Seasons and match-days now running in full swing. We’re bringing you up to speed with all the drama and net-blasting goals and maybe a little bit of gossip as well. Stay in touch with the latest on football with TF Kicks: Weekly Football Update.
UEFA Nations League 2021 (Finals)
Consisting of 2 Semi-finals, a 3rd place match and the grand finale on last Sunday night, the finals of the UEFA Nations League 2021 drew to an exciting end with the reigning FIFA world champions France, a.k.a. Les Bleus, playing 2 hard fought matches versus Belgium in the semis earlier in the week and Spain in the finals, coming from behind on both instances!
Most of the first half of the semi-final between France and Belgium was mainly a display of rock-solid defending and some menacing play from Belgium’s key attacker Romelu Lukaku, of course, with the support of Kevin De Bruyne and Yannick Carrasco. And the way France were playing, even though they had a few good chances, Belgium finally got their well-deserved opening goal from a well-placed shot in the 37th minute by Carrasco from within the penalty area, completely wrong-footing French captain Hugo Lloris, who kept France in the game until then, almost single-handedly. Just 3 minutes more and finally the big man Lukaku had his goal too! An exceptional technically on-point strike at a height that was impossible for Lloris to save.
Les Bleus brigade came out of their dressing rooms with some rejuvenated conviction, and from the off, started pushing higher up the pitch and pressuring the Belgians into turning over the ball. All that pressure paid off in the 62nd minute, when the inspired one Karim Benzema crafted a fine goal, finally piercing through the tough Belgian defence and bypassing the wall that is Thibaut Courtois. France equalised with a spot-on penalty from Kylian Mbappé in the 69th minute from a pointless foul committed on Antoine Griezmann by Youri Tielemans. Do all fouls look more violent in slow motion? Only the referees know!
And finally, in the last minute of the regulation 90, after a plethora of chances and saves for both sides, a beautiful team counter attack from France involving Griezmann, Mbappé and Pavard saw the crossed and deflected ball, well left by Benzema, fall perfectly for Théo Hernāndez to measure powerful strike past Belgium’s goalkeeper Courtois to make it to the finals by the skin of their teeth. France earned the victory with a high-adrenaline second half performance, especially from the man in goal, their captain Hugo Lloris, and moved on to claim their spot in the final versus Spain, who beat hosts Italy in their respective semi-final match-up.
Up-tempo right from the start, both Spain and France were testing defences and quickly transitioning forward to attack. Although the first half saw no goals, one major worry for France was an injury to their defensive leader Raphaël Varane. The Manchester United central defender seemed to have pulled some muscle and had to be taken off in the 42nd minute by French boss Didier Deschamps. As compared to the semis versus Belgium, the French team were more positive with their play, had many chances at trying to break down Spain’s resilient back line.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 64th minute, when Spanish captain Sergio Busquets lobbed a lovely assist to Mikel Oyarzabal, who slashed the ball across the French goal, helped by a small slippery error from Dayot Upemecano, who was subbed in for the injured Varane. Within a span of 2 minutes, enthusing another brilliant comeback, Karim Benzema curled a beautiful strike beyond the reach of Spain’s in-form goalie Unai Simón to equalise almost immediately. It seems like Les Bleus need to concede a goal to finally actually scoring one!
And fast forward to the 80th minute, the match winner from the semi-finals against Belgium, Théo Hernāndez poked a through ball to the seemingly offside speedster Mbappé. However, the ball touched the stretching Spanish defender Eric Garcia, which concluded in a positive VAR review towards the French striker allowing the goal, since the offside rule includes intent from the defender towards attempting to play the ball. Even post-match analyses shows were debating on whether the decision was right or not, but at the end of it, nothing could take away that the French national team played hard, hustled for the ball in every moment, had some great midfield battles between the likes of Pogba, Griezmann, Busquets, Oyarzabal and others as well.
A New Newcastle United?
Gone are the days when European football clubs were built on defined budgets, shrewd use of youth and experience, and building foundations from the roots. Modern football demands steady investment if clubs want to stay in the top brass.
It was Spanish club Real Madrid that gave impetus to this shift and due to their freakish ability to buy superstars without flinching, they were famously dubbed as ‘The Galácticos’ in the early 2000s.
In the last two decades, we have seen some massive club acquisitions over the years, such as Manchester City‘s 2008 takeover by Abu Dhabi United Group and PSG‘s 2011 takeover by Qatar Sports Investments; but the takeover that has transpired in recent weeks has rocked the world of football.
English Premier League club Newcastle United have been taken over by a consortium consisting of PCP Capital Partners, Reuben Brothers and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF), making them the richest football club in the world by a stretch.
To put things into perspective, Paris Saint-Germain, who were the world’s richest owners with assets around $300 billion have been comfortably outclassed by Newcastle’s Public Investment Fund ownership who have assets worth at least $100 billion more than Qatar Investment Authority.
The consortium takeover will consist of PCP Capital Partners and Reuben Brothers taking 10% each and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) owning 80% of the value. The takeover had initially begun in April 2020 but the consortium pulled out of the buying process due to Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia’s geo-political dispute with Qatar over beIN Sport’s broadcasting rights in Saudi Arabia
The dispute has now been resolved, paving the way for the consortium to move forward with the deal. PCP Capital Partners’ Amanda Staveley has had a big say in the takeover, a businesswoman who was also influential in getting the £7.3 billion investment in Barclays by the ruling families of Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and by the Qatari sovereign wealth fund over the line as well as Sheikh Mansour’s 2008 takeover of Manchester City.
Silly rumors around Newcastle United buying football’s biggest superstars had begun already but the takeover has also seen backlash from the rest of the 19 Premier League clubs due to PIF Chairman Mohammad bin Salman’s notorious history with human rights issues which includes public executions, killing of journalists, and his role in the Yemeni Civil War.
What happens in the coming weeks will be interesting, but if the takeover succeeds in separating itself from the opposition, expect the silly rumors like Kylian Mbappé or Neymar to Newcastle turn into reality.
Another weekend approaches with some exciting matches to look forward to! Watch this space next week for our weekly football update. Until then, keep kicking!