One of the joys/problems of taking your holidays in the summer is that the World Cup, or the Euros, fall (in)conveniently at the same time. There’s also the tennis business at Queens and Wimbledon to consider, but hey – it’s holiday time, England’s expectations are for once realistic rather than fanciful, and the sun’s out. Happy days, it’s a chance to leave our Sunderland concerns behind us - although social media and mobile phones make that an impossibility. I might be on a small boat going between two islands thirty miles off Lands Ends, but, yes, I DO know most of what’s going on a SR5. Please call again!
During the last tournament, I’d been in a bar with about two dozen German yachtsmen when their side did for Brazil – probably the most emotional I’d ever seen a single German, never mind that many. If this year’s model produces a couple of moments like that, preferably involving England in a positive fashion, I’ll be very happy. Now, let’s start looking for SAFC players past (Seb, Toivonen, present (Khazri, Oviedo) and future (Messi, and probably whichever goalie hoys the ball in his own net most often – no, sorry that was then and this is now).
As my hols didn’t officially start until Monday 18th, we’d already seen Russia take full advantage of the “give the hosts the easiest possible start in their group” draw (otherwise known as the “Putin”rule) by battering a Saudi Arabia side, who, to be fair, had looked lively in the opening ten minutes but posed less attacking threat than Jozy Altidore wearing snow-shoes, out of sight. The hosts were nowt over but all five goals were very well taken, and their momentum will be a big factor. Spain and Portugal showed that the game can still be beautiful, although Ramos showed his dark side in the next game, in that scintillating 3-3 draw. Say what you like about Ronaldo, but it looks like he’s up for this one.
I’d also spent the eve of my hols watching Mexico defeat Germany, to the delight of all in the Green Tree. Nobody loves a plucky underdog more than us English, which is why most of us were backing Panama against Belgium, but the broken reception on the train south only brought news of Belgian goals. Three of them, making the England win against Tunisia even more important. We’d also wondered again at the inability of SAFC get the best out of players, as Ola Toivonen (aye, the one mistaken by the Sunday Mirror for Lyndon Gooch) came close to scoring, and Seb Larsson played well until injury forced him off in a 1-0 win over South Korea – Ki and all. Unlike previous years, I managed to get off the train before we kicked off, and Judith and I grabbed a great view of the big screen in the Globe in Penzance. The bouncy TV crowd were egged on by the resident (but as low-key as he could be) DJ playing the usual England World Cup songs of the last two decades, getting us in a smiley, happy mood before the big event. Vindaloo? World in Motion? No more years of hurt? Yes please.
We know the score, we cursed the failure to use VAR when it was obviously needed (conspiracy theory #2, Putin doesn’t like the Brits after recent diplomatic nonsense) and we enjoyed the late drama, what with folk bedecked in England flags stotting all over the place and several pints flying, and Judith stating (despite her earlier intention to leave me to it at half time) that if England get to the final, she wants to watch it in the Globe – even though it’s 500 miles from home. It can be arranged, I think. If there are any complaints about the England performance, it’s that Ali was left on too long after injury reduced his contribution to the Jeff Whitley level, and Sterling wasn’t replaced by either Rashford of Wellbeck sooner. At least Loftus-cheek was an absolute bully in the few minutes he was on showed that there’s nothing to fear in him starting on Sunday.
Tuesday evening was spent chasing a pub that had both the football and decent beer, and eventually the Longboat provided both - and Russia did for Salah and co. with another three goals, getting them out of the group stage and increasing the World Cup fever which is already an epidemic amongst the home fans.
Thursday brought France against Peru. I’d handed over the remote, being the gentleman that I am, so that tennis could be watched, and headed for the Mermaid. I did have to share her with a dozen French yachtsmen, but the fact that she does nice beer, and being piscine from the waist down precluding any hanky-panky with said Frenchmen, made for pleasant viewing. Far from convincing in their 1-0 win, the French team drew some strange (thanks to my limited grasp of their language) comments. It’s probably because yachting is a ridiculously expensive pastime, which means that they can’t afford to spend money watching football. Further proof that it’s far from a foregone conclusion regarding the winners, Argentina had been held to an opening -game draw, as had Brazil, and the general jollity displayed when the Croats destroyed them in the next game shows just how much joy can be extracted from a big name going down. Although I genuinely feel sorry for Messi, there are just so many reasons to dislike the Argentinina football team – Maradona, Mascherano, who is now so slow that he can’t catch players to kick them, which was all he ever did in the Prem, and their manager, who looked like he’d arrived to work as a doorman but forgotten his suit. Brazil only beat Costa Rica, Brian Oviedo included, with two injury time goals, after most of us had again been backing the underdog, and with the Brazilian centre-half showing that he’s called Miranda because of an uncanny likeness to comedienne Ms Hart, who also falls over a lot. Some great players, but not much of a team, and very beatable.
After Iceland’s impressive draw in the opening game, and most folks in the Mermaid behind them, Nigeria showed too much strength, before the Serbian’s absolutely battered the Swiss, despite less possession, in the opening 45. Switzerland’s late winner proved that persistence can pay off, and probably earned its scorer, Shaqiri, a big-money move – just like his last major tournament did.
As I’ve spent the last three and a bit days chasing televisions and avoiding tennis, the Belgium – Tunisia game proved a game too far – rotten TV signal in the Old Town Inn, apparently – but the Flems/Walloons duly whupped the Tunisians 5-2 to guarantee progress. At least Khazri’s 93rd minute strike might have upped his value a bit.
As the tennis currently holds sway in the flat, I’m off out for the Korea v Mexico game, then Germany v Sweden. Can’t beat a Saturday night out on yet holibobs.