Welcome back to LIVE! coverage here on StrawberrySocial’s World Cup Russia 2018 blog, and all the latest news now that the second round of group games has concluded with Poland being shown the door by Colombia. I hear there was another game that finished 6-1 earlier, but I can’t be bothered looking up who that was.
Just to define a key term here: LIVE! means I was alive and awake when I typed this, but that’s not a given for the rest of the tournament. Has it been mentioned before that I am part of StrawberrySocial’s international band of roving social media reporters? Well, I’m telling you now that this World Cup is full of stay up to 2am, get up at 5:45 “nights” here, and I need a rest day far more than any of the players.
We are now in the ‘permutations’ part of the tournament, where pundits will talk endlessly over a graphic of the standings in Group Z, and suggest that if only West Korea can beat Shropshire by two clear goals, but not 3-1, then England might just qualify if they can beat a combined Germany-Brazil side (all 22 of them on the pitch at the same time) by six clear goals.
But what’s this? No, instead of the usual desperate hope that England can navigate a path to the last 16, Our Boys have made it with a game to spare! Well, huzzah! But England are still in permutation heaven, whereby said pundits can pore over the group table and the various criteria used to separate teams, and fill air time on a daily basis until they play their final group game. England and Belgium are tied at the top of Group G, level on points, goals scored and the number of replica shirts sold. Should they draw on Thursday, then it will come down to who has garnered the fewer yellow and red cards.
I realise I am about to stray into the territory best left to panels of former players who couldn’t get a coaching gig, but the intriguing aspect to the whole “who will finish first/second” debate is what happens later. There are permutations (that word again) in other groups that could mean the winner of Group G ends up facing the winner of Germany/Brazil in the last eight, assuming everyone mentioned negotiates the Round of 16; meanwhile, the team second in Group G might wander into Mexico or Switzerland at that point. If your immediate reaction to that is “I know who I’d rather face”, then join the many thousands of people who have said the same thing in the last thirty minutes in just one Wetherspoon’s.
England and Belgium will know the outcome of all the relevant groups before they kick off against each other, allowing for the intriguing prospect of either or both deliberately playing to lose, or - better still - finding themselves deadlocked at 0-0 with three minutes of stoppage time left, trying to accumulate enough cautions to drop below the other. “Ref! Ref!! That was a clear foul, show him a red card at least!” “Isn’t he one of your teammates?”
Thus, today’s salutary advice, brought to you by DoAsISayNotAsIDo.com. Stay clear of all of the “if this happens and this happens, then this could happen, so England should...” discussions, at the very least until Thursday. Be-suited pundits behind a glowing desk will do this job far better than you can, and have more time and space to fill. Find another angle. Personally, I am loving how just about every team is playing free, attacking football for most of the 90 minutes of each game, which is the kind of thing that can come to a screeching halt once permutations becomes the key talking point. And the goals!
Goals will be the concluding motif of today’s talk. Statistics show that Harry Kane is right in the mix for the Golden Boot (you’d think the prize would be a pair, right?), having just scored the first England World Cup hat-trick this century. Gasp. If England can keep conjuring up penalties and lucky deflections, he could, conceivably end up scoring - oh, I dunno - eighteen by the time Gareth Southgate is being interviewed after England have lifted the trophy. But, so far, none of them have lit up the tournament, which has featured a magnificent array of “I’ll have a pop from here” moments. Quality before quantity, I say, and will continue to say right up to when Kane knocks in his fifth tap-in in the Final.
And what did I say about Germany last time? Never write them off. Though if I had started typing this five minutes before the end of their game against Sweden, I might have needed to walk back from my earlier prediction. Stay on your feet, everyone, because there’s still a lot of World Cup 2018 to go.
I’ll see you after England-Belgium, and the inevitable end where eight players get themselves sent off for time-wasting, deliberate handball and removing their shirts (and those of team mates). You read it here first.