ANALYSIS: Maguire the diamond in relegation-scrap rough

Alan O’Brien 

The phrase ‘diamond in the rough’ was invented for Barry Maguire’s performance here. The Dutchman’s quality was enough to tip this ugly scrap, between two depleted strugglers, in Limerick FC’s favour. Continue reading

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ANALYSIS: Small margins favour craven Colombia over structured Senegal

Alan O’Brien 

No first-half touches in the Senegal penalty area. No shots of any description from open-play. No ideas, no invention, no intent. In a must-win game, Colombia were abject here across all metrics. And, yet, it is José Pekerman’s side who progress to the second round, while one of the most impressive African sides in recent memory goes home. Such is life; such is football. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Deeper Sergej deployment spells disaster for Serbia

Alan O’Brien 

When Serbia deemed Slavoljub Muslin’s services surplus to requirements at the end of 2017, most of world football sat perplexed. Sacked, at least in part, for not using the likes of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in qualification, the Belgrade-born coach was refused the chance to see his work through in Russia.

Serbia, who topped their group, looked instead to former international Mladen Krstajic, a managerial tyro who happily welcomed Sergej back into the fold. And look at how that turned out. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Banega brilliance precedes more Sampaoli insanity

Alan O’Brien 

Jorge Sampaoli had lost his nerve. Before this World Cup, Argentina’s manager spoke extensively of the need to share Lionel Messi’s burden. A novel 2-3-3-2 system was mooted, in which Ever Banega would dictate from deep, freeing Messi to finish moves; rather than simply commence them.

But, when push came to shove, Sampaoli opted instead for the huevos of Lucas Biglia and Enzo Perez. Iceland and Croatia, therefore, had but one job: stop Messi. Not so Nigeria. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Quaresma’s touchline presence fells Team Melli

Alan O’Brien 

Whither the old-fashioned winger, eh? Notable by his much-missed absence, in an era of resolute rearguard actions, the touchline-hugger might finally be undergoing something of a resurgence. Pep Guardiola has just won the English Premier League while employing two of them. And, here, a 34-year-old Ricardo Quaresma was singularly responsible for unlocking Iran’s famously stout defence. Continue reading

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