Since we’ve hit the semifinals, or perhaps because I have opinions about Roberto Martinez, the obituaries are going to be a bit longer. Belgium, you’re up.
Ramble of the Day
What happens when you pair a nation’s golden generation of footballers with a bold, but wild manager? Belgium answered that question over the last month, with their best World Cup campaign in three decades coming to an end against France on Tuesday. The team’s confident manager got more adventurous with each passing match, though it all began on a relatively normal note. Multi-goal victories over Panama and Tunisia were expected, and they soon beat a rotated England team quickly followed.
Martinez seemingly responded to narrowly avoiding extra time against Japan by deciding to embrace his wacky side, giving Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli minutes in midfield positions that did not suit them against Brazil after surprisingly strong substitute appearances one match earlier. Belgium benefitted from Brazil playing more open than usual, and the Red Devils were in the semifinals for the first time since 1986. Giving Chadli minutes at right wingback while playing Jan Vertonghen at left back, in addition to unclear roles further up and having Fellaini oftentimes as the furthest man forward was a few steps too far, though. It is not that it necessarily did not work; after all, Belgium had most of the ball, which seemed to be the plan. Yet, France’s attacking unit made somewhat easy work of getting forward when they wanted to, and with a goal from Samuel Umtiti, the Belgians were sent home, but not without a consolation prize to play for.
Otherwise, Belgium’s trip to Russia brought certain highlights for individuals. On the comical side came Michy Batshuayi’s performances against Tunisia, when he missed shot after shot to finally score his first goal at the tournament in a ten minute span, and the viral clip of him kicking the ball into his own face. Romelu Lukaku, the man who frequently started ahead of him, enjoyed a genuinely bright tournament, scoring four times in Belgium’s run to the semifinals.
In some ways, Belgium have accomplished quite a bit, and yet, it is hard — at least for me — to get rid of the thought that it may have been the golden generation’s last chance to add silverware to their names.
tl;dr: The first of possibly a few long obituaries to the final four, the first one being Belgium.
Links of the Day
The 12 boys and coach of a Thai football team have been rescued from the cave and are receiving medical treatment.
If you have wondered who that woman is on the Croatia bench, it is Iva Olivari, the first woman to manage the Croatian national team.
David Squires has another cartoon for The Guardian, and this one is about the World Cup semifinals.
Transfer roundup: Cristiano Ronaldo has joined Juventus from Real Madrid; Arsenal have signed Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria; Manchester City have confirmed the signing of Riyad Mahrez from Leicester; Hull have signed Reece Burke from West Ham; goalkeeper Angus Gunn has moved to Southampton from Manchester City; Atlético Madrid have signed goalkeeper Antonio Adán from Real Betis; Fernando Torres has moved to Japanese side Sagan Tosu after his Atlético Madrid contract expired
Today’s longer read: Jonathan Liew encourages England fans to enjoy the World Cup semifinal that they, too, have earned for The Independent