Spain’s sweet revenge against Italy in the Nations League and total chaos for Chelsea
THE GREAT STORIES OF THURSDAY
League of Nations liquid
What a strange thing is football. Take a simple international friendly match. Now adjust the rules so that both teams are generally of a similar level. Now change the rules again to add a little knockout danger. Then glue a polished silver object at the end. And all of a sudden you have the San Siro giving Il Canto degli Italiani the full treatment.
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Football administrators have a lot of sticks, and most of them are earned. But every once in a while, in between all this nonsense, someone gets something incredibly right. The League of Nations. It’s good.
Spain too. It wasn’t Luis Enrique’s strongest eleven – you could tell by the presence of 17-year-old Gavi in ââthe midfield, who has yet to play 90 minutes for Barcelona or Barcelona B – but this performance had the advantage that is sometimes lacking among all this possession. Mikel Oyarzabal, out on the left, crossed like the mirror universe David Beckham. Ferran Torres looked like Manchester City’s best No.9.
Missing players, teenagers on the cover: Spain hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been fantastic. Fantastic in a way that promises more to come, with a core of terribly talented young players to lean on. With Gavi, Yeremi Pino (18) made his debut, Bryan Gil (20) arrived late and Pedri and Ansu Fati (both 18) were absent due to general exhaustion.
Besides, it must be annoying, in the Barcelona conference room. Former player and manager Pep Guardiola won trophies in Manchester, former player and manager Luis Enrique slowly but surely made Spain something very exciting … and none of them would return to Camp Nou even if Barcelona could afford it. What they can’t.
As for Italy, it was a bit weird. In a few flashes, they looked like the team that won Euro: chaos, rhythm and barrel breakthroughs through the lines. But their edge has weakened, led forward by captain Leonardo Bonucci. We don’t have our Big Book of Captaincy handy, but off the top of my head, it’s pretty clear: don’t be reserved for dissent in the first half. And if you do, don’t nudge someone in the neck.
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These things happen. Perhaps minds were clouded by the strangeness of the Milanese crowd, screaming the hymn one minute and booing their own keeper the next. Or maybe the line between admirable cynicism and getting caught is thin and everyone ends up stumbling over it. Even Bonucci.
Two are needed for the semi-final. Between this match which was grandiose, intense and moving in the sense that international football should be, and the semi-final of the Euro, which was also that, a real international rivalry is bubbling up. The responsibility now rests with whoever enters the 2022 World Cup draw. Another chapter of this, another semi-final, please and thank you.
It’s hard to defend yourself with your foot in a bucket
European champions Barcelona FemenÃ began their title defense in a fluid and ominous fashion on Tuesday, dismantling Arsenal 4-1 at the Johan Cruyff Stadium. Last season’s defeated finalist Chelsea in West London rejected the softness in favor of unbridled chaos last night.
They first took the advantage over Wolfsburg. Then they defended themselves like clowns. Like clowns who had never met before. Like clowns who had never met before but instantly hated each other, all crammed into that silly little car, giant shoes stuck all over the place. Who squeezed my squirt flower? Get your hands off my ladder. And then they caught a 3-3 draw just to the death.
Football: it’s fun! Football: it’s hard. Chelsea’s defense has been wobbly all season. Emma Hayes introduced a 3-4-3, but as she pointed out after last night’s game, goals weren’t so much form issues as they were inexplicable blackouts.
These are not tactical issues, these are just mistakes, the three goals. We shouldn’t have to score three goals in every game. But it is a point gained.
Goalkeeper and defender coming to get the same ball which bounces and tackles each other. Goalkeeper passing to his most marked teammate. Defender trying a clever turn and simply passing the ball to an attacker. Any of them in a game would be unusual. Three is starting to sound like some sort of cosmic event.
And cosmic events are rare, right? Thus, Chelsea will never have to worry about it happening again and can continue the season without fear. Well, maybe. But mistakes breed mistakes, uncertainty breeds uncertainty. The clown begets the clown. And a point won here means two points lost, which means Chelsea may have to get something on their trip to Juventus. If they make it back to the final it will be a bumpy race. In a small car.
Here we go
And so, to bring our attention last night to this shiny new Thursday, there’s only one story on everyone’s mind. Will France really choose a third in a big game? Again?
Oh alright, alright, it’s Newcastle. Today may well be the first day in over 14 long and tragicomic years that Newcastle United is not owned by Mike Ashley. If not today, maybe tomorrow; if not, then soon. Each time he comes, it will be a day of celebration for many in the city and beyond. If only the careless and contemptuous frying pan wasn’t hovering above the morally despicable fire.
It has been clarified, this latest development. Of all the reasons anyone might have to oppose Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund buyout of Newcastle, the most important – the sticking point – was the country’s ban on beIN Sports. Television rights 1-0 Human rights.
We all knew it, of course, but it helps to state it so clearly, so bluntly. That’s what good and good means. And nothing else.
IN OTHER NEWS
[looks up, wags tail, makes ball shape with front paws]
HAT TIP (1)
Since the murder, many companies and countries do not want to associate or do business because of the backlash. [Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman] wants legitimacy and credibility. Buying a team like Newcastle in the Premier League, in one of the most powerful countries in Europe and the world? You buy legitimacy in the international community. He is accepted and celebrated for saving a struggling team. Everyone then sees everything in a different light.
HAT TIP (2)
In an aging stadium, I might have to climb a rusty ladder that’s planted directly between the spectator seats and pulled out 45 minutes before the game starts, leaving me no way down. Many gantries of a certain age are covered in rust and bounce and sway in bewildering ways, making it almost impossible to move them during filming.
The two most different managers in the world of football meet in the second semifinal of the Nations League, as Roberto Martinez and Belgium face Didier Deschamps and France. Comedy versus tragedy. Tigger against Eeyore. Irrepressible force against the painful object.
And a joker named Andi Thomas (Eeyore team, obviously) will be there tomorrow.
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