2022 World Cup – Tuesday 13 December 2022

Argentina v Croatia (Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail)

 Billed as the World Cup last chance saloon for Messi and Modric, the 13th will be unlucky for one of them later today.

With what we consider to be the modern day country of Croatia coming into existence in the early nineties after the breakup and war in Yugoslavia, the team’s history is a relatively short one. In the case of games against Croatia, the Semi Final encounter in Lusail will only be the fifth occasion they have met Argentina.

The first was a friendly played in Zagreb in 1994 which ended 0-0, with the first competitive meeting coming four year later at the World Cup in France. This group stage game was settled in the first half by a goal from Mauricio Pineda as Argentina claimed the win 1-0. Croatia recorded their first win over the South American team in a friendly in 2006 played in Switzerland. The opening to the game was frantic as Argentina led 2-1 after just six minutes, with goals from Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi. However, second half goals from Darijo Srna and Dario Simic saw Croatia home to a 3-2 victory. The next time they met in 2014 was also a friendly and was played at West Ham United’s former ground at Upton Park, where a crowd of 19,834 witnessed a 2-1 win for Argentina. Croatia went in at the break ahead 1-0 thanks to an eleventh minute goal from Anas Sharbini but were undone by goals from Cristian Ansaldi (49’) and a Messi penalty (57’). The last meeting for these teams was in the group stages of the World Cup with Croatia blowing away Argentina with three second half goals from Ante Rebic (53’), Luka Modric (80’) and Ivan Rakitic (90’).

In getting to this point in the 2022 competition, Argentina started with a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia, but recovered with two 2-0 wins over Mexico and Poland to take top spot in Group C. They then overcame Australia 2-1 in the last sixteen before a penalty shoot-out victory against the Dutch in the last eight.

For Croatia, it was a second place finish in Group F after a 0-0 with Morocco, a 4-1 demolition of Canada and a hard-fought 0-0 with Belgium which saw the low countries side eliminated. It was then a win on penalties over Japan in the last sixteen and then again in knocking out Brazil in the Quarter Finals.

Argentina’s antics at the whistle against the Dutch has set me against the South Americans and I’ve no wish for the romantic vision of Messi winning the competition as his international swansong. However, as much as I’d like to see Croatia go through to a second successive final, I fear that Messi will inspire his side to make it through leaving the other LM with the joys of a third/fourth place game.


Winning the World Cup in 1966 was the high watermark in the history of the England national football team. Both before and after The Day, however, the Three Lions have a chequered history in the world’s biggest footballing event. This book seeks to chart a path through that history, stopping for contemplation at various points on the way. It’s a journey full of highs and lows, with memories both golden and tarnished, and an occasional dip into some iconic games and events where England weren’t involved.

Completed ahead of the World Cup Finals of 2018, the book offers an account of the story up until that event. How will England fare in Russia? Only time will tell, but perhaps a review of the history up until that time may give an indication as to why it ended up as it did. It’s a tale of smiles and frowns, of joys and sorrow, and indeed of Cheers, Tears and Jeers. It’s the history of England and the World Cup.

(Publisher: Austin Macauley Publishers. April 2018. Paperback: 495 pages)

Book Review – Always Believe: The Autobiography of Olivier Giroud

‘I want to play there. I want to be a Gunner,’ writes Olivier Giroud on his decision to join Arsenal from Montpellier in 2012 in his autobiography, Always Believe – words that epitomise not only why the Frenchman became a firm favourite in North London but also his determination and commitment to the shirt – in this case Arsenal, but before that Grenoble, Istres, Tours, Montpellier and later Chelsea, AC Milan and, of course, France. Yet, Giroud is perhaps one of the most undervalued, underrated and underplayed of modern footballers. I say that admittedly as an Arsenal fan for whom Giroud is amongst my favourite ever players, but it is also based on the fact that he sits in the top 10 of Premier League goalscorers for Arsenal, for headed Premier League goals and goal-scoring subs. He is a player who can be relied up on, who has delivered when it matters and always does a job for his team. Having not really followed his story off the pitch away from England, I was not too familiar with his background or journey so was hugely excited to read this autobiography.

The autobiography is fairly unique in style. It starts with traditional football book fare, diving straight into the 2018 World Cup, but from there it diverts away from football somewhat, with chapters on Giroud’s childhood, religion, adolescence and love. It is fascinating to hear him open up on his faith and marriage, amongst other lesser-explored themes, which, indeed, tend to be minor or even absent in other football autobiographies, but which clearly pay a huge role in his life and footballing journey. The second half of the book sees the focus switch more inevitably to footballing matters and Giroud’s trajectory from Grenoble to Milan.

One of the challenges of autobiographies, especially for someone as successful as Giroud, who has won Ligue 1, four FA Cups, three Community Shields, the Europa League, the Champions League, the World Cup and been awarded France’s highest order of merit, the Legion d’honneur, is how to squeeze everything in, and it certainly is a challenge here. Rather than deep-diving into the details, what the reader gets instead is more of a broad overview of his entire career, with a couple of key moments, most notably that World Cup win, getting slightly more airtime. Details on managers, players, cultures, specific games are largely sparse, with a few exceptions, and those coming to the book looking for controversy or vitriol won’t find it. Giroud remains professional and respectful to the last.

What you do get from the book is a sense of Giroud’s journey, professional, personal and spiritual, a sense of his values and his resolve. His love for playing for his national team, his ability to face challenges and to overcome obstacles all shine through in the book, as they have done in his career. Fighting for his place and position in teams is also a common theme and one that underlines his perseverance and his unfailing quality. Many may have long given up or accepted playing second fiddle, but time after time Giroud has remained patient, earnt his place and reminded everybody of his class. His scorpion goal against Crystal Palace which scooped him the 2017 FIFA Puskas Award epitomises that but also leaves some, like me, scratching their heads at why Giroud has not always been given the opportunity or plaudits he deserves.

At 34, Giroud is inevitably moving towards the end of his career, although, at the time of writing, with three goals in four league games so far for Milan this season, the Frenchman is once more defying challenges. It remains to be seen whether Giroud will build on his 110 caps and 46 goals (just four behind leading goalscorer Thierry Henry) for his nation and be recalled for next year’s World Cup, but if there is one thing Giroud has demonstrated it’s that you can’t keep a good striker down. To my mind, he is someone who deserves greater recognition, and this book serves to give his story visibility. Whatever happens next for Giroud, and I for one hope it is further success at domestic and international level, this book is a reminder of a player who has proved his doubters wrong over and over again, proved his worth over and over again and proved his class over and over again.

Jade Craddock


(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. October 2021. Hardcover: 288 pages)


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Book Review: The Away Leg – XI Football Stories on the Road by Steve Menary & James Montague

Whilst there is nothing like the routine for fans of attending home games, there is something altogether different about an awayday. Whether it be the planning required in attending a different venue, ensuring travel arrangements and match-tickets are in place or the banter and pints pre and post-game – away games just have a different feeling. COVID stopped all that it in tracks, and as football slowly restarted it was played Behind Closed Doors with fans merely spectators via their TV or laptop. However, with the vaccine roll-out programme and the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, we look forward to the 2021/22 football season and getting back to games, but until them The Away Leg brings readers stories of awaydays with a difference. Indeed if M&S did football awaydays, then it would surely be like those described in The Away Leg.

This book contains, appropriately, eleven stories from respected football writers and journalists of various trips featuring games from around the globe and in a range of competitions. Therefore you won’t find tales of tinnies and trains on away trips to Blackpool, Port Vale or Tranmere, but instead of politics and history in Buenos Aires, Pyongyang and Tbilisi.

What is central to them all is a particular game at the heart of the story, but which is the pretext to a greater and more significant narrative. So in the instance of the I’ve Come Home by Nick Ames, the featured game is the Iceland v Kosovo World Cup Qualifier in Reykjavik, whilst the focus of the story is the Icelanders qualifying for the World Cup in 2018. Elsewhere there is One Nil to the Arsenal by Catherine Etoe, centred on the UEFA Women’s Cup Final in Sweden, in  a story which is an exploration of the development of the Arsenal women’s team and their manager of the time Vic Akers.

Every one of the eleven chapters has a story to tell, whether that be the way FIFA runs the game in Harry Pearson’s excellent, The Democratic People’s Republic of FIFAland or Steve Menary’s melancholic analysis of the decline of football and rise of rugby union in The Georgian Crossroads.

Given the quality of writing and the topics they cover, it is difficult to select a favourite, but a couple which standout personally are Saturday Night Lights by Arik Rosenstein, with a powerful piece centred around an Israel State Cup Quarter-Final fixture in Jerusalem and The Final Final by Martino Simcik Arese and the extraordinary and explosive events surrounding the 2018 Copa Libertadores Final in Buenos Aries.

These stories may not be anything like the experience of most fans, week-in, week-out, but show that memories are not necessarily made just by the ninety minutes on the pitch, but more often by the sights, sounds and events leading up to a game or indeed the significance of the occasion. You’ll never look at awaydays in the same light again.


All proceeds from this book will be donated to the national social care charity Community Integrated Care.


(Pitch Publishing. May 2021. Paperback 256 pages)


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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 – 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 – 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!