The Longshot: Fair play works out well for Alexis and almost saves Poland

Argentina win has us on a roll as grainy footage puts Irish fans back in the spotlight
The Longshot: Fair play works out well for Alexis and almost saves Poland

Julian Alvarez of Argentina scores their second goal during the decisive Group C match against Poland.

OUR shout of Argentina to lift the World Cup has at least made it through to the knockout stages.

After their shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia they drifted out to 9/1, but are now back installed as joint second favourites beside holders France at 11/2.

The South Americans' win over Poland was a vast improvement on the first two outings, although how much this had to do with their opposition aiming for damage limitation rather than trying to even get the ball over halfway is another question. The Poles were two yellow cards to the better than Mexico for much of the second half and heading through to the second round because of Fifa Fair Play rankings before a late Saudi goal, which hardly seems fair at all.

But the Messi-led side topped the group and have what looks like an easier run to the semis now, where depending on what happens today, they might potentially meet Brazil.

They must first overcome an Australia side rated as 9/1 to progress to the quarters.

If they do that they will meet what looks like a lacklustre Dutch side (4/9 to go through) or a US side (9/4) who have impressed so far, even if they lack a killer instinct in front of goal.

It was nice to see Argentina knocking the ball around with more purpose. At one stage, Messi went on a mazy run into the box that probably had him thinking of a Diego-like World Cup goal before he shanked his effort wide. Moments later a ball bobbled into the box and Messi chased after it with a Polish defender in a race that didn’t reflect well on the Argentine great, but we’ll put it down to that recent exertion. He isn’t wasting many calories of energy on the pitch but his quality still shines through, even following a penalty miss after he collapsed when getting a brief whiff of Szczesny’s glove.

How much control does the PSG man have over the team? Added to everyone else passing to him at almost every opportunity (can you blame them?), late in the match he also seemed to be giving directions to coach Lionel Scaloni on the sideline, rather than the other way around.

Scaloni was asked after the game if he was tempted to take his main man off to keep him fresh for the next round when it became obvious they would top the group. “I wouldn’t sub him unless he told me to,” he replied.

His control of the dressing room even extends to nicknames.

Scorer of the vital first goal Alexis MacAllister isn’t your prototype South American and once said in an interview: “I remember everyone called me ‘Colo’, which is ‘ginger’ in Argentina. I don’t like it much and Messi told my teammates, ‘He doesn’t like to be called ‘Colo’, so don’t call him that!’”

MacAllister is the son of Carlos MacAllister, a former professional footballer, whose Wikipedia page bizarrely describes as being of Irish rather than Scottish heritage. He bears a striking resemblance to a former Scottish international and I wouldn’t be surprised if his nickname had been David Speedie Gonzalez.

 Carlos MacAllister, dad of World Cup scorer Alexis. It is ‘fair’ to say his dad Carlos doesn’t look like a typical South American.
Carlos MacAllister, dad of World Cup scorer Alexis. It is ‘fair’ to say his dad Carlos doesn’t look like a typical South American.

Carlos has another professional soccer player son named Kevin, who presumably spent much of his childhood worrying he’d be left at home to his own devices over Christmas.

England are in to 9/1 to summon up the spirit of 1966 and go all the way, but will probably have France lurking in the quarters.

They scored nine goals in the group stages and are 5/6 to score more than 12 goals across the whole tournament.

One Irishman (and West African fan) took to Twitter this week to announce everyone here will summon up the spirit of We’re on the One Road for the second round: “North men, South men, comrades all, Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Senegal.”

The side, who will enter the game rueing the absence of Sadio Mane for this clash especially, are rated as 5/1 to advance and 7/1 to win the game.

Spain are 6/1 for outright honours despite being beaten by Japan (who are 80/1 despite playing some of the best football of the tournament).

In a bit of a fix with ban of the match patterns

MORE from Kevin de Bruyne’s bemusement at being awarded man of the match in Belgium’s opening win over Canada which we reported on last week.

He said afterwards: “I don’t think I played a great game and don’t know why I got the (award). Maybe it’s because of my name.” 

He won't have to worry about winning anymore now anyway (big shout out to young Croatian centre-half Josko Gvardiol for his last-ditch tackle on poor Romelu Lukaku yesterday afternoon; one from the masked marvel that would have made Paul McGrath and Batman proud).

More dastardly machinations may have been at work it now seems.

Some bookmakers have stopped taking bets on the winner of the man of the match award at the tournament amid fears of a scam. The move follows a surge in betting on the market, which doubled in value during the first week of the tournament, a sure sign something was amiss.

Each award is decided by a public vote on Fifa’s website, so is open to manipulation.

Some social media tipsters were found to have asked tens of thousands of followers to vote for players they had placed a bet on, guessing that not too many fans will be too interested in logging on to make the selection and perhaps believing it would not be too hard to sway the vote (echoes here of the Wolfe Tones’ A Nation Once Again being voted the BBC’s song of the century in 1999) Fifa have a one-vote-per-person limit, but the wily tipsters produced a video tutorial showing how to register multiple votes.

The tipping accounts are largely run by professional gamblers purporting to offer advice to casual gamblers, but also seeking to influence betting markets to make money for themselves.

This apparent market manipulation produced a spate of unexpected man-of-the-match winners, such as Gareth Bale against the US and then De Bruyne.

Two bookmakers withdrew their man of the match market from their websites, and one has moved to accept only single bets to remove the risk of being hit by successful accumulators.

A spokesperson for one said: “We continually monitor the performance of all of our markets and on this occasion made a trading decision to pull this particular market.” 

Fifa say they are aware of the issue, but have not taken any action.

The award to the player for winning the award? A large red vase sponsored by Budweiser, although you wouldn’t know it as the brewing group’s logo was erased from the trophies after Qatar’s last-minute booze ban.

Boot and saw: Morning TV caption writers get creative with their goal verbs.
Boot and saw: Morning TV caption writers get creative with their goal verbs.

You’d get tired of the same old saws

A CAPTION writer on British morning TV decided to bin the usual verbs when he was assigned to describe England’s goals against Wales. Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden were drafted into the side to face their neighbours on Tuesday evening and they paid Gareth Southgate back for his faith in them. The Manchester men “booted” in two goals and “saw in” one.

I’m not going to be harsh here, being fond of a bit of creativity when it comes to goal reports.

What’s wrong with “Rashford thwacked in two, while Foden ushered home another.”

You’d get a bit tired of the old clichés. Rippled the net. Drove home. Finished. Buried. Nodded. Glanced. Side-footed. Toe-poked. Guided past.

Sometimes Echo football contributors can inadvertently invent lovely phrases, that summon up images they probably didn’t intend. My favourites down the years include: “a Samson v Goliath battle”; “going for the juggler”; “a carve and copy of their earlier chance” and “sent off for descent” (which might be a good description of a red card for diving). Not forgetting those involving sharp objects: “the sword of Damascus hanging over their heads”; “went out on his sword” and “death by a thousand stab wounds” (which sounds far more vicious if quicker than “cuts”).

One example this very week mentioned “the only bright note on another wise miserable weekend for local clubs”. This had me bamboozled until I copped it was meant to be “an otherwise”. I prefer the first version though.

Grain of Irish pride in Eddie 

IT had seemed unlikely we would be reporting news of the baguette being added to the UN’s list of intangible cultural heritage as a cherished tradition that needs to be preserved by humanity in our World Cup round-up this week.

But then up pops a young Limerick man on live French TV to tell that nation that he is not one.

We doubt Eddie O’Keeffe knew anything about the UN’s plans to honour and protect the pride of Gallic artisanal bakers the very next day when he made his intervention, which received a thumbs up on social media from no less a figure than French president Emanuel Macron.

Should we be proud or embarrassed? That it was floury rather than bad language he used is surely a bonus.

And who knows, maybe it will be added to the pantheon of iconic French phrases. “J’accuse.” ”Je ne regrette rien.” “Ceci ne pas une pipe.” “Je suis une baguette!”

The crisp thrust of the French attack (especially the Bap-man himself) was notable in its absence against Tunisia - although admittedly it took me over 24 hours to discover Griezmann's late strike had been ruled out. They meet Poland next and possibly England (who Jack Grealish this week described as the "best thing since sliced veg") in the quarter-finals. Tasty stuff.

The Bet

At time of typing we know six of the round of 16 fixtures. Our 500/1 five-timer was particularly pathetic earlier this week, so we’ll go safer this time and pick three favourites (Argentina, England, France) to go through, the US to cause a slight upset and Japan to roll on past Croatia at 10/1.

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