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Posted By Topic: SBOTOP: World Cup News       - Views: 149
SBOTOP
22-Dec 2022 Thursday 2:17 PM (41 days ago)
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World Cup 2022 Mbappe is Qatar’s Greatest – but Messi Has Biggest Prize of All!

After back-to-back group-stage exits in 2014 and 2018, Korea Republic finally made it back to the knockout round in World Cup 2022.

And despite their drubbing at the hands of Brazil in the round of 16, it proved to be quite a successful campaign for the Taeguk Warriors, who had low expectations heading into Qatar.

So how exactly did Korea Republic make it out of the World Cup group stage for the first time in 12 years?

Read on below as SBOTOP breaks down the three key factors to the Taeguk Warriors’ surprisingly successful World Cup 2022 campaign in Qatar.

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A bit of good fortune

In all honesty, the Koreans benefited from a bit of good fortune in the group stage after making an inauspicious start to World Cup 2022. They looked anaemic in attack in their opening game against Uruguay as they had no shots on target.

Son Heung-min, whose fitness was in some doubt after suffering a facial fracture, looked far from his best, while starting centre-forward Hwang Ui-jo had a disappointing display leading the line.

But the Koreans were somewhat fortunate that Uruguay also didn’t create all that much in attack, and when they did, they hit the woodwork twice.

Korea Republic then found themselves without a point from their first two games after losing 3-2 to Ghana. To their credit, they fought back from two goals down to equalise, but they ultimately fell short as they conceded again.

That left them needing to beat Portugal in their final group game – without their suspended coach, Paulo Bento – and hoping Ghana lost to Uruguay.

But they then got another bit of good fortune as Portugal, who already made it through to the round of 16 with two wins from two, rested many of their stars for the group finale.

South Korea saw off a weakened Portugal side thanks to a stoppage-time winner, while Uruguay beat Ghana, which allowed the Taeguk Warriors to progress to the last 16.

Young stars emerge

But of course, the South Koreans still made a bit of their own luck. Paulo Bento made the wise move of replacing Hwang Ui-jo with 24-year-old Cho Gue-Sung, which proved to be the spark the South Korean attack needed.

South Korean forward Cho Gue-sung was admired by a lot of World Cup 2022 fans
Korea Republic’s Cho Gue-sung celebrates scoring their second goal against Ghana with Na Sang-ho

Cho Gue-Sung scored a brace in their comeback against Ghana which unfortunately fell short as he looked much more of a threat up front. Not only did he produce his share of World Cup 2022 highlights – he finished with eight shots in his three starts – but he also won headers to help keep possession.

Cho Gue-Sung earned another start against Portugal, and he was again quite effective in that game as he helped South Korea qualify.

Aside from Cho, another youngster in 21-year-old Lee Kang-In also made a good impression in Qatar. The Mallorca midfielder had an instant impact upon coming on as a substitute against Ghana as he set up one of Cho’s goals, and he also acquitted himself well after starting against Portugal.

Old guard finally come through

But while the young stars began to emerge midway through their second game, the team’s more established stars – namely Son Heung-Min and Hwang Hee-Chan – finally made their mark on the tournament when it mattered the most: their must-win match against Portugal.

After an uninspiring first couple of matches, Son finally turned it on against Portugal. He had a team-high five shots (two on target) and most importantly, made a brilliant run that set up Hwang Hee-Chan for the winning goal.

It was that bit of quality that the South Koreans had been sorely missing for the first two games, and it was only fitting that Son and Hwang would provide it. The two were compromised physically, which is partly to blame for their underwhelming performances in Qatar, but that moment when they combined for the winning goal in stoppage time to put South Korea through more than made up for their poor form for most of the tournament.

Hwang was also one of the few bright spots in Korea’s 4-1 defeat to Brazil in the round of 16. The Wolves striker had five of the team’s shots, with four of them on target. Had he been fully fit, perhaps the Taeguk Warriors could have posed a bigger threat in attack than they did.

That match proved to be Paulo Bento’s last in charge of Korea Republic as he stepped down from his post. While Bento’s time at the helm wasn’t extraordinary, he does deserve some credit as Korea Republic defied the World Cup 2022 odds by going further than expected.

Moreover, he has also helped usher in a new generation of Korean stars who, in four more years, could go even further in the World Cup.


 

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This message was edited by SBOTOP on 22-Dec-2022 at 2:17 PM





 
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SBOTOP
22-Dec 2022 Thursday 2:21 PM (41 days ago)            #2
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World Cup 2022: Plenty of Stars but No Cigar for Portugal!

When Portugal were dumped out of the World Cup 2022 by Morocco, just over a week ago in the quarter-final, it left the Selecao fans scratching their heads. And head coach Fernando Santos fell on his sword.

Only four days earlier Portugal dismantled Switzerland, a team renowned for their tight defence and superb organisational skills, winning 6-1 in the best attacking display of the tournament. The World Cup 2022 betting odds sat up and took notice and Santos’ team suddenly became one of the hotter tips.

Fernando Santos left his job as head coach of Portugal after his team crashed out by Morocco at World Cup 2022 in Qatar
Fernando Santos quit as Portugal head coach after Morocco defeated the team in the quarter finals at World Cup 2022

And this is a team dripping with quality, much of it from the Premier League. 

With Ruben Dias in the heart of defence and his Manchester City team-mate Bernardo Silva in a creative role, the Sky Blues were joined by some of their mates from across the road. Here at SBOTOP we reviewed how Manchester United’s players had faired in the World Cup and said Bruno Fernandes had emerged as the key player in attack, responsible for creating dangerous situations as he does at Old Trafford, while his team-mate Diogo Dalot grew in stature as the tournament progressed.

Wolverhampton Wanderers were represented by midfield maestro Ruben Neves and the French, German, Spanish and Italian leagues provided more top-class talent in the forms of PSG’s Vitinha, RB Leipzig’s Andre Silva, Atletico Madrid star Joao Felix and AC Milan wonderkid Rafael Leao.

While a 1-0 defeat to Morocco made World Cup history for the African side it meant an earlier than expected exit for the Selecao. So where did it all go wrong for the 2016 European Champions?

Ronaldo Distraction

Sometimes you can have too much stardust in a team, and the circus around Cristiano Ronaldo’s acrimonious departure from Manchester United can’t have helped. CR7 is such a big character but, in contrast to Argentina’s Lionel Messi, he is anything but a unifying figure. The Portugal legend is his nation’s greatest player in modern history as the record goal scorer, with an incredible 118 strikes and he is the most capped player with 196. But, even before a ball was kicked he was writing the global football headlines with his controversial departure from Manchester after conducting a scathing interview on UK television.

His former team-mate Fernandes was at pains to claim that the problems back home would not infect the Portugal team but how could that be? And any tension there was increased tenfold when CR7 was substituted during a 2-1 defeat to South Korea. The television cameras picked up a spat between him and his head coach, which the star later claimed was aimed at a Korean player. But Santos dropped him for the Switzerland match and the team clicked; Goncalo Ramos scored a brilliant hat-trick while Leao was also on the score sheet. Ronaldo was benched again for the quarter-final and he came on as a 51st-minute substitute against the Atlas Lions, and was denied by Moroccan keeper Bono. But, at the end of the game, the cameras followed Ronaldo down the tunnel while the rest of his team shook hands with the triumphant Moroccans.

I’m not sure his mood will have improved on seeing his old nemesis Lionel Mess lift the World Cup trophy on Sunday!

A lesson in Unity from Morocco

It was one of the biggest World Cup 2022 results of the tournament, but no one in Morocco was surprised when the Atlas Lions dumped Portugal out of the tournament. And sometimes, after a defeat, you just have to hold your hands up and admit you were beaten by a better team on the day. Shocks happen in sport all the time, the important thing is how you react and that is what Portugal must do now.

Morocco are no mugs by the way. In their heroic campaign the Atlas Lions faced Belgium, Croatia, Spain and Portugal and recorded clean sheets against all four of them. And those are teams ranked second, twelfth, seventh and ninth in the world. So how does a side ranked 22nd beat them all? Head coach Walid Regragui has some serious talent at his disposal including Paris Saint-Germain star Achraf Hakimi and Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech, who had a superb tournament. Add in Fiorentina enforcer Sofyan Boufal, Sevilla keeper Bono and his striker team-mate Youssef En Nesyri who scored the winner against the Selecao, and you have a solid line-up.

En Nesyri simply wanted to make the header more than the Portugal defence or their keeper, and they just looked at each other as he wheeled away in celebration. And that moment mirrored much of the action as Morocco were often first to the lose ball, quick to regroup when they lost it and aggressive as they strived to regain possession.

And the Lions were disciplined and hard-working without the ball; while they naturally conceded the majority of possession they ended up with three shots on target, the same as the Selecao, and they defended with fight and passion…and that is sometimes what you need to do to win football matches.


 

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This message was edited by SBOTOP on 22-Dec-2022 at 2:21 PM





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22-Dec 2022 Thursday 2:28 PM (41 days ago)            #3
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World Cup 2022: Premier League Stars in Qatar

The Premier League makes a return on Boxing Day folks, and by the 28th December every one of the 20 top flight clubs will have kicked off the second half of the campaign.

We’ll see many of the stars who made the Qatar World Cup worth watching back in their club colours in a post Christmas festival of football, kicking off with Brentford vs Tottenham Hotspur in the early Monday match. The round closes when Leeds United entertain Manchester City on Wednesday and that will be a game packed with World Cup stars including the Whites’ Rasmus Kristensen and City’s Bernardo Silva for starters.

Those two players had decent World Cup 2022 campaigns but which players from the Premier League really stood out in Qatar? Well…here are my fantastic five.

Emi Martinez: Argentina and Aston Villa

He earned himself a yellow card for his antics during the World Cup final shootout but Emiliano Martinez won’t care one bit as another star performance between the sticks helped the Albiceleste to become World Champions. The Aston Villa man played a big role in Argentina’s penalty shootout win over the Netherlands in the Round of 16, and when he saved Kingsley Coman’s spot kick in the final France had a big hill to climb. Martinez’ mind games were enough to heap pressure onto the shoulders of Aurelien Tchouameni who promptly dragged his penalty wide and that was pretty much game over.

Martinez won the Golden Glove and he was happy to wind the France up as they booed him from the stands. He won’t be welcome in Paris but he’ll always be a hero in Buenos Aires.

Alexis MacAllister: Argentina and Brighton and Hove Albion

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He didn’t write the headlines after Argentina’s historic campaign in Qatar, but Brighton midfielder Alexis MacAllister won plenty of admirers worldwide with his all action display and he was one of the standout players in the final. Lionel Messi was the big story of the final, but MacAllister played a huge part in the Albiceleste’s winning campaign. And he capped it off with a sublime pass to put Angel Di Maria in for Argentina’s second goal.

Premier League fans may wonder why, with a name like MacAllister, the Brighton man plays for Argentina and not Ireland. But he was born in the country he plays for, brought up in La Pampa. And his father, Carlos MacAllister played for Boca Juniors and won three caps for Argentina in 1993.

Another Argentine we must give an honourable mention to is Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez who scored four goals in the competition. We can pretty much guarantee some spectacular Premier League 2022 highlights from the young striker who linked up beautifully with Messi in Qatar.

Hakim Ziyech: Morocco and Chelsea

The Atlas Lions were the surprise package of the tournament, reaching the semi-final, and they played almost the perfect competition as a superbly well organised outfit with all their big names performing to their best. Chelsea winger Ziyech hasn’t always wowed the fans at Stamford Bridge but they will be delighted if he produces his Qatar form back in West London. His electrifying pace, superb ball skills and delivery with either foot made him Morocco’s biggest threat throughout, and Ziyech lifted the levels of the players around him.

Kyle Walker: England and Manchester City

After the World Cup 2022, Kyle Walker will now focus on his upcoming matches with Manchester City
England’s Kyle Walker in action against France’s Kylian Mbappe

The toughest jobs in the World Cup fell to those players who were tasked with marking the best strikers, and Golden Boot winner Kylian Mbappe was the hottest player to handle. He scored a hat-trick in the final but Mbappe had little chance to shine against England as the Three Lions wingback kept him quiet. Kyle Walker could match Mbappe for pace and had him in his pocket for much of the quarter final.

They might be five points behind leaders Arsenal, but the Premier League 2022 betting odds here at SBOTOP price the Sky Blues as 1.45 favourites to retain their league title, and City fans know just how important Walker is.

Richarlison: Brazil and Tottenham Hotspur

With three goals from four games Richarlison was Brazil’s top scorer, Neymar scoring twice, and he seemed to come of age in Qatar. As the main man at Watford and then Everton, Richarlison often seemed to take too much on his shoulders. He almost kept the Toffees up last season single handed, but since moving to Spurs he has been surrounded by better players, and in the Brazil side he was equally impressive without having to try too hard.

His clever movement and effortless control of the ball were a joy to watch and Spurs fans could be in for a treat on Boxing Day.

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.


 

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This message was edited by SBOTOP on 22-Dec-2022 at 2:28 PM





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22-Dec 2022 Thursday 2:31 PM (41 days ago)            #4
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World Cup 2022: Too early for Spain’s Young Guns?

As Argentina lifted their third World Cup 2022 title on Sunday it was a case of ‘what might have been’ for a few other nations.

Perennial losers England and Belgium are used to missing out on silverware, while Brazil and France had good reason to believe they would go all the way. And then there’s Spain. The 2010 World Champions and 2012 European Champions arrived in Qatar with a bright young team that had recently finished as runner-up in the UEFA Nations League.

The pre-tournament World Cup 2022 betting odds backed Spain to make the semi-finals… but it all went wrong when they came across Morocco in the Round of 16.

Luis Enrique has stepped down as Spain manager following their shock early exit at the 2022 World Cup
Spain coach Luis Enrique looks dejected after their defeat against Morocco in World Cup 2022

This early exit led to the resignation of head coach Luis Enrique and the appointment of his replacement, the former U21 coach Luis de la Fuente. But Enrique has nothing to be ashamed of, having put together a squad capable of beating the best. Yes, they fell short in Qatar but La Roja is a team for the future and they will be looking for silverware before very long, not just last four places.

Too Much too Young

There’s a saying in football which goes, ‘if they are good enough they are old enough’ and that rings loud and true in Spain’s national team. Barcelona’s midfield pair, Gavi at 18 and Pedri at 20, and their team-mate 20 year old Ansu Fati, alongside Nico Williams (20) and Ferran Torres (22) upfront make up an exciting creative unit, with the experience of Manchester City’s Rodri to hold things together.

There was a lot of pressure on Spain’s young team and they appeared to be ready to deliver. La Roja’s 7-0 destruction of Costa Rica was one of the standout World Cup 2022 results at the group stage but Enrique’s young guns failed to replicate that in the other games against Germany and Japan, picking up just one more point. Pedri was outstanding throughout the campaign as a box to box runner with great ball skills and a strong tackle. Barca’s Torres scored twice against Costa Rica while Gavi announced his arrival on the world stage with a sensational volley. But with youth comes inconsistency sometimes and that cost Spain in the end.

With Robert Lewandowski leading the Blaugrana’s charge in the second half of the campaign, they are the clear favorites to win the 2022/23 title at a SBOTOP price of 1.46. Torres, Gavi, Pedri and Fati are all key players in Xavi’s line-up; they are doing it week after week in La Liga but maybe the World Cup came a little too early for them.

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Lack of a Cutting Edge when it matters

For such a creative unit Spain are solid at the back with the excellent Pau Torres alongside Aymeric Laporte at the heart of defence, while Rodri can also slot back into the rearguard if needed. But up front, La Roja is short of proven goal-scorers. The weight of leading the line fell on the shoulders of Atletico Madrid striker Alvaro Morata and the 30-year-old was the only genuine center-forward in the 26-man squad. Busy, skillful players like Dani Olmo, Torres and Pablo Sarabia probed and schemed to try and find a way through, but few international defences have big holes to exploit. Morata scored a crucial goal against Germany and in the 2-1 defeat to Japan, as well as bagging an injury-time goal in the destruction of Costa Rica. In that game the whole Spain team looked capable of scoring but, when the going gets tough, the responsibility falls with Morata.

Against Morocco, he just wasn’t at the races and neither were the rest of the Spain team. The most damning statistic is that the favorites mustered only one shot on target in 120 minutes (and in the penalty shootout) despite having over 75 percent possession. Sarabia almost broke through in the final minute of extra time but his volley hit the post and flew to safety and the PSG man was one of three Spaniards to miss a penalty in the shootout. His effort incredibly hit the post again while Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets both saw their efforts saved by Lions keeper Bono.

Of course, Spain weren’t the only team to be frustrated by the Atlas Lions but a 0-0 draw and a blank in the shootout exposed the frailties Spain sometimes suffer in front of goal.

Enrique has had enough and a new era is about to be ushered in, but the core of this team will be around for a few years yet, they just need another lethal hitman.

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

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This message was edited by SBOTOP on 22-Dec-2022 at 2:33 PM





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22-Dec 2022 Thursday 2:35 PM (41 days ago)            #5
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Marvellous Morocco Are Team of World Cup 2022 – So What Happens Next?

It was, in many ways, a tournament which had everything right up to the ultimate conclusion.

Of course, while there could only be one world champion, there were also other World Cup 2022 winners, not least the nation which finished fourth and wrote a new chapter in the history books along the way.

I now wish I knew what the pre-tournament SBOTOP World Cup 2022 betting odds had been on Morocco because I genuinely do not believe anyone expected them to make such an impact at Qatar 2022.

Certainly, the Atlas Lions were never going to be anyone’s fools but such a success story didn’t just defy expectations, it totally blew them out of the water!

While a few pundits mentioned them as a potential dark horse to do well, most ignored them, especially given that they shared a group with Belgium and Croatia. Few things are as satisfying as proving doubters wrong, especially after so many decades when they were proved right.

Even then, plenty of pundits and fans suspected Morocco had reached their high watermark with a group-stage victory over Belgium.

Yet they continued to raise the bar, squeezing the life out of Spain before progressing from the last 16 on penalties and they were similarly obdurate and dangerous on the counter-attack when winning their quarter-final against Portugal.

Let us begin with someone who, for me, is the undoubted coach of the tournament. Walid Regragui. He had precious little time to prepare after Vahid Halilhodžić’s sacking in August yet organised Morocco so well and generated so much team spirit, especially with the masterstroke of inviting players’ families into the hotel. The end result was a triumph which brought joy to spectators around the world in the form of Moroccan matriarchs who have become the unofficial champions of the 2022 World Cup.

Their finest hour was, of course, the historic achievement when Regragui’s men became the first African team to reach the semi-finals with victory over 2016 European champions Portugal.

Sofiane Boufal dancing with his mom is one of the World Cup 2022 heart-warming moments
Morocco’s Sofiane Boufal celebrates with his mom after the match as they progress to the World Cup semi-finals

The sight of Sofiane Boufal dancing on the pitch side with his mother after that win was pretty special too.

Videos of the forward dancing with his mum – “she was crying, the emotions make you crazy” – and the Paris St-Germain defender Achraf Hakimi’s mum giving him a kiss on the cheek after his winning penalty against Spain in the last 16 garnered global adulation and proved that World Cup 2022 highlights were not just confined to the pitch.

After that quarter-final triumph, chants of “Olé, olé, olé” and the explosions of fireworks could be heard; traffic came to a standstill and even sub-zero temperatures could not stop ecstatic fans from taking to the streets to dance and sing.

It meant that much to so many.

Like Boufal, Hakimi was one of their many heroes.

He is already an established star of course but, at right-back, he encapsulated Morocco’s energy; a class operator in both directions who affected matches consistently and was an inspirational leader.

Then there was the superb all-action Sofyan Amrabat who, along with Azzedine Ounahi, were quite the presence.

After the last-16 victory over Spain, the Spanish manager Luis Enrique was moved to exclaim “Mama mia, where did your No 8 come from?” as he acknowledged the brilliance of both players.

Amrabat was immense, a rock of dependency in front of his team’s defence, breaking up play and linking brilliantly with the team’s more creative players.

Boufal and Ounahi are actually in the middle of a Ligue 1 relegation battle with their club side, Angers – after the past month it is hard to see how their club will be able to keep hold of one, or perhaps both, once the January transfer window opens.

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That Ambabat was the stand-out midfielder in the tournament (to my mind) with Ounahi the breakout star were developments no one could have predicted, nor how far the Atlas Lions would progress.

While individuals have been singled out, the entire team far exceeded expectations and from Ladbroke Grove to the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem to Baghdad, Morocco’s World Cup was a collective cause to celebrate for the African, Arab and Amazigh diaspora.

Eight of the players who finished the quarter-final were those who grew up in Morocco and learned their football in the country’s academies and clubs.

Morocco arrived home earlier today to a hero’s welcome and Veron Mosengo-Omba, the general secretary of the Confederation of African Football (Caf), believes more investment and resources must now be made available for other countries to match the achievement by the North Africans.

So perhaps we have just witnessed the start of what the Moroccan class of 2022 has provided.

Regragui has certainly intimated he’d like to stick around for the long haul so the portents are good.


 

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This message was edited by SBOTOP on 22-Dec-2022 at 2:36 PM





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22-Dec 2022 Thursday 2:39 PM (41 days ago)            #6
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World Cup 2022: Serie A Plays Key Role at Qatar

Italy are the reigning European champions but, for the second time in a row, they failed to qualify for the World Cup 2022.

While that was a mighty shock for world football – and the Azzurri as they had to watch the action in Qatar from afar – their domestic league still contributed to some of the success stories.

But which Serie A players stood out the most? Who were the men who ply their trade in Serie A who were most instrumental in World Cup 2022 highlights?

Well, this assortment of talent was the choice of this SBOTOP reporter.

Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina/Morocco)

The plaudits for this man have come from every avenue of the footballing globe and deservedly so.

He was in many a team of the tournament from media organisations to fans alike as Morocco became the first African nations to reach the semi-finals.

Arguably the best defensive midfielder in Qatar, while he narrowly missed out on a medal in the third place play-off, the admirers he and his team secured was emphatic.

The 26-year-old was a rock of dependency in front of his team’s defence, breaking up play and linking brilliantly with the team’s more creative players.

In the last 16, Amrabat was the dominant figure against Spain, keeping close control of the ball in dangerous positions and making some crucial tackles.

In more than eight and a half hours of football, no opposition player scored against them and Amrabat, the best representative of Serie A in Qatar, was a major factor in that.

Theo Hernandez (AC Milan/France)

The first of my Milan-France duo.

Theo Hernandez probably benefited from the misfortune suffered by his brother, Lucas Hernandez, who was ruled out of the tournament after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in his team’s opening Group D win over Australia.

Considered by some to be the best left-back in Serie A, Theo then made the position his own in Les Bleus’ campaign as Didier Deschamps’ men came within a penalty shoot-out of defending their world crown.

Olivier Giroud (AC Milan/France)

After the World Cup 2022, Olivier Giroud will now return to domestic duties as Milan aim to reclaim the Serie A title
France’s Olivier Giroud reacts during the World Cup final against Argentina at Lusail Stadium

Like Hernandez, Giroud returned home empty-handed, despite a fine tournament.

With four goals in six games, the striker became the leading goalscorer for his country, overtaking the legendary Thierry Henry, and now has 53 international goals to his name following the quarter-final winner against England.

His one major disappointment came in the final when the striker, alongside teammate Ousmane Dembele, was hooked by Deschamps just before half-time after the pair produced anonymous performances.

Giroud will now return to domestic duties as Milan aim to reclaim the Serie A title.

Adrien Rabiot (Juventus/France)

But for injuries to the likes of N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba, Rabiot probably wouldn’t have been involved much, if at all, in Qatar.

Yet he picked up from where he left off with his club and managed one goal and one assist in six matches.

A player who Manchester United were reportedly interested in during the summer until ‘unrealistic’ wage demands intervened, he has shown he has something to offer the international side.

Denzel Dumfries (Inter Milan/Holland)

Dumfries played every single minute of Holland’s five matches and was a reliable and effective figure for Louis van Gaal’s men.

Never mind he got sent off after the final whistle against Argentina in the quarter-final – that contest had long since become a card fest as a contest of many flashpoints featured 17 yellow cards – he made a positive contribution.

That was most noticeable in the last 16 victory against the USA.

That was when Dumfries set up the first two goals for the Dutch – the former part of a magnificent 21-pass move – before the creator turned scorer, side-footing in a volley to seal a 3-1 victory.

My final choice may surprise you, especially as he did not start any of his team’s five games but, I do find room for…

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LEICESTER CITY
NEWCASTLE UNITED
1X2 Draw @ 3.30
Over 2.50 @ 1.85
Total Goals 2-3 @ 1.90
Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

Rafael Leao (AC Milan/Portugal)

The Portuguese is Milan’s bona fide top star and the plaudits have rained down for some time now – last season’s Player of the Year in Serie A has been described by Milan legend Zvonimir Boban as the ‘Portuguese Mbappe’ – Milan head coach Stefano Pioli says he reminds him of Thierry Henry.

That rare mix of being both exceptionally quick meant it was a surprise that he did not start once in Qatar.

Yet his impact from the bench was clear as he netted his first goals for his national team.

Against Ghana the substitute coolly stroked in just seconds after coming on.

Then, in the last 16, with the World Cup 2022 betting odds all on Ronaldo scoring from the bench, the 23-year-old crowned a dazzling display when he curled in the sixth against Switzerland.

These two performances went some way to illustrating his ability to deliver in big games and a player with further room for growth, and consistency, will surely become a fixture for Portugal in the near future.


 

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This message was edited by SBOTOP on 22-Dec-2022 at 2:39 PM





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22-Dec 2022 Thursday 2:42 PM (41 days ago)            #7
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World Cup 2022: Qatar Lit up by Paris Panache!

The big story of the World Cup 2022 final was all about two Paris Saint-Germain team-mates. It had been bubbling up for a couple of weeks and by the time Argentina’s Lionel Messi met France’s Kylian Mbappe in the final on Sunday, the anticipation was at a fever pitch. 

In the end, the showcase final was an epic, providing enough World Cup 2022 highlights to fill a feature film and the drama was truly incredible. It has since been billed as the greatest final of all time and in no way is that hyperbole. La Albiceleste totally dominated the match until the 80th minute and were deservedly 2-0 up, the first scored by Messi from the penalty spot. But a harsh penalty, conceded by Nicolas Otamendi, opened the door for France and Mbappe halved the deficit.

Within two minutes France were level and Mbappe’s second strike was a candidate for goal of the tournament. The France striker won the Golden Boot, finishing with eight goals but his 81st-minute leveller was breathtaking as he watched a chipped ball forward onto his foot and volleyed it low into the bottom corner of the net in a flash, giving Emiliano Martinez no chance.

The tide had turned, and it ebbed and flowed throughout the 30 minutes extra time, and when Messi scored his second of the match with just ten minutes remaining Argentina thought they’d won it again…but this was an incredible contest and, almost inevitably, France hit back again with another last gasp penalty. Mbappe had become the first player to score a World Cup final hat-trick since England’s Geoff Hurst did in 1966, but it was Messi who was celebrating after the Albiceleste won the penalty shootout.

Of course, both Messi and Mbappe converted their shootout spot-kicks.

The latest betting odds have PSG nailed on to win the 2022/23 title and, with these two players in the side there is little wonder; but they are not the only World Cup stars from the Parc des Princes.

LIGUE 1
PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN
STRASBOURG
1X2 Paris Saint Germain @ 1.30
Over 3.25 @ 1.88
Total Goals 2-3 @ 2.15
Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

Achraf Hakimi – Morocco

The Atlas Lions lost their third place play-off but they left Qatar with a whole new legion of fans from around the world and PSG wingback Achraf Hakimi was one of Morocco’s standout players. Alongside Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech, Hakimi was one of his nation’s most creative players in a side brilliantly organised and with incredible determination.

His contribution to a back four which, until the semi-final, had only conceded one goal, and that an own goal, was immense as the defensive unit kept clean sheets against Belgium, Spain and Portugal. With eight goals already in his 61 appearances for the Atlas Lions, Hakimi is destined to become one of his country’s greatest players of all time. 

Neymar – Brazil

Brazil lost to Croatia in the World Cup 2022 quarter-finals
Brazil’s Neymar looks dejected after being eliminated from the World Cup 2022

The third of PSG’s trio of striking Galacticos looked like he had fired Brazil into the semi-finals with a brilliant solo goal against Croatia but a late equaliser took the match to penalties and the Selecao went out.

Neymar had a frustrating tournament, missing a group game through injury and scoring just twice. The World Cup 2022 betting odds had Brazil as the pre-tournament favourites to win the World Cup but, after Argentina managed to beat Croatia comfortably, Neymar was just a spectator.

So too was PSG centre-back Marquinhos who had a superb game against Croatia until the last few minutes. He was involved in all the late drama as Bruno Petkovic’s 117th-minute leveller took a nick off his leg to deflect past goalkeeper Alisson. To make matters worse Marquinhos need to convert his penalty shootout kick to keep Brazil in the competition…but he hit the post.

PSG had enough players in the World Cup to put an impressive eleven out, but the majority booked their flights home before the semi-finals. Danilo Pereira, Vitinha, Nuno Mendes and Renato Sanches all starred for Portugal but were victims of the Atlas Lions, and so too were Spain, who had Pablo Sarabia and Carlos Soler in their ranks; but both missed penalties in the shootout after Sarabia crashed a volley against a post in the last minute.

And veteran goalkeeper Keylor Navas has probably represented Costa Rica at his last World Cup finals. He shipped seven in his team’s group-stage defeat to Spain, with clubmate Soler on the score sheet.

PSG return to league action next week with a home match against Strasbourg and they start with a five-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table. Here at SBOTOP we’ll be taking a look at the opening round in France very soon, and it will be hard, no impossible to ignore the Parisien world stars!


 

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This message was edited by SBOTOP on 22-Dec-2022 at 2:42 PM





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22-Dec 2022 Thursday 2:44 PM (41 days ago)            #8
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World Cup 2022: Japan’s Amazing Journey in Qatar

Japan’s World Cup 2022 campaign was a wild roller-coaster ride. The Samurai Blue experienced the incredible highs of beating not one, but two recent world champions in comeback fashion, as well as the lows of losing to Costa Rica and going out on penalties to Croatia.

But while they once again fell short of reaching the quarter-final stage, there was a lot to admire about the Japanese journey in Qatar.

So read on below as SBOTOP goes deeper into Japan’s World Cup 2022 campaign.

Moriyasu masterminds successful defensive system

Japan’s World Cup 2022 run will forever be remembered for their incredible come-from-behind wins over two recent world champions, Spain and Germany, as they won the group despite all the World Cup 2022 odds.

Both games followed a similar script: Japan go down early but don’t concede a second despite conceding tons of possession, then score two goals in quick succession in the second half and win the game.

Japan had some good fortune against Germany, who were still able to create several good chances but were simply unable to convert them. But they were sensational against Spain as they scrapped and clawed and prevented the Spanish from producing much of anything in attack despite their overwhelming possession.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu went into the tournament with a primarily defensive approach, one he was criticised for back home. But he stuck to the plan, his players executed it to the best of their abilities, and it produced two of the most famous victories in Japan’s history.

The Samurai Blue’s work rate on defence was something to behold. Despite seeing so little of the ball, they still continued to implement Moriyasu’s strategy to press and harry both Germany and Spain everywhere on the pitch.

It’s a testament to Moriyasu’s coaching that his team committed to such a gruelling playing style, which paid dividends in the end.

Samurai Blue show remarkable resiliency

Winger Takuma Asano of Japan had an impressive performance as he represented his nation during World Cup 2022 in Qatar
Winger Takuma Asano of Japan during their round of 16 match against Croatia on December 5 at World Cup 2022 in Qatar

Another mark in Moriyasu’s favour was his wise use of substitutions. His second-half moves against Germany and Spain were masterstrokes as subs Ritsu Doan (twice) and Takuma Asano scored three of their four goals in those 2-1 wins.

It was part of Moriyasu’s plan all along to start out games passively, then strike late with fresher legs, and it worked to perfection twice.

Of course, the players also deserve a ton of credit for executing this gameplan. It was far from easy to execute the half of the plan which required them to run relentlessly to press their opponents in possession, and it was even harder to then go the other way and score, but they somehow managed to produce World Cup 2022 highlights.

It speaks to the Samurai Blue’s physical and mental strength that they managed to come back and win twice against much-fancied opponents. They simply did not stop working hard and sticking to their plan, and they were rewarded for their remarkable resiliency.

Improvements needed in attack

As impressive as Japan’s overall performance at World Cup 2022 was, their attack was found to be a bit lacking. It was particularly apparent when they went up against Costa Rica in their second group game and struggled to break them down in a surprise 1-0 defeat.

Japan did play better against Croatia as they reverted back to their tried and tested strategy of playing without the ball. Unfortunately, they couldn’t quite pull off another upset as they lost on penalties.

Part of this shortcoming is the simple limitations of Moriyasu’s squad. With all due respect to Takuma Asano, but the squad is still missing a top-class striker who can consistently provide goals, especially at the highest levels of international football.

Having said that, there is undoubtedly a good deal of attacking talent in the squad, with the likes of Doan, Takumi Minamino, Daichi Kamada, and former Real Madrid youngster Takefusa Kubo.

While Moriyasu’s system was a major factor in their success at World Cup 2022, the next step for him and his side will be to improve their ability to attack opponents who sit deep and defend. It won’t happen often that Japan are the aggressors in major tournaments, but they need to have a better alternative style that they can turn to just in case. If the Samurai Blue can combine a more functional attack with that defensive system, they might make even more noise at the next World Cup.


 

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This message was edited by SBOTOP on 22-Dec-2022 at 2:44 PM





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22-Dec 2022 Thursday 2:46 PM (41 days ago)            #9
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World Cup 2022: Brazil Hurting but Their Time Will Come Again

For many they were the tournament favourites, ranked number one international team in the world with talent aplenty and with a team harmony which was clear to see from the outside world.

So, to fail to bring the World Cup 2022 title home was always going to be a massive blow, but to go out in the last eight in a match where they controlled long spells was extra hurtful.

This was a team which excited me – the SBOTOP World Cup 2022 betting odds fancied them too – and one which looked to have a genuine all-round depth and real flair as they aimed to end their 20-year wait for the world crown.

The hurt would only have increased dramatically as their arch-rivals Argentina went on to lift the trophy, even though some reports suggested some Brazilians were thrilled to see the famous gold goblet coming back to South America.

Despite failing to triumph though, manager Tite can hold his head up high as he departed the Selecao role after six years in the post.

They created World Cup highlights aplenty as they grappled with destiny.

There wasn’t much the manager could have done as they bowed out against Croatia, a side which had one shot on target – and a deflected one at that – in 120 minutes before prevailing in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out.

By the end of 90 minutes Brazil will have wondered how they were going into extra time, having had eight shots to none on target. But Croatia’s resistance finally broke when Brazil’s Number 10 turned on the style.

Premier League
BRENTFORD FC
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
1X2 Draw @ 3.50
Over 2.50 @ 1.87
Total Goals 2-3 @ 1.91
Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

Tite’s men probably thought they had won it when Neymar scored a thumping effort to equal their international goalscoring record – his goal matching the great Pele’s record of 77.

However, it wasn’t to be and defeat meant Brazil have now lost their last six World Cup knockouts against European opposition, a run dating back to 2002 when they defeated Germany in the final.

Before that they had been responsible for many happy moments.

Pele was watching on from hospital in São Paulo when they dismantled South Korea in the last 16 where the class of 2022 produced the swagger associated with Brazil – joga bonito and all, they have always been a bit different.

And while there is no trio like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo, Brazil had their own wealth of young attacking talent on show with Raphinha, Richarlison, Vinicius Jnr and Antony among the attacking options, even before you mention their talisman Neymar.

In a devastating performance which ripped South Korea to shreds and settled the contest well before half-time, I was salivating over the possibility of a Brazil-Argentina semi-final.

They hit the heights no other team had reached, until that point, demonstrating the level expected of world champions, producing a collection of goals constructed in their country’s best traditions.

Prior to that, they had been easing their way into the tournament.

Brazil depart the World Cup 2022 with 'no regrets' despite their shock penalty shootout defeat by Croatia
Brazil fans look dejected after losing the penalty shootout

They played a patient game to break down an organised Serbia rearguard in their opener before the massed ranks of their yellow-clad fans were rewarded with a Casemiro special against Switzerland.

With qualification assured, their defeat to Cameroon didn’t matter and then came Korea, an outstanding display of full power, sending a message to their rivals about what they would have to equal – at least – to win the trophy.

Then came the quarter-final against Croatia and, in cup football, it showed that one setback can be fatal.

Brazilian supporters, who made up the vast majority of fans at the stadium, arrived to the match with warmth, fervour and infectious music. But after the nail-biting ending, there was no samba, no Surdao drum solos or tambourine performances, just groups of Canarinho fans heading for the exits as sadness lingered in the air.

Overall, they didn’t do too much wrong and, with the nucleus of the current squad of an age where they could still be playing at the next World Cup in 2026, they will be back!

Football is too important to Brazilians not to bounce back!


 

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This message was edited by SBOTOP on 22-Dec-2022 at 2:46 PM





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27-Dec 2022 Tuesday 3:24 PM (36 days ago)            #10
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World Cup 2022: Which La Liga Stars Shone in Qatar?

For a league some consider to be the strongest in the world, Spanish football’s top flight, you won’t be surprised to hear this stat: nearly a third of the total players involved in Sunday’s unforgettable World Cup 2022 final between France and Argentina ply their trade in La Liga.

That was more than any other league the world over.

Atletico Madrid had four players in the respective squads (more than any other club) – Nahuel Molina, Antoine Griezmann, Rodrigo de Paul and Angel Correa, all bar the latter was involved.

Interestingly, Barcelona still own Griezmann’s permanent contract ahead of his permanent move in January, which means they will receive the compensation from FIFA for his time with France.

Talking of Barca, they also had Jules Kounde and Ousmane Dembele involved in the final, although Dembele was one of two France players hooked off before the break after an underwhelming start by Les Bleus.

Sevilla had the next highest number of players in the final (along with Bayern Munich and Juventus): Marcos Acuna, Gonzalo Montiel and Alejandro Papu Gomez all competing for eventual champions the Albiceleste. Again, all bar the latter featured.

Spanish champions Real Madrid were represented by summer signing Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga in the final, incidentally. Camavinga was a substitute and one of the catalysts for France’s second-half comeback, even though he came on in the unfamiliar position of left-back.

So, with so many La Liga players involved in the tournament, which ones impressed this SBOTOP observer.

La Liga
REAL VALLADOLID CF
REAL MADRID
1X2 Draw @ 4.40
Real Madrid Asian Handicap -1.25 @ 2.12
Over 2.75 @ 1.88
Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

Alvaro Morata (Atletico Madrid/Spain)

Spain may not have lived up to the World Cup betting odds but that was not down to Morata who proved their most reliable marksman.

He scored in all three group matches and didn’t even get to take a spot kick as they were knocked out by Morocco in the last 16 following a goalless draw.

Pre-tournament, one of the main concerns surrounding this Spain team was the lack of a consistent goalscoring threat.

Well Morata has done his bit, leading Spain’s attack since Luis Enrique’s return to the bench with 27 goals in 57 appearances for his country.

Enrique has now departed and been replaced by the manager of Spain’s under-21 team, Luis de la Fuente.

Like his predecessor, de la Fuente will probably keep Morata as his spearhead and, only requiring two goals, it shouldn’t be too long before he joins the top-five leading scorers of all time for Spain.

Yassine Bounou and Youssef En-Nesyri (Sevilla/Morocco)

Bounou was immense in goal.

In the quarter-final victory against Portugal, he earned his 50th cap for his country and was named man of the match.

Three of the back four that finished that match were deputies which showed just how important Bounou’s contribution was.

There’s nothing fortunate about defeating Belgium, Spain and Portugal without conceding a goal – Sevilla’s Bono helped see to that.

World Cup 2022: Yassine Bounou became the first African goalkeeper to keep 3 clean sheets in the tournament
Morocco’s Yassine Bounou saves a shot during their match against Croatia

His team-mate for club and country, En-Nesyri, was actually the last player to be called up for the 2018 World Cup.

Then, En-Nesyri scored a memorable goal that almost cost Spain a place in the last 16, jumping and heading over Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué.

Despite being the joint Moroccan top scorer in the Champions League and the only international to score in four consecutive major competitions, En-Nesyri is an easy target for critics due to his no-frills style and patchy form.

He deserves much better based on his showings in Qatar and his quarter-final winner created history as Morocco became the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Aurelien Tchouameni (Real Madrid/France)

In the absence of N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba, 22 year-old Tchouameni was handed the reins of France’s midfield by manager Didier Deschamps.

He certainly did not disappoint, playing a team-high 411 minutes in five starts and completing a tournament-high 93.2% of the 335 passes he attempted.

Every team needs an engine and Tchouameni is France’s. I expect him to be involved in many World Cup highlights for his country in the years to come.

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This message was edited by SBOTOP on 27-Dec-2022 at 3:25 PM





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