As the Group Stages vanish into the fog of the past, like the warmth of a long-lost summer tryst or a heated debate with the other half as to who last took the bins out (her, but you’re absolutely damned if you blink first), it’s time to recap the highs, lows and middles (anything involving Lee Dixon) of this engrossing World Cup thus far, doling out nonsensical awards along the way like some mad syphilitic Sepp Blatter. Buckle in guys – she’s not been tarmacked in a while, old Memory Lane…
Nacho versus Portugal. As soon as it left his boot he stopped stock-still, just to admire his handiwork. Like when Boris Johnson makes a press statement and afterwards presumably thinks to himself, “Well that all seemed sensible and statesmanlike, that’ll play out fine, and surely nobody will cotton on to the fact that I’m an absolutely rancid hog.”
Whilst I'd be willing to put France's entire group stage showing in the bin, Pogba's winner against Australia smelled particularly manky.
Spain versus Portugal. Purely for the final, hattrick-winning Ronaldo free kick which the whole world knew was going in. It was a remarkable feeling – over 2 billion people, much of the planet, all absolutely sure. I can’t think of anything else comparable to such a shared realisation which unites and brings us together. Except James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke. A format so glib it has not only destroyed every iota of respect we ever had for him (Gavin and Stacey, One Man Two Guv’nors, even The History Boys), but which also hints at a terrifying future prospect: the pair of them cruising through Malibu together in a Hummer, CR7 and T055ER singing Three Lions or, knowing our luck, a f*cking Queen medley.
France versus Denmark. The worst. Hand-on-heart, by the end I was hoping Joachim Löw might use his lightning Mannschaft to overwhelm France and Denmark with a simultaneous pincer movement, forcing them into early surrenders before using their bases as strategic positions from which to bomb Southgate and the fellas down in Repino. And if that thought technically makes me a traitor well then honestly just hang me, because nothing can possibly be worse than watching Paul Pogba in a game where he doesn’t even have to pretend he’s not dead average and carried solely by N’Golo Kante.
Best Moment So Far
Thomas Müller’s shellshocked weeping is the best thing that’s happened in my life, including my own birth.
Worst Moment So Far
The conduct of the Tunisian team versus England for the entire 90 minutes. I’ve seen some shithousery in my time – but given both their antics on the banks of the River Volga, I genuinely preferred the midges.
Best Managerial Decision
Anything Åge Hareide does. The Danish gaffer sees things coming before they happen, like the one ring for Gandalf or Brexit for anyone who’d ever been to Stoke. Rather charmingly, Hareide manages to pull off these Napoleonic tactical machinations while resembling the bumbling ever-so-tipsy owner of a provincial continental hotel, who’s delighted you’ve arrived safely after such a long drive but would you please look after your keycards because they’re so so expensive to replace and also you must go to see the cathedral it’s very old.
Worst Managerial Decision
Jorge Sampaoli starting Lionel Messi tucked out in right midfield, before Leo ultimately regressed even further to a deep-lying role, all the while barely breaking a sweat. It was like a real-time, exceedingly cruel recreation of the career of Jimmy Bullard, but without the winks and ribald Cockney banter which I for one think isn’t a very real cry for help.
Best Thing Someone’s Brought Into A Stadium
Nigeria fans: some chickens.
Worst Thing Someone’s Brought Into A Stadium
Gianni Infantino: his baffling, almost sociopathic, sense of self-worth and contribution to the fabric of football, as though he genuinely feels that he’s not a malignant and fetid cuckoo.
Most Forceful Scruff-Of-The-Neck Game Taking
Diego Godin. With the hairline of a benevolent Roman emperor, and the noble face of a conquistador whose hard times may have taken him to seek riches in the New World but who never forgets the simple principles of honour and sacrifice his father taught him back in the olive-shaded courtyard of the hacienda all those hot summers ago.
You know, him.
Diego’s competition thus far is epitomised by a quite remarkable solo surge from box to box against Russia. An elegant trip-toed waltz reminiscent of the great Franz Beckenbauer or Franco Baresi, who we all have to pretend we’ve actually watched. Given that Godin oversaw Uruguay conceding zero goals in the group stages, the only way to improve now is to win the moral high ground as well: “Come on lads, we can do even better, this time let’s defeat them but with love!”
Most Likely To Be Signed By Jose Mourinho Forthwith
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. Immediately. This standout soldiering slaloming Serb is everything Jose would want of a midfielder: 6’3”, bullishly strong, admirable horsepower, competitive miles-to-the-gallon, and a Schlieffen Plan-level of tactical discipline. The only thing Sergej could do at this point to endear himself any further to Mourinho would be to get himself a three-dimensional tattoo of Ricardo Carvalho on his back before attacking Pep Guardiola in his bed.
Robbie Williams And The Unrelenting Quest To Pretend He’s Still Relevant To Even The Slightest Degree.
That Iranian roly-poly throw in, gloriously running down 10 of the 20 meagre seconds left to save themselves.
It went viral despite not actually entering the field of play and counting for anything – but that’s 2018, significance is dead, and that’s good apparently. The roly-poly was meaningless, overhyped, and nobody asked for it in the first place. Like Labour Live.
Why has the Iran throw in taker just done a fucking Roly Poly pic.twitter.com/3eXbdNAJga— Dave (@Zuruka) June 20, 2018
Best Penalty Taker
Andreas Granqvist. Known on these shores for a largely forgettable spell at Wigan – though largely forgetting time spent in Wigan is certainly no bad idea. Sweden’s captain seems to have decided that I’m thwacking penalties this time around lads, sorry boys but that’s just the way it is, never mind if I’ve never taken one before Seb Larsson, now shut up and wind your neck in, cos I’m going to absolutely hoy this into the roof of the net, oh look I’ve only gone and scudded it into the ol’ meshy undercroft, don’t say I didn’t warn you so you can shove Zlatan up your arse, I’m off for a pint of Taddy’s with Paul Jewell and Jason Roberts.
Domagoj Vida. Do you remember Orlando Bloom’s lovely long wavy mane in Pirates of the Caribbean? Me too, great times. But now immediately forget that memory and instead imagine some piping hot shit hair.
Mario Gomez. Or Olivier Giroud. Or Tomoaki Makino. Anyone except that Tunisian with the startlingly ginger hair.
Best Example Of A Number 9
Artem Dzyuba. He’s not old-school, he’s not old-fashioned. He’s the Dark Ages, he’s prehistoric, he’s Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History (1989), he’s Steve Guivarc’h. He makes Sam Allardyce blush, he makes Tony Pulis squeal, he makes Joe Kinnear all sweetness and delight.
Best Name For A James Bond Goodie
Aleksandr Golovin. Anglicised, it becomes ‘Sandy GoLovin’, and if that’s not an invite to the beach I don’t know what is.
Best Name For A James Bond Baddie
Antoine Griezmann. “Come come, Mr Bond – we’re not so different, you and I. You, with your Walther PPK, three measures of Gordons and half of Kina Lillet. Me, with my bewilderingly vain ‘The Decision’ video, my maverick approach to face-painting, and only wearing black hoodies which make me look like a middle-class public schoolboy who offers around a seemingly endless supply of rizla.”
Martin O’Neill, Alex Scott, Gary Neville, plus ça change. Roy Keane always a goer, unsure every night whether he’s going to demand a penalty or a ransom note. But no doubt, this belongs firmly to Slaven Bilic. “Look – I don’t care” is, for me, the bon mot of the 21st century, and frankly shits on Oscar Wilde.
Patrice Evra. His reactions to Alex Scott’s analysis makes Richard Keys look like Germaine Greer. Although to be fair, when you think about where Richard Keys now lives, and imagine what ‘the expat party scene in Qatar’ must be like, he’s actually probably quite a progressive feminist icon.
Ally McCoist. Shod for good his legacy as the irritatingly-seminal voice of Fifa games’ commentary pre-2006 last week when he legitimately brought up Ivan the Terrible’s storming of Kazan in 1552 to Jon Champion, me and a delighted viewing public. Some grudging affection also to everyman grouch Mark Lawrenson, who I suspect still uses Ask Jeeves.
Sam Matterface used “a Mel Giedroyc” as a unit of measurement, and that’s totally fine and normal behaviour. Also Glenn Hoddle, your da, who thinks Siri is a man.
Mario Fernandes. He’s a good player, don’t get me wrong. But that’s Mário Figueira Fernandes of Russia. This isn’t racist by the way – nope, you don’t get that sort of get-out-of-jail card when you’re voluntarily playing for Russia, a country whose mottos include “Hey fellas, don’t be gay!” and “No, seriously, we mean it, don’t be.”
Anyway, Mário Fernandes transferred from Grêmio in Brazil to CSKA Moscow in 2012, lived in Russia for five years before getting fast-tracked citizenship so he could fill a him-shaped hole at right back (he still doesn’t speak Russian). Before that, he literally played for Brazil – but ‘only’ in a friendly, which according to FIFA means what then – that he was belting out the national anthem with tears in his eyes ironically? So yep, five years before getting citizenship.
Look, I’ve spent well over five years cumulatively back-and-forth on the phone to Scottish Power – ‘how much I can save on my gas and electricity today, The Energy People way?’ – but I’m not suddenly ringing up Alex McLeish asking “Where’s my Scotland cap?!” Watch out though – he’ll be Russian President one day (Fernandes, not McLeish, never McLeish) – and then I’ll be…scared.
TABLOID STORY WE CAN LOOK FORWARD TO
Just look at this – on the day of England’s biggest game in years, here’s Three Lions ‘star’ Raheem Sterling laughing and joking on the 203rd anniversary of the Congress of Vienna. Does he condone Prussia’s absorption of much of the Kingdom of Saxony? Or the suppression of national and liberal movements? So disrespectful!