Friday, July 6, 2018


Any of the four teams playing in the quarterfinals on Match Day 20 could win the World Cup. One of them likely will. 

  • World Cup European vacation
  • France, however it can; Uruguay, whatever it takes
  • Belgium's offense vs. Brazil's defense/offense
  • #WorldCupS: Old World vs. New
Lisbon's Praça do Comércio before the Portugal-Uruguay match last weekend.

World Cup promiscuity

Other than Russia, the best place to experience the World Cup is in the country of the eventual champion.

Imagine the parties in Rio de Janeiro, the celebrations along the Champs-Élysées or the polite handshakes and earnest exchanges of mutual congratulations in Brussels if the Red Devils win.

It's winter in Uruguay, where parka- and hoodie-clad soccer fans  were singing and dancing in the streets of Montevideo after their team beat Portugal. The enthusiasm of a World Cup win is undeniable.

It's a buzzkill if you're on vacation in a country that loses.

My friends Matt Genasci and Deborah Te Young were excited to watch Portugal with thousands of fans in Lisbon's Praça do Comércio. They showed up early, were issued plastic flags to wave and drank one-euro beers served by a guy walking around with a keg strapped to his back. It was Portuguese pop songs pre-game and smoke bombs during the anthem. 

It grew tense by halftime, and Matt and Deb retired to a nearby bar for the second half. After the match, the gloom set in.

Lots of you are traveling this summer in countries competing in the World Cup, and I've enjoyed your stories and photos.

Bryan Erwin and his family got to experience the roller coaster of World Cup emotions at a friend's family barbecue in Limal, Belgium, about 20 miles southeast of Brussels.

"I think my girls are learning French curse words," Bryan texted me after Japan took a 2-0 lead in the second half. His daughters, Alison, 8, and Heidi, 6, are Mets fans, so I'm sure they understood perfectly the sentiments if not the actual words.  

After the game, the Erwins didn't get to experience victory as much as relief. "Biggest Belgian comeback since the Siege of Bastogne," Bryan joked. His host, Didier, said, "It wasn't a big win, but a nice win."

My buddy Danny Hassan is in France, again, 20 years after he experienced Les Bleus' World Cup triumph, which coincided with the U.S. team's ignominious defeat. He and his family got to celebrate the French team's win over Argentina in Antibes, in the south of France.

"My 14 year-old son asked me if we could go to a pub to watch the match with the locals," Danny wrote in his email. "I told him, 'Hell yeah! But how the hell do you know about pubs!?'" 

There was a seaside cool to it all, Danny said. People were excited, but it was the beach, not Marseilles, or Paris. "There’s no such thing as a French hooligan in Antibes," he said. 

Five hours after France's victory over Argentina, Danny was still celebrating — as was all of Antibes.

If France beats Uruguay today, I wonder if the celebration will be muted. More will be on the line, and anxiety starts to creep in for supporters of teams that have something to lose. 

Danny and Bryan, who is now in France, may yet get to experience a World Cup victory where it would be most appreciated. I'm jealous, as I don't know when I'll be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. It's even more special that they can share the excitement with their kids.

I've enjoyed this World Cup more because my soon-to-be 8-year-old son, Miles, is into it too. Last night, as he was going through new Panini stickers his mom bought us, I mean him, we discussed Brazil's chances against Belgium. 

I don't think Belgium registers for him. None of the kids at school have Eden Hazard or Romelu Lukaku shirts, but they all know who Neymar is. That could change quickly today.

Many American soccer fans I spoke to were worried this World Cup would be less fun without the U.S. That hasn't been my experience. 

It was a blast to root for Mexico, trying to jump to the next level, much as the Americans have wanted to do. I enjoy watching France's young breakout start Kylian Mbappé do what I hoped Christian Pulisic would. I even liked seeing England do something it has never done before in a World Cup — win a penalty shootout.

It's sort of liberating when your team isn't involved, and you can borrow a team through travel or interest or affinity.

I might feel a little Brazilian or a wee bit Belgian later today. If Uruguay is doing well, I'll order a Pilsen from the bar (see more #WorldCupS drinks recommendations below) or a glass of Ruinart Champagne if France marches on. Whoever wins, cheers!

Be smart: Match Day 20 in quotes

URU vs. FRANCE, Nizhny Novgorod; 10 a.m. ET


I'm always happy to see how, for instance, Cavani trained today with his teammates and to see how they joked around is very positive. That's what happens when you have a family or group of friends together. If they're confident and happy then it's more likely they will make the right decision on the pitch. We have a plan like any team and you have to implement that on the pitch. It's a strength that we are a close team and that's not something the opposition can take from us.

— Uruguay Coach Oscar Tabarez



They could well sit back, give us very little space and try to hit us on the counter with fast attacks and top-quality forwards. We’ll have to try to bring them out and get them to leave some space in the back. We have players who can be dangerous even when there isn’t much space. So that’s how we can make it difficult for them.

— France midfielder Blaise Matuidi


BRA vs. BEL, Kazan; 2 p.m. ET


When it’s time to play we play, and when it’s time to defend we defend; that’s the balance in our game. But when the team goes on the attack, it does so in a way that it can’t be caught off guard defensively. That’s what we call it ‘attacking while defending.’ And that way, by defending, we’re already in a position to win the ball back if we lose it.

— Brazil assistant coach Cleber Xavier  


There's no shame in not beating very good teams. But we would like to play in our way, which has been our strength for a long time. If we talk about their individual qualities and the fact they are well organized, there's no point in comparing ourselves one-on-one. In that case, Brazil are going to win, we have no chance. But I can tell you that we're going to look them in the eyes. I am emphasizing the collective spirit as I know how much of a deciding factor that will be on the match. They will have chances. I just want us to have as many and we'll see who wins.

— Belgium defender Vincent Kompany  

(In case you missed it, check out my last email for more ways to be smart about the quarterfinals.)

RUN OF PLAY | Great reads and more

The art of the dive
Neymar's simulation is annoying acting coaches who say he's selling it too much to be believable. Other players have impressed some thespians for what the pros call their commitment to their choices. "When your choice as a player is, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever walk again,’ you can’t go halfway,” one TV acting coach told The New York Times.

Read more reviews of players' acting.

Good, bad and ugly penalty kicks
Matt Pyzdrowski, an American goalkeeper for the Swedish club Varbergs BoIS FC, writes about the art and science of stopping penalty kicks. "It is often thought that penalties are a crapshoot, especially for the goalkeeper, but that couldn’t be further from the truth," Pyzdrowski writes. 

Read more from The Athletic if you have a subscription.

'He doesn’t know how to play badly'
One of soccer's greatest philosophers, Argentine former striker Jorge Valdano, offers a wonderful assessment of Kylian Mbappé and the timing of his breakout performance. "The leap in quality and prestige that Mbappé made against Argentina takes him closer to football’s summit," Valdano writes. "What remains to be seen is how well, how naturally, he can live up there."

Read more in The Guardian.

Meet Benjamin Pavard, a k a ‘Jeff Tuche’
Nobody expected France’s backup right back to be a World Cup hero and score the goal of the tournament, least of all Pavard. When the 22 year-old French defender saw the ball come bounding toward him outside the Argentina penalty box in the teams’ round of 16 match, he pounced. “I did not ask myself a bunch of questions,” he said. “And it worked.”

Read more about Pavard’s rise in The New York Times

Belgium: 'We care about each other'
It helped that Belgium's current generation of soccer stars grew up during a time when Belgian soccer was awful, according to Simon Kuper. The brightest among them moved abroad at an early age, developed as players and learned to adapt. That adaptability has enabled them to achieve success despite setbacks, Kuper writes in the Financial Times.

Read more in the FT about Belgium's strengths.

#WorldCupS: Old World vs. New World
By Tammy Kennon and Chip Sellarole

The world’s most sophisticated drinking game features two Old World vs. New World quarterfinals today. 


For France, we’re drinking Ruinart Blanc de Blanc, from the oldest Champagne house in France, founded in 1729. Champagne rules are draconian, and if the winemaker doesn’t follow them, she doesn’t get the name on her bottle. But when you see it on that label, it means "this is good shit," loosely translated. (Also pricey at around $80 a bottle). Santé!

For Uruguay, we’ll be drinking Pilsen Uruguay, started by a German in 1866 and sold to an Austrian in 1877; over the years it has undergone economic turmoil, mergers and restructuring. Today, known as Pilsen Uruguay, it is the country’s most popular beer and the most economical. One look at their Twitter feed, and we’re all rooting for Pilsen. They celebrate nervesgoals and wins with equal enthusiasm. Salud!


For Belgium, we’re drinking Chimay Blue, a Belgian beer made by Trappist monks since the Middles Ages. We don’t think of it as beer, but rather as art in a special glass. If Belgium advances to the semis, we’re all buying one of their elegant chalices. Prost!

And, ah, Brazil and the lively Novo Fogo Cachaça. We told you about this rum-like cane spirit here, along with the recipe for a Caipirinha. Now, we’re trying the passion fruit cocktail, Frostbite. Watch the videoTchim-tchim!

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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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