Friday, December 30, 2022

Premier League Results; Matchweek 18 Preview

The hectic Premier League holiday schedule merrily rolls along with two matches scheduled on Friday. West Ham will try to pull itself out of the club’s current funk when the Hammers host Brentford at London Stadium which has been the site of the joint greatest number of home defeats by a Premier League side this season. West Ham manager David Moyes needs to find goals from somewhere as only three clubs have scored fewer goals this season than the Hammers. The manager, however, has quizzically been reported to not be interested in pursuing a new striker and to be content with current options Michail Antonio and Gianluca Scamacca. That decision may not end well for Moyes. The Bees, meanwhile, are masters of the draw, having played a league high eight matches with no winner this season. Newcastle is the only other Premier League club with more than four draws.

Anfield is the site of Friday’s other match as Liverpool hosts a Leicester side which hasn’t won a league match at Anfield in more than 20 years.

Leicester manager Brendan Rogers will face his former club without the Foxes’ star midfielder James Maddison who is out with a knee injury. Liverpool has won three straight league matches and has lost but once at Anfield this season. Reds supporters were buoyed this week with the news that PSV winger and Dutch international Cody Gakpo will be joining Jurgen Klopp’s side in January.

Making the transaction all the sweeter for the Reds is the fact that Gakpo had previously been linked with rival Manchester United. United manager Eric ten Hag will no doubt be gritting his teeth over losing out on the Dutch star, but the Red Devil attack did look fluid and dangerous in Tuesday’s win over Nottingham Forest. Marcus Rashford is in good form and even the oft injured Anthony Martial found the net Tuesday. United travels to Wolverhampton Saturday where Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui will look to repeat the success of his debut win over Everton against a much tougher opponent in the Red Devils.

Everton also faces a tougher opponent Saturday when manager Frank Lampard drags the beleaguered Toffees to Manchester City where Pep Guardiola’s title chasing squad has lost only once this season. The Toffees, meanwhile, have only a single away win in what is shaping up to be another relegation fight for Everton. Things could get ugly at the Etihad. Manchester City star Erling Haaland already has eight more goals this season than the entire Everton squad.

Newcastle is just two points behind second place Manchester City as the Magpies prepare to host Leeds on Saturday. Eddie Howe’s surprising contenders are one of only two clubs, league leading Arsenal being the other, not to have lost a home match all season. Leeds have lost six of their last eight matches, though one of their two wins during that poor stretch was a shocker over Liverpool. The defense of Leeds manager Jesse Marsch has conceded more goals than all but three clubs in the league this season.

Arsenal could be tested Saturday when the Gunners head to the south coast to face Brighton. Brighton knocked the Gunners out of the Carabao Cup earlier this season and won the last league encounter between the clubs at the Emirates in April. Seagulls Manager Roberto De Zerbi has seen his side win three of their last four league matches although that stretch has included a disappointing home loss to Aston Villa.

Crystal Palace will also be on the southern coast when they face Bournemouth Saturday. Palace has failed to put a shot on goal in losses either side of the break and the Eagles’ attack is yet to see any consistent production from young players such as Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise despite their much-ballyhooed potential. A loss at Bournemouth on Saturday could result in the first real questions being asked of Palace manager and league legend Patrick Vieira. Bournemouth, meanwhile, are descending towards the relegation fight after losing five of their last six.

Southampton has already sunk to the bottom of the table after four straight losses. The Saints travel to London on Saturday to face a Fulham side which is currently in the top half of the table in its first year back in the league. Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic has 11 goals for the Cottagers as the league’s fourth highest scorer despite being hampered before the World Cup break by a persistent foot injury.

Sunday matches will see Tottenham Hotspur at home to Aston Villa while Chelsea travels to Nottingham Forest. Spurs are battling to keep their place in the top four with fifth place Manchester United just a point back in the table and Liverpool lurking behind United. Harry Kane became the league’s all-time Boxing Day scorer this past Monday and a goal on Sunday would make him the Premier League’s all-time New Year’s Day scorer. Villa Manager Unai Emery, meanwhile, will be trying to get his club back on track after being smashed by Liverpool on Boxing Day.

All three of Nottingham Forest’s victories have come at home this season and they will be hosting a Chelsea squad which has lost its last three road contests across all competitions. Chelsea snapped a five-match winless run with its win on Tuesday while Forest was hammered by Manchester United that same day.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Premier League Results Matchweek 17: Moaning Monday For Home Sides; Gunners Blast West Ham; Newcastle Continue Top Four Form; Eagles Crash Land; Wolves Show Some Bite Under New Management; Saints Take Over Basement; Chelsea Snaps Winless Streak; Haaland Fastest Ever To 20

It was quickly clear which clubs were prepared for Monday’s restart and which clubs need to seriously refocus. Saturday was also a bad day for the home teams. Home supporters were disappointed as away squads went undefeated in the first six Boxing Day matches by an aggregate margin of 15-5.

Arsenal, despite a worrying 1-0 halftime deficit at the Emirates, would ultimately end that trend with the final match of the day at the Emirates. A 3-1 win over West Ham kept Arsenal as one of only two clubs to be undefeated at home this season. Bukayo Saka ignited the Gunners with a 53rd minute goal as the English international opportunistically found the net after collecting a mishit shot from Martin Odegaard. Gabriel Martinelli tied matters just five minutes later and Eddie Nketiah delivered the insurance goal in the 69th minute to complete the trifecta. Nketiah’s goal could be important going forward as Arsenal will need the young winger confident and in good form as he stands in for the injured Gabriel Jesus.

Despite first half frustrations, the league leaders dominated possession in the match and displayed the quality of a title contender. Applauding from the stands was former longtime manager Arsene Wenger who returned to the Emirates for the first time since his 2018 departure from the club. West Ham lost a fourth league match as the disappointing Hammers hover just a point above the relegation zone.

Newcastle is on a much different trajectory from struggling West Ham. The Magpies served notice that they intend to continue their top four quest as the Magpies dominated Leicester in a 3-0 victory. Eddie Howe’s side were already up by two goals inside of the first ten minutes of play as shellshocked Leicester were embarrassed at home. Newcastle, playing without ill striker Callum Wilson, easily won its sixth consecutive outing in the league. Leicester was unable to put a shot on target until the 82nd minute as the Foxes were able to generate very little in the absence of injured playmaker James Maddison.

Another disappointed home crowd on Monday saw Crystal Palace play a sloppy match at Selhurst Park. The Eagles fell 3-0 to Fulham and finished an ugly performance, in which they failed to have a single shot on target, as the first side this season to go down to nine men. There are storm clouds over south London as Crystal Palace has now put in terrible performances on both sides of the World Cup break. Reportedly there are differences festering between Crystal Palace President Steve Parish and Manager Patrick Vieira regarding how active the club needs to be in the January transfer window as recent results highlight a seeming talent deficit. Fulham feasted on the disorganized Eagles and striker Aleksandar Mitrovic had the most fun, setting up the first two goals and scoring the third for the Cottagers.

Goodison Park was the site of another humbling home loss as Everton fell 2-1 to Wolves as new Wolverhampton Manager Julen Lopetegui enjoyed a successful Premier League debut. Rayan Ait-Nouri scored the winner in the fifth minute of extra time on a cross from Adama Traore to ruin Boxing Day for the Toffee faithful. The home loss to what was the league’s bottom most club entering the day was damaging for Manager Frank Lampard who saw his side fail to win for an eighth consecutive league match and left the pitch to the boos of the home fans. Wolverhampton, meanwhile, won on the road for the first time this season as Lopetegui made a fine first impression with two of his second half substitutes providing the extra time assist and goal.

Brighton banked a 3-1 away win at Southampton as the Seagulls won for a fourth time in their last five league matches under Manager Roberto De Zerbi. Brighton’s win helped remove the bad taste left by their Carabao Cup loss to lower tier Charlton earlier in the week. Southampton manager Nathan Jones, who took over in November, has his work cut out for him after a fourth consecutive league loss by the Saints saw them settle to the bottom of the Premier League table.

Mohamed Salah took only five minutes to score for Liverpool as the Reds sailed to a 3-1 away victory over Aston Villa. 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic scored his first senior squad goal for Liverpool in the 81st minute to end the hopes of the Villans as Liverpool, with a game in hand, moved to within five points of Tottenham Hotspur in the chase for fourth position in the table and automatic Champions League qualification. Aston Villa, meanwhile, lost for a third time this season at Villa Park, a record of home defeats exceeded only by the table’s bottom five clubs.

Disappointment for home sides (not playing at the Emirates) had begun with the first match on Monday when homestanding Brentford squandered a two-goal advantage to drop points as Tottenham Hotspur rallied to salvage an away point in a 2-2 final at the home of the Bees. Spurs striker Harry Kane responded to the disappointment of his World Cup penalty kick miss for England by scoring in the 65th minute to set a new Premier League record with his tenth career Boxing Day goal.

Teammate Pierre Emile-Hojbjerg scored six minutes after Kane to secure the away point. Despite the comeback effort, falling behind for a ninth consecutive match needs to be a worry for Tottenham Hotspur Manager Antonio Conte. Spurs were also the only club in the top six of the table to drop points this week. Brentford will rue dropping points Monday, but the greater concern for the Bees will be the potential gambling related suspension of one of their Boxing Day scorers, Ivan Toney. The striker recorded his 11th league goal of the season but is under investigation for more than 250 alleged betting violations under English Football Association rules.

Tuesday’s Premier League matches featured dominant performances by Chelsea and Manchester United in 2-0 and 3-0 victories over Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest, respectively, as the two upper tier home sides had little difficulty in squashing the hopes of their visiting undermanned opponents. Both newly promoted clubs are prime contenders for relegation this season with Bournemouth having invested little in their roster and Forest seeming to have spent unwisely. Former Manchester United player Jesse Lingard, one of Nottingham Forest’s poor investments, was lifted in the 53rd minute after his latest unproductive performance for Nottingham Forest. Lingard’s former United teammate Marcus Rashford had a goal and assist in the Red Devils’ easy win at Old Trafford. Chelsea’s win over Bournemouth, meanwhile, snapped a five-match winless run for Graham Potter’s Blues and featured goals from Kai Havertz and Mason Mount, two key players who have struggled to produce for Chelsea this season. While gaining a much-needed victory, Chelsea appears to have lost Reece James for up to a month after the young defender reaggravated knee problems which have already cost him much of the current season. Bournemouth, meanwhile, lost for a fifth time in their last six league matches, the only victory for the Cherries coming against a poor Everton side.

Manchester City concluded Matchweek 17 with a 3-1 win at Leeds as Erling Haaland scored two of City’s goals to become the fastest Premier League player to the 20-goal mark in league history. Jack Grealish assisted both Haaland goals as the Citizens remain five points behind league leading Arsenal.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Premier League Returns

The Premier League returns on Boxing Day after its World Cup hiatus. One hundred and thirty-three Premier League players represented their countries in Qatar. Those progressing to the later rounds are questionable or already ruled out for this week’s games. Premier League managers have made the best of it during the break to work with makeshift squads of their available players. Many have taken advantage of warm weather locales for their practice work. Several clubs have engaged in friendlies. English Football League Carabao Cup matches took place just days after the World Cup final. Monday’s Boxing Day matches, and others scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, will tell which clubs are most successful at quickly reorienting their focus and shaking off the rust with the resumption of league play.

The break period has delivered news for several clubs which may bear on the balance of the restarted Premier League season. Cristiano Ronaldo has moved on from Manchester United. The unhappy striker was released from his contract with the Red Devils and is evaluating his future options. Arsenal also lost a striker over the break as Gabriel Jesus suffered a knee injury for Brazil and will be out for months.

Chelsea’s Armando Broja, not competing in Qatar, was injured in a friendly match for Chelsea and will miss the rest of the season. Liverpool forward Luis Diaz reinjured his knee while training with the club and will be out for months. Manchester United forward Jaden Sancho, who was left off the England squad, has been oddly training on his own apart from his Manchester United teammates. Manager Eric ten Hag has been oddly noncommittal on when Sancho may rejoin the club. Wolverhampton now has a new manager, Julen Lopetegui, and the former Spain and Real Madrid manager is reportedly targeting the January transfer window for a much need talent injection for the struggling club which is last in the Premier League.

Some young Premier League players may build off their World Cup success to play larger roles with their clubs. Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez and Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister, who played unexpectedly large roles for World Cup winning Argentina, would be two such players. Mac Allister’s performance in Qatar has increased interest in the young midfielder by some of the league’s bigger clubs.

His absence from Brighton’ lineup earlier this week certainly didn’t help as the Seagulls were shot down by League One Charlton in the Carabao Cup. The Seagulls will try to pick themselves back up when they face Southampton Monday.

League leading Arsenal will get the first indication of whether they can weather Gabriel Jesus’ absence when the Gunners host West Ham in a London derby. Eddie Nketiah will need to step in at striker for the missing Jesus. Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard should be well rested as Norway, despite having Erling Haaland and Odegaard, missed the World Cup. West Ham, meanwhile, has lost every one of its league matches at the Emirates since 2015.

Tottenham Hotspur’s lineup has question marks and known absences for Spurs’ match at Brentford Monday. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris won’t be available after standing between the sticks in France’s World Cup final loss to Argentina. Argentinian center back Cristian Romero will also miss the match versus Brentford. Ivan Perisic could be held out after playing for Croatia in the third-place game last weekend. England’s Harry Kane and Brazil’s Richarlison are also questionable to face the Bees. Brentford has none of those availability worries and Ivan Toney, scorer of ten goals in the league this season, should be well rested after missing out on the England squad. The future could be a bit more clouded for Mr. Toney, however, amid gambling allegations which have arisen against the striker.

Liverpool will have Mohamed Salah, a World Cup non-participant, ready to go when it visits Aston Villa Monday. The Reds will hope for better things ahead after a disappointing start to their season which has left them sixth in the table and seven points away from qualification for next season Champions League. The Reds travel to Aston Villa Monday. World Cup hero Emiliano Martinez will be unavailable for the Villans as the goalkeeper remains celebrating in Argentina with the permission of manager Unai Emery. Martinez has gotten a bit carried away with antics, which began with the taunting of opponents during the World Cup final penalty kicks. After Argentina’s win, he then controversially made obscene gestures with his Golden Glove award and later mocked France’s Kylian Mbappe by flaunting a baby doll with Mbappe’s face attached to it. The Villans had won three of four matches heading into the World Cup break after sacking Steven Gerrard and should provide a test for Gerrard’s former team on Monday.

Newcastle has shaken the top clubs by rising to third in the league. The Magpies look to continue the type of performance which resulted in five consecutive wins before the break and has seen the Magpies lose but once all season, when Eddie Howe’s side visits Leicester on Boxing Day. Leicester’s James Maddison, whose World Cup for England was derailed by a knee injury, is a question mark to start for Manager Brendan Rogers against Newcastle.

Fulham and Crystal Palace are level on points in the middle of the Premier League table as the two clubs approach their Monday London derby. Fulham has the far superior firepower led by striker Aleksandar Mitrovic who appears healed from an ankle injury. Crystal Palace, however, will be looking for a fourth consecutive Premier League win at Selhurst Park for the first time in its history.

A key matchup at the bottom of the table will transpire at Goodison Park where Everton will try to stay out of the relegation zone when it faces bottom of the table Wolverhampton. Everton is just a point above the drop zone as its fans prepare for another likely nail-biting fight for survival for a second straight season under Manager Frank Lampard. Julen Lopetegui makes his Premier League debut in charge of struggling Wolverhampton. The match on Monday promises to be low scoring. Everton failed to score in their last three matches heading into the break while Wolves are incredibly still in single digits for goals on the season.

Tuesday matches feature Bournemouth at Chelsea and Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford to face Manchester United. Chelsea was a mess before the World Cup break, losing their last three matches and failing to win any of their last five matches. Bournemouth ended a four-match losing run by defeating Everton in their last match before the league’s hibernation. Manchester United could have problems defending against Nottingham Forest in Tuesday’s match. Center backs Lisandro Martinez (Argentina)  and Rafael Varane (France) won’t be expected to play, and Harry Maguire was suffering an illness which caused him to miss United’s Carabao Cup win this week. Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Dean Henderson, on loan from the Red Devils, is prohibited form playing against his parent club.

Manchester City, whose players logged the most aggregate minutes at the World Cup, returns to action on Wednesday. Erling Haaland, however, will be well rested when the Citizens visit Leeds and US World Cup players Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams. Haaland had a goal earlier this week when the Citizens returned to the pitch in their Carabao Cup win over Liverpool. Leeds, meanwhile, enters the next phase of the Premier League season scrambling to avoid the relegation battle. Jesse Marsch’s side are currently two points removed from the drop zone. 

Carabao Cup

Manchester City defeated Liverpool 3-2 on Thursday to complete play in the Carabao Cup Round of 16. Erling Haaland unsurprisingly opened the scoring after only 10 minutes were played. Surprisingly, it was defender Nathan Ake, fresh from his World Cup adventures with the Netherlands, who scored the winner. Mohamed Salah had a goal in the losing Liverpool effort as he and Haaland both should be well rested for the Premier League restart on Boxing Day, neither star having participated in the World Cup. The Carabao Cup quarterfinalists are all Premier League clubs but for League One Charlton which eliminated Brighton on penalties after neither team could score from open play. Charlton is the tournament’s Cinderella dark horse as they currently face a relegation battle to maintain their place in the third division of English football. Charlton will face Manchester United in its January quarterfinal match. Manchester City, second in the Premier League table, will feel confident in the quarterfinals against currently relegation bound Southampton. The two other current Premier League relegation zone occupants face each other when Nottingham Forest and Wolverhampton meet. The remining quarterfinal match will see Newcastle and Leicester in a rematch of their coming Boxing Day contest. 

Monday, December 19, 2022

World Cup News: Aston Villa Goalie Martinez and GOAT Messi Deliver Argentina World Cup Trophy

Argentina’s clash with France for the World Cup title came down to penalty kicks and Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez again displayed his proclivity for the unique art form. The goalkeeper seems entirely comfortable in the spotlight while those facing him face both pressure and the intimidation and distraction tactics of the Aston Villa man. The 6’4” Martinez, the hero in an earlier penalty kick shootout with the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, came up big again on Sunday. Tied at three goals apiece after extra time, Argentina scored on all four of its penalty kicks while France failed on two of its kicks against Martinez to give La Albiceleste the victory.

After Kylian Mbappe converted France’s first attempt in penalties, Martinez  was successful in saving the second attempt by Kinglsey Coman. A save wasn’t necessary on France’s third attempt. Some theatrics perhaps were. Before the kick of 22-year-old Aurelien Tchouameni, Martinez threw the ball far from the spot, forcing the youngster to disrupt his routine and chase after the ball himself. Unnerved, Tchouameni pulled his shot wide for a second France miss. Argentina’s Gonzalo Montiel then buried the fourth successful kick for Argentina to claim the country’s third World Cup and deny France a second consecutive World Cup title.

The penalty kick drama concluded a sensational back and forth clash featuring top performances from two renowned superstars. Lionel Messi, capturing his first World Cup, and Kylian Mbappe, denied his second, both delivered performances for the ages. Messi opened scoring with a penalty kick and triggered the buildup to Argentina’s second goal and a 2-0 halftime lead. France would not score until the 80th minute when Mbappe converted a penalty following a clumsy foul committed by former Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi. The France comeback continued as Mbappe delivered the tying goal just one minute later with a powerful strike in open play which would see regulation time end at two goals apiece. The momentum would then shift again as Messi responded in extra time with his second goal of the match to seemingly put Argentina on the cusp of victory. A called handball in the box on Argentina right back Montiel, however, delayed the celebration as Mbappe buried the penalty for his third goal of the game and again knotted the match. Montiel was almost denied his later chance for shootout redemption but for a stunning save by Argentina’s Martinez in the final minute of stoppage time.

Martinez would rightfully be awarded the Golden Glove for his tournament performance. Mbappe’s hat trick in the final secured the Golden Boot trophy by one goal over Messi. It will be Argentina’s Number 10, however, who will be most remembered as the headliner in a tournament where he secured the one major team trophy previously missing from his resume on a day where he established World Cup records for appearances and minutes played. The 35-year-old Messi received the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player after a match which was probably his farewell to World Cup competition.

Friday, December 16, 2022

World Cup News: It’s Messi versus Mbappe

Argentina will face France in the World Cup final on Sunday. Lionel Messi will get one final chance to add a World Cup victory to his impressive resume and to deliver a third title to Argentina which would be the country’s first since 1986 when Diego Maradona led La Albiceleste to the championship. Messi’s PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe, meanwhile, will key France’s chances to become the first nation to win consecutive World Cups since Pele led Brazil in 1962. Fittingly, the two stars are level in leading the Golden Boot chase as they approach the final match. Depending on the results of their encounter, the two could become the first club teammates to finish 1-2 in World Cup goalscoring.

The final matchup shouldn’t be surprising, but Argentina needed to rebound from a shocking opening group stage defeat to Saudi Arabia. The Argentines won their remaining games, though overcoming a serious challenge from the Netherlands in a quarterfinal match which saw Messi and company relinquish a late two goal advantage before advancing on penalty kicks. A 3-0 semifinal win over Croatia featured a 34th minute penalty kick by Messi who then assisted on the second of two goals by Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez.

Alvarez’s brace continued a breakout tournament for the young forward who trails Messi and Mbappe by just a single goal in the Golden Boot chase. Other Premier League players such as Aston Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez, Brighton midfielder Alexis Mac Allister and Manchester United defender Lisandro Martinez have all made their own contributions to Argentina’s run to the final.

France, meanwhile, made its way to the title by silencing the Atlas Lions of Morrocco in a 2-0 semifinal victory. The Moroccans had conceded only a single goal all tournament before France’s Theo Hernandez scored only five minutes into the semifinal encounter.

France then defended doggedly to clinch the win and its first clean sheet of this World Cup. A 79th minute goal by France’s Randal Kolo Muani sealed Morocco’s fate after a surprising and joyous run which saw the country become the first African side to advance to a World Cup semifinal. The Moroccans face Croatia in the third-place match on Saturday.

Sunday’s final will then feature the third and fourth ranked teams in the world with Messi and Mbappe leading dynamic attacks. A loaded French side has been getting goals from former Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud who, like Argentina’s Alavarez, has four goals to date, just one back of the leaders. Defenses which have had some shaky moments for both attacking oriented sides could contribute to some goal scoring excitement on Sunday to cap a tournament which has so far seen the fourth highest total goals among all participating nations in World Cup history. Two Premier League goalkeepers, Villa’s Marinez and Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris will try to keep things under control. Lloris has improved through the tournament and had a massive save on a Moroccan bicycle attempt on goal in France’s Wednesday win. The French defense against Morocco was also bolstered by the play of Liverpool center back Ibrahima Konate who made his first start of the tournament. France defeated Argentina in the round of sixteen of the 2018 World Cup. Mbappe scored a brace in that game as the French would then march on to the championship. Lionel Messi will be trying for a different result on Sunday when he makes his likely final appearance on this stage. The match will establish the 35-year-old Messi as the man with the most career World Cup appearances. The 23-year-old Mbappe, meanwhile, will try to become the youngest player since Pele to accumulate two World Cup titles.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

World Cup News: Semifinal Matchups Set; Croatia Shocks Brazil; Messi Win for Argentina; No Kane Do For England As France Advances; Stingy Morocco Sweeps Portugal and Ronaldo From Tournament

Tournament favorite Brazil was bounced by a tenacious Croatia squad looking to make a second consecutive World Cup Finals appearance. The two sides failed to score in regulation before Neymar Jr. scored in extra time to put Brazil on the brink of advancing. Neymar’s goal was his 77th international goal, tying Pele for the FIFA sanctioned record by a Brazilian player. Brazil’s hopes for a sixth World Cup title were smashed, however, when Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic scored in the second period of extra time to throw the match into penalty kicks. Brazil’s tournament then ended when Croatia converted all four of its penalty tries while Brazil was missing twice. Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic registered 11 saves in the match, the highest total by a goalkeeper in this tournament and he and his teammates were victorious in penalties for a second consecutive World Cup match. Eight of Croatia’s last nine knockout matches in major tournaments have now gone to overtime. Brazil was eliminated by a European side for a fifth consecutive World Cup.

Argentina faces Croatia in Tuesday’s semifinal after a messy quarterfinal win over the Netherlands. The match saw a tournament record 17 yellow cards. At one point Argentina’s Leandro Paredes intentionally booted a ball at the Netherlands bench before being shoved to the ground by Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk. Lionel Messi, meanwhile, was involved in verbal altercations with the Netherlands coaching staff. Argentina seemed to have had things under control when Messi’s penalty kick in the 73rd minute gave Argentina a two-goal lead. Wout Weghorst, who had a cup of coffee in the Premier League last season for Burnley, then entered the match for the Netherlands. The 6’6” striker would score twice in the final ten minutes of regulation and force extra time and ultimately penalties. Aston Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez then made saves on the Netherlands’ Van Dijk and Steven Berghuis to send Argentina to the semifinals to face Croatia.

Defending champion France made it to the final four by defeating England 2-1. Former Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud’s fourth goal of the tournament proved the winner as England’s Harry Kane failed to convert a late penalty kick. Kane had scored England’s first and only goal earlier in the match on a penalty but his attempt to put a second past his Tottenham Hotspur teammate and France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was blasted well high of the net. Kane’s earlier conversion had tied him with Wayne Rooney for the England scoring record of 53. His failed attempt to break that tie, however, will be more remembered by English fans. England outplayed France for much of the match but were unable to score from open play against Lloris who made six saves against England after notching only two in his previous four matches of the tournament.

The Cinderella story of this year’s World Cup is Morocco which has become the first African nation to reach a World Cup semifinal. The Moroccans defeated Portugal 1-0 and have allowed only a single goal, an own goal at that, all tournament. Manager Walid Regragui has seen his Morocco side keep seven clean sheets in his eight-match tenure leading the Atlas Lions, four of those goose eggs coming in this World Cup. Morocco shut down a Portugal side which had just scored six goals against Switzerland earlier in the week. Cristiano Ronaldo tied the record for international appearances with his second half substitution for Portugal. Ronaldo’s removal from Portugal’s starting eleven this tournament has fueled more drama for the controversial legend as rumors fly concerning where he will next ply his trade after his fiery exit from Manchester United. 

Thursday, December 8, 2022

World Cup News: Quarterfinal Matchups Set; US Exits As Dutch Advance; Giroud Milestone in French Win; Foden Happy to Assist England; Ronaldo Benched As Portugal Romps; Morrocco Shocks Spain in Penalty Kicks; Brazil Steamrolls South Korea; Injury Blow for Arsenal

Quarterfinal matchups are set after a revealing round of 16. The US was eliminated by the Netherlands 3-1. Christian Pulisic missed on an early opportunity for the US and the Netherlands quickly settled into the game and clinically punished defensive mistakes by the young US squad. Denzel Dumfries had two assists and a goal for a Netherlands side which moves on to meet Argentina in the quarterfinals.

The Argentines defeated surprise Round of 16 participant Australia as Lionel Messi scored his 789th goal in his 1,000th career match.

Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez scored the winner as he took advantage of a gaffe by former Brighton and Hove Albion goalkeeper Matt Ryan. Current Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez made a key save for the Argentines in the 97th minute to preserve the victory.

Former Arsenal and Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud broke his tie with Thierry Henri to become France’s all-time leading scorer in a 3-1 France victory over Poland. Kylian Mbappe scored his fourth and fifth goals of the tournament for a French side which now moves on to a headline match against England on Saturday.

England received a burst of creativity and energy as Manager Gareth Southgate finally unleashed Manchester City star Phil Foden. Starting on the left wing for the first time this tournament, Foden responded with two assists and combined with 19-year-old Jude Bellingham to put Senegal on its heels for much of the match.

Foden became the first Englishman to post two assists in a World Cup knockout contest since David Beckham last accomplished the feat twenty years ago. Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, Spurs’ Harry Kane and Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka were the goal scorers for a suddenly dangerous England attack under the normally conservative Southgate.

It was Portugal, however, which put on the most impressive performance of the Round of 16 with a dominant 6-1 win over Switzerland. Cristiano Ronaldo was controversially benched and his replacement, 21-year-old Benfica striker Goncarlo Ramos, struck for a hat trick in Portugal’s win. Rumors, of course, swirled after the match that Ronaldo would leave the Portugal squad as family members again launched to his defense on social media, decrying the injustice of his changed playing status. Rumors at the same time are circulating regarding Saudi Arabia being the next stop in Ronaldo’s club career. Switzerland’s shell-shocked goalkeeper Jan Sommer, meanwhile, has been linked to Ronaldo’s former club, Manchester United. Tuesday’s result could require a rethink on Sommer as the potential successor to current United keeper David De Gea.

Former Barcelona Manager Luis Enrique is out as Spanish national team manager after his squad exited the tournament in penalty kicks versus Morocco. Following a goalless regulation and extra time, La Roja failed to score with their first three penalty tries. PSG’s Achraf Hakimi, born and raised in Madrid, registered the winning penalty kick, “Panenka” style, for Morocco. Spain’s futility in penalties echoed the frustration suffered during play as the Spanish made over 1,000 passes but only directed one shot on goal. Enrique raised eyebrows by bring only one striker to the World Cup in former Chelsea man Alvaro Morata. Surprising Morocco moves on to face Portugal on Saturday.

Neymar returned from an ankle injury and contributed a penalty score in an easy 4-1 Brazil victory over South Korea. Tottenham Hotspur’s Richarlison and West Ham’s Lucas Paqueta also scored for the Brazilian as did Real Madrid forward Vinicius Jr. While his Brazilian teammates were having fun at one end of the pitch, Liverpool goalkeeper Allison protected their back with numerous key saves, including a stop of Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min on a breakaway opportunity. Brazil faces Croatia in the opening quarterfinal match on Friday.

Croatia got a tying goal in regulation from Tottenham Hotspur’s Ivan Perisic, assisted by a cross form former Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren, to ultimately force penalties against Japan. Perisic’s 10th goal in major tournaments established a new mark for his country. Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic then thwarted the Blue Samurai with three penalty kick saves to put Croatia through. Croatia moves on to face high flying Brazil which will be looking to defeat a European squad in the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time in 20 years. Arsenal star Gabriel Jesus, however, will not be participating in the balance of Brazil’s World Cup run. The forward for the Premier League leaders underwent knee injury for an injury suffered in Brazil’s final group stage match versus Cameroon and could be sidelined for as long as three months. Acquiring another striker in the January transfer window could prove critical to the Gunners’ title chances.

Friday, December 2, 2022

World Cup News: Round Of 16 Set; Belgium Out; Germany Out; Mexico Out; Szczensy Saves Poland; Japan Strikes Back; Morocco Tops Group; South Korea Leaves It Late; Pulisic Fitness Key to US Chances

An era would appear to be over for Belgium as its Golden Generation exited the World Cup after a goalless draw with Croatia. The Belgians strangely played passively in the first half of a match it desperately needed to win. That changed in the second half with the insertion of Romelu Lukaku as teammates repeatedly found the imposing striker in the opponent’s box. Unfortunately, the one-time Premier League star missed on numerous chances and collapsed in tears after the match as Kevin De Bruyne’s prediction that Belgium was too old to win a World Cup proved true. Belgian Manager Roberto Martinez announced he would no longer continue as Belgium’s manager after a six-year run which delivered no major trophies despite a star-studded roster.

Few would have predicted that it would be Morocco which won the group which included traditional powers Belgium and Croatia.

Yet Morocco’s 2-1 victory over Canada, which included a goal by Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech, clinched the top spot with Croatia advancing as runner-up. The Atlas Lions of Morocco return to the World Cup Round of 16 for the first time since 1986. Canada, meanwhile, exited the competition by losing a third straight match and failing to put a shot on target versus the Moroccans.

Germany failed to make it out of the group stage for a second consecutive World Cup despite a 4-2 win over Costa Rica. Japan’s 2-1 win over Spain meant that Germany would have need to score five more goals to win a tiebreaker with Spain. A second half brace by Chelsea’s Kai Havertz proved too little too late for Germany in this tournament.

Japan, meanwhile, rebounded from a disappointing loss to Costa Rica to shock Spain with a controversial goal which clinched the group’s top spot for the Blue Samurai. Controversy surrounded whether the ball had gone out of play before the cross which led to Japan’s winner. The 51st minute goal stood after VAR review and the Japanese defended furiously over the balance of the second half to finish as the surprising group winners, Spain advancing as runners-up.

Nottingham Forest’s Remo Freuler had the winner as Switzerland defeated Serbia 3-2 to qualify as runner-up to Brazil in their group. Brazil had already clinched the group before a surprising 1-0 final group match loss to the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. Former Stoke and Liverpool player Xherdan Shaqiri scored the opening goal for the Swiss to join Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the only three players to score a goal in each of the last three World Cups.

Wolverhampton’s Hwang Hee-Chan scored in stoppage time to put South Korea through to the next round with a 2-1 win over Portugal. Hwang’s goal eliminated Uruguay from the tournament despite the South American side’s 2-0 win over Ghana. Uruguay players were seen following the referee down the tunnel after the match, much of the emotion focused on an uncalled penalty on a perceive foul on Edinson Cavani. An additional goal would have moved Uruguay past South Korea in the qualification battle. Cavani and former Liverpool star Luis Suarez have now probably played their last World Cup match.

Mexico was eliminated from the tournament in similarly heartbreaking fashion as it failed to advance to the World Cup Round of 16 for the first time since 1978. Mexico defeated Saudi Arabia 2-1 but needed one additional goal to have secured qualification. The frantic Mexicans took 26 shots and put 11 on target for the match but failed to find that final goal which would have given them the tiebreaker advantage over Poland to advance from the group. Poland owes its advancement to goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny who made 11 saves and stopped a Lionel Messi penalty kick in a 2-0 loss to Argentina. Despite the loss, Poland advanced by the narrowest of margins on goal difference. Argentina received goals from Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister and Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez to clinch the top spot in the group and set up a Round of 16 meeting with Australia on Saturday.

Knockout play begins earlier that day when the US matches up against the Netherlands. The Dutch have been getting needed goals from PSV winger Cody Gakpo while relying on a stalwart defense led by Liverpool center back Virgil Van Dijk. The US chances could hinge on the fitness of Christian Pulisic who suffered a pelvic injury on the winning goal for the Americans versus Iran. Pulisic, as well as striker Josh Sargent, are listed as day to day after suffering injuries in the US victory.

England returns to action Sunday in an elimination match against Senegal which impressively made it out of the group stage despite the absence of injured former Liverpool star Sadio Mane.