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2018 FIFA World Cup review – Europe’s rise in dominance
18 July 2018, 6:12 PM

What started as a World Cup with all the confederations represented has ended of looking more Euro than World. It ended like a European Cup with only two South Americans teams, Brazil and Uruguay, in the Round of 8 and an exclusive club of Euro members, Belgium, Croatia, England and France, in the Round of 4.

This resembled the 2006 edition of the tournament hosted by Germany where only Argentina and Brazil made it into the Last 8 with six European countries followed by an exclusive club of Euro members, France, Germany, Italy and Portugal, in the Round of 4.

The same happened 20 years ago in France where in the Last 8, we had only Argentina and Brazil from outside of Europe. In that year, Brazil, who were defending champions, managed to go all the way and lost to hosts, France in the final.

For the other three, hosted outside Europe, the scenario is completely different.

In Korea/Japan in 2002, there were four countries, Brazil, Korea Republic, Senegal and USA, in the Round of 8. Two of those, Brazil and Korea Republic, reached the semifinals and Brazil reached the final and won.

In South Africa in 2010, there were five countries, Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, Paraguay and Uruguay, in the Round of 8.Uruguay reached the semifinals and none reached the final, which was a contest between Netherlands and Spain.

In Brazil in 2014, there were four countries, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Costa Rica, in the Round of 8. Two reached the semifinals (Argentina and Brazil), and one reached the final, as Argentina lost to Germany.

At the end, with this FIFA World Cup, one cannot help but see it as Euro Cup Russia 2018, with six of eight teams in the Round of 8, coming from Uefa. As if to repeat what happened in German in 2006, four out of four in the Round of 4 (semifinals) were all Uefa member countries.

The European season drawback

The long European Season was a big factor in the World Cup and it, to a very large extent, decided the outcome of this tournament. All players who are consistently competing for the top clubs that reach the club competition finals in their respective countries, including the Champions League and Europa, struggled to cope with the demands of the competition.

They were fatigued and this was too obvious to ignore. Unless and until FIFA does something about these leagues, the FIFA World Cup will continue to be second grade to the Uefa Champions League.

Just to shed some light on this aspect by way of examples, the FIFA World Cup kicked off on Thursday, 14 June 2018.

This was exactly one month since the last game of the Bundesliga and the English Premier League. The EPL had started on August 11, 2017. As if that was not enough, their FA cups, were still to play, both on the Saturday, 19 May.

Then you had the Europa Cup on May 16, followed by the Uefa Champions League Cup Final on the 26th May 2018. This was 18 days before the kick off in Russia.

This only contributes to bringing “fatigued” top players to the World Cup. The national teams that were dominated by top players who play for top club teams performed below their expected level in this World Cup in Russia. It would not be true that “small countries” have improved.

Improvement is performance. It is not winning a match, at times after defending for 120 minutes and getting the results from spot kicks or from penalties.

Added to this fact, with the failure of Argentina and Mexico to top their groups, this  meant that we had one side of the draw loaded with teams from all over the world and one loaded with teams from Europe, save for one – Colombia (7 UEFA and 1 CONMEBOL).

As was indicated in the preview, the champions were always going to be a team that meets all three criteria- having a strong national playing philosophy, quality players and the star. Even though – due to some teams falling short of expectations – there were some surprise teams that reached the last rounds, it was never going to be possible for any team not meeting the criteria to lift the cup.

Once the 16 teams had qualified, it was always possible that, depending on the fixtures, Croatia would reach the final. They were almost handed the slot in the final though they made heavy weather of the situation.

Set Plays factor

While it is commendable that some of these were well executed and resulted in goals, it was disappointing that some teams would only rely on these situations to score goals. This was particularly the case with teams from Europe. As such, where they played each other, only from these situations would the goals come, mainly. That is a cause for concern. Teams should be able to create and score goals.

The Sad African Story

This one is well documented in the follow-up article, The Beginning of the World Cup. The African countries do not feature here as they did not make the Round of 16.

Maybe CAF knew something that we didn’t.

How is it that the FIFA World Cup ends on Sunday 15 July, 2018, in Russia and CAF Champions League resumes on Tuesday 17 July, 2018? Makes you wonder!

Zooming in on France

While their Starting 11 in the final had only one French-based player, Kylian Mbappe, it is important to notice that all, but two, Lucas Hernandes and Paul Pogba who last played in France in the U-19 for Le Havre, started playing their professional football in France. This is significant as the consolidation of the national playing philosophy is completed at the end of the players’ development from youth to senior/professional level. One can only wonder how many other teams in this 21st edition have the same set-up.

Croatia, while they are a small country have also similar progression in their country. This team did not reach the final by chance. It was a reward of hard work over a period of time from a constraint population of four million. They may not be able to sustain the success, but will definitely continue to be a force to be reckoned with, at least for some time to come. This success will give them the motivation required to do even more in their youth structures. The fact that a country that small can provide the world with outstanding players like Modric, Rakatic, Mandzukic, Perisic as examples just like Uruguay with three million who provide the world with players like Cavani, Suarez – who will forget Diego Forlan – is something to be appreciated.

Here are countries with limited numbers – and definitely in the case of Uruguay – and limited resources too but are able to hold their own against the world. This is a lesson for all who want to progress and be counted in the future.

The Starting 11 for the final had one U20, five U25, two 27-year-olds and three 31-year-olds. This says a lot about their youth football and the confidence they have in their young players.

On the criteria, as was given in the preview to win this World Cup, they would have shown the following:

  1. National Playing Philosophy

France may not have a very well defined playing philosophy (at least not at a level of Spain, Germany, nor even Japan), but they are able to understand one another as they were all developed in the same approach to the game.

Teams like Brazil, who can no longer have a strong and well defined identity, due to their players scattered all over earlier in their careers, can no longer compete equally with those who have the same, but play together for the longer time

It is commendable that in the Starting 11 of the French team in the final on Sunday, six players were in the starting 11 at the Euro 16. Those are Hugo Lloris, Samuel Umtiti, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Antoine Griezman and Olivier Giroud. This is indeed a clear indicator of a well-planned process, rather than an erratic sequence of events. This is a very experienced team in cup finals on the international stage.

  1. Quality of Players

They have very good players. They were able to replace the players on the field with almost the same level from the substitutions. Each one is capable to do all in their functional areas. That is why Benjamin Pavard (22) scored from open play from right back.

  1. Star(s)

They have not one, but more. Pogba was always going to stand out. Mbappe showed his individuality and so was Griezman. The goals that Pogba and Mbappe scored in the final showed what these two players are capable of.

While the team did not have rhythm, nor had the ball, whenever they got it, they were lethal and devastating. This was mainly because of the extra ability that these two/three together with others could do. This factor aided France to be crowned champions.

In 1998, they had Zidane. This time they had more than one star.

In this aspect, we had Eden Hazard for Belgium, taking bronze and scoring in the last game (a solo goal-of high quality)

In the final, we still saw Modric and Rakatic, though both tired, for Croatia and of course Pogba and Mbappe for France, who both scored. This is a big factor in today’s football at the highest level.

Teams that are very good and well organised, but did not have this kind of a player (or do not believe in creating space for such a player), fell by the way. Sweden, Denmark, Japan, are some of those examples.

Croatia, in their Starting 11, had two U25, three 29-year-olds and one 26-year-old as well as five 30 and over.

There were three important factors that prevailed against Croatia in the final:

  1. Croatia had older players in their Starting 11 compared to the French opponents. The difference on average was 3 years. France had 26 against Croatia’s 29. With congested fixtures as in the World Cup, it makes a big difference. One may ask Argentina.
  2. Croatia had three days between their last game and the final while France had four.
  3. The last and most crucial (as this was as a result of Croatia’s own making), they had played one game extra than France. This was as a result of them playing 3 x 30 minutes of extra time-in each round of the knockout stage.

These factors, combined, made the difference both psychologically and physically. At this level, and with so few days between matches, these extra 30 minutes were always going to count against Croatia, and indeed, they did. It was not a surprise for some of us who already expected and avalanche of goals against Croatia, to see what happened. It could have easily been worse.

At certain moments, especially in the last 30 minutes, one could see the slow reactions from the Croats. It was not easy for them to react. There were situations where France scored (and could have scored) that were a direct result of opponent’s fatigue. This was besides those from the individual actions of “special” French players. The one opportunity from a free kick that Pogba missed was a result of mental blocks that prevailed in the Croats defensive organisation. It could easily have been worse.

The sad reality (for those who have not started) is that France won the World Cup with a team that can still play in Qatar. This should worry anyone who harbours ambitions of doing well in Qatar. Not that they will defend it successfully (as recent history would confirm). However, given that their team will be players who would have matured rather than predictable, they may change this history. Even if they do not, if you have players their age who were not at this world cup, you have every reason to be concerned even worried about your prospects in Qatar.

France had Mbappe (19), Brazil had Jesus (21), Nigeria has Uzoho (19), all in the starting 11! The question is do you have players this age in your country to match these?

From the Starting 11 in the final, Giroud, Matuidi and Goalkeeper Lloris will be 35. The rest will be 31 and under. Mbappe would still be 23 (and playing in his second World Cup).

This is why the only way to have a chance to do well in the FIFA World Cup is to focus on youth football and its development. This has to be done in the whole country. Doing something in selected areas only gives part benefits.

Unless and until the whole country is treated in the same way, there can be no rewards at the highest level. This is why countries with small populations like Uruguay (3 million), Croatia (4 million), just to mention two, will continue to flex their muscle because they take care of all their people when it comes to youth football development. Possibly, due to limited numbers, they cannot afford to be selective.

Countries who wouldn’t believe in the concept of the star and continue to believe that all players should do everything in the same way, have become predictable, unenterprising and would only score from set plays. With all the analysis and preparation that deal with all aspects of the opponent, the only factor left is the individual creativity/improvisation/intelligence – the genius. This is one factor that will remain un-interpreted as even the player him/herself may not tell you what he/she will do come a situation.

With all the facilities available, none can read the mind of a genius.

We can only look forward to Qatar, come 2022!

By Ziphozonke Dlangalala

Motsepe recalls encounters with Madiba
17 July 2018, 5:01 PM

Mining magnate Patrice Motsepe has paid tribute to the late former President Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Lecture currently underway at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg.

Motsepe started off by recalling some of his encounters with Madiba. “I thought of two occasions that came to mind,” he said.

“On one occasion, we had a meeting with Madiba as business leaders. And I think the meeting was in Sandton, at the Sandton Convention Centre. A few month afterwards, we had another meeting and he called me aside and said to me, ‘There was something I liked in what you said at the business meeting at the Convetion Centre.’ And I was a bit embarrassed because that meeting was so many months ago and I couldn’t remember what I had said.”

Motsepe said he proceeded to ask Madiba what he had said. “And he said at that meeting we made a statement that the future of the future of the successful; the future of the educated; the future of the wealthy in South Africa, and the future of the families of the successful and the wealthy is not bright. And in fact, they do not have a future if the poor and the unemployed and the marginalised have no future.”

Motsepe acknowledged all the dignitaries in attendance of the lecture including Zion Christian Church Bishop Dr Barnabas Lekganyane, former US President Barack Obama, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini among others.

Watch the full speech below:

Madiba was conscious of his human flaws, frailty: Ramaphosa
17 July 2018, 4:41 PM

President Cyril Ramaphosa has told the crowd gathered at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg where the Nelson Mandela Lecture is taking place that Madiba’s greatest quality was his humanity.

Ramaphosa says Mandela ensured under his leadership that the ANC became a global leader in the fight for human rights. He received a rousing welcome at the stadium along with Obama and former first lady, Grace Machel.

Ramaphosa says Mandela always remained conscious of his human flaws and frailty.

“As we reflect on an extraordinary life we are abound to acknowledge that the greatest trade of this son of the African soil was really his humanity. He was hailed as a global icon and he is memorialised in many parts of the world his likeness adorns our national currency yet his most enduring accomplishments was to teach us what it means to be human. As South Africans we are proud to say he was one of us.”

Watch full speech:

Aliko Dangote honours Madiba
17 July 2018, 3:49 PM

Business magnate Aliko Dangote is one of the dignitaries that have arrived at the Nelson Mandela Lecture currently underway at the Wanderers Stadium.

Watch video below:

Looking back at 2018 FIFA World Cup: Young France triumph and promise even more to come
15 July 2018, 9:55 PM

Energetic, disciplined and clinical, France won the World Cup on Sunday with a 4-2 victory over Croatia that, even in such a moment of achievement, still left the feeling there may be much more to come from Didier Deschamps’ outstanding young team.

With key talent Kylian Mbappe just 19 years old and the second youngest squad in the tournament, this triumph could be the start of a memorable era for French football.

Deschamps was lambasted for being over-functional, even boring, two years ago when France lost to Portugal in the Euro 2016 final in Paris but his critics will be silent now.

While he has remained a coach who focuses on creating a solid organisational structure, this time he had the additional threat of Mbappe’s pace and skill to go with the cleverness of Antoine Griezmann and the physical presence and positional awareness of Olivier Giroud.

This is not the France of 1984, the European champions with the creative genius of Michel Platini and Jean Tigana and it is a less expressive team than the 1998 World Cup winners dominated by the brilliance of Zinedine Zidane.

It is, however, a thoroughly modern team, with technically accomplished young players, a distinct identity and no obvious weak points.

“We did not play a huge game but we showed mental quality. And we scored four goals anyway. They deserved to win,” Deschamps said and it was hard to argue.

Their triumph is indeed fully deserved – there simply was no better all-round team than France in this tournament.

Having topped their group, they revealed their counter-attacking flair and the thrill of Mbappe in beating Argentina 4-3 but games which truly showed their character were the expertly-managed quarterfinal and semifinal victories over Uruguay and an excellent Belgian team.

LONG STRETCHES

France were not at their best in the final, with Croatia enjoying the better of the possession for long stretches and their defence struggled at times against the directness and speed of winger Ivan Perisic.

It was an own goal and a harshly-awarded penalty, after video review, that put Deschamps’ side in front but once Paul Pogba had driven in the third and Mbappe added a superbly-taken fourth, the title was in their grasp.

Impressively, they won the final without a major contribution from Ngolo Kante, their defensive anchor and the best protector of a back-line in the game, who has formed such an excellent partnership with Pogba in the centre of the field.

Kante was booked in the 27th minute and wasn’t his normal self afterwards but the strength in depth available to Deschamps was evident when he was able to bring on the always reliable Steven Nzonzi in the 55th minute.

With Nzonzi dominating central midfield France were stronger and their last two goals coming after that switch.

As he has done throughout this tournament, Pogba played with great tactical discipline in a largely defensive role but still managed to pop up with the crucial goal to make it 3-1 in the final.

But the player who captures the imagination in this team is without doubt Mbappe, whose terrifying pace sometimes masks his excellent touch and skill.

With experience, his decision-making will improve and he should be an even bigger threat in the 202 European Championship.

The relative youth of the France side is no guarantee of improvement and they will need to show they same kind of hunger and desire that Croatia have shown throughout the tournament.

But it is hard not to feel that Deschamps’ side have another gear available to them and are capable of something really special if they need to.

Argentina and Croatia both pushed France hard and both ended up conceding four goals.

That truly is the stuff of champions.

FIVE MEMORABLE MOMENTS

* No room for Lionel Messi in this list, but Cristiano Ronaldo bags a spot with some individual brilliance that will live long in the memory.

Having led Spain twice, but trailing 3-2 in the dying minutes of their opening group game, Portugal won a free kick from 25 yards out.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man … Ronaldo hitched his shorts up to Y-front proportions and nailed it, smashing and curling the effort past David De Gea to complete his hat-trick.

* Perhaps predictably, the world’s most expensive footballer, Neymar, would be expected to claim one of the more memorable moments of this World Cup. Maybe not like this, though. While the Brazilian did come in for some tough tackling during the tournament, his over-the-top histrionics, swan-like dives, howls, and gravity-defying spins and rolls along the ground left pundits and commentators chuckling, and launched a thousand social media memes.

* There was an element of farce to South Korean Son Heung-min’s goal against champions Germany, but the sheer weight of its impact ensures his strike wins a place in this list.

The Germans had not been eliminated in the opening round for 80 years, but in the dying seconds of a dramatic night in Kazan, that is precisely what happened.

Germany had pushed everybody, including goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, forward in search of an equaliser allowing Son to sprint onto a long clearance and roll the ball into an empty German net, consigning them to bottom spot in their group.

Adding to the piquancy of the moment, the South Koreans celebrated crazily, in the mistaken belief their victory would see them reach the Last 16, when in fact Sweden and Mexico advanced from that group.

* Everybody knew that England could not win penalty shootouts at World Cups – they had last lost all three previous World Cup deciders (1990, 1998 and 2006) not to mention losing three out of four in European Championships.

So when Colombia equalised in injury time, and the sides were still deadlocked after extra-time, the smart money was on the South Americans to reach the quarterfinals. It had looked like ‘same ole, same ole’ when Jordan Henderson’s spot kick was saved by David Ospina, but Mateus Uribe hit the bar and Jordan Pickford saved from Carlos Bacca, leaving Eric Dier to squeeze the decisive penalty home and send England through.

* Russia. Not one moment, but two. Ranked an embarrassing 70th in the world at the start of the tournament, and coming into it on the back of a nine-month winless run, tension hung over the World Cup opening match like a shroud. Never mind that the opponents were lowly Saudi Arabia, this match had the potential for host humiliation. Instead, the Russian side smashed through their visitors, storming to a 5-0 victory paving the way for an unlikely qualification from their group. Had qualification seemed unlikely, what came next was extraordinary, as the Russians beat mighty Spain in a penalty shootout which created a new hero out of goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev who saved two spot kicks.

FIVE BEST WORLD CUP GOALS

* Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal 3-3 Spain, Group B, Sochi Ronaldo had already struck twice in this early thriller between two European titans but typically he made sure he had the final say with a sensational free kick which fizzed over the wall and dipped down into the net, completing a hat-trick for the five-times world player of the year.

* Ahmed Musa, Nigeria 2-0 Iceland, Group D, Volgograd The striker conjured an outrageous piece of skill to control a cross into the area, sending it spinning into the air and leathering it into the net on the half volley to give his side a surprise lead, which he later doubled with another impressive strike.

* Benjamin Pavard, France 4-3 Argentina, Round of 16, Kazan France were trailing 2-1 to Argentina and heading out until the relatively unknown Pavard caught sight of Lucas Hernandez’s wayward cross, leant back and struck the ball first time with the outside of his right boot, giving it irresistible top spin which took it bey

ond the reach of Argentina’s outstretched goalkeeper Franco Armani, putting his side back on track.

* Kevin de Bruyne, Brazil 1-2 Belgium, quarter-final, Kazan

Belgium’s crucial second goal in their triumph over the five-times winners was sparked by a storming run through midfield by Romelu Lukaku and finished off with a deadly arrowed shot by De Bruyne into the far bottom corner, leaving Brazil on the rocks just as halftime approached.

* Denis Cheryshev, Russia 2-2 Croatia AET (Croatia win on penalties), quarter-final, Sochi

Cheryshev had made a name for himself by fuelling Russia’s explosive run in the tournament and he delivered again with the most impressive of all his strikes to break the deadlock in their biggest game, skipping past one defender outside the area and just as two more approached, sent the ball flying high into the net with a scorching strike.

FIVE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS

* Lionel Messi. The Argentine’s fourth World Cup, and probably his hopes of winning the game’s greatest prize, ended in disappointment in the Round of 16 loss to France.

One magnificent goal against Nigeria, a missed penalty against Iceland and two assists as Argentina chased the game against France were the most memorable moments of an otherwise forgettable tournament for one of the world’s great players.

* Africa. For the first time since 1982, not a single African side made it out of the group stage.

Senegal came closest, falling behind Japan in Group H because of their disciplinary record but no sense of grievance at that outcome can disguise a hugely disappointing showing from the five representatives of the continent.

* Asia. Asia’s five teams at least got some wins on the board, something the continent’s representatives conspicuously failed to do in Brazil four years ago, but only Japan managed to get out of their group.

The Blue Samurai came within a whisker of giving Asia their first quarter-finalists since the continent first hosted the tournament in 2002 before Belgium came from two goals down to knock them out with a last-gasp Nacer Chadli strike.

* Germany. Even if fellow heavyweights Spain and Brazil also failed to get to the business end of the tournament and defending champions going out in the group stage has become a trend at World Cups, Germany’s exit was particularly humiliating.

They needed a late Toni Kroos strike against Sweden just to stay alive until their final group match, where South Korea delivered a 2-0 coup de grace that left the Germans bottom of a group they would have expected to dominate.

* Nikola Kalinic. The AC Milan striker’s tournament lasted five days before he was sent home for refusing to come on as a substitute in Croatia’s first game against Nigeria, saying he had a back problem. Coach Zlatko Dalic said he had used the same excuse in a previous friendly and to skip training.

In his absence, Croatia went on to get to the final for the first time, guaranteeing the remaining 22 players a place in the country’s sporting pantheon. The phrase “Don’t be like Nikola Kalinic” went viral on social media.

 

Highlights

 

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