Every year I convince myself I won’t do this. I proper hate on international football for about 75% of my life and then international tournaments roll around. I actively hate England up until around a week before the tournament starts. Then I become nothing more than, what I like to call, a biased neutral. This year I was doing the same. I was going about my days, quietly arsed about England, wanting them to do well in the same way I wanted Huddersfield Town to do well in the play-offs last year – then they won a penalty shoot-out. That wasn’t in the fucking script now, was it? Nobody could have foreseen that and I even mentioned to Bob Priestley and Eion Smith (catch all of us on the P45 podcast every Wednesday) during extra time that it would have been nice to get to a World Cup final. So I made myself a cup of tea ready to watch England get knocked out of the World Cup on penalties, feeling about as English as I’ll ever feel. When Henderson stepped up it was obvious he was going to miss and I thought, “here we go, here we fucking go.” But then they hit the bar and then something even more sensational happened – Jordan Pickford, who I have been saying for months is an over-rated bag of hot shite, saved a penalty in a penalty shoot out. When Eric Dier scored I couldn’t cheer, I couldn’t sit there stoney faced, I couldn’t jump around. I could just say “oh my god” repeatedly. Say it quietly lads. It might just be coming home.
The best World Cup ever
This one does what it says on the tin. Brazil was good, very good, but I honestly think nothing beats this one. USA 94 was shite so I hear, but I was only three so it passed me by. France 98 is the first World Cup I remember and that was a golden time for me. They were my first memories of football and that tournament, combined with the seasons either side of it, made Michael Owen my first footballing hero. 2002 in Korea and Japan was a good tournament but the awkward kick-off times affected enthusiasm although most people loved watching footy at work and school, myself included. Germany in 2006 was good in terms of quality and that there was no standout team. Italy winning was a shock I think. South Africa in 2010 was shambles on all sides and Brazil in 2014 was Brazil, it was bound to be a great tournament. Russia in 2018 though has had it all. Big names have flopped, the hosts are flying (more on that later), England are doing well, and it looks like anyone could win it. It has everything the other tournaments in my lifetime have all rolled into four glorious weeks of football.
The Russian insurance policy
Now for the negative Nelly in me to come out. Something has gone badly wrong with Russia. They went into this tournament ranked 70th in the world, the lowest ranked nation in the World Cup. Now they have practically walked to qualification for the round of 16 and beat Spain who, granted, have had better times. There has to be a flaw somewhere, whether it’s FIFA’s monitoring of bribery or their ranking system. I think there is no way that this team will get to the final on merit. They cannot beat Croatia on Saturday, pure and simple. It would be believable if they did but if they get to the final then, I’m sorry, I’ll be calling bullshit.