And as Belgium and England awake, we’ll throw it over once more to you, the people. How do you see today’s match unfolding; and who could emerge as the decisive figures?
Two of the Belgian contingent have continued to talk a pretty strong game ahead of this one, with Thibaud Courtois and captain Eden Hazard not mincing their words after their semi-final lose to France.
“I prefer to lose with this Belgium than win with this France,” sniffed the captain, while the lanky goalkeeper with the slightly creepy black gloves accused the French of being an “anti-football team”.
Does this mean full attack mode and goals, goals, goals against England?
After Courtois’ previous comments on Jordan Pickford keep an eye on the pre-game walkout. It could all get a little bit Gary Neville v Peter Schmeichel.
[Note: if anyone can find that infamous vid, please email me. In my memory its my literal definition of “little dog tries to take on big dog”]
Gary Lineker has given a little nod to Shania Twain with the confession “man, I feel like a German”, but it’s a good point that he makes – approaching penalties in the semi-final for the first time in seemingly forever, there was a confidence about a positive outcome from eleven metres, if only England had got there.
Martha Kelner has more such insights, and explains how sweating the small stuff has been a defining feature of this England side’s success:
And so we return to England, and their preparations for today.
Dominic Fifield is on the ground on Russia with the update on what the coach and players have been through since their heartbreaking loss to Croatia:
We’ve mentioned Martínez’s tactical tinkering, but I do wonder if Gareth Southgate has something up his sleeve for this one?
There were rumours of Kieran Trippier and Jordan Henderson perhaps carrying a knock, will the change the England manager’s outlook?
We’ve seen Eric Dier come in at the base of the England midfield, but could this be a job for Fabian Delph or Ruben Loftus-Cheek?
And speaking of formations, Peter Oh reckons he’s gleaned a decent insight from Ivan Rakitić’s media interviews (see earlier):
Hi Richard, based on Rakitic’s tactics hint, I predict Croatia to line up in a 4-4.5m-3 formation, with the obvious intent of crowding the midfield.
They reckon N’Golo Kanté is two players in one, maybe this is the best way to neutralise the French engine-room.
And of course, we mentioned the great Just Fontaine earlier – who could forget that four of his record 13 goals during a World Cup game in the 3rd/4th playoff game against West Germany at the 1958 World Cup.
A nine goal thriller as France finished 6-3 winners; only for the final to pick up the motif as Brazil ran out 5-2 winners over Sweden. Ahh, the football of yore.
Thomas Meunier will of course be available for selection following his semi-final suspension. I wonder if that will see Roberto Martínez revert to a wing-back system? They’ve played some scintillating football at this tournament, you’d love to see one last hurrah from The Duke of Hazard and his merry men.
As mentioned in the preamble the other “race within a race” is that the 3rd/4th place game still counts in the Golden Boot race.
1990 – an 88th minute penalty hands that particular accolate to Italy’s Salvatore Schillaci.
1998 – a goal to Davor Šuker hands the Croat the Golden Boot ahead of Gabriel Batistuta and Christian Vieri.
2010 – a goal to Thomas Müller sees the German pull ahead of David Villa and Wesley Sneijder on assists countback.
Add to that that with a win this could crown England’s best ever World Cup appearance in 50 years (and Belgium’s best ever) and I think it’s fair to say this one matters.
And with that comments oversight corrected, an issue close to my own heart has been raised by “dahsab”:
Do members of the English media all receive a gratuity each time one of them blithely pronounces that “no one cares about and no one wants to play the 3rd place game?” Ask the Sweden ‘94 team, or Croatia ‘98, how they felt about finishing third. Every four years this one issue, in the last week of the tournament, drives me mad. I should seek therapy.
I’m with you, sir. Indeed for not only the Swedish team of ‘94 but also the 91,500 people who packed the Rose Bowl to watch them that day – I think there’s a fair case to argue that game of football mattered.
It finished 4-0 to the Swedes, and I’d have to check, but aren’t the 3rd/4th place clashes always high-scoring affairs?
And avid readers of this blog might have seen this from yesterday, but it’s new to me so please indulge the repetition. Love me a mental stat:
Maybe a sliver of consolation to England supporters that Perišić’s progression with Croatia keeps this remarkable run alive? No doubt.
And profuse apologies – I’ve just noticed that comments had accidentally been disabled for today’s liveblog! That’s been rectified, so please jump on in. Enlighten us all with your sage insights.
And to think, this entire Croatian fairytale may not have happened if it wasn’t for one Finn of Namibian extraction (Finnmibian?) called Pyry Soiri.
“We will carry one another, we will get the energy, we know that this is the biggest game of our lives, and we want to leave the pitch with our heads held high and to be able to say we’ve done everything. We just need a little bit of luck to get the desired result,” Rakitić said.
How’s this for a stat – the World Cup final will be Ivan Rakitić’s 71st game of the season. 71 games!! No wonder half the world’s media presumed Croatia’s stars would be too tired to get past England.
Maybe there is something in this idea that Croatia’s national team are drawing on the will and passion and joy of their supporters.
As Barney Ronay points out that, technically what Rakitić proposes is however illegal under Fifa statutes.
And writing from Modrić’s hometown, here’s a nice wee yarn from Joe Gorman on the Croatian diaspora that’s come from around the world to galvanise behind the tiny nation’s historic World Cup tilt.
As somebody growing up playing against Australian-Croatian football clubs (shoutout to Hurstville Zagreb) the cultural influence this football-mad nation has had even at the farthermost corners of the planet can’t be understated.
And look at the sheer delight in Luka Modrić’s eyes.
[You missed it? Go read, look at, drink in that photo essay, dammit.]
There was so much talk about Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and the need to cap their remarkable playing careers by steering their respective nations to a World Cup, but what a fitting capstone it is for perhaps one of the world’s top five current players (some argue even higher) to spearhead his tiny nation to the biggest stage in World football. He may not have the Ballon D’Ors to back it, but this at least may secure a significant part of the Zadar magician’s legacy.
Amid a stack of highlights from Russia 2018 one of mine has been having Argentina’s 1986 World Cup final hero Jorge Valdano writing for the Guardian. And if you missed it, here’s his stunning piece (pre semi-final with England, mind) discussing the mercurial talent of Luka Modrić.
Sheesh, I haven’t even got my feet under the desk, and I’m almost welling up. If a picture tells a thousand words than this photo essay is worth a few Tolstoys in itself.
So do yourself a big favour and if you only click on one Guardian piece today (after this blog naturally) make it this one:
We were discussing highlights and lowlights of the tournament yesterday, but there’s about ten more captured here alone.
Nigeria’s strip (*chefs kiss*), Ronaldo’s 88th minute freekick against Spain, Mbappé’s virtuoso showing against Argentina; and more than any of that even – the sheer colour, joy and passion that surrounds a World Cup.
As Buzz Aldrin famously said* “second comes right after first” and despite the heartbreak of missing a World Cup final, for two proud nations the distinction of finishing Russia 2018 in third and leaving the tournament on a relative high still remains.
Once again England and Belgium lock horns. It’s the Group G rematch many hungered for – to see how the “A” teams might have fared in their earlier dead-rubber game. Just watch out if Adnan Januzaj gets another look-in.
And of course the tournament’s two leading goalscorers go face to face: the golden boot is on the line, and we’re not talking Panama or Tunisia here – if Romelo Lukaku or Harry Kane want to hunt down Just Fontaine’s record of 13 goals at a World Cup (lol), they’ll have to do it against some of the best defenders in the world.
Will it be free-flowing? Will it be one for the ages? There could be a chance, yes. So make sure you follow all the build-up here, as two nations that have played major roles at this tournament enjoy their seventh and final game of Russia 2018.
Of course, there is also the minor detail of the actual World Cup final lurking around the corner, so do send your best quips, witticisms and conspiracy theories to join the conversation: by email (email@example.com), via twitter (@rrjparkin), or simply comment below the line.
With just two days remaining in this global festival of football, lets have it large.
*on the Simpsons