“Europe’s World Cup difficulties may be part of an emerging trend. Whereas European teams filled 10 of the last-16 places in five of the first six tournaments after the round was introduced in 1986 (with nine getting there in 2002), only six made it in 2010 and this year. With tens of thousands of fans from neighbouring countries flooding into Brazil, the South American teams have clearly benefited from home advantage. Supporters from Argentina and Chile took over Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana when their sides played there in the group phase and France coach Didier Deschamps believes such mass support can make a difference. “We are in Brazil, so the South American teams certainly acclimatise better, and maybe the fact that they are playing so close to home and have so many supporters with them gives them added strength and energy,” he said on Wednesday.”
A piece I wrote for AFP looking at Europe’s struggles in the World Cup’s first round can be read here.
“A raw squad and a low level of pre-tournament expectation means that [Roy] Hodgson has largely been spared the media savaging visited on some of his predecessors, but at present there are few other consolations. Despite preparations that Hodgson described as “excellent” and a squad packed with in-form players from the country’s biggest clubs, England were simply not good enough. Even more worryingly, for Hodgson, [Greg] Dyke, and everyone else with England’s interests close at heart, it is beginning to seem like the country’s elite players have a chronic inability — emotionally and tactically — to manage the demands of tournament football.”
My final thoughts on England’s sorry World Cup campaign can be read here.
“England dominated possession against Uruguay and saw plenty of the ball against Italy, but too often technical deficiencies and unnecessary haste betrayed them. With a team geared exclusively towards attacking at pace, England lacked players capable of drawing the sting from the match by putting a foot on the ball and slowing the pace. At 1-1 against Uruguay, England’s inability to control the game’s tempo proved their undoing. “I just thought when we got the equaliser, we just needed to be a bit more clever, a bit more cute, and a bit more difficult to beat,” admitted Steven Gerrard. “Maybe we should have accepted that going for a point might have been the best option.””
My take for AFP on the reasons behind England’s chastening group-phase exit at the 2014 World Cup can be read here.
Related link: England exit leaves Gerrard heartbroken again
“Spain’s tournament may have been ended by Chile on Wednesday, but the defending champions’ six-year reign as the world’s pre-eminent national team has had a profound impact on the way that teams play. The ‘tiki-taka’ passing style pioneered by Spain and Barcelona has been copied around the world, with proactive, attacking football and aggressive pressing now widespread. The example set by players such as Xavi and Andres Iniesta means that players have become accustomed to taking more risks in possession, which leads to more turnovers, and in turn, more goals.”
Some thoughts on the avalanche of goals that has marked the opening of the World Cup.
“Against such tactics, tiki-taka can seem naive in its steadfast commitment to conserving possession, but its impact already reaches so deep that it would prove impossible to fully uproot. It was Barcelona, with Lionel Messi, who first brought the ‘false nine’ tactic to a wider audience, while it is now commonplace to see goalkeepers methodically practising first-time passes during their pre-match warm-ups. The cult of possession has forced players in every position to sharpen up their technique and has made the scrutiny of passing completion statistics an early port of call in any after-match post-mortem.”
I’ve written a piece for AFP on why tiki-taka will endure despite Spain’s early exit from the World Cup, and you can read it here.
Related link: Chile end Spain’s reign at World Cup
“Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – Lionel Messi scored a trademark individual goal as Argentina opened their World Cup campaign with a narrow 2-1 win over Bosnia-Hercegovina at Rio de Janeiro’s renovated Maracanã on Sunday.”
My AFP report on the night Messi illuminated the Maracanã can be read here.
Related link: Shot-shy Rooney gives Hodgson England dilemma
“Manaus (Brazil) (AFP) – Mario Balotelli’s second-half header earned Italy a 2-1 victory over an enterprising England side in an engaging World Cup Group D opener in Manaus on Saturday.”
My first World Cup match report for AFP on a captivating encounter at the Amazonia Arena can be read here.
“Rooney was one of few United players to find form during a disastrous 2013-14 season and he feels that a pre-season pep talk with former manager David Moyes helped him rediscover some of his famous fire. ‘He felt I had lost a bit of aggression out of my game -- which I was asked to do, by the way. He said he wanted me to find that aggression back,’ Rooney said of Moyes, who was sacked by United in April. ‘I thought about it a lot. It wasn’t really me. Maybe there are times when you have to try and lift the crowd with a tackle — obviously not a stupid one, but a run back and tackle can lift the fans and even turn a game round.’”
My first AFP dispatch from the 2014 World Cup, on Wayne Rooney’s eagerness not to let another major international tournament pass him by, can be read here.
“Following his parents’ divorce, Giggs adopted his mother’s surname and it was with that name on the back of his shirt that he was to become an international sporting icon. Giggs was the first member of United’s feted ‘Class of ’92′ youth team to infiltrate the senior squad, setting an example that David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers would go on to emulate. A wiry, jet-heeled left-winger, Giggs’s weaving runs made him one of the stars of Ferguson’s first great United team and moved team-mate Gary Pallister to comment that he gave his opponents “twisted blood”.”
My AFP profile of Ryan Giggs, who announced his retirement on Monday after an era-defining 23-year career, can be read here.
“London (AFP) – Aaron Ramsey scored an extra-time winner as Arsenal ended their nine-year trophy drought by coming from two goals down to beat Hull City 3-2 in a gripping FA Cup final on Saturday.”
My AFP match report on one of the best FA Cup finals of recent years can be found here.
“London (AFP) – Manchester City secured a second Premier League title in three seasons by comfortably defeating West Ham United 2-0 at a jubilant Etihad Stadium on Sunday.”
My AFP report on the final day of the 2013-14 Premier League season can be read here.
“Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Manchester City are within touching distance of the Premier League title after overwhelming Aston Villa 4-0 on Wednesday to close to within a point of the championship.”
My AFP match report from a soggy but satisfied Etihad Stadium can be read here.
“Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Teenage debutant James Wilson scored twice as Manchester United rang out the old and ushered in the new in a 3-1 win at home to Hull City on Tuesday.”
My AFP match report on a night of hellos and goodbyes at Old Trafford can be read here.
“London (AFP) – Liverpool’s Premier League title bid was left in ruins after Crystal Palace mounted a sensational comeback from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 at Selhurst Park on Monday.”
My AFP match report on an extraordinary night at Selhurst Park can be found here.
Reaction: Rodgers proud despite Liverpool collapse
“London (AFP) – Norwich City all but ended Chelsea’s Premier League title challenge and gave themselves a fighting chance of avoiding relegation by recording a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.”
My AFP match report on the day that Chelsea’s title dream died can be read here.