Gunok's save of the Euros, Brazil stall in Copa, and who throws a show?


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Hello! Feeling tired? Mert Gunok will lend a hand.

Coming up:

🧤 Turkey keeper’s wondersave

🟨Vinicius Jr lands Brazil ban

👞Who throws a shoe?

🍢 World Cup star’skebab empire


Euros Zone: Gunok the Great

Incoming: two pieces of Turkish delight. First up, the you-are-kidding-me save which nudged Turkey into the quarter-finals of Euro 2024 last night.

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There’s a reason why their players were splayed on the pitch when the final whistle went against Austria (above). They’d been pushed back so far that they were about to be renamed the Ottoman Empire. In the dregs of stoppage time, Austria created that chance; the chance that always comes when a game is on the line.

I’m still convinced it’s in. So is The Athletic’s goalkeeping expert Matt Pyzdrowski, who says Mert Gunok clawing Christoph Baumgartner’s header off the goal line is up there with any stop he can remember.

Baumgartner does everything right, nodding back across goal. Turkey’s defence is scattered to the winds. The key, as Matt explains, is Gunok’s footwork and him focusing on Baumgartner’s body shape just before the point of impact with the ball. All that was left was for Gunok to call on muscle memory honed over many years.

The save bordered on the impossible. But a reaction like Gunok’s is no accident. It will make him a national treasure. Hang it in the Louvre.

Likewise, Arda Guler’s corners. We were told about the Turkish Messi’s left foot and he spent the entire evening landing deliveries on a pin-head, forcing both of Turkey’s goals.

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Those and Gunok’s fingertips were the margins in a 2-1 victory. If ever I’m given one set piece to save my life, Guler’s taking it.

  • UEFA’s disciplinary office has had a busy time of it. Turkey’s Merih Demiral is being investigated for allegedly making an ultranationalist salute after their second goal.

Netherlands shoe-in

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For the first time, we saw signs of the Netherlands joining the party in Germany. They got game in a 3-0 win over Romania, and they might just have something to offer in the last eight.

There was something else that caught my eye on the pitch, though. So far at these Euros, we’ve seen players pelted with plastic beer glasses (beer is big business in Deutschland). Worse still, Austria’s Marcel Sabitzer looked like he was hit by a coin yesterday. But in the words of Austin Powers, who throws a shoe?

Romania goalkeeper Florin Nita found two in his vicinity, a matching pair, as the Dutch wrapped up their victory. He booted one out of his six-yard box while Donyell Malen was shaping to shoot — and then watched Malen whip a finish into the net. Good footwork, I guess.

Fixing England

England are very much at the party. They’re just sipping soft drinks, boring people with their conversation and refusing to let their hair down.

How to loosen them up? There are numerous things Gareth Southgate could do with his team, and our writers have been mulling over the possible changes for Saturday’s clash with Switzerland.

Kobbie Mainoo has to start in midfield, I think we’re all agreed on that. But the musings in this piece leave one main conclusion: until Southgate cracks the balance of the line of three behind He Who Will Not Be Dropped (Harry Kane), it’s going to be a struggle.


Copa Corner: Blue Brazil?

Argentina are following the script at the Copa America: three wins from three, three clean sheets, Ecuador in their first knockout tie, Lionel Messi back in training. They were pre-tournament favourites and they’re not far off odds-on now.

But Brazil? I’m not so sure. In Group D they had the misfortune of colliding with an accomplished Colombia unit, an orchestra with James Rodriguez as its conductor. Finishing second means it won’t get any easier. Uruguay are coming down the tracks, a pitbull with Marcelo Bielsa as its handler.

To complicate matters, Vinicius Junior is out of their quarter-final against the Uruguayans, banned for one match after picking up his second yellow card of the group stage in last night’s 1-1 draw with Colombia. He hasn’t fired yet, but you’d be picking him religiously.

Coach Dorival Junior has a decision to make. Rodrygo, Gabriel Martinelli, Pepe and Savinho are his options for the left flank. One way or another, a bit of rocket fuel is required — like Raphinha with this free kick yesterday…

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USMNT video nasty

Over the next few weeks, TAFC won’t be short of USMNT introspection. Gregg Berhalter will do well to survive their Copa exit. And in the wake of it, reflecting on whether they have the class of footballer to meet their high aspirations might be a good place to start.

But for now, here’s a rundown of the goal which caused controversy in their decisive 1-0 defeat to Uruguay — Mathias Olivera’s tap-in. VAR allowed it to stand and like many people, I’m not convinced they called it right. It’s tight beyond belief. Uruguay got the benefit of some major doubt.

We’ve explained the process here and having followed the Euros closely, the one thing you can say is that a semi-automated offside system (rather than the Copa’s more antiquated methods) is the way to go. The Premier League has realised that. The Copa should too.

Racing to top scorer

I stumbled across a cute tale this morning — Argentina’s Lautaro Martinez scribbling his name on a bunk bed in the academy quarters of Racing Club years ago. Now, when they go to sleep, other youth players at Racing see his signature.

You’d be inspired by it. He’s a World Cup winner, he rattles them in for Inter Milan and he’s Copa 2024’s top scorer with four goals. James Horncastle’s profile of him is a beauty. It shows why Argentina have more strings to their bow than Messi alone.

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United We Planned

Soon, Manchester United will have to move from recruiting recruitment staff to recruiting footballers. But for now, they’re beefing up their transfer machine.

Dan Ashworth is on board as sporting director. Christopher Vivell is joining as another sharp pair of eyes. And those appointments are only the latest stages in an all-out technical rebuild.

The expectation is their transfer business will improve as a result. Which it has to. What caught my eye in this feature about the changes were the names of certain players United could have had before they hit the big time. Could have signed, but didn’t:

  • Benjamin Sesko slipped away because United’s offer was too low
  • The club looked at Moises Caicedo but found the deal too complicated
  • They decided not to take the plunge with a 15-year-old Jamal Musiala
  • Pedro Neto would have been theirs had they not dragged their heels
  • A roster of regrets right there.

Political football: How UK election is being shaped by sport

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There’s a general election pending in the U.K. Voting takes place tomorrow.

It’s true what they say: football and politics shouldn’t mix, partly because weaponising sport is wrong but also because Members of Parliament pretending they know about the game makes you suck the air through your teeth.

In this election, football has been put to political use. The Labour Party launched its campaign at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium and keeps popping up at low-key football grounds. Conservative leader Rishi Sunak embarrassed himself by asking voters in Wales if they were looking forward to the Euros — for which the Welsh team hadn’t qualified.

Football is also part of government policy, with legislation lined up to create an independent regulator for the sport. So no, they shouldn’t mix. But plainly they do.


And finally…

Two things I wanted to flag from Matt Slater’s Business of Football column.

Firstly, FIFA is drawing blanks in its attempts to find a broadcaster for next year’s Club World Cup. Suggestions of Apple buying in sound very premature.

And secondly, did you know that former Germany and Arsenal striker Lukas Podolski has built himself a highly successful kebab business? Keep your chic clothing lines. There’s a man after my own heart.



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