Sunday, June 24, 2018


Match Day 11 includes Africa's best team, led by the tournament's only black coach. But he's not entirely comfortable with that being a thing.

  • How and when goals are being scored
  • Swiss celebrations may have crossed political line
  • Soccer Twitter has been great, and awful
  • Alternative short takes on the hot players
  • Telemundo vs. Fox: How do you watch?
  • #WorldCupS: What we're drinking for JPN vs. SEN
Senegal coach Aliou Cissé will lead his team against Japan today.

Goals are always dramatic, no matter how or when they're scored.

Toni Kroos scored the latest* winning goal in World Cup history yesterday when his 95th-minute strike put Germany up 2-1 on Sweden just before the final whistle. (Watch highlights.) It was 11th extra-time goal scored in the tournament. 

Not all of them were winners like Kroos's, which likely saved Germany's chances to advance from Group F to the round of 16. Mexico earned its own 2-1 victory over South Korea. (Watch highlights.) But Song Heung-min scored in the 93rd minute for South Korea, and though the team didn't win, his goal can come into play when it's time to decide which team gets out of the group. 

In the first round, late goals still matter because they affect a team's goal difference, the first tie-breaker in the group standings. The second tie-breaker is goals scored. Here are the rules.

German fans (and the team's defensive midfielder and its centerback) will point to the team's dramatic performance as evidence it has re-established itself as a tournament favorite. But critics will say a team this good shouldn't be struggling this hard to win close games.

Remember: Germany eked out narrow wins in most of its games four years ago in Brazil. The only matches it won by more than a goal (and scored more than 2) were the team's 4-0 opening game victory over Portugal and its 7-1 shaming of Brazil in the semifinal.

Germany is really good in close games. It will serve them well, even if it makes German supporters nervous and drives opposing fans crazy.

There have been 71 goals scored in 29 games so far, with video assistant referee and goal line technology to thank for a handful of them. The New York Times figured through Friday that VAR added four goals to the tournament total.  The technology was used to award half a dozen penalties, four of which were converted. It was also used, perhaps more importantly, to deny Neymar a would-be penalty that wasn't

Two more penalties were scored on Saturday, with 4 of 13 total goals scored from set plays. The statistics through the first round of games had showed that more than half the goals were scored from set pieces. That number has dropped to 37 percent, but it's still more than last World Cup. This will be something to watch going forward.

There have been more own goals (5) than goals scored by any one player — Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo have 4 each. 

*Kroos's goal was the latest scored in a game settled in regulation, according to FIFA. It was 13 seconds later than Francesco Totti's game-winning penalty kick against Australia in the 2006 World Cup round of 16 in Germany. I was at the match with Grahame Fraser and Jennifer Colbert. The penalty was awarded when Italy’s Fabio Grosso rushed into the Australia penalty box and fell over the lunging defender Lucas Neill. Grosso later admitted he took a dive. Another reason we're thankful for VAR this year.


RUN OF PLAY | Great Reads and More

1. Senegal's coach knows exactly where the camera is at all times.
The coach of Senegal, Aliou Cissé, is garnering attention at the World Cup for leading his team to a strong start, being the only black coach at the tournament and becoming an internet meme. His goal celebration is the sideline's best of the World Cup so far.

Senegal, high on attacking talent and capable of lockdown defense, faces an experienced and determined Japan team today at 11 a.m ET in Ekaterinburg. Both teams have one win in Group H over more highly regarded opponents Poland and Colombia. 

Cissé's ambition is to make it at least to the quarterfinals, just like the 2002 Senegal team that he played for.

 “That was a beautiful generation, but so is this one," Cissé said. "But only by winning matches we can do better than 2002. We have won only one match already. The mentalities are different between these two groups — mostly in the head. We had more extrovert characters then; they are more introverted now.”

The coach wants to proudly represent Senegal and Africa, without making too much about being the only black coach at the World Cup. But it's difficult not to note this fact if only to point out the failure of soccer federations with evidently diverse teams from finding leaders that reflect the sport in their country. 

Read more about Cissé's ambitions for his team and how he views himself in The Times of London.

2. Swiss goal celebrations anger Serbs, who are also under investigation by FIFA
Two Swiss stars of Albanian-Kosovar ethnicity are under investigation by FIFA for celebrating their 2-1 win over Serbia on Friday with a political gesture. Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri celebrated their goals by putting their hands together in a shape that resembles the double-headed eagle featured on the Albanian flag. Shaqiri, who was born in Kosovo, played with a Swiss flag embroidered on his left cleat and the Kosovo flag on his right

Shaqiri talked about having to leave Kosovo during the war with Serbia in the late 1990s in a piece for The Players' Tribune.

Serbs, who consider the predominantly Albanian country of Kosovo part of their own territory, said the Swiss players' gesture was a provocative political statement.

Serbia's coach Mladen Krstaijc is also under investigation for comments he made after the match, and the Serbian soccer federation could face sanction for political and offensive displays by some of the team's fans in the stadium.

Read more about the controversy and its roots from James Montague, one of my favorite soccer writers.

3. The best and worst of Soccer Twitter.
The real-time commentary is insightful and funny. The fan videos are infectious. And the ability to see and comment on highlights (or blunders) moments after they flash across the TV screen is like having my own video assistant referee on my phone. Soccer Twitter has made the World Cup more fun for me. It was great to see Sergio Ramos celebrate Iranian fans and read the good news that Nigerian goalkeeper Carl Ikeme's cancer is in remission

But like the rest of Twitter, it's also a weird, racist and depressing place where people can show their worst selves. 

I'm heartened by brilliant threads like one I read yesterday: Jame Montague, who writes about how we live and how soccer unites us in some of the most interesting and often divided places in the world. His reporting makes the concept of otherness more remote.

Read more from the best of Soccer Twitter in a brilliant thread from Montague's timeline.

4. Short takes on hot players.
The fans at Go Fug Yourself provide some of the most surprisingly salient short takes on the full schedule of World cup games, in as few words as possible. Their real effort goes in selecting the best photos of the hottest players in the World Cup. They always lead with the shirtless shots, for obvious reasons, but include pics that capture players' intensity, focus and those tender moments on the field between opponents.

Read more from the websites World Cup "Thighlights."

5. How are you watching the World Cup?
In the United States, the options are Fox or Telemundo. From there, you can watch on broadcast and cable TV, or "over the top" on streaming services such as YouTubeTV, FuboTV, DirecTV Now, Hulu Live, Sling and others. (Here's a quick guide.) 

I've been watching Fox and Telemundo on some combination of cable when I'm in bars and restaurants, YouTubeTV at home and on the Fox Sports Go app on my phone when I'm in transit.

The accessibility of streaming is life-changing. In a truly meta moment, I was able to do a TV interview on a streaming news channel while also streaming the opening match of the tournament on my phone. 

I've been bantering with my friends about the coverage here in the U.S. The consensus is that Fox should be better, Telemundo is on point.

What and how are you watching wherever you are? And what do you love about the coverage and what do you wish was better? Tweet @jeffdmarcus or send me an email

Read more in The New York Times about how Telemundo is winning the World Cup

Catch up with The Banter.

We're nearly two-thirds through the first round of the World Cup, but we've been bantering for months about VAR, what's it like to have the World Cup in an authoritarian country and trying to find a team to support when your team isn't playing. All the emails, available here, have included half a dozen of the best stories about the World Cup the internet has to offer, and a look at the issues that are dominating the World Cup.

My favorite emails to write have been the ones about being a fan, and enjoying the game with others. Here are a few you should check out if you've not read them already. You may relate to some of the experiences, and learn something that will help you sound smart about the World Cup next time you're in the pub making new friends.

So, what should we talk about going forward?  Tell me what you think. As you've seen, I'm a bit obsessed with the minnows of the tournament, including Iran, Panama, Peru and Saudi Arabia, because I'm attracted to great stories more than I am great teams. And those teams won't be around for long. We'll have plenty of time to banter about Belgium, France and likely, Germany. Portugal and Spain, we'll see.

#WorldCupS: What we're drinking for JPN-SEN

By Tammy Kennon and Chip Sellarole

Japan vs. Senegal pits rice against palm sap, one painstaking to produce, the other there for the harvesting — if you’re in the right place.
Takasago brewery is in one of the coldest areas of Japan, well suited for making Divine Droplets sake in a process arduous enough to bend plausibility. It starts with polishing rice.

Kernels of rice staunchly guard their starch, so the first step involves milling it down into small, round bits, steaming, adding mold to break it down. All sake starts with this process, but aptly named Divine Droplets is Junmai Daiginjo, which means they mill the rice by half.

These half-kernels are brewed like beer and then, instead of the typical pasteurization and mechanical pressing of less divine sake, Divine Droplets uses the “shizuoka method.” Brewers put the rice concoction in cheesecloth-like bags and hang them in specially crafted ice igloos at around 20 degrees Farenheit and 90 percent humidity.

The Divine Droplets are collected as they oh-so-slowly succumb to gravity.

If your sake experience is limited to the warmed-over stuff at the corner sushi bar, the divinity here will realign your brain cells. Chill and drink it like a white wine. It’s pure and clean, with lovely vapors of melon, spices, vanilla and wet river stones or a slate sidewalk after it rains. Pace yourself. It’s 15.6 percent alcohol, packing the punch of a robust red wine. Kanpai!

On the opposite end of the production spectrum, Palm Wine makes itself. You can’t get it unless you’re watching the game in Senegal — seated near some palm trees.

You can't get it from a winery, distillery or brewery, because the palm tree does the production and fermentation.

In the morning, you climb to the top of a palm tree, chop off a flower and attach a container to the flower stump. Then go kick back in the hammock, while the palm tree does the work.

Wild Senegal yeast drops in and starts to ferment the sap, turning some of the sugar into alcohol. Fermentation happens fast, so don’t snooze too long. Caught at the right moment, palm wine is wonderfully sweet with a gentle 4 to 6 percent alcohol punch. Wait too long, you’ve got vinegar.

You can distill your palm wine into powerful moonshine. Palm wine for lunch and palm moonshine for the win. Wer gu yaram!

Rice or palm sap, we all win.

Join The Banter

The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It's nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It's about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.

— Danny Blanchflower
Tottenham captain and Northern Ireland international turned journalist

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