Some Portugal news now, from PA Media, as Fernando Santos again had to field plenty of questions about that bloke who started on the bench against Switzerland, and the Portugal manager has called for a stop to “these polemics” about his selection decisions.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos revealed he had a “frank conversation” with Cristiano Ronaldo to explain why he was dropping him, but insisted the veteran forward did not threaten to leave the World Cup. Reports in Portugal claim Ronaldo was ready to walk out on his country after learning he would be on the bench for the last-16 clash with Switzerland … Santos revealed he told Ronaldo he would not be starting on the day of the game, and admitted international football’s record goalscorer took some convincing.
Santos said: “We did have a conversation and it would have been very bad if we did not have that conversation. Since I took the helm we needed to talk and have a close relationship with the players, that’s my approach.
“He’s the captain of our squad and with what he represents for Portuguese football, for the Portuguese people and the national team, naturally I needed to talk to him. So when we had this conversation it was on match day, after lunch. The only conversation was on that day and I explained why he would not play.
“We met and I explained why he would not be one of the starters, so he would not be surprised. In my office, I told him in terms of strategy it is better if you don’t play, I would save him for the second half if need be.
“Cristiano, for obvious reasons, was not very happy about it. He has always been a starting player. He said ‘do you really think it’s a good idea?’ But we had a normal conversation. I explained my viewpoints, he accepted. We had a frank and normal conversation.
“He has never told me he wanted to leave our national team. I think it’s high time we stopped with this conversation and these polemics, because an example of what I just said is what he did during the match. He was warming up with the players even though wasn’t starting. He celebrated all our goals. And at the end he was the one who invited his colleagues to thank the fans. It’s high time to leave it alone.”
And here’s more on that Lloris presser from Ben Fisher:
Fraternal pre-match festivities in full swing in Doha …
Hugo Lloris isn’t underestimating England. The France goalkeeper says he has observed a clear improvement in tomorrow’s opponents. “If we compare both sides, there were more English players in the World Cup in Russia than French players,” Lloris said, “and if you look at the English squad they were semi-finalists in the World Cup and runner-up at the last Euros.
“There is a real progression and I believe this team is getting more mature and ready to compete for trophies. They were a little bit unlucky at the last Euros, they got very close but they are here to win. In our side there are a lot of changes with the new generation of players, they are ready to compete because they play for the best teams in Europe, we have a good mixture.
“We have to make sure we will be ready to challenge England on Saturday because it is going to be a big battle.”
Thanks Martin, our world domination enterprise starts here. And because Orient’s game at Crewe has been called off we’ll have no choice tomorrow afternoon but to focus on Morocco v Portugal, and there’ll be plenty of attention on Portugal’s hat-trick hero Gonçalo Ramos. Will Unwin has written about his rise here:
When Gonçalo Ramos moved from his childhood home in the Algarve to Lisbon to join Benfica’s academy as a teenager he struggled to settle, often crying for his parents. His determination to get through the hard times ensured he would make the most of his talent and helped to mould him as a person.
I am going to hand you over to Tom Davies now for an hour while I take a break – from one Leyton Orient supporter to another. We are gradually conquering the whole operation.
Whisper it, but England’s record at World Cup quarter-finals isn’t actually that great. The stories in them are though, as Rob Bleaney here runs through all nine of them in a sequence that started with a 4-2 defeat to Uruguay in 1954.
Perhaps the most telling thing about Gareth Southgate’s England and the way they’ve tried to take the drama out of tournament football and replace it with control, is that the 2018 quarter-final, an unremarkable and comfortable 2-0 win over a Sweden team that historically had been a nuisance to the Three Lions (they went from 1968 to 2011 without recording a single victory against the Swedes in 12 meetings) is the least interesting of the lot.
England have confirmed that everyone was in training today – including a returned Raheem Sterling.
The social media bods at Conmebol must be rubbing their hands with a glee at the prospect that by the end of the day we could be in a position where there is a Brazil v Argentina semi-final on the horizon, with guaranteed South American representation in the World Cup final for only the second time in the last five tournaments. 2006, 2010 and 2018 produced all-European finals. To get in the mood, they’ve posted a reminder of how Argentina progressed at the Netherlands’ expense on penalties in 2014.
A few more words about England from Didier Deschamps here from this morning’s press briefing.
Reuters reports that Deschamps, who has won the World Cup with France as a player and coach, said he did not see many weaknesses in the England team but they did have some “slightly less strong points”.
“Pace is often one of the keys – when you are quick then the opponents have less time to get organised. But you need more than just pace to score goals,” Deschamps said.
“You can stop a lot of things but it is very difficult to stop someone very quick, especially in transitions. England are very strong in transitions – more than half of their goals have come from quick counterattacks. But they have other qualities too – they have technical ability, the capacity to score goals and ability on set-pieces.”
We could see some movement in the golden boot table today. Lionel Messi, Richarlison and Cody Gakpo should all feature in the matches, and they are all on three goals behind frontrunner Kylian Mbappé, who you might fancy to score against England tomorrow. You can check out the latest table here:
Phil Foden has been
dragged into the Big Brother diary room in the England social media video studio, and admitted that in the past he has broken his nan’s windows a couple of time playing football. He said the experience of scoring for England in a World Cup was “surreal” and “one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my career”:
Iust the moment that Harry [Kane] played that cross in and, you know, my eyes lit up, and I knew that I could just score the chance. Scoring in a World Cup is something I’ve always dreamed of. As a kid, playing in the streets, and you know, people used to say, one day you are going to put on an England shirt and score, and I didn’t really think too much of it. And then, now to say that I’ve done that, is a super surreal moment.
He also said he was confident going into the match against France, urging England and his teammates to stick to the gameplan:
No matter the opponent, just stick to what you know, don’t change anything, and stick to the same gameplan. And I feel like everyone’s done that. We know they’ve got great talents, in Mbappé and things, but you know on our day, when we’re playing the football we play, we can hurt any team in the world. So let’s stick into our gameplan and being confident in what we do.
Gareth Southgate has cast doubt on whether Raheem Sterling will play a part in England’s World Cup quarter-final with France having only returned to Qatar on Friday, PA reports. It quotes the England coach saying:
We will have to assess that. He has missed a lot of training and had two long flights. That is not good preparation for a game of this standard but let’s see how he is.
He has felt the need to support his family and to be there for his family and that is a simple decision for me – I have to support the player. I remember Fabian Delph going home, his wife was expecting in Russia. We did the same thing.
There are moments for every individual where family becomes most important. I’m always supportive of that. Of course I want the best players available and want to win football matches. But as a manager you have to recognise there are certain moments in people’s lives that are more important at that particular time.
It is just gone elevenses in the morning in the UK, so can I tempt you with the some Dutch pastries with Andries Noppert on them for some reason?
From stadiums to markets, the presence of Palestinian flags across Qatar has been hard to miss. Although World Cup organisers have said all along the tournament should not involve politics, it seems the “free Palestine” cause is being embraced by Qataris, people across the Arab world, as well as some visiting football fans.
Encounters between Arab football fans and Israeli journalists have gone viral on social media – along with other clips of an England supporter shouting “free Palestine” during TV interviews, including one with an Israeli broadcaster.
Though neither Israel nor Palestine are playing in the tournament, support for Palestine has featured prominently at the Middle East’s first World Cup, as our international correspondent Michael Safi explains in this video.
French coach Didier Deschamps has been up in front of the media circus in Qatar this morning, where he was asked his opinion of his English counterpart Gareth Southgate. He had some rather warm words. Certainly warmer than the words between Louis van Gaal and Ángel Di María which have been adding some extra spice to today’s Netherlands v Argentina clash. Deschamps said:
I very much like Gareth. We have met on a number of occasions and have talked about a number of things. Not everyone appreciates him so much in his own country, that isn’t because he wasn’t a good footballer himself – he had a long and distinguished career and he is also a very good coach. He has enabled England to get some very good results over the years and I very much like him.
PA also reports Deschamps was inevitably asked about Kylian Mbappé:
I’m sure England will have prepared to face Kylian, as our previous opponents did. But he is in a position to make the difference. Even in the last match when he didn’t have his best match, he didn’t show his top form compared to previous games, he was still decisive.
We have other players that can be dangerous as well and that helps us not to be over-dependent on Kylian. But Kylian is Kylian, and he always will be. He has that capacity to make the difference at any moment in the match.
If you’d asked me “Where will the World Cup quarter-final between England and France be won and lost?” I would probably have unhelpfully said “At Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor?” and left it at that, such is my tactical insight.
Fortunately, they asked Jonathan Wilson instead …
England might not be playing until tomorrow evening, but we do have some English involvement in today’s quarter-finals. Michael Oliver will be the referee today for Brazil v Croatia at 3pm GMT, and alongside him running the line will be Stuart Burt and Gary Beswick. Oliver previously officiated at Japan v Costa Rica and Saudi Arabia v Mexico in the group stages.
Croatia have not only bought their parked bus to Qatar, but their massive big flag as well.
With the move of the men’s 2022 World Cup to the winter we are only a few months away from the next World Cup – the women’s competition kicks off in Australia and New Zealand on 20 July 2023. Fifa today have put out their latest updated women’s rankings. No change at the top with USWNT still the team to beat.
Philipp Lahm writes his latest column for us today, saying European culture dominates the World Cup but Argentina can teach a tactical lesson:
For me, Argentina are the ultimate in this World Cup. All the players have mastered the basic virtue of football: one-on-one, defensively and offensively, aggressively but fairly. These individual skills, which have been lost sight of in the debates about tactics and systems, are what count if you want to win. The Argentinian players show unconditional intensity. They form a unit with the many fans because they see that there is a team on the pitch. You can see why they play football.
The coach, Lionel Scaloni, has everything under control. Normally, national teams are less orderly because they rarely train together. But Argentina perform harmoniously like a club team in Champions League form. Their plan: to constantly win the ball and defend forward. It’s a defensive idea, but designed to be proactive. Because Argentina can also keep the ball.
In addition, Scaloni has thought about how to integrate the outstanding class of the 35-year-old Lionel Messi. In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, he told how he deliberately did without Messi at the beginning of his time in charge so the team could find their way without the star. Then he integrated him.
Incidentally Catia emails me to complain about my constant insistence of treating Portugal as Cristiano Ronaldo+Portugal. She says:
As a Portuguese fan it’s really frustrating that basically all the news reduces one the best international sides in the world to a soap opera around one man. Please stop, we have wonderful players, we have the breakout striker of the World Cup in Ramos, the greatest example of longevity at the highest level of the sport in Pepe, the best blend of creativity and hard work in the Bruno-Bernardo-Felix trio. Portugal is the highest scoring side together with England, provided the biggest thrashing in a World Cup knockout game since who knows when, and everything people talk about is Ronaldo. Enough!
That’s me told. Maybe someone should tell CR7.
The Fifa website preview of today’s Brazil v Croatia game (3pm GMT) features some quotes from Vinicius Junior. He says:
It’s going to be a very tough match. They came second in the last World Cup. We’re preparing ourselves to play an excellent match. We’ll give our best in the game like we did against Korea by pressing them and trying to score, which is always very important to us.
He also deftly handed off the role of doing anything about Luka Modrić, saying:
Modrić is a great player. He’s taught me a lot – not just on the pitch but off it too. I’m very happy that I know him and that I get to see him every day [at Real Madrid]. Playing against Modrić is going to be very special. As far as neutralising him goes, I’ll leave that to Casemiro because he can do a better job than me!
I was just having a poke around in the Argentine media ahead of tonight’s clash and was interested to read in Clarín the general level of unhappiness in the media with Argentina’s set-up.
Adrian Maladesky writes that coach Lionel Scaloni’s questioning of the way the press were reporting on the team called into question whether they were for Argentina or for the Netherlands “suggests returning to a request for complicity with the press that not only goes against what journalism should do but also shows that the national team is unaware of how badly they handle communication.”
He goes on to say “For a long time, the national team seems stubborn in not understanding the role of the press, which, given the closed training sessions, the lack of official information or any conferences that are not mandatory by Fifa, are pushed to seek alternative sources.”
It all sounds a bit Fabio Capello-era England, and we know how that went.
Sean Ingle is in Doha for the Guardian and writes for us today on how England coach Gareth Southgate has included learnings from other sporting disciplines in his approach to coaching the national side:
A key member of Southgate’s setup has been the New Zealander performance coach Owen Eastwood, who has also worked with South Africa’s cricketers, his homeland’s rugby team and Team GB. Eastwood emphasises the concept of Whakapapa – the Māori way of explaining your place in any tribe or family. Applied to sport, it places the emphasis on creating pride in the shirt and leaving a legacy for others to follow.
Eastwood also stresses that trust and openness matter. “People thrive when there’s consistency and composure around the environment,” he says. “One of the things about Gareth’s leadership is he genuinely sees it as a players’ game. He is there to facilitate them achieving what their potential might be. It’s not about him. He’s not the hero of it – the players are the heroes of it.”
It is a philosophy similar to that of Danny Kerry, who guided the GB women’s hockey team to gold at the Rio 2016 Olympics and has also spoken to Southgate. One of the team’s stars, Georgie Twigg, says that there are clear parallels with what the hockey team did and what she sees with England’s players in Doha.
“We worked very closely with psychologists on what we, as a team, wanted our culture to look like: how we wanted to behave and hold each other to account,” she says. “We had to because we were a group of 30 girls training day in, day out, with massively different personalities and ages.”
Gary Lineker has clearly enjoyed this potted history of West Germany and Germany stomping through World Cup history and breaking hearts, and I suspect you will too. It has subtitles so you don’t even have to put the sound up, although it is funnier if you do.
Youssouf Fofana came across as very funny in France’s media round yesterday, not least when he was asked about Kyle Walker’s prospects of stopping Kylian Mbappé on Saturday evening.
Walker had said “we respect that he is a good player in good form at the minute, but I am not going to roll out a red carpet for him and tell him to go and score.”
Reuters quotes Fofana responding “Hats off to him. If he can stop Kylian, good for him. But there’s 19 other teams in the French league that are waiting for the answer of how to stop Kylian, and the truth is on the pitch.”
Fofana was also asked about the atmosphere in the French camp – not always traditionally the most happy of dressing rooms. “The atmosphere is tense, tense, tense,” he joked.
“No, I’m joking,” he went on. “We can wear headphones, so if we don’t like the chosen music for the group, then we can listen to our own music.”
Here are some very impressive behind-the-scenes drone shots of the Education City stadium where Brazil and Croatia will face each other later today.
Not included in the tour, a chief executive of the Qatar World Cup saying “death is a natural part of life – whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep.”
Let us start with a look ahead to Morocco’s historic meeting with portugal tomorrow. Ed Aarons writes for us on how they aim to break new ground after previous African heartbreaks at this stage of the tournament:
It is fitting the Atlas Lions will be the next to try their luck in reaching the semi-finals given Morocco became the first African side to pick up a point, at the 1970 World Cup. While Zaire – sub-Saharan Africa’s first representatives – were humbled 9-0 by Yugoslavia at the next World Cup, it looked as if Pelé might have been on to something when Tunisia became the first African side to record a victory at the tournament in 1978 with a 3-1 win over Mexico. Four years later, Algeria shocked the world by defeating West Germany.
But after Gary Lineker broke Cameroon’s hearts at Italia 90 and despite Nigeria claiming Africa’s first gold medal in men’s football at the 1996 Olympics, it would be another 12 years until an African side cracked the last eight again.
Senegal’s triumph thanks to Henri Camara’s golden goal in extra time in the second round against Sweden – having already seen off the reigning champions, France – meant most people expected them to defeat Turkey in the quarter-finals. But substitute Ilhan Mansiz scored another golden goal in the fourth minute of extra time – the last before the rule was scrapped by Fifa – after a drab 90 minutes to deny them a place in the last four.
It was Ghana’s turn eight years later at the first World Cup on African soil. Had it not been for Luis Suárez’s infamous handball to deny Dominic Adiyiah’s goal-bound header and Asamoah Gyan’s subsequent penalty miss at Soccer City in Johannesburg then the Black Stars would have played the Netherlands in the semi-finals. And so to Qatar. Morocco’s players will carry not only the hopes and dreams of Africa when they face Portugal but of the Arab world as well.
It does seem slightly mad that we are nine days away from a World Cup final and also about twelve days away from the resumption of the top European club football season, but here we are. Paris St Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has said Lionel Messi is happy at the Ligue 1 champions and they will open discussions about a possible contract extension after the World Cup, Reuters reports.
Messi, who has 12 goals and 14 assists for PSG in all competitions this season, moved to PSG from Barcelona in 2021 on a two-year contract, which expires in the summer.
When asked if the 35-year-old is interested in extending his stay in Paris, Al-Khelaifi told Sky Sports, “definitely”.
“He performed fantastic this season for us, he’s scored a lot of goals and assists for the national team and for the club,” he added.
“So what we agreed together – that after the World Cup, sit down together. But both sides – our side of the club and him – are very happy, so we will talk after the World Cup.”
World Cup football is back, back, back. Yes, after two whole days without a game, we have got two cracking quarter-finals in store.
At 3pm GMT, Brazil will surely go into their match with Croatia thinking they’ve got more than enough of a dancing front line to progress. But the Croats are nothing if not stubborn, they’ve never lost a quarter-final, and they’ve taken four of their last World Cup knockout matches beyond 90 minutes and prevailed every time. Can they keep the seleção at bay?
Then at 7pm GMT, evoking memories of the 1978 final and 2014 semi-final, it is one of the all-time great World Cup match ups: Netherlands v Argentina. Can Messi get closer to that elusive winner’s medal, or will Louis van Gaal’s wily tactics give the Dutch the upper hand?
By the end of the day we could be facing the mouth-watering prospect of a Brazil v Argentina semi-final. Or Croatia and the Netherlands, two teams who have reached the World Cup final before but never lifted the trophy could be marching on. I cannot wait.
Before then we’ll have all the build up to those games, news from the Morocco, England, France and Cristiano Ronaldo camps ahead of their turn tomorrow, and time for plenty of chit-chat and idle speculation. Do feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com