Més Que Un Column

The calm before the storm. It’s easy to let events like this just pass you by. After being spoilt by over sixty football matches between the world’s best over the last month or so, it’s easy to forget the magnitude of these moments. Over the course of the next 1621 days, there’ll be two FIFA World Cup semi-finals taking place. Both of them are happening this week. And isn’t it all the more enjoyable now that Brazil are out? Shame England are still around, but their exit is guaranteed before the week is out. Thank God.

The semi-finals always find a way of becoming mega matches, regardless of who is playing. This year’s line up isn’t four footballing powerhouses like it was back in 2014. It’s one. France. The four European sides remaining were 4th, 6th, 7th and 11th favourites respectively before the tournament began, and yet all four will believe that faith and destiny have already etched their country’s name onto ol’ Jules Rimet. Apart from England, who genuinely seem to believe a hashtag and some over-used memes will do the trick. Only time will tell.

But the quarter-finals. France are going about their business quietly in this World Cup. With the exception of the thriller versus Argentina, they’ve very much been the car that’s quite fast but sometimes flatters to deceive, that has found itself in pole position to take the chequered flag as all other rivals have fallen off the road or have hit the barriers.

Germany…

It was a real shame for Muslera on the second goal, if I was a footballer and that happened to me at a World Cup, I’d think about it for years. He’s probably spent the last few days endlessly rerunning it in his head, trying to make it seem better and not as big a deal as it was, but to no avail. It’s just a little reminder to cut goalkeepers some slack at moments like that. By far the hardest position on the pitch. Calling them shithouses doesn’t help.

Brazil then. I’ve realised in the last few weeks that the Brazil of our generation will be remembered very differently to the Brazil of yesteryear. Our fathers and grandfathers speak of the samba football and flair of players like Zico, Romario, and the great Pele. Even this century, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos have seemed to define the cross-millennium era of football from the late nineties to the mid-noughties, both winning World Cups in 2002 and cementing their names among Brazil greats. I wouldn’t be surprised though if the current generation of young football fans look back in 20 years on this Brazil side and say, “cunts, weren’t they?”.

Neymar doesn’t help them in fairness. I could’ve easily gotten on board with the idea of a Brazil side led by Thiago Silva, Phil Coutinho, Willian and Douglas Costa winning a World Cup. But Neymar’s antics and general demeanour makes it hard to love them. There’s also a few too many of them who are on ridiculous money, even for a footballer. Casemiro, Jesus, Fernandinho, Marcelo and Danilo are all picking up around seven figures a month at either Madrid or Manchester City, and Paulinho has jetted off to China in the last 24 hours to put more food on the table for the family. Fair play to them, and I’m sure they’re nice lads, but it’s very hard to relate to any struggle they go through when you know what ridiculous money they’re on.

Again Putin was a no-show for his nation’s historic quarter-final with Croatia. As I said last week, Lord know’s what he’s doing that’s more important. I think it’s best for everyone’s sake that Russia are out though. Can you imagine the investigation WADA would have had to have done if they won it? For football’s sake, it’s also for the best. Croatia have been the better side, and deserve a shot at France/Belgium in the final more than the hosts do. But mostly it’s for the best for English fans. I’m sure organisers and the Russian police took a sigh of relief when the draw was made last December, seeing England and Russia at opposite sides of the bracket. It was inconceivable to everyone that they could meet in the semi-finals, as England getting there was too unrealistic. We’ll just have to wait until Euro 2020 for the pay-per-view showing of ‘Royal Rumble: The St George’s Cross Edition’.

Also, I quite like the idea of Croatia winning every knock-out game including the final, with a Rakitic penalty in the shoot-out.

I’m not talking about England again, I don’t have the energy anymore. My cringe muscles are worn out. I have a provisional doctor’s appointment for this time next week, just in case the unthinkable happens. I’m still convinced it won’t though. Please, please, please don’t.

If I had my pick to win it, I’d love Croatia to take home the trophy for the first time, or even Belgium. France winning it would be enjoyable too. Yes, any of those three, please.

And never mind the lad on seven figures a month, look at the real footballer there and tell me you don’t want him to win it…

All the best.