Croatia 2 (2) – (1) 1 Morocco (Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan)
Croatia scorers: Gvardiol (7′), Orsic (42′). Morocco scorer: Dari (9′)
A mad opening ten minutes with both teams getting on the scoresheet and both headed free kicks. Croatia’s after seven minutes was one of the goals of the tournament – from the ball into the box Ivan Perisic headed it towards the penalty spot where a diving Gvardiol stunningly headed home. The lead though last just two minutes when a Moroccan free kick was deflected into the box where an unmarked Dari had the easiest task of nodding home. In what was a decent first period, Croatia took the lead once more three minutes before the break with an exquisite finish from Orsic. The second half didn’t produce any goals but had it moments. Once again VAR was shown at its very best (!) when Gvardiol was clearly tripped in the box, yet no penalty was awarded – what is the point. Morocco’s best chance feel to En-Nesyri but was denied at point blank range by one of the ‘keepers of the tournament, Livakovic. Morocco became increasingly frustrated as they searched for an equaliser and their behaviour in the closing stages and at full-time was deplorable as they manhandled the referee. Why were none of the players cautioned and where was the protection for the match officials at the final whistle?
Croatia deserved the win and their celebrations at the end showed that the game did in fact have meaning, with their second third place finish at a World Cup (1998) to go with being runners-up in 2018. Quite an achievement.
2022 WORLD CUP FINAL: Argentina v France (Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail)
The World Cup tournament and the final down the years will mean different things to different people.
I was born in a World Cup year (1962) but that was two months after Brazil completed a 3-1 victory over Czechoslovakia. 1966, despite my dad’s insistence that I watched the final, holds no memories at all. It wasn’t until 1970 that I have any vague recollection and that was on holiday in Torquay when the whole hotel, staff and guests, gathered to see England lose 3-2 and give up their title as World Champions. Four years later (given World Cups were held in summer prior to 2022), the heavy rain that affected the tournament in West Germany stands out and whilst the hosts won 2-1 in the final I was carrying out my cricket scoring duties for my dad’s team away at Chipstead & Coulsdon so seeing very little of the action. 1978 was O-level year and I readily admit I had more interest in the events in Argentina than my text books. I remember watching the final mesmerised by the tickertape that showered down from the stands, willing the Netherlands to win – alas it was not to be as Argentina won 3-1 in extra time.
With England having failed to qualify for the finals in both ’74 and ’78, 1982 in Spain was probably the first time I really followed the Three Lions having attended qualifiers at Wembley against Switzerland and Romania. Memorable for not losing a game and the injuries to Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking which limited their participation, the 0-0 against the hosts and the missed chances, are still etched into my head. 1986 is vivid of course for England’s exit at the hands of Argentina and I remember watching the drama at my local cricket club, confused by what Peter Shilton was protesting about. The final was a see-saw occasion and glimpses were only snatched whilst playing cricket, as Argentina lifted the title once more.
1990 saw me in my own place with my then wife and as an England fan their progress was keenly followed, World in Motion et al. The final was watched at home but was an incredibly drab affair, the only consolation being that West Germany beat the dreaded Argentinians. England failed to make it to the USA in ’94 and I failed to watch the final, a tournament I just couldn’t get into.
Four years later France were hosts and memories of watching the England v Tunisia game in a local bar in darkness and then emerging into bright late afternoon sunlight, blinking and a little worse for a couple of beers. Of course the Three Lions then went out to Argentina in the last sixteen on penalties with St David of Beckham vilified for his sending-off in the game. The final was a curious watch with the saga around Ronaldo’s health and subsequent appearance a major distraction as Brazil lost 3-0.
2002 saw a joint hosting of the tournament by Japan and South Korea. The time difference meant that I remember watching the England v Nigeria game at work, with the company allowing us to come in early and watch it before working. They shouldn’t have bothered as it was a shocking 0-0 draw. Of course Beckham’s redemption with his penalty against Argentina (how many times have they been mentioned today?!) was something to recall as was the defeat to Brazil in the last eight which I imagine David Seaman still has nightmares about. The final was also redemption for Ronaldo as his two goals (and one of the strangest haircuts) saw off the Germans.
Talking of Germany they were host four years later in what was a crazy old tournament, memorable for the flash points. England undone by the Portuguese version of Ronaldo as Rooney was sent off and penalties did for the Three Lions in the Quarter Finals. And then of course the most famous headbutt in World Cup history as Zinedine Zidane tangled with Italy’s Marco Materazzi in the final, as the Italians took the title on penalties.
The 2010 tournament saw it hosted by South Africa, where England managed to limp through to the last sixteen only to be dumped out 4-1 by Germany, with us all screaming at our tv’s as Frank Lampard’s ‘ghost’ goal vanished into the ether. Notable for Luis Suarez unsporting celebration of the missed Ghana penalty and Netherlands physical approach in the final, it was another final watched sat at home, with my playing days long behind me.
2014 in Brazil highlighted again the strain hosting the event can have on a country, with politics and demonstrations very much at the fore. Whilst England were simply unwatchable and finished bottom of their group, Luis Suarez confirmed his status as a panto villain scoring twice against the Three Lions. Of course seeing Brazil dumped 7-1 in the Semi Final was an unbelievable nights watching and with Germany completing the job over Argentina in the final it made for an pleasant conclusion to the tournament.
Of course like for all England fans, 2018 was some occasion. The highs of reaching a Semi Final but the abject misery of then not making it all the way. As it was I wouldn’t have been able to watch the final, because as France were lifting their second World Cup, I was somewhere over the Bay of Biscay on the way to Lanzarote! Today another landmark as I’ll be watching in our new house, surrounded by Christmas decorations and not sat in shorts and t-shirt as in previous years. All a bit strange.
As you’ll gather from this piece and the diary this time round, I’m no fan of Argentina and have no desire to see Lionel Messi lift the trophy in his final World Cup game. Slightly concerning to read of the French squad being impacted by a ‘cold’ – anyone for a conspiracy theory as FIFA try to ensure Argentina win a third title?
There is a bit of World Cup history between these two countries, with them meeting in the very first tournament in 1930 at the group stage. Argentina won 1-0 going onto reach the final but losing 4-2 to hosts Uruguay. It was another 48 years until they met again, once again in the group stages, winning 2-1 on their way to lifting the trophy as hosts. The last World Cup encounter was at the previous event in Russia, in a last sixteen game which saw France emerge winners 4-3 with Griezmann, Pavard and Mbappe (2) the scorers. It would be a huge surprise if we get anything like that today. Not long now…