• What Makes The Perfect Last-Minute Goal?

    If the recent international break was good for anything, it was last-minute goals. Mohamed Salah's nerveless stoppage-time penalty against Congo guaranteed Egypt a place at next summer's World Cup and, on the same day, Kendall Waston's late header earned Costa Rica the draw with Honduras which stamped his country's passport for Russia. On Tuesday night, Roman Torres' 88th minute goal would also secure Panama a place in the main draw. For all the native complaints about how dull and lifeless England's campaign has been, the past fortnight has actually been rich with sporting drama. ...

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  • Why Didn’t Europe’s Top Goalscorers Win Their Respective Leagues

    Lionel Messi. Harry Kane. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Edin Džeko. Edinson Cavani. Bas Dost. They all have two things in common. First, they were the top scorers in their respective leagues in 2016/17. Second, none of them won their league title. ...

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  • Can Jorge Sampaoli Be The Coach To Mould Argentina’s Stars Into A Team?

    It’s felt inevitable for months, but Jorge Sampaoli was finally sworn in as Argentina’s new national coach this week. No sooner had the job become available in early April, Sampaoli was noncommittal when quizzed on his future at Sevilla. The Argentine Football Association actually attempted to prize him away from the La Liga club only weeks into his contract when Tata Martino resigned after last summer’s Copa America, so their courtship has finally attracted their man. Sampaoli’s time in southern Spain was filled with dizzy highs and crushing lows. Sevilla ended Real Madrid’s record 40 match unbeaten run and threatened a title challenge for much of early 2017, playing a vibrant and breathless brand of football. They ran out of gas abruptly though, crashing out of the Champions League against Leicester City in unedifying fashion and dropping to fourth in the league table. ...

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  • The Allure Of Leo Messi’s Genius

    I didn’t want to write about Leo Messi this week - I had too much else on. I didn’t even want to watch him. But he made me, and here I am. I have just had as busy a few days as I can remember, and as a result of that I had decided not to watch El Clasico, but instead to wander down to my favourite local restaurant to eat a plate of schnitzel, that traditional German meal of meat with breadcrumbs that I found instantly addictive upon moving here. I left the house very late, since I had been resting most of the day, and so it was shortly after 9pm when I approached the area where I normally go out, a cluster of streets with endlessly busy nightspots. And that’s when I saw Messi. ...

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  • Dani Alves: The Full-Back We’d Never Known Before

    If I had the chance to befriend any professional footballer, then it would be Dani Alves. Hands down. That might sound like an odd desire to have, or even a weird choice to make, but there it is. I find Alves, with the exception of Roy Keane, to be the most compelling personality in the sport, and unlike Keane I do not think that his scowl would decapitate me twenty yards before I reached him. In the modern era Alves and his fellow Brazilian Cafu made it cool to be a right-back, which until they came along was about as sexy as playing the accordion. And that’s no disrespect to the accordion - okay, maybe it is - but right-backs are hardly the electric guitarists of their teams. They’re steady and dependable, rarely welcomed to the stage - before Alves and Cafu, they were pretty much roadies. ...

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  • The Night Andres Iniesta Finally Made Sense

    Ah, Andres Iniesta. I know that he is one of the world’s best ever players - of course, we all do - but, until recently, I never quite knew how he did it. Leo Messi’s majesty is apparent in everything he does - from the defenders strewn in his wake like confetti, to the startling swerve he applies to his free-kicks. But Iniesta’s greatness has always seemed more prosaic. Most statisticians find it hard to quantify him, given that he doesn’t score too many goals or provide too many assists. He dribbles without flourish; his passing is clean and elegant as a minimalist painting. ...

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  • Morning Editorial: Argentina Suffer At Altitude Again

    Argentina, deprived of their talismanic captain Lionel Messi after he received a four-match ban hours before kick-off, lost 2-0 in Bolivia to really put their qualification chances for the World Cup in Russia in doubt. Messi was banned for insulting an assistant referee in Argentina’s qualifier with Chile last week, in which he scored the winner from 12 yards. The Barcelona forward was also fined 10,000 Swiss francs after approaching the official at the end of the game in Buenos Aires. Argentina were already without suspended regulars Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia and Gonzalo Higuaín before Messi’s suspension and they defended poorly throughout the game. ...

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  • Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero Is A Victim Of His Own Ability

    At the weekend, Sergio Aguero came roaring back to life. At The Hawthorns, he ended a run of six games without a goal with a first-half double, knifing an opener through Ben Foster, then fizzing a second into his top-corner. One, two...game over. From a technical perspective, that second was flawless. There are few players who can maintain such a low centre of gravity, who can manufacture scoring angles by themselves, and who can finish with such power and accuracy while also requiring minimal back-lift. ...

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