Oh, Russia. We will miss you when you are gone but we shall never forget you. How utterly insane is this World Cup, folks?
Hands up if, like me, you were pointing and laughing at Belgium after an hour of their match with Japan last night, writing them off as being a group of individuals with no backbone? Yeah, that’s OK. You were not alone.
Hands up if, like me, you barely contained your disgust when Bobby Martinez brought on Marouane Fellaini and Nacir Chadli to ‘try and save the game’? Yeah, don’t worry.
Hands up if, like me, you started to think that with each favourite falling at the next fence (other than Brazil, sure) that England were becoming increasingly likely not to bring it home? Yep.
Japan led 2-0 and deservedly so. Romelu Lukaku was lining himself up for another ear-bashing from Eden Hazard and the P45 with Bobby Martinez’s name on it was being prepared. They were gone. Thibous Courtois seemed to have taken a dose of the David de Gea’s and it was looking very like an Asian nation were going to be in the quarterfinals.
That was, of course, until Bobby Martinez pulled off his masterstroke. Having spent his entire management career trying to be like Peppy G, Bobby turned to the Jose Plan B and threw on the tree to ’cause problems’ and boy, did he?
As quickly as they led, Japan were stung twice and there was only going to be one winner in the 90 minutes. Surely Japan might have known this and not thrown everyone forward for that last corner? The counter-attack that followed was like a samurai sword through hot butter as Belgium streamed forward to score the winning goal with the last kick of the thrilling encounter. Lukaku’s best touch in the box? The non-touch, letting the ball run. If in doubt, Romelu, get the hell out of the way.
Earlier in the day, Neymar couldn’t even stay on his feet long enough to score the first and decisive goal against Mexico. As much as we kick Neymar, and we all kick him whether literally or metaphorically on sites like this, he is having a decent World Cup. He has created more chances than anyone else. He has had more shots on target than anyone else. He has had more haircuts than anyone else. And he is still in the bloody thing. Though, even with all that positivity, I have to question how on earth he has ended up with so many tattoos if he is so adverse to a little pain?
And to England. Tonight could be one of those oh so rare moments where England win a tournament knockout match. Or not, which is probably more likely. Or it could end up going to penalties which is something that really shouldn’t worry any of us as Ashley Young has already put his hand up to take one. You’d hope that Gareth Southgate, after what happened to him in Euro 96, is as well prepared for this potential obstacle as he appears to be for everything else. But can we actually dream of taking Colombia to penalties?
You might rightly think I am being somewhat pessimistic. I am. It will protect me from the pain when Falcao scores a brace and reveals a t-shirt telling Chelsea and United fans, in Spanish, what he thinks about the Premier League. It could happen, I am telling you.
Equally, well maybe not equally, but there is a chance, England might actually be right on the money for this one and surprise at least 50% of the population.
Sure, the “it’s coming home” brigade are having their moment and that’s cool – though I’d be keen to know how many of that particular brigade were even alive in 1996 when we truly both believed we could win something and had a team that could match that belief – but at this stage for me it feels like nothing more than an overly positive, annoying hashtag.
Yes, we might beat Colombia and then I’ll be getting excited about seeing England play in a World Cup Final, maybe. At best. But, and it is still a very big but (not unlike Shaqiri’s who we might meet later) there is no way we are beating a Brazil or a France in the Final if we get there.
But hey, there’s a lot of mistakes that can happen before we even start talking about that. Just don’t let them be yours, Stonesy. Please.