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

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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: Pharaohs undone by a cross again

Alan O’Brien 

Egypt, Africa’s perennial underachievers, must keep waiting for that elusive first World Cup win. Manager Hector Cuper, renowned for his defensive outlook, devised an almost foolproof plan to keep Uruguay out here. But a toothless attack, and a longstanding vulnerability to crosses, ultimately proved the Pharaohs’ undoing. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Russian press hoists Pizzi by his own petard

Alan O’Brien 

“I like to press high up the pitch, and put the opponents under pressure,” said Juan Antonio Pizzi, espousing his footballing philosophy in a recent chinwag with Arab News. Yet, in an ironic twist, the Argentinian was beaten at his own game here, by a rampant host nation determined to defy all expectations. Continue reading

Analysis: Unapologetic O’Neill finally brought to reckoning

Alan O’Brien 

Exactly three years ago to the day, the Republic of Ireland fell to a Scottish short-corner. An uphill struggle to qualify for Euro 2016 ensued, throughout which Martin O’Neill was blessed with an extraordinary glut of good fortune. This was his reckoning. Continue reading

Opinion: Martin’s Mou-lite approach is neither winning nor entertaining

Alan O’Brien 

“Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake.” So states point five of José Mourinho’s big-game plan, as outlined in Diego Torres’s controversial 2014 biography of the Portuguese manager. Continue reading

Analysis: Away goal evades anti-football Ireland

Alan O’Brien 

“We have a plan, naturally,” offered Martin O’Neill, during his customary pre-match chinwag with RTÉ’s Tony O’Donoghue. Designed, perhaps, as an offhand response to the ever-expanding list of former associates stating the opposite, it was a revealing remark.  Continue reading