“For some, this is the worst penalty kick in the world”.
I saw the headline on Chilean site El Gráfico and expected to see something amazing from this weekend’s Primera action (where league-leading Rangers is probably now better than their more famous Scottish namesake). Instead, the outlet was highlighting a kick from the Austrian Bundesliga, one taken by Red Bull Salzburg’s Jonathan Soriano.
In Spanish, the headline read Para algunos este es el peor penal del mundo. That’s a pretty bold statement. What could the worst kick in the world possibly look like? Did Soriano fall in the run up? Trip over himself? Perhaps miss the ball entirely?
That’s what I was prepared for. I certainly never imagined this:
Silver lining: Soriano may have just secured a post-soccer career in the National Football League.
The score would have pulled Red Bull within one with 10 minutes left. Instead, Rapid Wien went on to a 2-0 win in Salzburg, leaving the two clubs as part of the four-way tie for first (with Austria Wien and Ried, each team 3-1-0 through four rounds).
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On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.
They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.
Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.
Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.
Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.
And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:
“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.
“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”
Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.
That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.
Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.
The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.
“Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”
Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”
That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni.
Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.
“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”