The Athletic FC: No Pulisic, no party; Mbappe and political football in France

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Hello! Christian Pulisic’s name is in lights. But Cristiano Ronaldo is still the selfie king.

Ron selfie

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

On the way:

🚀 Pulisic launches U.S. Copa bid

🤳 Young fan snatches Ronaldo pic

🗳️ Mbappe and Co’s election talk

✍️ Bayern line up Olise signing

Copa Corner: Pulisic, a clever set piece and lift-off for USMNT

Game one of the Copa America for the USMNT, and job done. No prizes for guessing the script.

Christian Pulisic captained them. Pulisic scored after three minutes. Pulisic assisted a second goal for Folarin Balogun. I’m assuming he cooked dinner, too. And drove the bus home. PremSportsTV 44918b video to gif converter

There’s a reason the AC Milan midfielder is plastered all over billboards in the United States — and last night’s 2-0 win over Bolivia showed it. It’s not a case of one-man-team syndrome with the USMNT but if Pulisic’s fuse failed to light at the Copa, it was bound to be lights out for his country, too. They’re both up and running.

christian pulisic usmnt goals 6

A clever routine from the game’s first corner (above) — Pulisic and Tim Weah exchanging a one-two, Pulisic’s shot finding the far corner as Bolivia’s defence slept — set the tone as rapidly as Gregg Berhalter would have liked. There’s no leeway for his squad this time, no excuses that will wash. Copa 2024 is about living up to the hype. And perhaps the U.S. will.

Berhalter cannot hang everything on his irrepressible No 10. His team will meet more capable sides than Bolivia — and they must be slicker in finishing off their chances. But Pulisic in the mood and the USMNT into the groove are two of the right boxes ticked.

Bielsa’s back!

Make no mistake, though: Group C is not a formality. The Copa got its first look at Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay yesterday and if we’re talking hype, they’re worthy of the buzz around them.

They gave Panama a chasing in a 3-1 win, including this peach of a goal from Maximiliano Araujo. PremSportsTV 1619bc3 video to gif converter

Uruguay ooze energy and, at 68, Bielsa’s candle is still burning fiercely. Leeds United, where he was sacked in 2022, was never going to be his last job.

He has taken Uruguay’s squad by the scruff of the neck — it is his way or the highway. This detail about him in Adam Crafton’s piece today is textbook: Bielsa declared himself too busy to meet a senior member of the Uruguay Football Federation who had driven 125 miles to see him.

The Copa is in the presence of a total one-off.

Catch a match

(Times ET/UK): Group D: Colombia v Paraguay (6pm/11pm) — Fox Sports 1, Fubo, Premier Sports 1; Brazil vs Costa Rica (9pm/2am) — Fox Sports 1, Fubo, Premier Sports 1.

News Round-Up

Euros Zone: Ronaldo selfies and a comical own goal

TAFC does not condone pitch invasions, even if it secretly loves them. They can be a laugh. They can also compromise the safety of players and officials. Basically, they’re fun until they’re not.

Portugal’s win over Turkey at the weekend took the trend to extremes: four separate attempts by fans to get to Cristiano Ronaldo while the match was in progress. One of them, a young Turkish supporter, got his way and bagged a selfie with Ronaldo near the halfway line. Fame for life must be worth any consequences.

I’m stealing a line from The Athletic’s James Horncastle: to give the invaders their due, they marked Ronaldo better than Turkey’s defence. The contest was a mismatch, epitomised by Fenerbahce centre-back Samet Akaydin conceding a stinking own goal.

Pepe still got pep

How’s this for a stat? Portugal’s Pepe, the man who football’s Grim Reaper won’t touch, is older than a third of the nations taking part in Euro 2024: 41 years, three months and 29 days.

To an extent, it makes sense to see players fending off the afterlife for longer and longer. So many of the elite crop grew up in heavily funded academies and were looked after properly from the outset. But Pepe is a phenomenon; so fit and in shape you would struggle to squeeze his fat with a pair of tweezers.

He doesn’t look out of place in a tidy Portugal team or ready to pack it in. It reminds me of something one of Pablo Hernandez’s former team-mates said to me as a mid-thirties Hernandez was tearing it up at Leeds: “He’s old enough to quit, but he plays like this. What the f***?”

De Bruyne and Belgium back in business

Kevin De Bruyne is not going quietly, either. Belgium might be a busted flush, and De Bruyne’s international career might be just about done, but his driving performance in a 2-0 victory over Romania got them back on track after a limp loss to Slovakia.

He’s evidently resolved to carry the Belgians as far as he can. Because, as the saying goes, you’re a long time retired.

Catch a match

(Times ET/UK): Group B: Croatia vs Italy (3pm/8pm) — Fox, Fubo, BBC One; Albania vs Spain (3pm/8pm) — Fox Sports 1, Fubo, BBC Two.

Political Football: Mbappe and Co speaking out about election

0620 France 2 scaled

Getty Images; design Eamonn Dalton

The idea that football and politics don’t mix is, however you cut it, a complete joke. Football is awash with politics, often to its detriment.

Nonetheless, players and coaches are often careful to avoid getting dragged into political discourse. Too volatile, too partisan, too thankless. But members of the France squad are sticking their necks out by publicly intervening in the snap election that is about to take place in their homeland.

The political landscape in Europe has seen a shift towards the right recently and in France, Marine Le Pen’s populist National Rally party is a growing force.

Kylian Mbappe has urged voters to reject the politics of the right. Marcus Thuram is pushing the same message. Real Madrid’s Aurelien Tchouameni followed up yesterday by saying he hated “extremes in everyday life”. “I’m more for a policy of unity,” he said.

You suspect that, given the choice, footballers would rather be a million miles from this scenario. It’s easier to say nothing — but they clearly feel the need to speak. Their voices will have an impact.

Around The Athletic FC 🌎

Quiz Answer❓

On Friday, we asked: Can you name the last England tournament matches — four separate games — not to feature any players from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City?

Answer: Arsenal: vs Wales (World Cup 2022); Chelsea: vs Wales (World Cup 2022); Liverpool: vs Iran (World Cup 2022); Manchester City: vs Portugal (World Cup 2006).

If you scored four out of four, I can only assume you must have cheated.

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(Top photo: Omar Vega/Getty Images)

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