Tag Archives: soccer

What Will Manchester United Do About Mason Greenwood?

Almost exactly one year after the police started investigating Manchester United footballer Mason Greenwood for the alleged rape of, and coercive behaviour towards, his girlfriend Harriett Robson, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced today that Greenwood will not be charged.

So what will happen next? The massive media attention on the case, lurid social media audio tapes of Greenwood and Robson, and the bruises on her, mean that the issue will not just go away. Manchester United faces massive moral and football decisions regarding Greenwood.

In an era where it is difficult to keep anything private, most people have already made up their mind about Greenwood’s guilt or innocence; no matter the outcome of the police and CPS investigations.

On the football pitch Manchester United is in dire need of a center forward like Greenwood. In the year since Manchester United suspended Greenwood after the investigation against him, Manchester United played the nearly 38 year old Cristiano Ronaldo; until his relationship with the club became so strained that the club terminated his contract. 35 year old Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani also left the club last summer after his contract terminated. In Greenwood’s absence and after the departure of Ronaldo and Cavani, the club played French striker Anthony Martial, but Martial has been frequently injured.

The center forward position became such a problem for Manchester United that the club went to the extraordinary step of terminating Dutch striker Wout Weghorst’s loan at Turkish club Besiktas, and negotiating a three way deal with his parent club Burnley that saw Besiktas paid £2.5 million for prematurely terminating Weghorsts’s loan with them so that Manchester United could negotiate with Burnley for Weghorst to go on loan to Manchester United instead.

At a time when Manchester United is cash strapped, the news that Greenwood is no longer under criminal investigation is an opportunity and a problem. The club must take one of three difficult roads:

If I was a betting man, I think the club will take a few weeks/months to allow the furore to slightly dissipate, then slowly reintegrate Greenwood back into the team after he makes a public apology or show of contrition (and perhaps agreeing to go to a gender sensitivity course).

  1. Reintegration into the Team: If the club brings Greenwood back into the team, it will face a massive backlash from the public who are appalled at the audio footage of him and who will demand explanations for how the club responds to allegations of violence against women. Greenwood would be booed mercilessly and every Manchester United away game will have a poisonous atmosphere.
  2. Sever Ties With Greenwood: This would be a very messy option that could embroil the club in a lawsuit. The club cannot fire Greenwood because he was not convicted of a crime and is still under contract. The only slim chance is to argue that Greenwood breached the “morality” clause of his contract and fire him for breach of contract. However, this has a slim chance of success and Greenwood could sue the club for unfair dismissal. If they try to punish him by keeping him under contract but out of the team, they will face the absurdity of paying an employee who does not come to work. If they try to terminate his contract they would have to pay him millions of pounds in compensation. Even worse, talented 21 year old strikers like Greenwood do not grow on trees, and United would essentially be paying millions to terminate the contract of one of the most talented young players in the world, so that he could then join another club for free. Greenwood’s best years are still ahead of him and he could be a star wherever he goes for the next 10-12 years. Terminating Greenwood’s contract is too fraught with economic and legal risk to be a viable option.
  3. Replace Greenwood: Replacing him will not be cheap either way. Some of the other strikers that United have been linked with (such as Napoli’s Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen) will cost over £85 million to buy. At a time when Manchester United has over £600 million of debt and has little or no transfer budget after over-spending in past transfer windows, the club may decide that economically, it has little choice but to endure the public backlash, and reintegrate its most talented young player back into the squad rather than further endangering the club’s financial future by buying a new player who may not perform as well as Greenwood.

Whichever, decision Manchester United takes will be tainted with controversy.

Follow me on Twitter


The Best Ever -v- The Best Now: St Joseph’s -v- Baiteze Squad (FA Sunday Cup, Round 4)

This fixture is the biggest match in this season’s FA Sunday Cup so far. It pits the reigning and defending cup holders Baiteze Squad (from east London) against the most consistent team in the 57 year history of the FA Sunday Cup (St Joseph’s from Luton). The match was supposed to be played last Sunday, but was postponed due to bad weather.

  • Date: Sunday January 29, 2023

  • Kick-off time: 1pm
  • Venue: Leighton Town FC, Bell Close, Lake Street, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, LU7 1RX (host stadium’s club plays at Step 5 of the National League System – in the Premier Division of the Spartan South Midlands League)


Location: Luton, Bedfordshire
League: Leighton & District Sunday League
Last season: 2nd in the Leighton & District Sunday League

Manager: Steven “Macca” McDaid
Captain: James Bishop


FA Sunday Cup winners (twice: 1995, 1996)
FA Sunday Cup finalists (1998, 1999, 2006, 2020)
Bedfordshire County FA Sunday Cup winners (2018, 2021, 2022)
South Bedfordshire Sunday League
, Luton District and South Bedfordshire Football League, North Home Counties Sunday League champions (17 times)

St Joseph’s are FA Sunday Cup royalty. The club has reached the final of this cup more times than any other team (6 times); and most recently reached the 2020 final (played in 2021 due to Covid). During the mid-late 1990s, St Joseph’s was the best Sunday team in Britain and reached the FA Sunday Cup final 4 times in 5 years between 1995 and 1999. It first entered this competition 36 years ago and has competed in it more times than any other team. St Joseph’s regularly fielded top class players in its squad; including former England international and Chelsea striker Kerry Dixon (who scored 147 goals for Chelsea) and former Leeds United manager Kevin Blackwell.

St Joseph’s was founded 52 years ago at the Harp Social Club in Luton, before moving to the parish center attached to St Joseph’s Roman Catholic church in Luton about 45 years ago. It initially played in the South Bedfordshire Sunday League (which later became the Luton District and South Bedfordshire Football League) and has been collecting trophies since. It moved to the North Home Counties Sunday League in the 2014-15 season, and after winning an incredible 17 league titles across 3 different leagues in its history, St Joseph’s departed in 2020 (along with their long time league rivals Club Lewsey) to seek new challenges in the Leighton & District Sunday League. Predictably, St Joseph’s took to their new league like ducks to water (with a 100% record having won all of its games – before Covid suspended the season) and also won the Division 1 Cup.

St Joseph’s – The “London Slayers”

Baiteze must beware, as St Joseph’s is arguably the best team Baiteze has ever faced. St Joseph’s also has an excellent record against London teams. En route to the 2020 FA Sunday Cup final, St Joseph’s played against three different teams from London. St Joseph’s declared itself the “London Slayers” after beating then London Sunday Challenge Cup holders Lambeth All Stars 3-0 in round 3, then followed up that victory by beating the highly rated unbeaten league leaders of the Hackney & Leyton League Sporting Club de Mundial 2-1 in round 4, and then also beat former Croydon Municipal Sunday League champions Portland (who were then playing in the Orpington & Bromley District Sunday League) 1-0 in the semi-final.

St Joseph’s lost the closely contested 2020 final in a heart-breaking manner. After the game finished 0-0 after 90 minutes, Elliott Nevitt scored a late winning goal in extra time to give Campfield (from Liverpool) a 1-0 victory. Nevitt is now a professional footballer for Tranmere Rovers and won their player of the year award last season.

St Joseph’s squad includes very good players who play for semi-professional clubs on Saturdays. These include former Luton Town academy player Sean McMonagle, and Dale Turney. Both McMonagle and Turney also play for Step 5 Saturday clubs in the Premier Division of the Spartan South Midlands League (Harpenden Town and Potton United respectively).

It also has an active youth team with 17 different teams playing under the St Joseph’s banner at age grade level. St Joseph’s also had a Saturday team playing in Division 1 of the Bedfordshire County League (Step 8 of the amateur football pyramid). The Saturday team won the Bedfordshire County FA’s Intermediate Cup in May 2021 after a 3-2 win over Stopsley United in the final at Barton Rovers FC’s stadium. However, the Saturday team recently disbanded after a horrid 2022-23 season which saw them bottom of the table after losing their first 8 games (conceding 49 goals in the process and scoring only 8).

One of the quirks of this season’s FA Sunday Cup 4th round draw is that the only teams from Luton competing in this cup (St Joseph’s and Club Lewsey) were both drawn against “YouTube teams” from London. SE Dons beat St Joseph’s fellow Leighton & District Sunday League team Club Lewsey 1-0 last weekend. Although St Joseph’s and Club Lewsey are rivals on the pitch, they have very good relations off the pitch. A Club Lewsey official told me that:

The rivalry with St Joes is always a fierce one on the pitch with the games normally being close tight affairs with both teams always in it. Off the pitch it’s a different story, the two groups of players get on well in the bar afterwards and many are friends off the pitch.

To get revenge on behalf of their mates from Club Lewsey, St Joseph’s will have to beat the reigning cup holders.


Location: Newham, east London
League: Essex Sunday Corinthian League
Last season: FA Sunday Cup winners, 2nd in the Essex Sunday Corinthian League


FA Sunday Cup winners (2022)

Prior FA Sunday Cup performance:

  • 2019-2020: Round 2: lost 1-2 to Shire United (Thames Valley Sunday League) – November 2019
  • 2021-2022: winners

Leadership Team:

Manager: Billy Hession
Captain: Adeyinka “Ade” Cole

The cup holders Baiteze Squad are trying to do something only three teams have done in the 57 year history of the FA Sunday Cup: win the competition twice in a row. Their opponents St Joseph’s are among that famous trio that won the cup twice in a row.

For the unitiated/those unfamiliar with them, Baiteze is one of the most popular of the so-called “YouTube teams” who professionally film and upload HD footage of their games with commentary to YouTube, and also film and upload other videos of them playing against professional footballers such as Alex Iwobi of Everton, Calvin Bassey of Ajax, and Joe Aribo of Southampton.

They combine a Match of the Day style highlights package of their games, with outlandish commentary, behind the scenes fly on the wall footage of what it is like playing for, and running, an amateur football club, and the larger than life characters at the clubs.

Baiteze were originally a group of semi-professional footballers who filmed themselves doing tricks and cross bar challenges online with against professional footballers. However, they did not become a real football team until they joined forces with a club called Mile End FC which started playing in the Hackney and Leyton League about 15 years ago. Mile End was a good but unspectacular mid-table team in that league until an influx of the Baiteze players into Mile End’s squad led the team to change its name to “Mile End Baiteze Squad”. The merged club won the Hackney & Leyton League’s Premier Division championship three times (2016, 2018, and 2019).

However, an acrimonious split with their manager Justin Gardner (who also managed Barking FC on Saturdays in the Isthmian League (Step 4)) in 2020 saw the club split into two. One group of players continued playing for Gardner in the Hackney & Leyton League under the Mile End Baiteze Squad name, while the younger players moved to the Essex Sunday Corinthian League to play as Baiteze Squad name. Mile End Baiteze Squad took the club’s football history and goodwill, while Baiteze Squad walked away with the cream of the club’s talented players and its social media following.

Baiteze made many critics eat humble pie last season. Many Liverpool teams were against the entry of what they considered to be an arrogant and brash “YouTube team” with no history. Teams from Liverpool have won this cup more times than any other city in the country and tend to consider themselves as guardians of amateur football’s traditions. The Liverpool teams spent so much time on “the game has gone” complaints that they did not notice that Baiteze is actually a very good team. Five of the six teams that Baiteze beat to win this cup last season were reigning champions of their respective leagues (and the sixth won its league during the season). Beating league champions from Ipswich, Kent, south London, Doncaster, Middlesbrough, and north London was no mean feat. During that cup winning run, Baiteze also beat Middlesbrough Dormans – who knocked out the then reigning Cup holders Campfield, and also beat the then reigning Metropolitan Sunday League champions and London Sunday Challenge Cup holders Grand Athletic – who had been unbeaten for about 40 games and 18 months.

Baiteze’s squad includes ex Liverpool academy player Jason Banton (who also played professionally for Plymouth Argyle), and its captain Ade Cole plays semi-professionally on Saturdays for Isthmian League Premier Division team Margate (Step 3).

Baiteze’s victory in this competition also provided free publicity for the FA and for every team they play against. Since Baiteze films and uploads all of its games to YouTube (accompanied by the colourful commentary of Joel Mensah), it has showcased the FA Sunday Cup to its massive young, urban based, music conscious Gen Z fanbase that did not even know this cup existed 1 year ago. Baiteze’s thrilling 3-2 win against SE Dons win in this competition last season in front of a crowd of almost 2000 at Barking FC was the most well attended FA Sunday Cup match in decades, and drew a bigger crowd than most finals. Baiteze’s mere presence in this competition drew attention to it, and increased participation and fan attendance. After decades of not bothering to enter this competition, 9 London teams entered it this season (4 of whom are first time entrants). That is probably not unconnected to Baiteze’s win last season.

Being national champions came at a price. Baiteze’s players now` have huge targets on their backs, as every opponent raises their game and badly wants to beat them in order to claim the scalp of the national champions. Baiteze had a horrid October during which they conceded 10 goals in only 2 games, in successive 3-7 and 2-4 defeats to Flyhouse Athletic and London All Stars respectively. However, they bounced back with an emphatic 4-0 league win against London Sunday Challenge Cup holders Hatch Lane.

It is very difficult to predict a winner of the FA Sunday Cup because so many good teams compete in it. After round 2, any team remaining is generally good enough to beat any other team. However, the winner of this St Joseph’s v Baiteze tie must be considered among the favourites.

“we would smoke them”

In a strange portent, the person who manages St Joseph’s Twitter account predicted back in 2021 that “we would smoke them” if t Joseph’s ever got to play Baiteze. 16 months later, what was presumed to be a “fantasy match-up” is now reality. There is also a bad omen for Baiteze going into this game. The last time St Joseph’s played a YouTube team from London; St Joseph’s convincingly won 3-0 (against Lambeth All Stars in 2020).

Good luck to both teams.”In a strange portent, the person who manages St Joseph’s Twitter account predicted back in 2021 that “we would smoke them” if ever got to play Baiteze. 16 months later, what was presumed to be a “fantasy match-up” is now reality. There is also a bad omen for Baiteze going into this game. The last time St Joseph’s played a YouTube team from London; St Joseph’s convincingly won 3-0 (against Lambeth All Stars in 2020).

Good luck to both teams.

Who Will Win the FA Sunday Cup?

The FA Sunday Cup is perhaps the most under-appreciated of the FA’s competitions. A cup competition that has featured professional top flight footballers and that has a 57 year history, deserves more attention and respect. The final of this season’s competition will take place this Sunday at The Den (home of Millwall FC) in south London.

For those who mentally associated Sunday football with overweight, unfit, out of shape players – think again. The FA Sunday Cup is essentially semi-professional football – full of players who were on the books of Premier League clubs. A bystander who watched a game in this competition some years ago confessed: “I was very, very, very shocked just how good the football was”.

The FA Sunday Cup is like the Champions League of Sunday football, and features the best Sunday teams from across England. This year’s final is a historic one. This is only the second time in nearly 30 years that two teams from London have reached the final of this nationwide competition. The two teams playing in this year’s final are seriously good and both are champions of their respective leagues. Here is a preview of both teams and what to expect from them.


I will be immodest and give myself indirect credit for foreshadowing Highgate Albion’s run to the final (!). Four months ago, I sent a message to the club’s secretary (after they received a second successive bye in round 2 against Falcons FC of Cambridge) jokingly suggesting that they might “reach the final without having to play a game!”. Four months later, Highgate indeed reached the final (they did play a few games to get there though!). However, Highgate reached the last 16 of this competition without having to kick a ball; after receiving byes in the first two rounds due to the inability of their 1st and 2nd round opponents Skew Bridge and Falcons to fulfil their fixtures.

Their 1st round game against Skew Bridge was initially postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, and the FA awarded the tie to Highgate after Skew Bridge was unable to play in the re-arranged fixture. Falcons folded and withdrew from the cup. However, those byes should not detract from Highgate’s quality. When Highgate eventually faced an opponent willing to play in round 3, they beat Burghfield from Reading 2-0, followed by a statement victory in a 6-1 demolition of highly rated Club Lewsey of Luton in the quarter-final.

Highgate are the three time consecutive champions of the Barnet Sunday League. It is a mark of how good they are that the club reached the final in what is only its second entry in the competition (having reached the last 16 in the prior season’s competition). The north London team has serious quality – especially in attack. Highgate’s prolific striker Jake Cass (who averages more than a goal per game this season) also plays semi-professionally on Saturdays for Step 3 team Enfield FC in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League. This season Highgate also signed midfielder Jayden Clarke from their league rivals Rising Ballers. Clarke also plays semi-professionally on Saturdays at Step 3 for Hendon FC of the Southern League’s Premier Division. Some other Highgate players also play on Saturdays for Barnet based Hadley FC in the Premier Division of the Spartan South Midlands League (Step 5). These include the rapid forward Solomon Ofori; who is usually a handful for opposition defences, and left back Luke Alfano who is a very solid player both defensively and when supporting his team’s attacks. Forward Excellence Muhemba also plays on Saturdays for Windsor in the Premier Division of the Combined Counties League.

Captain Marvel

A special word for Highgate’s captain and veteran center-back Ian Maitland. The name Maitland is synonymous with Highgate Albion. Maitland made this debut for the club before this century! (and before some of his team-mates were born) 23 years and about 500 games later, Maitland still plays for Highgate Albion. He followed in the footsteps of his father Nigel who also played for Highgate, and even played for the club alongside his younger brother Frankie. Last year a third generation of the Maitland family played for Highgate as Ian’s son Charlie made his debut for Highgate.

“the most important goal in the club’s history”

I saw (Ian!) Maitland score a spectacular volley into the top left hand corner during Highgate’s victory against AFC Hammersmith in the Middlesex FA Sunday Premier Cup quarter-final earlier this season. At the time I thought a 39 year old defender blasting a “worldie” into the top corner was an outlier. It turns out that Maitland is the Steve Bruce of his era; a goalscoring defender. Not only has he scored 14 goals this season, but he also scored the dramatic 93rd minute winning goal in the semi-final against Liverpool team Mayfair, as Highgate overturned a 0-2 deficit to win 3-2. The club dubbed Maitland’s goal as “the most important goal in the club’s history”.

I also witnessed Maitland’s old school captaincy philosophy earlier this season when he responded to one of his team-mates complaining about a refereeing decision by screaming at him to: “Shut the fuc* up and get back!”. As far as on-field tactical advice goes: it was concise and to the point.

Next year will be the 40th anniversary of Highgate Albion’s formation. The club now operates four teams in the Barnet Sunday League. Its second team has already won the Middlesex FA Sunday Intermediate Cup this season. While the first team is riding high in the Premier Division, its second, third, and fourth teams are all well placed to gain promotion this season from Divisions 1, 4, and 6 respectively of the Barnet Sunday League. It would be a fitting “grand slam” pre-40th anniversary celebration for the club if its first team became champions of England and its other three teams all won promotion.


For the unitiated/those unfamiliar with these two teams, Baiteze is one of the most popular and successful of the so-called “YouTube teams” who film and upload footage of their games with commentary to YouTube. Baiteze are champions of the Essex Sunday Corinthian League (ESCL) which is based in east London and Essex. Before joining the ESCL Baiteze played as “Mile End Baiteze Squad” in the legendary Hackney & Leyton League, and won the league’s title three times in a row before an acrimonious split with their manager Justin Gardner (who also managed Barking FC on Saturdays in the Isthmian League (Step 4)) saw the club split into two. One group of players continued playing for Gardner in the Hackney & Leyton League under the Mile End Baiteze Squad name, while the younger players moved to the ESCL to play under the Baiteze Squad name. Mile End Baiteze Squad took the club’s football history and goodwill, while Baiteze Squad walked away with the cream of the club’s talented players and its social media following.

Baiteze has made many people eat humble pie this season. Many Liverpool teams (who consider themselves to be the guardians of amateur football’s traditions) were against the entry of what they considered to be an arrogant and brash “YouTube team” with no history. The Liverpool teams spent so much time on “the game has gone” complaints  that they forgot the positive attributes that Baiteze brought to this competition: huge publicity and on-pitch quality. Baiteze has essentially provided free publicity for the FA, this competition, and for every team they have faced. Since Baiteze films and uploads all of its games to YouTube (accompanied by the colourful commentary of Joel Mensah), it has showcased the FA Sunday Cup to its massive young, urban based, music conscious Gen Z fanbase that did not even know this cup existed 1 year ago. The 1000+ attendance at their huge round 2 clash against SE Dons was the most well attended FA Sunday Cup match in decades and drew a bigger crowd than most finals. Baiteze and SE Dons have almost half a million social media followers between them, and SE Dons has more YouTube followers than 70% of Premier League clubs. Baiteze’s mere presence in this competition drew attention to it, and may increase participation and fan attendance for years to come.

Despite Baiteze’s penchant for self-promotion and social media “banter”, on the pitch, the club has an excellent squad. It is also well coached as its manager Billy Hession has coached at professional level at clubs such as Gillingham. Baiteze’s playmaker Ade Cole is a showman. Some of his skills in their thrilling 2nd round victory over SE Dons delighted the crowd into chants of “Ade are you OK?” (to the tune of the “Annie are you ok?” lyrics in Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal.

Ade Cole’s older brother is also called… Ade Cole (do not ask me – ask the family!). Ade Senior is also a fine footballer who used to play for former Hackney & Leyton League champions Clapton Rangers.

In the same game centre-back Alex Cruickshank put in the best defensive performance I have seen from any player at this level for years. He did not put a foot wrong and blocked, headed, and intercepted everything that came his way.

Baiteze had by far the toughest route to the final. Not only did Baiteze have to play more games than Highgate, but all of the five teams that Baiteze beat to reach the final are champions of their respective leagues. Beating league champions from Ipswich, Kent, south London, Doncaster, and Middlesbrough is no mean feat. In round 2 Baiteze faced their massive “YouTube team” rivals SE Dons in what was undoubtedly the tie of the round. Baiteze won a thrilling game 3-2 in front of a packed and vociferous crowd of over 1000 at Barking FC. In round 2, Baiteze had to face the formidable London Sunday Challenge Cup holders and Metropolitan Sunday League champions Grand Athletic. Going into that game Grand Athletic had not lost a game for 16 months in a match sequence spanning almost 40 consecutive games. Baiteze ended Grand’s long unbeaten record with a 3-1 victory away, and two weeks later, proved it was no fluke by also eliminating Grand from the London Sunday Challenge Cup on penalties after a 2-2 draw.


This game also says a lot about the strength in depth of Sunday football in London. Neither team is the best team in its league and has been dethroned. Highgate is currently in 4th position in the Barnet Sunday League and Baiteze is in 3rd place in the Essex Sunday Corinthian League. Even if both teams win all of their remaining games, they cannot retain the league titles they won last season. Both teams have also been eliminated from the London FA Sunday Challenge Cup. If London teams that cannot finish top of their league can reach the final of the nationwide FA Sunday Cup, it says much about the quality of teams from London.

For many years the Liverpool teams have been sceptical about the quality of amateur football in the nation’s capital and kept reminding everyone of their region’s dominance of this competition. That dominance obscures an overlooked fact: London teams perform poorly in the FA Sunday Cup because they rarely enter it!


Fittingly, the game will be played in south London which can be considered “neutral” territory for teams from north and east London. The FA Sunday Cup is notoriously difficult to predict. After round 2 there is very little difference in quality between the teams and all remaining teams are capable of beating each other. Highgate and Baiteze have played each other only once competitively; in the quarter-final of the London Sunday Challenge Cup in 2019. On that occasion, Highgate came from behind to win 3-1.

This final will definitely will not end 0-0. The quality of attackers in both teams will prevent that.

FA Sunday Cup Final
Sunday May 1, 2022 (Kick-off 2pm)

Millwall FC
The Den
New Cross, ‎London‎, ‎SE16
Buy tickets here

Highgate Albion’s route to the final:

1Skew BridgeHertfordshire Advertiser Sunday LeagueN/A (walkover – Skew unable to fulfil fixture)5 December 2021  Harpenden Town FC (Herts)  
2FalconsCambridge & District Sunday League  N/A (walkover – Falcons withdrew)16 January 2022Bottisham Sports Centre (Cambridge)  
3BurghfieldReading & District Sunday League  2-013 February 2022Sun Sports & Social Club (Watford)  
Quarter-FinalClub LewseyLeighton & District Sunday League6-16 March 2022  Hertford Town FC  
Semi-FinalMayfairLiverpool Business Houses League3-227 March 2022  Solihull Moors FC

Baiteze Squad’s route to the final:

1Borussia MartleshamIpswich Sunday League  0-0 (5-4 on penalties)5 December 2021  Redbridge FC
2South-East DonsOrpington & Bromley District Sunday League3-216 January 2022Barking FC
3Grand AthleticMetropolitan Sunday League3-113 February 2022Griffin Sports Ground (London)  
Quarter-FinalScawthorpe AthleticDoncaster Rovers Sunday League4-26 March 2022  Brodsworth Miners Welfare Ground (Doncaster)  
Semi-FinalMiddlesbrough DormansStockton Sunday League  1-1 (3-2 on penalties)27 March 2022  Boston United FC

2021-22 FA Sunday Cup Draw – Round 1

The FA released the draw for the first round of the FA Sunday Cup today. The games will be played on Sunday December 5, 2021.

Due to the regionalisation of round 1, nine of the 32 ties (i.e. almost a third of the games!) feature teams in the same division as each other. Four of the seven (57% of!) Liverpool teams in the competition will face each other, and London will be down to 3 teams max as two (50%!) of its four teams will face each as well. Essex will be down to one team as its only two entrants in the competition (Priory Sports and Rouge 21) will play each other.


1) Burradon New Fordley v  Hazlerigg Victory – Cramlington and District Sunday League

2) West Hartlepool Technical Day School Old Boys (WHTDSOB) v  Hartlepool Lion O’Mally – Hartlepool Sunday League

Liverpool Business Houses Sunday League:

3) Home Bargains v Campfield* (cup holders)

4) Pineapple v Custys

5) Sileby Athletic v Sporting Dynamo – The Alliance Football League (Leicester)

6) Long Whatton v Birstall Stamford – Leicester & Charnwood Sunday Football League

7) Royston Rovers v @Falcons – Cambridge & District Sunday League

8) St Joseph’s v Club Lewsey – Leighton & District Sunday League

9) Lambeth All Stars v South East Dons – Orpington & Bromley District Sunday League


Priory Sports v Rouge 21 (Essex)



This week brought good news and bad news in the world of Sunday football. The good news is that after not staging a tournament in the 2020-2021 season, the FA has decided to bring back the FA Sunday Cup for the 2021-22 season. However, the return of the competition came with a big caveat: the FA restricted this season’s competition to 64 teams only (in a competition that often has more than 100 entrants). The FA’s justification for truncating the competition is the Covid pandemic. Since applications to enter the competition exceeded its vacancies, the FA drew applicant names out of a hat to determine which clubs would and would not be permitted to play in this season’s competition.

The FA’s decision to stage a restricted tournament went down like a lead balloon among many clubs. Clubs from the Liverpool area are irate. Liverpool has been the traditional powerhouse of the FA Sunday Cup and has supplied more winners than any other part of the country (including the current holders Campfield). 12 of the last 16 FA Sunday Cup winners were from either Liverpool or Durham County areas.


The random lottery style method of determining entrants inflicted significant casualties. Former Sunday Cup winners such as Canada (Edinburgh Park), Lobster, and Oyster Martrys (which has regularly featured Wayne Rooney’s family members) – from the well respected Liverpool Business Houses League, were excluded, as well as other perennial Sunday Cup entrants. Even the Durham FA’s county Sunday Cup champions Dawdon Welfare Park were denied entry.

Liverpool teams treat the FA Sunday Cup as their top priority every season. For Sunday footballers from that region, this cup is their Champions League and is the most glamorous competition they can play in. Most teams from the top division of the Liverpool Business Houses League usually enter this cup. The new entry format has blocked that and has caused some Liverpool teams to claim a regional conspiracy against them. It seemed a needless grievance for the FA to trigger because the last FA Sunday Cup competition which started in October 2019 before Covid, was completed 19 months later in May 2021. With the tournament suspended for the 2020-21 season several teams were chomping at the bit to enter this season.


The sense of grievance among Liverpool teams amplified as several new entrants from London (such as “YouTube team” SE Dons, and London Sunday Challenge Cup holders Grand Athletic) were accepted as first time applicants. While past winners are justifiably aggrieved at their exclusion, new entrants have an opportunity to experience the FA Sunday Cup for the first time.

To some extent the controversy over the entrants is a battle between old and new worlds. Liverpool teams regard themselves as custodians of Sunday football’s traditions. Whereas the YouTube clubs from London – with their brashness and constant social media self-promotion, blur the lines between entertainment and sport. Yet there is evidence to suggest that the presence of social media savvy “YouTube teams” such as SE Dons, Baiteze Squad, Lambeth All Stars, and others will increase publicity for the competition and attendances at matches. When SE Dons played in the Kent FA Sunday Premier Cup final in 2019, they drew a record crowd of over 2000 people. That is a higher attendance than most Conference National Clubs drew before Covid. The YouTube teams’ fanbase will be exposed to the FA Sunday Cup for the first time and it may encourage more teams to enter when (hopefully!) the FA reinstates the competition to its full format for the 2022-2023 season.



The controversy over the entry format has obscured a bigger issue: English football’s contemptuous and snobbish attitude towards Sunday football. Simply put, the FA has very little regard for Sunday football. It is pertinent that other amateur FA competitions such as the FA Vase and FA Trophy (which involve Saturday clubs) are operating with a full schedule this season – some with extra preliminary or qualifying rounds. The FA’s decision to restrict only the FA Sunday Cup seems all the more bizarre given that many players will play in the FA Trophy or FA Vase for their Saturday clubs then play in the FA Sunday Cup the next day for their Sunday teams (often at the same stadiums!). For example, last season striker Elliott Nevitt scored the winning goal in the FA Sunday Cup final for Liverpool Business Houses League champions Campfield. The following week he also scored a hat-trick in the FA Vase final for Warrington Rylands of the Northern Premier League. Until English football stops judging football by the day of the week it is played, the FA Sunday Cup will continue to be treated as an inferior ugly duckling in the sport.

Follow me on Twitter

Spain are World Champs, but Congrats to South Africa for a Successful World Cup

Now that the World Cup has ended, I expected lots of patronising and negative comments highlighting every single problem or thing that did not go according to plan. However, I want to say a great big CONGRATULATIONS to South Africa for hosting this marvellous World Cup. Here’s a good piece in the Guardian about the success of this tournament:


I have written a number of articles about the World Cup. Here is my post mortem of the tournament:

Football wise, it was not the greatest tournament.  The teams who reached the latter stages were those who played conservatively with restraint, and with one striker. The final was a dreadful game with some shocking tackles. Finals are always tense affairs but watching Holland –v- Spain was like watching a horror film at times. Spain’s semi-final against Germany was so boring that I fell asleep during it.

European commentators keep salivating over Spain’s slick passing. They are a great passing team, no doubt, but at times I think they over-elaborate and do not get the ball in the box quickly enough.  How good are Spain? They are the world champs and deserve all the credit.  However I get the feeling we still do not know how good this Spain team really is because they were rarely tested in this World Cup. Would have loved to see them face Brazil or Argentina.

Player of the tournament: toss up between Diego Forlan and Xavi. Does any footballer in modern football hit the ball as hard and as cleanly as Forlan?  Then again, did you see Xavi give the ball away during this World Cup?

Luckiest player of the tournament: Mark van Bommel. A one man foul machine who somehow  manages to avoid red cards despite shockingly persistent fouling and brutal tackles. How he managed to avoid getting booked till the semi-final is a mystery.

Goal of the tournament:
Giovanni van Brockhorst’s 30 yard howitzer against Uruguay.

Villain of the tournament: David Suarez. Blocking the ball with his hands on the goal line to deny a certain Ghana goal. Apparently did not realize that FIFA rules stipulate only ONE GK per team. Loved the way he acted surprised when he got a red card. He reacted almost as if unaware that deliberately handball with BOTH hands on the line is not allowed in football.

Game of the tournament: Ghana -v- Uruguay semi-final.  The final 60 seconds of that game gave me several mini heart attacks. Ghana had an effort cleared off the line (legally), then another certain goal bound header cleared off the line (illegally), then got a penalty, then hit the crossbar, then went into a penalty shoot out.

Man of the tournament: Asamoah Gyan. This guy has serious cojones. Just a few moments after missing a penalty in the last minute of extra time, he came back to take another penalty in the penalty shoot out and hit it into the top left hand corner. Takes a brave man to recover from a penalty miss so quickly.

Spare a thought for: New Zealand. The only undefeated team in the whole competition. They drew with Paraguay, Italy and Slovakia, did not lose (even the finalists Spain and Holland lost) yet still got eliminated.

Biggest underachievers: Argentina. A team with Messi, Tevez, Higuain, Mascherano, and Milito should have gone further. Where were Cambiasso, Gabriel Milito and Riquelme?

Biggest disappointment: the African teams (apart from Ghana). African football has regressed in the past 15 years. The quality of individual players has increased, but the quality of TEAMS has gone backwards. Spare a thought for Ivory Coast. Their golden generation of Drogba, the Toures, Keita, and Kone are likely to retire without an international trophy.

Minor gripe: Imagine my horror in Durban on my way back when I drove to the Durban international airport only to be told by the security officer at the gate that “there are no planes here”. I asked him “what kind of airport has no planes?” It was then he told me that the Durban airport had closed and moved 40km away to the King Shaka international airport just one month earlier.  I had to drive away quickly to get to King Shaka. Because the airport is new, my GPS did not recognize it and had no directions for it. So I had to navigate blind with no road directions. Just made it for my flight with no time to spare. A lesson in why you should ALWAYS leave early for the airport.  The South Africans really could have done a better job of publicizing this airport move that occurred just one month before the World Cup.

Big Thank You to: The wonderful people of South Africa for their warmth, hospitality and kindness….and for confounding the Western prophets of doom who said an African country could not host a successful World Cup. Nobody was killed, kidnapped by mad rabid black Africans or sacrificed in voodoo rituals. Shame on you Western press for never believing that Africans can do anything positive. Thank you South Africa for making us proud.


Match Fixing Suspicions and Nigeria’s Super Eagles at the World Cup


Big news if this is confirmed. Apparently FIFA received warnings that Nigeria was vulnerable to match fixing during the World Cup.

*Suspicions about betting patterns were reported.

*There are allegations that members of Nigeria’s team came forward to claim that their team “was vulnerable to manipulation”.

*A German journalist named Christian Bergmann received a call just before Nigeria’s first World Cup game alleging that “some players from the Nigerian team are actually involved in some form of manipulation”.

I don’t know if this is true or not, but please – no sniggering about Yakubu’s miss against Korea, Kaita’s mad kick against Greece or 419. The plot thickens….


Nigerian Government Reverses Football Ban Amid Pressure from FIFA

Thank goodness sanity prevailed. After banning its football team from international football for 2 years, Nigeria’s government has reversed its decision. FIFA gave the government a 48 hour ultimatum to reverse the decision or face expulsion from FIFA. Thank goodness the government saw the light and lifted this mad decision that would have done irreparable damage to Nigerian football.



Apparently President Goodluck Jonathan changed his mind after a FIFA delegation led by Nigeria’s Amos Adamu (a member of the FIFA executive committee) talked to the government in Abuja.


President Goodluck Jonathan Suspends Super Eagles for 2 Years, NFF Dissolved

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has suspended the national football team (the “Super Eagles”) from international football for two years. This was in response to Nigeria’s poor showing at the FIFA 2010 World Cup in South Africa where Nigeria were eliminated in the first round – getting only one point after losing to Argentina and Greece, and drawing with South Korea.  Jonathan also dissolved the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) and ordered an audit into financial dealings at the NFF.

While something drastic needed to be done, I am not sure this is the right move. The move is really dangerous and could get Nigeria into serious trouble with FIFA and the Confederation of African Football (CAF):

*FIFA looks very dimly on government interference in football.

*The last time Nigeria withdrew from international football events, it did irreparable damage to the football team. After winning the 1994 African Nations Cup, Nigeria’s then Head of State General Sani Abacha banned the national team from defending its title at the 1996 edition in South Africa after getting into a spat with South African President Nelson Mandela. As punishment, Nigeria was banned from the 1998 African Nations Cup, and its golden generation of players such as Okocha, George, Oliseh, Amunike, Amokachi, Ikpeba, Yekini, Taribo West, Okechukwu Uche et al were prevented from defending the title and from virtual victory at the 1996 and 1998 tournaments. By the time Nigeria was re-admitted in 2000, this golden generation had aged and were past their prime. Nigerian football has not been the same since.

*If Nigeria does not play at the next African Nations Cup in 2012, it risks being banned AGAIN by CAF AND FIFA.

*Denying international football to the national team will stagnate growth and starve players of quality competition. It will also affect the work permits of UK based players like Yakubu, Yobo, Olofinjana and other Nigerian players that want to move to the UK. Renewal and granting of work permits is conditional on playing a stipulated number of matches for Nigeria’s national team.

Bad move in my opinion.



Flags and Big Butts: Nigeria Crash out of World Cup

Puke and Projectile Vomiting

After being eliminated, South Africans were anxiously supporting Nigeria. On my way to the stadium, Cameroon and South African fans got on my bus wearing Bafana Bafana and Lions shirts and were cheering on Nigeria. A South African woman in front of me came with her daughter who chatted with, and enjoyed attention from Nigerian men. Sadly the girl’s mother got travel sick and started puking violently everywhere. I wondered what was going on when everyone around me started running for cover. I was the last to notice what was going on. By the time I realised, a disgusting pool of vomit was heading its way toward me. I think some splashed on my left foot. Nice.

A Tale of Two Flags, Big Thighs and a Big Butt

I was about 20 yards away from the pitch, sitting in amongst a group of Nigerian fans with some interesting characters:

*The official Nigerian supporters’ club was about 20-30 yards to my left and they clapped, cheered, danced, sang, and played drums and instruments all game long in their green and white garb.

*Pacing up and down the aisles was a Nigerian police officer in full NPF uniform. Several fans went over to take photos with him. He also had a FIFA accreditation badge. Can’t figure out what he was going there.

*In front of me were a group of 5-6 Nigerian guys and a pretty young South African girl with a gold tooth, and an incredibly curvy “yansh” and thighs. She was obviously the girlfriend of one of them. I could not figure out which one was her boyfriend – which was a statement in itself….

The NPF officer

Nigerian fans can be annoying and inconsiderate brats at times. I had two guys carrying large Nigerian flags in the rows in front of, and behind me. The guy in front of me stood up and waved his giant flag all the time – blocking the view of about 20-25 people. Everyone kept shouting at him to sit down and calm down with the flag waving. He just ignored all of us and continued walking around with the flag – blocking everyone’s view until one fan threatened to report him to a steward. Right behind me was a Nigerian with a smaller flag, who kept waving it and resting it on my head. I told him several times that my head was not a flag pole and to get it off me. Yet he persisted in wrapping the flag around my head continually. At one point, he had the temerity to get annoyed with ME for complaining about having a flag draped over my head from behind. He then proceeded to mutter insults about me to his friend in his native tongue. Unbeknown to him, I understood what he said and responded. He was shocked. I asked him whether he thought I was an “Oyinbo” that did not understand any Nigerian languages. We then had an animated conversation about how he had presumed I was Fulani or Igbo.

A Home Game for Nigeria

Before the game started I looked all a home game for Nigeria. Green and white everywhere. I could barely see Koreans in the stadium. I looked around the stands and noticed one lone Korean flag about 100 yards to my right, and one small group of about 100 Korean fans high up in the nosebleed stands. Otherwise all the South African and Nigerians were solidly behind the Super Eagles.

The non Nigerian fans and “Oyinbos” were deeply amused by a Nigerian fan and his vassal who were clad in a pure green and white cassock, rang a bell reminiscent of a funeral chime and walked up and down the aisle with an open bible as if consecrating someone to dust. More people watched this spectacle than were watching the game.

The Grim Reaper with a Bible

Nigeria – Back to the Future

The Nigerian fans were disappointedd that Yakubu and Kanu started the game. Kanu’s legs have gone, but the technique and intelligence is still there. He took up good positions and used the ball cleverly. Rabiu Afolabi almost gifted Korea a goal in the 1st minute with a misplaced pass which was intercepted and nearly resulted in a goal. I was relieved that Haruna Lukman was not playing. His replacement Yusuf Ayila played with composure and experience that made me wonder how Lukman got in the first 11 ahead of him.

Nigeria started brightly and deservedly took the lead through Kalu Uche after a great cross from the right by Chidi Ordiah. For the next 20 minutes, Nigeria were outstanding, teasing and passing rings around the Koreans. It was the best footballing display I’ve seen from a Nigerian team in 5 years. This was like the Super Eagles of old. Kanu jinked and sprayed the ball around, and Obasi delighted the crowd with a beautiful pirouette in the box. Chants of “Papillo” rang out as Kanu strolled around the pitch caressing the ball.

Kalu Uche nearly made it 2-0 when he hit the post with an excellent 25 yard shot. Nigeria were dominating play, but had not put Korea to sleep. I was worried because Nigeria are most vulnerable when they are winning.Nigeria cannot defend a lead, and are no good at chasing a game when they are losing either. Think of the crucial games where they have surrendered a lead after winning, and games where they just could not react to going a goal behind. Ghana African Nations Cup 2008 – they were in a winning position, winning 1-0 and ended up losing 1-2 to 10 man Ghana. The World Cup qualifier against Tunisia last year they twice surrendered the lead and let Tunisia score a last minute equaliser after leading 1-0 and 2-1. Note that Tunisia’s first equaliser occurred just a few minutes after Nigeria took the lead.

Are Referees Biased Against African Teams?

We have all seen bad refereeing decisions and performances. For the first time in my life I actually questioned the integrity of a referee. The Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca gave a free kick seemingly every time a Nigerian player went within 5 yards of a Korean. Things got so bad that at one stage I thought he might be tempted to give a red card to the Nigerian subs for having the gall to warm up within a 5 mile radius of the Korean bench. There seems to be an anti-African bias in the officiating at the World Cup. It was the most openly biased display of “officiating” I have witnessed in years. The referee was giving every call to South Korea and booking Nigerian players per foul. At one stage South Korean Captain Ji Sung Park ran through behind the Nigerian defence and Nigerian GK Vincent Enyeama came out to challenge him. The two went shoulder to shoulder for the ball and Enyeama cleared it. Neither player went down or protested. The ref booked Enyeama and gave Korea a dangerous free-kick on the edge of the box. A few minutes later both Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi and Yusuf Ayila were booked for challenges which were fouls but hardly life or career threatening challenges. The effects of the ref’s biased officiating had a mental effect on the Nigerian players. In the space of 30 seconds, both Ayila and Obasi pulled out of tackles and let Korean players run past them rather than risk getting sent off by the dodgy ref they obviously did not trust. Of course when Obasi ran through and was hauled down by TWO players on the edge of the Korea box, the ref waved play on.

Me and the Nigeria/South African fans (except Koreans) were screaming blue murder. A middle aged South African lady sitting to my right went so far as to say the ref had been bribed. The woman’s young son was angry at the ref AND his linesman o our side of the pitch. To be fair, that linesman did not give a single Korea offside in the whole first half. Despite several suspiciously offside Korea moves. the boy got so angry that he complained that the linesman was not following play into the Korea half. I had to educate the boy and make him aware of another linesman on the other side of the pitch.

Nonetheless I began to worry. It was if the ref was trying to let Korea back into the game. Sure enough, just before half time, the ref awarded Korea another free kick which was whipped to the far post and headed in by Lee. With Nigeria’s height advantage, conceding a headed goal from a set piece to Korea was a disgrace. Rabiu Afolabi was to blame. He did not enjoy playing at left back and struggled to mark as a left back, away from his usual center back position. He had a nightmare and was not helped by Kalu Uche (a striker) who played at left midfield in front of him and is not accustomed to defending or marking. Afolabi ball watched and left Lee Jung goo free to head in.
The goal came totally against the run of play and silenced all the Nigerian fans.  Korea had one chance the whole half and scored it. Nigeria had a hatful and did not take them. They would pay…

There was still time for some more biased officiating. At the end of the second half, the ref finally awarded Nigeria a free kick. As Nigeria went to take the free kick, he blew up for half time. I have never seen a ref blow up for half time while a set piece was being taken. Shocking.

Second Half

Joseph Yobo was taken off at half time and replaced by Uwa Elderson Echiejile. I can only imagine that Yobo was injured, since Afolabi was the obvious candidate for replacement. In the second half Danny Shittu went up for a header and won it cleanly and fairly. The ref of course awarded Korea a free kick on the edge of the Nigerian box. I muttered to the guy next to me “If they score from this I will be so angry”. Of course, Park Chu Yong scored directly from the free kick. The momentum suddenly changed. Lifeless Korea were suddenly playing like Brazil, and were running Nigeria ragged. The same Nigeria team that dominated the first half now looked deflated and lacked confidence.

I suddenly realised that top flight football/pro sports at this level is more mental than physical. Players tend to win due to superior belief. If you BELIEVE you can win, you will. Korea believed they could win, and Nigeria no longer did. I looked around the pitch and searched for a Nigerian player – a leader, who could bail the team out, and found none. Nigeria lacks a blood and thunder inspirational leader who can pull the team up when they are struggling. In years gone by, Nigeria could play badly and get themselves out of jail with a moment of individual brilliance by Okocha. They can no longer do that. Nor do they have a motivator on the pitch to scream, bawl and get the team going by force of personality. All successful teams have such a player: Chelsea have John Terry, the awesome Man Utd teams of the 1980s and 1990s had “Captain Marvel” Bryan Robson and Roy Keane.  Korea were dragged back into the game by the energy and drive of their Captain Ji Sung Park….who does Nigeria have?…

Kanu was subbed off and Martins got a great ovation when he came on….or was it for Kanu’s last hurrah. As Kanu trudged off I told those around me that “his international career is over”. Deep down, I think the Nigerian fans also knew it was the last time Kanu would play for the national team. Adieu Papillo….

Yakubu Aiyegbeni’s Miss of the Century

Nigeria finall fashioned a gilt edged chance when Ayila broke down the left and crossed perfectly for Yakubu. The Korean GK missed the cross, and Yakubu was in the 6 yard box with an open goal, I stood up, everyone in my stand stood up ready to cheer the equaliser. Yakubu somehow sidefooted the ball wide of goal – when he had the WHOLE OPEN GOAL to aim at from inside the 6 yard box. I held my head in my hands and felt like crying. Every person I could hear – white, black, Indian, Nigerian, South African…..all cursed Aiyegbeni. Everyone was aghast and wanted him taken off immediately.

I stopped watching the game or paying attention. Then Obasi went down in the box. I did not react, because I did not believe the ref would give Nigeria even a blatant penalty like that. To my surprise, he gave the penalty. My initial optimism soon disappeared when I realised Yakubu was taking the penalty. I kept screaming “why are you letting him take it?” I was convinced he’d miss. Most fans next to me felt the same, and a fan in front of me implored Yakubu not to “mess this up”. To my surprise he scored the penalty, and to my relief he was immediately subbed off for Victor Obinna Nsofor. I told the guy in front of  me that “Nsofor has lots of pace and strength but no brain”.

Yakubu preparing to take the penalty

In the pandemonium of celebrating I tried to take a photo. To my horror, in the backslapping and high fiving, my battery had somehow dropped out of my camera and fallen into goodness knows where. I searched on my seat, under it, and the seats in front, behind and around me….no joy. More on where the battery went later….*

The news came in that Demichelis had scored and filtered around the Nigerian fans who started screaming at the Nigerian players to get forward since the result in the other game was going Nigeria’s way. If Nigeria could score again and win, they would go through and qualify the second round. If so, it would be the first time that a team that lost its opening two World Cup games qualified for the second round. To be honest, it would be a travesty if South Africa got eliminated after getting 4 points, beating France and losing only 1 game, and Nigeria qualified after winning just one game, and having a minus goal difference.

Martins soon proved himself just as wasteful. He was put clean through, he could have gone round the Korean GK or side footed it past him. He instead tried a cute dink over the keeper but instead floated the ball wide. For the rest of the game Korea time wasted, their GK took an eternity to take goal kicks, they subbed players who walked off the pitch with the pace of 90 year old one legged men….yet the ref did not think it fit to book any of them for time wasting. Korea got men behind the ball and played for a draw. Even when they had a corner, I noticed they left 5 (yes FIVE!) men back defending to mark ONE Nigerian striker.

Mexican waves followed and annoyed the hell out of me. Mexican waves were once used when fans were bored while watching a dull 0-0 draw. Not when the score is 2-2 with seconds remaining and World Cup qualification is at stake!

I lamented with other fans that Argentina had done its part by beating Greece but that Nigeria could not even get past a Korea team with only one class player (Ji Sung Park).

FINAL SCORE: South Korea 2 -v- Nigeria 2

Korea celebrate, Nigeria dejected

Things I learned:

*Nigeria actually had the easiest group of all the African teams. Argentina are a world class team. However Greece had never won a game at the World Cup and South Korea were also very beatable.

*Ossie Ardiles said he “expected more” from Nigeria. So did all of Africa.

*Nigeria now has a 12 year long losing streak at the World Cup. Nigeria has not won a World Cup match since June 1998 when it beat Bulgaria 1-0 in France. Since that game, Nigeria has played 8 world cup matches, losing 6 and drawing 2. That’s right Nigeria has lost 6 of its last 8 World Cup matches.