The Unsportsmen travel journal writes it final Soviet chapter this week. We’ve made the pilgrimage from Vladivostok to Moscow and parked up in our studios in Red Square. It’s been a wild month of mingling with locals and funnelling Vodka down our gullets at a pace that would leave David Boon dipping his lid in appreciation. We have thoroughly enjoyed the delights of the Motherland and will be leaving a raving TripAdvisor review. The riot police here have been world class, and the Gulag facilities are amongst the best in history. The wonderful architecture and DNA altering alcohol consumption has paired well with some spectacular on-field action. Only four chargers remain in a World Cup spread that has touched on every sphere of the pallet from start to finish. The sugary sweetness of the Peruvian fans, the face-scrunching sourness of Neymar’s theatrics, and the warm saltiness of the Australian exit. What a smorgasbord we have been treated to.
Confidence grows in the island fortress
We never thought we would be saying this heading into the tournament, but England are within touching distance of their first World Cup victory since the fabled team of 1966. A semi-final date with Croatia, and a tough final awaits before then, but those wearing three lions will fancy their chances. Croatia have had some mighty duels in the knockouts, and it may just leave them a bit short in the legs. However, both these sides are equally capable of going through, so I will not etch my prediction in stone just yet. England fans have gone from 0-100 like a Mitch Johnson bouncer, and rousing footage has emerged of England pubs being showered in lager when their team nets a goal. My favourite footage was of a few brave English fans jumping on a Russian police car, and subsequently getting seven shades of shit beaten out of them.
Neymar completes his Shakespeare recital
Neymar continued his efforts to score a role in a local theatre company production of Romeo and Juliet, where it is understood he would make the death scenes even more dramatic with his signature dive and roll. His efforts to milk a penalty would’ve made a third-generation dairy farmer inclined to offer him a gig on the teat. I know I should change the record, but this bloke has about as much dignity as a cockroach burrowing through a manure pile.
Russian hearts broken but proud
The Russian summer of loving came to an end against Croatia in the quarterfinal. A nation dissolved into a sea of tears as they failed to repeat their Spanish heroics from the spot, in a tense shootout. The Russian performance has surely impressed Putin enough to release the players families from the gulag. They can hold their heads as high as the peaks of the Ural Mountains, as their ascent to the heights of the knockout stages was unforeseen by many. Well done, Russia.
Blue Samurai complete clean sweep
A lovely photo has emerged of the Japanese dressing room, in the aftermath to their heartbreaking loss to Belgium. The Blue Samurai had completely cleaned the changerooms, from top to tail. It was left with a note that read “thank you” in Russian. A nice touch from a likeable team, people and country. As reluctant as I may be to ladle even a spoonful of credit across the Tasman, this idea seemed to be popularised by the infallible All Blacks. Years ago, in the book “Legacy” it was revealed the All Blacks leaders are required to clean their own dressing rooms as an exercise in humility and respect. Since then, we have seen everyone from the Richmond Tigers to the Blue Samurai emulate it.
A new brigade of knockout artists
An interesting fact for the Semi-finals, is that it is the first time it will not feature one of either Brazil, Germany or Argentina. This opens the door for the Croatians and Belgians to potentially play in their first final, and England their first in over 50 years. It is great to see a mix up of the usual suspects, and it does the tournament justice to see a few newcomers be right up there at the business end. So, what will the final look like? A warm pint and oily chips? A croissant and an unshaven armpit? A burly security guard with a crew cut hairstyle? A hot chocolate and a diamond ring? I can’t wait to find out.
United States claim the victim
Former US international turned Football analyst Alexi Lalas has sensationally claimed the United States face more scrutiny than any other nation at the World Cup. He launched into a rant detailing how the Stars and Stripes are viewed as unwelcomed visitors into a sport that has traditionally belong to the rest of the world. Claims of fear and jealousy amongst traditional nations were the focal points of his tirade. This came after American referee Mark Geiger drew the ire of the footballing world for a subpar performance in the England vs Colombia fixture. This could be true, or it could be another American claiming a conspiracy to cover the shortcomings of his nations results.
Does VAR need a review?
VAR has drawn some seismic backlash and criticism this World Cup. It has been the inaugural use of video technology for a major tournament and many are lamenting its inception and use. It’s difficult to make a wholesale judgement of a system in its infancy, but it has certainly had its fair share of teething problems. Like it or lump it, the VAR is here to stay. I can only hope it doesn’t descend into a Rugby League style shemozzle, nor an NFL style flag throwing nightmare.