England’s long-ball tactics against Ukraine – fair or foul?

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Is it acceptable for a national team to play long-ball?

That’s the question facing Roy Hodgson following England’s display in Tuesday’s 0-0 World Cup qualifier against Ukraine.

Following the result, the England boss faced a wave of criticism from former England international, Gary Lineker, who called the Three Lions display “woeful” and “awful.”

Over Twitter, Lineker asked followers: “What happens to some of these players when they pull on an England shirt? When you see England pass it like they’ve never been introduced to each other, it does make you wonder why [Michael] Carrick doesn’t feature.”

Later Lineker took a tongue-and-cheek approach, writing: “We’re seeing a lot of one-touch football. England have a touch. Ukraine have a touch. England have a touch….” The banter continued when Linker fired a warning shot the world’s best, “Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina et al, you’re in big trouble!”

When informed of the criticism Hodgson explained he thought it was a “very high-quality” performance and that he was happy.

“I cannot comment on what people think at home, but I don’t think that is a fair comment on our performance,” Hodgson said. “If the expectations upon us are now so great we come to places like Ukraine and are expected to roll teams over, it will be difficult for us ever to get a good result.”

Let’s consider the circumstances.

Heading into the match England were top of the group, one point ahead of Ukraine and even on points with Montenegro, who was idle. With home matches against Poland and Montenegro still to come, England could not afford to drop points to Ukraine. Mykhalo Fomenko’s side had already shown their quality in last year’s 1-1 draw at Wembley and with the Olympic Stadium filled with 70,000 screaming Ukrainians, a potential buzz-saw awaited the Three Lions.

So Hodgson gave his men their orders.

“Did we play longer balls forward early?” the England boss asked. “Yes, we did. We didn’t want to play out from the back and invite pressure.” With regards to Lineker’s comments Hodgson claimed he was “surprised anyone who has played for England, captained England and played in games of this nature can be that critical.”

He shouldn’t be. Hodgson employed a Route 1 approach and it was anything but a “very high-quality” performance .

But it worked. It was a tactic, a means to an end and a move that one could argue was not so different than Jose Mourinho’s decision two weeks ago to have Chelsea sit back and play for the draw against Manchester United.

Style of play is important and most would agree that England’s is in need of an overhaul. At the end of the day, however, the game remains a results based business.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE