Gareth Southgate is growing into the World Cup like all good managers (and teams) are supposed to do if they want to win the thing. And he is doing it whilst his arm is in a sling following his dislocated shoulder. Maybe it was the pain that made Gareth angry, or maybe Southgate has a complete and utter point in calling out the British press yesterday.
The British press do have previous when it comes to not exactly standing shoulder to shoulder with the England football team when it comes to major tournaments. Now, I am not for one moment suggesting that England would have won something by now if the Fleet Street hacks had been a little more keen to play nice but it would have maybe helped the atmosphere in the camps over the previous years.
Equally, I seem to recall the British press alienating both the 1990 and 1996 squads to the point where England refused to talk to them and we got to the semi-finals on both occasions, so maybe they should keep doing what they are doing.
Southgate’s main gripe, and rightly so, is the fact that someone was paid to get a shot of England’s training notes that stated Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling would both miss out against Panama tomorrow and Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Marcus Rashford would come in – Alli has a calf strain and Sterling has the inability to hit an inflatable unicorn with a Lingard. Said shot was then sold to the papers and could have ended up in the hands of the Panama camp who, no doubt, would have had a Eureka moment with this information and devised a cunning plan to beat Gareth’s men.
OK – I jest about the last part and I do think Southgate has a point. I mean, whose side are the British Press on? The side of selling papers sadly and if that means creating waves, then so be it.
Yesterday’s matches were full of something only seen sporadically in Russia so far. DRAMA!
Brazil, having never ever drawn the opening two matches of a World Cup campaign, were inexplicably lined up in all blue against Costa Rica who, for the record, were not wearing yellow. If you had been concerned that the weight of Neymar’s hair had been the reason he had spent so much time on the floor so far you’d have been delighted to learn that he had had a trim. However, it had no effect as the soon-to-be-Real-Madrid man still spent more time on the deck than the ball itself. VAR has had a lot of chat so far in the tournament but if it can be used to see Neymar fall over, get given a penalty and then see the decision reversed then I am all for it. As injury time approached the game was going to finish 0-0 and Brazil would have been facing a very tough final game to get out of the group. That was until Neymar’s replacement at Barcelona, former member of the Liverpool Fab Four Philippe Coutinho scored in the 92nd minute. Costa Rica hearts were broken and then Neymar took that heart and stamped all over it, adding a second.
Nigeria, they of the cool kits but little playing ability and Iceland, they of the 99.6% of the nation watching them play in this tournament whilst the remaining 0.4% actually play in the tournament got it on. Nigeria rocked a sweeper as if they were Italy in 1982 and the game was willing itself to end as quickly as possible due to the utter mehness of it. But, half-time can often mix things up and finally we got to see a bit of the Nigeria that we suspected could be hiding somewhere. Forget Lionel Messi, everyone abord the Lionel Musa train! The Nigerian scored a double including one sensational run and finish that would have helped Argentina the night before. Sadly for Iceland, the missed penalty by Gylfi Sigurdsson summed up their day.
And what about Serbia and Switzerland, eh? Boom! Newcastle United fans all over the North East of England are pleading with Rafa Benitez to find a way to work with Alexandr Mitrovic as the big frontman powered Serbia ahead. But Switzerland were not dead, far from it. The levelled early in the second half with a thunderbastard from Granit Xhaka before that impish little Stokeite Shaqiri ran free with a minute left and finished delightfully.
Drama, drama everywhere.
Now, can Tunisia do us all a favour and get something out of Belgium?