Russia 2018 Watch: Now England can come home
PUBLISHED: 17:35 14 July 2018
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So, England finished fourth at the World Cup finals in Russia.
And that’s a sentence most probably did not expect to read or hear at the outset of the tournament.
But after the heartache of their semi-final defeat to Croatia in midweek, were many of us really bothered by the third-place play-off against Belgium?
I can vaguely recall watching the same fixture at the 1990 World Cup, when Bobby Robson’s England lost 3-1 to hosts Italy after their penalty shoot-out heartbreak against West Germany.
I was on a school trip to the Oberammergau Passion Play in Bavaria, to watch the villagers make their once-in-10-years performance, which dates back to 1634 and we also got to catch the match on a TV in our hostel with a couple of cans of local beer.
It seemed a lifetime away as I settled down to listen to ITV’s Sam Matterface, whose first in-game note was to tell us Turkey’s Hakan Sukur had scored after just 10.8 seconds against South Korea in the 2002 bronze-medal match, the fastest World Cup finals goal ever.
But Belgium needed about three and a half minutes longer to get their noses in front as Nacer Chadli’s cross from the left was shinned past Jordan Pickford by Thomas Meunier, the right-back who had missed their semi-final loss to France due to suspension.
‘It’s a poor goal from England to give away. There were two or three situations where we could’ve averted that,’ said Hoddle, who after watching a replay added: ‘It’s a goal made out of heaven’.
Kieran Trippier, having recovered from the bad bout of cramp that forced him to miss the final minutes of the Croatia match, looked to put some dangerous balls into the Belgium box from the right ahead of his trip back home to receive the Freedom of the Borough of Bury, just like Danny Boyle, Elbow and Gary Neville’s mum.
But Matterface spotted how England’s defence were looking lackadaisical, as John Stones missed Romelu Lukaku’s pass for Kevin De Bruyne, whose deflected shot was beaten away by Pickford.
‘They’re picking England’s pocket at the moment’ added Hoddle, as the world-class Eden Hazard and De Bruyne dovetailed well on the counter-attack.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek replied with a strong run to the byline to win a corner for England, but set-piece specialist Harry Maguire saw his header comfortably saved by Thibault Courtois.
We then learned how Chadli was playing his sixth game of this World Cup, more than he had managed with West Brom throughout the entire Premier League season, before Harry Kane dragged a good chance from Raheem Sterling’s lay-off wide of the post.
Kane’s last on-target shot had been his successful penalty against Colombia in the last 16, but Hoddle tried to put a positive spin on things. ‘Belgium are more experienced, England are still growing and learning’.
‘This is dire,’ added Matterface, which was a pretty accurate observation I felt, until I realised he was describing Tottenham’s Eric Dier bringing the ball forward.
‘It seems a long time since Maguire turned up for training with two carrier bags,’ he added. Hang on. What?
Belgium continued to control possession, always having two or three options, as England worked hard to keep their focus in stifling 28.8 degree heat.
I was losing my focus, though, and admit I decamped to the garden for the final few minutes of the first half for a late lunch on a lovely summer’s day, missing the start of the second half too.
I was glad to see Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford had been sent on for Danny Rose and Sterling during the interval and England were certainly livelier after thee restart.
Lingard drilled the ball beyond a diving Kane, before Dier surged into the box and dinked the ball over Courtois, only to see his Tottenham team-mate Toby Alderweireld clear off the line.
Dier headed badly wide from Lingard’s hooked pass, then Maguire nodded past the post from a corner, but at least England were building momentum and my interest was growing again.
Then Belgium produced a stunning counter-attack that saw Pickford beat out Meunier’s excellent volley – ‘beautiful football to watch,’ said Hoddle – and Hazard ran on to De Bruyne’s pass behind Phil Jones to finish inside the near post and make it 2-0 with eight minutes remaining.
‘Jones has probably seen enough of Hazard these last couple of months, having been beaten by him in the FA Cup final,’ added Matterface, referencing Chelsea’s win over Manchester United.
Dele Alli got a run out in place of Loftus-Cheek, who had a decent game to be fair, in a late change that will not have pleased club boss Mauricio Pochettino it was claimed, what with all five Spurs players in England’s squad having featured opposite three of their Belgian clubmates, just 27 days before the start of the new Premier League season.
‘Belgium are six or seven years ahead of us in their process,’ said Hoddle as time ticked down and Roberto Martinez’s side wrote their names into the history books as ‘officially the best Belgian side of all time’.
A 2-0 loss had never felt so irrelevant and Matterface closed with: ‘A game too far for Gareth Southgate’s men, but a reconnected nation will thank them for a wonderful four weeks and Harry Kane may still walk away with the Golden Boot.’
It will be small consolation, given the fact three of his six goals were penalties and another one came unwittingly off his heel while he was looking the other way. But it’s still a trophy, so we’ll bring it home, right?