World Cup 2022: Maybe we should start writing off the Germans after the shock of Japan? – Warm up

BIG STORIES THURSDAY

Well it was unexpected

Football, as Gary Lineker once said, is a simple game. Twenty-two people chase the ball for 90 minutes, and in the end the Germans win. And you know what? It’s amazing how sticky it is. Of course Germany will win. Germany always wins. It’s practically the law of motion.

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England worries about injury as Kane prepares for ankle scan ahead of US match

YESTERDAY AT 22:31

You are reading this the day after Japan returned after a goal to beat Germany and blow group E wide open. The game is over. Everyone went to their hotels. And yet, deep down, the Warm-Up team still knows that Germany will equalize late. Any second…

It helps, of course, that Germany was actually making good headway. There are half-written hymns to Jamal Musiale that will never see the light of day. A teenager demonstrating his authority at the World Cup. The future of German football. The one that England missed. Wait, there’s a football match going on here.

Germany won the xG battle and won the vision test. Japan, however, won the football match, and they did so through a radical, rarely seen tactic: they used their replacements to improve. At half-time, they called in Takehiro Tomiyasu to plug a huge hole in the right side of the defense and then started to retool the attack: Kaoru Mitoma and Takuma Asano came out just before the hour, Ritsu Doan joined the fun in the 71st minute and Takumi Minamino finished the shift at 74 -th place; the equalizer came in a minute. Japan, having taken the lead from the back five, has turned from a vulnerable appendage into an extremely annoying opponent.

And they just pierced through Germany, whose soft center was brutally exposed. The winner here is symbolic: Asano’s touch on the long ball is great, but it’s his strength that holds Nico Schlotterbeck back, his speed overtakes him, and his punching power nearly blows Manuel Neuer’s head off. The stereotype calls for Japan to come forward, play neat technical football, and then retire with dignity to the faint howl of a thousand hipsters. This part, on the other hand, is delightfully patchwork.

The extent to which Germany is in a real, proper, early exit problem cannot be underestimated. We’ll move on to their next opponent, Spain, a bit later, but it’s the game – the total lack of performance – from Costa Rica that will give Hansi Flick goosebumps. If Japan wins on Sunday morning, it will make Germany’s game against Spain (almost) mandatory. It seems absurd at the start of a knockout football tournament, but we don’t make the rules.

Finally, we once again have to consider one of the most burning issues of the World Cup. Can a disorder really be a disorder if it is caused by a psychic animal? Here is Taiyo, the otter with small claws, making the right prediction before the game. Some psychic animals are outright swindlers. But look at Tayo’s face here. It’s a crumpled, majestic coupon for an animal that has seen all futures in all their horror and survived to tell what it can. We believe him.

Paz, Paz, Paz, Paz, Goal!

To look at the table of the Spanish national team before the game was to look deep into the soul of Luis Enrique. Defensive midfielders, midfield midfielders, offensive midfielders. Rodri in the center back. Marco Asensio is upstairs. Three players aged 33 or over; the other eight with an average of 23 and a half.

However, it worked, didn’t it? Seven goals and a thousand passes later, Spain came out of their first game with three points and the first no-hitter in the World Cup – that’s not one shot from Costa Rica, not one – that we can remember. They could almost certainly walk away with another midfielder in goal, although this could provoke their opponents to shoot from anywhere. Or violence. Or cry.

Common sense, of course, dictates that this team is still too young in key areas and too self-made in others to be considered a worthy contender. Common sense, however, can do one thing: look at Gavi. Look at Dani Olmo. Look at Pedri. Dizzy, scurrying kids with thousand-year-old football brains and the self-confidence of volcanoes. We were very scared and watched on TV. Imagine how Costa Rica felt.

Apart from the entertainment value of the various shocking results, what we’re seeing in this first round of games is basically a test of which big team has plans that work with little to no rehearsal. England, France, and now Spain have all arrived and got right into the groove, making the most of their strengths; Argentina and Germany caught a cold. The last game of any tournament asks the question, “Are you good enough?” The first asks for something simpler, but much more important. “Are you awake?”

Of course, we know how it all ends. Over the next few games, Luis Enrique adds more and more midfielders to his squad and Spain gets more and more of themselves before they end up facing the right team, gaining 107% possession and losing 1-0. The problem with trying to turn football from a two-way game into a one-way game is that the very best teams don’t need a lot of the ball. But that’s for later.

Fun fact: Germany landed more shots on target against Japan than Spain against Costa Rica (8 vs. 7) and almost twice as many shots on target (17 vs. 9). The xG numbers vary depending on who you ask, but most have Spain only slightly ahead. And yet here we are, one team in existential despair and the other feeling damn good. This should not be a remark about the merits or other merits of watching football through a calculator. But it does suggest that the Sunday night game could be very exciting indeed.

There’s nothing to see here

Attention England fans: he’s fine. Nothing to worry about. Just a scan. Harry Kane loves ankle scans, we all know that. Neither ankle was ever scanned again. He is alright. The panic is over. One ankle, two ankles, both available and as correct as can be for a 29-year-old footballer with sore ankles who gets kicked a lot.

Besides, who cares? He didn’t even score against Iran, and everyone scored against Iran.

The World Cup is no place for intellectual exercise, but from a neutral standpoint the prospect of England having to do without Kane – don’t worry! he is alright! it says he’s fine right here! – it’s exciting. England, being a proud footballing nation with a strong league and a lot of money, has plenty of attacking options in their team. But none of them are quite Kane. Nobody is.

So how would Southgate solve the problem if the problem needed to be solved? (To be clear, definitely not.) The last three times Southgate sent a team without Kane in front – Italy in June, Ivory Coast in March and Andorra in October last year – he brought in another striker to do the job. Interestingly, none of these strikers – Tammy Abraham, Ollie Watkins and Patrick Bamford – made it into the squad. Then not the greatest preparation. But the signs are good for both Callum Wilson and Marcus Rashford. Of course, Kane has a lot more than his finishing moves, including great healthy ankles. But the England manager loves finishers.

On the other hand, there is a variant of chaos. (This is the variant we’d like to see.) Phil Foden as a false nine. Or Jack Grealish as an even more false nine. You could make a pretty good argument that the most important thing about Kane is not his execution or the goals scored, but everything else, that I pretend to be a midfielder. So, replace him with a midfielder? To be clear, this will not happen. Kane’s ankles are fine and Southgate is not a player. But it is absolutely necessary. Imagine the beautiful patterns that Foden, Saka and Sterling could weave. Imagine how Spanish anything can work…

Kane, who is healthier than a bull taking activated charcoal, is sure to start against the US. And if England get the result they want, then maybe Southgate will take the chance to rest him and his (fully functioning) ankles against Wales. The two games are probably the other way around, from England’s point of view, with the US leaving much more room to run up than the Welsh. But then none of that matters, since Kane is fine and his ankles are fine and no one needs to worry about anything.

Pickford: “Our goal is to win the World Cup”

IN OTHER NEWS

They say it’s not the World Cup until Brazil plays. This guy agrees.

ON THE CHANNELS

Hey, look, those are England’s two false nines. Now, here’s a thought… has anyone ever tried to play two false nines, both at the same time? In something we call 4-4-2-0? Or this World Cup fever is just starting to get to us.

HAT TIP

Canada beat Belgium across the field last night and lost 1-0. Perhaps a cruel lesson in World Cup realities, or perhaps just one of those things. In any case, Canada coach John Herdman was not too upset: “We will go and win Croatia, it’s very simple. Now this is our next mission.”

In case you’re wondering, kids, the “F” stands for football.

The first Men’s World Cup in Canada since 1986 is a great story full of great stories, and Herdman’s story stands apart. Retiring from English coaching for lack of a playing record, he moved from County Durham to Canada via New Zealand and gained a reputation as a maverick, genius and eccentric. He also, according to Joshua Klock’s excellent profile on Athleticwas once arrested just for asking questions.

In 1993, 17-year-old Herdman […] got on a flight to Spain and started chatting with the pilots. His cheeky side got the better of him and while discussing the Top Gun movie, he shyly asked if he had a bomb, what would happen? “You don’t know about the consequences of such a conversation,” he says. Herdman was arrested after the plane landed in Spain before being released. “I learned a lot at a very young age,” he says.

If you like “mad genius” coaching stories – this is a delightful place where Brian Clough meets David Brent and meets TED Talks – then this is pure catnip. Here’s how he handled the fisticuffs that erupted on his first day in charge of the Canadian men’s team:

“After filming the training session with a drone, Herdman gathered his team to show them footage of the aftermath of the fight rather than the training session. Players with different backgrounds stuck together and went their separate ways when fights broke out.

“That’s why you didn’t qualify for the fucking world championship. If you don’t fucking fix it, we’re not going anywhere,” he recalls, telling his team. “Because when shit hits the fan, when it gets hard, that team falls apart.”

And here he is, at one time, trying to persuade the British to play futsal.

COMING UP

Switzerland against Cameroon, Uruguay against South Korea, Portugal against Ghana, then Brazil against Serbia. And then everyone will play once, and we will be able to determine the winner!

More Andy Thomas tomorrow. But no more at Harry Kane’s ankles. Because they are fine. Perfectly normal. Perfectly normal.

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