Category Archives: Football

Saudi Glasnost Latest: World Cup Hopefuls Seconded to La Liga!


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Back to the Drawing Board: Three Must-Implement Fixes for Russia to Avoid World Cup Humiliation

The media reaction to the 1st December 2017 Kremlin Palace draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals was dominated by the apparently benign group allocation handed out to England; however, this curious focus has only served to obscure the event’s Really Big Story – the probable elimination of the hosts less than two weeks into the competition.

Drawn in Group A, Russia will kick off the tournament with a relatively easy game against the notoriously inconsistent Saudi Arabians (14/06/2018), but their other pool opponents – Egypt and Uruguay, in that order – seem almost tailor-made to spoil the Russian party. Both these latter sides are respectively spearheaded by world-class strikers with pace to burn – Mohamed Salah and Luis Suárez – and have the personnel to soak up opposition pressure before launching decisive counterattacks; the contrast with a Russian national team which is characterised by overly-ponderous, predictable passing patterns and sluggish midfield runners could scarcely be sharper.

In normal circumstances, this sub-optimal prognosis would be par for the course: since its inception in 1992, the Russian national football team has only got into the knockout stages of a major tournament on a single occasion, when a stylish side inspired by the Arsenal and Zenit Saint Petersburg icon Andrey Arshavin finished a highly-creditable fourth at Euro 2008.

However, these are not normal circumstances: with Russia hosting the FIFA World Cup for the first time, another average group-stage exit would represent nothing short of a soft power catastrophe. Something therefore needs to change – but what? After some contemplation, we at Mediolana believe we have the makings of a master plan to spare Russian blushes at next year’s global party sans pareil:

  1. Press Fast Forward. Russia seem to flourish when they resist the temptation of taking the game to the other team and instead intermix snappy passing on the break with sitting moderately deep when not in possession. Crucially, their players have the technique to manoeuvre the ball in tight areas, so this attribute should be taken advantage of.
  2. Find Other Creative Outlets. Russia’s finals performances at recent tournaments have been crippled by the non-availability of Alan Dzagoev, a joint-top scorer at Euro 2012 who has developed a knack of running into injury problems at precisely the most inconvenient moments. While the presence of Dzagoev will still be critical to Russian success in 2018, drastic over-reliance on a single player is simply inexcusable given the size of Russia’s professional football base.
  3. Promote Youth. Russia presently have a clutch of midfielders and strikers – all of whom have excellent technical ability – populating their U21 squad. These players are exactly what is needed to enable the team to make the transition from lumbering liabilities to exponents of sultry and effective football. In particular, Fyodor Chalov and Timur Zhamaletdinov (CSKA Moscow), Zelimkhan Bakayev (Spartak-2 Moscow), Ayaz Guliyev (Anzhi Makhachkala), Rifat Zhemaletdinov (Rubin Kazan) and Ivan Oblyakov (FC Ufa) are all genuinely gifted individuals who should be given a chance to propel their country’s senior soccer collective to new heights.

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Painting the Continent Red: #Zlatan the Younger Helps Tokyo Team Rock Asia!

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Expansion Teams: Why FIFA Must Be Bolder on Post-2022 World Cup Evolution

One of the more unnerving recent events in the domain of the world’s most popular sport is indubitably the descent of the Italian national football team into World Cup also-rans long before a finals ball has even been kicked in anger. Their absence from Russia 2018 following a single-goal aggregate play-off defeat to Sweden means that next year’s must-view extravaganza will not feature one of soccer’s great – and richly successful – brands; Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon – by some distance the most charismatic and loved goalkeeper of his generation – has accordingly slumped tearfully into retirement.

However, Italy’s non-appearance at football’s highest table is by no means the only key absence; moreover, it also throws into sharp relief a serious problem that global governing body FIFA is arguably failing to address: the overall standard of play is improving faster than tournaments can expand to accommodate this very trend.

What this means in practical terms is that because the qualification process for football’s showpiece event is now so relentlessly competitive – and the margins between success and failure correspondingly and preposterously slim – the preliminaries risk fatally devaluing the finals.

Going into the final ninety minutes of qualifiers, the teams of neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo were guaranteed a place in Russia; Messi’s Argentina in particular were in enormous danger of missing out altogether. Goal difference condemned Holland; a single freak reverse did for Bosnia-Herzegovina; while Algeria – who gave Germany the game of their life at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil – were placed into a ‘group of death’ alongside Nigeria and Cameroon over a year before the commencement of the tournament proper.

FIFA has reacted to this reality by promising a numerical extension to a 48-team finals from 2026 onwards. However – and after some contemplation – we at Mediolana aver that this is simply not sufficient. Within a decade, yet more nations that are presently not on the radar will have attained a level of footballing expertise that will doubtless shock many members of the old guard; moreover, the consolidation of professionalism in Asia will give countless more players the opportunity of a first-class career, and their national teams a yet better tilt at success.

Revising the 2026- finals intake upwards to 64 teams will not make any significant additional organisational demands on potential hosts and co-hosts; it will, however, help minimise the risk of the most coveted guests not even receiving an invite to the party. For the good of the game – and to preserve its own commercial interests – FIFA should take a giant step towards protecting its beloved World Cup from eating itself, and think bigger.

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Ultra-Matum: Can the West Withstand Brigata Curva Sud-Style Globalisation?

Back in the more innocent days of the early 2000s, the person who would become Mediolana’s Creative Director & CSO (‘CD&CSO’) was enjoying a leisurely coffee (or at least a simulacrum of coffee) in a Cambridge Starbucks with a member of that relatively rare specimen: someone he knew from his own course. Much of the accompanying conversation is of historical interest only, but one explosive idea from that otherwise gentle discussion has stayed with our CD&CSO, namely the notion that just as Japan had successfully copied and then vastly improved upon mid-twentieth century Western industrialism, both Japan and Asian countries more generally could do this and more in the realm of cultural production.

In other words, the J.League – the top tier of Japan’s professional football pyramid, still a novelty but already viewed as wildly successful – was merely a harbinger of things to come. J.Movies, J.Novels and J.Design would all equal and then surpass their Western equivalents in terms of both technical and artistic merit; this was a process that was going to define the next hundred years.

In 2017, this process is not merely underway, but is attaining a depth and breadth that constantly surprises. As the excellent recent COPA90 mini-documentary These Asian Ultras Will Blow Your Mind illustrates, it is now the case that PSS Sleman, a second-tier football club in Indonesia – replete with its own ultras, the already-fabled and disproportionately female Brigata Curva Sud – can produce chants, choreography and devotion on a level that the more uncritically consumerist parts of Europe seem to have forgotten exist.

The big corollary of these developments is the burning, largely unspoken question of our times: can the Western world – particularly the United States – really handle multi-directional globalisation, a form of interaction which supplants the traditional core-periphery model with a more level playing field amongst partner-type entities?

At the time of writing, this question seems a rhetorical one. But erecting trade barriers at a time when – as richly evidenced by capital flows small and large – psychological barriers to commerce are coming down is not the answer of self-assured nations. Only by moving up the value chain can (semi-)monopolistic and lucrative positions be maintained. The alternative – decline at the hands of faster, hungrier competitors who can replicate cheaper than you can produce – is nothing but a prescription for more empty populism.

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FIFA World Cup Bombshell: Syria Just Three Points Away from Russia!

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The Second Coming: #Ibrahimović ‘Overdoses On Déjà Vu’! #ZlatanIsBack

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