A bit of a lie-in this morning after a pretty late night reading and finally finishing my Tony Ward book which was a great read. I was so late up that Father had his own breakfast done.
I had my standard fry-up for brunch although I really must get a bit of shopping done as my cupboard (not to mention fridge and breadbin) are very Old Mother Hubbard at the minute.
Three in the afternoon and here we go again, England vs. Sweden for a place in the semi-finals of the World Cup. High level stuff indeed so would the increasing hype about England prove justified? Is football really coming home? Again, I am writing this in real-time. Gareth Southgate has named the same starting XI as that which began the last match. Not much to report in the opening minutes except a few very wayward English passes.
12 minutes and the first decent strike from Claesen but it goes a little over the bar. On 18 minutes England break but Kane shoots just wide. Perhaps it is the heat in Samara but the game has been fairly slow for the first 20 minutes and the whole affair is pretty scrappy with nothing to raise the blood pressure yet.
29 minutes and England get a corner which probably did not need to be conceded and Harry Maguire scores his first international goal with a powerful header made easier by being about four inches taller than his marker, he really is a big old unit. England 1 – Sweden 0. 40 minutes and England have a decent attack but can’t get a final shot in. Two minutes later and Trippier, who is playing very well in the tournament, puts Sterling in with an inch perfect pass but he could not finish. Almost on the 45 minute mark, Sterling fluffs his lines again, taking far too long to get a shot off in a great position and ending up being hustled out of it. At least England seem to have woken up a bit and were exerting a bit of pressure towards the end of the half. Time for a smoke and making a coffee in the hope that the second period is better. Even if it is rubbish, England will be happy if the scoreline remains as it is.
Sweden must have had a rocket from the manager at half-time as they have come out all guns blazing and within a couple of minutes of the restart forced an excellent save from Pickford down to his left. He has been playing very well including the penalty save in the shootout against Colombia and it is strange now to think of the doubts that were raised about him before the tournament.
England have livened themselves now, forcing a few corners which suits them as they have been very good at set pieces. 58 minutes and the pressure tells. A header from a virtually unmarked Dele Alli puts England 2 – 0 to the good. Immediately following the goal England are beginning to run riot but Sweden break away as they do so well and Pickford makes a great point-blank save with Henderson blocking the shot from the rebound. Sweden need to do something and make a double substitution to try and change their fortunes. England are still flying. 70 minutes in and England are more or less knocking it about at will. 71 minutes and the same old story. Sweden break quickly, launch a vicious shot which Pickford tips over the bar. He is having a stormer.
82 minutes and a free kick to England in a reasonable position following a foul on Trippier who has also been excellent and naturally I have jinxed him as he takes the free himself and it is rubbish. Last minute of normal time and Sweden have a free just outside the England box but they sky it into about row L of the stand behind Pickford’s goal. Sterling is substituted by Rashford in injury time (five minutes), more to waste time than for any tactical reason.
Well, would you believe it? The final whistle and England into the semis against either Russia or Croatia which will be decided later this evening. The first half wasn’t great, the second half better but England won’t mind as they progress and possibly as importantly managed to keep a clean sheet which seems to be difficult for them.
My afternoon / evening dozette put paid to the first 15 minutes of the evening game which again I am reporting in real-time and at least I have not missed any goals.
As I have mentioned before Russia have surprised a lot of people by getting this far as they were the lowest ranked FIFA side in the whole tournament at 79th and nothing was expected of them least of all by their own fans and press.
27 minutes now and a Croatian attack leads to a guided header by Croatia. Unfortunately, it was guided about eight feet wide of the post. 29 minutes and a Russian free kick is well curled by Cheryeshev but ultimately held comfortably by the ‘keeper. A minute later, Cheryeshev goes one better and after playing a great one-two score a beauty from outside the box. Ally McCoist has just described it as breathtaking and I would not disagree. Russia are somewhat improbably 1 – 0 up and there really is a game on now. Russia are really doing all the playing now and the crowd are going nuts as you might imagine and the Croatians are racking up a goodly number of yellow cards but on 39 minutes they do something positive with a bullet header from Kamaric following a breakout. It is certainly much livelier than the first half of the England game earlier.
Second half just about to kick off and it could be good. I think a lot depends on how Modric performs as he really is the playmaker for the Croatians.
Ten minutes into the second period and Croatia are having the better of the play which is proved on 59 minutes and a clear-cut chance rebounds back into play off the post. Are the football gods with the home side?
66 minutes and the Russian goalscorer is substituted which surprises me a bit as he appeared to be one of the main Russian threats. A decent move in the 71st minute sees a Russian striker heading just over the bar although the keeper seemed to have it covered. Two minutes later Croatia make a like for like substitution at left back. 83 minutes and a Russian free kick for handball is well defended. Are we heading for more extra-time and the dreaded penalty shootout? 87 minutes and Croatia mimic Russia by substituting their goalscorer. A minute later they might wish they had not as Subasic, the excellent ‘keeper, appears to pull his right hamstring so they will have to wait until extra time to sub the ‘keeper.
Second of the five minutes of added time and Croatia are pressing again. Time ticks down and we are looking at extra time again so I am off to the pub!
Writing again the next morning and I made it to the Monty just about in time for the extra time and it was a beauty with lots of action. Croatia scored and were looking like going through but this really is the World Cup that keeps on giving and, with the with the hosts looking all but done, there was an equaliser well into the added time. Here we go again. Penalties, and by this time the Russian crowd, occasionally egged on by “Big Stan” the Russian manager, were making a noise to rival anything ever heard in a sporting arena.
Throughout the game there were some lovely TV shots of the Croatian premier and her Russian counterpart (not Putin, the other guy that he controls) who were sitting in the VIP area on either side of the FIFA President and who very politely shook hands with each other after every goal. The Croation leader was wearing a red and white checked top as those are the national colours and we were told in commentary that she had flown in that morning on a charter flight from Zagreb that had been put on for fans. I can’t see Teresa May or Angela Merkel doing that and I’ll bet her security detail weren’t best pleased at sorting that at short notice. I could get all philosophical here about the power of sport bringing people together etc. but I think the images said it all.
The shootout was the usual nail-biting affair and I had said before it started that Croatia would win and so it proved courtesy of a couple of awful pens from the Russians and a most freakish effort from the Croatians that Akinfeev got a hand to before it ricocheted off the inside of the post, looped over him and went in the opposite side netting.
Russia had exceeded all expectations in their home tournament and should be proud of themselves but it is Croatia that England will face in the semis.
After the football it was time for the usual Saturday evening entertainment which came in the small but extremely explosive form of Rita who apparently appears regularly in the Monty although I had never seen her before. She is a vocalist who sings to backing tracks which is a genre I am not generally fond of as it smacks of karaoke for one to me but I have to say she was very good.
In the later part of the set she did a few modern tracks but the backbone of her set was classic rock tracks with AC/DC, Guns ‘n’ Roses and so on all getting an outing but the highlight for me was her rendition of Cowboy Song by Thin Lizzy. I must stress that I was stone cold sober and I am not at all given to singing in pubs unless I am “onstage” but I reckon I was singing louder than she was and she had the PA behind her, it ended up being somewhat of a duet really. She kept looking over at me, not in a “Shut up, you fool” way but slightly quizzical. She later explained to me that she loved that song but she had recently performed it and nobody in the audience had known what it was. I thought it was one of their better known tracks but apparently not. When I told her the tale of when Brian Robertson (Lizzy guitarist on that track) rolled into a gig of mine in London once she seemed most impressed.
Rita is apparently a big local favourite and not only knew most of the audience by name but enough personal details about them to engage in some great onstage banter. As I said to her, quite truthfully when I was helping her set her gear out after the gig, she had given an absolute masterclass in working a crowd. I have no illusions about my limited musical ability but I have been told that I am a bit of a showman, undoubtedly due to me talking far too much, but I really was in the presence of genius here. I would not advise taking your maiden aunt to see Rita as the onstage repartee can get a bit fruity but it was a great show and I thoroughly enjoyed myself especially as I was in company with Ritchie and Ann. I have mentioned Ritchie before, he is the guitarist with the apparently never-ending supply of guitars so he was right into the music as well.
The night wore on as it tends to do on a Saturday there and it was quite late when I got home and straight to bed.
This week long trip is over a month old and looking like it might run a bit longer so stay tuned and spread the word.