2022 World Cup – Thursday 01 December 2022

Group D:

Tunisia 1 (0) – (0) 0 France (Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan)

Tunisia scorer: Khazri (58’)

France had already qualified going into the final round of games, with Australia second on three points and Tunisia and Denmark bringing up the rear with a point apiece.

Tunisia knew that only a victory would give them any chance of progressing to the last sixteen and they would have been heartened by the rotation to the French squad that saw players like Lloris, Griezmann, Giroud and Mbappe on the bench. In what was to prove an emotional and highly charged atmosphere given the historical and political links between the countries. Despite a lack of possession. Tunisia held their own and then struck just before the hour mark, winning the ball in midfield releasing ex-Sunderland player Khazri to advance on the French defence before slotting into the corner. Didier Deschamps the French coach reacted by throwing on his big guns in search of an equaliser, but it was not to be with Griezmann having his late strike disallowed for offside. Tunisia had secured the win they required, but with Australia beating Denmark it was the Socceroos who took second spot and a place in the last sixteen.


Australia 1 (0) – (0) 0 Denmark (Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah)

Australia scorer: Leckie (60’)

The equation was a simple one for both teams, win and progress. The Danes dominated possession but didn’t convert this into shots on goal and when they did they couldn’t find a way past Mat Ryan in the Australian goal. The vital goal came on the hour, as Australia broke with a lightning-quick counterattack finished off by Mathew Leckie.

For the Danes their Semi-Final spot at the Euros seems a lifetime away as they struggled in Qatar, gaining just a point. For Australia, progressing equals their best tournament in 2006 when they lost in last sixteen to a Italian penalty in time added-on.


Group C:

Poland 0 (0) – (0) 2 Argentina (Stadium 974, Doha)

Argentina scorers: Mac Allister (46′), Alvarez (67′)

Going into the final round, Poland topped the group (4 points), with Argentina second who were level on points with Saudi Arabia and Mexico last with a solitary point.

Yet again VAR and those who adjudicate to be frankly embarrassing. The awarding of a penalty to Argentina on 39 minutes was simply comical. Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny has his eyes on the ball as he attempts to punch/palm the cross away, the contact between his hand and Messi’s face is an accident…and then the acting from Messi for the ‘contact’ – well don’t get me started. Thankfully justice was done as the ex-Arsenal ‘keeper clawed away Messi’s spot-kick. No goals at half time – jeez how many times have I typed that during this World Cup.

Within a minute of the restart though they had their goals with Mac Allister’s shot going in off  the post. When Alvarez scored with twenty-three minutes remaining to make it 2-0 and the score over in Lusail, having started top the Poles were in danger of missing out on second spot. Indeed they were ragged in the last quarter of the game and can be grateful for Argentina’s profligate finishing which could have sent Poland home. Argentina recovered from the defeat against Saudi Arabia to finish top of the group and finding a bit of a groove.


Saudi Arabia 1 (0) – (0) 2 Mexico (Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail)

Saudi Arabia scorer: Al Dawsari (90’+5’). Mexico scorers: Martín (47′), Chavez (52′)

Mexico despite victory missed out on the last sixteen on goal-difference. They were ahead 2-0 after fifty-two minutes, the second a stunning free kick from Chavez. And as they went in search of more goals, the situation though in the group took some understanding (and believing). With Argentina beating Poland 2-0 and Mexico leading by the same score-line at Lusail Stadium in the fourth minute of time added on, El Tri (The Tricolour) needed one more goal to prevent them from going out according to FIFA’s fair play rule for having more yellow cards than Poland. However, this didn’t come into play as Salem Al Dawsari’s goal in the fifth minute of time added-on sent Mexico home on goal difference instead. Some drama at least in a World Cup that has yet to burst into any sort of life.

Book Review: Luka Modric – My Autobiography

If Luka Modric had a bucket list, it would surely read something like this: play in the Premier League (tick), become a Galactico (tick), win the Champions League (tick), lead Croatia to their best ever result at a World Cup (tick), win the Ballon d’Or (tick). After all that, there was only one thing left for Croatia’s most capped player to tick off – write an autobiography – and it’s now mission accomplished.

Modric emerged onto the global footballing radar in his four-year spell at Tottenham, but he’d already made his mark in his native Croatia at Dinamo Zagreb, via loan spells at Zrinjski Mostar and Inter Zapresic. His story started, though, much earlier, in modest and turbulent roots, set against the backdrop of a brutal Croatian War of Independence that robbed him of his beloved grandfather and his home. Despite these challenges, as the universal footballer narrative goes, Modric was drawn to football. Questions over his size and physicality which lingered throughout a lot of his career were raised early in his formative years, but there was perhaps no better test for a young Modric, nor a better schooling, than the notoriously tough Bosnian Premier League, where he became Bosnian Premier League Player of the Year aged 18. His time at Dinamo Zagreb brought a host of trophies and eventually a move to London, where Modric’s career took off, before his journey became stratospheric at Real Madrid. Modric’s autobiography, however, is bookended by perhaps the most important and yet arguably the most disappointing moment in his career – finishing as runner-up in World Cup 2018. For a nation of some four million people, this is a staggering achievement, but for Modric, a man who has won virtually all there is to win in the game, it initially felt like a failure. His autobiography fills in the story of how a young boy from war-torn Zadar reached the dizzy heights of a World Cup final and becoming the best player in the world.

The style of the autobiography itself is very traditional; there is nothing flamboyant or excessive in the way the book is ordered or told. Although, it’s a nice touch for the book to have 10 chapters – referencing Modric’s hallowed number 10. Modric, who comes across as a modest, humble man, appears as such in the book, but there’s also a hint of steel and tenacity that I hadn’t necessarily expected. The content is much to be expected, however, and gives a thorough overview of his whole life, although detail is sometimes a little bit lacking, but that’s hardly surprising given the amount Modric has to pack in to the book. Indeed, it’s great to have one of the best players of his generation and a recent Ballon d’Or winner not only penning an autobiography but doing so whilst still very much integral at club and national level. There’s a real sense of currency to the book as a result.

It’s also brilliant to see a different culture and nationality represented in footballing autobiographies. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve read another Croatian autobiography, nor I am aware if there are any others, but certainly it’s not the usual fare available. Perhaps Modric’s tome will open the floodgates, not only for other Croatian players – the likes of Davor Suker, Vedran Corluka, Niko Krancar, Davor Suker, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic, Domagoj Vida, Dejan Lovren, Eduardo da Silva and Mateo Kovacic, to name a few – but also lesser-represented nations.

I also enjoyed getting a greater sense of Modric the man, as although he’ll be familiar the world over as a footballer, he’s not one of the game’s most accessible personalities, so it’s intriguing to get a glimpse into his character. And anyone who followed the Harry Kane saga this summer will also note a very telling insight from Modric into one of the most formidable chairmen in the modern game – Tottenham’s Daniel Levy. Modric speaks often in the book about fate and had he got his way in negotiations at Spurs, he may have ended up at Chelsea instead of Real Madrid and who knows just how his story would have unfolded then. As it is, having been sold to Los Blancos, Modric went on to win two La Liga titles, a Copa del Rey, three Supercopa de Espana, four Champions Leagues, three UEFA Super Cups and three FIFA Club World Cup, and that’s before any individual accolades. So, however Modric’s career developed, it’s not bad for a boy who was rejected at Hadjuk Split for being too little. The phrase ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’ springs to mind here!

Jade Craddock


(Bloomsbury Sport. May 2021. Paperback: 304 pages)


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World Cup diary 2018 – Sunday 24 June

Okay, okay…I should be reflecting on how Germany got themselves out of a hole by beating Sweden with ten-men with a last gasp fabulous free-kick, in only a way that Die Mannschaft seem to be able to do. And yes I probably should be talking about how Belgium looked frighteningly good in their demolition of Tunisia 5-2 or how Mexico took a giant stride towards progression to the last 16 with a 2-1 victory over South Korea.

However, the truth is that I simply can’t…I’m just too nervous. It’s that horrible gut wrenching feeling that comes with watching England when it comes around to tournament time. It’s strange but having watched Fulham secure a return to the Premier League at Wembley against Aston Villa, there was a strange calm about the game, despite having only a slender 1-0 advantage and having to play out the final twenty minutes with ten-men. It is just never the same with England.

The curious think is that it seems to have got worse as I’ve got older. Watching the 1982 tournament in Spain was enjoyable yet ultimately disappointing, but by 1986 and Mexico the dread had kicked in and so all subsequent competitions whether the European Championship or the World Cup have become increasingly tortuous. It possibly has a great deal to do with the way the Three Lions get themselves knocked out whether it be a contentious decision, penalties or just being plain awful.

Oh that today the team strolls to a 3-0 half-time lead over Panama and comfortably sees out the second-half. However, the reality is that it just transfers the feeling to the next game and the inevitability of an exit in the way only England can manage to do.

World Cup diary 2018 – Thursday 21 June

Yesterday saw a Group A fixture between Uruguay and Saudi Arabia and in Group B, Portugal v Morocco and Spain v Iran with all seemingly having come under the influence of the Arsenal coaching manual circa 1980s from George Graham, as all three games ended 1-0, with Uruguay, Portugal and Spain the victors.

Uruguay had a goal after twenty-three minutes from Luis Saurez to seal their victory and send La Celeste into the last 16 along with Russia, whilst Saudi Arabia are eliminated. The meeting of the two teams in the final round of fixtures will determine who tops Group A.

Another big name in Cristiano Ronaldo, scored the only goal after four minutes to put Morocco out of the tournament. Credit to the Portuguese star, who was brave in diving amongst the flying boots of the Moroccan defence to head home and with his fourth goal of the competition, lead the race for the Golden Boot. However, credit to the African side who exposed the weakness of the European Champion’s defence, yet couldn’t find a leveller and have just pride to play for in their final group game.

Finally to Spain, where a fortunate ricochet allowed Diego Costa to put Spain ahead early in the second-half. Iran had what they thought was an equaliser but with the aid of VAR the Ezatolahi effort was ruled out. Despite defeat Iran could still qualify for the knockout phase, but they will need to overcome Portugal in the Mordovia Arena next Monday. If the Iranians don’t get through, they will leave us with one of the comedy moments of the tournament. Into the last minute of normal time, Iran had a throw deep in the Portugal half, where defender Milad Mohammadi decided to opt for a spectacular summersault throw-in. However, the sight of him halting it after the initial roll, was bizarre to say the least.

Let’s hope for a few more goals today as Denmark take on Australia, France play Peru and Argentina take on Croatia and of course moments that bring a smile to the faces of the watching world.

World Cup diary 2018 – Wednesday 20 June

The three games from yesterday continued to defy what many ‘experts’ had predicted pre-tournament. Tuesday opened with Columbia taking on a Japan side that was derided as very ordinary even by its own fans. Yet at the whistle in the Mordovia Arena, it was the Blue Samurai who had put the South American team to the sword. Japan were greatly helped by the third-minute dismissal of Carlos Sanchez for handling Shinji Kagawa’s shot at a goal, with the resultant penalty converted by Kagawa. Columbia though equalised through a low struck free-kick from Juan Quintero. Some parts of the media lauded it as a ‘clever free-kick’ as it passed under the leaping Japanese wall, for me though, ‘keeper Kawashima really should shoulder some of the blame for the goal. However, Japan were not to be denied victory and a header from Yuya Osako seventeen minutes from time, sealed an opening game win in Group H.

In the second game of the day, once again it was the unfancied team that came out on top. None of the African teams at the tournament had so far picked up a point and nobody gave Senegal much of a chance against a Poland side with Robert Lewandowski leading the Poles attack. However, eight minutes before the break, Everton’s Idrissa Gueye fired goal-ward, only for his shot to be deflected in by Polish substitute Thiago Cionek. Poalnd, the seeded team in the group, failed to cope with Senegal’s physicality throughout the game and as such it was no surprise when they scored on the hour mark to double their advantage. It was however, tinged with controversy. After receiving treatment on the sidelines, M’Baye Niang came back on to the field of play and instantly latched onto a Polish backpass, beating Juventus ‘keeper Wojciech Szczesny and Southampton defender Jan Bednarek to the ball, before slotting home into an empty net. Despite the protests of the Eastern European side, the goal stood. With four minutes remaining Grzegorz Krychowiak headed home for Poland, Senagal though held out for a 2-1 win, a victory they deserved.

Whilst the two earlier games saw the last of the first-round fixtures, the closing game on Tuesday night saw the second-round open in Group A with hosts Russia taking on Egypt. Prior to the start of the World Cup, this was a Russian side struggling badly with form and which wasn’t given any chance by its media and fans. However, this was a team rejuvenated by their 5-0 demolition of Saudi Arabia and they continued to grow into the competition with a 3-1 win over Egypt. Fathi (47′ og), Cheryshev (59′), and Dzyuba (62′) put Russia comfortably ahead just after the hour mark and even a Mo Salah penalty after seventy-three minutes couldn’t dent another moral boosting victory for the Sbornaya. The result all but ensured passage to the knock-out stages for Russia and almost certain exit for Egypt.

World Cup diary 2018 – Introduction

Here we are again…another World Cup…the 21st staging and the first to be held in Eastern Europe.

Am I excited? To be honest, not really. I’ve never known a build-up to a Finals that has been so quiet. Is it the influence of the Premier League and the Champions League, in that they are now such global events? Or is it that there isn’t the same hype from the English press and fans alike?

In all fairness, it probably is a bit of both. Perhaps though once the Opening Ceremony is over, Robbie Williams et al, and Russia and Saudi Arabia get onto the pitch and get the first ninety-minutes out of the way I may feel differently.

And that is part of the problem, because invariably until the action starts at the Luzhniki Stadium, the focus tends to be on the external factors around the tournament. In the case of Russia 2018, this has been the old problems of racism, homophobia and hooliganism.

It was of course mightily depressing to read that Tottenham and England defender Danny Rose has told his family to stay away from Russia for fear of the treatment they may receive and of his father responding that it saddened him that because of the threat of racism in the country he may never get to see him son play live in the Finals.

The reality is that nobody can predict whether there will be huge issues until the tournament gets underway.

Changing track though and to the opening game on Thursday in Moscow, which sees hosts Russia in Group A action against Saudi Arabia, who qualified via the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). These two teams have never met before, and it will be interesting to see how Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana deals with the pressure of a packed stadium dominated by home fans. Result-wise I can’t see anything other than a win for Russia to kick-start the tournament.

Finally though, on the last day before the football actually starts, there were two big World Cup stories. The first saw FIFA award the 2026 World Cup to a combined bid that will see the games played across the USA, Canada and Mexico and the second saw Spain sack head coach Julen Lopetegui after he was named the new Real Madrid boss, just two days before their opening World Cup match with Portugal. Taking over will be Fernando Hierro, an ex-Spanish international who most recently was the Sporting Director of the national team, with a playing career that included a spell in 2004/05 at Bolton Wanderers. With their opener against Iberian neighbours Portugal, it could be some baptism for the new manager.

Seems like the drama has started before a ball has even been kicked!