Thursday, May 23, 2024
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World Cup 2022: Argentina into last 16, crunch time for Germany and Belgium – live

Key events

Definitely one of those Marmite players, Luis Suárez has stressed he would not be apologising for his handball in Uruguay’s 2010 World Cup quarter-final against Ghana as the sides prepare to meet again on Friday.

The clash at the tournament in South Africa 12 years ago saw Suarez sent off in the final moments of extra-time, with the score at 1-1, after keeping out a Dominic Adiyiah header on the line with his hands.

The resulting penalty was struck against the bar by Asamoah Gyan, and Uruguay then won the subsequent shootout.

PA Media reports that at his press briefing today in Qatar, the 35-year-old forward said: “I don’t apologise about that because I did the handball, but the Ghana player missed the penalty, not me.

“Maybe I can say an apology if I did a tackle, injured a player, and took a red card. But in this situation, I took a red card, the ref said penalty, (and) it’s not my fault, because I didn’t miss the penalty.

“The player who missed the penalty, he said he would do the same in this situation. It’s not my responsibility, to shoot the penalty.”

Suarez was then asked if he had thought, with Ghana looking for revenge, what the game on Friday could be like for him, and he said: “No, I haven’t really thought about this.

“I don’t know what people are saying, whether they are saying this, revenge. But players that will play tomorrow might be eight years old back then.

“Some people might say ‘the devil himself’, ‘he did that’ … We can’t misunderstand things.

“We won against Portugal in 2018 – have we heard Portuguese people saying ‘we need revenge’? No. What I did with (Italy’s Giorgio) Chiellini – I played against him afterwards. I made a mistake, and then we shook hands. You can’t just keep thinking about the past and just focus on revenge.”

Pick the bones out of this: Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has dropped captain Eden Hazard and resisted the temptation to start lead striker Romelu Lukaku in their decisive World Cup Group F fixture against Croatia on Thursday, Reuters reports.

Defender Leander Dendoncker, wing-back Yannick Carrasco and attacking midfielders Leandro Trossard and Dries Mertens come into the side in a major shake-up from Martinez that sees Kevin De Bruyne wear the skipper’s armband.

Croatia have kept their same starting XI from the team that thumped Canada 4-1 in their previous fixture, with captain Luka Modric again the key man.

Team news: Croatia v Belgium

Croatia: Dominik Livakovic, Ivan Perisic, Dejan Lovren, Mateo Kovacic, Andrej Kramaric, Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, Marko Livaja, Borna Sosa, Josko Gvardiol, Josip Juranovic

Belgium: Thibaut Courtois, Timothy Castagne, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Meunier, Axel Witsel, Yannick Carrasco, Dries Mertens, Kevin De Bruyne, Leandro Trossard, Leander Dendoncker

You have to wonder how many of this XI may be playing their last match for Belgium if they don’t get the result they need today. Belgium need to win to be assured qualification. A draw may be enough, but only if already eliminated Canada beat Morocco, and even then it will come down to goal difference. A draw is enough for Croatia to progress.

You will be able to follow all of this on our MBM with Rob Smyth …

Team news: Canada v Morocco

Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou returns for Morocco after pulling out of the Belgium game at the last moment.

Canada: Milan Borjan (c), Alistair Johnston, Samuel Adekugbe, Kamal Miller, Steven Vitoria, Junior Hoilett, Tajon Buchanan, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Cyle Larin, Alphonso Davies, Jonathan Osorio

Morocco: Yassine Bounou, Achraf Hakimi, Noussair Mazraoui, Sofyan Amrabat, Nayef Aguerd, Romain Saiss (c), Hakim Ziyech, Azzedine Ounahi, Abdelhamid Sabiri, Soufiane Boufal, Youssef En-Nesyri

A reminder, a draw will be enough to qualify. If they lose, but Croatia win against Belgium, they would still progress. If they lose and Belgium draw with Croatia, or they lose and Belgium beat Croatia, it would come down to goal difference whether they still progressed.

Barry Glendenning is at the MBM controls for this one …

Also I want to give a shout-out to my friend Marie Le Conte, who I have previously sat and watched Morocco games with for a World Cup. She made the decision to boycott watching the Qatar event, as many people did, and … well …

still boycotting the World Cup but please be aware that at this stage I believe I deserve a medal because I was actually invited to a Moroccan cafe to watch today’s game and I currently want to scream

— Marie Le Conte (@youngvulgarian) November 27, 2022

With the caveat that I haven’t verified the video, this clip of reaction to an Argentina goal in a airport has made me properly laugh out loud. You’ll need the sound up.

Sid Lowe

Sid Lowe

I felt Poland were playing some curious new breed of anti-football yesterday, defending desperately to hang on to a 2-0 defeat. Sid Lowe is in Doha for the Guardian and writes on the topic:

At times it was a surreal sight. Rather than chasing a goal – “I was a defender first today,” Robert Lewandowski said – Poland decided the best approach was for nothing to happen. But how do you defend for your lives without making a tackle? How do you run down the clock without running up the cards?

With a little help from Argentina perhaps? “It did go through my head to go to those who play in Italy but I thought it would be ugly to do that,” Napoli midfielder Piotr Zielinski said. “It was strange. We produced an ugly game and we have to improve now that we are going to face the world champions. So far we haven’t shown how well we can play. We have given the ball to our opponents and we have to change. Against France it will be different. We have to have more courage, more will to do them damage. We could have paid for [the approach] but we’re very happy. It’s been more than 30 years since we got through a group.”

Read more here: Sid Lowe – ‘Don’t get cards’: How Poland’s strange World Cup progression played out

Portugal coach Fernando Santos said that Cristiano Ronaldo’s availability is still in question for their closing Group H match against South Korea on Friday.

The 37-year-old Portugal captain missed Wednesday’s practice and stayed at the gym to do recovery and specific exercises and, with his team already through to the knockout stages, he could be rested against South Korea even if fit.

“I think it is 50-50 if he plays or not, we’ll see,” Reuters reports Santos told a news conference on Thursday. “It will depend on if and how he practices today, if we see he is in good condition … There is a plan for if he is not available.”

Santos confirmed that defender Nuno Mendes will miss the rest of World Cup after the player left the pitch in tears against Uruguay when he sustained a thigh injury.

“Unfortunately he is out but by his will he will stay with us. It was his desire, his club agreed, and he will start his recovery here. His enormous desire to stay with us reflects the state of mind of the whole squad,” he said.

South Korea’s Portuguese coach Paulo Bento will sing both national anthems tomorrow before his side bid to recreate their result of the 2002 World Cup and beat his home nation Portugal.

PA Media quotes Bento at his press briefing this morning saying: “I do have feelings, of course, in relation to the Korean national anthem but I think I will sing the Portuguese national anthem as well.

“I was born Portuguese, I will die Portuguese and I am very proud of my nationality – but also I am very proud of coaching these players for more than four years now.”

South Korea beat Portugal 1-0 in Incheon to guarantee that the 2002 co-hosts progressed at the expense of the European side – and it had a special significance for Bento.

“It was my last match as an international player so that’s the memory I have, being proud regardless of a specific match, as I was able to represent my country in a World Cup regardless of specific results,” he said.

Paulo Bento, head coach, speaks during the South Korea press conference this morning in Qatar.
Paulo Bento, head coach, speaks during the South Korea press conference this morning in Qatar. Photograph: Tullio Puglia/FIFA/Getty Images

The former Benfica and Sporting midfielder will serve a touchline ban having received a red card after South Korea’s game with Ghana ended, but he said does not believe his absence from the technical area will adversely effect his players.

Jacob Steinberg

Jacob Steinberg

Jacob Steinberg is in Doha for the Guardian, and he was watching the England media round this morning with Declan Rice, who had some things about his domestic career to say, as well as discussing England’s prospects:

Rice is in line to start when England face Senegal in the last 16 of the World Cup on Sunday and he insisted that the big nations should be worried about Gareth Southgate’s side.

“I think other nations will always look at us and think about the quality we’ve got in the squad,” he said. “Why should we not be feared? If you look at our attacking players, there are world-class, unbelievable talents across the board. Across the whole team. There are players who have played in the biggest games and won the biggest trophies. We are one of the biggest teams here. But it’s down to us to prove it on the pitch.”

Read more here: Jacob Steinberg – Declan Rice indicates he wants to leave West Ham as he outlines ambitions

We have a very fun gallery here of behind the scenes in the England camp with a delightful cameo from an England striker from years-gone-by, and most importantly, an indication that England’s players appear to be practising every sport under the sun except football.

Emma Kemp

Emma Kemp

Emma Kemp reports for the Guardian from Doha:

Australia and Argentina have criticised Fifa for scheduling their last-16 match only three days after their final World Cup group games, saying the short turnaround treats players like “robots”.

The Socceroos defeated Denmark on Wednesday night and now face a high-profile knockout clash with Lionel Messi and Argentina on Saturday at 10pm local time.

Argentina have even less time to recover, having played their 2-0 win against Poland from 10pm – four hours after Australia’s 6pm kick-off against Denmark – in a situation described as “crazy” by their coach, Lionel Scaloni.

“How can the Fifa organisation [do this] at such a high-prestige tournament,” said the Socceroos assistant coach, René Meulensteen. “The four-day turnovers were already short, and after the group stages they go even shorter. If you want high-quality performance in a World Cup, you think could they have managed it slightly differently.”

“It’s something Fifa needs to consider, that we’re not robots, that we are humans and that we do need to recover,” said the Socceroos defender Miloš Degenek. “That we can’t just play day after day. You know, we need a break as well.

Scaloni, too, was critical after Wednesday’s late-night result, which confirmed Argentina’s progression as winners of Group C and set up the date with Australia – Group D’s runners-up.

“Today we are happy but not euphoric, because I think it’s crazy we are playing in just over two days,” he said. “I can’t really understand this.”

Read more here: Emma Kemp – Australia and Argentina criticise Fifa over ‘crazy’ World Cup scheduling

I imagine, like me, you have some strong opinions about the penalty that was given against Wojciech Szczesny for touching Lionel Messi’s face last night. Reuters is carrying some quotes from Szczesny about the incident, which a VAR review deemed sufficient contact to be a penalty.

Szczesny on Messi.
Szczesny on Messi. Photograph: James Williamson/AMA/Getty Images

Szczesny has told TVP Sport in Poland that “I immediately told the referee that I touched his face with my hand, but I only ran over the side of his face. I told him that the contact was there, but in my opinion there was no penalty.”

He went on to say “The referee decided otherwise and that’s good – I was able to show off.

“On some penalties Leo looks at the goalkeeper and on some he hits hard. I knew that if he was going to hit hard, it was more to my left. I saw that he didn’t stop, so I went (left), I sensed it and I saved. I’m happy.”

Szczesny became the first goalkeeper to save two penalties at a World Cup tournament since American Brad Friedel in 2002 and only the third in all, along with compatriot Jan “Brian Clough called me a clown” Tomaszewski, who first achieved the feat in 1974.

I’ve got no context for this picture which has just dropped on the wires except that it says “England’s Declan Rice throws a dart during a game against a member of the media ahead of a press conference”

England's Declan Rice throws a dart during a game against a member of the media ahead of a press conference.
England’s Declan Rice throws a dart during a game against a member of the media ahead of a press conference. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

By the way if you are 1) a big fan of international sport jamborees and 2) a bit lost for what to do until the 3pm GMT kick offs get going, the ticket ballot has just opened for the Paris 2024 Olympics. You can sign up here. Although to be honest it looks like there is a huge queue at the moment and you’ve got until the end of January to do it. Here are the details …

A lot of the attention on Group E has fallen on Germany’s woes going into the final round of matches, but Spain have still left themselves something to do despite coming firing out of the blocks with that 7-0 spanking of Costa Rica on matchday one. We had this yesterday from Ben McAleer on how Spain’s creative decision to play Rodri in defence is paying off:

The dilemma for Spain, as usual, is that they have too many brilliant central midfielders. Gavi and Pedri, despite their youth, are guaranteed starters considering their technical quality, and they benefit from having their experienced Barcelona teammate, Sergio Busquets, alongside them to anchor the midfield.

Busquets, the only World Cup winner in the squad, is now 34 but we all saw how much Spain struggled without him at the Euros last year. It’s a tricky one for Luis Enrique: he doesn’t want to lose his captain but he knows Busquets no longer has the legs to control the middle of the park. Given the make-up of his squad, Luis Enrique’s decision to pick Busquets at the base of the midfield and use Rodri in the centre of defence could be a masterstroke.

Rodri was used at the heart of defence by Pep Guardiola – obviously – on a handful of occasions in the 2019-20 campaign, but he is inexperienced in the role. Throwing him in at the deep end at a World Cup was a risk, but Rodri has handled it well. At 6ft 2in, he has the physicality to play the role and he is brilliant at dispossessing opponents – only Declan Rice (82) has won possession in the midfield third more times than Rodri (70) in the Premier League this season. Rodri has the tools to excel at centre-back in the modern game, given his tenacity off the ball and impressive distribution when in possession.

Read more here: Ben McAleer – Spain’s creative decision to play Rodri in defence is paying off at World Cup

Switzerland have been out training in front of the cameras today ahead of tomorrow’s heavyweight eliminator against Serbia. It is bound to be a quiet game, what with the memories of Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka’s double-eagle celebrations in the same fixture in Russia 2018 fresh in Serbian memory.

(L-R) Switzerland’s midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, midfielder Djibril Sow, defender Ricardo Rodriguez, forward Noah Okafor and defender Eray Comert take part in a training session at the University of Doha training facilities.
(L-R) Switzerland’s midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, midfielder Djibril Sow, defender Ricardo Rodriguez, forward Noah Okafor and defender Eray Comert take part in a training session at the University of Doha training facilities. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images
Switzerland’s coach Murat Yakin gestures during a training session.
Switzerland’s coach Murat Yakin gestures during a training session. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images
Switzerland’s midfielder Granit Xhaka in training.
Switzerland’s midfielder Granit Xhaka in training. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Fifa ended up fining Xhaka and Shaqiri 10,000 Swiss francs (the equivalent then of £7,632) each after that match in Kaliningrad.

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION KLAXON: Every Thursday at 11am I publish the official Guardian Thursday quiz™ which is 15 questions on general knowledge and vaguely topical issues crammed full of in-jokes and also usually features my dog. This week’s edition is #84, and you can get stuck into it here …

If you are a fan of passing diagrams, then Opta have an Argentina one for you this morning that you are going to love. Unless you are a Poland fan I guess.

In case you needed some Phil Foden and Jack Grealish this morning, here they are kicking the ball to each other …

England’s Declan Rice has been prodded in front of the media to give some quotes, and he has said that coach Gareth Southgate has a selection headache ahead of Sunday’s round of 16 match with Senegal. Asked about the competition between Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden to play up top with Harry Kane, the West Ham midfielder said:

What is so good about our group here is we are all so supportive of each other. There is probably a selection headache for the manager but whoever he picks, I know everyone will be rooting for each other. It is a real team effort now.

I think it is top level. It is always nice to know you can bring players off the bench who can instantly change a game, we have got world-class players who can come on and throughout a World Cup you need that quality.

England’s Declan Rice on media duties this morning in Qatar.
England’s Declan Rice on media duties this morning in Qatar. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

We could be seeing a bit of a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy-style squad rotation from Brazil tomorrow in their final group game, according to a report from APs Tales Azzoni. I mean, he didn’t put it exactly like that, but you catch my drift.

It is possible that coach Tite will make as many as 11 changes from the team which dispatched Swizerland. According to AP, he is planning to use only reserve players, starting with Ederson replacing Alisson in goal. Veteran Dani Alves is among those coming into the defence, while Fabinho is set to play in the midfield. Antony and Gabriel Martinelli are expected to be added to the attack.

Tite wants to try to give playing time to all seven players who were yet to appear at the tournament.

“Tite had already told us after the game against Switzerland that he intended to make changes in the lineup,” midfielder Fabinho said. “He said he wanted everyone to play and we are happy with that decision.”

Stats nerds will get excited by the fact that 39-year-old Alves could become the oldest Brazilian to play at a World Cup, ahead of the 38-year-old Thiago Silva, and that with just a point, Brazil will win its World Cup group for the 11th straight time.

The last time Brazil failed to win a group was in the rarely mentioned 1966 tournament, when Portugal and Hungary finished first and second in Group 3 and knocked them out.

I know I am boring about these things, but it is really offending me deep in my soul that not only don’t the group stages end in the correct alphabetical sequence, but Fifa have also jiggled around the matches in the R16 and quarter-finals so that “Match 52” takes place before “Match 51”. *shudders*

Anyway, to avoid any confusion, and so you can start planning, here is how your weekend’s football viewing is shaping up:

  • Match 49 – Saturday 3 December 3pm GMT: Netherlands v USA

  • Match 50 – Saturday 3 December 7pm GMT: Argentina v Australia

  • Match 52 *eye twitches* – Sunday 4 December 3pm GMT: France v Poland

  • Match 51 – Sunday 4 December 7pm GMT: England v Senegal

Those eight teams will be hoping to head to these quarter-final fixtures:

I mentioned Stéphanie Frappart earlier, who will become the first woman to referee a match at a men’s senior level World Cup finals. Fifa have put out a quick video of her from earlier in the year, when it was announced she would be going to Qatar. In it, Frappart says:

I felt enormous emotion because it wasn’t particularly expected that I would be nominated. So, a lot of pride, a lot of honour to represent France at the World Cup.

I think I’ll have everything that’s around me in mind, and the aim will still be the same, that is to referee well, and have a good performance on the pitch.

So, I’m really going to head into this with enormous emotion. But you have to channel that, because clearly the most important thing is the pitch.

The first thing will be all the emotions of entering a World Cup stadium, packed with a large crowd with plenty of expectations. But after that I’ll be focused on the pitch, because we need to make the correct decisions, and perform well by concentrating on the primary objective: the pitch.

Elis James

Elis James

Elis James has actually made me laugh out loud at my desk with the line “Unlike the writers in some other newspapers, I am able to experience two emotions at once, with neither being anger”. Here he is with his reflections on a disappointing campaign for Wales that he still feels immensely proud of:

Enormous pride that we qualified. Incredible disappointment that we are going home. But it is disappointment with context. It is far better to get knocked out of a World Cup than not to get to one in the first place. What was so frustrating about the great qualification failures of my time as a supporter – Euro 92, USA 94, Euro 2004 and Russia 2018 – was the feeling of unfinished business, a cosmic unfairness that prevented footballers who were good enough to play on the biggest stage from doing so.

On the BBC Gary Lineker asked Ian Rush what the younger members of the Wales squad will have learned from Qatar. After talking briefly about the atmosphere, Rush said: “I don’t know, I never played at a World Cup.” Rush scored 346 career goals for Liverpool, won the European Cup and European Golden Boot, and yet failed at the final hurdle for his country. Tuesday night has to be better than that.

Read more here: Elis James – Wales fans feel pride and despair but not anger after swift World Cup exit

In Germany, Die Zeit’s World Cup briefing has very generously picked Croatia v Belgium at 3pm GMT as the match of the day, rather than the pressing issue of Costa Rica v Germany at 7pm GMT.

Tammo Blomberg also has a rather tongue-in-cheek suggestion. Stéphanie Frappart will become the first woman to referee at a men’s World Cup finals in the Germany game, and Blomberg quotes Fifa referee boss Pierluigi Collina saying it is “proof that quality and not gender counts”. Blomberg suggests that if that is the case, maybe Germany could address their shyness in front of goal by drafting in Alexandra Popp, who has just the 61 goals behind her in her 124 caps for Germany’s women.

Captain Alexandra Popp of Germany in a friedly against the United States in November.
Captain Alexandra Popp of Germany in a friedly against the United States in November. Photograph: Ira L Black/Getty Images
Paul MacInnes

Paul MacInnes

Paul MacInnes was at the Al Janoub Stadium for the Guardian yesterday, and this morning he has these words on that sorry exit by Denmark, who had been hotly tipped to go far before a ball was kicked in Qatar:

Was it the expectations? Was it the armbands? Was it the tinkering? Or did Denmark just not have what it took to progress as expected at this World Cup? The postmortem can now begin for the team ranked 10th in the world, because Kasper Hjulmand’s men are going home.

The absence of Simon Kjær will not have helped in terms of mental resilience, the captain proving so crucial in galvanising Denmark last year. But it was surely also the case that Hjulmand made some bad decisions during the tournament.

Speaking after the match the coach did not stint in criticising the levels of performance. “It’s a big disappointment and it’s not going to be good to look back on,” he said. But when he does pore over the videos – providing the Danish Football Association does not intercede first – Hjulmand may reflect on why he had clearly not settled on a preferred attacking system before the tournament, instead changing shape and personnel up front for each of the three matches, with an attendant shift in approach.

Read more here: Paul MacInnes – Expectations, tactics, armbands: Denmark’s Qatar postmortem begins

Group F: What do Belgium, Croatia and Morocco need to do to reach the next round?

Belgium have it all to do against Croatia, while Morocco just need to focus on their own game to make World Cup history.

Group F – Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Morocco

Final matches Thursday 1 December, 3pm GMT: Canada v Morocco, Croatia v Belgium

Croatia: A draw is enough for Croatia to qualify. They may still qualify if they lose, if Canada beat Morocco, depending on the margins of the respective victories.

Morocco: A draw will be enough to qualify. If they lose, but Croatia win against Belgium, they would still progress. If they lose and Belgium draw with Croatia, or they lose and Belgium beat Croatia, it would come down to goal difference whether they still progressed.

Belgium: Belgium need to win to be assured qualification. A draw may be enough, but only if Canada beat Morocco, and even then it will come down to goal difference.

Canada have been eliminated, but as co-hosts next time round will be looking to show they belong in this company.

Group E: What do Costa Rica, Germany, Japan and Spain need to do to reach the next round?

Despite thumping Costa Rica 7-0, Spain still haven’t quite done it yet, and despite being bottom of the group, Germany might be feeling more confident than you’d expect.

Group E – Costa Rica, Germany, Japan, Spain

Final matches Thursday 1 December, 7pm GMT: Costa Rica v Germany, Japan v Spain

Spain: A draw will be enough for Spain to progress. However, if they lose and Costa Rica beat Germany, they will be eliminated – which would be a huge shock after opening the tournament with a 7-0 win.

Japan: A win against Spain will see Japan qualify. A draw means they are relying on Costa Rica and Germany drawing to progress. If Japan draw and Costa Rica win, Japan are out. If Japan draw and Germany win by just one goal, whoever has scored the most goals will go through. If Japan draw, and Germany win by more than one goal, Japan are out.

Costa Rica: A win will put Costa Rica through. A draw will be enough if Spain also beat Japan. If Japan get a draw, Costa Rica’s vastly inferior goal difference means they would not progress.

Germany: The Germans can qualify if they beat Costa Rica and Spain beats Japan. A draw is of no use to Die ex-Mannschaft

Some pictures have just dropped on the wires of South Korea in training today ahead of their crunch match tomorrow. The Taegeuk Warriors face Portugal at 3pm GMT tomorrow knowing that a win is necessary, but they also have to hope that results go their way elsewhere. It is a tough ask, you feel.

South Korea’s midfielder Hwang Hee-chan (2L) attends a training session at Al Egla Training Site 5 in Doha.
South Korea’s midfielder Hwang Hee-chan (2L) attends a training session at Al Egla Training Site 5 in Doha. Photograph: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images
South Korea’s head coach Paulo Bento, left, talks with assistant coach Sergio Costa. Bento is suspended from the bench for Friday’s match following his red card against Ghana.
South Korea’s head coach Paulo Bento, left, talks with assistant coach Sergio Costa. Bento is suspended from the bench for Friday’s match following his red card against Ghana. Photograph: Lee Jin-man/AP
South Korea’s midfielder Son Heung-min (C) talks with teammates.
South Korea’s midfielder Son Heung-min (C) talks with teammates. Photograph: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images
Jonathan Liew

Jonathan Liew

Jonathan Liew is in Doha for the Guardian, and this morning he casts his eye over the situation that Germany find themselves in ahead of their decisive clash with Costa Rica:

Take the lack of a natural striker, an ongoing source of introspection in Germany and one brought into sharper focus in recent years. From Gerd Müller to Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to Jürgen Klinsmann to Miroslav Klose; the dominant, masculine No 9 is a central part of the mythology of German football. And so for many, the absence of world-class centre-forwards – generally believed to be a product of a youth development system that prioritises versatility and technical excellence over specialism – is emblematic of something deeper; a dilution of German identity, a divergence from tradition.

By the same token, the rise of the veteran Niclas Füllkrug – the stalwart Werder Bremen striker who was playing second-division football until this season – has been interpreted as a return to core values. “The German virtues, which we had been missing a bit lately, are back,” wrote Lothar Matthäus after Füllkrug’s emphatic equaliser against Spain on Sunday night.

Perhaps this feeds into a wider debate about whether, in an age of porous borders and the increasing fluidity of ideas, there remains such a thing as a national footballing identity. And if so, what is Germany’s? “I do believe there are identities,” Flick said on Wednesday. “Perhaps the nuances have changed in recent years. We want to have high intensity, be active and have possession. We want to force the opponent to make mistakes, which means we sometimes press hard. We want to stand for attractive and modern attacking football.”

Read more here: Jonathan Liew – Germany face questions that cut to heart of identity before Costa Rica tie

One sad note that has come out of last night’s Australia match is the confirmation from Football Australia that defender Bailey Wright’s mother-in-law has died.

Wright came out with an emotional statement in the immediate aftermath of his team’s 1-0 victory over Denmark, saying “I’ve just come in from a message from my wife. I just want to dedicate this to my wife, bless her, and her mum. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if she’s still with us.”

Bailey Wright of Australia and teammates celebrate with fans after winning last night.
Bailey Wright of Australia and teammates celebrate with fans after winning last night. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

“It was, for them, a really tough time back home, but ultimately it made this possible for me to be here and live one of my dreams so I dedicate that to Tammy.”

Reuters reports that Wright said he had not told his teammates about his worries back home. “No one knows. That’s something I’ve kept to myself; we*ve all got a lot going on. Job to do, isn*t it? You’ve got to be professional all the time,” he added.

Football Australia confirmed on Thursday morning that Wright’s mother-in-law had died and the defender would not appear for media.

It was another late night for Max and the gang in the pod. If you haven’t caught it yet, then here is the latest daily episode of Football Weekly. Joining Max Rushden are John Brewin, Philippe Auclair, Mark Langdon, Marcela Mora y Araujo and Emma Kemp to dissect the final action in Groups C and D.


Today is the day we sort out Group E and Group F, which means this evening it is crunch time for Germany, the possibility of an unlikely redemption for Costa Rica, Japan sweating on results elsewhere if they can’t get a second win, and Spain still not guaranteed a second round place.

Before all that, Belgium’s golden generation face their last hurrah, Croatia still have some work to do, Morocco will be hoping to progress from a group for the first time since 1986, and Canada want to show they will not “do a Qatar” as co-hosts in four year’s time. Here is what we have to look forward to:

We will, of course, have MBMs for them all. Before then there’s the fallout from last night, media appearances from all the teams playing in tomorrow’s final round of group games, plus any other nonsense that occurs to me along the way. Do get in touch – you can email me at

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