THE OPTION | France's Victory  Calls VAR's Efficacy Into Question

France Won the World Cup Yesterday, But Some of Their Goals Were Questionable at Best.

In a decisive bout with Croatia, Kylian Mbappè and Antoine Griezmann led the French squad to victory, giving the country its second World Cup victory ever. While Croatia possessed the ball for nearly 70% of the game and looked to be the more dynamic team, France was far more efficient and managed to sneak four goals past Danijel Subašić, who didn't play a particularly inspired match.

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THE OPTION | The World Cup Semifinals Start Tomorrow

With Just Four Teams Left, We Look at Each Country's Chance to Win.

Unfortunately for soccer fans around the globe, the World Cup is coming to a close this week. That said, we still have a few more games left before a champion is crowned. Tomorrow, France will take on Belgium to determine which squad gets to play in the finals on Sunday. On Wednesday, England and Croatia will do the same.

This group of four is interesting when you consider the teams that have been eliminated so far. With Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Germany, and Spain all eliminated, almost every perennial frontrunner is gone. France has had a fair bit of World Cup success, but the other three teams have but one win between them, and it came from England in the 1960s. Belgium, by virtue of being in the semifinals has already tied their best World Cup run ever. Croatia has also never made it out of this round. We're likely to see something miraculous this week, but who's going to win this thing?


When Croatia plays against England, Luka Modrić will probably be the single most talented player on the pitch, but it takes more than one guy to win at this stage of the tournament. In their game with Russia, Croatia looked exhausted, and if it weren't for Russia's horrific performance in PKs, Croatia wouldn't have made it this far. Luckily for Croatia, FIFA wipes the bookings of players after the quarter final round. This means the four players who collected yellow cards against Russia don't risk missing the final if they're penalized in this game. Still, Croatia is a team that very nearly got outmuscled by a Russian squad that had no business making it so far. It'll be interesting to see if they can turn it around against one of the tournaments' best teams on Wednesday, but the chances of them winning two more games seem pretty slim.


England - probably more so than any other team on this list - is a cohesive unit. This probably has something to do with the fact that every player plays in the EPL and the entire roster is only spread out between 10 professional teams, all of whom play each other twice every year. In short, the closeness of these players shows on the field. Led by Tottenham forwards Harry Kane and Deli Alli, the squad has looked dynamic throughout the entire tournament. Like France, they drubbed their quarterfinal opponent, and have yet to play a game in which they look like the lesser team. If they play to their potential, England will beat Croatia. The question that remains is whether or not they can beat France or Belgium.


In a lot of ways, the Belgian team is like the English. They're a cohesive unit that relies on depth rather than individual star power. They left the group stage undefeated, and managed to outplay Brazil, the tournament favorites, in the quarter finals. Now, they'll face their toughest test. The French juggernaut, led by Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann has been eviscerating their opponents in the knockout stage, outscoring them 6-3 and consistently looking like the most convincing team on the pitch. That said, Belgian goaltender Thibaut Courtois is slightly better than France's Hugo Lloris, and France's defensive blunders late in their game with Argentina exposed a few chinks in their armor. For all their talent, the French team has trouble clamping down once they have a lead.

Unfortunately for Belgium, they'll be without defenseman Thomas Meunier who picked up a second yellow card against Brazil and has to sit out this contest. This game will undoubtedly come down to the wire, but without their full defensive unit, Belgium will be hard pressed to come away with a win. Should they beat France however, Belgium is a slight favorite against England and a huge favorite against Croatia.


France has been the most impressive team in the tournament so far. They haven't lost a match, and their two games in the knockout round were both huge displays of dominance. That said, while France has played against plenty of great players, (Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Agüero) they have yet to play against a truly stellar team. Belgium presents an interesting challenge for the Frenchmen. Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku are very good players, but neither of them are at the level of a Messi or a Suarez. The Belgian team isn't like the Argentinian or Uruguayan squads. They aren't missing any pieces. With players like Mousa Dembélé, Jan Vertonghen, and Nacer Chadli, Belgium's midfield and defense are solid. This means, Kylian Mbappé probably won't be able to run roughshod all over them, scoring at will. France is going to be forced to do something they really haven't had to do yet this tournament. That is, play a tight game that goes the full 90 minutes. If they prove themselves against Belgium though, France is the clear favorite in the finals, no matter who their opponent is.

Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found on Popdust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. Website: Twitter: @mattclibanoff

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THE OPTION | World Cup: Who's Still Got a Chance?

As Perennial Favorites Get Knocked Off Left and Right, it Seems Like it's Anyone's Game.

This weekend, Russia stunned Spain and knocked them out in the round of 16.

France also sent home Messi and his fellow Argentinians on Saturday. The Netherlands didn't make the World Cup this year, and the Germans choked in against South Korea in the group stage. There are no finalists from the last two World Cups left in this year's tournament, and because of this it's becoming increasingly difficult to predict what's going to happen next.

At the beginning of the tournament, no one would have predicted Russia making the quarterfinals, yet there they are. Croatia has absolutely dominated the field. And Belgium seems to be the team to beat. There are still too many teams left in this World Cup to narrow the story lines to one particular club. With this in mind, I've decided to look at everyone remaining and discuss their chances of becoming world champions.


France is flying high from their victory over Argentina this weekend, and for good reason. 19-year-old Kylian Mbappé singlehandedly demolished last year's runner-up, torching Argentina's plodding defense and going on to score a brace. If France has one problem though, it's closing out when it counts. Even when they took a two goal lead late in Saturday's match, it never really felt like they had control. Argentina was able to score in the final minutes and managed to setup several close shots. Speed alone won't be enough to beat Uruguay's stout defensive unit. France will need to grab the lead and hold it if they're going to make it out of the next round.


Of all the teams in the tournament, Uruguay is perhaps the most complete looking. When they beat Portugal, they grabbed the lead and let their defense do the work. When Portugal tied it back up 1-1 in the second half, Edinson Cavani authoritatively buried a second goal, putting a cap on his brilliant performance. Unfortunately for Uruguay, there are reports that Cavani could miss up to a month of playing time due to an injury he sustained late in Saturday's game. Uruguay still has Suarez, making them an incredibly formative opponent, but Cavani has been their leader on offense. His loss significantly hurts Uruguay's chances.


When one thinks of soccer, Croatia probably isn't a country that comes to mind. That said, they have a very quiet roster of stars, including Luka Modrić and Mario Mandžukić. They steamrolled through the group stage and knocked off Denmark in PKs yesterday. They play Russia in the next round and don't have much legitimate competition on their side of the bracket besides England. Sometimes an easy path to the championship is just as important as having the best players.


The fact that Russia is still in this tournament is nothing short of a miracle. In a lot of ways, their team is like the American team, comprised of a bunch of players no one has ever heard of, most of which play in an inferior professional league. They beat perennial favorite Spain in PKs, but it's worth noting how Uruguay brought them back to Earth in the group stage. It's only a matter of time before the Russian team gets sent packing.


As the tournament favorites have fallen by the wayside, Belgium remains, dominating the competition so far. These guys are the real deal, and have a relatively cushy matchup against Japan later today. That said, they're in a tough bracket. To get to the championship, they'll need to beat Brazil and then the winner of Uruguay v France. They certainly have the toughest road to the championship, but they also have one of the toughest teams. Still, they haven't faced a real challenge yet in this tournament. It will be interesting to see how they match up against the elite teams.


Realistically, Japan has no chance. They barely made it out of an inferior group and now they have to play Belgium, one of the best teams in the tournament. For some countries, making it to the world stage is a victory in itself.


This is the first English team in a long time that seems to have some teeth. Harry Kane has scored 5 goals so far, and is leading the entire tournament, and partnered with his Tottenham teammate Deli Alli, he's sure to score a few more. England plays Colombia tomorrow, and should have an easy go of it. They also ended up in the easy side of the bracket, and their only real competition moving forward is Croatia. These guys are a lock for the semifinals.


Colombia made it into the knockout stage on a technicality. They committed two fewer yellow cards than Senegal and made it through the group stage on a bizarre tiebreaker. Their team is full of talented players, but they haven't really gelled this World Cup. If they beat England tomorrow, it'd be a massive upset.


Sweden managed to smack Mexico around in the group stage and played a relatively tight game against Germany before losing in the 95th minute. They're on the weaker side of the bracket, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're safe. They play Switzerland next round in what should be, despite Switzerland's FIFA rank of 6th, an even matchup. Still, even if they win, Sweden doesn't have the fire power to go toe-to-toe with either England or Croatia.


Switzerland played what was perhaps their most important game during the group stage. Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri came to Switzerland as Albanian refugees from Kosovo. When Xhaka scored Switzerland's first goal, he put his hands in the shape of the Albanian eagle, an act of political antagonization that FIFA later fined him for. While the Swiss team clearly has a lot of heart, they'll be hard pressed to get past Croatia or England. I do think they'll beat Sweden and head to the semi-finals though.


After beating Mexico this morning, Brazil seems to be in top form, and are the clear favorites going forward. Between Marcelo, Neymar, and Thiago Silva, they have too much talent for most teams to handle. They're on the harder side of the bracket, and will most likely have to face Belgium next round, but Brazil remains the team to beat right now. That said, Neymar constantly rolling around the field crying is a bad look. Brazil is the best team in the tournament, but they're pretty tough to root for.

Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. Website: Twitter: @mattclibanoff

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THE OPTION | The World Cup: Group by Group

The Group Stage is Coming to a Close. Who's Set to Advance?

This year's World Cup has been full of surprises, and has served as reminder that the United States doesn't sit at the center of the international sports community.

The tournament is no worse for the wear without the involvement of the stars and stripes. That said, American soccer fans don't really have any skin in the game, and many viewers are looking for someone to root for. Some have suggested that we root for Mexico due to geographic proximity, and, sure, if someone besides us has to win, it might as well be our neighbors to the south, but it's not the same. Enough complaining though.

For those of you unaware with how the World Cup works, it's relatively simple. At the start of the tournament, there are eight groups of four. Each team plays everyone in their group once. The top two teams in each group move on to the round of 16. The tournament then progresses in a way similar to March Madness. As we head into the third game of the group stage this week, there are too many story lines to keep track of. I've decided to give you a rundown of each group, so you can decide what day to take an extra long lunch and watch.

Group A (Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia)

The talent disparity in this group is wide. Many fans are wondering how much Putin paid FIFA to put Saudi Arabia and Egypt in the same group as his Russian national squad. That said, as I write this, I'm watching Uruguay absolutely dominate their Russian opponents, exposing them as a second-rate team.

Uruguay: First

Russia: Runner-up

Egypt: Out

Saudi Arabia: Out

Game to watch: None

Group B (Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Iran)

This is another two team group. Christiano Ronaldo has scored every goal for team Portugal thus far in the tournament, and seems committed to dragging his nonscoring companions into the next round. Spain, on the other hand, is dominating the group stage like they always do.

Spain: Tied for first. Advances with a tie, win, or Portugal loss (depending on goal differential)

Portugal: Tied for first. Advances with a tie, win, or Spain loss (depending on goal differential)

Iran: Advances with a win OR a tie and a Spain loss (depending on goal differential)

Morocco: Out

Game to watch: Iran v Portugal 2:00pm, EST 6/25

Group C (France, Denmark, Australia, Peru)

So far, France and Denmark have managed to control the group, but with those two teams playing each other tomorrow, Australia has a chance to sneak into the next round.

France: Tied for first. Advances with tie, win, or Australia loss.

Denmark: Tied for first. Advances with tie, win, or Australia loss.

Australia: Advances with win AND Denmark or French loss (depending on goal differential)

Peru: Out

Game to watch: France v Denmark 10am, EST 6/26

Group D (Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria)

Every tournament, there's a group that's so evenly matched that good teams get left behind. Group D is this year's group of death. Argentina, last year's tournament runner-ups, find themselves at the bottom of the table, and only Croatia has guaranteed their spot in the knockout round. Because of this, the scenarios surrounding advancement are a bit complicated. Stay with me.

Croatia: First

Nigeria: Advances with a win OR a tie and Croatia win/tie or loss (depending on goal differential)

Iceland: Advances with a win AND Argentina win or tie (depending on goal differential)

Argentina: Advances with a win and a Croatia win, or tie OR with a win and Croatia loss (depending on goal differential)

Game to watch: Argentina v Nigeria 2pm, EST 6/26

Group E (Brazil, Serbia, Costa Rica, Switzerland)

While Brazil should be dominating this group, Switzerland has been a thorn in everybody's side, beating Serbia and tying the Brazilians. The Serbs, for their part, are still hanging around as well.

Brazil: In with win or tie OR loss and Switzerland loss (depending on goal differential)

Switzerland: In with win or tie OR Serbia loss OR loss and Serbia tie (depending on goal differential)

Serbia: In with win OR tie and Switzerland loss (depending on goal differential)

Costa Rica: Out

Game to watch: Serbia v Brazil 2pm EST, 6/27

Group F (Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea)

Germany was the tournament favorite back at the beginning of the month, but after being stunned by Mexico, their stock has fallen a bit. Without that late Toni Kroos goal this Saturday, Germany would be in pretty bad shape. As it is, the defending champs look ready to head into the knockout round. All that stands in their way is South Korea.

Mexico: Advance with a win or tie OR Germany loss OR with a loss and Germany victory (depending on goal differential)

Germany: Advance with a win OR a tie with Sweden loss OR a tie with Sweden tie (depending on goal differential) OR a loss with Sweden loss (depending on goal differential)

Sweden: Advance with a win and German loss or tie OR with a tie and German loss OR with a loss and German loss (depending on goal differential) OR with a win and German win (depending on goal differential)

South Korea: Out

Game to watch: Sweden v Mexico 10am EST, 6/27

Group G (England, Belgium, Tunisia, Panama)

Both England and Belgium have absolutely dominated their group and are the only teams in Group G with wins. They face off on Wednesday to decide who comes in first. The teams are tied by every differentiator though, so if they tie in their matchup, the deciding factor will be fair play (the amount of yellow cards each team gets). The top half of the knockout bracket however is pretty stacked, with both Germany and Brazil as potential opponents. This gives each team incentive to foul one another, so they end up in the bottom half. This matchup is shaping up to be a violent one.

England: First place with win OR tie (depending on very strange fair play tiebreaker)

Belgium: First place with win OR tie (depending on very strange fair play tiebreaker)

Tunisia: Out

Panama: Out

Game to watch: England v Belgium 2pm EST, 6/28

Group H (Japan, Senegal, Poland, Colombia

Japan is the odd standout of this year's tournament. They weren't expected to make much of a splash, but they've proven that they have what it takes to win in this extremely competitive tournament. That said, they still have to prove themselves against Poland before they can advance to the knockout stage.

Japan: Advances with win OR tie and Colombia tie or loss OR with Colombia

Senegal: Advances with win or tie OR loss and Japan loss (depending on goal differential)

Colombia: Advances with win OR tie and Japan loss (depending on goal differential)

Poland: Out

Game to watch: Senegal v Colombia 10am EST, 6/28

Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. Website: Twitter: @mattclibanoff

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THE OPTION | An Interview With Kristen Edmonds

We Talk Soccer with One of the NWSL's Best.

Before going pro, Kristen Edmonds played D-1 soccer at Rutgers University, the same program that produced Carli Lloyd.

Following in Lloyd's footsteps would have been difficult for some, but as a freshman, Edmonds, like Lloyd, led the team scoring. Edmonds is a rare breed of athlete, one whose path to the pros was paved clear by her versatile play and her ability to excel on both ends of the pitch. Unfortunately, towards the beginning of her professional career, she seriously injured her ankle, and her doctors weren't convinced she'd ever play again. While rehabbing, she got a job at Planet Fitness, exercising before and after every shift with the singular goal of getting back out on the field. Now, she plays alongside Alex Morgan on the Orlando Pride.

In 2016, Edmonds won her team's golden boot award. This accolade, combined with her stellar play all season, caught the attention of the United States Women's National team, who called her up to camp for the first time that year. Hers is a story of perseverance, of never giving up even when she was ready to quit. Her career may not have followed a perfectly straight trajectory, but Edmonds has never let this affect her game, always performing to a high standard no matter where her coach places her on the field. Now with her injury well behind her, she's focused on one thing: winning the NWSL championship. We decided to call her up on one of her few off days and talk strombolis, equal pay, and of course, soccer in this Popdust extended Interview.

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