Sobs is still on holiday in the Scilly Isles, spending his time drinking beer and watching the World Cup…
England's big day, as it's been called, shouldn't really be a big day simply because they/we have already done all that we needed to do, in qualifying for the second stage. That being said, some sections of the media, particularly the Beeb have gone over the top in claiming that the team has already exceeded expectations. Of course, they haven't - they've beaten two teams well below them in the World rankings - so please stop pushing expectations back to the usual "Golden Generation" levels. Should we beat Belgium, then we will have done better than expected, but the removal of Germany from the list of possible opponents is a huge psychological boost. No matter what players and management claim to the contrary, their very presence is at the back of people's minds, what with penalty shoot-out wins and other memories. By the way, what's German for Schadenfreude? I doubt if the visiting yachtsmen will be watching our game… but whatever happens, the real job was done on Sunday.
In other news, no removal of Brazil from the list of potential opponents, as they sort of cruised past Serbia, with their fans reacting to Neymar (the show pony to out-show pony Ronaldo)'s choice of haircut by taping packets of noodles to their heads. Now why didn't we think of that with Cheesy Puff Ndong? Oh, hang on, we did....and Switzerland managed to score twice without making reference to Albanian birdlife, just as Costa Rica celebrated their first two goals in the finals without referring to the inevitable departure of Brian Oviedo from Sunderland. Probably because VAR, at the forefront of things yet again, had confirmed their injury time penalty - which went off the bar and the keeper's head for the best OG of the tournament so far - and probably overall. While we're on about punishment for those Swiss players, how about some for Maradona, his Fingers of God, and his very obvious abuse of opposition fans?
Football done for the day, Judith and I headed for the quiz in the Atlantic (no, not the ocean, the pub - although the ocean does actually lap beneath the patio at high tide) and, for the first time in over a decade of trying, won. It might only have been a round of drinks but it counts, and we can strut around the island acknowledging the nods of appreciation that will inevitably come our way. I might even wear a Sunderland t-shirt so that our fans will forever be associated with Quiz Winners. All part of the new Sunderland mentality. You're welcome, Stu and Charlie, we're never off duty. Ahead of the afternoon games which would decide who'd face the winners and second place in England groups. What we got was a Polish goal, then Japan joining them in doing a Coventry v Bristol City as they passed the ball about without risking a challenge and a yellow card that could have affected the qualification, as they'd obviously heard that Colombia were beating Senegal. It's not football, is it, even if it does confirm which sixteen stay and which sixteen go home.
We passed the rest of the afternoon in yet more sunshine, contemplating Southgate's reported eight changes, and once again being told how nice our accents are. At least we've had no trouble being understood, but we've been careful not to attempt to but soap or coke, as folks here just look at you as if you've made your lips move but made no sound when you do. The accent has proved most popular with the receptionist/barmaid in our hotel in Penzance, who turned out to have gone to the same school as me and whose cousin was a contemporary of my lads in the Great Bish Vegas Music Revival of the early 2000's. And her mam was there as well - two lasses from West, chucking out familiar names. It's a small world, but I wouldn't like to dust it.
So, to the Scillonian, to take up our "usual" seats behind the Old England squad that we sat behind on Sunday - 2018's version of Moore, Gazza, Beckham, and Lineker, checking for their bruises (yes, it was two of them involved in Sunday's cycling celebrations) and wondering if the Co2 would run out and deny them their Carlsberg. It didn’t, and they even found a token Belgian. Overall, the game was a disappointment, as, apart from the obvious defeat – thanks to a goal from someone who shone like the dimmest lightbulb possible during his time on Wearside and managed just one League Cup goal. And that’s being generous. Within fifteen minutes of his goal, Khazri scored the winner for Tunisia against Panama. Who’d have thought those two would be scoring in the world cup? Mind, it’s now become standard practice to have a handful of ex-SAFC players on the field during a World Cup game. Januzaj left the field, but Wellbeck came on to join Rose and Pickford – who’d taken ridiculous criticism from Gary Neville for not either holding that first half shot, or putting it over the bar. His distribution was completely ignored, as were the other saves he made – look, if a keeper gets to the end of a game without letting one in, he’s done his job. OK, Pickers didn’t manage the clean sheet, and he can’t be blamed for the goal, but the saves were good and the distribution was by far the best of any keeper in the tournament. Rant over, next game scheduled for Tuesday against Colombia, ideal birthday present for my much better half.
Southgate learned a lot about his B team (which I suppose was part of the exercise), especially that Belgium’s B team was a bit better on the night, but particularly that, in terms of creativity, Dier v Henderson is a no brainer. I’ve bigged up Loftus-Cheek, but the fact is that he showed more in his ten-minute cameo at the end of the Tunisia game than he has in the following two games, so Alli (or whatever he’s calling himself these days) has to come back. I'd be happy to see Danny Rose play again, as he was one of our better performers on the night, but Phil Jones scares me.
There won’t be any weird cycle related incidents tonight – unless the token Belgian, who got no grief whatsoever, probably because he's about six foot four, persuades his mates in the Old England squad that he needs help in his celebrations. The main thing, however, is that we're where Germany aren't, and all we can do is beat the team we're drawn against when we have to. A defeat in a game against Belgium in a game that didn't halt England's progress ain't going to spoil my holiday - I'm more concerned that SAFC are at Darlo when the semi-final in England's half of the draw takes place.