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Monday, December 10, 2018

Soccer

Croatia players critical of English media, perception after victory

Croatia wins

Prominent Croatia players came away quite unimpressed with a much-talked about England side after their 2-1 extra time win in the World Cup semi-final.

Full back Sime Vrsaljko was critical of England’s style in the defeat. He said the perception around England was that they’d be a more attacking, free-flowing side than in past years, but he found them wanting in that regard.

The Croats weren’t done there. Midfielder Luka Modric said he felt that the English media had underestimated Croatia, and spent too much time talking about how tired they’d be after playing two consecutive 120-minute matches.

England has always had a prominent style of play that often involves long passes instead of intricate attacking play. There were moments of the latter, but particularly in the second half and extra time, they were pretty much exactly as Vrsaljko described, and quite easy to defend against. In fact, it’s one of the reasons England couldn’t hang on to their lead.

In the end, it’s quite clear that the Croatian players felt a bit disrespected by all the talk of England. They certainly sent a message with their play.

Where England went wrong in loss to Croatia

England came so close to their first World Cup final in over 50 years, but fell short Wednesday night in Moscow after a 2-1 defeat to Croatia.

The loss was particularly hard to take, as a Kieran Trippier free kick had put them 1-0 up inside the first five minutes. They could have scored at least one more goal in a first half where they were clearly the better team, but didn’t, and ultimately Croatia got it together in time to pull out the victory.

There were several reasons Croatia were able to turn it around, and England were at least partially responsible for letting them back into the game after having them on the mat. England were wasteful at times, and spent the entire second half playing far too conservatively before waiting too long to change it.

The seeds were being sown even after England went 1-0 up. Harry Kane had the most glorious chance to make it 2-0 on the half hour mark, but ultimately hit the post. Had Kane scored at that point, it would have changed the entire game, forcing a rattled Croatia to come back from 2-0 down and perhaps lifting some of the pressure off the young England team who at times seemed a bit tight in a game bigger than many of the players had ever played in before. There were other opportunities in the first half, demonstrating England’s dominance.

Still, England led at the half, and with Croatia looking ragged after playing consecutive extra-time games, they had every reason to feel confident. Something changed in the second half, though. Croatia looked refreshed, and by the hour mark, their talented midfield pairing of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic had begun to exert their control on the game. England seemed content to defend deep and try to spring something on the counter, but missed several passes in doing so. It felt like a goal was coming.

It was at this point that England manager Gareth Southgate became too passive. It was becoming quite clear that England needed more help in the midfield, but he made no move to make a substitution, and sure enough, winger Ivan Perisic pulled Croatia level on 68 minutes, then hit the post moments later.

This inspired Southgate’s most puzzling decision of the match. In the 74th minute, he finally made his first substitution, but instead of bringing on a midfielder, he took off Raheem Sterling, one of England’s most dangerous attackers, and replaced him with winger Marcus Rashford.

It was a move that more or less killed England’s attack. Rashford is a speedy, talented player, but he isn’t as good at making attacking runs and linking midfield and attack as Sterling is. Sterling had tormented Croatia all day with dangerous runs, and he was their main outlet on counters. Rashford simply can’t do what he does. It’s no coincidence that England’s attack has lost some of its threat every time Sterling has been taken off.

From that point on, Croatia carried all the threat. It wasn’t until the 97th minute that Southgate finally addressed the midfield, and 12 minutes later, a toothless England were behind with no real route back into the game. They simply settled into a one-goal lead too soon and played far too conservative for much of the second half and were punished for it.

Southgate deserves credit for what he’s done with England in this World Cup, and the team also deserves credit for reaching the semi-finals. Unfortunately, a few seemingly minor tactical decisions may have had a major impact on the ultimate outcome.

Twitter reacts to Croatia stunningly reaching World Cup finals

Croatia wins

Croatia has done it.

The European nation reached the finals of the World Cup with a 2-1 win over England in extra time in Russia on Wednesday. They have reached the finals for the first time in the nation’s history, and they did so by becoming the first country ever to win three straight games in extra time.

England was favored to win the game, and much of the reactions centered on them losing.

Croatia now advances to face France in the finals on Sunday. England will face Belgium in the third-place match.

Thierry Henry gets meme treatment after France defeats Belgium

Thierry Henry was caught between a rock and a hard place during Tuesday’s World Cup semifinal pitting France against Belgium, and many got in a good laugh at his expense.

Henry, a French football legend but now an assistant coach for Belgium, saw his new side fall 1-0 to France in the pivotal match. With the French making their first World Cup final since Henry led them there in 2006, Twitter had some jokes about the mixed feelings that he must have been experiencing.

(more…)

Twitter reacts to France goalkeeper making best save of World Cup

France should have fallen into a very early 1-0 hole in their World Cup semifinal match against Belgium on Tuesday, but their goalkeeper had other plans.

Belgium was awarded a corner kick in the 21st minute, and a fortunate bounce left defenseman Toby Alderweireld with a clean look near the top of the box. He got a shot off on goal, and France goaltender Hugo Lloris made arguably the best save of the tournament.

The full-extension stop drew plenty of praise on Twitter, and Lloris deserved every bit of it.

Those are the types of saves that keep World Cup hopes alive. Should France go on to win the whole thing, that will easily be remembered as one of the moments that made it possible.

France star taunts Belgium assistant ahead of semifinal

French football icon Thierry Henry is in an awkward position ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup semifinal, and Olivier Giroud is having some fun with it.

Over the weekend, the star French forward Giroud took an opportunity to playfully taunt Henry, who is now an assistant coach for Belgium.

“There’s a lot of mutual respect. I don’t resent him,” said Giroud of Henry, per Joe Miles of The Sun. “My job’s to be good on the pitch, to help my team. But I’d be proud to show Titi [Henry’s nickname] that he chose the wrong side!

“He’s a living legend of French football, and we have a lot of respect for him,” Giroud continued. “We have a lot of respect for what he’s done, but we’re not going to think about very much. I’d have preferred him to be with us and to be giving his advice to me.”

Henry, 40, may be the most renowned Frenchman in the history of the sport. He retired from international play in 2010 as the country’s all-time leading goalscorer and helped lead France to their only World Cup victory in 1998.

However, the former Arsenal great has served as the second assistant for Belgium under manager Roberto Martinez since 2016. At this point though, Henry is probably already used to stirring up controversy at the World Cup.

Isaiah Thomas hilariously points out likeness to World Cup star

Isaiah Thomas Cavs

It’s been pointed out to free agent point guard Isaiah Thomas that he looks an awful lot like one of the leading stars at the World Cup.

Thomas fully embraced the comparisons to France forward Kylian Mbappe, who has been a big part of the French national team’s run to the World Cup semi-finals. In fact, the NBA star even donned the same track suit just to pose for a photograph that emphasizes the similarity.

So do we really look alike? LOL

A post shared by Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) on

That’s Mbappe on the left and Thomas on the right. The verdict is pretty clear: they’re basically twins.

Tipped by many as a potential breakout star, Mbappe has three goals in five World Cup appearances so far. If he leads France to glory, maybe Thomas can fly out to Paris and get some free drinks by playing up his likeness.