World cup business ends aren’t a pretty place. Minnow nations’ fans waving frantically at the camera, probably dressed as their national parrot, are replaced by people quietly weeing themselves with tension.
England, who’ve previously gone for shyster foreign coaches and superstar-ego-pandering, are young, open, funny and likeable this time around, lead by the superb Gareth Southgate, all waistcoats and earnestness.
They’d overcome the long shadows of world cups past by winning a penalty shoot out for the first time and actually having a strategy on the pitch to reach their first semi final for 28 years. That’s roughly the same length of time between Martin Crowe’s 1992 semi final heartbreaker and Grant Elliott’s Eden Park heroics.
Going ahead early yesterday morning, they were reeled in and eventually passed by Croatia, every football hipster’s favourite team, all never-say-die determination and hard Adriatic noses and elbows.
Like someone said on Twitter, it’s the hope that kills you.
This is a young England team with an exciting future ahead, but with big guns like Brazil, Germany and Spain more disappointing than a dropped ice cream, 2018 may have been their chance to win it.
It’s France’s to lose now, although underdogs Croatia have some magic about them.
Big picture, England seemed to be part of a new wave of team-first-cultures, where it’s all about the group rather than superstars, along the lines of the BLACKCAPS under Mike Hesson. It’s a modern, inclusive way to do things, diametrically opposed to say the Australian cricketers, with their sandpaper and shouting at people.
These teams are fun and rewarding to support, but are they a way to win trophies? Let’s hope the BLACKCAPS show us how it’s done at next year’s world cup.
We’re nearly there for Russia 2018 and disappointingly, life will soon be back to normal. It’s been one of the best ever, with plenty of goals, upsets and a different set of teams at the pointy end. We still haven’t solved the problems of nations South America and Europe dominating the tournament – and hard to see that changing in Qatar next time. It’ll still be fun.
Best goal – Kevin de Bruyne v Brazil. Fantastic run from Luakaku, and a stonking finish
Best fan – the guy dressed as chips