hope the Olympics (we should be sending our A team U-23s) and the Copa America 2024 can help prepare us.  Should Berhalter be the guy to carry us there?  Not sure – But I would re-sign him hoping he carries us thru 2024 COPA then re-evaluate.  We’ll see what Berhalter and US Soccer decide though.  In the meantime – Bravo Boys !!  We got back to the World Cup we got thru the toughest Group Stage, we outplayed England – mission accomplished  – Overall Grade B-

US vs Iran highlights   US vs England Highlights US Highlight vs Netherlands 5 min    Matt Turner Double save vs Dutch 

stories 26 players going to Qatar its awesome See tons of Great World Cup Saves and Interesting Ref Decisions below.

Heartbreak City for Carmel FC GK Coach Noelle Rolfsen  and the Marian University Lady Knights in Indianapolis who got to the National Championship game in Alabama before losing a 1-0 game to Spring Arbor Monday night.  Still a Fantastic season for our favorite College Goalkeeper- GK Coach Noelle and the National Semi-Finalist Marian U. Knights!

IU’s 22nd College Cup – Fri 8:30 pm on ESPNU

Huge Congrats to CFC Director Juergen Sommer’s Alma Mater Indiana University as they have advanced to their 22nd Final 4 of Soccer they play Friday night vs Pittsburgh in Cary, NC at 8:30 pm on ESPNU. The Bracket

CARMEL FC GOALKEEPERS : Wednesday Night Trainings Dec-Mar – Badger Indoor Fieldhouse 5:30 pm U12//6:30 pm U13-U15//8:30 pm HS U15+. 

Not sure what other clubs have – but Carmel FC has former US Men’s National Team World Cup GK & Coach and first American GK in the EPL Juergen Sommer coaching the high school age, Hall of Fame Canadian World Cup GK Carla Baker coaching the U15s and myself coaching the U12s this winter. 


Fri, Dec 9                             Quarter Finals Final 8–                  

10 am Fox                            Netherlands vs Argentina (Messi)

2 pm Fox                              Brazil vs Croatia

6 pm ESPNU                      #3 Syracuse vs Creighton Final 4 Men

8:30 pm  ESPNU               #12 Indiana U vs Pittsburgh Final 4                               

Sat Dec 10                           Quarter Finals Final 8–                  

10 am Fox                            Portugal (Renaldo) vs Morocco

2 pm Fox                              England vs France (Mbappe)

Mon,  Dec 12                      NCAA Mens Final

6 pm ESPNU                       IU/Pitt vs Syr/Creight

Tues Dec 13                        Semis – Final 4                  

2 pm  Fox

Wed Dec 14                        Semis – Final 4                  

2 pm  Fox

Sat, Dec 17                          third Place                         

10 am  Fox

Sun, Dec 18                         FINALS                 

10 am  Fox

World Cup Schedule

Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw

CARMEL FC PLAYERS : Winter Players League (WPL) – Badger Indoor Fieldhouse
As the fall season comes to a close over the next month, we wanted to let you know that we will be launching an indoor soccer league over two six week sessions within our new Badger Fieldhouse. Games will be played on either Friday night ( 6pm to 10pm) or Sunday afternoon (1pm-5pm) depending on age groups: U8s, U9&U10, U11&U12, U13-U15 and U16+ (Coed Teams allowed). Referees for each game, 50 minute games, 5v5, 7v7 and 9v9 matches.
Session One (6 weeks): Jan 6th, 13th, 20th, 27th / Feb: 3rd, 10th
Session Two (6 weeks): Feb 17th, 24th / Mar 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th
Gather teammates and be ready to play!

US Men

USMNT’s World Cup run ends in Round of 16  By Donald Wine II

2022 World Cup: USA 1-3 Netherlands – Faulty defending and missed chances eliminate the Americans  By Parker Cleveland

USA vs. Netherlands, 2022 FIFA World Cup: Community player ratings
USMNT finally looks its age in World Cup loss to the Netherlands | Opinion

Same Results – Different Outlook for USMNT – Henry Bushnell Yahoo Soccer

Two big questions swirling around Berhalte

Analysis: The USMNT bows out of Qatar with 3-1 loss to the Netherlands

USMNT left pondering missed World Cup opportunity: “It’s going to hurt for a while”

USMNT can’t solve Netherlands’ tactical wrinkle in Word Cup elimination

USMNT may “lose some sleep” over World Cup elimination to Netherlands

USA Player Ratings: What follows the World Cup exit vs. Netherlands?

Three takeaways as USA suffer World Cup exit against Netherlands

USA heartbreak in Qatar: World Cup run ends against Netherlands

Video – Where does the US go from here?  MLS.com
What did the US lack most at the World Cup? Football intelligence

USA’s World Cup report card: best and worst players, plus predictions for 2026

USA bid farewell to Qatar. Now thoughts turn to a home challenge in 2026

American soccer success in men’s World Cup remains a dream

Where is the next FIFA World Cup? The 2026 tournament is coming to a city near you.



France scouting report: How England can stop Les Bleus and reach another World Cup semi-final

Foden, Kane shine as England handles Senegal to set up France meeting

Morocco to ‘come out swinging’ against Spain at World Cup

England’s Bellingham ‘has everything’ but now comes biggest test yet

Sterling leaves England World Cup camp after home break-in

Record-breaking Giroud brings goals to France’s repeat World Cup bid

World Cup is my obsession says Mbappe after firing France into quarter-finals

Mbappé is bringing soccer to a new dimension at World Cup

Believe the hype, Bellingham is lighting up the World Cup

Lewandowski exit with Poland looks like World Cup farewell

Pelé’s family: COVID caused infection, death not imminent

World Cup without booze makes for ‘different’ atmosphere


Great Saves Croatian GK Dominik Livakovic

Morroco Keeper Bono PK Saves vs Spain

Matt Turner Double save vs Dutch

Life of A Keeper – France’s Loris Bobbles

Great Saves Loris – France

Top Saves Round 3 World Cup  

Best World Cup Saves Round 2

Best World Cup Saves Round 1

US Goalkeeper Sean Johnson Story

US Goalkeeper Matt Turner 

The Matt Turner Story


What is offside in soccer? Explaining the rule so you’re prepared to watch the 2022 World Cup.

‘A little taste of Sunday league’: France’s Jules Kounde has to remove necklace during Poland match

Who says Reffing is not fun in the Winter – indoors at Grand Park College Showcase with Mohammed, Blake and the Ole Ballcoach (L -R). 12/4/22


It was cold outside this past weekend at the Boys College Showcase at Grand Park with Aaron, Munib and Shane Best Reffing.

Julianne Sitch 1st woman to coach men’s soccer to NCAA title

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Same old result, different outlook for USMNT after World Cup exit: ‘We can be giants eventually’


Henry Bushnell Sat, December 3, 2022 at 8:34 PM

DOHA, Qatar — Frustration crippled Tyler Adams in the first few minutes of the next four years. It knocked him down to a knee here at the Khalifa International Stadium, shortly after a final whistle had foiled his World Cup dreams. It forced him into a crouch as the Netherlands huddled and celebrated a 3-1 victory over his United States. It eventually pulled him all the way to the grass.But as he sat there, head bowed, amid somber stares and heartfelt condolences, his mind steered toward the future, and his mood shifted.“It’s probably the first time in a long time where people will say, ‘Wow, this team has something special,’” Adams thought, and later said of the U.S. men’s national team and public perceptions of it. “Potential is just potential, but we could see that, if we maximize it in the right way, it can be something good.”He was speaking, though, after a familiar World Cup result brought on by familiar failings, a Round of 16 exit, the same as 2014 and 2010 and, heck, 1994. So I asked Adams: Why is this different?

“Uh, I mean, I think you could probably make that assessment for yourself,” he said. And he was right.“With the players that are on our team compared to past teams — I wasn’t on 2010 team, I wasn’t on 2014 team, so I can’t sit here and judge the potential of those teams,” he continued. “But, I mean, being the second youngest team in the World Cup and getting the same result, it speaks for itself.”Their four starting lineups, in fact, have been the four youngest of any at this World Cup. They were full of still-rising stars who’ve already risen beyond many of their USMNT predecessors. Adams, perhaps out of respect for those predecessors, wouldn’t quite say that his team had more talent than theirs. But it clearly does.Its current talent, though, is not the sole reason for unprecedented optimism. Talent, as a vast majority of soccer-playing nations can attest, tends to arrive at senior level in fits and starts, via random ebbs and flows.The hope within American soccer, however, is that this generation is not just a golden one primed to shine on home soil in 2026; it’s the beginning of a carefully crafted trend, and a sign of even better generations to come.

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Round of 16 - Netherlands v United States - Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar - December 3, 2022 United States players applaud fans after the match as United States are eliminated from the World Cup REUTERS/Annegret Hilse


United States players applaud fans after the match as United States are eliminated from the World Cup. (REUTERS/Annegret Hilse)

USMNT still a work in progress

The seeds of change, and of the 2022 USMNT, were planted back in the mid-2000s, when the men who run American soccer essentially realized that their youth development model was, as former U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati told Yahoo Sports, “completely flipped.”It was backward. Kids were playing more than training, effectively taking more tests than classes. In a way, longtime FC Dallas academy director Chris Hayden told Yahoo Sports, “we were sort of developing players by accident.”

So in 2007, as Major League Soccer upped its investment in youth programs, U.S. Soccer launched its controversial Development Academy. The DA, as it became known, was a nationwide league that pitted America’s best teenage boys against one another weekly. It also mandated three, then four training sessions per week. It sputtered early, and ruffled feathers, and outright enraged some youth soccer directors around the country. But it reformed a “broken” system and, especially as it expanded last decade, it began to produce.It helped produce 17 of the 26 players on this year’s World Cup roster, including Adams, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson. U.S. Soccer shuttered it in 2020, but by then, MLS was ready to assume control of the boys soccer pyramid. The pro league’s 29 clubs now invest over $100 million annually in homegrown player development. They maintain reserve teams, which bridge the gap from youth to pro, and provide for their first teams — and also, by extension, for the U.S. men’s national team.They increasingly attract European scouts and send teens off to top European clubs. There are flaws, of course, many flaws, but “the quality of the [American] players increased significantly over the last five or 10 years,” Bayern Munich academy chief Jochen Sauer told Yahoo Sports in 2018. Many believe that it has continued to increase since, and that the country’s developmental systems are “just scratching the surface.”By extension, so is the USMNT. Its 2022 World Cup ended on par with expectations, but several people interviewed for a pre-tournament story on youth development cautioned against obsessing over four games. The better evidence, many believed, would emerge four years from now and beyond.“We will see the final result in five to 10 years,” another Bayern youth coach, Sebastian Dremmler, said. “[In 2026], you will have a very strong national team.”

Weston McKennie (far right) consoles midfielder Tyler Adams (4) after the United States lost to Netherlands in the World Cup Round of 16 at Khalifa International Stadium on Dec. 3, 2022 in Al Rayyan, Qatar. (Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports)


Weston McKennie (far right) consoles midfielder Tyler Adams (4) after the United States lost to Netherlands in the World Cup Round of 16 at Khalifa International Stadium on Dec. 3, 2022 in Al Rayyan, Qatar. (Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports)

‘The American public should be optimistic’

The 2026 World Cup felt a long way off as gloomy faces marched out of the Khalifa on Saturday night. Reyna declined interviews. Pulisic’s voice was weak and pained. Tim Ream welled with emotion as he realized that he, unlike many teammates, at age 35, likely wouldn’t get another shot on this stage.But underneath the gloomy faces was perspective.“The future’s bright,” Ream said selflessly. “I mean, this core group — and when I say core group, I mean, it’s guys who are 22, 23, 24 years old who are not even hitting their prime yet — the potential is just huge going into this next cycle. The program’s in good hands with these guys. Good characters. Good players. Good people. … I’m excited for what they’re gonna be able to do on the world stage.”DeAndre Yedlin, the one holdover from the 2014 squad, was asked whether this felt like a step forward or a step sideways, and said: “I think it’s a step forward.”Matt Turner said, unprompted: “There’s a tremendous potential, and if you don’t see that” — well, he doesn’t know what to tell you. “We played England, we played Netherlands, and we gave both teams really hard, hard times.”And perhaps most importantly, they did so proactively rather than reactively. They wanted the ball. When opponents won it, they wanted it back. They sparred physically and tactically with England. They made a top 10 team in the world, the Netherlands, essentially decide that its best hope to beat the U.S. was to concede possession and counter.“They should gain confidence about the fact that we can play with anyone in the world the way we wanna play,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “That’s the important thing.”It does not mean the USMNT has reached Dutch or English levels. There remains a gap in quality that revealed itself on Saturday night in decisive moments.But quality will rise with experience and age. The youth system should provide more of it.“To be fielding the youngest lineups in the World Cup four times in a row, and still be able to play the way we are — the American public should be optimistic,” Berhalter said.He and his players had, as a collective, set out four years ago to “change the way the world views American soccer,” as McKennie reiterated Saturday night. “I think we accomplished a piece of that in this World Cup,” McKennie said. Berhalter felt they “partially achieved” it.But the holy grail has always been changing the way America views American men’s soccer. They will do that almost solely by winning. And here in Qatar, although they only won once, they showed that they will, someday, surely, win plenty more.“I think this tournament has really restored a lot of belief, restored a lot of respect to U.S. Soccer, and to soccer in our country,” McKennie said. “I think we’ve shown that we can be giants eventually. We may not be there yet, but I think we’re definitely on our way.”

USMNT’s World Cup exit prompts one final report card for Gregg Berhalter

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 03: Gregg Berhalter, Head Coach of United States, reacts after the team's defeat during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Netherlands and USA at Khalifa International Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

By Jeff RueterDec 3, 2022212


It wasn’t a pop quiz, but the United States’ 3-1 defeat against the Netherlands in the round of 16 served as Gregg Berhalter’s final exam for this cycle.

So often, analyzing a match requires highlighting the heroes on the pitch and putting player performances under the microscope. With Paul Tenorio and Sam Stejskal expertly handling that angle from Qatar, we’re going to take a different approach and focus on the man on the touchline.



After earning a C-grade in his World Cup coaching debut against Wales, a B+ against England and a sub-skewed B against Iran in the group stage, let’s take a look at the decisions Gregg Berhalter made against the Dutch and the whole of his team’s 360 minutes of action.


Line-up/initial tactics

First impression against Holland: As has been the case for nearly all three games following the Wales draw, Berhalter only really had two lineup decisions to make. At center back, he reinstated Walker Zimmerman after a capable shift from Cameron Carter-Vickers against Iran. Zimmerman represents a slightly more mobile alternative to Carter-Vickers, which is necessary given the pace of Cody Gakpo and Memphis Depay on the break.Less-convincing was the decision to give Jesús Ferreira his World Cup debut. The FC Dallas striker looked like the first-choice option up top for nearly all of 2022 before Josh Sargent cut ahead of him for pole position and the start against Wales. Once Haji Wright checked in for the Norwich striker on that day and then started against England, it was clear that the pressure which plagued Ferreira throughout the MLS postseason was as worrying to Berhalter as it had been to scores of U.S. fans. To see him leading the line in a knockout match without a minute to his name in the group stage didn’t instill much confidence.Lasting impression: It got overlooked for the most part, but Zimmerman deserves an immense amount of credit for shaking off his gaffe against Wales and returning to his dependable self for the ensuing three matches. He and Ream did well to keep the Dutch from threatening in the air. Unfortunately, the duo was often forced to make decisions in numerical disadvantages as Holland was on the break. While we can appreciate his intention with the late bicycle kick as the U.S. was 3-1 down, it’ll ultimately serve as no more than a meme-worthy sendoff for this U.S. side.Regardless, Zimmerman’s inclusion wasn’t nearly as much of an issue as Ferreira’s one and only World Cup involvement. In the first ten minutes, he gave glimpses of why he was on the roster as he pulled Virgil Van Dijk all the way into the center of the field to create pockets of space for Christian Pulisic and Timothy Weah. Unfortunately, the Liverpool defender caught on by the time Depay opened the scoring, and the gambit never resurfaced after the U.S. restarted play.From there, Ferreira looked like a player whose confidence had been shattered. One has to hope he can bounce back in the 2023 season; however, few players on this team have seen their stock plummet as mightily over the past three months. Hindsight is 20/20, but Haji Wright may have been a wiser choice to start simply due to the fact that he had already played between Pulisic and Weah.As a whole, this match was the first time in which it appeared that Berhalter’s approach was overshadowed by his opposite number. Unlike Rob Page, Gareth Southgate and Carlos Quieroz, Louis van Gaal entered with a game plan which dictated the flow of the game. No matter how the U.S. tried to add width, Holland wrestled the game back into the central channel of the field to play into their numerical advantage. When the U.S. sent Antonee Robinson and Sergiño Dest further up to add options further out, the Dutch (and Denzel Dumfries in particular) were enabled to exploit the open areas.That, coupled with the Netherlands’ confidence in allowing the ball to funnel towards Ferreira in the box, kept the U.S. from fully getting under their skin even as they made final third entry after final third entry. While individuals like Pulisic and Yunus Musah can take some solace from their performances, this is not the type of game where you want to be focusing on individual performances over the collective.Just look at Tyler Adams, whose only glaring mistake of the tournament — taking a brisk jog behind Depay as he entered the box unmarked to open scoring — ended up flipping the entire gameplan on its head.The initial gameplan wasn’t wrong, per se; the Netherlands were just the team which studied the tape closest and found ways to exploit individual matchups.

Grade: C-


Tactical tweaks/half-time adjustments

First impression: We’ll count the halftime inclusion of Giovanni Reyna here, as his introduction in place of Ferreira represented more of a tactical tweak than a like-for-like substitution. Unfortunately, what Reyna does best (breaking lines either on the dribble or with a pass to create chances) wasn’t what the U.S. was struggling to achieve.



Lasting impression: In the group stage, Berhalter often took a conservative approach to adjusting his gameplan at the break. It was for understandable reasons, as the U.S. never trailed at any point in their first three matches. If the game had stayed 1-0 after stoppage time, it may have even been understandable to just emphasize areas to improve with such a young side rather than knocking them sideways with a last-ditch overhaul.

Once Daley Blind doubled the lead with the first half’s final kick, however, something more drastic was necessary. The thing is: if a team’s kitchen sink approach can’t change the tide, what does that say about either the personnel called in or the manager’s ability to necessarily deviate from Plan A? Van Gaal dared the U.S. to bring its lines of engagement further up the pitch, recognizing the young opponent’s desire to strike on the break, and also recognizing that few nations have as good and deep of a defensive pool as the Netherlands. If the U.S. forced a turnover with their press, Holland was comfortably set up to keep threats at bay. When the U.S. failed to take the ball, they were caught out of shape and with ample room for Gakpo, Depay and Steven Bergwijn to operate.

The Dutch were conceding ample space in the wide areas of the middle third of the pitch, a space which the U.S. dominated against England. It was by design, again a credit to Van Gaal, as a way to create more room for Dumfries on the break — and it worked. The U.S. sprung the Netherlands’ trap and were left hanging upside down by their feet for most of the last 80 minutes and stoppage.

So did Berhalter miss a chance to flip the game on its head? Few managers have achieved as much as Van Gaal, and even he tempered expectations of an international coach’s inclination to deviate from their team’s base ideology.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” Van Gaal said when asked if he expected future World Cup opposition to tailor their tactics more specifically to Holland. “I would assume that the stronger the country is, the less they’ll adjust to the system. The USA didn’t adjust. We based our tactical plan to that, and that allowed us to win. We don’t expect FranceArgentina, or Spain to adjust to us.”

Reyna mostly did Reyna things, creating a couple of chances (0.16 expected assists) while sending a couple of speculative shots. It still confounds me that Berhalter wouldn’t at least try Weah centrally, instead having Reyna and Pulisic alternate faux-line-leading responsibilities. As usual, chance creation and entering the final third was not the issue for the U.S. today. It was finishing its chances and not allowing the defense to be caught unawares due to individual mistakes.

Even if Van Gaal agrees that Berhalter didn’t need a different approach to his usual initial gameplan, there were a couple of potential ways out of the early hole which the U.S. dug.

Grade: D+



First impression: Bringing Reyna on for the full second half was the right call, as it was pretty clear to all watching that Ferreira wasn’t going to work back into the game. I would’ve liked to see Wright (as a necessary formation-settler since the team had no option at the heart of the attack) and Aaronson (to exploit the tiring Dutch defense and wreak havoc in transition) before the 67th minute, but both are equipped to fill the roles being asked of them today. DeAndre Yedlin and Jordan Morris make sense for their responsibilities, but both full backs seemed ready to tap out well before the 75th and 92nd minutes, respectively.

Lasting impression as a whole: Not a lot to say about this one, but it was good to see Reyna and Aaronson involved at the same time for once. While he had little to do defensively due to the scoreline, Yedlin looked more comfortable in the role than Shaq Moore had in the group stage, and it still confounds me how the depth chart shook out with the Nashville man ahead of the only U.S. player with World Cup experience entering the tournament.

There was a bit more urgency from Berhalter to change the personnel than in past games, which seemed like a necessary evolution. Still, bringing on another true No. 9 and the chaos-inducing Aaronson halfway through the second half left a lot of time without a clear approach to light up the U.S. half of the scoreboard.

Grade: B-


Final marks

It’s a bit simplistic to chalk this up as “Louis Van Gaal beat Gregg Berhalter today,” but… yeah, Louis van Gaal beat Gregg Berhalter today.

There’s no shame in being outclassed by a manager who has won a UEFA Champions League, several European league titles, an FA Cup and led the Netherlands to third place in the 2014 World Cup. The U.S. should also take comfort from the fact that they were still able to create chances and stay in the final third against such a stout defensive unit.

Ultimately, however, van Gaal’s post-match assessment is pretty damning: the U.S. didn’t adapt. Berhalter trusted the players that got the team into the knockouts, and it wasn’t enough. There were maneuvers which would have helped, but some simple mistakes in both boxes and failures to react to the Netherlands’ gameplan did the young Yanks in on the day.

Grade: C-


End-of-term reflection

Thinking back on all four matches, this doesn’t feel like the United States’ elimination had much to do with Berhalter’s approach.

There are genuine questions to be asked about what Ferreira’s role in this team was compared to, say Ricardo Pepi, who would’ve been a good hybrid alternative to Josh Sargent’s sorely-missed pressing acumen and Wright’s line-leading chops. I might have started Carter-Vickers on Saturday given how well he and Ream worked together to neutralize attackers while better progressing the ball out of the defensive third.

Entering the cycle, many viewed this tournament as a necessary step toward being very competitive when the 2026 World Cup is (mostly) played on home soil. Leaving goalkeeper Zack Steffen off the roster allowed Matt Turner to feel confident in his standing atop the goalkeeper depth chart, and the 28-year-old’s form should keep him in the 1 shirt moving forward. It’s impossible to know if Musah would have committed to the program without Berhalter involved, and his decision to not represent England after doing so at the youth international levels is still a sore spot for Southgate. Conversely, the decision to bring Reyna but keep him to a single seven-minute shift in the group left him pretty untested before a big shift on Saturday.

There weren’t many times where Berhalter’s decision-making (whether it’s his lineups, his tactics or his substitutions) set this U.S. side back. Aside from Ferreira’s start and a coin-flip proposition between Zimmerman and Carter-Vickers against the Dutch, one could argue the coach got 42 of his 44 lineup decisions right. However, after not having to recalibrate due to strong initial tactics in the group stage, Berhalter didn’t adjust his side convincingly or quickly enough when his team was down 2-0 in a knockout game. Even after three pretty strong showings, that matters in a World Cup format.

Final grade: C

Analysis: The USMNT bows out of Qatar with 3-1 loss to the Netherlands

The USMNT is out of the World Cup after a 3-1 loss to the Dutch. ASN’s Brian Sciaretta writes about all that he saw from this game as well as some big picture thoughts as one cycle ends and a new one begins. 



THE UNITED STATES national team bowed out of the 2022 World Cup following a 3-1 loss to a powerful Netherlands team on Saturday in Qatar. The Dutch scored two first half goals before the U.S. cut the deficit in half, but a late Dutch goal sealed the U.S. team’s fate to conclude the cycle.The U.S. team opened with a similar starting lineup to the one it opened against Wales with the lone exception is that Jesus Ferreira got the start in place of the injured Josh Sargent.The U.S. team started well, with Christian Pulisic forcing a big save from Andries Noppert in the opening minutes. But it was the Netherlands who struck first in the 10th minute when Denzel Dumfries struck down the right wing and hit a cross that was back towards the top of the box. It found a streaking Memphis Depay in the middle who beat Matt Turner.As the U.S. team was beginning to pick it up, the Dutch stomped on the U.S. momentum with a second goal just before the break. On this play. Daley Blind cut in past Sergino Dest from the left side and beat Turner.In the second half, Gregg Berhalter made a string of changes and the U.S team fought back. In the 76th minute, the U.S. team pulled a goal back when they forced a turnover and DeAndre Yedlin played Pulisic into the right side of the box. Pulisic’s hard cross hit Haji Wright’s heel and past Noppert.The U.S. team looked as if it would be aggressive the rest of the way, but the Dutch put the game out of reach in the 81st minute when Dumfries capped his big day off when he was completely wide open and got on the end of a cross from Blind to send it past turner. It was a blown defensive assignment from the U.S. team and the Netherlands moved ahead for good.Here are some thoughts on it all.


While the average age of the entire roster put the U.S. team as the third youngest team in Qatar, in terms of functionality of minutes on the field, the U.S. was the youngest. When looking at the midfielders and the forwards (the front six), none of the players who started for the U.S. team in these positions had yet to turn 25.

The Dutch had an edge in talent but the bigger difference in this game was in the edge of maturity. The Netherlands made better decisions, they knew how to change the pace of the game, and they scouted the U.S. team well. Most importantly, however, they knew how to respond to adversity better than the U.S. team.

The U.S. team played well for stretches in each of its four World Cup games. But note the difference when faced with adversity. When Wales found a stretch where it was playing well, the U.S. team was on its heels and couldn’t get into a better fun until after Wales equalized. Then against Iran, the U.S. played very well for the first 60 minutes. Then when Iran started to play better, the U.S. team again was on its heels – this time they were able to see the game out.

The Netherlands put on a masterclass about how to respond. When the U.S. team was playing well, the Dutch doubled down on their approach and found a way to be better. Each of the three Dutch goals came at a period when the U.S. had been playing well and was creating dangerous chances.

The U.S. was the better team the first nine minutes, but the Netherlands scored in the 10th minute. The U.S. team was pressing for an equalizer late in the first half, but it was the Netherlands who scored just before halftime – beating Dest on the goal after it was Dest who was the U.S. team’s best player for long stretches that half. Then the final Dutch goal came just minutes after the U.S. team pulled one back.

The Dutch team didn’t retreat in the face of adversity. They knew how to raise their game. That is the mark of a talented team, but also a smart and confident team through experience.

There were also several other extremely positive traits the Netherlands displayed that the U.S. team didn’t have an answer. The Netherlands knew that the U.S. team liked to play the game at a frantic pace full of energy.

Dutch manager Louis van Gaal and his players knew how to slow the pace of the game down and turn it into a slog. They would turn up the tempo occasionally on counters and when they had the chance to be dangerous, but the mix of tempos threw the U.S. team off.

Tactically, the Dutch also scouted the U.S. team very well. They knew the U.S. team had dangerous wingers but had been struggling with crosses. They were also aware that the Weston Mckennie-Tyler-Adams-Yunus Musah midfield was at the heart of whatever the U.S. team wanted to do. The Dutch man-marked the midfield with precision and forced the game out wide – knowing the U.S. team isn’t crossing well and doesn’t have great targets in the box either.

The good news is that the U.S. team will certainly learn from this. The Dutch are very good but have a very mature team. The U.S. team needs to grow up a little and this was a step in that direction.


The U.S. team looked fatigued in this game – both mentally and physically. First touches were off and there were positional mistakes. The U.S. team was at a disadvantage in the timing of this tournament where so much of form was dictated by club play as opposed to the traditional four-week camps that national teams normally spend together prior to a World Cup.

The U.S. team had too many players coming into this tournament uneven form. McKennie and Dest hadn’t played much leading up to the tournament due to injuries. Gio Reyna and Tim Weah had been in and out of the rosters at their club due to injuries. Jesus Ferreira and Walker Zimmerman hadn’t played in a month before the start of the tournament. Things weren’t that much better for the bench options either.

Then when the team must shift into four games that are extremely intense in quick succession, it was extremely draining – both mentally and physically. The physical exhaustion was easy to see. There were tired legs late in the first half. But mentally, the team was making mistakes it did not make in the group stages.

Yes, there were heavy touches earlier in the game than in the group stages. But there was

Throughout the group stages, one of the best attributes was the team’s defense in the midfield. Adams, McKennie, and Musah were all key to the U.S. team’s group stage success because of their commitment to defense. They helped shield the U.S. team’s backline and force turnovers in the midfield.

In this game, it was a different story. There were stretches where the U.S. team was winning the ball back in the midfield but were also caught napping at other times.

The first goal from the Netherlands was on the midfield. With the defense picking up the front attacking runners, the midfield is responsible to pick up the trailing runners.


After any exit from a major tournament, there is always disappointment. For American players, coaches, and fans, this was no exception. But when we talk about whether this was a successful World Cup, the answer is, without a doubt, yes.

In each of the four games, the U.S. team played long stretches of playing well. Even in the lone loss of the tournament against the Netherlands, the U.S. played well for significant periods. This wasn’t a case where the U.S. team was pinned back and tried to bunker out a result. The chances were there for the U.S. team to score more goals.

Sure the U.S. team needs to improve in areas and in some areas of the field, the options weren’t there for most of the cycle. But the foundation is there. This team has both technical ability as well as speed and athleticism in key areas. While it would be nice to have Tim Ream be 10 years younger, the entire front six will be 24-27 years old in 2026. On top of that, there will be others emerging to push these players to prevent complacency.

In every game, there were periods where the U.S. team was right there even with some very good teams. Putting it together for a complete performance still wasn’t there, and that will be the job of whoever coaches the next cycle. But for where the U.S. team was four years ago to where it is now, it is very encouraging. This is not the end of a cycle where the team needs to cut dead weight and rebuild, this is the end of a cycle that sets up the next cycle.

Overall, it was a good past two years for Gregg Berhalter. He built the “MMA” midfield which has a lot of chemistry. He also did well to establish the two fullbacks. He also leaves with accomplishments – Nations League, Gold Cup, and advancing to the knockout stages of the World Cup all while trying to build a young team.ost importlantly, people have begun to feel better about soccer in this country after a tough run. That is the best thing to happenWhether or not Berhalter returns to the program as his contract is up, he got a lot done this cycle.


Moving forward, the U.S. team needs to build up depth. A big thing for the federation will be the continued production of good players from the youth national teams. These teams draw heavily on improved MLS academies and that has been a huge source of the team’s improved player pool.

The U-20 World Cup next summer is important but the biggest opportunity for the U.S. program will come in 2024 for the Olympics. If the U.S. can get its top players released, it will be an important hybrid team of key U.S. players (Reyna and Musah), full national team backups (Ricardo Pepi, Joe Scally, Gianluca Busio), and some very promising up and comers (Jack McGlynn, Gaga Slonina, John Tolken, etc).

A big challenge, however, for the national team will be getting meaningful games. There won’t be any World Cup qualifying next cycle and in future cycles World Cup qualifying will be watered down with a 48-team World Cup. That leaves the U.S. team with two Nations Leagues and two Gold Cups every four-year cycle. That’s a lot of CONCACAF and pushing for something outside this federation beyond friendlies. The standard Copa America is nearly impossible for the U.S. team to get involved (like they used to) as they are a guest team and clubs are never required to release players for guest teams at tournaments. The U.S. team needs more Confederations Cup or Copa American Centenario-type tournaments (which were on the international calendar). But the Olympics, while a youth tournament, does help. For now, these are big picture things moving forward. For now, the U.S. federation needs to made decisions on its head coach and if Berhalter does not come back (and he might not want to), U.S. Soccer needs to get that hire right and then figure out an Olympic coach. While the U.S. has friendlies set for January, it can go with an interim head coach into 2023 to see what options open up moving forward.

The U.S. is in a much better position now than it was after any World Cup. It doesn’t need to go back to the drawing board and rework things. The number of players who need to get phased out of the pool is small. The team has confidence, momentum, and the lessons it needs to learn are obvious. The player development path is as strong as ever in this country, and this cycle did well to set up the next. The 2026 cycle starts off in a good place.

USA's goalkeeper #01 Matt Turner concedes a goal by Netherlands' defender #17 Daley Blind (C top) during the Qatar 2022 World Cup round of 16 football match between the Netherlands and USA at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on December 3, 2022. (Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP) (Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images)

Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil and Croatia: A World Cup bracket full of recent heartbreak

<img src="data:;base64,” alt=”” aria-hidden=”true” data-airgap-id=”83″ />JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 11:  Arjen Robben of the Netherlands (R) reacts after missing a goal scoring chance with team mate Robin Van Persie during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Final match between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City Stadium on July 11, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
By Jeff Rueter   Dec 7, 2022 Save Article

After all of the thrills we had and the unpredictable results we saw in the group stage and round of 16 in this ongoing World Cup, one side of the quarter-finals bracket manages to feature an interesting collection of teams, all with a potential motivation in common. 

The quartet includes the runners-up from the three most recent men’s World Cups, along with a fourth combatant with an ax to grind from the 2014 installment. If one half of the draw, Morocco aside, is increasingly marked by unpredictability, the other is indeed the bracket of redemption, between four programs looking to overcome recent (or semi-recent) near-misses.

The Netherlands

The heartbreak: 

In 2010 the Netherlands made a bold run to the final, boasting global stars including winger Arjen Robben, defender Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Wesley Sneijder at his peak, and Robin van Persie from his Arsenal heyday. 

Unfortunately, they ran into a near-unparalleled juggernaut in that final. Spain had unbelievable depth and the benefit of chemistry from a squad which had won Euro 2008 (and would win Euro 2012) and was predominantly selected from FC Barcelona and Real Madrid’s rosters. 

It was among the most ill-tempered finals in men’s World Cup history, with Howard Webb showing 14 yellow cards — with a staggering nine alone to Dutch players. Somehow, Nigel de Jong wasn’t shown red for a horrific challenge which saw him plant his cleat firmly into a standing Xabi Alonso’s sternum. Johnny Heitinga suffered the ignominy of getting sent off in extra time, after being shown a second yellow. 

“I think it was good there was no VAR,” Heitinga told The Athletic this week. “Otherwise there was some more red cards.”


Less than 10 minutes after Heitinga headed to the dressing room, Andres Iniesta was able to get a shot past Maarten Stekelenburg, and the Dutch went home without the title. 

The aftermath: 

While manager Bert van Marwijk stuck around for the next cycle, he was swiftly dismissed following his side’s three defeats in as many group matches at Euro 2012. He was succeeded by Louis van Gaal, who had also briefly held the post from 2000-01. The key players from 2010 returned for the 2014 World Cup campaign, supplemented by up-and-comers including Memphis Depay, Stefan de Vrij and Georginio Wijnaldum. This time, their run ended in the semi-finals against Lionel Messi in his prime, settling for a win in the third-place match over hosts Brazil.

As Van Persie and Robben aged, the Dutch lost their way. They failed to qualify for both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, returning to major tournament action for Euro 2020 but falling in its round of 16. 

The holdovers:

While the entirety of that 2010 runners-up squad is out of the picture 12 and a half years on, two of the 2014 bronze medallists are on this current roster in key roles: Depay, 28, and 32-year-old Daley Blind. Van Gaal himself has returned for a third term at the helm, despite undergoing prostate cancer treatment in April.

What they’re saying

“In 2014 we finished third with a squad I would say was of lesser quality. With this group, I would expect more.” – Louis van Gaal

(Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)


The heartbreak: 

As alluded to in the “aftermath” section on the Netherlands, Messi was in blistering form heading into the 2014 World Cup. After winning the Ballon d’Or every year from 2009-12, he was in the midst of the Messidependencia era of Barcelona as they adjusted to life without coach Pep Guardiola. 

Similarly, Argentina funnelled absolutely everything through their icon as play kicked off in Brazil that summer. His four goals in the group stage helped harvest all nine points and set them on a run to the final. Sure enough, the knockouts served as a crash-course to pit the world’s best player against Germany, the world’s best team. After a first-half goal was whistled offside and Gonzalo Higuain missed a gifted one-on-one with Manuel Neuer, it was Mario Gotze who joined the rank of World Cup match-winning scorers rather than Messi.

The aftermath: 

That World Cup eight years ago was the first in a series of major tournament letdowns for Messi, followed by losses to Chile in successive Copa America finals, after which he briefly retired from Argentina duty before a coaching change and nationwide demonstrations convinced him to return for the 2018 World Cup cycle. 

It was hardly a storybook comeback story, as Argentina labored to get out of a middling group before falling to title-bound France in the round of 16. After finishing third in the 2019 Copa America, it seemed as if Argentina would never win a major tournament in the Messi era. That all changed at last year’s Copa America, of course, as Angel Di María stepped up with the final’s lone goal to give Argentina a famous 1-0 win over tournament host Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. 

The holdovers:

Messi is playing in Qatar 2022, as you’ve likely heard by now. But he’s one of just two holdovers from Brazil 2014, joined as usual by Di Maria. Nicolas Otamendi wasn’t involved then, while the two strikers younger than Messi on that runners-up roster (Higuain and Sergio Aguero) have both retired over the past year. 

What they’re saying

“It’s a pity given all the chances we had in that game. We had the better chances and, well… we’ll regret the chances we had but couldn’t score for the rest of our lives.” – Lionel Messi on the 2014 World Cup final.

(Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)


The heartbreak: 

Is it fair to call a surprise run to a final and an ensuing defeat “heartbreak”? It’s up for debate with Croatia, which finished third in 1998 but had exited in the group stage in all three subsequent World Cup appearances. A round of 16 exit from Euro 2016 gave little reason for further optimism, even with Luka Modric in otherworldly form with Real Madrid and a pair of Ivans (Rakitic and Perisic) capably leading the transition into the final third. After appointing head coach Zlatko Dalic (without a contract unless they qualified for the 32-team field), the players put aside a cycle’s worth of animosity to reach newfound cohesion — and, ultimately, secure a place in Russia. 

They hardly found it easy to book a date with France in the final. Croatia needed all 120 minutes and penalties to get past both Denmark and Russia in the first two knockout rounds before finally taking care of the result in extra time against England, having fallen behind, in the semifinal. Perhaps due to their series of advancements on the finest of margins, France entered the final as a decided favorite. Les Bleus ultimately toppled the tournament dark horse by a 4-2 margin.

The aftermath: 

It wasn’t always convincing, but their silver-medal showing in Russia changed global perceptions of Croatia. Dalic was awarded an extension through 2022, and he’s given no reason to abdicate his post. It was surprising, then, to see them fall in the round of 16 for a second consecutive Euros last summer. They navigated a tricky group in Qatar, finishing second behind fellow quarterfinalist Morocco as Belgium went home early.

The holdovers:

Modric is one of the sport’s truly ageless wonders, still an essential starter for the 2021-22 Champions League-winning Real Madrid side. While he’s given second-billing status with Croatia, Ivan Perisic is one of just four players to score in the three most recent men’s World Cups, alongside Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Xherdan Shaqiri. In total, nine players from the 2018 side are back for redemption in Qatar, with Andrej Kramaric especially stepping up for the now-retired Mario Mandzukic (who is with the team as an assistant coach).

What they’re saying

“Something special was taking place. Suddenly, and out of nowhere, had come Dalic. Now everything was falling into place. People believed in us once again.” – Luka Modric.



The heartbreak: 

While Croatia (and, to a lesser extent, the 2010 Dutch side) are a stretch to give the “heartbroken” descriptor, there’s no question that applies to Brazil in 2014. 

Heading into their first World Cup on home soil since finishing second in 1950, all focus was on righting that generations-old wrong. Brazil won Group A and bested Chile in a round of 16 shootout, setting up another CONMEBOL showdown with Colombia in the quarterfinal. A 2-1 win hardly felt satisfying as the final whistle blew — Colombia had taken the heart out of Brazil as Neymar suffered a tournament-ending injury.

An emotional team faced its date with Germany in the semifinal, and what was supposed to be a de facto title game quickly devolved into chaos, gifting one of the most iconic scorelines in World Cup history and, indeed, the history of organized sports: 7-1. You’ve surely seen the images, with men, women and children all equally likely to grace the broadcast with tears smearing their impeccably painted green-and-yellow faces. What was supposed to be the party of a lifetime had devolved into a nightmare, an even greater humbling than when Uruguay executed its “Maracanã Smash” to win in 1950.

The aftermath: 

That Germany humiliation kicked off a rare down spell for Brazil, which exited in the Copa America quarterfinal in 2015 before failing to even advance from a group with Ecuador, Peru and Haiti in the 2016 Copa America Centenario, spelling the end for coach Dunga. With Tite appointed as manager afterward, Brazil fell in the quarterfinal to Belgium in the 2018 World Cup. 

The slump was finally busted as Brazil won the 2019 Copa America on home soil at the Maracana in Rio, around 300 miles south of the site of their 2014 house of horrors in Belo Horizonte. While they lost the same fixture in the same stadium to Argentina last year, they finished atop CONMEBOL qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

The holdovers:

Neymar is arguably in even better form now than he was enjoying in 2014. He’s one of three returning members from that squad, joined by defenders Dani Alves and Thiago Silva (though Alves’ role at this point is as a reserve). 

What they’re saying

“Now he’s in a very good point, a good moment for him to show the real quality and the leadership, because he has big, big character and can be a leader that Brazil expects. We’re in a moment that’s going to be very interesting because Messi is in his best moment, Neymar is in his best moment and they are two kings.” – Neymar’s former Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino

2022 World Cup Quarterfinal rankings: Using expected goals to rank the remaining eight teams

<img src="data:;base64,” alt=”” aria-hidden=”true” data-airgap-id=”87″ />DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 04: Kylian Mbappe #10 of France celebrates after scoring the team's third goal in the second half against Poland during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between France and Poland at Al Thumama Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
By David Sumpter  Dec 8, 2022  

David Sumpter is an English mathematics professor and author based in Sweden who wrote the book “Soccermatics” to make sense of the numbers and patterns of the sport. He will be contributing his perspective on betting and analytical trends throughout the World Cup for The Athletic.


The 2022 World Cup has reached the quarterfinal stage. There was only one upset in the Round of 16, with Morocco beating Spain on penalty kicks to advance so we get a top-heavy quarterfinal round which is topped off with France playing England in the last game on Saturday.

Which nations are the best and worst expected goals performers in the quarterfinals? I rank each team based on their xG for and against performance in the tournament.

1.  Brazil

It is the favorite to win the World Cup for a reason. Brazil has scored six goals in open play but is (equal) top-ranked in expected goals, with 9.1. There is still much more to come from RicharlisonNeymarVinícius Júnior and company.

The left-hand graph shows Brazil’s chances. The bigger the circle, the better the chance (higher xG). Goals are shown as stars. The right-hand graph shows xG For and xG Against in four matches. Brazil has dominated all of its games.

2. France

France equals Brazil in terms of shot quality, with 9.1 xG For, but unlike Brazil, France has let the opposition (especially Poland) create chances against them.

3. Argentina

At +600 to win the tournament, Argentina currently offers the best value. Not just because of the chances they have created (7.3 in total, 2.1 from Lionel Messi alone) but also because they have given so little away defensively.

4. England

A focus on quality over quantity in this tournament has seen England average 0.14xG per shot from only 41 shots (5.5 xG in total). It will be tough against France, but a draw after 90 minutes (at +227) is worth a shot.

5. Portugal

The Portuguese have created better chances than their opponents in all four matches, but they have still conceded 0.9xG per match. So while the headlines are about their choice of striker, the real question is whether their defense can take them further than the semi-finals.

6. Netherlands

Like England, the Netherlands has taken a pragmatic approach to the tournament, soaking up pressure and focusing on creating high-quality chances. But the only match it has been substantially better than their opponents was against Qatar. I can’t see how it can find a way past Argentina.

7. Croatia

The most striking aspect of Croatia’s xG map is that it hasn’t scored on its best chances (larger circles) but has managed to score a few lower-quality chances (small stars). Croatia struggled against Japan, and it will struggle even more against Brazil.

8. Morocco

Only 2.9 expected goals, but scoring in open play isn’t the key to Morocco’s strategy. It is an example of a team that overperforms expected goals by defending well in the box. The question is whether they can do it again against Portugal. The answer is probably not.


USMNT’s World Cup run ends vs. Netherlands thanks to three defensive lapses

Sam Stejskal Dec 3, 2022 Athletic

The U.S. men’s national team built their run to the World Cup knockout rounds on defensive rigidity. During the group stage, they were disciplined, organized and always engaged, pressing wonderfully and limiting their opponents’ opportunities. The few big chances they did concede came mostly through set pieces or direct aerial play. The only goal they allowed was on a penalty kick. Not once did it feel like they switched off mentally. That was necessary for them to get out of Group B. Their generally inefficient attacking play meant that the young U.S. team had an extremely thin margin for error in the back. If they had even one defensive lapse in their round of 16 match against the Netherlands on Saturday, they would have a hard time advancing. In the end, they didn’t make just one mistake — they fell asleep on three different occasions. The Dutch scored each time, going ahead in the 10th minute, doubling their advantage in first half stoppage time, then adding a third late in the second half. Their ruthlessness in front of goal stood in stark contrast to the finishing of the U.S., who failed to put away a pair of huge chances en route to a 3-1 loss that brought their World Cup to a bitter end.“In the past three games, I’d say we defended the moments really, really well,” said U.S. defensive midfielder and captain Tyler Adams. “And today the three goals come from moments where we’re probably sleeping a little bit.”The first of the missed opportunities for the U.S. to score came in the third minute through Christian Pulisic. Adams latched onto a partially-cleared cross just outside of the box and immediately clipped a ball over the onrushing Dutch defense into the left side of the box to a wide-open Pulisic. It was an incredible look, but Pulisic ended up hitting his one-on-one effort directly at Netherlands goalkeeper Andries Noppert. The Americans were punished for failing to take advantage of the opportunity just seven minutes later. The Dutch strung together a fabulous sequence, progressing the ball out of the back and up the left before finding attacker Cody Gakpo, the star of their tournament, in the center of the U.S. half. Gakpo quickly found wingback Denzel Dumfries on the right flank, setting him up for a wonderful cutback ball to forward Memphis Depay, who buried his open shot from 15 yards with his first touch. 

It was a lovely move by the Netherlands, a vintage Dutch buildup that included 20 passes, the most ever for the country since at least 1966 on a play that led to a goal at a World Cup. It was also helped along by some uncharacteristic mistakes by the U.S. Adams didn’t do a good enough job of tracking Depay after he played a pass to Gakpo, losing him as he ran through midfield and arrived in the box. It didn’t help the U.S. that center backs Tim Ream and Walker Zimmerman both went with midfielder Davy Klaasen on his hard run to the near post, but it was hugely unusual to see Adams fail to track his man after he covered so much ground and defended so tirelessly during the group stage. 

Something similar happened on the second goal. Dumfries lofted a throw-in from deep in the U.S. third to midfielder Marten de Roon, who immediately played the ball back to Dumfries. U.S. striker Jesus Ferreira couldn’t win his attempt to take the ball off Dumfries, who drove into the area and cut another ball back to the top of the box. This time, left wingback Daley Blind ran onto it, blowing past inattentive U.S. left back Sergiño Dest and hammering a first-time shot past goalkeeper Matt Turner. Blind’s shot ended up being the last kick of the first half. Switching off as in either of the first two goals is always a huge error, but the second mistake was compounded by the fact that it came so close to the break — and after the U.S. had started to build a bit of momentum. It was a poor moment in an otherwise strong tournament for Dest, who wasn’t at his best in what was no doubt an emotional match against the country he was born and raised in.“That was brutal,” said Turner. “Giving up that second goal was brutal. It was off a throw-in, I mean, there’s no real excuse for it. Everything that could have went wrong on that play, did.”The Americans made yet another mental error on the third goal. The Dutch played the ball out of the U.S. box and then out to the left flank for Blind, who curled a cross to a wide-open Dumfries at the back post. He took the ball out of the air and hammered it past Turner for an easy finish. 

The U.S. weren’t actually outnumbered on the play, they just completely failed to account for Dumfries, who was named man of the match for his one-goal, two-assist performance. Ream and Zimmerman were matched up in the middle of the box with Gakpo and substitute forward Steven Bergwijn. Left back Antonee Robinson, normally so solid defensively with the U.S., was free to move wide and mark Dumfries, but he never noticed him and instead shaded centrally to help cover Bergwijn. When Dumfries scored, Ream could only turn to his Fulham and U.S. teammate and put his arms out wide, as if to ask Robinson what the hell just happened.“The first two goals, normally we’d have someone in that cutback space, they’re very similar goals, they just found someone there and they’ve got quality players that can finish them chances,” said Robinson. “And then (on the third, Dumfries) gets in behind me, I’m too focused on (Bergwijn) being in the box seemingly alone and he’s behind me and he’s done very well. Been very effective for their team tonight, and it’s disappointing for us.” Adams, Dest and Robinson making those kinds of errors was unexpected. Adams was probably the U.S.’s best player all tournament. In the group stage, he was immense defensively, covering so much ground and ending so many opposition attacks before they turned dangerous. Robinson was uneven offensively, but he did well without the ball in the U.S.’s first three games. Dest, meanwhile, was something of a revelation, quieting anyone who doubted his ability to stay disciplined in defense with solid performances against WalesEngland and Iran. After the loss, Adams, Robinson and several other U.S. players were asked why they struggled in those big defensive moments against the Netherlands when they’d been so solid in those moments earlier in the tournament. A couple of players were asked directly if they thought fatigue played a role. They didn’t buy into that line of thinking, but, watching how the World Cup played out for the Americans, it was hard to write off tiredness as one reason for the errors we saw Saturday. The U.S. played an incredibly physical style in Qatar, pressing their opponents high and covering huge distances each group game. Adams, Dest and Robinson were asked to run more and run harder than most of their teammates. It’d only be natural if they were a little bit worse for wear in their fourth game in 12 days.Things weren’t much smoother in attack. The Dutch didn’t allow the Americans to get into rhythm in possession, especially in the first half. Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal lined up in his customary 3-4-1-2 formation. When the U.S. had the ball, Gakpo and Depay remained wide, cutting off the passing lanes between the center backs and fullbacks, who the U.S. attacked through frequently during group play. That funneled play to the middle, where the Dutch midfielders were tightly man-marking Adams, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah. Ferreira didn’t present any sort of outlet for direct balls out of the back, and the U.S. didn’t look to play long to Pulisic or fellow winger Tim Weah until the final minutes of the opening 45. 

All of that allowed the Dutch to keep their defensive lines very compact in the first half. Combined with some general sloppiness on the ball, that led to some pretty rough times in possession for the U.S.“They were smart to limit those guys because we get a lot of chances from our outside backs,” said Adams. “So that’s why we needed to be able to navigate a different way, maybe put Timmy a little bit (wider), put Christian a little bit wider. But it’s hard in those games when you know your attackers want to get touches on the ball, when you’re playing man against man and you’re kicking it around the back, they’re going to come down naturally. We had a little bit of difficulty finding spaces sometimes.” 

Things opened up a bit in the second, but, by that time, the U.S. were already down 2-0. With their scoring issues, that always felt like too big of a mountain to climb. The Americans certainly weren’t clinical with their chances on Saturday, with Pulisic failing to connect on his early look and substitute striker Haji Wright missing a golden opportunity that would’ve made it 2-1 in the 75th. 

Wright scored a minute later on perhaps the most bizarre strike of the entire World Cup, an awkward, unintentional goal that, in a way, underlined the lack of talent the U.S. has up top. Had Wright done what he was intending, there’s no way he would’ve scored. He only found the net because he made a mistake with his touch. Josh Sargent, who started two of the three group games, being unavailable due to an ankle injury was a big loss for the U.S., as both Ferreira and Wright struggled. Sargent, though, hasn’t exactly filled up the net for the Americans, who still have a huge question mark at striker going forward. 

“When you look at the difference of the two teams, to me, there was some offensive quality, offensive finishing quality that Holland had that we’re lacking a little bit,” said U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter. “And that’s (due to) time. I mean, it’s normal. We have a very young group of players that are beginning their careers and they’re gonna catch up to that, we’re gonna get to the same thing. But we don’t have a Memphis Depay right now.” 

There’s no way to know if the U.S. players will actually ever hit that level, of course. They have potential, but they have limitations, too. At times in the group stage, we saw that they can contend with some of the better teams in the world when they’re at their best. They are and should be proud of that. But on Saturday, we saw some of their weaknesses come to the forefront. The hope is that the Americans will grow stronger over the next three-and-a-half years and emerge as a much bigger threat in time for the 2026 World Cup that will be hosted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

There was some talk about their promise on Saturday, but, for the most part, the players were understandably preoccupied with the disappointment of the loss. They genuinely believed they could take out the Netherlands. Failing to do so stings, no matter how bright their future may be.

“It hurts, man. It hurts,” said Pulisic. “It’s going to hurt for a while.”

USA 1-3 Netherlands: USMNT poor in possession, Depay’s finesse and roll on 2026

AL-RAYYAN - Frenkie de Jong of Holland, Nathan Ake of Holland, Cody Gakpo of Holland, Jurrien Timber of Holland, Memphis Depay of Holland, Davy Klaassen of Holland, Marten de Roon of Holland, Daley Blind of Holland, Kenneth Taylor of Holland , Xavi Simons of Holland, Jeremie Frimpong of Holland celebrate the 2-0 during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 round of 16 match between the Netherlands and the United States at the Khalifa International stadium on December 3, 2022 in AL-Rayyan, Qatar. ANP MAURICE VAN STONE (Photo by ANP via Getty Images)

By Paul TenorioSam Stejskal and more Dec 3, 2022


The World Cup is over for the United States after losing 3-1 to the Netherlands.

The USMNT went behind after just 10 minutes from a sharp Memphis Depay finish and Daley Blind scored a second just before half-time.In a game that looked increasingly comfortable for the Netherlands, the U.S. got a fortuitous goal back via Haji Wright’s heel, but that was cancelled out just five minutes later thanks to a full-back to full-back combination with Blind supplying an expert cross to Denzel Dumfries to volley home a third for the Dutch.Paul Tenorio, Sam Stejskal, Michael Cox and Simon Hughes analyse the key talking points


Focus moves to World Cup 2026

There has been an understanding — sometimes stated aloud, other times not — that part of this four-year cycle was about building a core that could carry momentum forward into the 2026 World Cup, which the U.S. will co-host with Mexico and Canada.“As you move into 2026, if our players continue to progress at the rate that they have been, we’re going to be dealing with a really, really talented player pool with experience and having the home field advantage,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter told The Athletic for the narrative podcast, From Couva to Qatar: Remaking the USMNT.“And we know the home field in the World Cup is important. I think it’s a great opportunity for us, without getting ahead of ourselves, everything that’s been done has been laying this foundation, and this World Cup will help do that as well.”

The U.S. was the second-youngest team in the tournament here in Qatar, and may have been the youngest if not for the inclusion of 35-year-old center-back Tim Ream. There was just one player on the roster, DeAndre Yedlin, with any World Cup experience. The task over the past four years was to give this young core crucial experience, both in CONCACAF qualifying and in a World Cup, that might transfer as they age into their primes.In that way, it’s difficult to say that this cycle has been anything but a success. The U.S. has been built around players like Tyler AdamsWeston McKennieYunus MusahChristian PulisicSergino Dest and Brenden Aaronson. Gio Reyna’s injury has slowed his integration into the group some, but he’s played a role in important games, including a Nations League final and Saturday’s round-of-16 loss to the Netherlands. All of those players are 24 years old or younger.The U.S. showed in the group stage that they are capable of playing good soccer at times. They were the better team for large stretches against WalesEngland and Iran. They also were able to survive and see out a win against Iran despite being under pressure for much of the second half. If there was an obvious weakness, it was an inability to create dangerous chances and to score. That was much the same as it was in qualifying, and it will be a crucial part of the next four-year cycle.

It’s uncertain what this team will look like in the short term. There is a Gold Cup in 2023, but one of little consequence. The U.S. will compete in the Olympics in 2024. Perhaps they can look to play in the Copa America as they seek higher levels of competition. As hosts, it’s unlikely the U.S. will have to qualify for the World Cup, though FIFA has not officially announced that yet. It will be important for this team to find competitive games ahead of the World Cup, however.When casting your eyes toward 2026, there is plenty to be excited about in regards to this player pool. The expectations were high around this young team in Qatar. They just about met them by getting out of the group and into the knockout stage. A win over the Netherlands would have been the program’s first trip to the quarter-finals in two decades. This U.S. team fell short. In four years’ time, this performance will be the baseline for success.As Leeds’ American head coach Jesse Marsch wrote in a column for The Athletic, there will be real belief that the U.S. can make history in 2026 by challenging in a way they haven’t before.Paul Tenorio


Crying out for an elite striker

With Josh Sargent unavailable due to an ankle injury he suffered on Tuesday against Iran, Berhalter had a big decision to make at striker. Would he turn to Wright, who was decent in a start against England but struggled massively off the bench against Iran? Would he start Jesus Ferreira, who was the No 1 for much of the period between World Cup qualifying and the start of the tournament? Or would he look elsewhere and move an ostensible winger like Reyna, Tim Weah or Pulisic to the No 9? Ultimately, Berhalter, who said ahead of the Iran game that he hadn’t really considered starting anyone up top besides one of the three players listed at striker, chose Ferreira. It didn’t work out. The 21-year-old didn’t play in the group stage and hadn’t appeared in a competitive match since FC Dallas were eliminated from the MLS Cup Playoffs on October 23. His last goal came all the way back on September 10, making him goalless in his last seven games for club and country heading into SaturdayHe showed all of that rust against the Netherlands. He didn’t take up good spaces, often clogging room in midfield for Pulisic, Weah, McKennie and Musah by regularly dropping centrally. He didn’t get on the ball often, but when he did, his touches were poor — he committed dangerous, sloppy turnovers on a couple of occasions. Just 5ft 9in, he was no match physically for Dutch center-back Virgil van Dijk and wasn’t at all an outlet for direct balls from the U.S. defense.He was poor enough that Berhalter chose to replace him at half-time, bringing him off for Reyna. Wright was eventually inserted about midway through the second half, with Reyna shifting out wide for the departed Weah. Wright missed a golden opportunity not long after coming on, then scored what looked like an incredibly accidental, fortunate goal to pull the U.S. within 2-1 before the Dutch found their third. The performances of Ferreira and Wright were a real illustration of the USMNT’s huge problem at the No 9. For as much talent as they have elsewhere on the field, the Americans aren’t close to having a top-level striker.

Sam Stejskal


How far can the Dutch go?

The Netherlands have eased into the quarter-finals but none of their performances have necessarily been easy to watch.

This is a counter-attacking team which relies heavily on the pace of Cody Gakpo, as well as the width provided by Dumfries.

Memphis Depay celebrates his first goal of the 2022 World Cup (Photo: Marvin Ibo Guengoer – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)

There is talent and experience in defence, which so far has been difficult to get past — though it is yet to be tested by the most significant strikers on the planet.

It seems as though the team needs to find more of a connection between midfield and attack. It may find a way past Argentina but Brazil in the semis is another matter.

Simon Hughes


U.S. struggle in possession

Throughout the World Cup, the U.S. had significantly frustrated their opponents in possession with their excellent pressing play.

On Saturday, it was the Netherlands that stymied the U.S. with their disciplined defensive work. Starting forwards Gakpo and Depay remained wide when the U.S. were in possession, cutting off the passing lanes from American center-backs Ream and Walker Zimmerman to full-backs Dest and Antonee Robinson and funneling play to the middle.

The Dutch midfielders were all over their U.S. counterparts in that area of the field, man-marking them at times and denying them time and space, especially in the first half.

Although the U.S. was having trouble building out from the back, they rarely looked to play over the top and stretch the Dutch’s compact lines in the first half. Starting striker Ferreira has never been an outlet for direct play — that remained painfully true on Saturday. Pulisic and Weah have the speed to run behind, but the U.S. didn’t look to play anything long to them until the final moments of the first half.

All of that led to a really poor display in possession in the first half. It was far more reminiscent of the U.S.’s miserable matches in September than it was any of their group-stage games in Qatar, when they were pretty cohesive — if not always efficient — with their attacking movements.

The U.S. got into better spots after going down 2-0 just before half-time, but their play with the ball didn’t really improve. The few half chances they were able to generate mostly came via transition.

Sam Stejskal


Van Gaal’s tactical masterclass

No other side at this World Cup is playing like the Netherlands. Louis van Gaal’s template from the Dutch run to the 2014 semi-final has essentially been redeployed here: strict man-marking in midfield until an opponent drops back into his own defence and near man-marking from defenders on attackers, with one centre-back often happily dropping 15 yards behind the other two.

It’s a simplistic approach, largely out of keeping with Van Gaal’s general philosophy. But in the slightly simplistic world of international football, it seems to work. The best U.S. chance came from slightly freak incidents, rather than from the Netherlands truly being opened up.

The U.S. could perhaps have tested the Dutch approach slightly more. Weah’s movement was good, but passes weren’t forthcoming. Weston McKennie made a couple of unnoticed runs from midfield in behind the Netherlands backline. Lots of teams at this World Cup seem almost afraid to knock long passes from back to front.

And then, in attack, the Netherlands basically had two approaches. They could roar forward on the break through Gakpo and Depay. Van Gaal added extra counter-attacking threat at the break, bringing on Steven Bergwijn. And, of course, there were the runs of the wing-backs. The second and third goals featured both – Daley Blind and Denzel Dumfries – combining from flank to flank,

The first goal was a bit special, and almost out of keeping with the general approach.

Not a bad bonus, eh?

Michael Cox


Ferreira disappoints

With Josh Sargent unable to play on Saturday due to an injured ankle, U.S. coach Berhalter opted to start Jesus Ferreira up top.

Unfortunately, the FC Dallas forward proved to be completely ineffective against the Dutch. Ferreira was dropping in to find the ball and hardly spent any time near the Netherlands goal. He completed 84.2 percent of his passes, but was little threat to score.

Jesus Ferreira’s touch map (attacking right to left) against the Netherlands

Looking for a spark in the second half, Berhalter opted to bring Reyna in for Ferreira and play the 20-year-old as a false 9. Reyna had played just seven minutes going into the knockout stages, entering as a substitute in the 0-0 draw with England. According to Transfermarkt, Reyna had not played as a No 9 since starting there in the 2019 Under-17 World Cup. Coincidentally, it was in a 4-0 loss to the Netherlands.

Reyna lasted about 22 minutes as the No 9 before Berhalter brought Wright off the bench for Weah in the 67th minute, moving Reyna out to the right wing.

Paul Tenorio


Depay brings the finesse

To understand Memphis Depay’s importance to the Netherlands, look at the top-tier company he shares.

Only five players still active in this World Cup have scored more international goals than him.

In order, they are Cristiano RonaldoLionel MessiRobert LewandowskiNeymar and Harry Kane.

Depay’s record, which is better than one in two, is not far off Kane, and this means that he is an essential part of the Dutch team.

Although Gakpo has generated more headlines because of his impact in the group stages, Depay showed against the U.S. that he is finding his rhythm.


The opening goal came just when the Netherlands needed it. An awkward looking start was quickly forgotten after Depay swept a wicked shot past Matt Turner in the tenth minute.

The forward, who has barely played for Barcelona this season because of injury, tends to be judged in England by his failure at Manchester United.

Yet it has been five years since his departure from the Premier League.

He would not be the first striker to leave the United before emerging as a world-class talent elsewhere, having also proven himself on the international stage.

Remember Diego Forlan? Sixty-three Premier League appearances at United yielded just ten goals.

Five years after his last game at Old Trafford, he helped Uruguay to the World Cup semi-final in a tournament where he was voted as the best player, having finished as the joint top scorer.

Depay is a different type of player, but he is just as relevant for the international team that he represents. While Gakpo gives the Dutch power and speed, Depay has finesse.

His performances against better defences will be key as the competition progresses.

Simon Hughes


Netherlands’ record-breaking goal

Berhalter’s side were chasing the game from the 10th minute after a ruthless break from Gakpo, Dumfries and Depay made it 1-0.

Depay’s first-time finish from near the penalty spot ended a sequence of 20 uninterrupted passes, the most on record for a Netherlands goal at the World Cup (1966 onwards).

Gakpo started the move in the U.S. half, turning and moving it backwards. Netherlands were happy to move the ball in short passing combinations and from side to side, drawing the U.S. team into their half. Then, bang, Depay pushed forward over the halfway line and slipped it to Gakpo.

He took the pass in his stride, kept it away from the recovering McKennie, and then slid the ball into the path of Dumfries, the wing-back pushing high on the right…

The Inter Milan wing-back shapes to whip a first-time cross into the box, with Davy Klaassen attacking the penalty spot…

But instead Dumfries plays a disguised cutback into the run of Depay, who is hurtling into the penalty area having lost Tyler Adams…

And the Barcelona forward sweeps a neat finish past Matt Turner and into the bottom corner…

Charlie Scott


Manuel Neuer, Matt Turner, Emi Martinez: World Cup group-stage goalkeeping highs and lows

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 30: Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny saves a penalty from Lionel Messi of Argentina during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Poland and Argentina at Stadium 974 on November 30, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

By Matt Pyzdrowski Dec 3, 2022


Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny put his hands on his hips and laughed. He clearly felt the penalty awarded to Argentina by Dutch referee Danny Makkelie was a soft one, but rather than dwell on it and plead his case like some of his team-mates, Szczesny went to his goal line and prepared himself for Lionel Messi’s spot kick.me/1-0-40/html/container.html

Standing on his goal line, Szczesny remained calm despite the chaos around him, focusing on the task at hand — there was even a moment when he put his hand out to his team-mates, winked at them and mouthed the words: “I got this.”

As Messi made his approach, Szczesny took a quick step to his right and launched himself back to his left. With the ball headed toward the upper half of the goal, Szczesny extended his top hand and pushed it around the post for a corner. It was about as good a penalty save as you will ever see and it turned out to be quite an important one, as well.

Though Argentina would go on to win 2-0, the save was ultimately the difference in Poland, instead of Mexico, advancing out of the group stage.It wasn’t Szczesny’s first spot-kick stop of the tournament, either. The first one was just as important. In Poland’s second group-stage match against Saudi Arabia, Szczesny came up big, saving Salem Al-Dawasri’s penalty in first-half stoppage time, helping Poland keep the lead they had taken a few minutes earlier. Poland would go on to win the match 2-0.

At this year’s World Cup, there have been five penalties saved: the two from Szczesny (matching Brad Friedel’s record for most ever in a World Cup), one from Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois against Canada, one from Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa against Poland, and one by Uruguay’s Sergio Rochet on Friday against Ghana. What’s been exciting about these penalty saves is they have come in crucial moments with the game on the line. It’s not often that a save can have the same impact as a goal being scored.Throughout this year’s tournament there have already been many goalkeeping-related talking points, and penalty saves have been just one of them. With the group stage over, let’s analyse some of the things that have caught my eye. Each of these examples showcase just how fine the margins can be for goalkeepers.


Marcus Rashford’s free-kick goal v Wales

It was the 50th minute of England’s group-stage match against Wales and they had just won a free kick in a dangerous position. Goalkeeper Danny Ward went over to his post, set his wall, then returned back to the centre of his goal. The referee blew his whistle and Marcus Rashford whipped in a curling effort.



Ward, who was anticipating the ball going over his wall, took two quick steps to his right to get a jump on the shot. However, the ball wasn’t heading over the wall — it was flying toward the far corner of the goal. By the time Ward finally saw the ball swerving around the wall, he quickly got set and attempted to throw himself back in the direction he just came from, but it was already too late. As he was fully stretched, the ball flew past his hands and into the back of the net.

This was not the first time we have seen this — the goalkeeper accurately sets their wall, second guesses themselves at the last moment, jumps behind the wall and gets caught on the wrong foot, exposing the corner they were tasked with protecting.

In a controlled environment, the keeper has two of the most important things they crave when facing a shot: time and a clear sight of the ball to make the save. However, during matches that changes as several other variables come into play: how many players are over the ball, who is going to shoot, how many are needed in the wall and how to position it. Get any of these things wrong and you’re likely to concede.

To offset many of those variables — and to provide the best chance to make the save — the goalkeeper’s use of a wall is incredibly important.

A wall set correctly helps block a portion of the goal (ideally half of it), reducing the area the keeper has to cover and allowing them to focus their attention on the shot to the far corner. If the keeper is positioned correctly, and remains patient in their approach, then shots to the side netting can be saved with relative ease. As a goalkeeper, the last thing you want to do is abandon your responsibility — the far corner.

In a perfect world, Ward would like to be set up centrally here so he has a chance to react to a shot to either corner, but that becomes impossible because of the additional wall by England.



Knowing that the extra English players were in position to obstruct his view, and would likely break away as the shot came in, Ward elected to position two extra players behind the English wall (one player a few yards to the side of the main wall and one player marking Harry Kane a few yards deeper of the wall), hoping that if the ball came low enough, one of them could clear it away from danger. So the four-person wall he set — which was correct considering the near central position and distance of about 26-27 yards — essentially turned into a wall of nine, as you can see below.

The nine-player wall Ward needs to contend with

Ward was forced to take up a position further to the left than he would have liked to get a better view of the ball. It is ultimately his positioning that makes him a bit insecure. Ward likely fears the ball over the top of his wall, and knowing that he has a bit more ground to cover should Rashford elect to go up and over, he wants to get a quick jump on the ball. However, this was the worst thing he could have done.

Once the referee blew his whistle, and Rashford began to approach the ball, Ward took a quick step to his right. Though it wasn’t ideal, at that moment, he was still in a favourable position to attack the shot. Unfortunately for Ward, his uncertainty didn’t stop there. He then took another small step behind his wall, which blocked his sight of the ball and opened up the space at the far corner that Rashford was looking to exploit. This was Ward’s step of no return — the one that took him so far out of position that he was never going to be able to save a quality shot from Rashford.

Danny Ward attempting to quickly change direction after over committing to his right post.

At a crucial moment when Ward needed to have a clear head, he instead questioned the work he had done earlier. By the time Rashford approached the ball to shoot, Ward had already taken two steps too far to his near post, left his far post completely exposed, and put himself in a disadvantageous position to see the strike.

Rashford whipped the ball toward the far post, just out of reach of Ward’s left hand, and into the top corner.

Ward struggling to get to Marcus Rashford’s strike

While it’s understandable why Ward made the moves that he did, he’s got to resist the urge to come across prematurely, and instead stay rooted to his initial position, trust his work, and wait to react to the shot.

If Ward had trusted his wall,  and himself, and stayed in his initial set position, we most likely would be looking at a different result. Two small movements was all it took.


Kasper Schmeichel’s one-on-one save v Tunisia

At his very best, Kasper Schmeichel’s reflexes in the tightest areas really shine. While a keeper’s footwork gets them from point A to point B to save shots from distance, a bigger factor in a one-on-one is the ability to change direction quickly and make small adjustments at a moment’s notice.

When the opposition broke through, Schmeichel had a defined approach, quickly closing the area between him and the striker while keeping his chest and body square to the ball. It was clearly in his head to stay as big as possible up until the point where he had to commit. In the time it took the forward to drop their gaze and shoot, Schmeichel quickly closed the space between them and limited the space beyond him to the most narrow angles.

His approach is uniquely similar to that of his father, Manchester United great Peter Schmeichel. When he arrived at Manchester United in 1991, Peter possessed a mix of attributes not seen from a goalkeeper in English football. Although seeing a keeper come out from goal to close down the attacker while spreading themselves to cover as much of the goal as possible is commonplace now, he was the first to employ the spread technique with such regularity that it became one of his trademarks.

As a goalkeeper, if you’re on or near the goal line and someone has a header or shot inside your own six-yard box, the chances of reacting to where it goes are slim. You may have heard the goalkeeping term “make yourself big” before — Peter Schmeichel’s use of the spread is a perfect example of that phenomenon. Chest and head square with the ball, arms wide at your side and feet shoulder-width apart.

In order to make the save, it’s important to keep your frame as big as possible for as long as possible. When it’s impossible to predict the direction of the strike, you cover as much of the goal as you can by moving forward quickly and keeping your legs, arms and head between the ball and the middle of the goal. This should not only decrease the area of the goal for a player to shoot past you, but should also decrease the saving area for the keeper, as well.

In the 42nd minute it was Schmeichel’s excellent use of the spread technique and his ability to “make himself big” while remaining flexible in his approach, which allowed him to pull off what is, in my opinion, the best one-on-one save we have seen at this year’s World Cup.

Tunisia’s Issam Jebali was through on goal just before half-time with the score still 0-0, so Schmeichel rushed forward and splayed out his limbs. 

Kasper Schmeichel quickly closing the space and “making himself big.”

Admittedly, Schmeichel did appear to go to the ground a bit quickly, which opened up the possibility of a chip from Jebali, a move which Tunisia’s striker attempted to perform. However, Schmeichel had other plans.

Just as it looked like the ball was about to glide up and over Schmeichel and into the back of the net, his giant right palm came flying out of nowhere and swatted the ball out for a corner. All Msakni and Jebali could do was put their heads in their hands in disbelief that Schmeichel managed to turn away what they believed was a sure goal.

Schmeichel’s big right hand clawing the ball away from goal.

What’s most impressive here was Schmeichel’s incredible ability to keep his head and chest square to the ball while remaining flexible in his approach. It’s what ultimately allowed him to improvise as quickly and seamlessly as he did by throwing his right arm to the ball. Had he committed and turned his head and chest away from the ball, anticipating the impact from the strike, he never would have made the save.

Sure, his huge frame and reach also played a big role here, but more important was his athleticism. I think it’s safe to say, this is one of those saves that his dad would certainly be proud of.


Manuel Neuer’s inefficient block technique v Japan

Manuel Neuer is one of, if not the most, technically efficient goalkeepers to ever play the position, but on Japan’s winning goal against Germany in the 83rd minute of their opening match, it was Neuer’s poor technique in a crucial moment that let him down and resulted in a goal being scored rather than a save being made.

It all started with what should have been a harmless long ball from a free kick in Japan’s own half.

After the referee whistled for a free kick, Japan defender Ko Itakura was quick to realise that Germany were out of position and sent a long ball deep into the Germans’ final third. Aware that he was already behind the defence, Takuma Asano expertly took his first touch into space and accelerated into Germany’s penalty area.

With one kick, Japan suddenly bypass all 10 German outfield players and find themselves in their opponents’ penalty area.

With Asano free on goal, Neuer had just a split second to determine what he should do next. Generally, he had three options: 1) Engage and spread — close the angle while throwing his arms and legs towards or in front of the ball, like we saw from Kasper Schmeichel, 2) Engage and block — close the angle with one knee up and the other leg down to prevent nutmegs, and keep his arms low, facing the ball, or 3) Wait closer to his goal line and react.

While closing the space between the goalkeeper and the attacker can be beneficial from closer distances, doing so from longer distances inadvertently makes the finish easier for the attacker because it exposes the very thing the goalkeeper is attempting to protect — the goal — and it significantly reduces the goalkeeper’s reaction time without affecting the outcome of the play. It also decreases his chances of making the save. If Neuer elected to engage and spread, he would have never impacted the play and inadvertently made himself vulnerable between the legs and around the arms in a crucial moment.

Asano being wide of the goal with a tight angle to shoot and a defender on his back was Neuer’s signal that the correct option was to remain calm and get into the stalking position (knees bent, chest over his toes and hands down at his sides) while waiting to react to Asano’s next move.

Manuel Neuer with his hands low awaiting Takuma Asano’s next move.

It wasn’t until Asano was almost at the corner of Neuer’s six-yard box that it became clear to Neuer that the correct option was to engage and block.

Initially Neuer’s technique and positioning were sound as he stayed low and waited until the final moment before the strike to drop his trailing leg down to the ground to block the area past him between his legs while keeping his arms and chest forward and toward the ball.

Neuer in the low block.

It was not until the ball left Asano’s foot that it all started to go wrong for Neuer.

Sensing the distance between him and Neuer was closing, Asano quickly pulled his right foot back and rifled the ball over Neuer’s shoulder, squeezing it into the tightest of areas between the goalkeeper and the near post.

Neuer turning his chest at the last minute and exposing his near post.

Rather than keep his chest and head square with the ball, Neuer flinched, turning his body and right shoulder in the process, opening up the gap for Asano to slip the ball past him. Neuer is usually so good at keeping his body square to the ball, but this time he got it wrong.

You can see in the screenshot above just how close he was to making the save and how keeping his chest square to the ball and arms down at his sides would have benefited him and most likely changed the outcome of the play.


Emiliano Martinez incorrect hand choice v Saudi Arabia

It was the 53rd minute of Argentina’s opening group match against Saudi Arabia and the score was 1-1. Saudi Arabia had equalised only minutes earlier and the entire momentum of the match had suddenly changed. Argentina were on their back foot.

After chasing down a high bouncing ball in the penalty area, Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari gained control of it near the right side of the box. Following some nifty footwork, Al-Dawsari expertly turned two Argentine defenders and then juked another to set himself up for his strike. Seeing an opening in front of him yet sensing the defending pressure closing in around him, Al-Dawsari rifled the ball toward the right corner of the goal.

Martinez was seeking out the ball while simultaneously keeping his eyes on the play developing in front of him, with his chest forward and hands down low at his sides.

When Al-Dawsari pulled his leg back and it became clear that he was going to shoot, Martinez began to bring his hands up towards his waist and prepared himself for his dive. As the ball jumped off of Al-Dawsari’s foot, Martinez took a big step with his left leg and launched himself towards the left corner of his goal. Right as it appeared that he was about to make a breathtaking full-extension save with his top (right) hand, the ball rolled over his fingertips and into the back of the net to give Saudi Arabia a stunning 2-1 lead and victory against Argentina.

Though credit must definitely be given to Al-Dawsari for the quality of his strike, there were still a few small tweaks that Martinez could have made, which may have ultimately changed the outcome of this play.

First, the top hand versus bottom hand debate.

In a perfect world every keeper will always get two hands on the ball, creating the strongest and biggest area behind the ball to make the save, but sometimes that isn’t possible. It is typically in situations where the goalkeeper has to stretch themselves to the furthest corners of the goal to make the save where extending one arm can be the preferred option.

There’s a big debate in the goalkeeping community as to what hand is the best for shots in the upper half of the goal. Some believe the keeper should use their most dominant hand, others advocate to always use the top hand, while some encourage the use of the bottom hand.

When facing shots with a predictable path and a rising trajectory towards the top corner of the goal, I’ve found the bottom hand holds a distinct advantage because it typically only requires a slight deflection to push the ball away from goal. Whether it is a strong palm or fingertip save, the bottom hand shooting upwards matches the trajectory of the ball allowing you to tip it wide or over the goal with a slight flex/push of the wrist.

Additionally, the most obvious advantage of using the bottom hand is that it’s often easier to line up the hand-to-ball coordination the closer the hand is to the ball and whichever post the goalkeeper is diving towards.

Due to the ball’s trajectory and the fact that it was drifting away from Martinez (wider) rather than up and over him (higher), the top hand was less powerful and ultimately less effective in this instance and thus the incorrect choice for Martinez. The bottom hand would have crucially allowed him to meet the ball at a more favourable angle as it drifted away from him and helped him to redirect the ball with a smaller deflection/push of the wrist than the top hand ultimately would have in this instance.

Emiliano Martinez reaching for the ball with his top hand, but was unable to make the save.

Martinez’s lower than normal set position from this distance also played an important role.

For shots from longer distances, the goalkeeper wants to have their body more upright, with the hands around stomach height, giving themselves adequate time to react to shots from every direction. As the striker gets closer to goal, the keeper brings their chest forward and more over their toes, leading to the hands dropping lower toward their waist/knees. The closer the shot, the quicker they will need to react and adjust their body shape, allowing them to better cover the goal while being ready to react at a moment’s notice.

Martinez’s lower set position with his hands below his knees.

From this distance, Martinez was far too low. If his hands were positioned higher here he would have been able to take a more direct path to the ball, shoot his hands out towards the ball, and execute the play much faster than he ultimately did. The low hand position didn’t only mean that he had to move his hands a longer distance to make the save, it also meant it was going to take more time before his hands would get there, and he would lose precious seconds of reaction time in his save attempt. And in goalkeeping, every second counts.

Martinez’s lower set position also explains why the shot would initially appear to be going up and over him (higher), rather than up and away from him (wider), and resulted in him using the top hand. Had Martinez been a bit more upright and balanced in his approach, it’s quite possible that the decision to go with the top hand instead of the bottom would have been easier for him, and we would be looking at a save here, rather than a goal.


Matt Turner’s reaction save versus Wales

With the U.S. clinging onto a 1-0 lead in the 64th minute of their opener, Wales had a free kick and a dangerous chance on goal. Harry Wilson stood over the ball and U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner took up a position in the back half of his goalmouth and a few yards off his line, while his teammates set their defensive line near the top of the box.

The high defensive line was important because it afforded the U.S. more space to defend the ball, while making it as difficult as possible for Wales to time their runs and attack the ball successfully. If the defensive line was lower, the U.S. backline would have been static and flat as a unit, creating traffic/chaos in a vulnerable area of the field, while Wales would have been able to build up the momentum into their runs and time their attack from a more advantageous position at the top of the box. While the high line isn’t foolproof, it does prevent many of these potential defensive issues from arising.

The U.S.’s high line.

From Turner’s perspective, the high line was advantageous because it created more space between him and his backline (and Wales’ attacking players) to come and claim the ball if it was in an area where he felt he could impact the play, or to adjust his positioning and get himself into a proper set position to save an attempt on target.

As Wilson swung the ball in, and it began to dip towards the penalty spot, it became clear that this wasn’t going to be a ball that Turner could claim. Rather than getting himself set at his position five yards from his goal, he took three quick steps backwards towards his goal line and quickly got himself set. The steps and retreat to his line gave Turner the precious reaction time — and the correct angle — he was going to need to make the save.

Matt Turner retreating to his line.

The ball dipped, dove and made contact with Walker Zimmerman’s head about eight yards from goal, redirecting it back towards the top of the box. After a pinball sequence in the box resulted in the ball bouncing back up in the air, Wales’ Chris Mepham sprinted towards the ball, leaped into the air and won the duel over the U.S. captain Tyler Adams, sending the ball back towards the far post where an onrushing Ben Davies leaped and launched himself at it, redirecting it on target in search of Wales’ equaliser.

Ben Davies redirecting the ball on target.

Already in the perfect position to impact the play after retreating to his goalline, Turner made one small bound and jumped to the ball as it was looping over his head and to the back of the net.

Right as it looked like the header was going to sneak over the top of him, the Turner extended his right hand and pushed the ball over the crossbar for a corner kick.

The save was more difficult than it would appear at first glance. There were a lot of small movements Turner needed to get correct at exactly the right moment. These weren’t decisions every goalkeeper gets correct. If Turner would have tried to rely on his reach or hands and stayed in his original set position four or five yards from goal, he would have likely been picking the ball out of the net.

What Turner crucially understands is that it is your feet and footwork, not your hands or reach, that gets you to the ball in order to make the save.

The tools that you use to make the save are more important than any physical trait. Without proper positioning, power, agility and footwork to get you from point A to point B to make the save, it doesn’t matter how tall you are. How a person plays the game and makes decisions is far more important.

It would be wrong to assume that a taller keeper with a longer reach would have made this save any easier than Turner did. It’s just as likely that a taller keeper would have taken their height/reach for granted, failed to adjust their position in goal and found themselves helpless as the header from Davies went up and over them and into the back of the net.

Though Wales would equalise through a Gareth Bale penalty in the 82nd minute, without Turner’s save it’s quite possible that the U.S. would have been looking at a loss rather than a draw.

Heading into Qatar there was some degree of uncertainty surrounding the goalkeeper position for the U.S., but with two clean sheets in three group-stage games, Turner has officially put those doubts to rest and emphatically proven that he belongs on the game’s biggest stage.

Alan Shearer World Cup Q&A: England v France, Kane, Mbappe and much more

Alan Shearer World Cup Q&A: England v France, Kane, Mbappe and much more

Alan Shearer  Dec 6, 2022 
Save ArticleWell, that was fun. And frenetic. And, as always, a little bit left-field.

I suppose by now I should expect the unexpected where The Athletic and our brilliant subscribers are concerned, but you certainly kept me on my toes during our live discussion about the World Cup (and pretty much everything else). Thank you to everybody who contributed and apologies if I didn’t get to your question or point.


If you didn’t see it at the time, some of the highlights are below. Also a few lowlights! I’ve tidied up a few of my answers and corrected some errors — this was a hectic hour and my typing fingers are still a work in progress — but everything else is more or less as it was.


We began, understandably enough, with this weekend’s huge World Cup quarter-final between England and France …

Big call for Gareth Southgate on Saturday. Back five or back four, for you? — Matt S.

Alan Shearer: It’s a back four for me, definitely. Gareth has made some big decisions so far but they’ve all worked and so he has done enough to earn our trust, but I’d stick with what England have been doing. The danger with a five or a three, if you prefer, is that you invite teams on to you, which wouldn’t be advisable against Kylian Mbappe and company. The four allows us to play on the front foot a bit more.

Who do you think will have the better chance to win this one? — Rishabh G.

My prediction before the tournament was that England would reach the quarter-finals, but there is a strong argument to be made for both teams in a positive sense and an asterisk against both in terms of frailties. Naturally, I hope it’s England’s day, and I think that’s one key aspect — it feels like a 50/50 game to me, one which will come down to the day itself, a moment of quality or a bit of luck. Both will feel as they have enough to win it and then go on to the semi-final, the final and even win the tournament. I’m sorry if that’s a cop-out, but it’s too close to call.

Everyone is talking about Mbappe’s form and quality, and how to stop him. When you were on a hot streak, full of confidence, what, if anything, could other teams do to throw you off? Were there particular opposition players that just had the knack of making you feel less in the groove? — Rowan L.

As an individual, when you’re firing and playing well, you honestly don’t care about stuff like this. You feel invincible, as if nothing can stop you. Yes, there were certain defenders I didn’t particularly enjoy playing against — you were always guaranteed a hard time against Arsenal’s Tony Adams and Martin Keown, for instance — but the system and personnel you’re facing didn’t really matter much to me and I’m sure Mbappe feels that way, too.

But it’s not just Mbappe. I’ve watched France a couple of times live at the World Cup and Antoine Griezmann is going under the radar, as is Adrien Rabiot in midfield. There are fascinating battles all over the pitch. It’s going to be a shoot-out.

To widen the conversation slightly, France haven’t been tested defensively yet and look at who we’ve got to do some testing of them; Bukayo SakaPhil FodenJude Bellingham and Harry Kane. I think they will have a bit to worry about.

What would be your starting line-up for England against France? — Hamza O. 

I think it will be the same line-up as against Senegal, Hamza.

Jude Bellingham and England beat Senegal convincingly in the round of 16 (Photo: Getty Images)

If you could give Kane one piece of advice, striker to striker, for the rest of the tournament, what would it be? — Tom A.

Harry doesn’t need my advice, Tom. He’s proved himself many times over, in club football and on the international stage. I think he’ll be happy with the way he’s played. I know he would have liked more goals, but he’s got one in the knockout stages and has more than played his part in terms of captaincy and assists. Knowing him as I do, he would love to be up there challenging for the Golden Boot, but a World Cup for England would more than compensate. It’s not as if the team have been struggling in attack, is it?

On James Maddison, while it’s very hard to criticise anything with England right now, do you feel him only getting 34 minutes for his country, three years ago, is an incredible waste of a unique talent? And could he yet play a part in this World Cup? — Kevin U.

Sure, he could play a part. I think we all appreciate he’s a very good talent, but others have played well and England are in the quarter-finals. We know Gareth is loyal and that will come into his thinking and, as you say, it’s difficult to criticise him when England got to the final of the Euros last year and the World Cup semis four years ago. They have a great pool of players in forward and midfield positions, but he’s one of them, certainly.

What are your thoughts on Declan Rice? — Asa C.

I’m a big fan. He can do a bit of everything in midfield, he can surge forward with the ball and he can give you a bit of protection, too. He’s a great, driving force but also a calm head. You might not always notice him having a good game, but take him out and you do notice it. He was one of our better players the other night.

You have mentioned that England should fear nobody at this World Cup. I’m interested in your view on how common fear is among teams and players generally — Matt X.

When I say “fear”, I don’t mean it literally. Brazil gave us a thrilling first 45 minutes against South Korea, arguably the best of the tournament, but when you look and analyse, Alisson had to pull off three unbelievable saves for them. They have one or two issues defensively and what I mean is that every team left in the tournament has a flaw, a weakness, and they all have plenty of positives, too.To answer your question more generally, no, I don’t think any team ever goes onto the pitch worrying or afraid, certainly not at this level. You might have respect or admiration for your opponents, but you always believe you can and will win. Otherwise, what’s the point?

England have been playing nice football in this World Cup. But what is the factor that makes us believe that this team can make it to the end compared to the teams of 1998, 2002 and even 2006, which had some of football’s giants on the team sheet? — Stathis C. 

Two things. One, it’s not about names, not solely anyway. We’re a better team now in terms of experience than we were in 2020 and 2018, our two most recent tournaments. We’re better in terms of Bellingham coming through. He is a huge plus. The other point is that there hasn’t been any single outstanding team in the tournament. Some very good ones, yes, but each one has a flaw or two. That gives England (and the rest) an opportunity. But competitions like this are always a thin line. I still maintain that our squad in 1998 was good enough to win the World Cup and if we’d gone through against Argentina, we might well have. But in football, “if” is a very big little word!

Do you believe the winners between England and France on Saturday go on to win this World Cup? — Chris M.

I think whoever wins will end up in the final, either against Argentina or Brazil. And then it’s another tough ask.

After the last two tournaments, in some peoples’ thoughts anything less than England winning this World Cup would be a failure. What are your thoughts? — Jamie P.

It’s a tricky one, Jamie. This isn’t a ”normal” tournament in terms of where it is and when it is. England have shown they’re capable of better than the quarter-finals, which was my prediction, but they also have big tests ahead of them.

Perhaps it would depend on how they went out. If they get stuffed, yes, that would represent a failure. But it’s difficult to answer the question. By any standards, Gareth has done really well over a decent period, but that’s the jeopardy of international football. You get judged every two years on a handful of games. It’s a knife-edge!

And then we had some wider World Cup questions …

Who are you backing for the Golden Boot? — Jack B.

Mbappe has a bit of a lead, doesn’t he? It’s very difficult to look past him because if he gets one against England as France get knocked out, it would put him on six goals — three more than anyone else at the time of writing. Shall we take that as our bargain? Mbappe to get one kind of Boot, France to get another and England to progress? I would take that!

Didi Hamann on (Irish TV channel) RTE was very critical of Brazil showing a lack of respect due to their celebrations after their goals (against South Korea), finishing off by saying “they won’t be dancing in two weeks time” (after the final is decided). Is that a lack of understanding of Brazilian culture vs his native Germany? — Darren H.

Look at how Brazil have been arriving at the grounds — dancing and singing on the coach and with music blasting out. It’s what they’re about. That’s the yellow shirt, isn’t it? Fun and flamboyant and noisy and outgoing. No, not once in that first half did I think they were being disrespectful. They were just being very good. Why the hell not?

If you could make one change to the World Cup, what would it be? — Eric B.

In footballing terms, it would be to use VAR as we were originally told it would be used years ago. I hate this constant re-refereeing of games.

What is it like out in Qatar? Does it feel safe and welcoming? Are you happy with how you have covered the event with the BBC? — William S.

I would like to think the BBC have covered the issues of human rights sensitively and in depth (as we have done at The Athletic, as well), particularly on our opening show. Yes, I have felt perfectly safe and yes, we’ve all been welcomed, but this is a World Cup and none of that stuff is an issue. You don’t get a real or accurate view of a host country. I’m also very aware and conscious of all the conservations surrounding the tournament being held here. Those feelings have never gone away.


And now the club-related questions, the personal (and the weird) …

Regarding your first club, Southampton, where you’re still loved: how do you think we’ll do in the second half of the season? Many of us are concerned by the new manager’s (Nathan Jones) lack of experience and especially the absence of a true goalscorer (feel free to lace your boots one last time…) — Graham W.

If only I could! I wouldn’t have had the career I had without my time at The Dell. I grew and learned there and I loved it. I think it depends on who they sign in January, if anyone. But I’m slightly concerned, I have to say.

Looking back, what moments stick out from your career as the most pressure-filled? — Dakota C.

Penalty shootouts in the quarter and semi-finals of Euro 96. Penalties for England in the round of 16 against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. And my last ever kick of a football, a penalty (for Newcastle) against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. You’ll notice a theme there! Thankfully, they all went in!

Shearer dispatched his penalty against Argentina in 1998 (Photo: Getty Images)

What is the best football song of all time in your opinion? World In Motion for me — Loz N.

There aren’t many great ones! World In Motion, yes. Three Lions, definitely … After that, I’m struggling.

Does it annoy you that the goals you scored pre-Premier League for Southampton are never included when your stats are talked about? It’s almost as if they don’t exist — Dean T.

If you think it annoys me, just imagine how Gary Lineker feels — by that criteria, he doesn’t exist at all! No, it doesn’t irritate me. It’s just the way it is. Although maybe I’ll feel a bit differently when Harry Kane gets closer to my Premier League record! I’ll be demanding a recount.

Have you ever had any “What if I miss this?” moments? What does that feel like in the middle of a big match? — Andy B.

Most strikers play on instinct and repetition. You’ve got to be strong mentally and you also have to accept as a forward that you’ll miss. It’s natural, it happens. You’ll miss an easy chance now and again, but because you believe in your ability and you have experience, you trust yourself to keep going and keep getting into those areas. And, trust me, that feeling of scoring a goal drives you on. Nothing compares to it. The closest I came to the feeling you describe is the long walk to the spot during a penalty shootout, which feels as though it will never end. But again, you have to trust yourself to get through it.

Do you think old-school No 9s will ever return to the game? — Nick S.

They haven’t quite gone away! Erling Haaland is a pure No 9. So is Robert Lewandowski, so is Olivier Giroud, who is now France’s record goalscorer. Richarlison is playing as a nine for Brazil and doesn’t even do that for Spurs. But Haaland is carrying the torch for this generation, certainly. As someone who played the position and loves goalscorers, I would hope people would want to emulate him or find another one. These things are often cyclical.

How do you eat your steak? — Deniz O.


Who would you say was the best player you ever played alongside and why? — Jerome T.

At club level, Les Ferdinand at Newcastle. We only had one season together but we scored 49 goals between us.

The most unforgettable match of your career? — Leo T.

When I broke Jackie Milburn’s goalscoring record for Newcastle United — 2-0 at home to Portsmouth in 2006.

What was your favourite kit (that you wore?)? — Joseph B.

The 1996 Newcastle strip, which had the big Brown Ale logo on it.

Alan, if this is really you that writes for The Athletic, I need you to weave three Police song titles into your next BBC pundit spot — Will B.

Who else do you think is writing this, Will? Roxanne? You must be mad — like, Walking on the Moon mad — if you think it’s anybody else. Now I feel like the King of Pain. I’m So Lonely, but I really don’t want to Fall Out. I’m Wrapped Around Your Finger after all, just an Englishman in Qatar. But, sorry, I’m not saying any of that on the telly!

Antoine Griezmann – England would be foolish to neglect France’s lesser-sung hero

<img src="data:;base64,” alt=”” aria-hidden=”true” data-airgap-id=”83″ />Antoine Griezmann
By Amy Lawrence  Dec 7, 2022

When Antoine Griezmann pulls on his No 7 jersey on Saturday, the feeling could not be more familiar.

His club situation might have been irregular for a while, but there is nothing more constant than his presence for France. That World Cup quarter-final against England will, we assume, see Griezmann represent his country for a 72nd consecutive game.

It is a crazy statistic.Over a five-and-a-half-year period, he has started every single France fixture, be it the World Cup final, a qualifier in Kazakhstan, or a friendly against Bolivia. He has never been injured, never had a twinge or a moan, never needed a rest. He is France’s whirring dynamo. Just watch him play — light on his feet, on the move all the time, eyes scanning for where to be and how to affect the game.Griezmann has also, in this World Cup, taken on a role of particular importance. When it was clear France needed a rethink because of the injuries ruling N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba out of the tournament, few imagined the key to restructuring midfield in a workable way was one of the country’s all-time top scorers (he is third on the list). Yet coach Didier Deschamps has found a midfield solution by asking one of his most trusted players to alter his game.Griezmann has remodelled himself in a deeper role, lending technical security, game intelligence and tireless work rate to help Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot. “It’s quite freeing,” Griezmann says, “being there in the relationship between defence and forwards, defensively switched-on and helping my team-mates offensively.”France’s strategy during this tournament — something that has had to click very quickly given how their new defensive and midfield units have been, to an extent, thrown together — owes a lot to Griezmann being a central hub. It might not catch the eye quite as much as Kylian Mbappe (well, nothing does), but it matters. Griezmann is the lesser-sung hero of the defending champions’ run to the last eight.

Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe
Griezmann and Mbappe celebrate a goal that was eventually ruled out during France’s match against Tunisia (Photo: Ryan Pierse via Getty Images)

Here’s the nugget that tells us a lot not just about Griezmann, but also about the collective attitude within the camp: despite all his experience, he has been taking tips on positioning from Youssouf Fofana, the 23-year-old Monaco midfielder whose call-up for this World Cup came a little out the blue, having only won his first cap in September. Griezmann is happy to listen and learn from anyone who might raise his game. (Incidentally, the pair have also stepped up as the main DJs among the French party — another symbol of how young and old alike in this group are all doing their bit to help with bonding and a good atmosphere.)

Griezmann relishes his role as a creator of happy buzz around the camp; a joker, easy to talk to, somebody who brings important value on and off the pitch. He is one of life’s optimists.It is not a complete shock for him to be working a little further away from goal — tracking back and ferreting to retrieve possession has always been a natural part of his game, even when used as a forward.

What is evident in his performances at this World Cup is his ability to have an impact all over the pitch.He has an innate sense of where to be to enable him to pickpocket the ball in defensive areas, spray passes to maintain possession in midfield, and dart upfield to join forays into the opposition box. Griezmann brings a certain poise to the team’s makeup. “We need to be balanced,” he says. “Without a great defence, you don’t win the big competitions. We’re all focused on that, even if we have attacking players.”Against Poland in the first knockout game on Sunday, he produced a midfield masterclass.The variety of his involvement was startling. Beautifully crafted long and short passes, dangerous set-piece deliveries, neat flicks and tricks, darting dribbles, harassing and pressing, and busting a gut to get back to intercept or tackle. France’s third and final goal of the match was instigated by Griezmann lofting the ball out of his penalty area. A few seconds later, Mbappe bludgeoned it into the net.He has always had the flexibility to play in different positions (usually across the front). When he started playing for France in the 2013-14 season, he was a left-sided attacker. After a couple of years, he shifted to the right, also having spells centrally and even as a false nine.Heat maps of his positioning at the past three World Cups, below, show his changing role. They tell us that in 2014 he was busier on the left, while in 2018 he played higher up the pitch more frequently, as he has done in 2022.

Griezmann has evolved over the World Cups he has played for France.


In 2014 he was the poster boy for a side trying to recover from the wreckage of the soul-destroying tournament four years before in South Africa. France were on a path then, but not ready for greatness. By 2018, he was one of the protagonists of the World Cup triumph, sharing the moment with Mbappe, Pogba, Kante et al. Now, he is the team’s glue.



England’s Walker confident he can stop Mbappe against France

The graphic below shows that against Poland he had strong passing links with Tchouameni and Rabiot in midfield, as well as Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele further forward. Griezmann and Mbappe have made the biggest impression when it comes to valuable passes so far in this World Cup.

With Mbappe casting high-voltage spells and Olivier Giroud breaking records, the impact of Griezmann Version ’22 has arguably passed below the radar. England would be very foolish, though, to take him lightly.

It is strange to think of how central he is to France’s success when in his youth he was overlooked by his national team. He even endured a ban from international football for curfew-breaking misdemeanours as an under-21 player. It is fair to say he has learned from his youthful mistakes.

In France’s 118 internationals since his March 2014 debut, Griezmann has only not figured four times (twice out injured, twice an unused substitute).

If anyone knows what it means to keep the games coming for his country, it is him.

AL RAYYAN, QATAR - NOVEMBER 30: Kylian Mbappe of France during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group D match between Tunisia and France at Education City Stadium on November 30, 2022 in Al Rayyan, Qatar. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Are England actually good? We will find out on Saturday against Mbappe Jack Pitt-Brooke Dec 4, 2022

The good ship Gazball sails serenely on. England are through to the World Cup quarter-finals against France after dispatching Senegal 3-0 at the Al Bayt Stadium. They had to negotiate some choppy waters at the start but then cut through Senegal twice on the break at the end of the first half. The ease with which they managed the second half of the game, scoring a third goal, making changes, conserving energy, no drama, no fuss, was a sign of Southgate’s steady hand on the tiller.If you are looking for something more definitive, then you will have to wait. Because this win showed nothing that we did not already know about Southgate’s practical, realistic England. This was the England we have seen a lot of over the past few years, at their efficient best. So far, so Gareth.The wait for a clearer answer will take less than a week. Is this actually real? Is this actually new? Are England actually good? Or is all of this just a convenient coincidence of a nice man, some good players and some easy draws? All of this will be answered in the biggest litmus test of all, back here on Saturday night against France. A game that already feels so big that you can barely see the edges of it from up close.Lose that and England will fly home honourable quarter-finalists. It will feel like 2002 or 2006 and the question will be asked whether the Southgate era has run its course, whether England have reverted to the mean and need a fresh start. Win that, though, and everything is possible. Win that and they would certainly hope to be in the World Cup final less than two weeks from now.

For now, these are still very much chartered waters. What was so striking here was how different this felt from England’s last win at this stage. Anyone who was at their last World Cup last 16 game against Colombia in 2018 will recall it as an evening of emotional exhaustion and late-night fear. It was — we can say with the distance of time — a truly awful game. England were nervous, Colombia were cynical. England should have won it, then blew it, then nearly lost it in extra time, then nearly lost it on penalties, but somehow got over the line at the end.It was a huge achievement at the time – the first time England had won a knockout game in a major tournament since they beat Ecuador in the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup, back when Tony Blair was prime minister and David Beckham England captain. In truth — and Southgate admitted this again this week — winning a knockout game was England’s main aim in Russia and everything else was a bonus.

England are in a different place now. This was their sixth knockout win under Southgate, so this had a routine quality that made it almost unrecognisable from that draining night in 2018. That game was a marathon. This one was over at the end of the first half. That night depleted the England players so much it inhibited performances in the next games. Southgate made five changes, preserving his key players ahead of the quarter-final. By the end, it was a stroll.In that sense, this felt like a triumph — or at least a reminder — of Southgate’s best qualities. He understands tournament football and what it takes to progress. He thinks clearly about strategies and plans. He does not get too up when England win or too down when they do not. Some people clearly think Gazball is too cold, too planned, too rigid, but as a methodology for guiding England teams through major tournaments, it is more effective than any other set of methods that have been tried before.

What sometimes gets lost with Southgate is his powers of resource allocation. (Remember when Carlos Queiroz, on the eve of the tournament, memorably pointed to how this England team, in contrast to others, “take a realistic approach to every game”.) Sometimes they win the game from set pieces, sometimes they win it from out wide, sometimes from running in behind. Today they won it through Jude Bellingham and Jordan Henderson breaking through the middle of the pitch.

You might say, well, it was only Senegal, and Senegal without Sadio Mane or Idrissa Gueye. Of course, this is true. But tournament football is not played on paper and plenty of other teams with lots of talent have sunk in difficult waters recently. Just look at Germany, the great tournament professionals, dumped out of the last two World Cups in the group stage. Southgate is a master navigator of these games, which is why England’s record in them is so much better now than it was.

But there are knockout games and there are knockout games, and of the six that England have won under Southgate, only one of them has come against what you could describe as another top team. And that was the last 16 win at the Euros against Joachim Low’s tired old Germany team, seven years after they won the World Cup and in what was Low’s final match in charge.

Harry Kane celebrates with Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish after scoring their side’s second goal against Germany (Photo: Eddie Keogh – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

France will be different. They are not a used-to-be-good team. They are a good-now team. They are the reigning world champions. And in Kylian Mbappe they have one of the two men who has played like a god since the start of this tournament. There is no bigger test in world football right now than them: not Spain, not Brazil, not even Lionel Messi’s Argentina. “It’s the biggest test that we could face,” as Southgate put it afterwards.

Will England be up to it? We all know that Germany were well on the way down when England beat them last year. So are they able to knock a team off the top of the world?

There are some reasons to be optimistic. England have kept three clean sheets so far and the only two goals they have conceded came when Iran were already well beaten in the opener. (Southgate knows clean sheets win World Cups: just look at France in 2018). England have started to find their form in front of goal, too – 12 goals in four games, scored by eight players, only one of them for Kane, and none of them from the penalty spot. If you want another big improvement from 2018, then here is one. Four years ago they struggled to score from open play. Now it comes very easily to them.

And yet despite all of this, it was impossible not to watch the first half here and not start to have some worrying thoughts about Mbappe. It only took four minutes for Boulaye Dia to run straight through in behind Harry Maguire, into those big empty spaces behind the England defence. Half a dozen times in the first half Maguire or John Stones — usually so good with the ball — gave it straight back to Senegal. If Mane had been playing, England would surely have been punished. If Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele benefit from those turnovers on Saturday, they will not hesitate to take the game away from England. If Stones and Maguire are this sloppy on Saturday, the game will be over at half-time.

Which is not to say that England will definitely lose. The game feels weighted in France’s favour because of their experience and because of Mbappe, but not by much.

What it offers is something we have been searching for with England for years: a glimpse of a clear answer at the end of a long journey, whether this is the end of their horizon or not.

Why France look like the World Cup’s best team again: ‘More freedom, more fresh air’

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 04: Olivier Giroud of France celebrates after scoring the team's first goal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between France and Poland at Al Thumama Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

By Adam Crafton Dec 4, 2022

For the French national team, this was just about the perfect evening. A 3-1 victory over Poland sealed smooth passage into the quarter-final of the World CupOlivier Giroud became his country’s all-time men’s top scorer and Kylian Mbappe confirmed once again that he has arrived at this tournament in tip-top shape.

At the final whistle, members of the French backroom staff even formed a little tunnel of love for their players to walk through as they left the pitch to a parade of backslapping and hair-ruffling.

Now, France go into a game on Saturday against England in confident fashion and dreaming of becoming the first nation to defend the World Cup for 60 years, when Brazil won the trophy both in 1958 and 1962. Didier Deschamps would be the first coach to do it since Vittorio Pozzo of Italy in both 1934 and 1938.

For Deschamps, this must all be rather liberating after a European Championship campaign last year that descended into all sorts of rancour and discontent.

France exited the competition at the round of 16 stage against Switzerland. Mbappe did not score a goal and missed the decisive penalty in the shootout against Switzerland. Giroud, meanwhile, was relegated to the substitutes’ bench to make way for Karim Benzema. In the stands, disputes broke out between the parents of French players, most notably between the mother of midfielder Adrien Rabiot and the parents of Mbappe. There were complaints about the location and quality of the French hotel base in Hungary and, on a far more serious note, Mbappe felt under-supported by the French Football Federation when he was subjected to foul racist abuse on social media for the crime of missing a penalty.

Deschamps, meanwhile, endured a torrent of speculation around his future. He has coached France since 2012 and despite World Cup success in 2018, not everybody has appreciated the team’s efficient approach to tournament football.

Zinedine Zidane, the former Real Madrid coach, has long been expected to replace Deschamps after this competition in Qatar. In the months leading up to this tournament, it did not appear to be getting much easier for Deschamps.

At one point, Paul Pogba’s brother, Mathias, surreally claimed that Paul had asked a marabout — technically a Muslim holy man, but with connotations of a north African witch doctor — to inflict an injury on Mbappe. It was denied by Paul Pogba but created a slew of headlines around two of France’s most famous players. Deschamps’ problems appeared to multiply when injuries derailed his pre-tournament plans: Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Presnel Kimpembe, Christopher Nkunku and Karim Benzema have all been forced out of the World Cup.

Yet the pool of French talent runs deep and the absence of senior players has presented opportunities for emerging ones such as Jules Kounde and Dayot Upamecano in defence and Aurelien Tchouameni in midfield. We say emerging, but these players play for Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid respectively, which underlines the embarrassment of riches at Deschamps’ disposal.

Perhaps, too, a slightly diminished selection has made the man-management of his squad that little bit easier. If there were any issues between Pogba and Mbappe, they have not been tested out in Qatar, while Giroud, even aged 36, has thrived after being restored to the No 9 position. Tchouameni, only 22, has formed a stylish partner to the conscientious Rabiot, who appears to have healed any prevailing wounds with other members of the squad. Antoine Griezmann, a different kind of player to the rapid forward of yesteryear, is working hard in an advanced central midfield position, while France still retain their explosive pace on the counter-attack with Ousmane Dembele and Mbappe.

Antoine Griezmann celebrates with Kylian Mbappe (Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Mbappe, for his part, appears liberated by the absence of other headline names and prepares to dovetail more neatly with Giroud than he has at times previously with Ballon d’Or winner Benzema. Not that it has always been straightforward between Giroud and Mbappe, with the former upsetting the latter before last year’s Euros by complaining in a press conference about the quality of the service. After this victory against Poland, Giroud actually referenced, in a positive manner, Mbappe’s passing and crossing when speaking to journalists.

When asked by The Athletic to explain the difference between this tournament and Euro 2020, Giroud said: “It was a weird game against Switzerland. We were 3-1 up and then we lost in a penalty shootout. If we went through, we wouldn’t talk about (other things). With COVID-19 requirements (at the time), it was so unpleasant. It was the same for every team but we could not see our families. It was a weird time, it was not the best to play a competition. So I can say this World Cup, it’s more freedom, more fresh air.”

Mbappe, in particular, is standing out and scored two more stunning goals to reach five for the World Cup this year. Matty Cash, the Poland and Aston Villa full-back tasked with marking Mbappe on the night, said: “He is obviously unbelievable, my toughest opponent by far. I spent the afternoon watching his clips and knew it would be a tough test. But when he gets the ball and then stops and moves, he is the quickest thing I’ve ever seen.” Cash may have endured a chastening evening but he did at least claim Mbappe’s shirt, which he will frame at his home back in England.

Mbappe, along with Hugo LlorisRaphael Varane, Griezmann and Giroud are the five French players who started both the World Cup final win over Croatia in 2018 and the victory over Poland on Sunday night.

Kounde, a relative newcomer to the starting line-up, says his team are dangerous opponents because they can create chances both through built-up possession and on the counter-attack. He also explained the fresher atmosphere. “We have spent more time with each other, we have more experience and more games together,” he said. “It’s how you build a group. The spirit is really good, the mix of generations is going well.”Lloris is now yearning after a second World Cup. He says: “When you arrive, you don’t want to fix a limit. You want to push as far as you can.”

England’s predictable World Cup results suggest beating France would be a surprise

England's forward Harry Kane reacts after the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. - Croatia will play France in the World Cup final after they beat England 2-1 in extra-time on Wednesday thanks to a Mario Mandzukic goal in the second period of extra-time. (Photo by MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS        (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP via Getty Images)

By Michael Cox Dec 8, 2022

The most enigmatic team at World Cup 2022 were clearly Japan. They were eliminated in the second round, and their basic record of two wins, one draw and one loss is, on paper, fairly unremarkable.

The peculiarity, of course, came from assessing those results against specific opponents. Japan’s scores were essentially a mirror image of what you would have expected. They defeated Spain and Germany — two of the top-six favourites heading into the competition — but managed to lose to Costa Rica, considered the 32nd-favourite. It was a curious, almost illogical sequence of results, and yet it’s the kind of situation football throws up regularly. There are, presumably, lots of Japan supporters saying things like “typical us”, and “we never do things the easy way”. Football results regularly confound expectations.

Historically, though, England are the complete opposite of Japan at World Cups. England aren’t a brilliantly unpredictable outfit who outwit the big boys, then flop against minnows. They are very simple, and do precisely what you expect. They don’t wobble against small sides. They roughly match the performance of fellow sides on the fringes of the favourites. They tend to be eliminated by the first serious contender they face.

To test this theory, we can compare England’s World Cup results to the position of their opponents in FIFA’s world rankings at the time. Those rankings aren’t perfect and because they were introduced in the early 1990s, we can only use them as a measure from the 1998 World Cup onwards. But that still takes into account 32 matches, a decent sample.

Here, in chronological order, are the results. The colour coding is simple — green for victories, orange for draws, and red for defeats. The strength of the opposition is denoted by red for a team with a single-figure ranking, orange for a side ranked between 10th and 19th, and green for a team ranked 20th or below. A penalty shootout loss is denoted by an asterisk, a penalty shootout win is donated by two asterisks.

England World Cup results, 1998-2022

2006Trinidad and Tobago472-0
2014Costa Rica280-0

This table is sortable on desktop. If you click on “rank”, you can order those 32 games by the opposition’s world ranking. And, when you do that, a fairly obvious pattern emerges. When England face “green” opponents, they generally win. When they face “red” opponents, they generally lose.

And here’s the tally of whether the two categories match up. The three pink rows account for the results you would expect, the four silver rows show when there was something of a surprise, and the two blue rows indicate how many genuine shocks there have been.


And from those 32 matches — World Cup 1998 onwards — in 22 (69 per cent) of them, England’s result is precisely what you would expect according to the strength of the opposition.

There have been three occasions when England have faced weak opposition and only drawn — all of them 0-0. The first was actually a perfectly good result, as a goalless draw against Nigeria in 2002 meant England qualified for the knockout stage, and the third was essentially a dead rubber against Costa Rica in 2014, as England had already been eliminated and fielded a reserve side. Therefore, of the draws, only the 0-0 with Algeria in 2010 can be considered a truly poor result.

The only time England have completely flopped against (on paper) weak opposition came in the semi-final at the last World Cup. Croatia were ranked just 20th in the world, and England were defeated in extra time. Perhaps that ranking slightly underestimates Croatia’s quality, but it does illustrate quite how simple England’s path to the final was.

In eight matches against “orange” opposition, England have, sure enough, drawn five. The positive results came against Colombia in 1998 and Wales this year. The defeat came at the hands of Romania in 1998.

And in nine matches against “red” opposition, England have won only one — the 1-0 group-stage victory over Argentina in 2002, thanks to David Beckham scoring a penalty won by Michael Owen from The Athletic columnist Mauricio Pochettino.

In fact, even the two draws against serious opposition were ultimately defeats on penalties, against Argentina in 1998 and Portugal in 2006. So if you consider those games to be losses, then England have lost eight of their nine matches against top-ten opposition since the FIFA rankings were introduced.

What’s the reason for this pattern? Maybe that’s a silly question, trying to find a reason for things generally going as you’d expect. But the experience of Japan (or Spain and Germany) shows that’s not always the case. England don’t suffer defeats as shocking as Argentina’s against Saudi Arabia, nor do they defeat stronger opponents the same way Belgium, for example, did against Brazil four years ago.

Maybe it comes down to the fact England are, in tactical terms, always rather beige. They’re not a high-risk attacking side who pile forward in numbers and leave themselves exposed at the back — that type of approach probably increases the chances of a shock result.

Equally, they’re usually not a flexible side who vary their approach in response to the approach of their opponents. Teams who work backwards from the opposition are often effective at blunting strong sides, but lack a positive identity to break down weaker opponents.

England are always just themselves; their approach is designed to suit their own players. There’s rarely enough tactical ingenuity to defeat a stronger side, but the quality of individuals is usually good enough to defeat weak opponents. It doesn’t bode well ahead of a meeting against fourth-ranked France, and perhaps demonstrates that some tactical flexibility, and a focus on blunting the opposition, might be in order.

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 30: Lionel Messi of Argentina controls the ball surrounded by eight players of Poland during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Poland and Argentina at Stadium 974 on November 30, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

This is how you can stop Lionel Messi

John Muller Dec 3, 2022

This article doesn’t matter.The way to defend him isn’t some big secret. Every player in the World Cup has been watching him half their lives.Teams will study this stuff. They’ll practise it. And then they’ll get out there on the pitch and 11 minds will go blank, like that nightmare about showing up to a final exam you completely forgot about. Because that’s just what playing against Lionel Messi does to you. He has too many ways to beat you.But if you’re unfortunate enough to try to stop Messi in a World Cup knockout game — and teams have to prepare for him now, because