ANALYSIS: Self-defeating Hierro caution scuppers Spain

Alan O’Brien 

A world-class defender in a past life, Fernando Hierro’s safety-first approach to this one should come as no surprise. But the novice manager’s undue caution certainly inspired a shock, allowing resolute Russia to execute their plan-of-frustration to perfection. 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: 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