The Revolution is Spreading by Justin Salhani

Guerrilla FC’s latest cell is infiltrating a new city.

At its heart, Guerrilla FC is more than a football club or a brand. It’s a movement. It’s where forward looking creatives and footballers come together to create new realities. That was the case in 2016 when our first cell was launched in DC and that’s the case now.

San Francisco is being overrun by the tech giants of Silicon Valley. The city’s culture at large has suffered significantly in recent years, and the football culture has struggled with it.

As some of the city’s largest pitches were converted into parking decks, a new community of outcasts formed. Meeting through a series of pick up games, this group coalesced to oppose the culture engulfing this city. The revolution is spreading and a new Guerrilla FC cell is infiltrating San Francisco’s 7-a-side leagues.

More details coming soon.

Guerrilla FC x SSUR: World Cup Collab by Justin Salhani

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To mark the World Cup in Russia this year, we wanted to do something a bit different. That's why late last year, we took a shot in the dark and approached Ruslan Karablin, founder and designer of SSUR. Our idea was ambitious. We wanted to collaborate on a piece or series of pieces to release in alignment with this year's tournament.

Russ was born in Ukraine and grew up in New York. He's got shops in Odessa, LA, and NYC. And SSUR's authentic messaging in the streetwear game has made them a favorite for a lot of Guerrilla FC's community since the start. Our two brand's values align and share a lot of the same DNA - particularly when it comes to subversion.

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The first piece was released on June 14 - the day the World Cup kicked off. It's a longsleeve shirt with SSUR and Guerrilla's logos and the Russian word for 'cocktail' emblazoned across the front. They'll be in our shop soon.

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Will more come from this union? We can't say just yet...

Guerrilla FC's World Cup Predictions Revisited by Justin Salhani

 This sums up our predictions pretty accurately.

This sums up our predictions pretty accurately.

Before the World Cup started, a few of the guys here at Guerrilla FC decided to do what you should never do. We made predictions about football.

We will now review said predictions and find out who had a telepathic connection to the ghost of Paul the Octopus and who is the next Craig Burley. You can see the original piece for yourself here.

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Once again, here's our panel of, ahem, experts.

Bret Pittman - Guerrilla FC brand manager, Puerto Rican rum capo, streetwear OG, and a father to three beautiful children. Instagram: @bretpittman

Ryan Symons - Guerrilla FC co-founder and head of the team's intelligence unit. Instagram: redacted.

Justin Salhani - Founder & creative behind Guerrilla FC. Nutmeg enthusiast. Instagram: @justinsalhani

Phil Murphy - Employee of a small company called ESPN. Sportscenter anchor and football brain. Twitter: @Phil_Sports

Chris Bowerbank - Host of @ATPRadio and new Guerrilla FC recruit. Twitter: @sincebarnes

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TEAM

Winner: Phil is the big loser in this round. He picked Germany. South Korea says 'hi', Phil.

Chris and Ryan picked Argentina. In fairness, they lost to the eventual champions.

And it seems we had two winners in Bret and Justin. They both selected France to win the cup, which they did.

Runner up: Everyone picked France or Brazil. That means they all lose.

Wildcard: The biggest loser here was Justin, who picked Egypt. That's the same Egypt that lost all three matches.

Chris picked Serbia, who despite a win over Costa Rica couldn't make it out of their group.

Phil's Portugal started brightly but burnt out against Uruguay in the round of 16. Bret's Belgium did well to make the final four. The winner however was Ryan, who picked Croatia.

Biggest disappointment: Ryan and Chris just edge out Justin in being the biggest losers. They picked Belgium, who finished third. Meanwhile Justin picked England, who if you luckily missed the whole 'it's coming home' commotion, finished fourth. We are pleased Justin had to suffer through seven England matches though.

While Bret picked Portugal, the winner has to be Phil who chose Argentina. A round of 16 knockout isn't a disgrace by any means - especially to France - but anything short of a win in the final was going to be disappointing to a subpar Argentine side that has raised expectations in recent years.

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Player

Golden Boot: No one picked Harry Kane to score three pens and a deflection off his heel so everyone loses. Phil picked Ronaldo to bag 5 (he got 4) and Ryan picked Griezmann (also 4) so we'll give them a pat on the back.

Golden Ball: Guess who picked Luka Modric? Nobody. Chris picked Griezmann though, who despite an underwhelming tournament where he scored three pens and a goal that Muslera pushed into his own goal, finished with the Silver Ball. Good job predicting that, Chris.

Golden Boy: There's a lot of gold at the World Cup. Everyone picked Mbappe except Chris who picked Serjeg Milinković-Savić. Good job everyone. Not you, Chris.

Biggest Disappointment: I think we have to give the title here to Chris. He chose Gabriel Jesus. While Jesus was defended by large parts of the Brazilian coaching staff for his tireless effort, pressing, and creation of chaos in the opposing defenses - he got a lot of stick for failing to score a single goal. 

Phil gets an honorable mention for picking Salah, who despite two goals wasn't able to led Egypt out of a relatively weak group.

Justin and Bret are the big losers here because they both picked Harry Kane. Hey guys, he scored 6 goals in the World Cup and beat Griezmann to the award of 'best underwhelming tournament performance while somehow maintaining quite good stats'.

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Culture

Best goal: CBS voted Nacer Chadli's game winner against Japan as the best goal due to the vicious counter and team effort. Nobody predicted Chadli because they're all human. Ryan said Giroud, who scored 0 goals. Justin said Messi, whose lone goal in the tournament was an incredible effort. So go ahead, Justin. We'll let you win one.

Best meg: The correct answer is Vahid Amiri who basically ended Gerard Pique's dignity and that of all his ancestors. Nobody guessed Amiri. Chris said Coutinho, who if we remember correctly did meg someone, so go on Chris.

Run down:

Pogba was quite elegant at this tournament, so Justin gets credit. However, his hair was quite plain so Justin, Ryan, and Phil lose points. Bret gets the win for predicting Roman Torres to have the best hairstyle.

No boots really stuck out to us, so we'll give Ryan's "Nope," the points.

On celebrations, everybody loses. The correct answer was Diego Maradona. We'll give consolation points to Justin. Mbappe's celebrations were always composed and cool. And for being 19, that really isn't fair. But we should also note - compared to USA 94 and France 98 - players today don't have the same imagination for celebrating goals.

Ryan wins the best supporters prediction, after choosing Panama. The celebration against England was really sublime.

And as for the most baller ex-player in the stands, it was definitely the Colombia duo of Rene Higuaita and Carlos Valderrama. So no winners here. Also, shoutout to Amin who was in the Valderrama wig on international television. You get runner up. 

Home and Away Pt. VI (The Final Chapter) by Justin Salhani

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This is the sixth and final part in our Home and Away series, where Adrian Kidaman and Justin Salhani exchange letters on the World Cup and everything that's gone on in and around the tournament.

Read part I  part II  part III  part IV  part V

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July 9
Milan

Hi Adrian,

I hope you're doing well. Your last letter makes me think you might be going through something. I loved the descriptions of your past World Cups. It seems like this time every four years tends to be a time where community is important for you. It's a time where you'd get together with friends and neighbors and plan your days around the matches. Now, you're in a country that isn't your own and the meaning of the Cup is a bit different. I'm sure this must have an impact on you, no?

I understand how World Cups can strip us of all our desire to do actual work. I've tried to find a balance but on days there are no matches I tend to struggle to get going. I like the idea of listening to music. I can't seem to do this because I always need to feel the atmosphere of a match. The cheering of the fans is important if I want to get lost in the match. Also, I can tune out the Italian commentary here a bit easier. I'm sorry I wasn't able to suggest an album for the last match for you. 

For the next one, I've been listening to Kids See Ghosts and A$AP Rocky's latest album recently. The new Future album is also good. For older classics, anything Talib Kweli or Mos Def is always a good listen and since it's early morning over there I think they'll put you in a good mood for the rest of the day. I also highly suggest listening to the Dissect podcast. Season 2 is my favorite, where he analyzes Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It was incredibly inspiring on a creative level.

Tomorrow, I'll travel to London and France plays Belgium. It'll be an interesting match with a lot of rivalries. Thierry Henry is an assistant coach with Belgium and there are rivalries between a few Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea players. I personally think Roberto Martinez is a decent manager. His commentary on ESPN a few years ago was always quite concise and interesting. I realize he takes risks and is an attacking manager whose teams tend to have defensive frailties. But I think he's a thinker and his evolution will be fun to watch in coming years too. I think this will be a good game because Belgium needs to attack. And as you've mentioned, when France is pushed they attack too.

For Croatia v England, I don't know what to expect. Croatia was probably the strongest team in the group stage but the last two matches against weaker opposition they've gone to penalties. I wonder how much more Luka Modric has in his legs? They have so much quality, much more than England. I think in a normal 90 Croatia takes it. But in this match, it'll be tough. That being said, they've had incredible mental toughness to get this far.

The World Cup is almost over now. Just four more matches - including the 3rd place match. And then life goes back to normal. I like the World Cup because it lays down a marker of my life. I can look back and reflect. In 2014, I remember I was in Beirut. I was at a job I was really sick of and I was struggling with personal issues. The World Cup in Brazil actually inspired me to make changes in my life, reconnect to football, and led to the start of Guerrilla FC.

In 2010, I was in DC and spent it with my best friends. It was just a couple months before I moved to Beirut - the most impactful event of my life to date. In 2006, I was 19 and had so much angst to get out in the world and achieve things. My trip to Europe made me incredibly depressed to come back to the US. It's funny now, a lot of the time I miss DC and want to be there even though I live in Europe. In 2006 it was quite the opposite. 

Anyway, enjoy the games tomorrow. Let me know what you think of my album suggestions. I'll try to write in the next couple days. I'm quite busy but will do my best to share some reflections.

Cheers,
js

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July 14
Washington, D.C.

Justin,

How is London? How is the vibe and atmosphere? I bet it was all positive until the England lost in the semis. The Golaso event seems to have been interesting. Let me know what specifically you addressed as a panelist.

The album suggestions have been good so far, they worked out well for me. Only qualm I have with them is that they are short. It’s funny these days albums are no longer than an hour. I guess it’s a testament to the times we live in. If I can give you a good music project in less than an hour and it’s good, then I have done my job. I kind of love it because it shows how the music business might be changing and at the same time gets rid of those long albums in which we had to have some stupid track jammed into a project and you wonder why this is here? On the other hand, not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just that they are short you can do an activity to an album like maybe clean up your space or something. But what do I know about the music business I just love the art of it. 

On to the games, France v Belgium was a weird game in that Deschamps plan was brilliant. He let Belgium run themselves down and once they tired he instructed France to step up their game. The whole game it seemed Belgium had the upper hand and what broke them was a set piece. I liked the game but once again I felt France was conservative in their approach.

That’s the thing in the game right now - everyone is conservative. It’s not a bad thing but at times it seems too scripted. Sometimes you just need someone to rip off the thing and just try something wild. We saw glances of how Pogba is good and also Kante in that he wins the ball and drives towards the opponent to initiate attacks. It’s one of attributes that most people under look when they talk about him.

The thing I loved about the game was the way Pogba is growing into this menace of a midfielder and a true box to box player. Personnel does matter in the game and he has seemed comfortable the whole world cup with Matuidi and Kante alongside him. In the end, we saw the partnership that might run world football for the next few years of Varane and Umtiti. They complement each other and at times seem unplayable.

Hazard and Mbappe were the guys who excited me the most. Hazard when he is driving at you is just a horror show. It’s scary how strong he is. Mbappe, on the other hand, has that ability and quickness to ghost past you it’s out of this world. Giroud should have scored on that Mbappe pass.

For the England game I decided to go to Dock FC. The atmosphere was amazing. To be honest, that was the first soccer-centric bar I have been to in the DC area. There was large England support.

So on to the game, as an England fan this was the best it could get. Watching England over the past years tournaments have not been their thing. This World Cup it worked out for them well in that they didn’t play any teams that would push them. Even though they didn’t play any mightier teams than Belgium - their game wasn’t good enough. So, England go one nil up with a Trippier free kick and everyone is excited and obviously you expect them to score more cause now Croatia have to come out and play and its game on. But no, England start losing the ball in every situation. Ball retention goes to zero and they try to counter on every chance they get.

I’m a Liverpool but Henderson was bad after they scored. I mean, I guess this is where knowledge and game management come into play. Him trying those 60 yards balls to Sterling were a waste of time. I have to give Croatia credit in that they just kept plugging away considering they were down most of the game and actually tried to get some passes going.

I feel England needed Carrick in that game just to help them keep the ball. It’s not like Croatia pressed in their own half they just gave the ball away. This shows that England were drilled into a defensive mindset by Southgate and the counter was a big part of their game. That and set pieces. I’d say that is negative but it’s a start. Now all they need to do know is actually play and become better. The team is young and can learn from this. It’ll be interesting to see the direction they head to in the next few years, hopefully it’s a more attractive one.

France v Croatia in the final and I hope it’s a good match. I’d like France to win it just because it will be a significant show of what happens when people from different cultures come together for a cause and win. The only bad thing that will come from that is Macron will use that to push some colonialist sentiment which is bad.

Another thing is that hopefully it might again end Le Pen’s political career. The world needs a bit of positivity. A Croatia win would also be a good thing in that a non-major Euro power won the tournament. Plus, I feel they are a small unit that have this togetherness that is not publicized but it exists. The two teams in the final can both play and I’m hoping for an exciting game. The England v Belgium game will be fun to and hopefully it’s a show of skill plus it will be the chance for England to play without pressure against an equally good or even better Belgium side. 

Talk later, hope you enjoy your final in London and say hi to Julian to ask him when is he coming back stateside to add on to his all-time goal list cause as of now I am on top.

Adrian

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July 15
London

Adrian -

I'm going to keep this relatively brief. It's been a hectic week. Hopefully, after I get back to Milan on Tuesday we can discuss our reflections slightly more in depth.

London was buzzing when I arrived. But it didn't last long. After the loss to Croatia the entire vibe of the city changed. It'll be interesting to see how people follow the final this afternoon.

The event's been quite interesting. I've learned a lot about the creative football culture in London. In the States, creative football culture is almost a respite from the general culture and, in particular, parts of the mainstream soccer following. In London, this seems to be less true. There's a big discussion here about authenticity, tribal loyalties, and genuine appreciation of the game and how that influences the perception of creative football projects. Of course, these are limited reflections based on conversations and the panels at Golaso.

I'll share more when I'm back. But there was definitely an interesting contrast between the perspectives of the Brits and the Americans (only two of us and we both live in Europe) on the various panels.

Regardless of what happens today, I think I'm satisfied with this World Cup. If France wins I'm thrilled but if not, what a story from this Croatia side. We saw upsets, some decent goals, a lot of drama, and enough storylines for a really gratifying month of football.

Some quick reflections: 

- Hazard was incredible this tournament - particularly in the last few games. His balance is remarkable and allows his skill and technique to flourish under pressure.

- England's passing and movement off the ball is slow and largely uncoordinated. 

- I understand results-wise England had a good tourney, but they struggled to create chances for Harry Kane. And to me that should be the entire strategy for this team (apart from set pieces). On a performance level, I'd say it was an underwhelming tournament really.

- I think we will look back on this Belgium generation romantically - maybe the same way we do with Holland 98 - packed with talent and fun players to watch.

- While Trippier created plenty of chances, he does this thing where he pauses - seemingly for dramatic effect - before crossing the ball. I wonder if it's to allow players to read the play and make runs or if it's something more menial.

- Mbappe's roulette through ball for Giroud was the pass of the tournament and would make Guti blush.

- Hoping for an exciting match today with good goals and turns of skill. Would love to see Mbappe shine.

That's all for now. Chat soon
js

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July 21
Washington, D.C.

Justin, 

Hope you are well. The world cup is over and France are world champions for the second time in their history. It was a great final and the better team won but as always there was controversy.

France won the World Cup, but Croatia won our hearts. There is something about that team no matter how bad the situation is they trust in their ability and method. I didn’t like the way they won the cup but that’s football. Brings back the question if a team as talented as that was having an off day can they win like that. Not that it was ugly, but it wasn’t brilliant. Imagine if they took the shackles off.

But congratulations to France - as they won the cup. Croatia to deserve praise in that they have the best midfield pairing of Modric and Rakitic. Lovren also deserves praise. He has been solid all World Cup despite being ridiculed the world over. I think the referee influenced the game and this shows that the ref can still have impact on the game even with VAR in play.  

The final whistle came and I was not satisfied but nor was I disappointed. A few hours later is when it hit me: we have to wait another four years for this spectacle to happen again. This for me has been an enjoyable World Cup. I mean, I’m a football nerd, so any game of football seems interesting for me.

This World Cup provided us with attacking football from games like Japan v Senegal to Japan v Belgium and all games were interesting. Maybe this is the start of a new trend that has all teams participating with a chance to beat anyone. That is to me what football is about. All teams having a go at each other and whoever makes the least mistakes win. You guys being in Russia also made it better in that I was always watching the games in hope that I would see guys I know.

Instagram did that but seeing someone you know on tv or on platforms like Bleacher Report got me a little excited. This also made me realize that it’s time I start planning for the next World Cup as I cannot afford to miss it.

The world media made it look like Russia was going to be the worst place to host the World Cup as they do in every tournament that is in a developing country. This brought out the best of Russia and the world in general in how people interacted with each other and all that mattered was the game. Although the Fox sports coverage was bad because of the like of Lalas and Stone - National Geographic had a series on all the host cities in Russia. You should check it out. 

Two years ago, we had just finished our first season with Guerrilla FC and we were just starting out and now we are in our tenth season. A lot has happened some guys moved on and new guys have replaced them. We are following the dream you had and slowly, but surely, the influence is growing and I’m excited to see what’s next for Guerrilla. For me, it has been a journey of growth despite of all those hard times on the pitch we seem to be creating something and who knows where it will go. In the beginning, no one knew about Guerrilla FC but now guys want to be involved and join in. I guess we will use these international tournaments as milestones to see how far we have come and continue to inspire the culture.

Looking back at it, it’s been an awesome ride with highs mostly, there have been lows here and there, but I still love the journey. Being part of Guerrilla FC has made me grow a lot and I am happy with that because all I want in life is growth and a chance to still meg guys when losing a game, cause we all know that is what that matters.

Cheers,
Adrian

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July 22
Milan

Adrian,

A week ago France were crowned champions. I was in London at the time and it was a strange feeling. I was the only France supporter among my friends so it was rather surreal. I was quite excited at the time but the feeling faded quick. I'm really happy about the result and I'm quite excited to follow the careers of some of the young players - Mbappe in particular but also ones who featured less like Fekir, Dembele, Lemar, etc.

I can't imagine what it must feel like to win a World Cup. I bet guys like Pogba are simply buzzing. Also imagine being Pogba and Mbappe who were the catalysts for this team. Giroud is clearly happy despite scoring 0 goals (and he should be!) but to have scored in the final and on the way there must be incredible.

Personally, I never feel satisfied unless I contribute to a win. If I create goal scoring chances or assist goals then I am pleased. If the team wins despite me, I tend to feel guilty. 

The match was interesting. Croatia can feel hard done by for the first goal and maybe the second. It clearly shifted the play but they did a great job of coming back. France's quality shone through though and we saw that with Pogba and Mbappe's goals. In the end, France had the best collection of players. While Croatia may have been a better team in a way, the best coaches will always tell you that having good players is the best way to win games.

I would say this World Cup was a success. The best one in memory for me. Everyone I spoke to who went to Russia had a great time. That being said, I realize experiences are not universal and what I experienced may be very different for someone of a different ethnicity, gender, or ability.

I'm hoping we can plan something big for 2022 Qatar for Guerrilla FC. I think a lot of people are already writing it off because it'll be in winter. If Guerrilla survives into 2022, I'm hoping we can do some really great events, content, and apparel for the tournament - including a team trip and friendlies, pick up, and more in the Middle East. Cairo, Beirut, maybe Dubai, and Doha. Would be dope as hell.

I'm really happy to hear about your reflections of the last two years with Guerrilla FC. This project is the history and collection of my and others' suffering. We always wanted such a project but nothing existed, and thus it was in our hands to be created. And you are a huge part of this project now too as team captain. The more you build a solid team, the more the culture spreads. The more guys buy apparel and continue to fund the project. It's a cycle and every bit is important.

The past four to five weeks of writing has been great. We've discussed quite a bit of football and other issues. And I suppose now is the best time to conclude it. I look forward to what you guys build on the pitch this season. The team has taken a life of its own - beyond myself and guys like Julian and Ryan who helped start it. And the connections and messages I'm receiving are incredibly positive. 

As for the room for growth - I hope that continues. We've seen you grow as a player and leader in the last year and change. And of course, losing games is never an excuse to not leave the field with a meg.

 Best,
j

Home and Away Pt. V by Justin Salhani

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This is the fifth part in our Home and Away series, where Adrian Kidaman and Justin Salhani exchange letters on the World Cup and everything that's gone on in and around the tournament.

Read part I  part II  part III  part IV

July 4
Washington, D.C.

Hey, Justin, 

England just won a penalty shootout. Yeah, they just did it. So on to the game.

I didn’t get to watch the Sweden game as I was asleep. Just one of those days where I needed a rest. For the England game I just want to say I don’t watch the games anymore. Maybe I just gave up on them, but I tried to watch today’s game and I didn’t like it at all. They won on penalties that’s just about all I can say.

I get that Colombia were physical, but the referee was too harsh on them and they should feel undone. It’s funny that the one World Cup I am uninterested in England is when they seem to win. They win in an ugly way, but they win. Enough about them. 

France v Argentina. For me, that was a game France needed in order to bring out the best of them. Mbappe played well. He is that spark that the team needs. But the true heroes are Pogba and Matuidi. They took the game and just bossed it. Funny how Pogba plays well for France and then goes to England and he is suddenly a bad player. I guess player dynamic does matter when setting up a team.

The Pavard goal is a thing of beauty. I watch it every now and then and just go mental. Di Maria's was good but I expect that from him. I’m gutted for Pastore. He is such a great talent who is just overlooked and under appreciated by all the teams he plays for. They just don’t see the value in him. The game today in general does not see value in players like him anymore. Matuidi will be a miss in the next round. It will be interesting to see how they will do without him on the pitch. Hopefully they won’t struggle. 

Uruguay v Portugal went exactly as I expected. Uruguay is the only team to play with two deadly strikers and use them to the best of their ability. For me, they are the only team that do what the game demands. If the game calls for defending, they do it so well. But they can play to. This here I think is the end of this cycle of talent for them. Will be interesting to see how they move on after Suarez and Cavani. Portugal didn’t offer anything. I knew they would be out in the last 16 because their game is just dead. It’s sad that the classic Portuguese style of play in which we saw talent and flair all over isn't on display. I think their Euro 2004 team would have done the country prouder, but times are changing and today it's results over style and method.  

Spain v Russia was interesting. Spain had all those passes and yet didn’t win the game. But funny enough this is classic Spain - keep the ball all the time and not win the game. Before Euro 2008 professionals would always say that about Spain. You know you couldn’t get the ball but when you get your chance you could win the game. The decision to play two holding mids was what killed them. They should have dropped one of them and brought on a striker. Iago Aspas - as much as he didn’t do it in Liverpool - is a good striker and him and Costa would have put fear in most defenses. Maybe I’m just a romantic but I want a team with two strikers. I feel it’s something missing in the game and with that you get to see the differences in strikers. 

Croatia v Denmark was just a keeper’s affair. They don’t get much credit, but they were good.

The whole Neymar thing I get it, but he does sometime push it and if you are winning you will take that. A lot of guys will criticize him, but he has every right to do so. We might not like it but it’s part of the game. Plus, most people don’t realize that is a tactic to help you get a breather in the game. I am still not impressed with Brazil, but have we ever seen a Brazil team that was flawless?

Japan v Belgium reminded me of that game we played together having fun and then lost the game 4-3. It’s weird I rooted for Belgium in the game till Japan changed my mind with their play. Kagawa is so good in the right conditions. Japan to me is the best team in Asia - they play such an expansive brand of football, I guess the Zico effect is still there and a few tweaks her and there and they might be the genuine deal. Inui was also out of this world. The last goal to seal the game for Belgium was just a good goal. Nothing to go mental about but it was good.

So now we have the last eight on Friday. The games will be tough but hopefully they are bold and fun. France v Uruguay will be interesting. England v Sweden, I don’t know might be an upset in the making. Brazil v Belgium will be an ugly game I think. Nothing against them but I just have the feeling though hopefully I am wrong and it is a hell of a game. Belgium can’t play the way they played against Japan though. Croatia v Russia will be another good game I just want to see what magic Modric and Rakitic will do this game. 

They definitely interfered with the whole VAR thing for sure for ratings. We can’t prove it but they I think they definitely did. 

Guerrilla FC drew 5-5 yesterday. We started out well but we conceded quickly. We came back but then went 4-1 down. We kept at it though and finished 5-5. I was frustrated because I missed a lot and we created a lot too. Seemed that every chance they had they scored but without a win it wasn’t the happiest of endings. But we have to find the silver lining in that we scored five goals. Seems to be every time we are about to play consistently we end up having a long break and have to start all over from scratch, but what can we do besides just pick ourselves up and just go again. 

Say hi to Carine and have a nice!

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July 4
Milan

Adrian,

I am gutted by Colombia's loss. England's play is so uninspiring. But that being said I think they were well set up. What I can't stand is the English media coverage of the whole event. It's so insular and lacks self awareness. Last night, Colombia and England's players were playing the dark arts. I personally do my best not to partake in any of this when I play. But I understand it's part of the game.

What kills me is the reflection afterward from sections of the English media and fanbase that the Colombians were the sole perpetrators. There was a pop at Henderson, which should have been a red card, but he certainly play acted. Maguire and Trippier both went down without being touched and I may be the lone man on this hill but I felt Kane had Sanchez's shirt before he got bundled over. Fair play to England who won, but spare us the lecturing from your perceived moral high ground.

I suppose many societies do this. The dominance of English football culture and the insular nature of it at times means there is an 'othering' that takes place. All dominant cultures are guilty of this. And in fairness, I'm sure they're not the only ones who do it. The Italians aren't in this World Cup so I can't really critique any local language coverage. But the football culture here is equally, if not more, inward facing.

We have a couple days break now. It's interesting to see regular life infiltrate an existence that's been consumed with football for the last three weeks. We'll be working on a few things for Guerrilla soon, including the next line of gear. In just under a week, I'm off to London to host a two-day segment on football and film. I'll watch the semis and the finals there. I will definitely be rooting for Sweden in the next match but it would be fantastic to be in London when England play. I might get myself killed though, as I'd certainly be supporting either Croatia or Russia. 

I'm not one for predictions but I expect a France v Brazil semifinal. And I think that could be one of the most exciting matches of the tournament. It's always tense when these teams meet, and France has gotten the better of Brazil in their last two meetings. On the other side, I'll pick Sweden to take on Croatia. Why not. Prepare now for a Uruguay v England final. 

I was thinking today about football fandom. It's quite a thing. For a month, I am enemies with so many friends. Take Ryan, who we know hates the English way of play, but his heart is with this team. He can't help it. You might be somewhat the same? I'm like that with France - who despite their tepid performances are my team (even though during the Argentina match, Carine kept asking me why I wasn't happy.) We exchange insults and in the end one of us will be thrilled and one of us will be distraught. And we will hate the other. But it's fun and in a few weeks, we'll be back to normal.

As I've been writing this, I realize we've written a lot about our opinions. But not our atmospheres. Where are you watching the matches? At home, I assume? Can you describe the surrounding? The television, the room, your ritual? I'd like to hear it so I can picture you during these matches and your reaction to a goal like Pavard's.

For me, I try to watch on my television. I was streaming for a bit but then I started hearing GOOOAAALLL screamed randomly from a neighbors house. A minute later, someone would score and I realized I needed to be watching in real time. I watch in my living room. It's a decent sized apartment room, with ceilings about 10 feet tall. The walls are painted a horrible shade of soft yellow. I can't imagine what went through the landlord's mind when he chose this shade. We've got a black, leather couch and a modestly sized television. We had a larger one but it broke so the landlord replace it with our current downgrade. Usually, I sit alone. Carine's at her desk working and her mother - who is staying with us for a few weeks - plays on her iPad. Last night, she worked on a painting next to the television while Carine, who had finished work, sat next to me on her phone.

Carine's interest ebbs and flows. She gets really into some games and is a bit indifferent to others. She loves the atmosphere more than the actual match. But Brazil is her team and she was really tense in their match against Mexico. I told her that once she gets the French passport she needs to reconsider her choice of team.

I remember she once told me that if Brazil ever meets Lebanon in a World Cup she would root for Brazil. Can you believe it? I think that would change if Lebanon did make it though. Her experience in Russia this summer was incredible and I think she saw the joy of fans from so many nations - particularly Mexico, that she would like to experience for herself.

Have you been to a World Cup before Adrian? I went to France in 1998 with my dad. I was 11 and we stayed with cousins in Paris. We watched the matches at home mostly and then went out on the Champs Elysee. It was my first experience seeing everyone so consumed with football. In the US as a kid, the World Cup only happened inside my house. All my neighbors didn't care, nor did my friends at school. We traveled south to Nice and Limoges - where we watched France beat Paraguay with a golden goal from Laurent Blanc. I remember a portly man walking down the street by himself on Limoges' main avenue. His face was painted and he sang the national anthem. 

We carried on to Toulouse, where an old journalist buddy of my father's had become mayor. He invited us to watch a round of 16 match - Yugoslavia vs the Netherlands. I remember a heavyset lady with a booming voice standing up every few minutes to yell "Hup, Holland!". This was an incredible event. This was the Netherlands team of Edgar Davids, Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert, the de Boer brothers, Edwin Van Der Sar, and Jaap Stam. Adrian, Edgar Davids scored a late winner to make it 3-2 and I still remember his celebration. He ran to the fans and put his hand to his ear. When they cheered he used his opposite hand to punch the air in victory. I wasn't a particular fan of either team at that time but I left with a special appreciation of the Dutch team. Looking back, Yugoslavia had a great set of players too. I've actually just gone back and looked at the lineups. I'll attach a screenshot below. 

Watching a World Cup at 11 is different. You don't take in the bar culture or the atmosphere outside of the actual match. My second experience was in 2006.  I spent only two days in Leipzig, and didn't make it out to my hostel l as I was out all night with French fans and a pair of really friendly Germans. I went to France v South Korea and it was a great experience. The Korean fans were incredible. They were so in sync with their chants and brought so much color to Leipzig. The rest of the tournament I spent in France or Belgium with friends or family. I watched the final back in the US at the French embassy. The crowd roared in approval when a replay showed Zidane headbutting Materazzi. I've never been so gutted over a result and I think I may not be ever again.

While I think both my prior experiences were genuine, this one was completely new to me in the sense that I spent most of my time in Moscow amongst a gathering of fans from around the world. The stand out moment to me is still the train ride to Moscow with fans of Russia, Mexico, France, Australia, and England. I hope you can attend one in your lifetime. Hopefully the tournament doesn't grow into something for upper class tourists - something I fear that is already happening.

Cheers. Talk soon.
j

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July 7
Washington, D.C.

Justin, 

Hope you and Carine are well, So, yeah Brazil is out. The game just finished. Been a while since I wrote to you. My body has been fatigued. I don’t know why but I just felt that it was time to rest and do nothing. At times I wanted to do stuff, but my heart wasn’t in it. The games today inspired me to write this before I lose enthusiasm again. 

I’ll go into the game’s first since I just watched them. The earlier game between France and Uruguay was good. France didn’t play particularly well for me. Uruguay were on them all game but luck just wasn’t with them. The game was evenly matched for me and I guess the team with the better players won the game. Today, once again I share your sentiment that sometimes France are uninspiring. I feel that for them to take risks they need to concede a goal and be on the back foot. I want to see them just come into a game and boss it for once not just when they concede. The second goal was so unlucky for Muslera because he is a good keeper but shit happens I guess. Only that this time it ensured they are out of the World Cup. 

Onto the Brazil v Belgium game. I enjoyed the game so much. I quite like how good Lukaku is. He can keep that ball, but I guess he is misused at United and denied service. A lot of players are misused by their club sides but that is a conversation for another day. Belgium simply put took their chances. It was one of those sucker punches. Brazil on the other hand attacked but just didn’t score. I loved the meg Jesus did, that was filth. On the Neymar dive that he didn’t get - that’s just something you do when you want to win or save your team, just like Suarez's handball against Ghana in 2010. It’s the same thing. So, if all those people hating on Neymar say they wouldn’t do the same thing they are all liars. Brazil missed Casemiro today, he gives them that defensive shield that they lacked when they were being countered on. 

I guess you are conflicted now France and Belgium coming up. Who do you root for?  As a Belgian-born French citizen. Maybe I am making too much out of it, but I think you are going with France. 

I have never been to the World Cup unfortunately. But that is an experience I will definitely change in the future. One of my earliest World Cup memories is from when I was five. I remember some of it because of the Ricky Martin song Cup of Life. My dad and his best friend were neighbors and every time a team would score his son and I would start belting out the song “Goal goal, ale ale ale”. That World Cup of course I liked England but at the same time I rooted for Netherlands because of their jerseys. Remember seeing my older cousins going mental when Bergkamp scored that beauty of a goal. Maybe that’s why it’s special, because due to time differences most games would be late at night like 9pm and my parents would let me watch the games and plus I think on two occasions the World Cup started on my birthday. Other World Cups I was older and it was always a family affair with cousins and friends. 

This current World Cup I get to watch the games in my aunt’s basement. Since I am not big on commentary, I watch the games muted while listening to music or a podcast in the basement. It’s pretty dark down there like a bat man cave where I just sit and watch the game. It’s a green room with one window and a door to the left. My room is right by the basement. The first thing I do is wake up like 45 min before a game, stretch, and read a book or on occasions try to do like a quick work out just to keep my body in shape. 20 minutes before the game I pick the music selection for the games.  Been playing a lot of albums from my past and it brings back memories from my childhood. Let me know a good album I should listen to for tomorrow’s games. Then I just sit down and watch the games and be a bum all day lol. This world cup has been making me not go out at all. I build my whole schedule around the games. 

Excited to see what you guys design for the next phase of 2018 for Guerrilla. On the English press - that’s classic what they do, All so-called western powers do it to make the narrative make them look good. The English media does it well, remember the Nasri-Vardy incident a few seasons back in the Champions League? Vardy clearly agitated Nasri and instead of calling it out they said Nasri was stupid and did not keep his emotions in check. Nasri though called them out and said IF he did the same thing they would have called him a cheat. 

 For now that is it. 

Talk to you later. 
Adrian

Home and Away Pt. IV by Justin Salhani

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This is the fourth part in our Home and Away series, where Adrian Kidaman and Justin Salhani exchange letters on the World Cup and everything that's gone on in and around the tournament.

Read part I  part II  part III

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June 29
Saint Etienne

Adrian, 

My last message was about Germany's elimination. An incredible couple of matches from yesterday. 

I have to say, the Swiss have impressed me this tournament. Brazil looked strong and I don't think the Serbs are a weak team at all. I could see Switzerland beating Sweden and facing Colombia in the quarterfinals. I really think Colombia will take England. I have a very strong feeling.

I missed the first two matches today, I was on a bus to Saint Etienne in France. These will be my last matches with the club I've played with for the last year. I never really connected with them and things went really poor for me on and off the pitch. I was frequently frustrated and injured, so I will seek out a new environment next season.

I was able to catch bits of the Belgium v England match though. Belgium's squad is strong. They have a lot of depth and the diversity of talent is also really handy. I felt that despite a couple chances for England, including a golden one for Rashford, Belgium looked in control. I think once England faces a team with a bit more awareness and anticipation they'll crumble. 

Tomorrow is something we won't have experienced for a couple weeks now - a break. There are no matches, and I have to say, this is where I start to feel the depression creep in.

The group stages are the best. It's a party for all nations. But now we're with out all the African teams, all the Arab teams, and only one Asian team remains. Panama, Costa Rica, and Peru are gone too, joined by a few European teams - most notably Germany.

Now the tournament is less party and more business. The joyous sides, happy to be there, have left. And we must face the reality of expectations. Nothing short of a win in the final is enough for France, Brazil, Argentina, or probably Spain. The matches are now more tense. More about not losing than winning in style. 

And then before we know it, the whole thing will be over. The experience will be recorded as data - with winners, losers, goal scorers, etc. We will be left with only our memories.

I read a book recently about the true nature of time. Time, the book says, is a man made invention and the human mind is a collection of memories. This tournament certainly has left me with some fantastic memories. The train ride from Kazan to Moscow being one of the best, along with the stadium experience, Messi's goal, Spain v Portugal, the Korea match, almost every time Mexico has played, evenings with friends, meeting new people, and so much more. I think now it would be appropriate to remind myself that the tournament is actually not nearly over yet!

I think these next matches will determine the legacy of the tournament though. South Africa 2010 was a boring tournament for me. Spain's series of 1-0 wins - though done with fantastic control of the ball and technical ability, was rather dull. Brazil 2014 was exciting in the group stages but much of that dried up in the knockout rounds.

Germany's 7-1 win was definitely momentous but it was almost like getting too drunk too fast. It wasn't enjoyable - it was just overwhelming and I still find it hard to register as an actual moment in the World Cup.

I remember a lot of matches where teams seemed to bow out rather meekly. France, despite a great group stage, seemed to accept around the 75th minute against Germany they would lose the match. It was odd. And the Colombia match vs Brazil - the match was never really close, it was quite brutal, and it lead a brutal injury for Neymar - it all just was too extreme in a sense to be exciting.

My hope is that in this one, we see more daring. More chances. Upsets, for sure, and exciting matches. I think this tournament has been so great because we've seen the unexpected so many times. Let's hope it's not over yet.

By the way, did you fill out a bracket? I filled one out with Across the Pond - the podcast in DC about the English Premier League. I think at the moment I'm in 36th place or so - out of around 110. It's not bad. John Keiran is in second but the rest of the Guerrilla crew is below me. 

All the best to you,

Justin

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June 29
Washington, D.C.

Justin, 

Wow a lot to address. I had to watch the France Denmark game again. Your thoughts were spot on. The game was pretty much dead to me. Denmark didn’t offer much but France didn’t push either.

The thing with the team, I feel, is that no one wants to make a mistake. No one wants to be the guy who “fucks up”. I don’t know, I think Cruyff said something along the lines of, “Football is a game of mistakes and whoever makes less wins." That quote may stay in their mind, stopping them from trying the audacious stuff. I have been watching and it’s like they are playing with a leg tied behind their back.

I’m kind of torn on the fact that yeah, I do not like that Giroud starts, but at the same time I like that he gets to show his skill through the team. He isn’t as bad as people make him seem. I think he slows down their attack, but he is effective and pretty good at his position. 

On Messi, he is the best. His whole humble narrative is a thing I like but at times I wish he was cheeky. But none of that matters as much of a Messi fan I am, I like other players more. He has been in a set up where he was always going to succeed. Your mate is right on the fact that we have been conditioned to perceive Ronaldo as the arrogant guy and Messi as the humble guy.

They always emphasize Messi’s story as a young kid and forget that Ronaldo struggled too. It’s the classic life thing of Good vs Evil. One has to be good and the other has to be evil. It’s just the way it is. Plus, the fact that the world football narrative is run basically by a group of elite clubs -mainly United, Barca and Madrid.

So yeah, the group stages are done, and I feel gutted for Senegal who are going out on a technicality. The game is cruel, it teases us then breaks your heart. This whole year it has been like that for me. Senegal lost to Colombia off a corner kick. Again with the set pieces. They had the perfect tactic. They would crowd Cuadrado to the line and he had nowhere to go.

Germany are out too; the defending champions are out and personally, I love it. There is this whole level of arrogance with many founding teams of football and every time the defending champions lose I love it. It’s for the good of the game. Quite impressed by South Korea in that game. They were relentless all game and played with no fear. 

Never got to watch the England v Belgium game. I always end up napping when England play. I don’t know why. Maybe I have been mentally abused by their bad football for too long that I switch out just so I do not ruin my mood. From what people are saying it seem like England are going to win it but they are wrong. The team I think that no one wants to play is Croatia. So far, they have played well in the whole tournament for me.

As I write this, we are on a break today from the games. This here is my quick response and I want to go back out and explore the city more and definitely get more pictures in. I  am enjoying  the break as I get to check out of football and see what else is going on in the world. I love it and hate it at the same time - it’s weird. Since it’s been a great first round so far with great fearless football on display I fear this round of 16 games will turn out to be a bore because of the stakes. I really hope that isn’t the case. 

Guerrilla FC did well on Wednesday. We drew but we kept the ball practically the whole game. It was a nice day out, we had one sub and we just balled out. Champion wouldn’t agree because he missed a host of chances but as long as we created them I’ll take that. 

I didn’t fill out a bracket. It’s never fun for me plus I always end up forgetting about it. Hopefully John wins it and gets the (prize) jersey. 

Finally, enjoy your last hurrah in France with Velasca. It’s sad it didn’t pan out as you planned it to but use that like you did here in DC to create another great team and community. Of course, it won’t be easy but it’s worth the try. 

Adrian

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July 2
Milan


Adrian,

We may have just seen the best match of the tournament. I'll write more tomorrow. But for now I just want to say I'm gutted for Japan. Their composure throughout the match was fantastic. That's exactly how I'd want my team to play. 

July 3
Milan

Adrian, 

Hope you are well man. I see Guerrilla drew 5-5 last night? Sounds like a game full of excitement. I hope the guys are coming around and enjoying the play. I know there are a couple who like clean victories with clean sheets. But hopefully the culture infects them a bit and they can take positives from the experience.

Part of the beauty of football is the coming together of different personalities to coalesce around a common goal. I think Guerrilla FC in that sense is not just a football club and community but a place where we all gain an education in a different way of football.

We're in the last days of the Round of 16 now. Luckily, the majority of the games have been interesting. Tight affairs with goals and flair on display. It's a lot to take in really because now more than half the teams that started the tournament are going home.

I'll address the matches one by one.

France v Argentina - finally we saw a brave performance from the French. Messi wasn't his electric self but he did create two goals. The final pass he made for Aguero's goal was sublime. But the star was undoubtedly Mbappe. His composure and ability is really superb. He is a player who truly excites me because he seems to have the full package - intelligence, speed, technique, awareness - it is really hard to not be reminded of Thierry Henry.

We were also treated to wondrous goals from Pavard and Di Maria. Argentina though just looked tired and lacked invention. I wonder if Pastore might have injected some spark into this team...if he could have ever made it off the bench! When I first saw him play as a 20 year old I thought he'd be destined for great things. He's still a joy to watch and hopefully he can thrive at Roma.

Argentina is due a rebuild. I hope Messi stays on, but they can't rely solely on him and Mascherano's culo-tearing defensive prowess anymore. I'm still upset with the AFA for giving Diego the job in 2010. I think the players available at that time could have won the World Cup. These days, they aren't short on attackers but the midfield, defense, and goalkeeping positions look incredibly weak. 

The most underrated man of that match though was Blaise Matuidi. If you look at the build up to goals four and five he has a key pass in both. He's always been an underrated player. And I think France could miss him in the next round considering his yellow card suspension.

Uruguay v Portugal - this was an intense match. Suarez and Cavani performed beautifully. I like this Uruguay team. They sacrifice and suffer for each other and they seem to know exactly how much talent they possess and utilize it to the max. To be honest, Portugal never impressed me in this tournament. They were a decent team with Bernardo and Ronaldo there to help drag them through. It was nice to see Quaresma shine once more but I think Round of 16 is as far as they deserve to go.

Spain v Russia - what a torrid match. I love possession football. But tiki-taka is not about merely keeping the ball. As Guardiola has said many times, you move the ball to open up space to exploit and penetrate. 

I feel Hierro was too conservative. Koke and Busquets were basically shielding Ramos and Pique. But when you control the ball to the extent Spain were, you don't need two shielding midfielders. In fact, you don't really need one. Pique and Ramos both have quality on the ball. They both pass well and can step up into midfield. What Spain seemed to try to do was push up the outside backs for width and build triangles in the middle. But the number of Russians sitting deep made it hard to play quick passes.

The introduction of Iniesta helped but I believe bringing on Thiago for one of the two midfielders (or even one of the center backs!) would have filled one more gap and allowed the quick, technical passing to have more possibilities and thus more easily find the 3rd man running in. I also think having one of Isco or Asensio drifting wide, to allow the outside backs to overlap and create a bit of havoc, might have brought more success and space.

When Spain plays like this it feels forced. It's like art for the sake of art. Art is at it's most beautiful when it has a message that can't be suppressed. It forces it's way out into the world. But this football is not about expression. Nonetheless, I still wish Spain had carried on. Russia isn't an exciting team and apart from Golovin I don't think they offer much to the tournament. That being said, I heard the streets of Moscow were incredible after the victory. I was there after they beat Egypt and it was spectacular. I can't imagine what it was like after beating Spain.

Croatia v Denmark - I was on the phone for the first five minutes of this one. I was flying off my seat watching it on mute. But the less said about the next 115 minutes the better. Let's just say it was a goalkeeping masterclass. Kasper Schmeichel has really grown into a top class goalkeeper. I'm glad to be able to see more of Luka Modric too. One of the players of the tournament so far. 

Brazil v Mexico - I think Mexico played quite well. They had a few chances and played with bravery. As usual, Neymar became the match's focal point. He's been criticized for his playacting and rolling around. I can understand that it upsets people. But I think if I were in Neymar's shoes I would do the same.

He's often targeted with late challenges on the pitch. People know he has a fiery character and he can be worked up. So they target him. There's also a convenient amnesia about what happened to his back in 2014.

Neymar is a gem. He may be a prima donna - I think the debate is still open - but he needs to be protected on the pitch. He provides so much beauty and there are few players like him in the history of the game.

Belgium v Japan - surely the match of the tournament. My heart is broken for the Japanese. They played so well. Their composure was incredible. Imagine playing against a lineup of world football stars - each more celebrated than the last - and not only keeping a cool head, but pulling off those passes, tricks, and finishes. They even went for the win in injury time.

Inui, for me, was man of the match despite the loss. Kagawa also shone. It's great to see matches like this, I just wish the result was reversed!

Anyway, today we have Colombia v England and Sweden v Switzerland. I'll watch them both from home. I'm hoping Switzerland and Colombia make it through. I don't know how many more times I can hear, read, or see 'it's coming home' without foraging into the woods to live out the rest of my days.

Ah! One thing I forgot.

I'm not sure if you noticed but the Round of 16 had one looming absence - VAR. I can't remember a single instance the referees went to VAR after it's tireless use in the first round. I wonder if orders came from up high? I remember in 2006 hearing that following the Portugal v Netherlands match, Blatter asked the referees to be very lenient with issuing cards so star players didn't miss the final. I wonder if Infantino interfered? I know VAR dominated talking points after many matches. Personally, I quite liked the drama it brought. I wouldn't mind seeing a VAR decision or two today.

All the best,

j

Home and Away Pt. III by Justin Salhani

This is the third part in our Home and Away series, where Adrian Kidaman and Justin Salhani exchange letters on the World Cup and everything that's gone on in and around the tournament.

Read part I or part II

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June 25
Milan

Wow. Obviously a bit to cover here but let's start with today.

The implementation of VAR on the Portugal - Iran and Spain - Morocco matches was quite substantial. The penalty for Iran, the yellow for Ronaldo (it was red for me), the Ronaldo penalty miss, Iago's heel flick goal that didn't count then did, Quaresma's trivela (best technical goal of the tournament yet?). 

Some great matches with memorable moments. The one benefit of being at home for matches is group chats and Twitter. It makes you feel connected and a lot of the best jokes come out during the World Cup. The tears after Iran went out showed how hard they fought. But I'll miss Morocco the most. A team full of skill and flair. Spain is the tournament's most technical team. Their passing triangles are impressive and impossible to defend against at times. But Morocco had an unpredictability about them that made them the most romantic side of the first round. 

The matches earlier today were fairly straight forward. I think the Uruguay match sent Russia back to earth a bit. Saudi played quite well against Egypt too. I felt they were technically decent throughout the tournament but maybe physically and - to an extent - tactically couldn't compete. Egypt disappointed me though. I had picked them to top the group. I severely overestimated their ability.

Before today we had that incredible Germany match. The Germans always find a way and I was pretty certain they would too. To be honest, I was raised to root against the Germans. We have French nationality and I think there's some left over political animosity there. I remember in 2006 I was in Leipzig and a drunk German man would approach me and speak in German. I told him I didn't speak German and he would switch to English. Then he'd forget and switch back into German and when I said I don't speak German he'd say "but I don't speak English" until I reminded him he did. Then he'd say, "oh, right" and continue in English. Anyway, he told me he had a dislike of the French. Left over animosity again, but from Napoleon. I told him there was something more recent that bothered the French about the Germans but I don't think he understood.

Nonetheless, I quite like this German team. I won't be cheering for them in this tournament but I like the multicultural and multiethnic makeup of the squad. Players like Ozil, Rudiger, Gundogan, Boateng, Khedira, etc. make me feel like Germany is a new country where multicultural people like myself can feel at home. Of course, there are those who claim Ozil's omission from the last match is partially political. He's of Turkish-origin and doesn't have the proper body language, if you haven't heard.

I don't remember much of the Mexico match to be honest. But I'm glad they are going through. Belgium disposed fairly easily of Tunisia, though I'm glad they still pulled two goals back. The England match was disappointing (for me). Such a typical England match. Six goals, including two penalties and a Harry Kane hattrick sealed by a deflection off his heel. They give me no joy. I feel like watching them is a chore. It's like high school theater. You watch knowing it's a poor derivative.

I was happy to see Panama score. Their team is clearly happy to be in the tournament and to score a goal is a dream. This is really what the tournament is about for me. Then Colombia and James put on a great show. It's a shame only two of Colombia, Senegal, and Japan will go through. Each team has given us memorable moments. 

The Senegal v Japan match showed a great clash of contrasting styles while both teams were also very technical and tactically aware. African teams are often subjected to an array of stereotypes but Senegal defies all of those. They have an awareness and anticipation few other teams have displayed. Japan, meanwhile, have incredible composure. You can see the influence Zico has left on them after years as national team manager.

A great tournament so far. I've been trying to get work going at the same time but it's been difficult. To be quite honest, my biggest struggle working from Milan is the isolation. Russia was great for the conversations and constant inspiration. So many people I met were inspired by football and the culture. And now it's just rather quiet. Anyway, I hope you're well dear friend. And I hope you guys can get some of the community together for some of the later matches. I'll be in London for the final and looking forward to the experience.

All the best,
Justin

--

June 27
Washington, D.C.


Vamos Argentina!

Who would have thought it would be Marcus Rojo? Gutted for Nigeria but they had chances. Football is that cruel game - just when you think you are down and out someone unlikely pops up and delivers. Like, Rojo. Damn Rojo. Wow, I’m in Euphoria right now. I want this every day of my life I just do. Argentina did play well, not great, but well enough to win in my opinion. The introduction of Ever BANEGA was key. His inch perfect pass and the control of Messi was brilliant. Nigeria should have taken their chances honestly. Can’t blame anyone for their omission. 

Sunday, I watched the Senegal - Japan game and in my opinion it was one of the best games I've seen. Two nations that just came out and play in an all-out football match. They matched each other in every aspect from tactics to technique. Two teams in the World Cup that are generally good decided to give me one of the best games. 

Didn’t get to watch the England game, it’s funny that they are winning when I do not watch them. Superstition states that I won’t watch them because whenever I do they always lose. I understand your point in that they do not play well, they never do, but now they are winning. Ryan is going mental probably but that is what football makes people do.

The Colombia game was insane in that they just stepped up. James is crazy, he turns out for his country. Falcao with a cold goal. I like the fact that they all knew James was the key to win the game, but they could not do anything about him. James is in a system that suits him as a number 10. He is just class and I love that they always play to his strengths. 

On Monday the games were pretty mental. I loved every bit of it. Early on, the Uruguay game was what we knew it would be - an easy win. Iran - Portugal was such a good game. Iran played their hearts out and should have won. But Spain - Morocco brought out my love for football with two very technical teams going at each other. I was going mental as Morocco was winning but then VAR broke my heart. It was a goal, but I felt Morocco was the better team on the day. At least they didn’t lose because that would have been cruel. Later that day, Guerrilla FC played a team called 'Make Spain Great Again' and although we lost it was a fun a game. The team was quite good in possession, but I was happy with the result. If a team like that beats us, I’ll take it. 

I love this World Cup because all teams are playing their hearts out and that’s all I want. So I guess now, me and you will be on different sides of the table for the France - Argentina last 16. Have a nice. Hopefully today’s games are as good as the others have been. 

Adrian

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June 27
Milan

Adrian -

Rather than address everything that's happened in recent hours, I'm going to focus on two things for simplicity.

1 - France v Denmark
2 - Messi and the Argentina match.

On France v Denmark, I wish both teams were eliminated. As you know, I'm a French national and supporter of the team. But this team, despite possessing all the talent, skill, and tools needed to win this tournament, is so tepid. They have no bravery. I don't fault Deschamps for the team he picked. I wish Payet was there (bar injury) and you know my feelings on Benzema, Ben Arfa, and Nasri (though the later two probably didn't have much of a shout at all after uninspiring seasons). But I honestly wish we'd give Denmark's place to Nigeria and France's to whichever of Colombia, Japan, or Senegal doesn't make it through.

Fekir and Mbappe are the only players who inspire any sort of wonder this time around. Dembele at times too. Kante does his role incredibly well but the tactical system - or lack of one - means the style of play is overly reliant on a moment of brilliance from Olivier Giroud.

On Messi, I had an interesting conversation this morning with an old friend. I went into the match saying I hoped Nigeria went through but as the match carried on I felt gripped by the Argentina narrative. I found myself celebrating Messi's goal and holding my head after the penalty was dispatched by Victor Moses. 

Messi is a wonder and, for me, the best to ever do it. But he's never been among my favorite players. I love the romantics. Zidane being the pinnacle for me, but also Riquelme, Bergkamp, Rui Costa, Iniesta. Players of grace and elegance. Messi is too robotically good. I don't see myself in him the way I see myself in Javier Pastore or Mesut Ozil (obviously at a lower level). But for some reason I feel bad for him. His talents have achieved more than I ever will. Ballon d'Ors, insurmountable record of goals, La Liga titles, Champions Leagues, and numerous lost finals. 

So why is there this collective desire to see him win? My take was that it's because Messi is not romantic. Cruyff was a purist. Him losing a final almost adds to his legacy. Zidane going out with a thumping head to Materazzi's chest adds to his mystique and legend. But we don't see these flaws in Messi. He hardly has had a bad match in his life. In Zidane and Riquelme, we saw players of limited speed but with wonderful technique and romance. Their romance was in a spin, a shifting of the ball between feet, and making the impossible look like it was attainable. Every graceful touch was a performance.

Messi is a player whose only beauty stems from his ability to do incredible things. But things I know I cannot do. I don't posses his speed or his balance. Messi doesn't do stepovers. He's never needed to. He has no flaws and we as humans relate more to people who share our flaws. It's why we love Maradona despite all his off the field ails. We love him more for it. But Messi is not this, so why do we still feel a need for him to achieve?

My mate said he feels we've been conditioned. We're taught to see Ronaldo, with his perceived arrogance, his flashy style, and his propensity to flash his muscles at the first opportunity as the bad guy in the movies. Messi is the good guy. We know Ronaldo has achieved what he has through talent but also through hard work and determination. It's a bit funny in a way. Ronaldo should be the everyman. An example of what can be if you dedicate and make the most of your talent. He should be the example, but to us, he's seen as the antagonist to Messi's protagonist.

We want Messi to have the fairytale ending because if he doesn't achieve it, what hope is there for the rest of us? I suppose this is a theme that Eklund and Knausgaard struggled with in their writings too. Emotions in football counter all logic, belief, and values we've implemented into our character. Football is antithetical to those values. I'm a major critique of imperialism and European colonization but I cheer for the French team against the countries they've colonized. Argentina, who has a history of ethnic cleansing, captures our hearts. It's convoluted and twisted but maybe it is also why Albert Camus claimed "everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football."

I'm always glad to hear the team is doing well. The team's spirit seems to be quite high despite disappointing results. Of course the process is of greater importance than the result for Guerrilla Football Club, but winning does wonders for spirits. That being said, building the proper platform of identity and values helps the team to win and achieve more sustainable success. Build that into the DNA of the team and the accomplishments will be greater than trying to win one off matches. It'll also bring a unity into the squad that will inspire good vibes and a positivity that can last beyond your days on the pitch. Create beauty, create art.

Chat soon.
Justin

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June 27
Milan

My god.

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Home and Away Pt. II by Justin Salhani

This is the second in our Home and Away series, where Adrian Kidaman and Justin Salhani exchange letters on the World Cup and everything that's gone on in and around the tournament.

Read part I.

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June 19
Washington, D.C.

Justin,

Once again, send my regards to Carine. Hope you had a good first weekend in Russia.  It’s been an interesting few days Stateside. It’s nice that they have Guus Hiddink as a panellist next to Alexi Lalas. I believe it brings to the front how bad Alexi’s analysis is. But, thankfully, the games so far have been good.

The France game had no rhythm until the subs were made. Nothing against them, but it felt like they had first game syndrome - if that’s a thing. So far, no team has impressed me in the cup. All teams can beat each other. And that’s the dream we are all sold, if you put effort and stick to the plan you might overcome any opponent. I love how every game is not going as expected.

The past weekend’s games were all good. The thing that kills me so far is the African teams are playing so well only to be undone by set pieces. Fucking set pieces. But that is football. VAR has played a big part in most games from the France one to the South Korea match.

Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about it. I guess it makes the game cleaner but takes out the fact that the referee is human. The narrative of the game is about to change with this VAR thing. Will the advantage rule be even necessary because one could argue why give them the advantage?

If VAR is to be implemented worldwide the narrative of the game will change like it did yesterday in the Sweden game. The ref decided to go to VAR when Korea were about to launch a counter attack. I am not saying they were going to score for sure, but you felt the momentum was with them. Bennett brought out this point in that it changes how teams react to injustice. I do see it in the future of football now, but I am struggling with it. Maybe it will prevent the booking of wrong players like the Ox - Gibbs situation from a few years back.

Germany lost their game against Mexico and what I loved about the game was that Mexico didn’t care who Germany was. They attacked, and although they should have put away more chances, they won the game all the same. Germany did what Germany does and attacked but I guess it wasn’t just their day. The Belgium game yesterday was not a fair result in my opinion because Panama played well and didn’t let Belgium settle and dictate the pace of the game. Even after they conceded they stuck to their guns and played the same way.

Brazil v Switzerland was a good game in that both teams looked up for it. Although Brazil didn’t play well, it hurt to see how mercurial players like Neymar are targeted. As of now I do not know who will win the World Cup, but I hope Messi does it. Though I think my notion of playing the perfect world cup is a must for one to win, no country that has won it has played well from the beginning to the end. Maybe it’s time domestic leagues start looking to shorten their seasons during World Cup years in order to have the players fresh.

Yesterday, we played our first game of the season with Guerrilla Football Club.  We lost. But I still feel the team is building up to be something good. Everybody seems to be willing to talk to each other and encourage one another.

Finally, I read the Lukaku article in The Players' Tribune and it pulled a string in my heart. It’s a great read. Have a look if you haven't already.

I know you are wondering why I am not talking about the England game. I didn’t watch it but from what I heard they played awful. Hopefully, today Senegal and Egypt do it for Africa.

Have a Nice!

Kidaman, Adrian.

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June 20
Moscow

Hi Adrian,

I’m in Moscow until Friday and then it’s back to Milan. When I’m home, I’ll have more time to write you. At the moment our days are filled with sights, friends, and football.

The beauty of visiting a country during the World Cup is there are never down moments. For example, this morning we’re headed to Gorky Park to see a Banksy exhibit. After, we’ll head to the stadium to try and grab last minute tickets to Portugal-Morocco. It’s always a mix of seeing the country you’re staying in and catching as much football as possible. Stadiums, bars, cafes, from the hotel/hostel... it’s all part of the experience. 

There are a number of matches to catch up on here. I didn’t even know the Nigeria - Croatia match had been played until the next day. I was on a train, as I mentioned, and spent the night drinking and singing with a group of Russians, Mexicans, Australians, and a couple Frenchmen based in the UK. 

Since then, we’ve seen Mexico beat Germany in a well deserved battle. The Mexicans played without fear, like you said, and their close control and quick countering was fun to watch. I’m more of a possession enthusiast of course but Mexico played with real panache and daring. 

We’ve also had Japan defeat Colombia and so far the tournament has been poor for Conmebol with only Uruguay squeaking out a win. 

Senegal’s match yesterday was great. The entire team had fantastic match awareness. Their anticipation was too much for a Polish team that wasn’t able to match Senegal’s cerebral quality. The fact their coach is from the 2002 squad is really exciting as well. 

But the big match, and tragedy for me, is Russia’s victory over Egypt. In two bars in Moscow (we left the first bar at halftime to find a better atmosphere) I was the only person supporting Egypt. I saw groups of Moroccans chanting for Russia. I’m heartbroken for this team because they have real quality and I felt they were unfortunate against Uruguay and a bit unlucky against Russia too. 

The streets of Moscow after the match though were incredible. At midnight the city center was flooded with people. Chants of Ru-see-aa. Cars racing by waving flags. Of course, we passed a group of Mexicans still celebrating from the other night. But it was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Carine and I left around 12:30 or 1 am and people were still piling in to the square from every direction. People as far as the eye could see!

The first round is over and it’s a bit sad because this is always the best part of the tournament. It’s when everyone is still hopeful and here for the party. Egypt’s cup is almost certainly over now and Morocco and Saudi Arabia could follow suit today. 

Anyway, it’s been a lovely tournament so far. Here’s to more surprises, upsets, last minute winners, and joy for all the fans. Write soon. 

Justin

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June 23
Milan

Hi Adrian,

Back in Italy, so I have more time to write now. 

Some good news - France is through! But it's a shame it is at the expense of Peru. I missed that match because I was making a custom Nike kit at the Nike Box in Moscow.

Mine is kind of plain if I'm being honest. I added a tail (later I thought about adding a hood but it was too late) and sublimated a spot on the front that I covered with crosses. I added a double strap on each sleeve and I sublimated my name on the back in Cyrilic but compared to past creations it's quite dull for me. Carine's is cool. She made a dress, turned the number sideways, added zippers on the front as an accessory and used the sublimation to make blots. 

My last match in Russia was watching Croatia vs Argentina in Gorky Park at a space set up by the Croatian FA. There were small spaces to play 3 or 5 a side, stations for FIFA, foosball tables, and beanbags on a grass area with a big screen. Croatia has been one of the most impressive teams so far in this tournament. 

Modric and Rakitic are really a formidable duo. Modric, like Xavi, seems to be getting better with age. I remember when my mate used to buy him on Football Manager in 2007 and play him on the left wing with Dimitri Payet on the right. This was before his Tottenham days mind you. Argentina is really painful to watch though and it hurts to see Messi suffer through this.

It's strange we worry about Messi's suffering. He's enjoyed greater highs than probably anyone. So many Champions Leagues, La Liga titles, etc etc. But this is the last World Cup in his prime (I'm sure he'll feature at the next one unless he retires again). And he's achieved so much. As our groupchat discussed though - the lineup was strange. And a manager like Jorge Sampaoli - who is brilliant - is playing limited players over guys like Dybala for some reason. What politics are at play? How much of a say does Messi have? It's all so tragic. Now we are at a crux where Nigeria - who performed beautifully against Iceland - or Argentina go through to the next round.

Of course, the match could have been so different if that early chance went in and if Caballero didn't make that mistake. But Croatia was the superior team. They crowded Messi out. It wasn't that he wasn't working, it's that the ball never got near him. He searched for it deep at times but Croatia's strategy was sublime in its execution. 

I read Maradona's comments after the match. His words must sting Messi because they sting me and I'm not even Argentinian. It strikes me as the hurt ego of someone who can't accept he's been surpassed in talent. He did add the qualifier that he (Maradona) may not be considered even among the best and that there are many who consider someone else better. Still, it just seems to come from a place of spite to me. I've obviously not reached these levels of success in the game. But I always feel that my job as a relative elder (31 to your 25) is to offer you support, confidence, and the platform for expressing yourself. I guess it's a bit sad because Maradona obviously cares so much but it's also a window into his own soul which must be hurting - from Argentina's play and from his own personal demons.

The last thing I'll say about Argentina is - it's quite incredible we view them as a failure of a national team considering how many finals they've reached in the last eight years. I saw something on Twitter about our love for those great Dutch teams - including Cruyffs, the 1982 Brazil team lead by Zico that never won the final, among many others. Cruyff is often grouped in with the three to five best players of all time but he didn't achieve all that Messi has on a personal or team level. These are different times I suppose.

I caught the end of Brazil vs Costa Rica streaming from my phone as we landed at Bergamo airport. Right as I opened it up, Coutinho burst into the box and finished Jesus delicate touch. It's harsh for a quality Costa Rica team but it's also nice to see the Brazilians discovering some joy after the trauma of 2014. People spoke after about Neymar's antics - his rainbow and his tears after the match. People talk about the disrespect. But I find myself growing tired of this talk. In terms of the skill, my belief is if you have it - use it. Give people joy. Children particularly love to see this. Hell, I love to see this. I think you already knew that though. I've been given a few swipes for turns of skill when we're winning matches with Guerrilla, as you might remember.

And I know I'm in a minority here but I don't understand why we work so hard at our skills and expression only to temper them. Should we dampen our talents to make our opponents more secure in themselves? I don't remember the screams of disrespect when Germany put seven past Brazil. And I don't think there should have been. This is sport - not war. Of course, we should know that the defender being embarrassed won't like that and the fans may want to see you fail after. That's part of the game. But these criticisms that players shouldn't express themselves with audacious skill is ludicrous too me. The idea that a physical assault is then warranted as a reaction to a piece of trickery is surely absurd and a brutal, cruel, and overzealous response.

I caught the second half of Nigeria - Iceland and it was so nice to see Nigeria play with daring and skill. Also those kits! Musa's two goals were wonderfully taken. The technique to control on the first one was exquisite. The second goal was made by his first touch. It was a push with the bottom of the toe that just edged the defender and allowed him to get in behind. We don't see such brilliance that often and the analysis will surely be on his speed (which exists) but that touch was everything. And the fact they did it in those kits...ouf.

The last match I wasn't particularly interested in but considering I'd missed a fair amount of football in the last two days I decided to watch anyway. And it turned out to be a great one. Two Swiss of Albanian origin scored goals in the second half to take the lead from Serbia. Granit Xhaka's father spent years in prison for his politics and after scoring both he and Shaqiri gave the Albanian eagle hand signal. It was beautiful. Politically charged, but it's a bit naive to think sport shouldn't be - especially when representing nations.

This Swiss team is different than those of the past. For the last 16 years I've been watching the Swiss team with dread. Hakan Yakin and Alex Frei were interesting players for a time but the team was generally quite boring. Shaqiri has obviously changed that, but now the base of Xhaka and Behrami (in his fourth World Cup) allow for some interesting attackers. You see a flair and movement that past teams didn't inhibit.

Today, I'm back to work a bit. But I'll be watching all three matches for certain. We have Sweden take on Germany and it will be interesting to see if the Germans recover. I think they played quite well against Mexico in general but lacked a bit of luck. Also the Mexicans' counters were daring and precise. Mexico then takes on South Korea. I know Ray is pessimistic - and he probably should be. I would love to see Mexico go far in this tournament. Hopefully, it wakes something up in the USSF too. And of course Belgium takes on Tunisia. I was born in Belgium but have no particular affinity for the team or most of their players. I like Radja a lot and I'm sad he missed out on this tournament. I think I'll pull for Tunisia this time. I'd like to see an upset and an Arab team finally not lose a match (we're 7 losses out of 7 played at the moment). 

Look forward to your next letter and will write more tomorrow hopefully.

Justin

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June 24
Washington, D.C.

Hey man,

Hope you are good. Well, I guess all my North African teams are out of the World Cup as we speak. It’s confirmed. Football is a cruel sport. I mean all these countries played so well. They just didn’t score. It reminds me of those 7 a side games we’d play and lose after bossing it all day (talking about the 4-3 loss we had). I find those games funny. While most get frustrated about them, I tend to take more from them. I feel most of them played well but a few unfortunate moments led to their downfall and that is life I guess. Peru is out too and I'm gutted for Ale, since he is a fellow Liverpool fan, but all in all they can say they had a good World Cup. They haven’t won yet, but they gave it their all. That’s all one can ask for as a fan.

I saw what you and Carine were doing at the Nike Box. That’s a cool concept that could work out here in DC too. Basically, a place where guys come and create whatever is in their mind. It kind of works like therapy in my opinion. I expected Carine to make something cool. She’s been doing that for a while.

About the Croatia v Argentina game, a lot has been said about it. I saw it happening. Croatia as a team has always been good. I remember once they destroyed England in the qualifier for the Euros in 2008.

What is going on in Argentina is that it’s finally come to the fold that they do not know what they are doing. My theory is that Argentina never really had a plan in the World Cup in terms of playing. It’s one of those things you have to ask. What is the Argentine style of play? Argentina has always been blessed with a whole lot of talent, so it makes the team get through a lot. I think the last final they lost did a number on the squad as a whole. In my opinion, they just put too much pressure on themselves. I mean I get it - it’s the World Cup - you want to go out there and win but where is the fun aspect? 

Look at Panama for instance. They are out there having a nice. Results never go as planned but just go out and have fun. I don’t think the coach is the problem either. He is the perfect guy to fix the situation for them. It seems like Argentina are losing it but they have been in so many finals and in most of them they have lost in extra time or penalties. No point worrying about Messi in that he will be fine. It will hurt for him that it just didn’t work out for him with Argentina.

The whole thing about Maradona's criticism people forget it was a handball against England. Yeah, he scored that brilliant goal and all, but we don’t know if they could have won that game without it. Problem with it is that they are two totally different players. What Maradona said was irresponsible and what he meant to say is that people needed to step up. In the world we live in today people forget that football is a team sport that is hard for a player to have an impact and forget to appreciate what Messi does. It’s unfortunate but that is the world we live in.

Brazil v Costa Rica was a good game in my opinion. I love the way Brazil play and just enjoy themselves no matter how frustrating the game is. Again, there is me going on with my whole fun factor of the game. Maybe it’s the purist nature in me but that is why I fell in love with the game at first.  The guys hating on Neymar are the guys who don’t appreciate the game. I mean imagine you’ve had a shit day at work and you come home to that such a thing of beauty. It changes your mood.

I agree with you in what is the point of training for all those years if you can’t get to use those skills. This World Cup is going to be Couthinho’s World Cup. People talk about Neymar but Coutinho isn’t far behind. I am happy he is on the world stage and people get to see what we as Liverpool had for a good period with the little magician.

Switzerland v Serbia brought out why football might be the greatest form of art. It’s a way to make a statement, although a political one that FIFA is against. That goal meant a lot to all Albanians. They will have stories about that in the future. Plus, it amazed me how Xhaka - a player ridiculed in club football - is so good for his country.

I watched the Germany game today and I must admit it was one of the worst Boateng performances I have seen from him. He was just bad. I guess Germany are weak on the counter. Something we have come to expect from them is now their weakness. The irony! I got to see the Belgium game again and the strategy of Martinez making De Bryune the anchor seems to be working well. I was Impressed by Mertens especially on his assist to Lukaku. If I was in that situation I would have gone wide, but he drove at them which caused havoc. I guess that’s why he is a pro and I’m not.

France will grow into the tournament I feel but in the last group game I want to see a free-flowing team on the front foot. Tomorrow, England play and I am not looking forward to it. I think they will win but it will be one of those ugly games. What I can hope for is that they show up and entertain.

Concerning great teams that didn’t win - what those teams did is inspire the next generation. In this world, I think what you want to do is inspire the next generation or leave a mark. The Cryuff team showed the world that the game could be played in a beautiful and inclusive way. That team has influenced world football to this day. For all the World Cups that Italy won, no one says 'hey I want to play like the Italians.' The problem here is that there is an emphasis on the trophy and not how it comes about or what it exudes to the world. It’s unfortunate.

The one thing I love so far about the World Cup so far is that no team is afraid of the other. They are all going for it and that’s what we want. Hopefully, your Arab teams save face with their final matches.

Cheers,

Adrian