Friday, June 2, 2023

World Cup Round-Up: Saudi Arabia win, Giroud equals Henry’s record


I watched four games of football yesterday. Let’s do this as normal then.

Saudi Arabia beat Argentina

What a result. It’s been presented as ‘Messi gets beaten’ all over the place, and I can understand that, but first and foremost it’s a win for Saudi Arabia. Argentina took the lead through a Messi penalty – the award of which was a bit soft, but if that’s the precedent, expect a lot more penalties in this tournament. However, I don’t quite understand how the Harry Maguire one wasn’t the day before, so maybe it’s a new FIFA directive or the ref just doesn’t like Harry Maguire.

The ball was in the net often, but the offside flag went up just as much. I Tweeted this yesterday:

It drew many angry responses on Twitter from many people who told me that it definitely was offside. Which was not my point. I didn’t say it wasn’t, I said it shouldn’t be. Despite all the other people who insisted that because you can score with your shoulder it should be offside, I just think in scenarios like this the advantage should go to the attacking player based on the position of his feet.

And look, I get it: offside is a tough discussion. We live in an era where VAR allows almost complete accuracy to show that someone’s toe or ear or ‘t-shirt line’ (another concept that people seem strangely protective of given it was only invested last week or something) is ‘off’. It’s sort of black and white. But the offside rule was made long before anyone even considered anything like VAR. I know we don’t go by the spirit of the law, but to me it just seems like the whole thing needs a significant re-think.

Anyway, 1-0 Argentina at half-time, and what a second half we got. Saleh Al-shehri equalised, making a Sp*rs defender look very Mustafi as he bounced it beyond Aston Villa’s Emi Martinez. Then a few minutes later, we got one of the goals of the tournament so far as Salem Al-Dawsari made Saudi pressure count as he curled one beyond the former Arsenal keeper. That was the 53rd minute.

The final whistle blew at 114 minutes, and what we got between the second Saudi Arabia goal and the end was, at times, extraordinary. I don’t think Argentina were particularly good, but the Saudis defended like Newcastle fans if anyone said anything critical of their new owners on Twitter. There was one incredible save, tackles, blocks, the kind of committed defending that you sometimes see in circumstances like this. Where the team that are the nominal underdogs can sense that something special is on the cards. The reactions get quicker, and what might otherwise be considered desperate defending becomes something closer to inspired.

The long stoppage after another brutal collision added to all the injury time, and frankly it was shameful that the referee didn’t stop the game immediately after it happened. That’s twice at this tournament so far, and if they’re going to tell refs to give what might be considered soft penalties, they should also be instructed to err on the side of caution when it comes to head injuries. This was one was sickening and to the see play go on with the player stricken on the pitch was awful.

Afterwards, as the Saudis celebrated, Messi looked like he couldn’t believe what had happened, but the truth is his side were second best and the players around him were sub-par during that second half. Angel di Maria, oof. That was an all-time stinker.

And here’s the thing about the World Cup: whatever reservations you have about it, whatever concerns, the reason it gets co-opted and corrupted, is because of what football can do to you when you watch it. It sucks you in, there’s a reason it’s called the beautiful game, and during the 90 minutes (we might have to rebrand that based on the duration of games so far), you focus on the pitch and not much else. I guess that’s the point of it all, but it’s hard to resist when you’re watching something like that.

Two 0-0s

Both reasonably entertaining games, but there were shades of ‘Europa League Group Stage’ from Denmark v Tunisia – at least for the neutra. Following that, seeing Robert Lewandowski’s penalty saved by veteran Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was a fun moment (unless you’re from Poland). Wojciech Szczesny made one great reaction save at the other end, and there were moments I thought we might see the first red card of the tournament. I think Bereszynski was lucky to get away with two nasty studs-up fouls in quick succession.

Maybe we’ll get that red today …

Olivier Giroud equals Thierry Henry’s record

Despite Australia taking an early lead, France’s quality showed as they ran out 4-1 winners. To be fair, it was so close to being 2-0 before it was 1-1, but the story of the game is that Olivier Giroud’s brace means he has equaled Thierry Henry’s record number of goals for France (51).

Chances are he’ll make the record his own before the end of the World Cup, and it’s quite the achievement for a player who turned 36 in September. I do wish he hadn’t had that spell at Chelsea, and while we can all be Captain Hindsight, it’s fair to say our decision making around transfers at that time was not what it should have been. Of course we should have tried to improve in the striker position (as with anywhere else on the pitch), but it turned out Alexandre Lacazette was a downgrade all things considered.

The other thing to say is that if Giroud beats Henry’s record, it doesn’t mean he’s a better player than Thierry, it’s just a thing he did because of his own quality and longevity, and fair play to him. The handsome bastard.

Right, that’s it for this morning. Today, Arsenal interest comes in the Germany v Japan game where Takehiro Tomiyasu is likely to start.

Have a good one.

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