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!

--

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

--

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