Oi Referee, What Was That For?

For any individual who has played sport, there would have been an instance when they were perplexed by a certain decision made by the match official. With a mixture of feelings – anger and injustice to be the most likely – the player in question would likely have approached the official in charge, only to be dismissed with a shrug and a cold-shoulder. If players aren’t given an explanation, then what chance do the fans have?

Well …

That was until a decision was made by the NBA to allow fans to get in touch with NBA officials over Twitter, to ask them any question they have. NBA fans will be able to send their questions over during two live games this week. The first game will be on Monday (Jan. 21), when Golden State Warriors visit the Los Angeles Lakers. The second game will be on Wednesday (Jan. 23) during the San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers match-up.

How to get in touch?

Via Twitter, fans will be able to tweet at the account @OfficialNBARefs or use the hashtag #RefWatchParty to garner responses from officials who will be following the games in real time.

Is this a good idea?

I’m a fan of the NBA, and all of the extra-curricular activities that the players are obligated to do. I’d say it’s about time that referees were thrown into the mix, too. It’s no secret that most fans of the league question the integrity and impartiality of those officiating. Although such feelings will still be present, the gains from such a publicity act far outweigh the negatives.

So, can the “World’s Game” learn from other sports?

Personally, I can understand why football referees don’t want to slow up the game. But what I can’t understand is that those same officials are never held accountable for decisions they have made incorrectly. Decisions that have clearly affected the outcome of the game and, in turn, have caused disappointment for a huge group of people – or an entire nation.

Moreover, professional referees are forbidden from addressing the media directly until  they retire. Yet the same geniuses who forbade the referees made it compulsory for the manager of a club to attend press conferences.

Seems fair, right?

Surely it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try something in football that would help eliminate the schism created between officials and the rest …

Having said that, I am very much against the concept of contacting referees via Twitter, as Twitter attracts mindless “trolls” who will just hurl about abuse. (Though admittedly, some referees deserve all the abuse that they get.) If this were the case, the governing body of the sport would surely just shut down the account, and never again entertain such a channel for fans and officials to communicate.

Their reasoning: “We tried it, and it didn’t work!”

Yeah, well the Financial Fair Play (FPP) hasn’t worked either, has it?

Twitter is a no. What else?

Another option could be for referees to speak to the media. After all, it would be a safe environment. The questions would be delivered by a professional sport’s journalist, and the majority of what they are to say would help appease angry players or fans who could then try to understand the official’s point of view.

Win, win and win.

Nigel Owens (one of the best Rugby Union referees) dealing with players.

If this is not possible, then why not mic-up the referees, like they do in rugby and the NHL? In cricket, rugby and NBA, they even mic-up the players, which has led to some amazing moments.

NBA players chatting to one another.

Such a change would allow fans to eavesdrop on what is being said and actually understand what is going on. Eventually, (hopefully) you could begin to see change in football culture. Which, truth be told, is a culture based on bias, abuse, distrust and corruption, from top to bottom.

I realise that one issue this presents is that the language footballers use is atrocious. However, with the referee mic’d-up, the players would be held accountable and fined per F-word. That money could even go to a children’s charity. Even the dumbest footballer would eventually make the connection.

“I say F-word, money go down.”

“I talk nice, money stay.”

Whatever way you look at it, the NBA, NFL, NHL, rugby and cricket have shown that allowing the outside world onto the pitch is both doable and effective. Maybe it’s time for football to take some steps towards allowing the true sufferers of the sport – the fans – a chance to be involved. After all, without the fans, the game wouldn’t exist.

Title Decider?

We are only half-way through the season, yet the game tonight between Man City and Liverpool has the ring of a title decider.

A win for the Reds (Liverpool) will put them nine points clear of a very inconsistent Tottenham, and ten ahead of Man City, who are the only serious challengers. I realise that there are still 17 games after this one, with a total of 51 points to play for, but that will not be enough for the chasing pack to pass a formidable Liverpool side (that have only failed to obtain six of the 60 available points possible so far).

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Mohamed Salah

More importantly, Liverpool are playing with freedom, and a swagger that no other team seems to have this year. In Salah, Mane, and Firmino, they have goals. Defensively, they are stronger, and there is a lot of force and doggedness in midfield. Shame about the lack of quality on the bench.

Will a win secure the title with half the season to go?

Short answer: Yes, I believe so!

Looking ahead to Liverpool’s fixtures, they play both Chelsea and Tottenham at home, which is a great advantage. The only tough-looking away fixture is to Old Trafford – to face a rejuvenated Manchester United – on February 24th (a trip that Manchester City also have to make on March 16th).

So, if Liverpool win, the title is theirs.

Can Manchester City stop Liverpool?

Manchester City will be defiant going into the game, despite being on a bit of a bad run of late. Three defeats in the last five league games has put them in a bit of a precarious situation in terms of the title, yet they can go into the game knowing that they dominated Liverpool at Anfield. On that day, surprisingly the game ended goalless. The recent lack of points for Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola shouldn’t surprise anyone. Even at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, it was well-known that if you could get past the initial pressure exerted by Pep’s teams, you had a chance to catch the defence short-handed – something that Chelsea, Palace and especially Wolves have done.

Liverpool are a cut above all three of those teams, and have the ability to demolish what feels like an ageing Manchester City side. Fernandinho doesn’t seem to be able to recover as quickly. David Silva is missing more games than usual. De Bruyne isn’t quite fully fit yet, and Aguero isn’t his usual prolific self.

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No time like the present, Sergio!

Recent history isn’t looking favourably on Man City’s chances either. Liverpool beat their rivals three times during the last campaign, and have only lost twice in their last 11 meetings.

What will happen?

Whatever way you look at it, this is a huge game in the title race. Both Man City and Liverpool are gunning for the trophy, and if Liverpool win, they will all but secure it in my eyes. And yet, I see Man City showing up and closing the gap to the top with a convincing 3-1 win. Eventually, Man City will be able to grind down Liverpool as the season progresses. The expected cries from Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool’s coach) will be about how his players are tired, especially if they progress to the latter stages of other competitions. That’s the reason they weren’t able to secure the title.

Or …

Liverpool win tonight.

They then go on to lift the title …

… And I look like a fool!

 

Some Novelties Wear Off, While Others Do Not!

I was going through my usual routine of checking the different sports websites – BBC Sport, SporX.com, SkySports.com – and they were reporting on the same-old topical stories. Apparently some person scored a goal or did something amazing, while another was upset because of a referee’s call. Then, on the BBC, a couple of articles that caught my eye.

Wayne Rooney to play for England again: Does it cheapen an England call-up?

&

Floyd Mayweather: Boxer to fight kick-boxer Tenshin Nasukawa in Japan

Let’s begin with the insanity surrounding Floyd “Money” Mayweather. He has decided to take up mixed martial arts and will fight Tenshin Nasukawa.

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Floyd “Money” Mayweather (Via WikiCommons)

Who? I hear you ask.

In the world of MMA, he is pretty much an unknown. But don’t let that fool you. Nasukawa, 20, is unbeaten in 27 fights. (Four of those fights being in MMA.) He currently fights in the RIZIN Fighting Federation, the organisation that Mayweather also signed with.

He is no mug!

Mayweather is double Nasukawa’s age, and a retired boxer, albeit an exceptional one.

This fight has already been confirmed for December 31, but the rules and weight class are yet to be decided. Everything is due to be ironed out over the next few days. And you know, Mayweather isn’t going to be allowing his “money-maker” to become too disfigured going into 2019.

Expect a hell of a lot of rules, one of which will be, “No fighting on the ground,” (which immediately disqualifies this from being an MMA fight). So, we are looking at a kick-boxing match, with extra rules. What those rules will be, I’m not really sure. Maybe a limitation on the number of kicks being allowed. Even with a limitation, I am confident that Nasukawa will be knocking Mayweather out, as long as those yet-to-be-decided “rules” allow for it.

This fight is basically the equivalent of someone asking you if you want a fight, but then following it up with, “Okay, but no hitting me in the face.”

Which, for me, makes the contest a waste of time, and one that I will not watch. Not even to see Floyd’s eyes widen once that first blow lands on his melon, and he realises that the fight was not a good idea.


What about Wayne Rooney’s inclusion to the England national team?

People have argued that it’s a ridiculous decision, and it takes away an opportunity from a youngster who could become an England star in the future. Especially as England coach, Gareth Southgate, has been complaining about his main stars having to play too many competitive games, and that he doesn’t have enough opportunities to give youngsters an opportunity.

As a result, many people are adamant that Wayne Rooney’s appearance prior to the game would have sufficed, instead of taking up a position in the team. That way, he could have got the send-off that he deserves.

Wayne Rooney (left) and England coach Gareth Southgate. 

Yeah, maybe.

But it’s important to know that such a procedure (Introducing a legend before a game and giving them a ceremonial round of applause) is more common for retired players who haven’t kicked a ball in months, or a player who is playing at a very low level, and hanging onto a career because they’re not ready to call it a day yet.

Rooney doesn’t fit that description.

So, is it ok to give him the call-up?

Absolutely!

He is clearly still a great player!

Still skeptical?

Let’s look at the facts here:

  • It’s not a competitive game.
  • Rooney is playing competitively against international players (Plays for DC United in the American MLS).
  • He has scored 12 goals in 21 games.
  • He is the second-highest-capped player in England history (119 caps).
  • Highest number of England goals (53 goals).
  • Always fulfilled his England duty with pride.

Rooney is an England legend and deserves the correct send-off. This will be exactly that. A friendly game, against America, with the revenue from ticket sales going to the Wayne Rooney Foundation. Most importantly, his name will be chanted by the fans at the iconic home of football, Wembley Stadium.

Wembley Stadium, London (Via WikiCommons)

So, what about the youngsters?

Their time will come.

The funniest part of it all is that on the BBC, Rooney’s selection is being questioned, yet, Mayweather’s announcement is reported like it’s just normal behaviour.

What has the world of sport come to?

Who Next For Real Madrid?

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Photo by Vienna Reyes on Unsplash

As mentioned several days ago, Julen Lopetegui has been relieved of his duties at Real Madrid. So now, the question on every football fan’s lips is: Who will be the next permanent manager?

As it stands, ex-player Santiago Solari has taken the role as caretaker-manager. This basically means, “You are the manager until we find someone who is actually worthy of the position.” Now, that doesn’t mean that Solari has no chance of being named the permanent manager. Historically, many clubs use caretaker-managers to give themselves a chance to make the right appointment, and then end up giving that individual a full-time position, especially if those in power see a rejuvenated team start to perform.

It is also very important to know that a club like Real Madrid prefers to appoint managers who have grown up with, played for, or been involved with the club in the past. They need people at the club who understand the Madrid way, so they can eliminate the need for a honeymoon period. Solari fits the bill in this instance, as he was the manager of Real Madrid Castilla (Real’s reserve team) and, prior to that, was in charge of the youth team at the club. He also played over 130 games for the club between 2000 and 2005.

When you put these aspects together, Santiago Solari is rightfully the bookies’ favourite to be given the permanent manager role, especially if he can get the team playing well. He will be following in the footsteps of Zinedine Zidane, who was promoted to Real Madrid manager whilst being in charge of the reserve team.

Unfortunately for Solari, I don’t think he has the technical nous or knowledge to be successful at the top of the game, meaning that Perez will need to look elsewhere.

That leads us nicely onto the most obvious candidate … Antonio Conte.

Conte is currently available, which makes him a fantastic target. As Real Madrid will not need to pay any compensation to another club for stealing their manager from them. After forking out a fortune to sack Lopetegui, this might be the best option for them. Plus, it’s not like Conte is a terrible manager. He brings with him a fantastic record, winning five trophies in his three years in charge of Juventus (3x Serie A, 2x Supercoppa Italiana), receiving plaudits as Italy manager, and picking up a couple of trophies in England with Chelsea (Premier League and FA Cup). Conte is a winner, and Real Madrid need to find a way to win.

Yet, Perez will be tentative to go knocking on Conte’s door just yet. Last thing anybody at Real Madrid wants is a manager who will happily criticise the board members in front of the media, or sulk at not getting what he wants (both of which were things that Conte was happy to do regularly before getting the boot from Chelsea chairman Roman Abramovich).

My Italian isn’t up to scratch, so, I can’t verify what he is saying … but going on his facial expressions, he isn’t being very nice…

Other alternatives may include Roberto Martinez (Belgium’s coach), Joachim Lowe (Germany’s coach), or Jose Mourinho (with Manchester United). Unfortunately, those options wouldn’t be of any use to Real Madrid, as they are all tied up in well-paying jobs elsewhere.

So, it comes down to one of two options, as I see it:

Mauricio Pochettino (left) and Arsene Wenger (right)

Perez’s first choice is likely to be Mauricio Pochettino, who would be an exceptional fit for Real Madrid. Pochettino is a manager who has won plaudits wherever he has gone, despite not having any trophies to his name as a manager. Unfortunately for Perez, he is unlikely to get his wishes right now, and would have to wait until the end of the season before finalising any deal for Pochettino. The added bonus for waiting would be that Pochettino would probably be able to convince star striker Harry Kane to come along with him.

The only other possibility for Real could be to hire Arsene Wenger. Wenger has been out of work, by choice, since he resigned as Arsenal’s manager at the end of last season, after 22 years in charge. This opportunity with Real Madrid may be the one that brings Wenger back into management, as it’s a club that has the right tools for him to be successful.

It is important to know that Real Madrid do have time to make the right decision for them, as neither Mauricio Pochettino or Arsene Wenger are likely to be signing a contract anytime soon. Pochettino will not leave halfway through a season; he has clarified that on many an occasion. As for Wenger, he is only likely to join a top team from a top league, and that list is not very expansive. Especially if you rule out that he would unlikely go to Arsenal’s rival team, and all the other major teams are pretty happy with their managers, as it stands.

What will happen then?

For me, one of the following two possibilities will materialise, but it all depends on how Solari gets the team playing.

Option No. 1: Hire Solari until the end of the season and then approach Pochettino. He will very likely take the job. This option would be perfect, knowing that Wenger could be a very likely back-up.

Option No. 2: Approach Wenger now, knowing that he will definitely want a long-term contract. As a result, approaching Pochettino would be out of the question come the end of the season.

Whatever way you look at it, there will be a quality manager at the helm next year. Teams like Real Madrid don’t stay in a slump for too long.

Not a “Real” Shock to See Julen Go

“I’m from the future and it doesn’t work out very well for you!”
(So says the wise comment below a YouTube video)

I understand that this could be said to many: Donald Trump; Prince Salman; Theresa May; the list goes on and on. On this occasion, it’s Julen Lopetegui who has been the unlucky recipient. In fact, it turned out to be very true a mere three days after the humiliating 5-1 defeat at the hands of their biggest rivals, Barcelona, when Lopetegui was sacked.

Let’s wind back five months or so …

Spain are being classed as one of the favourites for the 2018 World Cup after a magnificent qualifying campaign, and their coach, Julen Lopetegui, is being hailed as one of the best in the world. It was hard to argue with the claim.

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2018 World Cup qualification – UEFA Group G (Via Wikipedia)

Unbeaten in 10 games, winning 9 of them. They only conceded 3 goals and scored a whopping 36! For many people, Spain was back and ready to get their hands on the title they had given up to Germany four years prior.

With a week left to the start of the highly anticipated tournament in Russia, Zinedine Zidane decided to step down as Real Madrid’s coach. And there are no surprises in guessing who Florentino Perez, Real Madrid’s president, eventually wanted at the helm. Yep, you got it: Lopetegui accepted the job, giving up his chance to take charge of Spain at the World Cup as a result. (His decision to take the Real Madrid job was seen as disrespectful by the Spanish football association (RFEF), and so they relieved him of his duties.)

From Day 1, Lopetegui was thrown in at the deep end.

Task 1: Try to keep the club’s talisman and star, Cristiano Ronaldo, at the club.

Failed.

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Cristiano Ronaldo – Joined Juventus (Via Wikicommons)

Task 2: Find replacements who can provide the goals that Ronaldo provided.

Failed.

Task 3: Have a good start to the season.

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Spanish La Liga 2018/19 Season (Screenshot from Google)

… Failed!

Most football fans know that a seven-point gap in football is not that big. However, that idea can be thrown out the window in some countries. At seven points ahead, teams like Barcelona in Spain, Bayern Munich in Germany, and PSG in France are practically uncatchable.

Not only were the results not going well, but the team was performing very poorly. During Julen Lopetegui’s short reign as coach, Real Madrid won only six of 16 games, scored a mere 21 goals, and conceded 20. These are figures that are unheard of for the “best” club in the world, (termed so in terms of financial clout, trophies and an international fan base). After defeats against Sevilla, Alaves, and Levante in the league, a draw against Madrid rivals Atletico and a somewhat unlucky defeat against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, everyone knew that a defeat in the El Clasico (the term for Barcelona vs Real Madrid games) could be the final straw for Florentino Perez. And so it proved to be.

Left: Julen Lopetegui. Right: Florentino Perez.

So, what next for Lopetegui?

Let’s get one thing straight. He is financially in very good stead. As his contract has been terminated by the club, he is due to receive a good compensation package.

Have a guess how much.

A reported €18 million (£15.9 million).

For that sort of money, you can sack me any day. I would happily sack myself. However, once we look past the money, it is important to understand that Lopetegui is unlikely to get another opportunity at one of Europe’s major clubs. So, he will more than likely return to international football. Spanish national team selectors are unlikely to take him back, and most of the major footballing countries prefer their own countrymen. This leaves the only viable option as a Middle Eastern national team, especially as they seem to love a foreign coach.

Sounds enticing, doesn’t it?

Come to think of it, I bet Julen Lopetegui would have appreciated the aforementioned YouTuber’s help five months prior. After all, it would have saved his reputation, and helped him avoid two sackings in quick succession.

Manfriend’s Mumblings | Sports Chat: The Champions League 2018

[Hey everyone! Manfriend, here. So, I’m sure people have been worried about my absence, but I decided to take a short break off from blogging after this summer’s awesome World Cup. I wasn’t really sure when to start back up again, but then I got a request from my partner about writing something for the Champions League, so here I am! Let’s get to it.]

The Champions League.

In 1955, what was originally named the European Cup was established. In 1992, the tournament changed its name to Champions League. Today (and in all the years of its history), this tournament is one that excites most football fans around the globe. It is Europe’s No. 1 club competition, and it gives every football club on the continent a “chance” to lift the trophy. Whether you are from one of the big footballing nations, such as, England, Spain, Italy or Germany, or from minnows like Luxembourg or Andorra, as long as you have a recognized domestic league, your clubs have an opportunity to be victorious.

Well, kind of.

Let me explain this thing.

First, how to qualify:

This takes care of itself, really. Every recognized European nation, apart from Liechtenstein (who don’t have a domestic league) will be assigned places in the two European competitions, the other being Europa League, Europe’s second-tier club competition. The allocations are based on the performances of that nation’s domestic clubs over the last five seasons. So, the better your teams perform in Europe, the better your ranking is as a nation, which leads to more spots in the larger competitions. As a result, England and Spain are given four spots apiece, whereas San Marino only get one.

Those allocated spots are filled by clubs who win their domestic leagues or finish in the top four. This all also depends on how many places you have been allocated. For example, the top four teams from England qualify, whereas only the champion from San Marino gets a spot.

On its surface, it may seem unfair. However, it may also be OK. Ultimately, though, the chances are that you will never see that team from San Marino compete, as they have to enter in at the qualification rounds. Think of it as a “getting rid of the trash” round. A nation with one qualifier will need that team to play three to five home and away matches in order to get to the competition proper, while three-quarters of the teams from England qualify automatically for the group stage, with the fourth team having to play just one home and one away tie to make it.

Alas, that’s just how it goes.

(Still don’t get it? Here’s my friend, Wikipedia, to help explain.)

Anyway, once you get to the group stage, that’s when the competition really sets in. Groups are decided with a random draw based on seedings. Once assigned, things kick off!

Eight groups of four teams play in a league format. Each team plays the other three teams both at home and away. The points system is as follows: 0 for a loss, 1 for a draw and 3 for a win. The games are played on a weekly or fortnightly (that’s every two weeks for friends in America) basis, with the top two teams advancing to the knockout stages. The third team drops down to play in the knockout phases of the Europa League. The fourth team is eliminated.

Then there’s a winter break from December to February.

Once we reach the knockout phase, all eight teams who finished first will play the eight teams that finished second, in accordance with another random draw. The games take place at home and away, with the advancing team being decided on by an aggregate score. Winners go into the quarters. The draw repeats, and things go on until there are two left for the final. This year, that match will take place in Madrid.

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Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid, where this season’s final will be held. (WikiCommons)

I realize the Champions League may sound no different to any other football tournament, and that’s partly true. But once again, the drama, talent and unpredictability makes this a great spectacle. The past has seen teams like Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Celtic, Red Star Belgrade, Feyenoord and Steaua Bucharest achieve greatness. Unfortunately, these teams will be very unlikely to repeat such triumphs again, as money has taken over. That doesn’t mean, though, that predicting the winner is easy. It’s predicting the country of origin that’s not so difficult. The last time a team from outside the top four nations (England, Spain, Italy, Germany) won was in 2003/04: Porto of Portugal.

Since then, the top four nations have monopolized victory:

  • England took home three, with Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool;
  • Spain nabbed eight, with Barcelona and Real Madrid each winning four times;
  • Italy took two, with AC Milan and Inter Milan;
  • Germany won one with Bayern Munich.

The last time a club outside one of those four countries even reached the final was in 2003/04, when Monaco lost to Porto. This year, the only chance of it happening will be if PSG (Paris Saint Germain) make it (which wouldn’t shock anyone, as they are filthy rich). Money has completely eradicated the “fairytale ending,” yet, as always, I’m excited.

Why?

Just look at the teams that are involved: Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich, and the list goes on.

More importantly, my team, Galatasaray from Turkey, are involved again, following some tumultuous years for the club.

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Galatasaray fans in London, cheering the team on in a 2004 match against Chelsea. (WikiCommons)

(Much to my partner’s chagrin,) I will be up at 3 a.m. with my club’s colors on, willing the boys on to victory through the screen of my iPad. I hope you will join me and my team from wherever you are, ideally all the way through the knockout phases (but more likely to the end of the group phase.)

The Champions League is exciting, with a caliber of football skill on show that’s no less fantastic than that of the World Cup. Matches can be full of drama. If that isn’t enough to hook you, then maybe you should listen to the best intro music of any sporting event!

I mean honestly, how could anyone not be a fan of the Champions League?


As of this article’s publishing (Sept. 18, 2018), the Champions League is set to begin. Find information on the tournament here. And from our little home in Beijing: Go Galatasaray!

FIFA World Cup 2018 | The Final

Welcome to the World Cup final!

We started with thirty-two nations competing for the World Cup, and only France and Croatia remain. There wouldn’t have been many people predicting this, not even Croatians. No Brazil, who were knocked out by Belgium in the quarters, despite having dominated the game. No Spain, who suffered at the hands of their own lack of ambition. No Germany, who joined the list of reigning world champions that fell at the first hurdle.

As this is likely to be my final World Cup piece – no need for the tears or the patronizing slow clap – I thought it best to wrap up the tournament with a brief look at: the final; who I believe is deserving of the Golden Glove (given to the best goalkeeper) and the Golden Ball (given to the player of the tournament); and my favorite three moments from the tournament.

The Final

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Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow: the World Cup Final stadium.

My heart says Croatia.

My head says France.

My heart’s vote isn’t because I like Croatia, necessarily, but more that I’m not one to root for the French team. (Being English and Turkish, I remember that, on their way to the World Cup final, Croatia did eliminate Turkey during the qualifying groups. I can forgive that, though. For now.)

France have an exceptional team, and Didier Deschamps, who won the tournament as a player in 1998, is a great coach, even though he looks confused most of the time. They have many world-class players who could win the game, whereas, Croatia will be heavily reliant on 32-year-old Luka Modric. One other important piece of information: Many of the current French players were part of the squad that lost to Portugal in the European Championships Final two years ago. They were favorites in that game, too, but ended up losing to a goal from Eder. They will be reluctant to let that happen again.

So, let’s say that Croatian team outperforms France. How long could they do that for? The Croats’ energy level will definitely come into question. During the knockout rounds, Croatia has played 120 minutes of football against each of their three opponents, whereas France cruised past Argentina and Uruguay, before a good win against Belgium.

I can even picture the tactics boards prior to the game:

Match Tactics: Croatia

1. Don’t let Paul Pogba control the game.
2. Keep an eye on Giroud, as he likes to run behind the defense.
3. Don’t let Griezman receive the ball between midfield and defense.
4. Watch out for Matuidi’s late runs from deep.
5. Pavard and Hernandez like to go forward. Our wingers need to track them.
6. Make sure you double up on Mbappe, as he is too quick for us.

vs.

Match Tactics: France

1. Stop Luka Modric.
2. Allez Les Bleu! Allez! Allez! (Come on the blues! Come on! Come on!

France will definitely go into the game as favorites. They have world-class players all over the pitch. Players that have improved as the tournament has gone on. On the other side, Croatia is a nation that has always been decent but has never really expected to reach the latter stages of a tournament. The best previous performance was a World Cup semi-final in 1998, which was (ironically) held in France.

A World Cup final. It doesn’t get any bigger than this, especially for players from the Croatian side, who may never experience this again. Some of the older players, like Modric and Corluka might even call it a day after this game, knowing that it would be a great way to end an amazing international career. Obviously they would love to win the tournament, but this game, against a strong and experienced French side, may be one game too far for them.

Prediction:
France 3 – Croatia 0

Golden Glove

I would give it to Hugo Lloris (France), but only just over Jordan Pickford (England). He has been exceptional throughout the entire tournament. Some of his saves have been incredible, and he has lead by example. His save in the semi-final from Toby Alderweireld’s shot was incredible.

Golden Ball

It’s very close for me between Kylian Mbappe and Luka Modric. I would definitely give it to the latter, though. As good as Mbappe has been, he didn’t really do much in the group stages, mainly because he didn’t really have to. Modric, on the other hand, has been the catalyst and mastermind behind Croatia’s success. Without Mbappe, France could still have made it to the final, but without Modric, Croatia wouldn’t have gotten out of the group stages.  I’m confident FIFA will award it to Mbappe, because they like to give it to whoever they like instead of who played well. The 2014 cup was proof of that, when Arjen Robben deserved the Golden Ball, yet Lionel Messi was given it. Shocking …

The Top Three Moments

No. 3

This moment came pretty early on in the tournament. It was the match between Portugal and Spain. This game was my favorite from the entire tournament. There were huge players on show, plenty of goals being scored, and a hat-trick from one Cristiano Ronaldo. This game signaled the start of a fantastic tournament after the dross that we had witnessed on the previous day – and to some extent, the previous two World Cups.

No. 2

England!

They played well, got to the semi-finals and even won a penalty shootout (the latter being something of a rare occurrence. Don’t believe me? Ask any England fan or the England coach, who missed in the 1996 Euro’s semi-final. The same fate followed the national team in the 1998 World Cup, when England was eliminated by Argentina). Unfortunately, as per usual, some England fans, both back home and abroad, took celebrations to a destructive level. I just don’t understand why. I, for one, actually wanted England to do well for a change. The main reason: The memes!

(A few of my favorites)

I have especially loved the “It’s Coming Home!” memes. England fans were using any excuse to tell the whole world that “Football is coming home!” The origin of the statement comes from a song by Lightning Seeds, and featured David Baddiel and Frank Skinner. The original song was created before the 1996 European Championships, and was then re-released with a few alterations before the 1998 World Cup.

This song has just reached Number 1 in the U.K. music charts for the 4th time. Baddiel and Skinner will be financially rewarded again, and probably keep being rewarded every two years, when a major tournament is being played.

Of course, leave it to folks to then take it to a new level:

[Editor’s Note: The memes following England’s defeat have been just as delightful, if a bit of a sore spot. Memes … such a delightful waste of time.]

No. 1:

Sit back, relax, watch and burst into laughter!

Thanks for that, mate!

What a tournament it has been. Full of goals, drama, upsets and VAR. I have seen every tournament since 1998, and this one ranks up there as my second-favorite of all time, after the 2002 World Cup.

For any first-time viewers, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Thank you Russia, for being a great host, contrary to what was expected, and I hope to see you guys again in four years when the tournament is in … wait, what? Qatar? I guess the Brexit vote isn’t the only decision that needs to be revised …


Manfriend has been a hell of a … let’s say, World Cup correspondent for this otherwise sports-less blog. To revisit all his thoughts, predictions and informative breakdowns from this year’s World Cup, read on:

Round of 16
The End of Round 1
Sports Chat: FIFA World Cup 2018

Thanks so much for your insights and incredible hard work. I, for one, am so thankful, if only because I could join football conversations and sound like I knew something about sports.

You’re the best.