So, if England and Belgium draw on Thursday then the winner of Group G comes down to ‘fair play’ which means, hilariously, we might see two reserve teams kicking each other to collect as many yellow cards as needed because 2nd place seems to offer the better World Cup route. Madness. But how has it come to that?
Because England only went and scored SIX in a World Cup match, that’s how. Forget the fact it was against Panama who, in their defence, did qualify ahead of the USA so deserve a tiny bit of footballing respect. Forget the fact they took their collective feet off the gas in the second half. You can even forget the fact that England’s 6th deflected in off the backside of their captain. ‘Football is coming home’, apparently.
It turns out that Big Sham Allarfarce did leave a legacy in his 90 minutes of England management. Set-pieces. England are clearly so dangerous at corners and free-kicks that Panama took to employing actual wrestling moves to try and stop them. Unfortunately for Panama, they were so focused on Harry Kane that they completely forgot to mark John Stones twice. And when they did mark John Stones they fouled everyone else leading to two England penalties which Kane dispatched.
Jesse Lingard can ride as many inflatable unicorns as he likes if he keeps scoring goals like that, I can tell you.
But, England being England, did let a 37-year-old Panamanian get on the score sheet which was only their second goal in about ten games. Mind you, their fans celebrated like they’d won the whole tournament and it has set up a bizarre Thursday showdown so we can let that one go.
England managed to break a few records along the way as well. John Stones now has as many goals as the great Italian Alessandro del Piero. At half-time, Harry Kane was only behind Gary Lineker and Sir Geoff Hurst in goals scored for his country in a World Cup. Kane had done this in just 135 minutes and by the end, he was only trailing Lineker. He, Hurst and Lineker are now the only players to score a hat-trick in a World Cup match and now he is right in the mix for the Golden Boot. By the time he was substituted, Harry Kane had more World Cup goals than Lionel Messi in his career.
And yet, we will still bomb out in the first knockout round. Hey, you have to remain realistic.
As for Belgium, they are peak Bobby Martinez. Going forward they are delightful to watch and in Romelu Lukaku they have a player on top form. But, boy do they dislike defending. Tunisia managed to score a couple against them so they must be there for the taking (if England want to win the group, that is). And Michy Batshuyai? Missy Batshuyai more like.
None of it is going to matter though, Germany will win it. If you don’t believe me go back and watch their match against Sweden once again. There have been a few late winners in this tournament so far but none as dramatic as the one Tony Kroos curled home on Saturday night. As the last man to score a hat-trick for England in a World Cup once famously said, “football is a simple game – 22 men chase a ball around the pitch for 90 minutes and then Germany win.” Never has it been truer.
Still, it means all those Tweets #TeamZlatan have lined up for when Sweden get knocked out can still be used, so it’s not all lost.
Mohamed Salah’s World Cup looks like ending on a high after all. The Liverpool and Egypt star has been made an honorary citizen of a region in Russia where they hunt down and torture homosexuals and kind of turn a blind eye to the need for human rights. It’s not been the best couple of weeks for Mo, eh?