ANALYSIS: Panama pasting papers over the cracks in Southgate’s system

Alan O’Brien 

Even the most facile of victories can harbour harbingers of future failure. So it proved for England, who coughed up four quality chances to tactically inept Panama. Continue reading


ANALYSIS: Werner wide impact shows the folly of Sané snub

Alan O’Brien 

On this evidence, Germany’s problems are far from resolved. A win, of course, is a win. But Sweden, like Mexico before them, should have been out of sight before the Nationalmannschaft‘s second-half resurgence.

The “quicker defensive transitions” Joachim Low called for on Friday were not evident. Nor, for the most part, was the art of “getting attackers in behind Sweden’s defence.” For there was no space behind Sweden’s massed ranks. Nor, for that matter, was there any space between them: Low’s stubbornly narrow shape saw to that. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: New-look Super Eagles put Argentina on counterattacking notice

Alan O’Brien 

Argentina, beware. Having abandoned the 4-2-3-1 that Croatia conquered on Saturday, Gernot Rohr’s new-look Nigeria are now primed to counterattack. Channel-space the Albiceleste generously gifted to the Croats simply will not wash against this Super Eagles selection. Ahmed Musa, who hit the Argentinians on the double four years ago, must be licking his lips. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Shapeless Argentina shame Sampaoli

Alan O’Brien 

Few foresaw such a tragic twist to the Jorge Sampaoli story; and, yet, here we are. An unqualified managerial success beyond his home country of Argentina, Sampaoli’s hand on the tiller seemed certain to return the Albiceleste to glory.

But now Argentina are facing elimination from this World Cup at the first hurdle. And Sampaoli, just one year after securing his dream job, is staring failure in the face for the first time. He only has himself to blame. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Renard left to rue lack of fox in the box

Alan O’Brien 

Hervé Renard’s Morocco look fated to become the best side to ever exit a World Cup on zero points. Eye-catching in the middle-third, constructing fluent passing maneuvers galore, the Atlas Lions have ultimately paid dearly for the lack of a half-decent number-nine.  Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Cuper’s Egypt pay for Salah indulgence

Alan O’Brien 

Reputations are made to be broken. Hector Cuper, the dour Argentinian who led Egypt to their first finals in 28 years, is seen by all and sundry as a negative manager. The people of host nation Russia, this tournament’s lowest-ranked side, predicted certain embarrassment — and early elimination — on home soil.

And, yet, as of Tuesday night, Russia are sitting pretty atop Group A on six points; poised to reach their first knockout phase since the collapse of the USSR. And Cuper, after indulging Mohamed Salah in a shockingly open system, is going home. Football: bloody hell. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Southgate resolves England’s set-piece woes

Alan O’Brien 

Perhaps the hand-wringing over the lack of adventure shown by North African sides will cease now. Nabil Maaloul’s Tunisia had a go here. And quite how they survived an absolute caning is anyone’s guess. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Super Eagles fail to prey upon cumbersome Croats

Alan O’Brien 

Zlatko Dalic got away with one here. With both Argentina and Iceland looming, the Croatian coach went all out to secure a priceless win. But, if anything, his 4-2-4 made achieving that goal more difficult than it needed to be. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Burke brilliance covers a multitude of sins again

Alan O’Brien 

With dreams of Benidorm dancing in players’ heads, this was the ultimate pre-holiday snoozefest. A somnolent Shamrock Rovers looked every inch the side that exacted only one win on the road this year. But, ultimately, Limerick were sleepier, and the Hoops had the quality to take advantage. Continue reading