When Argentina decided to cancel its friendly with Israel on the Saturday before the start of the tournament, most of the players sounded relieved. Maradona’s 1986 team pasted Israel before winning the World Cup, and clearly someone in Argentina thought it smart–and politic-to repeat the trip to the holy land.
Changing the match venue from Haifa, a port city with little political significance, to Jerusalem caused a kerfuffle that led to a lot of burned Messi jerseys, death threats, and enough titular curses to make the AFA duck and cover.
They might as well have played because truly Argentina is playing like a cursed team. The same team in fact that let Nigeria storm back in a friendly from a 0-2 half time deficit and win 4-2. It’s sad to see Messi so confused, but really this is a dreadful team, bereft of quality in three of its four lines. Even if Paulo Dybala had one leg, I’d slot him in for the entire game behind Messi and Aguero. There is not a decent pass to be had among any of the midfielders who have schlogged up and down the field against Iceland and Croatia.
Rakitic showed his Sevilla form in the match. Pre-Barca–and the reason Barca went and got him–he was one of the best box-to-box guys in the world. At Barca, he has a more restricted attacking role, and it’s rare that his overall game is on display the way it was today. Modric is perhaps a bit more beautiful to watch, but Raketic was the man of the match by a good margin.
With the right draw, Croatia might go to the final, but I don’t think it is quite ready to win it.
It was already fashionable to lament Peru’s exit after the Denmark game. They were preordained to create a lot of buzz and blow a lot of chances. Guerrero got back into the squad after his Coco(nut) tea post game refreshment, and despite getting plenty of airtime for his masterfully inked up neck, did pretty much about nothing. Peru was super fun to watch, but a team that blows every kind of chance imaginable has no right to advance.
Better, but made heavy weather for long stretches against the Wallabies. I’d send the whole team home and call up another 23. Adrien Rabiot would be knitting together France’s patchy midfield. Kante is the world’s greatest pest, but hardly a great distributor. Blaise Matuidi works like a dog, but somehow always seems to be moving laterally, and Paul Pogba is the quintessential Frenchman, an existential Sartrean enigma who seems to play every position and no position all at once.
Nigeria versus Iceland is about as fun as it gets. I bet I know who our President is cheering for!