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

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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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