Mails: We’re all a little bit Mexican today…

Date published: Monday 18th June 2018 8:40

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Isn’t this brilliant?
How often do you get up on Monday morning, with a hangover, and spring out of bed because you’re already excited about the game this evening. How often are you eager to get to work so you can discuss the weekend games?

World Cup is amazing.
Jimmy (Argentina to come bottom of group) Sham


…Four days in and I’m happy to say that this World Cup is absolutely brilliant. We’ve just had a very well times four-day weekend in the UAE and the kick off times are an agreeable 4pm, 7pm and 10pm so I’ve been averaging two games a day so far and it’s been a treat. Entertaining football, controversy, late drama, Ronaldo being Ronaldo, terrific goals and one of the greatest World Cup matches of all time. It’s not all been the best quality football, but there has been drama in almost every game, with only two of the 11 games having more than a goal between the sides. Best of all, compared to the Euros two years ago, teams are really going for it. Mexico, Australia, Iceland and Switzerland went for it against some of the tournament favourites and, bar Australia, were rewarded. If this is how it’s going to continue we have a glorious month ahead of us.
Mike, LFC, Dubai


…Wow. Just made it through the last 10 minutes of Germany v Mexico. Holy crap. What odds would you have got last Thursday afternoon that Russia would win 5-0, Cristiano Bleeding Ronaldo would get a hat trick against Spain, France would be so poor and that the holders would get done by Trump’s favourite neighbours? Not me (Clive)!

Which prompts a question. Is this the best start to a WC ever? Ay, Ay, calm down, calm down! I say this not because those ‘favourites’ above largely failed to live up to expectations, but that the supposed minnows have (mostly) played to win. I expected lots of parking the bus and cagey tactical happy-to-go away-with-a-draw type games. Not a bit of it.

Now, I had pretty much all of my England stuffing knocked out of me with the Iceland disgrace and my first tournament was 1970. But I’ve enjoyed this first four days so much that I almost (but only almost) don’t care how England get on and I genuinely can’t remember a WC we’ve been in where the opening games were so entertaining. Brazil tonight and Belgium tomorrow. Can’t possibly happen to one of those as well, surely?

On the flip side, doesn’t bode well for Monday night does it?
Mark (But then it never does) MCFC


Proudly Mexican
Wow, what a game. Still buzzing. Where to start?

1) Lozano, what a player. His agent (Raiola I think) will be busy this summer.

2) Ochoa still divides opinion in Mexico somehow. He is inconsistent at club level but who cares? When he puts on the national jersey he becomes an absolute world beater and I’ll always love him for that. His save for Kroos’s free kick was world class and he looked so composed throughout. His handling is usually a problem but not this game.

3) I’ve been critical of Osorio but this was a tactical masterclass. He said post-game that he has been studying Germany for a while and it showed. He says he even anticipated Low’s substitutions.

4) What a crowd as well. Chanting “we are locals everywhere” and of course singing Cielito Lindo. Chills.

5) I´ve heard some saying Germany have been poor lately, so don’t get carried away. I wonder if they’ve seen some of Mexico’s friendlies. Our 2-0 defeat against Denmark in our last friendly before the World Cup was the very definition of limp. We struggled against Scotland, undeservingly winning 1-0 and were held 0-0 against a Bale-less Wales. We had lost 4-0 against Germany a year ago in the Confederations Cup for god’s sake. Before the game I was just hoping not to be humiliated.

6) Having said that, we could have actually scored more goals. Our finishing and decision making were extremely poor. The only thing I begrudge Osorio was not bringing on Jesús Corona. A quick, tricky player who can finish with all the spaces Germany was leaving in defense the second half? Seemed like the perfect game for him. I feel like we could have scored at least one more goal if he had come on, we had absolutely no pace after Lozano was subbed off.

7) Man of the match for me though? Tough because everyone (except possibly Layun who was pretty wasteful) gave the game of their lives but I’d have to go with Gallardo. He is a left midfielder shoehorned as a left-back and therefore pretty suspect defensively. Not this game, he was outnumbered 2 v 1 all game with Kimmich constantly bombing forward and he dealt superbly. Given the gulf between my expectations and his performance, he is my MOTM.

8) After the 2-0 defeat against Denmark in our last friendly, Ochoa said that Mexico didn’t want to “show our weapons”. I remember thinking “what a load of crap”. I still think the same but maybe without the same conviction, this was a completely different performance. I don’t think we created a single decent chance all game against the Danes. Does anyone in the mailbox think this may be a thing? Playing poorly on purpose to throw off the opposition?

I’m actually complaining that we didn’t score more goals against Germany?? Absolutely mental.
RD (proudly) Mexico


Proudly supporting Mexico
The USA and Mexico are footballing enemies, but I always support the CONCACAF sides, and was rooting for Mexico long before the USA had a competitive team. They play good football, are completely fearless, and always deliver a show.

This was a landmark win for El Tri – not so much because they might get beyond the Round of 16, but because it was their first competitive win over a truly top European side. In 1962 they beat Czechoslovakia, but it was a dead rubber at the end of the group stage. In 2010 they beat France, but Les Bleus were collapsing. So many times they’ve fallen just short. This one finally makes a statement.

I remember all their WC losses to Germany: a 6-0 embarrassment in 1978, the loss on penalties in 1986 after a 0-0 draw in the extreme heat, Germany coming back from a goal down in 1998. Throw in a couple of Confederations Cup losses while you’re at it.

Mexican fans have waited half a lifetime for this result. It’s one of the greatest days in their history. Bravo!
Peter G, Pennsylvania, USA (come on England!)


Germany though
Been hoping to write about Germany for long in the mailbox but didn’t think it will have to be this way.

What was Low thinking? He is a great coach with wonderful players but he needs to be ballsy.

Playing Neuer when no one was sure he is 100% fit. Playing Werner but then make all the midfielders play pretty triangles and pass the ball to Kroos who’d essentially shoot at the keeper from outside the box.

Dear Kroos, if you do it as many times a game, it loses the element of surprise. Wonder what would’ve happened if you focused on Finding Timo when you had the ball.

Draxler, talented as he is, never seems up for it when a game changer is needed despite my endless hopes.

Do I even need to mention Boateng?

Not end of the world (cup), the toughest group fixture out of the way, there is a plenty of time to turn things around. Just, y’know, grow a pair, Low.
The Nameless One (Happy for Lozano and Mexico though, well done)


Oh and Brazil…
Wonder if a mail about another nation can make it in the mailbox ahead of England’s game.

So much for Jogo Bonito? I didn’t get the hype around Brazil. And I still don’t do. A great collection of individuals yeah, but as a team? Not so much. But no, they’re bloody gonna win it. After all, their two biggest problems are solved. Neymar is fit and now they can defend. Or so were we told.

Yes, they can still go on and win the World Cup. But don’t let it fool you into thinking they are as good as portrayed. Or we just want to believe that Brazil, possibly, can’t be bad.

Tite’s defensive master plan was for players to run backwards the moment ball is lost. Doesn’t ball travel faster than you? A good offensive team would’ve made them pay dearly. Where was the pressing? Swiss, at times, looked so comfortable on the ball completing their passes with no issues. And if all that was for a goal fest, I wouldn’t mind but a draw courtesy to a wonder strike by Coutinho?

The current generation isn’t as good as the legendary ones from the past. It’s okay. I get it. Just stop overhyping. Sorry for the rant.
The Nameless One


Are teams more inhibited in this World Cup?
First, many congratulations to brave Mexico for the way they set up and beat Germany. Totally deserved and with slightly better decision making in the final third, the scoreline could’ve been embarrassing for the Germans. Having watched the few games so far, some thoughts:

– The first question, are teams becoming more within themselves? There seems to be a trend of teams, especially the big ones worried about upsets and getting knocked out early like Spain did in 2014 (or Italy who didn’t even qualify). Is there fear within coaches to not allow their teams to express themselves that bit more to get the result? (Jose Mourinho interestingly made a point though not with the same hypothesis but in a similar spirit in his analysis)

– Exhibit A: Take the champions Germany. I remember the hallmark of 2010 Germany was not about possession, tiki-taka or keeping the ball. That game was down to the Barcelona-inspired Spain. The Germans had less of the ball, more precise in their combinations and ruthlessly lethal in the counter-attack with an ageing Klose (!) as their center forward. 2014 was little more evolution but they still displayed those qualities, especially the way they finished Brazil. But four years later, and in the grand scheme of things, the Germans have caught on the possession bug. The way the team is set (again, was this the impact of Pep at Bayern and Tuchel at Dortmund?), they are technically good, keep the ball so well, but the vertical passing is just not there. They’re neat and tidy in recycling possession, but they lacked convention when it came to playing the faster pace of the game when needed. Now I don’t want to draw conclusions early, but yesterday something was missing with Germany. They surely need to regroup and win the next game convincingly. I’ll also look silly should they do a Spain 2010!

– Exhibit B: France. Now, this is not a pick for many as a winner. But they have a terrific squad mismanaged. Though they won, there are no early signs of any partnerships in midfield and attack. Maybe, this is just me, but I don’t see them also trying to force games. The combinations seem erratic between their front three as though it’s left to the individuals. A front three of Griezmann flanked by Dembele and Mbappe must be heavily supported from the back, especially with a more progressive, vertical passing midfield. But, Pogba is still in the looking out for Giroud (read Lukaku) mode whenever he’s on the ball.

– Exhibit C: Argentina. To me the biggest disappointment so far. I like Sampaoli. The man has good credentials. I think Argentina’s biggest problem is that they’re not utilizing Messi like how Barcelona do to get the multiplier effect. Unlike Ronaldo’s Portugal who do not have a player of his ilk anywhere near (Bernardo Silva is just getting started), Argentina have at least 1-2 players who can win games on their own (I look at you Aguero). Yet, playing the entire game through Messi is not a good option. While it works when he’s on song, it also is easy to plan against. Especially against Iceland, a team so well drilled in deep block defending. Argentina needs to let Messi play up the pitch either as a number 10 or a marauding forward. Asking him to play the Xavi or Iniesta role is a criminal abuse of Messi’s genius. In fact, Messi being on the pitch draws 2-3 players, so the best thing to do is to use that for the multiplier effect. Argentina more than anyone else needs to re-look at their tactical approach. Again, Iceland was tough to break, but a far better team than Iceland could cause damage to Argentina if they stop Messi and make good use of their own chances.

– Maybe, I’m nitpicking here. But I haven’t seen a team that has a clear attacking plan so far in this WC. From a narrative viewpoint, Ronaldo’s show, Iceland’s defending, Mexico’s win and Brazil (the outright favorites) drawing is great. But from the perspective of a tactical showcase and maybe that bit where teams showcasing their authority in the World Cup is yet to come. There seems to be a lot of fear with big teams so far. No one is brave enough to just take that bit of freedom to force games. A month from now, all could change of course.
Aravind, Chelsea fan


The more teams the better…
I know it’s a little late but in your predictions for the World Cup, your writers were asked ‘what makes the World Cup brilliant?’

The Peruvian national team. Screaming their heads off for the national anthem. Sent a shiver down my spine. Showed what it meant for some of the smaller nations to be there and brought a smile to my face.

Also, this is one of the reasons why a 48 team World Cup is something I’m for. It is purely selfish reasons i.e. India actually making a World Cup (which won’t happen but eh).

Smaller (footballing wise) countries aspire to play at the World Cup. Those that aren’t guaranteed qualification every year are the teams that I root for simply because it appears that it means so much more to them and they are mostly happy to be there instead of complaining about everyone and everything.

So to the English fans who complain about how their team struggles at the big stage and complain about 48 teams… Please stop. The football world goes beyond the South America and Western Europe and a 48 team cup would go a long way in promoting the game and fostering development in some of the erstwhile backward regions of the world.
Sood, India (I realise that Infantino did it for the votebank, but I still think it is a positive step)


Ed’s weekend thoughts
Watching seven games in the course of a weekend is probably the closest I’ll ever get to being Peter G.

* France v Australia was obviously overshadowed by VAR, but other than that it was a reasonable game. Australia are not always the most likeable country when it comes to sporting teams, but they battled hard against a far superior side who, in the way good sides do, made the most of the little bit of luck that went their way. Mile Jedinak is still one of my favourite players, even if the tiny bit of grey in his beard makes him look like he’s dribbled.

I took in some of this game on the radio and some on TV, so there was a brilliant contrast between Dion Dublin on 5 Live, seemingly determined to enjoy himself, and Mark Lawrenson on BBC1, determined not to.

* I don’t think anyone underestimated Iceland the way England did two years ago, but even so it was amusing to see defenders from Manchester City and Manchester United, along with a Chelsea goalkeeper, give away an early chance faffing around with the ball in their own area. Iceland played in a very, erm, robust style, and I think there were more ice hockey-style checks in this game than in any I’ve seen for a while. The penalty save was superb, but what I liked more was the way all of their players instantly got into position to prevent any hope of a chance from the follow-up.

* Peru v Denmark was an enjoyable game, two teams seemingly happy just to be at the World Cup but who knew that they were capable of progressing with the right results and application.

* Croatia v Nigeria was the football equivalent of whe you’ve been out drinking all day and having got the bus home, decide to stop in at a pub for one last drink. You get halfway down it and realise you’ve had more than you can comfortably stomach, but resolve to finish it anyway. It’s not enough to make you properly ill, but in hindsight you could easily have not bothered with it.

* Like all Crystal Palace fans, having seen our former midfield general Jedinak get on the scoresheet for Australia, I was interested to see how our current one, Luka Milivojevic, would do for Serbia. He had a fairly quiet game, though did lay on a superb pass for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s overhead kick. Those two and Nemanja Matic in a midfield three have the potential to make a lot of teams uncomfortable.

* Several Premier League-centric previews commented on the Serbian starting full-backs – Ivanovic and Kolarov, from the perspective that they were no longer good enough for the Premier League, whereas other voices had talked of them playing well with their current clubs. Likewise, there was a lot of incredulity about Germany not picking Leroy Sane, even though he hadn’t played anywhere near as well for Germany as for Manchester City, and sure enough, with them losing last night, this came up again. Mexico deserved the win, although a more effective counterattack would have made for a more comfortable victory.

As for Germany, this should be a wake-up call. Their bad game is now out of their system, so can refocus and will be a different beast for their next two group games.

* By the time Switzerland scored their equaliser, I think I’d heard the phrase “it’s a contact sport” about 427 times during the course of the weekend. There was a push but the strangest thing was how few Brazilian defenders seemed to attack the ball. I’m not suggesting that Miranda should have thrown himself to the floor but if he had made any attempt to head the ball then the foul may have been more obvious to the referee.

It was quite the weekend, wasn’t it. Let’s hope today is halfway towards that.
Ed Quoththeraven

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