Did I not enjoy that!

As Graham Taylor might have said (had his sympathies been directed towards Spain) ‘Did I not enjoy that!’  The Russians stride on, unconcerned about the nature of their victory, since victory it is.  Perhaps Spain hadn’t quite seen it coming – in the sense that Russia, playing in front of the home crowd with a tail wind – might have been expected to have played a slightly more open game.  Fair cop to them, of course, but half-way through the first half their supporters showed a certain lack of irony when booing the Spanish team for retaining possession of the ball.  As the Spanish saying goes ‘¿Qué remedio?’ (what else could we do?), and in the second half it only got worse, with Russia completely renouncing any thoughts of more than two consecutive passes. Continue reading “Did I not enjoy that!”

Overdose of motivation

Preview of Spain vs Russia

“Cautious optimism” is probably the concept that best summarises the atmosphere in the Spanish camp hours before their match against Russia in Moscow. True to form, coach Fernando Hierro has decided to focus on the motivational aspect of the contest. One only needs to see the squad train for a short warm-up session and it’s evident that they can beat any team if they feel like playing hard, so it makes sense that Hierro touches the incentives rather than the tactics. Continue reading “Overdose of motivation”

The night Saint Petersburg became Buenos Aires

Argentina defeat Nigeria and a few of their own ghosts

“Vení, vení, cantá conmigo” (Come, come, sing with me), starts the most repeated chant in Saint Petersburg during the last couple of days. The Argentines, present in every corner of the city, spent hours humming, whistling and very often singing the short, catchy tune off the top of their lungs, almost as a good luck charm that should make Lionel Messi and his teammates click in their do-or-die match against Nigeria. Continue reading “The night Saint Petersburg became Buenos Aires”

Top of the group, thank VAR

Spain struggle to draw with Morocco. Fresh ideas & legs are badly needed

The fact that Spain managed to qualify to the knockout stages of this World Cup in the first spot of their group defies all logic. Yes, they’re undefeated. Yes, they’ve scored six goals in three matches. Yes, they dominated proceedings for most of the games against their three rivals. But all those facts fail to tell the story of an embarrassing defence – both in open play and in set pieces –, and of an endless succession of touches without much intent to score, easily dealt with by their opponents. The way Spain have played, especially in the last two matches, does not look promising for the outcome of this World Cup. Continue reading “Top of the group, thank VAR”

Game of thrones

It’s a slightly strange scene on Monday in Group B, with permutations galore should unexpected things happen – and the most unexpected thing would be that Morocco, already homeward bound, defeated Spain by such a margin as to cause a draw in the other game between Portugal and Iran (a more likely result) to take the latter two through, sending Spain packing, along with their African neighbours.   In the murky past, when Spain were considered a decent technical side limited by a lack of tactical discipline and/or big tournament mentality, this is the sort of game they might indeed have bottled, and although times have clearly changed, nobody in the Spanish press is taking Morocco lightly, a side without points but with plenty of kudos garnered from their first two games. Continue reading “Game of thrones”

Of buses and bunkers

The last time I was in Tehran there were some taxi-bus vehicles that were called ‘Ayans’, if I recall correctly.  That’s what Iran parked on Wednesday night. They parked the Ayans, with so little shame that not even a forward was left up front.  Eleven behind the ball, and to think that when Carlos Queiroz, the coach with the looks of a long-faded porn star was signed for Real Madrid, he was considered to be one of the children of the new coaching dawn.  Bring on the night. Vicente del Bosque made way for him, because poor old Vicente, good coach though he was, could never have been a porn star, except in some parallel universe. Continue reading “Of buses and bunkers”

Could Hierro have a Zidane effect?

Preview of Spain vs Iran

Will the Spanish national team make this humble scribe eat his own words? According to the sounds I hear from their concentration hotel, they very well might.

I’m referring to my irate piece on the bizarre chain of events that ended up with Fernando Hierro on the Spanish bench for this World Cup. Among other decisions from different individuals who earned my righteous disapproval, I could not see how Hierro’s arrival could improve Spain’s chances of winning the tournament, but here we are, and it now seems like most players have warmed to the arrival of Fernando Hierro faster than could have been expected. Continue reading “Could Hierro have a Zidane effect?”