CULTURE

Why the Global Release of the New "Captain Tsubasa" Game Is a Big Deal

The days of Tecmo Cup Soccer Game are long gone. Robin Field is dead. Long live Captain Tsubasa.

While anime and manga have certainly become more mainstream over the past few years, most people in the West mainly stick to seasonal releases and the big name series like Dragon Ball and Naruto.

Younger anime fans might venture out to more obscure '90s series like Yu Yu Hakusho, but by and large, '80s anime gets the shaft. This is a real shame, considering plenty of '80s anime series have great stories, compelling characters, distinct music, and a unique aesthetic specific to the era. Of course, some '80s series still possess a certain degree of global clout. Saint Seiya remains incredibly popular in Europe and South America, with a big enough following that most of its video games still get released globally.

Captain Tsubasa Rise of New Champions Bandai Namco

Captain Tsubasa, on the other hand, has never received the same degree of recognition. The series follows Tsubasa Oozora, a young boy who loves association football (soccer) and dreams of one day winning the FIFA World Cup for Japan, from the time he's 11 through his pro career. Despite its status as one of the most influential sports series, largely credited for the popularity of association football (soccer) in Japan, Captain Tsubasa never made a big enough impact in the West. Even with dedicated fan bases in Europe and South America, the series remains largely unknown within the larger anime community.

Then this dropped:

www.youtube.com

In 2020, it may not be particularly surprising to see anime games like Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot getting major hype, but there's still something special about an '80s series video game like Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions getting a proper worldwide release for the first time.

Strangely enough, Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions isn't technically the first Captain Tsubasa game to get a worldwide release. The first Captain Tsubasa game, which was released for Japanese audiences on the NES in 1988, was also released in the United States and Europe in 1992. Unfortunately, the game was westernized to an unseemly degree, with the title changed to Tecmo Cup Soccer Game and the main character, Tsubasa, replaced with a blonde man named Robin Field. Of course, all the other anime characters were replaced, too.

Tsubasa and Robin Field

A worldwide release of a proper Captain Tsubasa game is definitely long-overdue, but it's also wonderful that we've reached a point where such a thing is possible. Gatekeeping might be a natural instinct for anime fans who grew up in the '80s and early '90s, passing around VHS tapes of series nobody else knew existed, but the mainstream-ization of anime is a gift to everyone. The anime community is finally large enough and diverse enough that companies are willing to take a chance on globally releasing a Captain Tsubasa game because, at long last, a large enough audience finally exists. One can only hope that other classic '80s series will follow suit.

CULTURE

8 of Megan Rapinoe's Greatest Moments

The soccer champion has become a beloved icon on and off the field.

Megan Rapinoe, the player who led her team to victory in this year's FIFA World Cup, has also managed to win the Internet's heart.

Well-spoken and radically feminist off the field, not to mention an indomitable star on it, she's successfully presented herself as a powerful, unapologetic woman, a symbol of political resistance and intersectional liberation.

"Disagree with her? Fine," writes Jerry Brewer in the Washington Post. "But there she is, striving to add to our women's soccer prestige. She's America. Like her or not, Rapinoe is going to represent us, and all of our spectacular complications. She is a mirror, unflattering, uncomfortable. Unavoidable." In essence, Rapinoe is America in all of its brashness and fearlessness; she's America in the radical vision and defiant spirit that the nation's founders dreamed of; she's America in the chaotic anger and exuberance that defines her country today. Here are six of her most memorable moments.

1. That time she spoke out against Donald Trump

Rapinoe's name made its way into national consciousness when a reporter asked her if, should the team win the World Cup, she would visit the White House. Her response has become a rallying cry for those opposed to Trump: "I'm not going to the fucking White House," she said.

This prompted a response from Trump himself. "Megan should WIN before she talks," he said. "Finish the job!" Later, the inflamed president continued, "Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team," continued Trump, also telling Rapinoe to "be proud of the Flag that you wear" because "the USA is doing GREAT!"

When Rapinoe was asked to clarify her statement, she said, "I stand by the comments I made about not wanting to go to the White House with the exception of the expletive. My mom will be really upset about that."

2. That time she won the World Cup

Not only did Rapinoe's team win the World Cup, but she scored one of the game's two goals. In that moment, it was almost as if she always knew that she was destined to send that soccer ball ricocheting into the netted mouth of victory. It was a small kick for woman, but a giant, spiteful, radiant kick for womankind.

Needless to say, that goal was just one of Rapinoe's countless incredible moments on the field.

Top Ten Megan Rapinoe Goals www.youtube.com

3. That time she kissed her girlfriend after winning the World Cup—and all the gay moments that came before

Though the fact that Rapinoe has a girlfriend might be devastating to many of her adoring fans, admittedly, their relationship is beyond adorable. Rapinoe and her girlfriend, Sue Bird, met at the Olympics in 2016. Afterwords, Rapinoe "sauntered" into her now-girlfriend's DM's (in Bird's words) and the two have been together ever since.

These two really are the definition of a power couple. Bird is a championship-winning WNBA basketball player herself, so she can certainly understand Rapinoe's athletic lifestyle. She's also been supportive of her partner's newfound political drama, even penning an essay called "So the President F*cking Hates My Girlfriend." Among other things, Bird wrote about how she sometimes tries to see the world through Megan's eyes. "So the idea of Megan Goggles, I guess, it's this idea of like — they're this thing that I put on, and it helps me loosen up a bit?? And just open my eyes, and see the world from Megan's Extremely Megan perspective," she wrote. At the end of the essay, she brought it all back home with a statement that anyone who watched the soccer match can relate to. "But on Friday? It was like for this one, perfect, fleeting, uncomplicated day….. I was everyone. I was happy. I was crazy. I was PROUD. I was pretending to know about soccer. I was a little overwhelmed. I was pretty damn American. And I was in love with Megan Rapinoe." Same, Sue Bird. Same.

Image via CNN International

As if this relationship wasn't enough of a triumph for the queer community on its own, Rapinoe has long been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, she said, "You can't win a championship without gays on your team. It's never been done before. Ever. That's science right there."

Then, of course, there was the time she was the first openly gay woman to pose in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue.

Image via Sports Illustrated

4. That time she and her team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation and demanded equal pay

The U.S. Women's Soccer Team showed its true tenacity when it sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination in March 2019. Regarding the suit, Rapinoe told The New York Times, "I think to be on this team is to understand these issues." She added, "And I think we've always — dating back to forever — been a team that stood up for itself and fought hard for what it felt it deserved and tried to leave the game in a better place."

Later in the interview, she continued, "We very much believe it is our responsibility, not only for our team and for future U.S. players, but for players around the world — and frankly women all around the world — to feel like they have an ally in standing up for themselves, and fighting for what they believe in, and fighting for what they deserve and for what they feel like they have earned."

So just how vast is this wage gap? The winners of the men's World Cup took home $400 million in 2018—while the prize for the women's game still stands at $30 million. In support of Rapinoe and her team's efforts, the crowd began chanting "Equal Pay" during the celebrations after Sunday's game, showing just how intertwined these athletes' political efforts have become with their sport.

5. That time that she took a knee for Kaepernick

Rapinoe's been publicly expressing her beliefs for a long time. In 2016, she was both the first white person and the first woman to take a knee in line with Kaepernick's protest against police brutality during the signing of the national anthem.

Image via the Los Angeles Times

Before the final match against the Netherlands, Rapinoe protested the anthem once again by refusing to sing it. When critics called her "un-American," she responded, "I think that I'm particularly and uniquely and very deeply American. If we want to talk about the ideals that we stand for, all the songs and the anthem and sort of what we were founded on, I think I'm extremely American."

6. That time she quoted Nipsey Hussle

After winning the World Cup, Rapinoe posted a photo of herself along with lyrics from the late rapper Nipsey Hussle's "Hussle and Motivate" as the caption. This only deepened her fans' adoration, as Hussle was a beloved figure who was extremely active in his community. In a sense, Hussle embodied the kind of compassion and drive that Rapinoe's also becoming known for, merging talent and activism into a public persona that might serve as a beacon of inspiration for us all.



7. That time she became a meme

Even if you have no idea who Megan Rapinoe is, you've probably seen her in meme format. One photo of her in particular—the one in which she's beaming and holding her arms aloft in a celebratory gesture—has become an emblem of triumph and pride.

Now that she's worked her way into the Internet's collective consciousness by way of memetic distribution, one thing is for certain: Rapinoe is going to be seen and heard for a long time, societal expectations and American presidents be damned.

Image via PEOPLE.com




MUSIC

Two Brothers, One Bedroom: Alt-Pop Bliss Courtesy of Chase Atlantic

Mitchel and Clinton Cave are straight out of the quiet suburbs of Queensland, Australia. Even when playing Lollapalooza, the trio (they added friend Christian Anthony to become Chase Atlantic), retain their remote Australian origins.

Born and raised in Queensland, Australia, brothers Mitchel and Clinton Cave grew up fiddling around with music in the safety and comfort of their bedroom.

While they've since moved most of their operation to L.A. and added a third member, longtime friend Christian Anthony, the group retains something of that early introversion. Mitchel, however, was extraordinarily forthcoming in his interview with Popdust from Philadelphia, where they're undertaking a tour in support of their sophomore album, Phases.

You're calling from LA I take it?

From Philadelphia, actually. We're in rehearsals for the first Philly show.

What's your impression of the city?

We've been here a couple of times, actually. We're in a sort of outskirts, body shop area of town. But I love Philly, in general. And the Philly Cheesesteaks especially.

Is there anything similar to a Philly Cheesesteak in Australia?

[laughs] Nah.

What is Australian food, to you?

It's very hearty. Warming. In general, what's cool is the pies. We have the best pies in the world.

The best pies?

Yup. In America, they try to make Australian pies, but they're just not the same, unfortunately.

So, before we start on the music, what exactly is an Australian pie?

I think it's mainly, like, gravy, sauce, and minced meat. A lot of the pies here are too dry. They're really saucy in Australia.

What part of Australia are you and your brother from?

We're from Cairns, Queensland, and Christian is from Sidney.

And you guys grew up with Christian?

We met when we were 14, 15.

It seems like from what I've read that you and your brother share a brain.

Yeah, more or less [laughs].

So how was it bringing in a third person who doesn't necessarily share a brain with the two of you?

Well, we didn't really "bring him in." We just met and realized we had a similar mentality. We didn't meet with the intention of working together; it just happened.

What brought you and your brother to music in the first place, before you met Christian?

Well, we grew up on classical music, and going to school, we were in jazz band, choir. Then, Clinton started recording his saxophone on Logic and getting into production, and he would record me singing. Ever since, I've been really into music production, as well. And when we met Christian, he was starting to get into it, as well. So it just clicked.

And what were you two listening to when you first started getting into music?

A little bit of everything, honestly. Our grandfather would play old French music. We listened to a lot of 80s records. Christian grew up with a lot of 60s stuff. And we all went through our punk and emo phases. That's kind of mandatory [laughs].

When I listen to "Phases," I kind of do hear an impressionistic vibe. Did that come from listening to Debussy, Ravel, those old French guys you mentioned?

Yeah, I think so. It's a subconscious thing, though. It creates itself, in a way. We just gravitate to what we think sounds good.

Who is the primary vocalist?

I do the majority of the singing, and Christian does some as well.

There's a phenomenon with [non-American] English-language singers; they end up sounding American. But I can hear occasional Australian inflections. Was that deliberate?

It's not deliberate at all. We don't put on any accent purposefully. There are few Australian artists who really put on the twang.

Who are those?

You wouldn't know them [laughs].

Speaking of Australia, I don't have a good sense of how the musical culture there is like.

There's not a lot of cultures behind the music, here. We're still a new country. I think in terms of people performing, it's very diverse. There's a very good underground culture, like Sticky Fingers, for instance. But for some reason, they haven't broken internationally.

Is there a breakdown along racial lines as far as what music is played by who?

Not really. We're very inspired by American culture because that's what we're fed growing up. All the movies, radio.

What about England? Do you derive inspiration from happens over there?

Not a whole lot, no. Maybe little hints. But mainly American culture.

It says you're from "humble beginnings" in the press materials. What does that mean? Like you grew up in some rough and tumble mining town?

[laughs] No, just a small town. The nearest city is Brisbane, but we grew up quite far from there. It was isolated. We were middle class, there. But it was still a beautiful place to grow up: tropical, rainforests everywhere. The Great Barrier Reef is there.

Where are you based now?

LA is our home away from home. We get a house there and live there for a while. It's where we record, it's where we have a lot of friends. It's an inspiring place to be.

How did you get there in the first place? How did you get out of the bedroom and into the studio?

It happened pretty quickly, honestly. We started picking up traction online with our work in the bedroom. And we got the attention of Joel and Benji Madden from Good Charlotte.

And what did they do for you guys?

They flew us out to LA and into a studio, gave us resources to work with. We were really grateful for that. It all took off from there.

Was there a specific scene you tapped into there?

Not really. We're kind of introverted by nature. We just kind of fell in love with creating as a whole. We didn't want to restrict ourselves to being just another band. Because we produced our own music, we will always have a sound, but it won't limit us genre-wise.

Do you prefer festival gigs to other types of gigs?

It's kind of a toss-up. On the one hand, you have these amazing festivals on massive stages in the middle of the day. There's nothing like it. But not everyone there knows your music. Whereas, when we play our own shows, it may not be as glamorous as a festival, but audiences there are going to see you.

But you get known to a wider audience with a festival.

Yeah, it's tough.

What does it look like when you play live?

It's insane. Dude, you should see what the setup looks like in rehearsals. We've got this massive video and light rig behind us. In terms of sound, it's like double the energy you hear on the record. I think it's always good to up the ante for live gigs.

Are there live instruments, or is it all pre-programmed?

Two live guitars, live bass, live drums. Everything, but on steroids. There's five of us touring. We've got our friends Jesse and Pat, on drums and bass. We've toured everywhere together.

I see you've played Lollapalooza. Is there like an automatic "meet and greet" with Perry Farrell?

[laughs] No. We're pretty reclusive, except when we're on stage.

I just imagine that bands get taken into like a tent, and there is Farrell, with a robe and a crown.

[laughs] I mean, we met a bunch of cool people. We got to see a lot of artists we like. We just soaked in the whole thing.

The title track of the album, "Phases" it's got a beautiful texture. I was listening to the lyrics though, and I'm a little unclear as to what those "phases" are.

We want to keep the idea of phases as broad as possible. A little bit of vagueness is important. If you're too specific, people can't take away their own version. It can be phases of emotion, or phases of the moon and the stars: life phases?

Like menopause?

Yep. It's important to take away your own concept.

The phases themselves go through phases.

[laughs] Exactly. It's broad. Going to through a phase is a phase.

The other thing that struck me is that throughout the album there seems to be a lot of polar emotions. And those emotions are reflected in the titles: "Angels" is sort of positive. "No rainbows" is negative, unless you hate rainbows. And "Even Though I'm Depressed" is kind of both.

It's very deliberate. That last one in particular. All the songs are very anecdotal, true to how we were feeling at the time. It was very ironic, writing lyrics to such a happy chord progression. It's interesting to experiment with those polar emotions.

Like how The Smiths used to write these tuneful ditties, but they're about, like, killing your lover with an ax.

Right. In a sense, as well, it's negative,but there's hope.

How much longer are you on tour?

Well, we're about to start.

Where are you going?

Everywhere. Everywhere. [laughs] After the US, we have a month off, and then we go to Europe.

Where in Europe?

Um, everywhere as well!

What cities are you looking forward to visiting, or have you already seen most of it?

Philly will be amazing. New York, LA. Texas. I love Portland, Oregon. We don't really have a point to prove. We set ourselves to a certain standard and we can only improve from there. We're just looking forward to connecting with people and having fun. No bullshit.

Sports

THE OPTION | Where's Christian Pulisic Going to End Up?

The First American Superstar Has Yet to Nail Down a Deal Commensurate with His Level of Play.

The American market is pretty thin when it comes to soccer talent.

Almost no U.S. soccer player is a household name, and even big stars like Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley were mediocre when playing on top-flight European teams. Clint Dempsey is probably the only U.S. player who was actually relevant in European soccer, helping Fulham finish second in the Europa League in 2010.

That said, this is still a second-tier accomplishment. Fulham has never made it to the Champions League, and even when he played for Tottenham, Dempsey never made it to the highest level of European play. Maybe it's American exceptionalism, but the United States' lack of representation on the world stage has always rubbed our soccer fans the wrong way.

Cue Christian Pulisic, a plucky-looking 19-year-old from Hershey Pennsylvania, who has been making huge splashes in the German Bundesliga, where he became the youngest foreigner to ever score a goal at age 17. Unlike Dempsey, Donovan, or Bradley however, the United States' admiration for this up-and-coming star is universal and has very little to do with his track record with the USMNT.

Still, despite his obvious talent, Pulisic has yet to nail down a deal commensurate with his level of play. He makes around $23,000 per week, an insane amount of money for a normal person but a tawdry sum for a professional athlete. To give you an idea of how insultingly low it is, Pulisic's market value is estimated at about £40 million. He's still under contract with Borussia Dortmund until 2020, but this hasn't stopped the wild speculation about where Pulisic might end up playing for in the very near future.

Pulisic

Currently, the frontrunners seem to be Liverpool, who have made at least two attempts to score the midfielder in recent years and saw their £11 million bid in 2016 rejected. Despite their failures to land the wunderkind, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp still admires Pulisic's play style and hopes to land him on the team, paying lip service and mumbling about 'respecting contracts' in a recent press conference.

Klopp later went on to explain that the team has everything it needs for the next season after signing a bevy of talent from all around Europe, including Fabinho, Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Alisson Becker. The latter was awarded the most expensive goalie contract in soccer history. Interestingly though, when Klopp's squad suited up against Borussia Dortmund in the International Champions Cup, Pulisic torched them in the second half, netting two goals and assisting on a third. The Reds are still interested in the young prospect, but since they've been handing out money to every other free agent they can find, they might not have deep enough pockets.

Not badBundesliga.com

Liverpool is far from the only Premier League team hunting Pulisic though, and rumors have been percolating all summer about Pulisic and his potential ties to Tottenham, Manchester United, and Chelsea. Still, they are just that, rumors. Tottenham just re-signed the oft-injured Erik Lamela, and with their depth at the midfield position, it seems silly to think that they'd go after the youngster.

United has been planning to trade Anthony Martial for the American phenom, but this has been in the news for some time and Borussia Dortmund hasn't publicly addressed the matter. Out of the three teams listed above, Chelsea is the only one desperate enough to really shell out the money for Pulisic though. Real Madrid has been eyeballing Chelsea's star midfielder Eden Hazard, and Chelsea is rightfully terrified to lose him. That said, if the Premier League has noticed Pulisic, that means Europe's most powerful squads have noticed him as well.

This brings us to two teams, both alike in dignity. I'm of course referring to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich (apologies to Barcelona). With teams of this caliber entering the scene, Pulisic's chances of entering the Premier League look to be dimming. Real recently shipped off both their head coach and star player (Zinedine Zidane and Christiano Ronaldo respectively) to Juventus, and are looking to rebuild their squad with young talent. They just won the Champion's League three years running, and definitely carry a certain appeal. On the flip side, Bayern Munich is also attempting to replenish its team with young players, as stars like Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry are getting older. The issue with Bayern however, is that they're rivals of Pulisic's current squad. To throw another wrench into the situation, Pulisic's current teammate, Marco Reus has been urging Pulisic to stay with Dortmund for "many more years."

With so many teams to choose from, all of them top-tier, Christian Pulisic is on the verge of becoming the first real American soccer star. Whether he'll end up joining the Premier League and playing in a more competitive domestic environment or joins a super club like Real or Bayern remains to be seen. The fact is, for all the wild speculation, it's completely unclear where Pulisic is going to end up. Keep your eye out though, the smart money is that he won't be playing Dortmund next year, no matter how good the money is. Superstars play at the top level of competition, and it's clear that Pulisic would be wasting his time playing anywhere that doesn't have a real shot at winning the Champions League. After missing the World Cup, he's the only bright spot in the interminable mediocrity machine that is American soccer.


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: https://matthewdclibanoff.journoportfolio.com/ Twitter: @mattclibanoff


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Sports

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.

That said, France's first two goals were made possible with the use of the video assisted referee (VAR), a new program of instant replay review that's very similar to the one seen in the NFL. The thing is, soccer and football aren't the same game. Football's rules are complex and each play requires a very precise and exact ruling, but soccer is famous for its nuance and subjectivity. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the clock never stops running. In a game of fits and starts like football, it's easy to be exacting. In soccer however, the game is constantly flowing and in order to keep this flow referees need to be trusted to make accurate calls on the field.

Instant replay is useful in determining whether or not the entire ball crossed the goal line on close goals, but that's a very specific situation in which precise measurement is necessary. How does one precisely measure whether or not a handball was intentional or whether or not a player was tripped? It's impossible. Refs being able to see these plays in slow motion doesn't change that fact. Unfortunately, soccer refs do have a history of getting things wrong. Maradona famously scored off of a handball against England in the quarterfinals of the 1986 World Cup. Germany knocked out the United States from the 2002 World Cup after Torsten Frings purposely saved a goal with a hand ball, which is supposed to be an instant red card. With past mistakes in mind, it's easy to imagine a lot of instances in which VAR would be useful. This year's World Cup final provided some of the best evidence against this assumption.

Handball

France's first goal was an officiating embarrassment. Antoine Griezmann, in move that can only be described as dishonorable, leapt towards the ground right outside of the penalty area. The ref on the field awarded a free kick. Still, it looked like a dive and the officials decided to consult the VAR. After watching the replay the refs agreed to give Griezmann a shot, which he scored on. The VAR didn't even help them correct their decision.

France's second goal was scored under similarly dubious circumstances. There was a handball in the box, but the official on the field determined that it was incidental. Instead of trusting the eyes on the field however, the refs once against deferred to the VAR and decided to rule the play in France's favor. When comparing the two goals, the second, while ridiculous, was consistent with the rest of the handballs in the World Cup in that it automatically went to video review. That said, the reviews themselves have been anything but consistent in their rulings. How could they be? There's no way to accurately measure intent.

Griezmann falling before getting touched

In the end, except in cases of determining whether or not a ball went into the net, the VAR implies a strange contradiction. On the one hand, it implies that the refs on the field aren't skilled enough to make accurate calls in subjective situations. On the other, the VAR's tape needs to be interpreted by the same referees whose decision making skills are being called into question by the VAR's very existence. If that sentence is confusing, imagine how confused Croatia was when the refs decided to award Antoine Griezmann that free kick after all.

The VAR isn't just a bulky, pointless device. It also saps a significant amount of time off the clock, slows down the pace of the game, and breaks up the natural flow of competition. After this World Cup final, it should be clear that there's no way to take the subjectivity out of the game. Video review only serves to slow the game down and doesn't prevent refs from making mistakes. In fact, it draws more attention to errors when they're made.


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: https://matthewdclibanoff.journoportfolio.com/ Twitter: @mattclibanoff


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Sports

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?

Croatia

Luka Modrić​

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

Harry Kane

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.

Belgium

Eden Hazard

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

Kylian Mbappé​

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: https://matthewdclibanoff.journoportfolio.com/ Twitter: @mattclibanoff


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