Wednesday, June 7, 2023

World Cup round-up: Saka at the double …

Morning all.

That was an interesting first full day of the World Cup, so let’s do it in bits.

Bukayo Saka

Whatever personal thoughts we might have about this World Cup, for a 21 year old footballer it’s a chance to play on the biggest stage, and Bukayo Saka showed the world what Arsenal fans all know very well.

His first goal was lovely, nestling into the back of the net after clipping the underside of the bar, and his second was one he made look very simple. I don’t think the Iran goalkeeper or defenders covered themselves in glory, but it was a nicely taken goal all the same. He spoke afterwards, and said:

I can’t describe the feeling, I’m so happy, I’m so proud. We got the win as well so it’s just a really, really special day.

I feel like I’m in a good place, I have the support of the fans, I feel the love of the fans, and from the coaching staff and from my teammates. That’s all I need. I feel good, I’m ready to give 100 per cent. I gave that today and I’ll continue to that every time I put the shirt on.

I think it’s normal that as Arsenal fans we have some concerns about players at this tournament, and the physical impact it might have on them, but it’s also quite possible that someone like Saka can take another step forward in his already stellar development.

England were far better than Iran on the day, and what a player Jude Bellingham looks. That’s not news to anyone, obviously, but he told the BBC before the game he was saving his first international goal, and his header opened the scoring. Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish got the others. Conceding two against a side as poor as Iran might be a bit of a worry, but when you score 6, it doesn’t matter that much – especially in the opening game.

Old legs hinder, then help, Wales

The USA played Wales off the park in the first half, in my opinion. The goal from Timothy Weah was a smart finish from an excellent pass, and I don’t think you could argue that the lead wasn’t deserved. Wales looked one-paced and heavy-legged.

A half-time change helped: Bournemouth striker Kieffer Moore gave the Welsh a good outlet, and the US side looked as if the first half had cost them. I found it a bit sad to see Aaron Ramsey lack the zip the best version of Aaron Ramsey had, but he’s coming up on 32 now and all those injuries have definitely taken a toll. There were moments, but technically and physically he looked like a man very much in the September of his career.

The mind is still sharp though. He reacted well to the possibility of a quick throw, played a pass to his fellow veteran Gareth Bale, and the challenge on him was the most obvious penalty you’ll see all tournament. Matt Turner went the right way, but such was the power of Bale’s penalty, he really had no chance.

The Arsenal keeper had some interesting moments. There was a good save from a header which he tipped over the bar, and some decent distribution, but also a couple of times from set-pieces he looked vulnerable. Wales missed a good chance to score when he came and missed the ball.

All the same, I think a draw was about the right result, and the second half was by far the most entertaining of the World Cup so far.

Netherlands leave it late

I was cooking throughout this game, so it was on in the periphery. I liked Cody Gakpo’s goal, it was a brave header from an excellent ball in by Frenkie de Jong. The trajectory and precision of it was Fabregassian. I’m sure many of us are looking at these games and thinking ‘What if …?!’ about certain players and a possible future at Arsenal – Bellingham, for example. Frenkie de Jong is one of those I would do some kind of deal with the devil for. Devil, hit me up, slide into my DMs, whatever.

Senegal clearly missed Sadio Mane, and Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy was not great for either goal. And that’s being diplomatic. Get him back in nets, Potter. We, the people, demand it.

So much injury time

I have never seen anything like the amount of injury time being added on in this tournament. In the first half of the England v Iran game, you can understand why it happened after the clash of heads between the goalkeeper and defender (and there were far too many replays of that!). That gave us 14 minutes at the end of the first 45, but there were 10 at the end of the second half without any kind of similar incident.

We got 8 minutes announced in the Netherlands v Senegal game, and the second goal was scored well into the 9th minute. There were 9 minutes at the end of the USA v Wales game, and it’s jarring because we never see that amount of time unless there has been a major stoppage.

Thanks to @matisaksk on Twitter for pointing me in the direction of this article, in which former ref and now Chairman of the FIFA Referees committee, Pierluigi Collina, explained:

If you want more active time, we need to be ready to see this kind of additional time given. Think of a match with three goals scored. A celebration normally takes one, one and a half minutes, so with three goals scored, you lose five or six minutes.

What we want to do is accurately calculate the added time at the end of each half.

I have to say that I’m not against this in theory, but I wonder is this now going to be applied to top level football across the board? It’s such an interesting one, because as football fans our position on time added-on is very fluid. We love it when we’re chasing a game, we hate it when trying to hang onto one – but there’s no question that as it stands, far too much actual playing time is wasted in all kinds of ways and officials, more often than not, don’t take that into account when they put up the board.

I’m sure I’ll love it when Saka and Emile Smith Rowe grab two late goals to win us a North London derby away from home, but when it’s the 119th minute of a 90 minute game and VAR gives the opposition a penalty for a handball that only a super-computer could possibly have seen, I will reserve the right to be completely and utterly furious.

Right, that’s it. There are four games today, starting at 10am in this part of the world. No doubt there’ll be plenty to discuss tomorrow. Until then.

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