Category Archives: WORLD CUP 2018

USHERING IN THE 2018/19 PREMIER LEAGUE SEASON

By Lennox Kimtai

The 2018/19 Premier League season is here. How time flies! Just the other day we were enjoying the World Cup in Russia. Talking of the World Cup, I must say it was one of the best, if not THE best world cup tournament I have ever watched.

The drama started early in the group stages, where the 2014 winners Germany were eliminated. Coming into the tournament, Germany was one of the favorites to lift the trophy. They had just won the Confederations Cup with a squad that was mainly made up of under-23s. There was no doubt about their quality. The only explanation for their early exit is that they underrated their opponents.

Looking at the overall performance of teams, I must say I was impressed by the smaller teams such as Switzerland, Sweden, Russia and Serbia which had hitherto been expected to pose little threat. It is a clear indication that any well-organized team can outshine a traditional football heavyweight.

The Croatia Vs France final was an amazing one. After a 3-0 drabbing of Lionel Messi’s Argentina, we knew that the Croats were up to something great. Personally, I was rooting for Croatia in the final but they just couldn’t replicate their form against other teams in the final. Although they dominated the midfield and controlled the tempo of the game, they were too shy in front of goal.

Anyway, congrats to Les Bleus!

Now back to the Premier League. Clubs have been busy reinforcing their squads since the season ended in May. The summer transfer window has been a busy one, with almost every club making a major signing. Let’s have a look at some of the transfers.

Chelsea

Former Chelsea coach Antonia Conte was replaced by Maurizio Sarri. Antonio Conte apparently failed to meet the expectations of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who has a habit of changing managers almost every season. His lowest point was selling Diego Costa, perhaps the best striker in the premier league when he was at Chelsea.

Sarri has brought in a couple of players. The first is Kepa Arrizabalaga (goal keeper), Mateo Kovacic (defender), Jorginho (midfielder) and Robert Green (Goal keeper). Looks like decent signings. Having lost Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid, Kepa is a great replacement.

Manchester United

Manchester United didn’t really do much in the transfer Window. Only three players have signed for the Manchester club: Diogo Dalot (defender), Fred (midfielder), and Lee Grant (goalkeeper). Mourinho was unable to land most of his targets so it could be a difficult season for the Red Devils. I can picture Mourinho employing his infamous defense tactics when playing against tougher opponents.

Arsenal

The Gunners go into the new season without their former manager Arséne Wenger who has been with the North London outfit for 22 years. It looks like we are going to see a new arsenal under Unai Emery. The former PSG head brought in a number of players: Stephan Lichtsteiner (defender), Bernd Leno (keeper), Lucas Torreira (midfielder), Sokratis Papastathopolous (defender), and Matteo Guendouzi (midfielder).

It will be exciting to see what type of squad Unai Emery will develop, having had tremendous success with PSG and Sevilla. Arsenal looks ready to make a return to Champions League football.

Liverpool

If you look at the current Liverpool, you can’t help but admire Klopp’s genius. He has brought in Naby Keita (midfielder), Allison (keeper), Xherdan Xhaqiri (midfielder) and Fabinho (defender/midfielder).

Having reached the Champions League final last season, it looks like Klopp is hungry for more. With the dangerous trio of Firmino, Mane, and Salah, it looks like Liverpool will contend for every trophy this season.

Manchester City

The Premier League Champions made a few additions to their excellent squad: Philippe Sandler (defender), Riyad Mahrez (midfielder), Daniel Arzani (midfielder). With so many options for nearly every position, Pep Guardiola will easily terrorize opponents with his B team. It looks like the former Barcelona manager might retain the Premier League trophy.

Everton

Everton might look like the underdogs in this list but going by their activities in the transfer window, we can conclude that they are serious about winning the premier league. On deadline day, the Merseyside club completed a deal for Yeri Mina (permanent deal) and Andre Gomes (loan) from Barcelona. The club also signed Brazilian midfielder Bernard. With great players like Tosun and Sigurdsson already in the team, the new additions will enable Everton to fight for a top-four spot.

Tottenham has made history as the only club not to have made a signing in the summer transfer window. This means that Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino will open the club’s new stadium with the same squad that finished third in the 2017/18 season. Despite the fact that they have a strong squad, the absence of a new signing may come to haunt them.

As the new season begins, I hope the league remains competitive to the end. I wouldn’t want Man City to retain the title.

WRITER BIO: Lennox Kimtai is a content writer who is passionate about football. Apart from football, he writes on a wide range of topics such as self-improvement and productivity. Check out his blog here and here.

 

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FOR THE AFRICANS, IT WAS A WASTE OF HEIGHT!!!!

Here is a fun fact for all of you football lovers. The shortest squad in the entire World cup this year was Saudi Arabia. The Saudis had an average team height of approximately 176.2 centimeters. Compare that to the tallest team in the WC, the Serbians, who had an average height of 185.6 centimeters.

All the African teams were snuggly fit within this range with a country like Senegal leading the African pack in terms of average team height.

The Senegalese World Cup squad had an average height of approximately 183.7 centimeters.

The Tunisians had an average height of 184 centimeters.

The Morocco squad had an average height of 182.4 centimeters.

The Nigerians’ average height was 181.2 centimeters.

The Egyptian’s average height was 180.1 centimeters.

With all of this respectable height, why were the Africans hell-bent on conceding goals from set-pieces?

I know, I know, being tall does not necessarily make one a good defender and defending set pieces is much more complex than just jumping and using your body parts to stop the ball from going into the net (or is it?).

However, height does come in handy when you are trying to ward off those pesky aerial balls from reaching their mark within your penalty area. Height gives your team aerial dominance, so to speak.

Having been the shortest squad, Saudi Arabia was at an obvious disadvantage when it came to defending aerial balls from corners and free kicks. For me, it did not come as a surprise when they conceded two goals from set-piece situations (we are only referring to corners and free kicks here). There was the Gazinsky’s goal in their first match against Russia, and then Suarez goal in their 1-0 loss to Uruguay.

However, the Africans fared much better in terms of height and they should have been able to use this to their advantage when it came to defending aerial balls from free kicks and corners. Each team had a good number of relatively tall players, an asset that would have surely helped some of them avoid elimination at the early stages of the competition. Things did not go exactly according to plan.

Take Egypt for instance. They lost their match against Uruguay in the dying minutes of the game because none of the Egyptians could outjump Gimenez. They were so close to earning a point from the match by the way with only a couple of minutes to stoppage time.

In that Morocco vs Iran match,  a defensive blunder against a free-kick during injury time resulted in the Iranians securing all three points. Morocco was also so close to bagging a point in that game against a spiritless Iranian side. I’m sure Bouhaddouz is still having nightmares about that own goal. (Okay, this is more of a defensive miscalculation rather than a height thing, but it still goes to show that the African teams were defending these set-pieces very poorly). Five days later, they lost to Portugal, despite playing very well, because, in the fourth minute of the game, they let in a Ronaldo header from a corner kick.

Nigeria lost to Croatia also because of failing to defend set-pieces correctly. Both goals emanated from set-piece situations, with the first set-piece action resulting in an own goal. Next, the Nigerians were unable to deal with a Croatian corner definitively, resulting in some man-handling, and ultimately a penalty awarded against them.

The same set-piece nightmare visited Tunisia in their match against England. Both English goals scored in that match originated from corner kicks. This was a bad start to Tunisia’s World Cup campaign, and it only got worse from there.

The most heart-wrenching moment for African football came when Yerry Mina rose highest to meet a corner kick and head it into the back of the Senegal net. Granted, Mina is 195 cm tall, more than 10 centimeters taller than the average Senegalese player in that squad, but I feel like the Senegalese could have shown a bit more initiative by marking him comprehensively.

How many times will the African dream be quashed due to carelessly giving away set-piece opportunities? Nimechoka!!!

That Mina goal drew the curtain on Africa’s participation in this edition of the World Cup. I think this has been the continent’s worst performance in the global tournament in recent years. And I think it is quite clear where the greatest weakness in African football teams lies.

Truth be told, almost every team in this WC has conceded a goal from set-piece action, and there have been more goals from these dead ball situations in this edition of the World Cup than in any previous editions. So maybe, it’s not so much an African-specific phenomenon, but that should not be an excuse for our poor performance.

Hopefully, by 2022, all of the African teams that qualify for the WC would have mastered the art of defending set pieces by maximizing on their height advantage and scoring more goals from both open plays and set-pieces. I hope we all learn from the mistakes we made in this edition, otherwise, none of us might win this cup anytime soon.

Anyway….

May Croatia win the World Cup!!

Learning To Love and Appreciate Harambee Stars and African Football as A Whole

We are inching closer to the semi-final stages of the 2018 World Cup, and the competition is getting juicier. This is definitely one for the memory books considering how many great teams have fallen along the way (wink wink Portugal; wink wink Argentina; sad wink wink Germany).

Count yourself lucky if your favorite team has at least made it into the quarters of the World Cup. Mine didn’t; they did not even make it past the group stages. For a minute, okay, let’s be honest, for some time now, I have been suffering from an internal paralysis. Don’t be alarmed! My organs are not failing. But, I feel a deep sense of loss, a deep sense of mourning, and an even deeper sense of stunned motionlessness. ‘Where did they go wrong?’ is a question that keeps ringing in my head. It actually feels like a small part of my heart is broken. These changes in the world order are too monumental, you cannot ignore them.

That is how much emotion I had invested in the German national team going all the way to the finals of this tournament. Their football, their passion, their lust for glory has beguiled me for years, and it was like a kick in the stomach when they could not meet my expectations this time around. I probably should have seen the signs when they lost to Brazil in that international friendly match three months ago. I ignored those warnings!!

I craved and yearned to see them play at their best. My body and mind needed that fix I get whenever they play. I was looking forward to that excitement, to the numerous goals, to the un-ending action. But it all came to a sudden stop, and now my drug of choice isn’t flowing anymore.

For some time after they were knocked out, by South Korea no less (you can check out my short commentary on how devastating this loss was here), the World Cup for me felt empty. At least until I caught the Belgian bug.

I’m better now, thanks for asking. I am beginning to enjoy the WC  a little bit more, so that’s a ray of sunshine.

I am still very disappointed though, but my disappointment is not only directed towards Die Nationalmannschaft. They sucked, and that is on them, but I also feel a bit disappointed in myself.

Why?

I just came to the sad realization that I am putting too much effort into deifying another country’s football team whereas I can barely remember eight names from the Harambee Stars’ starting line up. That is so sad!

Sure, the love of football should transcend all borders, but how comes I do not feel the same commitment, and loyalty to our national team?

Why don’t I get thoroughly depressed when they lose? Why do I dismiss them so easily, and only take the time to watch just a few of their matches annually?

Why is it that I do not feel connected to Harambee Stars as I do another country’s national football team?

Fifa currently ranks our national football team at position 112, which is a bit embarrassing I have to say. I also think we have the worst football management in the history of football management. There are so many reasons to not pay attention to Kenyan football, to Kenyan sports for that matter.

But, I feel like a traitor. Whether they suck or not, there are tens of men and women all over this country who are playing football at a professional or semi-professional capacity for many months every year. We see the sacrifice our brothers and sisters are putting into playing in this toxic, depressing environment that is Kenyan football, and they do not stop. That’s their love for the game. There’s a resilience about being a Kenyan football player; about being a Kenyan sportsperson that you just cannot find anywhere else.

We, scratch that, I need to honor this sacrifice (you have to do it as an individual before we can achieve the desired collective action).

Our standards, techniques, coaching, or management may not be anywhere close to professional standards, but the sacrifice these players are making has to count for something.

And, I am all about embracing everything that is Kenyan, including that which is inherently wrong with us, football included.

Maybe if we paid more attention to it, like serious attention to it, and own this process of understanding the intricacies (problems and all) of Kenyan football, we can start revitalizing it; correcting the mistakes one by one.

Maybe that’s how I (and hopefully you) will learn to feel more connected to it.

It’s ours; love it or hate it, it’s always going to be ours, and we might as well find the gems hidden in the cow dung that is our sports fraternity.

We have a national football team. It is not the best but it is ours. We have to give it a little more love.

Enjoy the rest of the WC!

THE CL FINAL, PARENTS, AND ABORTION

To be honest, that Champions League Final was not as epic as I had anticipated it to be. Maybe because the team I was supporting lost, or maybe because they lost undeservedly. There was something really off about that game especially when Salah had to leave the game so unexpectedly.

It broke my heart. Like, literally, I felt a sharp pang inside me when he went down from that Ramos tackle. And a wave of anger, confusion, disbelief, and bewilderment washed over me as I watched him try to soldier on, and eventually leave the pitch.

There is a dark, lonely hell waiting for Ramos, I hope he knows it. (Please sign this petition in order to have him punished for his intentional assault on Salah; be a trooper and let’s change the world together).

And then there was Karius. His career is obviously over, and I hope he knows that. I am not feeling empathetic towards this man and his situation right now. I doubt I ever will. And that says a lot considering I feel sorry for almost everyone and everything, regardless of what they have done. Well, except bad popes, bad US presidents, all Kenyan presidents, and the rapist that lives in the hood I grew up in (why is this man still alive?).

Anyway, back to Karius. I am convinced he half-arsed that game; all I want to know is why. Just why. He is toooooooo fine to be making such egregious mistakes at such a stage. There has to be a reason behind his poor performance. There just has to be!

I hear he could be going to Rimini FC; let’s see how that works out.

So, my heart bled that night, that game cut me really deep. But, I noticed something else, something outside the game. I really really really really enjoy my parents’ company. I thought football was just my thing because I am the only one in this family who consistently takes the time to watch these matches. It’s a big deal because I’m the only girl…in a family of five.

But, last Saturday night, I realized that football could be a family thing. Okay, not my brothers, I feel like they feel that they have better things to do. Things I’d rather die than do. But, it could be a thing for me and my 70-year-old parents to do together; our thing on top of the other many things that we do together like going to church together, and watching and arguing about Kikuyu soap operas on Inooro.

Which reminds me; we have been having a recurring conversation over the last few Saturdays that I have visited them. It revolves around my love life; specifically my lack of one. They are a tad concerned that I do not seem to be in a hurry to find someone, scratch that, get knocked up. Yes, my parents want me to get knocked up, and they do not care whether there will be a man or not in the picture. I can even quote them word for word, but I have never really known how to write in Kikuyu, so I will spare you. My dad is particularly unbemused by the fact that I may not want to have children.

That man wants a grandbaby, and he wants one now! Too bad for him because he knows my ovaries are waiting for Miguna Miguna to become president.

So, yes, football. We had so much fun that night. I made my dad laugh so hard with one of my reactions, he nearly choked. And they love how dramatic I get in life in general, but more specifically, when I’m watching football. And my mum, the antagonist that she always is, was on Real Madrid’s side. You have not had your worst football experience as a fan until you have to live through your own mother berating you and your team, and actually celebrating as you mourn. Her taunts were like swallowing hot glass; she’s really good at it (the taunting, not the swallowing hot glass part). IT WAS BEAUTIFUL!!

It felt much more fulfilling than if I was at some club somewhere, or at my place, alone. I cannot wait to watch many more games with them during the World Cup. This is going to be epic.

Oh yeah, I also found out they are pro-abortionists later on that night. I was shocked, especially hearing it from my dad. They believe women do not need to go through unwanted pregnancies. They think the reason why there are so many kids on the street, and so many kids into drug abuse is because their mothers never wanted them from the get-go. Why bring a child into this world when you know you’re never going to love them the way they deserve?

I cannot wait to uncover more layers of my parents’ inner thoughts over a series of football matches.

Happy days, people! Happy days.

IS 1-0 REALLY VENGEANCE?

I have seen numerous headlines this morning regarding yesterday’s international friendly match between Germany and Brazil and they all seem to suggest that the Selecao has reclaimed their honor by beating Germany 1-0 in the latter’s home turf. The overwhelming sentiment is that the Brazilians have managed to avenge their World Cup defeat to Germany nearly four years ago. People have already seen Brazil win this year’s cup because of that SOLITARY Jesus’ goal! They have already predicted how Germany will flop this year, the same way that Brazil sunk in the last World Cup. NKT!!!!!

First of all, hogwash! My understanding of the term ‘vengeance’ does not seem to fit this narrative being spread around. Yesterday, Brazil won 1-0 in Berlin in an international friendly. Four years ago, Germany thrashed Brazil SEVEN goals to ONE on the Selecao’s home soil in the World Cup Semi-Finals! Brazil has not managed to avenge their most humiliating game in world history. That one goal defeat cannot even be considered a sting to Germany’s brilliant World Cup record. They have only managed to anger the bull as far as I’m concerned.

As you might have noticed by now, I am an ardent Die Nationalmannschaft supporter, and I have been for several years. To me, the German national team is like a well-oiled fighting machine that destroys everything in its path (clearly, I’m into violence; blame it on my obsession with video games). I love their tenacity, their strength, and their ability to wear their opponents down minute by minute. And, they do it so mechanically, so methodically, that you often find yourself pitying their opponents. It’s usually a ‘bringing the sheep to the slaughter’ kind of scenario everytime a team is set to face the Germans

Hence, my complete astonishment at these frenzied reports that have surfaced regarding my favorite national team’s performance last night. Let me let you in on a little secret, people, that game was purely experimental! Did you see Muller play? Did you see Ozil on that pitch last night or Can? No! Because this was not a must-win game, and what better opportunity to try out your other guns than a friendly against the world’s number two. Several major changes were made to the usual German line-up, and there were many young players on that pitch because, as Low put it ‘ ..that is why you have such games, to try things out.’ And try things out they did!

Granted, their performance was not as stellar as it usually is, and Brazil capitalized on the clear lack of cohesion in the German side by absolutely covering themselves with that 6-3-1 formation. But, we saw a lot of young, untapped talent as well as some flashes of glory from the German side that I hope we’ll get to see more of in the World Cup. Wagner, as usual, was impressive, although he missed the mark a couple of times. Boateng brought nearly his all to that match, and I liked his energy and persistence throughout the game, all hallmarks of a great captain (let us just be honest, this boy can do no wrong in my eyes, he is as perfect as they come! Seeing him play always excites my little heart! I almost cried when he went down after Jesus stepped on his back quad, it was really devastating to see him in pain!). Moving on swiftly…

Least impressive for me was Mario Gomez, and so it was a sigh of relief when he went out for Wagner. Needless to say, we are in this mess because of Trapp’s error, but there is no point kicking a man when he is down is there?

Brazil had everything at stake going into this game, and they played their hearts out to secure that lead. Dani Alves, Marcello, Willian and Jesus (goal-scorer) played really good football yesterday, and they had me gasping for air at certain moments. (Especially Willian, I cannot get enough of this boy! He puts everything he has in every match he plays, I don’t know how he does it). I just hope they have something left for the actual World Cup matches. The only let-down for me from the Brazilian side was Coutinho. His head was never in that game and it was clear to see. He better pull his socks up or he’s going to end up costing his side big time on the big stage.

Despite the win, and Brazil managing to stop Germany’s 22-game unbeaten run, Brazil is far from ever redeeming themselves or avenging their catastrophic World Cup semi-final loss to Germany four Decembers ago.

Anyway, I hope both teams are prepared for Spain. After the thrashing the Spaniards gave Argentina yesterday, you best believe that Spain is a formidable opponent in this year’s World Cup!