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C'est fini

Having already googled the exact dates of the Qatar 2022 world cup, verified that for us stateside people it possesses the exact same annoying time difference as Russia, it's safe to say I am in stage one of world cup withdrawal.

Yes, it is done with. And what a great way to finish, I heard the final described as the complete summary of the 64 game feast: Goals, own goals, goals from set pieces, VAR playing a prominent role and France - probably the most consistent team in the tournament - seeing things out to be crowned champions.

Croatia can feel hard done by. Having finally turned up in their fantastic red and white checked kit, bizarrely not seen since their opening game vs Nigeria, they played some good stuff again, demonstrating the semi-final result was no fluke. The free kick for the first goal was a dive, and while I agree with Birchy on the penalty - borderline harsh is right - I can see how those of a Croatian persuasion think otherwise. What I would say is - while may…
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I'm huddled in my man cave again. Just me, two bottles of Old Speckled  Hen (one for each half), and the World Cup final. It is already a belter, with Croatia looking good in their gorgeous kit. As I type, VAR is making a dramatic return with Perisic's handball being reviewed by the ref.  And whilst it is borderline harsh, I think the ref has got the penalty call right. Perisic is rarely unaware of what he is doing, a wily and brilliant pro - so I'm pretty certain he batted that one away. Minutes before he scored a cracking equalising goal, a reminder of the positivity, directness and sheer will that set him and his midfield colleagues apart from England the other night.

With three goals already, the final is looking like a fitting symbol of the tournament as a whole. The whole thing has just been excellent; the best I can remember in entertainment terms. Normally speaking, if some big teams get knocked out, the tournament suffers as a result. Not so this time - with big t…

Reality bites

For about two minutes of delirium as I danced around the room, jubilant 7 yr old on my back, at the sight of Trippier's free kick ripple the back of the net, the dream was on. This was really happening....

It didn't last long. It was about 3 minutes later that the texts of "we've scored too early" were being exchanged, and the gut wrenching began. The brutal nature of tournament football will always play with the mind - the missed chances - Kane from 3 inches out (sorry Harry, in this new VAR world, you can't hide behind the offside flag on that one!), the "if only"s are always going to be there - as the margins are so slim, simply the fact we held out for so long and there was only 22 minutes to go.... However, in the cold light of day, it all played out how it should. The team that included the world class players, who have more Champions League winners medals than Gareth has outfits beat the young inexperienced team who had already over-achieved…

Beer clouds

Here in the UK the weather broke simultaneously with England players' and fans' hearts, upon the final whistle of their semi-final. A month of relentless sunshine and joy cracked suddenly, to be replaced by rain and a national sigh.

The rain on my street was frothy, and I am convinced it is directly due to the sheer volume of lager that had been sent skywards just hours before when Trippier's free-kick hit the back of the net. At that moment and for the 30 minutes afterwards it all looked like it was going to be a dream. Sterling was running about and looking dangerous, we were making chances and Croatia looked off form.

But then the creeping doom set in. We slowed. Croatia grew. They got more savvy. Modric was being all Modric, twisty and confident. He was playing like a man who knows a World Cup win will surely buy him immunity. Perisic was absolute class, wily, progressive and down-right dangerous. We slowed some more.

As the game went on and on, it became like watching…

Oh what a feeling..

I'd love to go in chronological order of the quarter finals, recapping a disappointingly routine win for the French, and - for my money - the game of the tournament between Brazil and Belgium, but how can I..... when Chris Waddle is in tears, Alan Shearer is singing into a breadstick and the watching nation are carelessly wasting a virtual tanker full of beer in the air as England continue to march on. (Although kudos to Leeds for applying some Yorkshire prudence for their lack of spillage!).  Even Wrighty is making us ignore his awful 'analysis' and an unhealthy obsession with Marcus Rashford while moonlighting from ITV, by demonstrating exactly where his Fox TV commitments rank against his desire to join in the celebrations.

It is all delightfully surreal. By this stage of the tournament, Birchy and I have usually breathed a sigh of relief that England have departed - to finally end the torture, we've dissected all that is wrong with the game, and reached prophetic …

The whole country has a semi

Another rewarding weekend in an amazing World Cup. I just had a game on Fifa 18 and quite by choice decided to recreate Russia vs Saudi, that seemingly dull encounter, that actually sparked the tournament off 3 and a half weeks ago. That's how hard the bug has bitten.

The quarter finals, often blighted by fear and negativity, carried on in the same positive vein as the rest of the tournament.

France and Uruguay played out an intense and tight encounter, which was tactically fun to watch. The absence of Cavani and his rock hard face was a deciding factor, as was Muslera's unfortunate throwing of the ball into his own net to put the tie to bed. Griesmann was too embarrassed to celebrate, and Uruguay bowed out.

Then came the big one, Belgium and Brazil. It didn't disappoint. The Belgians, with their wall of hair midfield, looked the real deal, Hazard was out of this world, De Bruyne was allowed to go forward, and slapped in a gorgeous goal, and at 2-0 they were sitting very p…


The only thing taking the shine off a genuinely sumptuous set of quarter-final matches (I'm giving England vs Sweden a pass here on the basis that it is a match containing England) is the fact that they are not being played on Saturday and Sunday (to enable working folk to drink them all in) - or alternatively to be spread over 4 days, with just evening matches, for the same reasons. Sure, we'd end up with one or two teams being unduly fatigued and disadvantaged by having less rest between matches, but it'd be more convenient for me. Consider that to be a recommendation for Qatar please, Mr Infantino.

Tomorrow definitely presents the greatest threat to radio silence so far. But I have my plans in place and I will be leaving directly from my afternoon meetings, blindfolded and with headphones on, avoiding eye contact with the whole of Bristol before I get home. The two fixtures tomorrow are as exciting as any World Cup day  I can remember. A France team, flickering to life …