Liverpool fans have been somewhat quiet since the UEFA Champions League Final where, if you speak fluent Scouse, Sergio Ramos committed the heinous crime of closely marking Liverpool’s star-man, Mohamed Salah. I jest of course, my Scouse mates would never say heinous.
Liverpool fans were all over social media come Sunday evening telling anyone that would listen that Russia’s penalty win over Spain was ‘justice’ for Ramos hurting Mo Salah’s shoulder in Kyiv. To be fair, it was no wonder Salah had a dodgy shoulder. The poor guy had spent all season carrying both his club and Egypt so something was bound to give way.
But back to Russia. Wow. Who would have thought putting eleven men in our own penalty area for 120 minutes would stop Spain passing their way through to goal? Yes, they had 95% possession but what did they actually do with it? Not enough, I can tell you. Mind you, if it had not been for Gerard PK then Russia’s grand plan might have come unstuck. Bless Gerard though, trying to convince the referee and his teammates that he hadn’t done it on purpose. Personally, I felt for the 38-year-old Sergei Ignashevich. The Russian captain had the misfortune to score an early own-goal when the whole country was willing them to win and he scored it whilst Sergio Ramos was hugging him. That can’t have been a nice feeling. The OG, I mean. I am sure Sergio gives lovely hugs. And with Spain having only ever won one penalty shootout and having never beaten a host nation at the World Cup it was obvious who was going to win on spot kicks, no?
Saturday had been relatively insane in it’s own little way. It was the day where both the best players in the world (allegedly) departed, both probably playing in their last ever World Cup and both leaving having never scored a goal in a World Cup knockout match.
Yes, we waved goodbye to Cristiano Ronaldo (who had a good tournament) and Leo Messi (who did not).
Their successor has long been thought to be Neymar but, to be honest, he spends too much time rolling around on the floor to show what skills he actually has. The actual heir to the joint-throne is France’s Kylian Mbappe.
Granted, it probably wasn’t going to take much to beat Jorge Sampaoli’s throw-a-six to start tactical system but the sight of Mbappe picking up on a misplaced Argentine pass deep in his own half and then racing anyone daft enough to try and catch him to the penalty area was a magical site. I believe this to be the moment that Javier Mascherano decided to retire from international football as he saw the blur of Mbappe disappear. Marcos Rojo rarely needs an excuse to put in a daft tackle but why not do it with a bit more purpose outside the area?
Yet, Argentina briefly looked like there might be some genius hidden deep inside their madness as Angel Di Maria did about the only thing he has done of use since 2014. His long-range stunner was then followed by a deflection off Argentina’s right-back, Mercado. This pleased me greatly as I have been sitting on the ‘Super Mercado’ gag since the tournament kicked off.
Yet, France’s Benjamin Parvard, the French exchange student that both your sister and mother stay in touch with years after his trip, showed Mercado what a proper right-back goal looks like, scoring the most technically perfect thing you are ever going to see. Trust me, Kieran Trippier can’t do that.
Soon Mbappe took over the show. And that was that for this terrible, terrible Argentina mess.
Has anyone checked on Diego Maradona?
Uruguay and Portugal were never likely to put on a similar show considering Uruguay had Diego Godin in defence and Portugal had Pepe in theirs and these are two men that would kick their newborn if it meant keeping a clean sheet.
There was no clean sheet. Cavani and Suarez played the kind of almost-one-two that adults would do against the under 8s at the end of training before Cavani faced it into the back of the net. Ronaldo was anonymous and it was left to Big Bad Pepe to head home an equaliser from a corner, surprise surprise. Now, I finally get PSG’s Edinson Cavani. I’ve spent the last few years thinking he’d be better suited to Lord of the Rings (one for the kids there) than a football pitch but he scored a delightful winning goal meaning the South Americans have to believe they can go all the way.
And then there was Croatia against Denmark. After four minutes I, like everyone else, was thinking “oooo, another classic on the cards here!” After 94 minutes and the final whistle, I was halfway through my ironing. My plea for anyone to score a winner so we did not have to do extra-time fell on deaf ears. And if they had heard me we would have been denied yet more late, late drama in this World Cup.
Croatia were awarded a penalty with moments left in extra time and Modric faced Kasper Schmeichel. Now, Schmeichel isn’t really someone who needs a confidence boost but his save was pretty impressive. The game went to penalties, just like the one before it.
And, by the end, you have to feel for Kasper and his old man, Pete, who was on camera almost as often. Kasper saved two penalties in the shootout to compliment the extra time save and still finished on the losing side. His opposite number, Subasic, saved three of the Danish penalties and the Croats are in the last eight.
All this World Cup madness means that one of the following teams will be in the World Cup Final; Croatia, Switzerland, Sweden, England, Colombia, Russia. Read those again. That’s on England’s side of the draw which, of course, means that they will spectacularly self-combust on Tuesday and spend the next 50 years wondering what might have been. Or, you know, Southgate might lead them to glory? Ask me again on Wednesday morning. Colombia are dangerous, especially when they keep eleven men on the pitch.