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MIB is driven by a belief that Soccer is America’s Sport of the Future. As it has been since 1972.

Hail! GFOP

This week has been hard. And I don’t just mean for England fans. For all of us who had grown used to the orgy of international football -- Euro by Day, the Copa at night -- Rest Days are a borderline human rights abuse. We thank the Old Gods and the New for Euro 2016’s return today.

But back to that England thing. The nation’s greatest loss since Yorktown in 1781. The only surprising thing about it in retrospect is how unsurprising it was. To not only lose, but be comprehensively and tactically outplayed by a nation that four years ago was 131st in the world, beaten by San Marino and Faroe Islands, and number one only at World Peace, Water cleanliness, and Puffin density per acre, is perhaps the most English performance of all. If you define Englishness in the words of legendary soccer scribe Brian Glanville who once wrote: “Ours is a story of vast superiority sacrificed through stupidity, shortsightedness and wanton insularity. It is the story of shamefully wasted talent, extraordinary complacency and infinite self deception.” Words never truer than on Monday afternoon.

I could not be more thrilled for Iceland, its team, players, coaches, and fans, all of whom I had the honor of meeting before the tournament to make this film. I am especially elated for Icelandic Broadcaster Gummi Ben who has become a global internet star for his poetic, human commentating. I loved being with Gummi in Reykjavik. Himself a former Icelandic international, he compared his dreams of ever seeing the tiny nation compete in a major tournament to dreams teenage boys have of dating a Victoria’s Secret Model.
 


I asked Gummi what he believes has propelled his national team to such great heights and the broadcaster talked about the belief the Icelandic players take with them collectively onto the field: “After one day two days at the hotel some players said to me that Lars Lagerback has some kind of a... confidence spray that he sprays in the room and after three days everybody thinks we are going to win this game.” Gummi said this with the wink of his eye, but it is impossible to watch Iceland take the field in this tournament and not be struck by the great intangibles — courage, tenacity, and certainty — they bring to the field, that both England and the United States could benefit from developing. We need that spray.

Iceland tangle with a French team who probably would have preferred to play England if given the choice. The other pick of the quarterfinals is Italy’s clash with Germany. The hair transplanted intensity of Antonio Conte against the great armpit fart sound conjurer, Jogi Loew. The Germans have never beaten Italy in the finals of a major tournament in eight previous attempts, yet they have been the form team of Euro 2016, with Toni Kroos, Jerome Boateng and Julian Draxler shining. Italy though are never more dangerous than when utterly discounted before a tournament (see 1982, 2006). This will be for sure one of those games journalist Simon Kuper refers to when explaining the singular joy of international football: when the two teams walk out, "their nation's histories walk out alongside them…”

We return to VICE Sports TODAY (Thursday, June 30) at 5 p.m. ET, immediately following Poland vs. Portugal. We’ll be joined by USMNT legend and Philadelphia Union sporting director (and one of my sporting icons) Earnie Stewart to talk about the U.S., Youth Development and MLS. WATCH TODAY’S EPISODE HERE.

We also have a show tomorrow (Friday, July 1) at 5 p.m. ET, post-Wales vs. Belgium. If you’ve had the good fortune of missing any of the content we’ve produced for VICE Sports, it is all available HERE.

Living the Dream,
Rog @rogbennett

On behalf of
MiB: @meninblazers
“Positive” Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly
Producer Lexi: @lexitan

PS. If you have fallen in love with the Icelandic National Team, a Hard Knocks-style documentary, “INSIDE A VOLCANO,” followed the team with unlimited access as they qualified for Euro 2016 and will make tears come to your eyes... just watch the trailer and see what we mean. Epic Norse Mythology has nothing on this... I met the director Saevar Gudmundsson last month. He is fantastic and deserves to be supported. #‎AframIsland‬
 



I. Herrera For England OR How a Joke Website Became a Serious Question For a Football Manager

It is a campaign we started in the wake of England’s World Cup 2014 failure: Miguel Herrera For England. Despite being Mexican national team manager at the time, the man known as El Piojo (The Louse), refused to rule it out when he joined us on the Pod, telling us, “You can’t say that I might not be there, in England. It might be a dream of mine in the future. Stay tuned for that.”

[You can listen to our entire interview with Miguel Herrera from August 2014 HERE.]

With that quote perpetually on our mind, and England in shambles (again), we decided it’s time to fire back up the Herrera for England bandwagon in hopes of luring the man who’s done more for the Internet than Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Al Gore combined away from his current post at Club Tijuana. We officially re-launched Herrera for England Monday, immediately after the Iceland loss. Such is the way the football media works in the modern world that within 24 hours, the din grew so loud that Herrera actually had to deny links to the England job to Mexican football website JuanFutbol.com. Read the actual, real life article HERE.  

Playing hard to get. Classic Herrera.
 


II. Three Questions on Penalty Kicks with Ben Lyttleton  

Penalty kicks. Football’s equivalent of Russian Roulette. Twelve yards that can reduce the best footballers of all-time to neophytes. This week we saw further evidence of penalties’ cruelty: five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Lionel Messi, face down on the MetLife Stadium turf after blasting his penalty over the bar in a shootout that ultimately lead to Chile claiming the Copa America Centenario title and Messi claiming he’s done with international football. In this edition of Three Questions we delve into the science of the spot kick with Ben Lyttleton, author of “Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty Kick.”  

MiB: Your book goes into great detail regarding the different strategies players employ when taking a penalty kick. The kick is from 36 feet away. What is it about them that has made so many greats, Platini, Baggio, and now Messi, miss?

BL: Any professional player good enough to play for their country should score a penalty-kick. It’s a free shot with only one player to get the ball past! If it was only about technique, they would score all the time. But they don’t, and that has to come down to psychology. The mind can play strange tricks when it comes to performing under pressure. As for the likes of Platini, Baggio and Messi: one academic study showed that for players who have won individual awards, their penalty conversion rates were better before they won the awards than after. Winning those awards elevates them to a new level, and that brings added pressure. Just look at who missed penalties at the 2014 World Cup: Alexis Sanchez (Chile), Bryan Ruiz (Costa Rica) and Wesley Sneijder (Holland). They were the best players on their teams. That must be down to pressure and not technique.

MiB: It's a clip that's been played innumerable times on TV and online this week. Lionel Messi's penalty shoot-out miss in the Copa America final. Break it down for us.

BL: Messi’s approach to the ball is very short, only three steps, which suggests he will not go for power but go for a GK-Dependent strategy, waiting for Claudio Bravo to move one way while he goes the other. The referee blows his whistle and Messi waits half a second. He’s not rushing.

At this moment, think about what’s in his mind: he always kicks first in shoot-outs, and he has never missed in that scenario, so he should be confident. Arturo Vidal has just missed, so this is a chance to give Argentina a lead. More confidence. But this is his fourth final with Argentina, and he is yet to win one. That adds pressure. Argentina has not won a trophy since 1993. More pressure. Diego Maradona was bitching about him last week. More pressure. Plus, did he have in his mind that he would retire from the team if the game ended in a defeat? Imagine standing over the ball and thinking, this could be my last kick in an Argentina shirt. Add all those factors and that is a lot on anyone’s shoulders, best player of all time or not.

So then he starts his run, and by the time he approaches the ball, he sticks with the GK-Independent method, one which has had mixed success for him over the last 18 months. That’s when you blast the ball at one pre-selected spot which, if you find it, will be unsaveable. Bravo dives the wrong way, as it happens, but Messi misses the target. When you consider what might have been going through his mind at point of contact, maybe it’s a bit more understandable.

MiB: When you're watching a penalty at home on television. What are you looking for from both the penalty taker and the goalkeeper prior to the kick? Are there tells that make you think, "This is definitely going in" or "This has no chance?”

BL: We are all amateur body language experts. I think you can tell when players don't look confident. They don't always miss, but are more likely to. Overconfidence is also a warning sign. If players rush to start their run-up when the referee blows his whistle, that can be a sign of stress. But a lot of it is down to the individual; one particular guy might like to look down and take an age over spotting the ball. It might just work for him. So there are not tells across the board. I also know that some players have patterns that work for them; the striker who rotates left-side then right-side, or the goalkeeper that will always stay central on penalty number two in a shoot-out. I have quite a good record of working out where each player will kick and whether they will score or not, but it’s not 100 per cent.

MiB: Of the Euro 2016 teams left, how do you handicap them when it comes to penalty shoot-outs?

BL: Poland will be confident because they have won a shoot-out already, they took five fantastic penalties, of which three were totally unsaveable. They also have a goalkeeper in good form and underdog status, therefore nothing to lose.

You could say the same for Italy. They have gone further than anyone expected and will be underdogs against Germany, especially if it goes to penalties. I like the character in this Italy side; while Germany have a few players who have had mixed records from the spot lately (like Ozil and Muller).

France has some good penalty-takers in their squad; don't forget Griezmann scored in the Champions League final shoot-out even though he missed in the game (that’s strong mentality for you), and I like Giroud and Cabaye from the spot. I’d worry about Pogba, with all the extra pressure he has put on himself. And Hugo Lloris does not have a fantastic penalty saving record.

MiB: Talk about the psychological effect a nation's penalty taking history has on its present day penalty takers. Asking for a friend.

BL: This definitely has an impact. England has lost 6 out of 7 shoot-outs and before every tournament the chat is always about penalties and what if we lose again? It’s statistically proven that if your team has lost its last shoot-out, then the players are more likely to miss a penalty in the next shoot-out, even if they were not playing in the previous loss. The negative trauma of a shoot-out defeat is a heavy one to bear. There is a vicious cycle of defeat. And at least England didn't lose on penalties in France!

MiB: Best and worst penalty you have ever seen? Diana Ross in 1994 for the latter, right?

BL: The best has to be Antonin Panenka in 1976. He chipped the ball slowly down the middle of the goal to win European Championship for Czechoslovakia, and basically invented a third option for penalty-takers, who before then would only go left or right. Now the middle was an option. After the game, politicians told Panenka that if he had missed, he would have been punished, as his adventurous and innovative penalty could have been interpreted as disrespecting the Communist system. His punishment? “Thirty years working down the mines,” he told me. I now believe that a scored ‘Panenka’ in a shoot-out is worth more than one goal, maybe 1.1, because of the psychological effect it has on the opposition team.

As for worst, Diana Ross has to be up there. Are you sure she’s not English?


III. A GFOP’s Gheorghe Muresan Encounter

In honor of NBA Free Agency. And “My Giant.” #NeverForget

GFOP Pete Writes: One topic you've mentioned on multiple occasions on your crap pod is your bizarre obsession with Gheorghe Muresan. My family and I live in Leesburg, VA and my 8-year-old son has gravitated to basketball as his sport of choice to play (although we still watch a ton of BPL games on the weekends). He joined a local league here in Leesburg called the Giant Basketball Academy. As soon as he joined, I started getting emails from Gheorghe, who runs the league. I always assumed it was just an assistant, emailing using his name, but there were some grammatical and language choices that suggested a non-English speaker. One day there was a mix up with a practice location and I called the listed phone number, again expecting an assistant of some kind. Nope, it was Gheorghe's cell phone. So I got the chance to ask Gheorghe Muresan about a makeup practice date. He was apologetic about the mix up and was in no real rush to get off the phone with me. Finally, a few weeks ago, he showed up at my son's game and cheered on the teams. If you want to see what an 8 year old looks like next to a giant, see the below pictures of Gheorghe with my son Sam and daughter Olivia (also a big football fan). I write all this to tell you that despite your depressed British outlook on life in general, you can take heart in knowing that Gheorghe Muresan is everything you would hope he would be.
 

MiB Writes: We take solace knowing that one of our all-time favorite NBA big men is as good as advertised. We are a little curious why Gheorghe is still wearing old Wiz gear, though...


IV. #PatchAtThePark

This week’s edition of #PatchAtThePark features a patch from Chile’s win over Argentina at the Copa America final in the Crap Part of New Jersey, San Jose Earthquakes draw against LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium in the #CaliClassico, and a ginger patch from Davo’s beloved Stamford Bridge.                                                                                         

But our favorite comes from GFOP Bob Connor. A Patch all the way from King’s Landing overlooking Blackwater Bay. All Hail Cersei of the House Lannister, First of her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms… long may she reign #MadQueen.
 


V. "Plumb our Annals”

Our entire pod archive is available HERE. If you prefer the Cliffs Notes version, check out "Men in Blazers. Unbuttoned: Now That's What I Call Sub-Optimal,” Vol. I (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play) and Vol. II - The Best of 2014 (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play). The albums are the least objectionable of our football "analysis," Ravens and interviews.

You can access all MiB-related content (videos, pods and articles) by visiting www.nbcsports.com/mib
 

Please forward this to your football curious friends. Let's see if we can bring them over to the dark side. The Ian Darke Side.

“We should be careful / Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time.”

Philip Larkin


Podcast

Rog and Davo relive Iceland's Euro 2016 triumph over England, look ahead to the quarterfinals, and talk about their big takeaways from the USMNT's Copa America Centenario campaign. LISTEN HERE

Good Reads

> Conversations: A Case-Study of English Players. Guillem Balague for Yahoo Sports UK. READ HERE

> Iceland’s Men Became Heros at Euro 2016- and Emulated Their Women’s Team. Sigridur Jonsdottir for The Guardian. READ HERE

> Only the Hand of God Can Separate Messi and Maradona. Jonathan Wilson for VICE Sports. READ HERE
About

Michael Davies and Roger Bennett believe that soccer is America’s Sport of the Future. As it has been since 1972. Visit MeninBlazers.com, “Like” us on Facebook, follow the show on Twitter and Instagram, or email us at MeninBlazers@gmail.com.
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