Antonio Rüdiger has been dabbling in the Dark Arts recently, and to great effect during Chelsea’s Champions League-winning run and his own personal resurgence in the second half of the season. As José Mourinho would say, you need a few “bastards” and “intelligent c***s” in any successful team, you cannot just have a bunch of nice guys, and Toni has certainly added a mean ... bite ... to the previously toothless Chelsea defense.
A big part of those Dark Arts, as practiced by grand masters like Luis Suárez or Diego Costa, is knowing where the line is and, on occasion, how to cross it without getting caught (or at least getting caught very rarely), And Rüdiger certainly came very close yesterday playing for Germany against France, when he appeared to get a little too personal with Paul Pogba.
Rüdiger’s strategy — he made it clear before the game that he was going to employ any and every trick in the book to stop France’s attacking players — failed to put off Pogba, who delivered a fantastic performance full of jaw-dropping passing, including the one leading to the game’s only (legal) goal, an own goal from a sweet finish by Mats Hummels. (France had two others disallowed by VAR for offsides.)
Afterwards, Pogba laughed off Toni’s unwelcome advances, though it’s unclear if UEFA can or will follow up. Losing the game was probably big enough punishment already.
“We’re friends. This was nothing big. I think you saw the TV pictures, this is all over, this belongs to the past, I’m not crying for yellow or red cards for such actions.
“He nibbled, I think, a little bit on me.
“We’ve known each other for a long time. I felt it, I told the referee, he takes the decisions and he took the decision. He hasn’t received any card and I think it’s better like this.
“I don’t want him to be suspended because of this.”
-Paul Pogba; source: Athletic
Pogba may have stolen the show, but there was still room for N’Golo Kanté to put in another fantastic performance as well, on both sides of the ball.
On the other side, neither Kai Havertz nor Timo Werner managed to do much as Germany’s disjointed attack faltered with barely a whimper. Havertz had a couple half chances but could not link up well with the disappointing Thomas Müller and Serge Gnabry. Werner had maybe one promising run as France repelled Germany with ease. Olivier Giroud and Kurt Zouma went as unused subs for Les Bleus, who put the off-pitch of the past week behind them with a performance worth of tournament favorites.
N'Golo Kanté led France with 41 first-half touches, playing *gestures to the entire field*... pic.twitter.com/9DC5eFv2xx— Paul Carr (@PaulCarr) June 15, 2021
Earlier in the day, Hungary held out for 85 minutes before an (un)lucky double-deflection led to a Portugal goal (just minutes after Hungary had one ruled out at the other end for offside). An hilarious weak penalty saw Portugal double their lead a couple minutes later, after which Hungary completely collapsed and allowed a third goal on the back of a 33-pass move.
From 0-0 to 3-0 in a matter of a handful of minutes was certainly not what the near capacity 55,000+ crowd in Budapest were hoping for — all vaccinated or with valid antibody tests, before you ask — but in many respects, the late collapse was classic Hungary and part of the pessimistic national ethos. This is football heritage.
The 33-pass Portugal goal, in full, from above.— Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell) June 15, 2021
(Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo set some record by scoring the last two, after doing basically nothing all game. Don’t care.)