- That will haunt them
Gutted - to use the phrase beloved of a generation of British footballers. The 12 lads who were trapped in a cave in Thailand will not be able to travel to the World Cup final on day 32 because doctors say they have to stay in hospital to recover from their ordeal. “They can’t go,” said Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, from the health ministry. “But they can watch it on TV,” he added. It might seem a continuation of their ordeal but they have to be detained to see if they’ve got any infectious diseases. Two have been treated for symptoms of pneumonia and they all have to wear sunglasses to gradually get used to daylight. Missing the World Cup final though. Sick as a parrot. Shame. But they’ll be in good company. Wonder if Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will be watching.
- It takes guts to be gentle and kind
A line from the wonderful song ‘I know it’s over’ by The Smiths. The review thinks Belgium goalkeeper should dig deep and find some inner strength following the 1-0 defeat in the semi-final against France. Courtois said his team's defeat by France in the World Cup semi-finals on day 27 was a shame for football because of France’s defensive style of play. And this from a man who played for two years under José Mourinho at Chelsea?
"It was a frustrating match. France didn't play at all, they defended with 11 players within 40 metres of their goal," Courtois told the Belgian TV channel RTBF.
"They played on the counter-attack with Kylian Mbappé, who is very quick. That's their right. They know when an opponent plays very deep, that's where we have problems.”
He added: "The frustration is there because we didn't lose to a team who are better than us, we lost to a team who play nothing, just defend.
"Against Uruguay in the quarter-finals France scored with a free-kick and a goalkeeping error. Against us, a corner. It's a shame for football that Belgium didn't win.”
The review is reminded of the aghast Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio who railed at the anti-football of the Sweden team who had just crushed his side 3-0 in the final game in Group F. The essence of his shriek? They don’t build from the back! Horror. Complain all you want Thibaut, you’ve been turned over. It’s about goals and if your flouncy flair didn’t do the job, then don’t complain that their grim has reaped the rewards.
- Thinking outside the box
France midfielder Paul Pogba dedicated France's World Cup semi-final triumph against Belgium to the 12 boys who were rescued from that cave in Thailand. Following the 1-0 victory, Pogba tweeted: "This victory goes to the heroes of the day, well done boys, you are so strong." That’s the kind of world view we like. Twelve more France supporters there. And the boys will also get to taste the wonders of the Fifa metaeconomy. "Fifa’s priority remains the health of everyone involved in the operation and we will look into finding a new opportunity to invite the boys to a Fifa event to share with them a moment of communion and celebration," a spokesman said. Guests of honour? Juan Carlos Osorio and Thibaut Courtois.
As we creak towards the business end of the extravaganza, old heroes are ushered out of obscurity to give their tuppence worth about the prospects of Team X. The line is: “In my day …” We believe this is a valid way to alleviate the lack of action as the squads prepare for the Endspiel – we have to use German words just to highlight the fact that they’re not in the mix for once. The former Croatia international Slaven Bilic has been drafted in by the British broadcaster ITV as a pundit. And Bilic, the former coach of the English club West Ham United, told the British newspaper The Daily Mail that Croatia midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will pose problems for England during their World Cup semi-final on day 28.
"Luka and Rakitic are the best midfield pair in the World Cup," said Bilic. "But don't underestimate the rest of the team either. For me, Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida have been fantastic centre backs, among the best in the World Cup.
Gareth Southgate, the England boss, is wise to the danger. "We know that Croatia like to build possession,” said Southgate on day 27 in his pre-match preamble with reporters. “Their midfield players like to drop deep to receive the ball. They have exciting wingers who have speed to get in behind you and they are an obvious threat from crosses and we know the ability of the midfielders to pick passes out and to score from distance if we allow them to shoot so we’re very clear on the strengths of the Croatia team.”
Bilic, who can take credit for persuading Rakitic to play for Croatia rather than Switzerland where he grew up, says he believes a constant theme in Croatian national sides is they up their game against the historically bigger sides, thus their low key performances against Denmark and Russia, whom they beat on penalties in the last 16 and quarter-final respectively. So England, if you get thrashed 3-0, you’re a big team.
- Farewell Martinez
And so it’s adieu to the Belgium coach Roberto Martinez. His team was dispatched in the semi-finals by a solid France side. It has been wonderful to see the former Wigan and Everton honcho reincarnated as an international team coach. He has been munificent, smooth and charming over the past few weeks. Perfectly pitched responses, grace and patience. Robbi, my son, you played a blinder.