World Cup diary 2018 – Saturday 21 July

Final Reflections.

France (2) 4 [Mandzukic 18′ (own-goal), Griezmann 38′ (penalty), Pogba 59′, Mbappe  65′]

Croatia (1) 2 [Perisic 28′, Mandzukic 69′]

By the time our plane touched down in Lanzarote last week France had been crowned World Champions with a 4-2 win over Croatia, to claim their second title. It showed how transient modern day society is though, when upon arrival at our hotel, only hours after the final whistle at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, all the boards and decorations that had been up for the World Cup, were quickly being tidied away. Of course, I’m assuming this wasn’t just sour grapes on the part of the Spaniards, who had seen their side knocked out by host country Russia on penalties in the Round of 16!

Now back in Blighty, I have since looked at the goal highlights, but nothing more than that. It’s not anything against either of the teams, but essentially its old news and like the hotel back in Lanzarote, it is just another day consigned to the pages of history. Congratulations of course though to Les Bleus.

So what of the 21st FIFA World Cup? Thankfully it wasn’t the ‘Festival of Hooliganism’ that many had feared prior to the tournament, so that was a massive positive. England went further than many of us had expected, but then having got that far to the Semi-Final, dashed our dreams as confidence and energy seemed to drain from them in the second half and extra-time against Croatia. Gareth Southgate and his squad though deserve praise for seemingly reconnecting the squad with the fans.

Unbelievably Germany finished bottom of their Group and didn’t make it to the knockout stages with South America’s finest, Argentina exiting at the Round of 16 and Brazil falling in the Quarter-Finals. It should also be remembered as a World Cup that failed to feature the European heavyweights of the Netherlands and Italy, but saw Iceland make it to their first Finals.

And so the process will start all over again, as the various Nations chase the dream of qualification for the controversial holding of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar! Until then Allez Les Bleus!

World Cup diary 2018 – Saturday 14 July

Belgium (1) 2 [Meunier (4′), E Hazard (82′)]         

England (0) 0

I couldn’t raise any enthusiasm for it at all and goodness know how the players did after the disappointment of Wednesday. I suppose it’s all part of getting so near and then missing out, plus the fact that I’ll won’t be able to watch the Final anyway as I’ll be somewhere over the Atlantic on the way to Lanzarote.

In the end I just couldn’t bring myself to watch it and apart from checking the scores sporadically during the game, I simply settled for watching the three minutes of highlights on the BBC website. From those brief glimpses of the game it looked like England were always on the backfoot after conceding an early goal and got done by a second Belgium effort late on. Still fourth place is far more than more of us had predicted, so credit to Gareth Southgate and the squad.

Good luck to France and Croatia tomorrow. My prediction? France to win their second World Cup on the basis that they are on paper a stronger squad overall, who have shown both flair and functionality in getting to the Final. However, my tipping has been pretty poor and maybe there is to be a new name on the trophy come Sunday evening.

World Cup diary 2018 – Thursday 12 July

England (1) 1      [Trippier (5’)]

Croatia (0) 2       [Perisic (68′), Mandzukic (109′)]


Twenty-two minutes…twenty-two minutes from a World Cup Final. That’s how close The Three Lions were. The interesting thing is to see how the whole squad reacts, not just in the coming season back at their respective clubs, but the next time they are in an England shirt. They will all know how close they came and that fact will forever lurk in their subconscious.

That first-half dominance just wasn’t made to count and Harry Kane will know that his golden chance to make it 2-0 will be shown for years to come, long after he has retired. The England side that played the second-half didn’t look the same as that in the opening forty-five minutes. Was it the pressure of the situation? Was it a game too far? Watching it, there was an inevitability about the Croatian equaliser as they got on top of England and it felt like we were clinging on as The Three Lions started Extra-time. Credit to Croatia, for all the pundits talk of them being tired because of the games they had played, they simply got stronger and were by the end worthy winners.

Deflated just doesn’t begin to describe the sensation at the final whistle. Right now, it feels like the competition is over and I’ve really no interest in the Third Place Play-off that England will have to contest with Belgium on Saturday or at this point in time the Final itself. It’s not bad sportsmanship, it’s just that I feel drained after the tension and relief of the Columbia result and the expectation that the Sweden game suddenly created.

However, I will, like the England, squad, take a break until Saturday, regroup and see things through to the end.

World Cup diary 2018 – Wednesday 11 July

France (0) 1        [Umtiti (51’)]

Belgium (0)

Yesterday in this diary I plumped for a Belgium victory and in the opening twenty minutes of the game this looked like a good bet as Les Diables Rouges carried on from where they left off against Brazil. However, France showed tremendous resolve and as the game went on grew increasingly dangerous on the counter-attack. Both ‘keepers – two of the best in World, in Lloris and Courtois – were called upon in the first-half to make important saves and keep it all square at 0-0 as the teams went into the half-time break.

France were quickest out of the blocks in the second period and were ahead just six minutes after the break, when Umtiti headed home from a corner. It was a lead that Les Bleus held onto despite Belgium having 64% possession. France were organised and on the break created the best opportunities in the second-half, with Mbappe showing what a talent he will be.

Congratulations to France and commiserations to Belgium.


England v Croatia: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

The football gods have answered my call throughout the tournament to date and of course the appeal goes out once again that the Three Lions take a step further than they did at Italia ’90 and a bit closer to the heroics of 1966.

England’s last two games against Croatia came in the qualification for the 2010 World Cup Finals and brought two convincing wins, as the Three Lions won 4-1 in Croatia in September 2008 with a Theo Walcott hat-trick and a Rooney goal and followed it up with a 5-1 win at Wembley a year later with Lampard and Gerrard bagging two goals apiece with Rooney completing the scoring. Now to ask the football gods for such thumping wins would be a step too far, but I’d settle for another Sweden-like performance to keep the dream alive.

I woke up this morning wondering how the players slept last night and what will go through their minds as kick-off tonight creeps ever closer. At the minute I feel pretty calm, but we are still just over six hours away from kick-off. I’m hoping the calmness, closeness and confidence that Gareth Southgate has created within the squad continues to grow and that it translates into another victory. The time of celebrating Semi-Final failure needs to be put behind us. Time to believe – It’s Coming Home!

World Cup diary 2018 – Tuesday 10 July

France v Belgium: Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg

Two European teams whose first International clash was way back in 1904, when the teams played out a 3-3 draw in the Stade du Vivier d’Oie in Uccle and who have been regular opponents since. They have met in World Cup Finals tournaments previously, the first back in 1938, hosted by France, was a sixteen-team knock-out competition, with no group stages. France played Belgium in the First Round in the Stade Olympique de Colombes in Paris, winning 3-1. Their second encounter was in Mexico during the 1986 Finals, when they met in the Third and Fourth Place Play-off game in Puebla, with France emerging 4-2 winners AET.

Many pundits consider that this is the stronger of the two Semi-Final games at this tournament, and you would be hard pressed to argue against that as there are more big-name players in the French and Belgium squads than those in their English and Croatian counterparts.

France have disposed of Argentina and Uruguay in the knock-out phase, whilst Belgium have seen off Japan and Brazil. The French were impressive in putting out Argentina, whilst Belgium in the first-half were excellent in defeating Brazil. If Belgium can repeat that showing then I think they will have too much for France, but as this World Cup has proved, nothing can be taken for granted.

World Cup diary 2018 – Sunday 08 July

England (1) 2 [Maguire (30′), Alli (58′)]

Sweden (0) 0

Once again my thanks to the football gods, most especially since the win was achieved without the finger-biting tension of the Colombia game. It was all rather serene and a bit surreal. It is a rare treat watching an England game without the usual dread and fear. Is it because there is no expectation of this squad or the calm that manager Gareth Southgate exudes? It’s just all rather strange, but I’ll take it. On the day, England deserved the win, and two headers were enough to put out the Swedes, with Jordan Pickford earning a clean-sheet with some vital saves at important sides. And now it all gets rather serious knowing that a place in the Final is just ninety minutes away.

Football’s coming Home? You just never know.


Russia (1) 2 [Cheryshev (31′), Figueira Fernandes (115′)]

Croatia (1) 2 [Kramaric (39′), Vida (100′)

AET Croatia won 4-2 on penalties

After the England game, try as I might, I just didn’t have the enthusiasm for this one as the lure of a few cold beers had a greater attraction. It was also due in part to the fact that I thought a Russia win was nailed on and there was little point in watching it.

Congrats to Croatia, beating a host nation is an achievement.

Time for a break and the resumption on Tuesday.

World Cup diary 2018 – Saturday 07 July

France (1) 2 [Varane (40’), Griezmann (61′)

Uruguay (0) 0

First through were the 1998 World Cup winners. Not a classic of a game by any means, but France kept their cool (for the most part) as a niggly Uruguay side tried to disrupt the rhythms of Les Blues. The French scored at the perfect time, just before the break with a cracking header from Varane, but had skipper Lloris to thank for having that advantage at the break as he pulled off a stunning save from Caceres header.

Uruguay did little to create a real chance in the second period and were effectively out after a howler from their ‘keeper Muslera when he tried to punch way a Griezmann shot rather than catch it and all he did was to paddle into his own net. There was also a flashpoint late in the game as Uruguay didn’t take to kindly to some showboating by Mbappe, and the youngster fell to the crowd after minimal contact from a Uruguayan player. Another piece of embarrassing reaction from a player when the physical contact was minimal. For me there should be retrospective action for incidents like this. Uruguay’s miserable day was complete when defender Gimenez spent the last five minutes of the game on the verge of tears. Europe 1, South America 0. Could Belgium do the same later in the evening?

Brazil (0) 1 [Augusto (76’)]

Belgium (2) 2 [Fernandinho (13′ own-goal), De Bruyne (31′)]

Well, well, well.

Europe 2, South America 0.

Belgium were quite simply outstanding as a unit in the first-half – every last one of them and they thoroughly deserved to be ahead at the break. Yes, the Fernandinho own-goal which gave Belgium the lead was fortunate, but they had earned it through a great tactical set-up and which was rewarded by the brilliance of a second goal from Kevin De Bruyne just after the half hour mark.

The system though which demanded a high work rate, took its toll on the Belgium side in the second period as Brazil poured forward. Neymar went down a couple of times in the box, as is his want, and had his claims waived away, but Brazil also has a genuine claim turned down when Vincent Kompany’s appeared to foul Gabriel Jesus, but VAR said no – oh where is the consistency of the system? Finally, the five-times World Champions broke the Belgium line with an Augusto header and it felt as if a Brazilian equaliser would come. However, Belgium battled to the end and in stoppage time, Courtois produces a brilliant finger-tip save to deny Neymar. All that was left was for the Europeans to celebrate and the Brazilians to get the plane home.

What drama awaits today?

England v Sweden: Cosmos Arena, Samara

Two previous meetings in the Finals, the first in 2002, the second in 2006. That first meeting was in Group F, and known as the ‘group of death’ given that England and Sweden were joined by Argentina and Nigeria. It was the opening game for England and Sweden, with a first-half goal from Sol Campbell goal putting the Three Lions ahead only for Niclas Alexandersson to level just before the hour mark. Both teams emerged from the group to the knock-out phase. Four years later the two teams met again, this time in Cologne, in Group B, in the final round of games, England twice were ahead through Joe Cole (34’) and Steven Gerrard (85’), only to be pegged back each time with goals from Marcus Allback (51’) and in stoppage time Henrik Larsson. As in 2002, both sides went through from the group to the last sixteen.

Once more I’ll be calling on the football gods to look kindly on the Three Lions and see them make passage to the Semi-Finals for the first time since 1990. On paper there is no reason that England shouldn’t make it through, but expect a different style of game from Sweden, one devoid of the shocking antics of Colombia. It no doubt will be a nervous and difficult watch, but having broken the penalty hoodoo now, it’s time to throw off the recent record of Quarter-Final exits.

Russia v Croatia: Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi

In the guise of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, there was a World Cup Finals encounter during the 1962 competition in Chile, with the Soviet Union winning 2-0 in a Group 1 game. As Russia and Croatia there have been three meetings, the first in the European Championship Qualifiers in 2006, saw the teams play out a 0-0 in Moscow, with the return game in Zagreb also goalless. Their last meeting was in a friendly in Rostov, with Croatia winning 3-1.

The hosts Russia have exceeded expectations and with a new-found belief are a real threat. Croatia for all their talent limped through their last sixteen tie against Denmark. They are going to have to be at their best if they are to tame the Russian bear, but I’ve a sneaking feeling the hosts are going to get through again.

World Cup diary 2018 – Friday 06 July

To misquote Agatha Christie…And then there were eight. Reaching the Final will be on the mind of all the coaches, players and fans of those countries involved and quite rightly, as just two wins separate them from making a date with destiny in Moscow. The Quarter-Finals are spread over two days, beginning today.

France v Uruguay: Nizhny Novgorod Stadium

These two sides have met three times in Finals tournaments, with the first in 1966 (is that a good omen for England?) when along with hosts England and Mexico, they made up Group 1. The French took on Uruguay in the second round of games at White City where a crowd of over 45,000 saw Uruguay emerge 2-1 winners, as they finished runners-up in the group. They then met in 2002 where as holders, France finished bottom of Group A, gaining their only point in a 0-0 draw with Uruguay, who also failed to make it to the knock-out phase. In their last meeting in 2010 in Cape Town, France again had the ignominy of finishing bottom of Group A, where again their only point came from a 0-0 against Uruguay, who went on to top the group and finish fourth overall in the competition.

Could a third 0-0 be on the cards for these two teams? When you look at the attacking talent on both sides, you would bet against this. However, given that a last four-spot is at stake, the occasion could get to both sides. But then this World Cup has been nothing if not unpredictable. Anyone for 5-4 to France?

Brazil v Belgium: Kazan Stadium

The only game between the teams came in the 2002 World Cup in Japan/South Korea when they met in the last sixteen. The game played in front of 40,440 at the Kobe Wing Stadium, saw Brazil run out winners 2-0 with goals from Rivaldo (67’) and Ronaldo (87’) on their way to their fifth World Cup victory.

I’ve been quite critical of Brazil, well Neymar in particular, at these Finals, so I’m really hoping that Belgium put one over on the South Americans. The European team have the talent and in reality I think they are the only team in the competition who can stop Brazil winning the competition for a sixth occasion.

World Cup diary 2018 – Wednesday 4 July

Sweden 1 (0) [Forsberg (66’)]

Switzerland 0 (0)

Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg

Did I even watch this game? I simply can’t remember given the events of the England game later. I had to rely on the BBC three minutes highlights, to provide an entry of sorts for this diary. In a nutshell, Sweden with the better chances, and the game won just after the hour mark when an Emil Forsberg shot was deflected in by Swiss defender Manuel Akanji. The other action of note came in the final minutes as Swedish substitute Martin Olsson was fouled by Michael Lang as Olsson bore down on goal. The referee pointed to the spot for a penalty but after consulting VAR, changed the decision to a free-kick with Lang sent-off. The Swedes through with the winners between England and Columbia next in the Quarter-Finals.


England 1 (0) [Kane (57’ penalty)]

Columbia 1 (0) [Mina (90+3’)]

(England win 4-3 on penalties, AET.)

Otkritie Arena, Moscow

Well what a night. The highs and lows, so many emotions.

Where to start? As expected the opening half was a tense affair with so much at stake. In what was a very physical encounter throughout, the major talking point of the first period was the incident which saw Jordan Henderson involved with a Columbian player, with the Liverpool player going down theatrically in the box. England have proved to date to be dangerous from set-plays and this was evident in Columbia’s nervousness from corners and free-kicks during this encounter.

And so it proves, when early in the second-half the Three Lions are awarded a penalty, as Harry Kane was brought down from a corner giving the Spurs forward the chance to calmly stroke home the resulting spot-kick. Cue ‘It’s Coming Home, It’s Coming Home’. The half continues, England can’t find a killer second goal and the clock winds down, with all the nervousness that that brings when you are defending a one-goal lead. Ninety minutes up, into time added-on. Surely time is up…Columbia come forward and Uribe strikes from distance which Jordan Pickford brilliantly tips away for a corner. Definitely the last action of the game…the corner swings in and Mina climbs highest, and his header somehow goes in despite the efforts of Trippier on the goal-line. Total deflation – the range of expletives I utter, enough to fill a swear box for a year.

My gut feeling was extra-time wouldn’t see any goals and it would be yet again see England exit on penalties. That seems to be the outcome when with penalties at 3-2 to Columbia and Jordan Henderson stepping up, he sees his penalty saved…exit now surely an inevitability. Goal-scorer Uribe is up next and if he converts it will be another nail in the Three Lions coffin. However, he smashes it against the crossbar. Trippier steps up and slots home. Level again 3-3. Bacca next up for Columbia. Pickford goes the right way and thrusts up his left arm to strongly push away the strike. What a turnaround. Unbelievably, if Eric Dier can convert, England will have won a penalty shoot-out and face Sweden in the last eight. Cool as you like he slots home even with the ‘keeper guessing the right way. Cue celebrations wherever England fans are watching – the players swamp Jordan Pickford. ‘It’s Coming Home, It’s Coming Home…Football’s Coming Home’. My voice is gone and there are tears in my eyes. A night to remember.

Definitely time to rest, relax and recharge the emotions until Friday!

World Cup diary 2018 – Tuesday 03 July

Brazil (2) – (0) Mexico

No matter how good this side is (or thinks it is) I really have no time for the Brazilians and it is all down to one player – as I can’t call him a man – because quite frankly his antics are embarrassing. Yet again we had another exhibition from the self-proclaimed best player in the world, Neymar, showing the petulance and over-acting that are more likely to be associated with a five-year-old child.

There is an inevitability about Brazil’s progress to the Final that frankly fills me with dread.

Belgium (3) – (2) Japan

If the antics in the Brazil game showed the downside of the game, then it was a mighty relief that Belgium and Japan showed why football is so loved. The game was in the balance at the break with the score at 0-0, but within seven minutes of the restart Japan had scored twice through Haraguchi (48′), and Inui (52′) and it looked like another upset was on the cards. Then on sixty-five minutes, Belgium boss Roberto Martinez made a double substitution with Chadli and Fellaini replacing Carrasco and Mertens. Within four minutes Belgium were back in it, somewhat fortuitously as Vertonghen’s header looped into the goal. It was the spark the European team needed and on seventy-four minutes they were level, as Fellani outmuscled the Japanese defence to head in the equaliser. Japan though simply kept going and just when it looked like Extra-time was on the cards, Belgium broke superbly from a corner and in a devastating move swept in the winner courtesy of Chadli. Breath-taking stuff. So, so cruel on Japan, but what a comeback by Belgium,

Today the final two games in the last sixteen phase takes place and by this evening the full Quarter-Final line-up will be known.

Sweden v Switzerland

These two have never met in a Finals tournament, but have played in the Qualifiers on five occasions. The first of these was in Group 1 for the 1962 World Cup in Chile, when in May 1961 Sweden beat the Swiss 4-0 in Stockholm. In the return game in Bern, Switzerland turned the tables winning 3-2. Both sides finished with six points and it meant a play-off was required to see who would progress to the Finals. The game was played at a neutral venue, the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, and the Swiss came from behind to win 2-1 and take their place in Chile. The sides were next to meet in the Qualifiers for the 1978 World Cup, in Group 6, which also contained Norway. Switzerland hosted Sweden in October 1976, It was the same score-line in June 1977, when the side met in Solna, as Sweden topped the group and take their place in the Finals in Argentina.

A cagey European encounter given what is at stake? I’ll go for the Swiss given their strike force, but it may take Extra-time to separate the teams.

England v Colombia

1998 World Cup (France) 26 June 1998 – Group G

England (2) 2 – 0 (0) Colombia

Anderton (20’), Beckham (29’)

David Seaman, Gary Neville, Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, Graeme Le Saux, Darren Anderton (80’ Rob Lee), David Beckham, Paul Ince (83’ David Batty), Paul Scholes (73’ Steve McManaman), Michael Owen, Alan Shearer (captain)

It’s the only time the two countries have met in the Finals and all I respectfully ask the football gods is that they can deliver a similar result tonight. It’s an evening for keeping a clear head and in true football cliché style, just take one game at a time. Yes we know how the draw pans out, but please, please let’s get through tonight first.