Can Olivier Giroud’s goal for France reignite his career with Chelsea?


It was a summer all about France as they became world champions for a second time in Russia but if there was one negative pointed at Les Bleus it was that their forward Olivier Giroud failed to score in all 7 World Cup games.

It got to the stage that every time France completed a game at the World Cup it felt embarrassing almost awkward to repeatedly see Giroud finish it with no goals despite the fact that France scored 11 times alone in the knock out stages and Giroud had 13 shots on goal. But Giroud wasn’t useless in the team, because even though he failed to score he held up the ball and was able to bring in Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann into the game. A bold example was in the semi final against Belgium when he dropped back and defended well.

When France won the World Cup Giroud was cheered just as loudly as any other French player by the French public, they understood his ‘silent’ contributions. But still it would have chipped away at Giroud that he wasn’t scoring goals and that was very evident at the weekend when he scored against the Netherlands in the UEFA Nations League.

It was a smart goal too, a quick shot flick in from a pacey cross and it ended up being the winning goal in a 2-1 defeat of the Dutch. Friendlies aside this was his first competitive goal for France since last October when he got the winner against Belarus in a World Cup qualifier. The relief was immense with his latest goal and seemed to shake off his uncertainty as a forward, it was no surprise to see him sink to his knees and his teammates surrounded him. For that moment it wasn’t about going in front it was about his own personal coming back.

The goal was significant too as it put him past Zinedine Zidane in France’s top ever goal scorers list with 32. Even though Giroud is the ripe old footballing age of 31 and will be 32 by the end of this month there are no signs of him retiring from international duty just yet and so he should be able to pass David Trezeguet, needing 3 more goals to do so to enter the top 3, that’s no mean feat and should be remembered every time someone wants to point to his goal scoring record.

So with Giroud finding himself once again how will this bode for Chelsea? At the Blues he has played 3 games so far this season with no return. Overall in his career with Chelsea he has played 21 games and netted 3 times and it does seem a lack of opportunity and age is catching up with him.

Does current Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri have the patience with the Frenchman is the key question? It is still, after all, seen as a shock that Chelsea came in for Giroud when most people would have expected a lesser quality team to be after his trade. Perhaps that could have been the perfect fit for Giroud to get more playing time and score more goals. Under Chelsea who want everything and with expectations that are much higher, Giroud, who is not in the prime of his footballing days could feel more frustrated and lack more confidence if he stays. A move away from Stamford Bridge in January would not be a surprise.



Antoine Griezmann is right to question football awards ceremonies


First it was the UEFA player of the year that featured no Frenchmen in their 3 man short list even though the award also included international performances. Then it was a FIFA award named Best that picked out the same short listed players as with the UEFA award, now French World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann is worried that him or other French players will not be selected for the biggest prize- FIFA’s World Player of the Year which will be announced in December.

Whilst it is jarring that a player comes out to say he deserves to be on the short list, in Griezmann’s case he does have a valid point. Not only did Griezmann win the World Cup this year, he also scored important goals in the competition and played extremely well in the knock out stages.

For his club Atletico Madrid he won the Europa League and the European Super Cup after his side beat their eternal nemesis Real Madrid 4-2. He also scored 29 goals in all competitions, in short Griezmann has had the best season of his career. It seems slightly bizarre that such a player who has indeed been consistent in prior years is not even on the short list when it comes to awards.

Of the players that did make it we have two from Real Madrid- Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo. Modric has won 2 awards out of two now, three if you count he won the FIFA World Cup best player of tournament award. This after he admittingly played very well with Croatia, but they didn’t, in the end, win the tournament. With the other awards it was at least refreshing that Modric beat Ronaldo the expected winner.

Rounding off the short list was Liverpool’s Mohamed Saleh a player that has had a stunning season for the Premier League side goals wise netting 44 goals last season in all competitions. Ultimately though despite Liverpool reaching a Champions League final Saleh won nothing with them last season. To be selected above Griezmann makes very little sense. In truth one could say that Saleh doesn’t even deserve to be in the top 8.

Griezmann said on learning of the short list awards “It’s weird and a pity, this is a trophy that’s awarded by FIFA, right? We won a World Cup and there’s no Frenchman on the shortlist. That’s the choice, but it’s surprising.”

And of the other Frenchmen we could point to a few namely Raphael Varane who was superb in the back four and won of course the Champions League with Real Madrid. And then there is the case of Kylian Mbappe a story that is so entangled in politics it makes little sense. Imagine if you will Ronaldo or Lionel Messi winning the domestic treble, then scoring crucial knock out goals in the World Cup, then scoring in a World Cup final and winning it, and there you have your winner. That is what Mbappe has done and one has to wonder if being 19 is actually a fault against him impressing the voters.

Very much like Griezmann before him, Mbappe not even making the short list of these awards makes them look like a joke. Let’s hope FIFA get the voting right in a few months time and start awarding players that actually win the biggest prizes.

England must use semi final run like Germany did in 2006

Jules Rimet’s still gleaming. 52 years of hurt will become 56 by the time the next World Cup rolls around. Football, after all that, isn’t coming home. England’s semi final defeat to Croatia has left a scar across a nation which had started to believe. And yet, a peculiar air of optimism remains across England.

Gareth Southgate’s side were ever meant to get as far as the semi finals. Indeed, many had merely set a target of escaping the group, never mind making a run to the tournament’s final four. But by failing to beat Croatia on Wednesday, England spurned the chance of a lifetime. The cards might never fall so favourably for them again.


For once, Germany knows how England feels. Back in 2006, they too made an unexpected run to the semi finals of the World Cup. Led by the charismatic, their young and inexperienced side caught the imagination of a nation in sweeping their way to the final four. Just like England, they too were made to rue missed opportunities, eventually exiting in extra time.

This is where England can learn a lesson. Rather than treating that unexpected success, Germany used their 2006 World Cup success to establish a platform. From there, Die Mannschaft made the final of the European Championships two years later and the semi finals once again at the 2010 World Cup.

Germany are considered among the most consistent teams in international football, but there was a point at which their national game appeared to be at a crossroads. The process culminated with them winning their fourth World Cup in 2014, but 2006 was when the first green shoots of life started to poke through the ground.

On the whole, the English game is in a good place at the moment. They are world champions in two different age groups, European champions in another and have won the prestigious Toulon tournament for the past three years on the spin. There is reason to be positive about the future.

But England must now preserve those green shoots of life rather than stamp all over them. The team that plays in the 2022 World Cup will be very different to the one that made the semi finals of this tournament. Four years is a long time in football. Full team units don’t tend to span that length of time in the international game, particularly when club football and outside factors determine so much.

Nonetheless, this World Cup sets a precedent for English football. Their success in making the semi finals doesn’t necessarily mean more success will follow – look at how the 1990 semi final run was followed up by the failure to make the 1994 World Cup – but it has put the national team back in the public focus.

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A defining game in the history of English football

And so after 28 years, England are in another World Cup semi final. This will be only the third time that the Three Lions have made it this far. Once, in 1990, they suffered penalty shootout heartache at the hands of West Germany. The other time, in 1966, Sir Alf Ramsay led his side to glory on home soil.

So which will it be for Gareth Southgate’s men in 2018? Their run to the final four of the World Cup has come as something of a surprise, but make no mistake, England deserve their place in the semi finals. Sure, the draw has fallen kindly for them. Sure, they could have faced stiffer opposition in the knockout rounds, but you can only beat what is in front of you and England have done that well.


They have exorcised some ghosts along the way. Their penalty shootout win over Colombia was their first ever at a World Cup. At the fourth attempt, having suffered painful exits at the hands of Argentina, Germany and Portugal, England finally broke through the mental block of a nation. Pundits blubbered in the studio at full time, the country celebration with more gusto than should meet a round of 16 win. But this was more than just a round of 16 win.

Then there was the routine win over Sweden in the quarter finals, in stark contrast to the stress experienced against Colombia. It might not have been obvious, but this was England getting over another mental block. Not so long ago, the quarter finals was deemed the Three Lions’ ceiling. By seeing off the Scandinavians 2-0, though, without much fuss at all, this England team smashed through that ceiling.

Croatia will provide an altogether different test. They have world class players like Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. They too have shown their mental fortitude in making it to the World Cup semi finals, coming through back-to-back penalty shootouts in the knockout rounds. These sort of opportunities are rare for Croatia too, with the country only ever making it this far at the World Cup once before (in 1998).

For England, though, this feels like a watershed moment in the country’s footballing history. The nation has fallen in love with his national team again. At a time of great division across the United Kingdom, at least one part has united behind one cause these past few weeks. There’s something to be said for that.

This Wednesday’s semi final presents England with a fork in the road. Head one way and the ghosts of past failures will return. Same Old England. Head the other way, though, and English football can finally proclaim to have changed. New England. This is a defining match in the history of the sport in the country. What happens on Wednesday will have repercussions for years, generations, even, to come.

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Now is the team for Kane to deliver on the world stage


He may be the tournament’s leading goalscorer but Harry Kane has failed to make his full force felt on game so far in this World Cup – as England prepare to play what is easily their biggest tournament fixture since 1996, now is the time for the time’s captain to make his mark on the tournament and propel England to the final of international football’s biggest fixture.

Harry Kane’s World Cup tournament couldn’t have started better, two exceptional poacher’s finishes giving England a victory over Tunisia in a tie that seemed destined to finish all-square.

And whilst the Englishman then went on to net a hat-trick against Panama and another Continue reading

Jordan Henderson highlights credentials as all-round midfielder and leader


Jordan Henderson’s exploits in the World Cup have been critical to England’s success across the tournament. Ahead of the side’s clash with Croatia, we took the opportunity to explore the tenets of his game that have won around fans from across the nation.

Whilst the Englishman has often been accused of being too conservative with his range of passing when in the Red of Liverpool, he has all but put that criticism to bed for his national team – offering an array of passing that has contributed significantly to his side’s journey to the semi finals and firmly established himself as the number one centre midfielder ahead of the likes of Eric Dier and Fabian Delph. Continue reading

Jordan Pickford becoming an England giant

Among all the questions Gareth Southgate faced in the lead up to the 2018 World Cup the one concerning his choice of goalkeeper was perhaps the most pressing. Memories of the 2010 World Cup, when England headed into the tournament without a first-choice keeper, were raked up. The Three Lions appeared to be in a similar situation once more.

Robert Green was Fabio Capello’s first pick for the number one shirt in 2010. However, a blunder in the opening group game against the United States saw David James take the jersey for the following two group games and the round of 16 humiliation against Germany. There were many other factors at play, but the lack of a strong goalkeeper certainly didn’t help matters.


Southgate tried out two different goalkeepers in England’s two World Cup warm up games before heading to Russia. Nick Pope was seen as a contender for a time, but ultimately it came down to a choice between Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford, with the latter eventually favoured.

In 2010, this sort of uncertainty cost England, but Pickford has since vindicated Southgate’s call. The 24-year-old has been one of the most impressive goalkeepers at this World Cup, rescuing England in a penalty shootout against Colombia before making a couple of key saves in the quarter final win over Sweden. One stop in particular, a low stop to deny Viktor Claesson, was crucial in determining the outcome of the match and sending England to their first World Cup semi final since 1990.

There were questions over Pickford’s selection heading into the tournament. Never before had England taken such a young number one goalkeeper to a major tournament. While the 24-year-old has certainly impressed since making the move to Everton from Sunderland the year before, he had also made mistakes. What if he made one of them at the World Cup? What if it derailed not only England’s campaign, but his fledgling career?

Those fears have been unfounded, though. In fact, Pickford has become a giant of this England team. He has grown with every game. The penalty shootout triumph over Colombia in particular appeared to embolden Pickford, boosting his confidence at a crucial point of the tournament.

Not only is Pickford making big saves, but he is a relaxing influence behind England’s back three. They believe in their goalkeeper and he believes in them. There is a mutual understanding that has blossomed from what has happened at this World Cup. It could take England even further.

Legends will be forged should England go all the way at this World Cup, should they become world champions for the first time since 1966. They might well erect a statue of Harry Kane outside Wembley to stand alongside the one of Bobby Moore. Pickford deserves to be mentioned among the very best of them.

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Brazil bow out following defeat to Belgium


Five-times World Cup champions Brazil bowed out of the World Cup last week after a mediocre campaign was finally brought to an end by Roberto Martinez’s Belgium side in Kazan.

In a crunch match in which Brazil would have to show their mettle and championship-winning credentials if they were to continue into the latter stages of the competition, the side found themselves behind early on when Nacer Chadli’s corner struck Fernandinho’s arm, beating an unsuspecting Alisson.

Brazil had conceded just one goal in their past four games in Russia and their opponents took advantage of the malaise that followed the surprise goal – creating a Continue reading

Raheem Sterling deserves credit, not criticism, for performance

Towards the end of the first half of England’s World Cup quarter final clash with Sweden, Raheem Sterling was presented with two golden opportunities. The first one saw the winger played clean through, with his shot smothered by goalkeeper Robin Olsen. The flag was raised to spare the winger’s blushes, though. The second miss wasn’t excused in the same way.

Again, Sterling was played through, this time by a long ball over the top. His first touch set him up perfectly, deciding to round Olsen rather than take the early shot. However, by dithering, Sterling allowed the Swedes to get back and block his eventual shot. In the end, it didn’t cost England. But it might have.


These misses were represented in the way many fans evaluated the Manchester City winger’s quarter final performance. Sterling came in for criticism from some, picked out for his perceived poor display. However, Sterling actually deserves credit, not criticism, for the way he played against Sweden.

It could be argued that Sterling is England’s most important player at this World Cup. Nobody can do what he does for the Three Lions. At times, he is more of a number 10 than a winger, dropping into the centre of the pitch to pick up the ball. Sterling is the man who masks England’s deficiencies in midfield.

Had Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain been fit, it’s possible that Gareth Southgate could have used him as the player to open up space in the final third. However, with the Liverpool man out injured Southgate has been forced to think outside the box and that has led him to use Sterling in a way that few appreciate.

Sure, Sterling might have missed a couple chances against Sweden, but no other player in the England team would have been in a position to receive those chances in the first place. His movement both on and off the field needs acknowledging even if the majority of fans seem to overlook it.

Finishing has always been the winger’s weak point. It’s the same for Manchester City. Even as Sterling scored 18 goals in the Premier League last season, he fluffed enough chances in front of goal for this to be perceived as a weakness. It’s certainly true that he could do with sharpening his edge.

Sterling is a key pillar of this England team that has reached the semi finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990. Southgate understands that and his teammates on the pitch certainly understand that as well. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter if fans don’t, but it robs Sterling of the praise he so clearly deserves. Even after those missed chances against Sweden, he warrants applause for what he does rather than what he doesn’t.

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Fellaini continues to be Belgium’s secret weapon


Belgium secured their place in the quarter finals of the 2018 World Cup, thanks to a dramatic finale to their last 16 clash with Japan.

Japan took a shock 2-0 second half lead over Roberto Martinez’s star studded side, and threatened to cause the biggest upset of the competition so far.

Even the hosts win over Spain in the round of last 16 required a penalty shoot out, this was pure football from Japan.

However it was not to be, as Belgium’s quality and big game experience hauled them back into – with an injury time winner from West Brom’s Nacer Chadli breaking Japanese – and neutral – hearts.

Continue reading