WORLD CUP:ARGENTINA VS CROATIA

The common consensus among soccer fans is that Messi wouldn’t be mentioned in the same bracket as Pele and Maradona if he didn’t win the world cup. Let’s say he doesn’t go on to win this one, it could hardly dent his legacy. The inspired display from the eight time Ballon D’or winner against the 2018 finalists Croatia in as far as I am concerned put the debate to bed in as far as I am concerned. To be blunt Messi is carrying an otherwise quite ordinary Argentina team much like Diego did for many years. That makes it all the more impressive. They were quite the second best yesterday against Croatia who bossed the game passing and possession wise. The albiceleste have evolved into a counter attacking side since their embarrassment against the Saudis , and rightfully so. They realize their limitations, that is their lack of a proper number eight who can hold the ball for prolonged periods, but they got good ball winners like Paredes and De Paul. Croatia may have the best midfield in the world right now but their lack of a proper number nine was so glaring .

The two shots on target stat paints a picture of a team devoid of ideas in the final third of the pitch. Kramaric has been a great servant for the Croatians since Mandzukic retired but he doesn’t give you lots of goals. So the long term plan should be replace the Hoffenheim man with a goal getter, not necessarily dropping him but moving him to a number 10 position. Three moments is all it took to bury Zlatko Dalic’s team. Gvardiol for all the praise of his calm and positional sense at the heart of the defense found Alvarez and Messi’s movement tough to handle. Messi needs a triple team , marking him one on one is a no no case in point the third goal. Have Argentina had the bulk for the borderline penalty decision in their favor during this world cup? I think they have and I have a theory on that. Fifa benefits in terms of attendances by having Messi go as further as possible in the world cup but it goes against the spirit of fairness. Bottom line, having Messi is good for business.Livakovic couldn’t get away from Alvarez even if he wanted to and decisions like that discourage defenders from legitimately challenging for the ball. Argentina have the cup well within their grasp but one counts their medals before they are around their neck to their own peril. France and Morocco have proven to be no push overs. Messi is one of the G.O.A.T regardless of what happens.

PLAY OF THE WEEK

https://www.49ers.com/video/san-francisco-49ers-top-plays-vs-tampa-bay-buccaneers-in-week-14

Even the most diehard San Francisco 49ers fan, would be pinching themselves right now. A tremendous run of form has seen them notch 5 consecutive victories going into their match with the NFC South leading Tampa. Top notch offense is the best defense. SF QB Brody Purdy outshone TB12 despite having just 153 yards to his name. My play of the week Purdy to McCaffery, the duo of the moment. Tell me this, how is it that Purdy gets so much time to make the decision? The answer ,14-0 SF on the third down and 5, the Buccaneers’ defensive tackle and ends tackle each other and get in each other’s way. Watch the middle of the scrimmage ,one Tampa tackle almost getting to Purdy before another tripping him from behind.

Coordination. Go sideways of your teammate you get there. That small window proved costly allowing the huge corner pass to McCaffery to make what looks on paper an easy TD. It is anything but. McCaffery has to keep in bounds paying close attention to the Safety number 26 Logan Ryan whose position wasn’t all that bad at all, only that the pass was way too good. His only mistake to step inward just as the pass is made. Football is a game of margins. Not only did they win this one the Niners, they blew away a very good side in Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They are a good bet to go one better than the NFC Championship match of last season.

UFC 282:BLACHOWICZ VS ANKALAEV

Let’s face it, we love MMA and other combat sports because the likelihood of having a draw result is as slim as England winning a soccer world cup(other than the fact they have more talent lmao). However when they actually do happen, SCRUTINY is(rightly so)on the judges. Jan Blanchowicz of Poland is a former Light Heavyweight champion whilst Mago Ankalaev is ranked 4th in the division looking to win and edge closer to challenging for the title in the future. I was a bit on the disappointed side when it came to Ankalaev, he had the advantage of youth on his side, so why not wear down your opponent early in the first three rounds and go for the jugular in the last two? Both landed significant punches in the first round, so quite difficult to separate them in the first round. One could see the confidence rising in Jan in the second round. Just look at the strikes to the leg of Mago that not only bruised it but forced a change in tact from the Russian who now adopted more takedown attempts.

That is the Round that made Mago not win this match and justified the judges decision. Yes, indeed , one bad round can cost you a fight. That uphill task got a lot steeper in the third. Ankalaev now had a big bullseye on that right leg couldn’t come close to Jan and land anything worth mentioning. The fourth saw Mago come to his MMA senses started grappling with Jan on the mat. That saw the Russian ratchet up his significant strike rate giving the judges a headache or two. To Mago’s credit he thoroughly redeemed himself in round five but like I said it came a little too late. As earlier said the older Blanchowicz would get tired in the later rounds and so he did. Those knee shots from Ankalaev did most of the damage and the Russian countered with more takedowns. For a moment in that fifth round I thought the ref would stop the fight in Mago’s favor. Jan was pinned to the fence under a sleeper like hold , managed to get out but received a series of brutal punches whilst on the mat. With the match over I gave it to Ankalaev on the bases of winning three out of 5 rounds with one dominant one. However one Judge scored it in Jan’s favor by one point the other scored it the other way by the same margin. So it was left to the one judge who scored it a draw and he was well within his rights to. Jan seems to acknowledge defeat by raising Mago’s hand at the end there. Oh well, sometimes in sports you steal one at the death like soccer.

THE GOOD, BAD AND UGLY OF THE WORLD CUP SO FAR

This winter world cup has both disappointed and impressed on so many levels. I questioned the wisdom of awarding the next best spectacle in world sports to a country with a population roughly the size of Chicago. It has been well run despite concerns about the alcohol ban and strict Muslim dress code(all hail Miss Croatia).Although smuggling alcohol into a stadium of a foreign country that despises it isn’t advisable, the good thing is Qatar recognizes they need at least designated spots(sports and alcohol are inseparable twins that’s for sure). Today I want to talk about the major events that have taken place in the last fortnight or so, the good, the bad, the ugly. What the ugly teaches us is what not to do in the future , so I am kind of a big fan of those ugly moments. That’s not to say I will highlight them more. Now let’s get to it.

The Ugly

I rejoiced like a lot of other fans when Samuel Eto’o, a former African footballer of the year, was elected president of Fecafoot(Cameroon soccer federation) this year. Not only do we need more soccer people in those high offices, we need people who actually know all about administration too like Eto’o with his experience in Europe. Now Cameroon hosted a great Africa Cup of Nations last year but the way they made it to Qatar didn’t go down well with some people. Like the Algerians who they beat in the play off to make it there. You see some quarters allege that Samuel Eto’o used his financial muscle to get to the referee of the second leg playoff game in Algeria. Like Algerian blogger Sadouni SM. Look I am for asking uncomfortable questions but this dude takes the cake. Asking a guy why he bribed the referee is bound to get you in a spot of bother. Violence has no place in sports for whatsoever reason, given the title he now holds, Eto’o should have known better and controlled his temper. Some people aren’t worth it. This happened outside the Brazil vs South Korea game and has put a damper on an otherwise good tournament. So I call this a draw, phrasing questions should be professionally done if you are a media guy , if you are a president of a whole association you should behave like a gentleman.

The Bad

Video technology is sports has leveled the playing field so much that one can hardly get away with what happened in the 1966 final and the Round of 16 in South Africa 2010 between Germany and England. Like everything else under the sun, VAR has been anything but perfect. It all started in the very first match, the hosts gifted a reprieve from the second minute goal from Ener Valencia on an offside call against the keeper. The decisions such as offside and ball going out of bounds should be routine and straight forward, that I have no complain over. It is decisions on red cards and handball that have caused quite a ruckus since VAR was introduced some three years back. So it was a major surprise that the VAR team of 6 people got the Japan vs Spain “ball out of bounds” call WRONG. I know what you thinking. You probably saying the ball has a sensor(Connected Ball Technology) in it that sends a signal if the ball goes out of bounds, that is if it doesn’t touch the outside of the line. Like most technology it IS ACCURATE TO A CERTAIN LEVEL OF SIGNIFICANCE. For example tennis’s HAWKEYE is accurate to 3.6 millimeters. So for CBT , there could be a small but present margin for error. Bottom line, some decisions should be left to the on field ref like these ones. As a result the Germans headed home and the Japanese went into the last 16.

The good

This is the best world cup in terms of upsets. It all started with the Saudis showing little respect to Messi and Co in their opening match with Argentina with a scintillating second half display. Japan also shocking the Germans in the second half of their opening encounter made the world take notice of the rising East. The best thing for me in the last two weeks has been the Stadiums and the goals. Best stadiums of the WHOLE lot has been the Al Janoub Stadium and Stadium 974. The aerial view of the Al Janoub has a peculiar shape of a sensitive part of the female anatomy which has endeared itself to fans. The shape is actually representative of the sails of traditional Dhow boats of Qatar. Stadium 974 is made of 974 shipping containers and will be decommissioned right after the tournament (problem of white elephants solved) with the containers recycled and donated to needy countries(Ah, Qatar the darling of the environmentalists) . No worries about the notorious Qatar heat, lots of air conditioning in the stadiums.The goals have been marvelous. What comes to mind is the two Richarlison goals against Serbia and Korea Republic for Brazil showing that JOGA BONITA is still alive and kicking. Surprised though by the lack of direct free kick goals, Marcus Rashford with a laudable beauty against Wales though. The ageless Ivan Perisic scored the header of the tournament with his goal against Japan in the Round of 16(Best one I have seen in a long time at the World Cup).

Al Janoub Stadium

Stadium 974 above

WORLD CUP:GERMANY VS COSTA RICA

Germans are always expected to do well at world cup but at times this is a noose around their necks. Expectations are always high, but they come into this world cup with the bulk of their 2014 winners gone. Burden is now on young shoulders chiefly Jamal Musiala. Not a bad player at all to burden but we sometimes forget he is only 19 in his first tournament. At the center of their poor showing this year has been the selection of players by Hansie Flick. The former Bayern coach kept faith with Thomas Muller as his number 9 against Costa Rica in a match he had to win despite the impressive form of Niclas Fullkrug. This came back to bite him as chance after chance was wasted(my God Germany could have won this one even by 9 goals). Costa Rica’s win against the Japanese on match day 2 gave them hope of making it to the last 16. For a while it looked like fairy tales do come true. A freak own goal by Neuer had the Costa Ricans hope. Its been the feature of Die Mannschaft this year, defensive lapses against inferior opponents.

With Spain all but assured a place in the last 16, one couldn’t blame them for fielding a much changed side. The Japanese took the lead early in the second half in controversial circumstances from Tanaka(ball from naked eye crossed the byline before put back into play). That woke up the Germans (most importantly Flick) as they brought on the heavy hitters in Goetze, Fullkrug and Harvetz. The last two scoring the extra three goals to see the Germans through to the win but they left it to other people hands in as far as the long term picture is concerned. There will be heavy inquests from the German soccer loving population. So who is to blame this time(for once no Joachim Low to hand that honor)? Hansie Flick’s starting selection left a lot to be desired. Manuel Neuer is now one foot into the retirement room and so is Muller. Neuer’s errors nearly cost Germany the game here. The sequence of promoting assistant coaches hasn’t worked this time for me, I would like to see Jurgen Klopp have a goal at the national side. The Costa Ricans can be proud of the way they are clinical in front of goal. So clinical that they scored two goals with only 31% possession. The eleven goals they conceded in three goals shows where their real issues are. Ironically the 4-2 score line was the same score line when these two last met in the world cup in 2006.