FINAL

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VIVE LA FRANCE!

FRANCE was the best team at the 2018 World Cup Finals and is the worthy winner. Bravo !

Russia’s World Cup was a sumptuous footballing feast – a global tournament that more than did justice to the sport. In footballing terms it will likely be remembered for the following:

  • The first use of Video Replay (VAR) at a major tournament. VAR was a success. There is room for improvement but surely decisions made from a collective and considered viewpoint are to be welcomed over those made by an individual in an instant
  • VAR also had an impact on the way football was being played and has the potential for being a ‘force for good’ in the game
  • There were a record number of penalties (22), almost certainly as a reult of the VAR system
  • There were only 4 Red Cards and only one ‘Straight Red’. To a man, referees have been most restrained in their deployment of cards and the game has been better for it
  • There have been an above average number of exciting games; 9 winning goals in the 90th minute or later
  • 73 0f the 169 goals (43%) scored have been from ‘set pieces’

This last point highlights, what is for me, the most salient aspect of this tournament – that organisation and pragmatism proved themselves to be the winning characteristics of successful teams. Possession football, as pioneered by the great Spain teams, has been countered by break-away football were teams win on the counter and, more-often-than-not, have the minority of the possession. To which now has been added an emphasis on success from dead-ball situations.

Despite my plaudits for the French side, I can’t help feeling a trifle short-changed by seeing a team of such talented individuals playing so deep and defensively. That is not to say that the brilliance of Griezmann, Mbaape & Pogba did not shine through but it was not the total football that we have come to so enjoy from the great Brazil sides. Perhaps when you have Girou as your striker, who can offer great hold-up play but couldn’t produce a single shot on target throughout the tournament (true!), then such tactics become more understandable.

So that’s it for another 4 years. Inshallah that The Ericle will be adding its ‘2-cents worth’ to those proceedings. Hasta la Vista!

* MY BETS: I placed 60 bets during the tournament at a total cost of £161 and netted a positive return – mainly by dint of identifying France as the potential winner & England’s progress to the Semi-Finals – of £14.69. This represents a 9.7% return over 4 weeks, which is a mini-triumph of some sort! (To see all my bets click here)

SEMI-FINALS

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CROATIA deservedly progressed to the Final of the 2018 World Cup. Unlike England they grabbed the opportunity that, in terms of the tournament, was the equivalent of the Parting Of The Red Sea. The semi-final was lost in the 2nd half in general and in the midfield in particular. The English media has been creaming itself on the perceived ‘pride’ with which this team has played and the vox publicum has echoed this. I, for one, cannot fully subscribe to these sentiment. Yes, the

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team was young and the manager intelligently sanguine. However the pride that I perceived proved itself to be closer to that of the Lion in The Wizard Of Oz than that of a King Of The Jungle. We did show some fearlessness and confidence in parts but certainly not in the whole. England’s first match set the tone of its tournament: 20 minutes of self-belief at the onset and the 70 minutes of collective failure to seize an initiative from one of the tournament’s lesser teams. Neither can the Panama game be represented as evidence of any more than what it was – the crushing of a minnow. In the penalty shoot-out against Columbia we, as usual, ‘blinked first’ and were effectively saved by a post. The victory over an obturate Sweden can be presented as evidence of character, but this ignores that opposition’s virtual impotency in front of goal. No, when it comes down to it, the true lack of quality of this England team is underscored (sic!) by its apparent inability, for the most part, to score from open play. The reasons for this are crystal clear to me: the failure of Raheem Sterling & Jesse Lingard to put away chances and the absence of Harry Kane from the 1st third of the pitch for most of the games. Hodgson’s Euro 2016 tactics, when Kane took corners, were rightfully derided; playing him so deep was a crime not that far removed. Yes, the defence played well and barring the odd error – which every team does make – kept to its end of the bargain. Jordan Pickford & Kieran Trippier were outstanding. But playing ‘like lions’ …… give me a break. At 1-0, in the first half against a rocking Croatia, we should have put them to the sword and whatever Gareth Southgate said to them at half time it certainly wasn’t enough of the right stuff. England surrendered the midfield & the wings, and in not shutting down Modric we became joint-architects to our own defeat. This does not take away from the qualities of CROATIA, who are to be admired on many dimensions but, in the end, this England team did not seize the day and does not deserve the lionisation it has been receiving.

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As Ericle followers will know, I have fancied FRANCE from the off; and put my money where my mouth was, (see here).  They are team with a depth of outstanding individuals and a pragmatic team ethic. The victory over Belgium, IMHO, was no ‘near thing’. Belgium’s beating right & left midfield-ventricles, De Bruyne & Hazard, were effectively shut down and for the most part offensively they were restricted to long-range chances. FRANCE will surely win this World Cup not only because they have flair but also because, as a collective, they know what it takes to win a football match. However, in any 90 or 120 minutes, one can only have a maximum of 22 legs on one’s side and strange things can happen; but the Ericle is of the strongest opinion that the name of FRANCE is as good as on the trophy.

QUARTERFINALS

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The quarterfinals produced 4 epic encounters: 1 historic, 2 relatively formulaic and one cliff-hanger – but all exciting games for supporters, & onlookers, involved in the outcomes.

One must never underestimate the value of playing on home turf and so it proved the case with Russia. It was an expectations-exceeding World Cup for the host nation. To go out on penalties in the Quarterfinals was more than a ‘result’ an achievement that could be marked Private Eye style by the following:

So Farewell
Then Russia
Your team
Was written off
But confounded the nyet-sayers.

It was said
Your thugs
Would put in their boots
But perhaps they were holidaying
In Siberia instead

So now
You can only watch
Where others can tread
And take sycophantic plaudits
For Putin on a grand show 

E J ERICLE (Aged 17 1/2 in 1966)

It would have been somewhat of a football travesty had CROATIA not prevailed over Russia. If this had been a boxing match, the contest would have been billed as one between a pugilist and a fighter. In the end, the pugilist prevailed but only by dint of the crude, and cruel, blows that are penalties.

In truth, ENGLAND has done little more to date than come up to scratch in a competition where they have a history of falling short of the expectations that a self-entitled nation perennially set for them. But that’s been more than enough to raise the spirits & hope of a nation that ‘may have stopped believing but never stopped dreaming’. Losing the B-team match against Belgium was indeed fortuitous, as England then faced 2 national sides of approximately similar ‘pay-grades’. However, it is for what this team has not done that it being rightly feted. In other words, it has produced performances that are to be expected from a squad of talented professionals who play week-in-week-out at the highest levels of club football. CROATIA is an opponent of similar FIFA ranking who, in Modric & Rakatic, has 2 players of undoubted footballing skills & intelligence and an overall competence that more than matches England. This will be another true test of character. I am expecting a cagey nervous match, with England shading it by the odd goal in normal time.

The 1st half of the Brazil v Belgium game was the stand-out 45 minutes of the tournament, so far. BELGIUM may not be our eventual winners, but those 45 minutes encapsulate the leitmotif for the 2018 World Cup – a competition where teams prevailed on the basis of their getting the most out of the resources at their disposal rather than relying on moments of inspiration from uber-talented individuals. A more xenophobic interpretation could also be that it was the half of football where the current state of South American football was seen not to be a match for its European counterpart. South American football at Russia 2018 at times produced some wonderful moments; but though goals change matches, consistency wins tournaments.

It is a shame that Cavani could not play in the Uruguay v France game, but I don’t believe that the eventual outcome would have been different. In many ways, Uruguay is to be admired – a small nation that continually punches above its weight and, I mean this in the nicest possible way, the South American team that played with a style closest to its better European counterparts. This quarterfinal was one fought between 2 teams where pragmatism dictated the strategies; in Uruguay’s case because that’s the way they always play, in FRANCE’s case because that is the way that they chose to play. One of the fascinating dimensions of The World Cup is how national characteristics and traits – real or supposed – are perceived to come to the fore. None more so than France whose enigmatic national character is mirrored by their football to date. They have the style but do they have the substance? Will France storm the Bastille or is theirs a Maginot Line that ultimately is an illusory construction.

In Mbappe, Griezmann & Pogba France have players who can change any game in an instant. The same for Belgium with De Bruyne and Hazard. France possibly have the stronger defence, Belgium, IMHO, the best goalkeeper in the world. I’d definitely prefer to have Lukaku in my team over Giroud and also, in Martinez, Belgium has the more proven manager. I can produce all sorts of footballing reasons for either side to prevail in this game. In the end, it may come down to the framing that constitutes the competition – a tournament of teams defined by their national identities. In the end, Belgium is a country that is marched over and has given us a deep fried vegetable, a great surrealist painter and a fictional detective with a prominent moustache. Crass though it is, in the end, my money is on France to have the culture and that little bit of je ne sais quoi to prevail.

In summary: The Ericle predicts – with a considerable degree of uncertainty – a FRANCE v ENGLAND Final.

Finally, my bets (see here) have moved back into the black, by dint of laying off my wagers on France & England to win the tournament.

ROUND OF 16

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The Ericle is still recovering from ENGLAND’s dramatic win on penalties. My Colonial reader says he is in 2 minds about us. I’m not – this is a very competent team. It may not be stuffed with Galacticos but this has been a World Cup where many of its superstars are already watching the games from home. Columbia were just a smidgeon off from being this World Cup’s ‘Argentina 1966’ for us – another game we won 1-0 under very challenging circumstances. You need some luck to win a World Cup but I also chose to believe in the work ethic and spirit of this England squad. I am very confident that ENGLAND WILL BEAT SWEDEN. I watched their game v Switzerland and it’s hard to see who will score for them.

The insanity that was Argentina 2018 was underscored (sic!) by the fact that they lost to France by the odd goal in seven. Those 3 goals worry me but I still feel that FRANCE have more than enough to edge past URUGUAY in a Quarterfinal game that could be very intense and passionate.

BELGIUM were fortunate to get past Japan. Verthongen can head another 100 balls like the one that got them to 1-2 and not score a goal. However, this should not hide from the fact that the quality among the Belgians is mouth-watering. Roberto Martinez also is an outstanding manager and I have a strong feeling that they will find a way to beat BRAZIL. Brazil, everybody’s perennial darling & favourite, are again bringing an unmatched style of football to this World Cup; with players with a vision & touch born on the sands of The Copacabana. But I am not convinced that they are the real deal. Belgium’s defence looks the superior and, if they can prevail in the midfield, they could win more comfortably than most can imagine.

Never underestimate a home side but surely RUSSIA have run their race. They have one strategy: to defend with determination and physical strength and then hope for a break. CROATIA will break them, I believe.

In summary, I expect FRANCE v BELGIUM and CROATIA v ENGLAND to be our semi-finals.

An update on MY BETS can be found here. If I am going to escape with some skin on my individual match-bets, I will need to be perfect from here on in. However, given the possibility of a France v England Final, my tournament bets may yet become glorious.

ROUND THREE

Germany

Germany’s departure has sent a seismic shockwave through this World Cup, raising questions over all the Usual Suspects. Germany’s ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ approach has cloaked them with the deserved aura of serial winners – a juggernaut that delivered a whole that was far more than the sum of its parts. It seemed that Germany could always find an answer even when the quality of their playing resources suggested otherwise…until now. The great Spanish & Brazilian sides managed the same but their formula has always involved a Galactico or six. This Germany side was unlucky to go out at the first hurdle; but with the wisdom of hindsight, it was only a matter of time. This team was slow in both pace & decision-making, lacked an accomplished striker and carried an institutional arrogance that stuck with out-of-form favourites and left a potential game-winning Johnny-Come-Lately (Leroy Sane) at home.

The World Cup is a competition like no other in that genetics plays a big part. 15 of the 19 World Cups have been won by just 4 teams: Brazil (5), Germany (4), Italy (4) & Argentina (2) while of the other 4 single winners – England, France, Spain & Uruguay – 2 were won on their home turfs. Of the multi-winners still standing only BRAZIL has suggested that it could have the right stuff but it’s not been convincing to-date and in Neymar they have a narcissistic maestro who may produce … or not. In Messi, ARGENTINA has an undoubted footballing genius but there seems to be an institutional insanity in their camp – a madness that has left Aguero out of the starting line-up and has a non-manager who seems to be totally out of self-control.

So what of the four other World Cup winners still left in the competition:

FRANCE: on paper have the talent but don’t seem to have found the way to turn Greizmann into the serial goal-scorer that he is at club level. Pogba, if he can shake off the damage of playing under Mourinho, has the potential to galvanise this team but he needs to find his moxie quickly

SPAIN: undoubtedly brilliant but the managerial sacking seems to be an albatross hanging over this team. They need to accelerate through the ten stages of grief if they are to go deep into the competition.

URUGUAY: have the steel and splashes of individual brilliance but seem a notch short. Their game against Portugal could be team-defining

ENGLAND: have a chance to reach the semi-final but will need to produce at their very best to get there. The meaningless game v Belgium revealed the lack of quality in depth of the squad.

Of all the potential World Cup virgins, BELGIUM have most impressed so far and one surely has to fancy their chances. Of the rest, CROATIA seems the best of the bunch, especially if Modric can keep turning it on. Take Ronaldo out of the equation and PORTUGAL are a very ordinary side .. but you can’t, and as long as he’s on the pitch he can produce a goal out of nothing. COLOMBIA, DENMARK, MEXICO, SWEDEN & SWITZERLAND are disciplined outfits, each with touches of individual class, but World Cup history suggests they will not have enough. Finally, surely we will be saying goodbye to JAPAN & RUSSIA in the next round.

Finally, I am sad that Senegal has not made it through to the Round of 16. Their football was fast & fresh, their fans a joy and to go out on yellow cards is true schlimazel.

As for my BETS, I have managed to come out of the Group Stage in deficit to the tune of £8.33. I am glad that we have reached the either-or stages but there are some tough calls to be made. You can follow my progress here

ROUND TWO

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This World Cup is a competition that continues to give. Round 2 brought us some brilliant games; the outstanding one, for me, being Germany’s last-gasp win against Sweden.

Round 3 offers games which are in effect ‘knock-out’ ones but others which are virtually meaningless in terms of actual qualification. In the history of The World Cup, these latter games can be the ones that are the more remembered; very often for their anti-football, anti-competitive, qualities. For instance, tonight in Group A, will Uraguay – who have already qualified in 2nd place – have any intention to play party-poopers to the hosts standing in 1st position? And what about Thursday’s England v Belgium game? This could become legendary as the matter of 2nd place in the group, which offers a potential ‘easier’ path forward, rests currently on the issue of one disciplinary point if the teams draw. Conspiracy theorists through the ages may yet dine out on that one! On the positive side of the ledger, Wednesday’s Serbia v Brazil game could be legendary. Tuesday’s Nigeria v Argentina game could be similar but an improbable Iceland win over Croatia in the parallel group game, denying Argentina progress, could provide the ultimate ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ stitch-up.

But where do we now stand with regards to sniffing out the ultimate destination of the 2018 World Cup. Unlike some other competitions, which can be won by rigid teamwork alone, the World Cup has historically required the added element of a number players of world-class quality to be in the winning team. So we are looking for a side that has displayed discipline, particularly at the back, but who also have individuals that can tip the game in their favour. If ENGLAND were to win it, for which I have hopes but not expectations, they would prove to be exceptions to this rule. In fact, this is a most open World Cup, as no team with such stars has so far shown the consistency and/or teamwork to identify themselves as being even close to ‘locked-on’. GERMANY, who I fully expect to progress, undoubtedly have the teamwork but seem to be lacking quality up-front. BRAZIL have the (selfish?) individuals in abundance but play like a team who have just been introduced to each other in the changing room prior to an exhibition friendly. BELGIUM have some ‘delicious’ players but have displayed defensive frailties. SPAIN still have the look of winners but their pre-tournament managerial problem suggest a possible Real Madrid-Barcelona schism in their squad that could be their undoing. Of the teams who have maximum points so far: FRANCE seems an unbalanced team and I can’t see RUSSIA or URAGUAY as winners; whereas, in Modric, Croatia have a game-breaker and potentially a team ethic that offers promise. The same can be said for Ronaldo & PORTUGAL. In Group H, COLUMBIA showed a deal promise & quality but JAPAN or SENEGAL will not survive beyond the Round of 16. I feel the same about NIGERIA but certainly less so about MEXICO, whom I really want to do well but fear will run out of jumping beans before the denouement.  Which leads us to the enigma that is ARGENTINA, who are hanging on by a thread, and who may yet find themselves – or should that be Messi –  despite their coach, who seems like a man waiting for the guys in the white suits to take him away. Finally, as suggested above, Wednesday’s SERBIA v BRAZIL game may be the most significant one in Round 3. IMHO, SERBIA are capable of beating this BRAZIL side. If they do,  SERBIA would transistion from being a ‘dark house’ to being a real contender. On the other hand, if this is the game that BRAZIL’s star-studded group get serious about playing as a team, they would become my favourites.

So at this stage of the tournament, I am definitely not happy with my wager on France but my other bet on England promises to provide some entertainment value. (For a look at my day-to-day see here.)

ROUND ONE

Well, the first round of the Group Stage is over. What we have learnt so far:

SPAIN still look the most accomplished team at this World Cup. Any team can give up a goal to a ‘wordlie’ free kick and this World Cup will surely not see another howler from David De Gea

BRAZIL still have the most awesome players but their future in this tournament will depend more on whether they can play as a team than on the calibre of their individuals

GERMANY are far from being a spent force and I fully expect them to come through from a group that contains South Korea & Sweden

MEXICO are a wonderful team but surely they can’t produce performances like that every time they turn out?

FRANCE and BELGIUM, despite their victories, haven’t set the tournament on fire but beware of jumping to conclusions on the basis of first games

ARGENTINA are an enigma. They are much more than Messi but one does feel that if they are to be a force in this tournament it will need for The Great Little Man to find himself

ENGLAND’s self-belief is still very brittle. They deserved their victory but they can not continue to squander chances like they did against Tunisia. However, I still think that they could progress deep into the tournament.

SERBIA could be the surprise package of this World Cup

On the basis of what I’ve seen so far, any team not mentioned above, are just there to make up the numbers

As for MY BETS, I have to be happy to be over £7 up given the presence in group games of the 3rd option – the draw. To follow my bets click here

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One Response to 2018 WORLD CUP: The Ericle’s Round-By-Round Review

  1. Joel Kauf. says:

    Thanks for your concise and superlative summary and reflection on what indeed made for unmissable viewing, despite the ungodly hour (s) it was televised in the antipodes. Retiring to rest at 3am on Monday morning, about 1 minute before full time was blown, I did not watch the post-match celebrations. Nor have I seen anything of these, or read any reviews or post match analysis. Until now. The spectacle has come and gone. Cannot imagine 4 years from now will be anything nearly as inspiring. But who knows? By the way, I listened religiously to the World Cup Daily podcast produced by BBC 5 … wonderful, erudite, funny – made the entire experience more immersive. Did The Ericle listen?

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