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.


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