The final day in the Footcall House…
So today marked the end of another chapter in the history of the greatest football competition on Earth and also this was to be the last day of the World Cup. After four solid weeks of footballing entertainment we were faced with the final swan song of France v Croatia. Whilst they duelled on the field, we had our own battles going on in the Footcall league. Who was going to win? Nobody knew, not even me!* Kevin Appleton was riding high in the pole position with Dr Phil, Jamie Sains and Richard Ware snapping at his heels. Kevin was used to the pressure of being a front runner having won it back in 2010 but his chips were stacked against Croatia to win. If this didn't happen then who knows how the eight points will transform the league table. Let's see how it all unfolded…
Going into the final the France were the form filly and manager Didier Deschamps had led a French Revolution by opting for a young team (the second youngest in the tournament) to run down the tired old legs of their opposition. Up until this point who could argue with this strategy as they had proven themselves to be World class time and again, none more so than their charismatic frontman, Kylian Mbappe. Meanwhile the Croatians had a dogged determination that rivalled any other in this competition as well as a team shirt that resembled a Footcall Group Stages League Table! Ably led by the midfield maestro, Luka Modric, who had had the tournament of his life the past month and would undoubtedly get in anybody's World Cup XI. This was their big moment, 22 players fighting it out for the biggest trophy in their sport.
The game started lively enough and it was clear that Zlatko Dalic's tactics was to "stuff em up" and "get up in their grill" because the first 18 minutes it was pretty much one way traffic with the red checkerboards throwing all bar the proverbial "evier" at the French like a boxer trying to intimidate his naive opponent. Sadly for Croatia though, France knew how to play the rope-a-dope game with the likes of Varane, Pogba and Pavard defending like the Foreign Legion. Wave after wave of attacks from Rebic, Mandsukic and Rakitic amounted to nothing. Then totally against the run of play suddenly we heard a bang! Just as a thunderstorm broke out over the Luzhniki Stadium, France lit Les Bleus Touch Paper! A slightly questionable free kick won by Antoine Griezmann was then taken by the very same player only to see it skim off the top of Mario Mandzukic's head into his own net! One nil to France and I can just hear Del Trotter exclaiming "Mon Dieu!" at this very moment.
One thing you can say about the Croatian football team is that they are stubborn and they never let their heads drop which England fans will know only too well. It was barely ten minutes on when Ivan Perisic blasted home a superb equaliser through a minefield of dark blue shirts. Now we had a game on. I can recall many a World Cup final that was terribly lack lustre and we often needed a moment of madness like Zidane in 2006 just to keep us awake but this match was the antithesis of those dire contests. The quality and fitness of the protagonists on display was quite astonishing especially when they have played many strenuous matches in the past few days and for Croatia more than one of those went to 120 minutes. Will we see the young French legs have the edge?
The first half was drawing to a close when a French corner appeared to be handled by Perisic in his own 18 yard area. Surely this was "ball to hand" and could in no way be considered to be deliberate. The referee was unsure so called for his good friend Mr VAR to have a look on his little monitor. It seemed to take an age to come to a decision and the Referee Pitana even went and had a look at the tv himself. "Fromage Frais!" After much deliberation he awarded France a penalty! Astonishing! Perhaps the second injustice to fall to Croatia in the space of 40 minutes and I thought it was only England who suffered like this? Griezmann stepped up and wrong footed Subasic from the spot to put the Blues back in front which is how it stayed until half time.
After the break you'd be forgiven for thinking the mental pressure of the whole tournament and rub of the green not going Croats way that they might well crumble at this point. Well maybe that was case as despite a gallant effort from Rebic to even the scoreline they just couldn't find the net nor could they handle the speed in which France broke from defence. The Croatian commisery compounded once more on when Paul Pogba had two bites of the cherry to make the net bulge and put France three one up, this really was "Creme de la Menthe!" For the Croats here on in this really was going to be an uphill battle for the eastern Europeans. "Pot Pourri!" If it wasn't out of sight already it was put beyond doubt when the star of this World Cup, Kylian Mbappe powered home a fourth goal for France and his fourth of the tournament. The first time a teenager had scored since a certain Mr Pele did for Brazil in 1958. Just as it was for the crowd 60 years ago we will all remember when first witnessed a young star being born on to the world football stage. Think on this; he might have another four World Cups ahead of him!
Although Croatia continued to push it was a fruitless task. Or so we thought. "Au contraire!" An absolute howler from Hugo Lloris in the 69th minute allowed the incoming Mandzukic to interpret his sidestep and nick it off his toes and into the net. "Chateauneuf du Pape!" Super Mario had now scored for both teams! Whilst this comical goal could have been replayed with the theme from Lloris and Hardy it was obvious that the Croatians could see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Although they had well over twenty minutes to get back in it the French decided to shut up shop like it was early closing, well it was after 4pm on a Sunday so what did we expect? As the clock ran down it was clear that Croatia had no more cards to lay and when the full time whistle blew it was all "Bonnet de douche" for Deschamps' lads who were French Kissing in the USSR!
Four goals to two in a World Cup final, what a match! What a tournament! What a Footcall!
And so to the Footcall League…After 64 matches and 169 goals we have been blessed with one of the greatest World Cups we can remember. The stadia, the fans, the players, the weather, the penalties, even VAR all contributed to a thoroughly entertaining festival of footy for us all. And what a Footcall we have had too as Jamie "When the" Sains "Go marching in!" has done the unimaginable. He correctly predicted the outcome of every single Knockout Stages match perfectly. That is an astonishing 15 match running streak which saw our Jamie rise like a phoenix from the bottom of page one of the league where he was treading water in 46th place with 38 points. Two weeks later he finds himself 32 points better off and 45 places further up in position number one looking down on all before him. He even finished four points clear of Richard Ware who also had a phenomenal rise up the charts. Not since Alex Stoater in 2008 who guessed all the Knockout Stages matches correctly has this been done. The difference for Jamie however is that the World Cup has more than double the number of predictions required so his achievement eclipses that of Alex's by some margin. Congratulations Jamie, you are the Footcall Champion of 2018. Not only does he take the title he pockets a cool £450 (plus £55) for his Knockout Stages success. Pretty impressive seeing as this is only his second Footcall and in 2016 he finished fourth. Now up in to fifth position on the Footcall Hall of Fame table, Kelly is never going hear the end of this. Unbelievable Jeff!
The crucial eight pointer today made a big difference to those who picked France to pick up the trophy including Adam "My word how did I finish up here?" Palmer, Paul O'Donnell, Manoj "More HoF points" Gupta, Neil "leave it to the last minute" White. Also Birgit Hoffstadt did tremendously well to climb up to 15th only to miss out on the money bracket by the amount of red squares collected. Yasmin "only 100 places better than Max" Coupland, Nick D'Avanzo, Helene "I'm going to spend my prize money on a Footcall tattoo" Wilkinson and finally David "How did I get on the first page" Ginger completes the line up of Footcallers who scored four more points than France did on the field.
The full list of winners and their prize money have been published on the home page of the Footcall website and I would just like to thank Philip Vingoe who has very generously donated £65 to our supported charity Bloodwise. Well done Phil and well done to fellow Footcallers, Elizabeth and Jonathan Rowland, for their tireless work they commit towards raising money for such a worthwhile cause.
The prize winners list doesn't end there as we have 12 Division winners to award. These are given to the highest placed teams of the non-prize money winning players and that list is comprised of…
Pele Division - Big Ron's Eleven - Ron Stevenson
Eusebio Division - Super Ants 11 - Antony Holmes
Maradona Division - Hot Shot Sterling - Les Herbert
Cruyff Division - I Like Umtiti - Ross Vallender
Beckenbauer Division - Putin Sterling Effort But Dier - Neil Jefferis
Zidane Division - Marrow FC - Rob Pearson
Zoff Division - You're Gonna Be Kane'd - Dave Billington
Beckham Division - Kane, My Arse - Ian Sayer
Di Stefano Division - Whojanickabollockoff! - David Frost
Best Division - Whose Coach Is That Jackett? - Ric Robinson
Puskas Division - Love Island FC - James Parker
Yashin Division - Manefornothing - David Blakeman
All of whom receive free entry to Footcall 2020, well done folks.
We should also congratulate Will Relf for his team Chicken Caesar Salah being voted the favourite team name and let us commiserate with Jamie Marshall and Ian Pope who perhaps did something almost as remarkable as Jamie Sains' achievement as they managed to beat my brother Simon to the Vuvuzela Award and finished bottom of the heap. That's a quite a feat as my brother is a professional Vuvu player and your efforts will be rewarded with enough money to come and have another go at Footcall in two years time.
That's it, I think I've said enough for one report, I'd like to give a big thanks to all that took part in, to Spencer Collins for the backstage work behind the scenes, to Matt Clark, Neil White, Iain Baker and Peter Mulvey for their massive contributions to the commentary and in particular my lovely wife, Christine, who for one month every other year becomes a Footcall widow whilst I immerse myself in this crazy world. It's been a lot of fun, every Footcall is better than the last, it's been a lot of hard work and it's been emotional but I couldn't have done it without your support and I for one cannot wait until we set sail on the good ship HMS Footcall once again.
That's all folks! See you back here, same time, same place for Footcall 2020.
* That's not true, I did have a sneaky look!
Croatia Split English Hearts
Day 23 in the Footcall House...
This was it, the wait was over, today was the day that England would once again venture into a World Cup semi-final. It's been 28 years since our last dalliance with this round of the biggest show on earth and the question on everybody's mind was, "Can we go one step further?" For today was Waistcoat Wednesday and England Expects, well maybe let's see shall we? Whilst there were only three players in the current squad that even alive during Italia 90 but I'm sure there are many Footcallers that remember match and how close we came to beating the Germans on penalties. We have to go back another 24 years before that to recall England claiming the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966 and if the dice roll our way for us tonight who knows what will happen so let's dare to dream and support our boys…
Croatia 2 v 1 EnglandThe build up to the match was as expectant as ever, The Three Lions song was being played in every corner of the land and it even looks set to return to the top of the Hit Parade this Sunday! Such was the power of England's success in this tournament and just about every other video clip received on social media had the "It's Coming Home" backing track. More ardent fans will recall all the near misses we have had over the years so I'm sure the sceptics amongst us weren't counting our chickens just yet. Manager Southgate had done a sterling job relentlessly sticking with Sterling despite the little lad coming in for a lot of criticism for not scoring any goals so far. Gareth knew Raheem's pace was a threat and he stuck to his guns and fielded the same starting line up for the third game in a row, something that hasn't been done for a very long time.
From the opening whistle we looked, as we have done many a time in this competition, sharp and alive. We were comfortable on the ball and looked in command of the match. This really was a joy to watch. I felt reassured that our defence could cope with anything Croatia were going to throw at us and our attack were formidable enough to score one more than the others. Well it only took five minutes for the England camp to erupt as Kieran Trippier's free kick was lofted over the wall and into the back of the Croatian net! Had this been any other match I'd once again get on my soapbox and bang on about the merits of having a wall but you know what, I couldn't give a monkey's at this point in time. What a strike! We were Trippiering the light fantastic. One nil to the Eng-ger-land. The prospect of a match of against our old adversaries France, awaited us and all we had to do was hang on to this lead for another 85 minutes and we were home and hosed. Of course we were the masters of the keep ball game, right?
We were looking good for our money and Croatia had no answer for our ball control and Captain Kane so very nearly doubled our lead when he found himself one on one with keeper Subasic. This was looking so promising and we managed to make to half time with our lead in tact.
After the break the Croats did what so many other teams have done against England and caught us napping. A fantastic cross from Sime Vrsaljko picked out Ivan Perisic making a move ahead of Kyle Walker and his outstretched leg made contact with the ball to re-divert it into the bottom left corner. Suddenly the mood changed and now it was the Eastern Europeans on top. We may have lost our shape but we didn't lose our discipline so I was hopeful we could change gear again and get back into it. Perisic looked lively and a shimmy and shake saw him nearly put the red checkerboard team in front but for the upright saving England's blushes. We did regain our composure and made a couple of substitutions which kept our hopes alive at the final whistle. After 90 minutes it was one all and Extra Time was the order of the day.
In the first half John Stones had a header cleared off the line and then at the other end Jordan Pickford had to make a brave last ditch save with his legs. In the second half of ET our tired legs were found wanting and Walker clearance really wasn't sufficient enough, Trippier didn't deal with a Perisic flick and Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic found himself in the right place at the right time to power the ball past Pickford. Croatia were two nil up and the obligatory pile up ensued down by the corner flag that appeared to include a few press photographers!
With ten minutes to go England tried desperately to level the playing field and Southgate brought on Jamie Vardy to try and get the equaliser. Whilst most England fans are terrified at the prospect of a penalty shootout, there is not a fan in the land who wouldn't have taken that opportunity right now, especially after we beat Colombia. The difference between Croatia and England was all too apparent now and just about all twenty-two of them were dead on their feet but all the Croats had to do was run the clock down and there's nothing like a dose of cramp to help with that. With as much hope in our hearts as the Wild Boars Thai football team member, England were in need of rescuing. One final free kick gave us the chance of a final curtain call but sadly it amounted to nowt and the referee's whistle signified the end of our World Cup dream.
Croatia were into their first ever World Cup final and they will face up against France on Sunday afternoon. England however are not coming home just yet as they have their second pointless game against Belgium of the tournament in the third place playoff match on Saturday.
All in all it's been a wonderful World Cup for England. We got out of the Group Stages as expected, we scored a shed load of goals and at times looked good doing it. We sparkled and entertained the masses and stole some of the audience viewing figures from Love Island. Above all that, we restored some pride in the way we played and that can really only be down to one man, Gareth Southgate. His man management style and the way he has dealt with media and pressures of the big job has allowed his players to play to their potential and for us fans to fall in love with our national team again and as I wipe a tear from my eye, I for one, am deeply proud.
And so to the Footcall League...We have a new leader! Kevin "has anyone seen Mick?" Appleton has jumped to the top of the table, two clear of Dr Phil's Wolves both of whom had Croatia to win this match. The four points on offer really make a big difference with it being so tight at the top. Quite a few of you had the Croats to do the business including Jamie "the Machine" Sains who astonishingly is still one hundred percent correct for all KO games. Chris Amos, Eddie Bojtler Jnr, Jonathan Hodgson, Richard Ware and Tom Ruff all pocketed four points to move into the money bracket. Other players also bagging the points today include James Parker, Ron Stevenson, Anthony Holmes, Andrew Hodgson, Matt Clark, Kevin Ford, Paul O'Donnell, David Blakeman, Keith Reynolds, Neil White, Steve Cowland, Eric Krieg and Guy Young all making great strides up page one of the league.
I am going to give my Player of The Day to Nick D'Avanzo who not only has Croatia in the final but he's predicted France to playing them. Well done Nick, you're up to 57th with another potential eight points to come for picking the winner, it's quite feasible you could climb another 40 odd places and actually finish in the money bracket. All dependent on what those above you have selected of course.
Back Sunday folks for the big eight pointer, the WORLD CUP FINAL!
Day 22 in the Footcall House...
Here we are back again to drink yet another beverage at our favourite watering hole, The Footcall Arms. This time it was the first of the Semi-Finals and so much was riding on it for the select band of Footcallers and nations still in the running…
France 1 v 0 BelgiumTwo of the strongest teams in the World Cup went head to head at the Saint Petersburg Stadium as Group B winners, France took on Group G winners, Belgium. Until this point both teams had sparkled and any speculative punditry to pick a winner would be a fool's game. The French had been there and done it before but Belgium's Golden Generation as they are now known had shown incredible resilience to beat Brazil and rise like a phoenix to overcome Japan. Interestingly Belgium had former French hero, Thierry Henry, on their coaching staff leaving us all wondering what was going on. When asked why he wasn't helping his own nation to success, Thierry said "I wasn't asked!"
Whilst musing upon my headlines some of the stars of the show jumped out at me begging to have their name up in lights…
Mbappe had a little Kompany, Alderweireld was drawn to Umtiti, when Hazard met Pavard and there's no-one nicer than Nacer!
There was quality left, right and indeed centre on this field and Pogba set the young Kylian on his way with a superb early through ball. Mbappe opened his legs to show his class and if it wasn't for the quick thinking Courtois it would certainly have been one nil to France. Belgium gave as good as they got and an early Hazard effort was skimmed over the bar by the head of the in-form Varane. Soon after the Belgians attacked again when Toby Alderweireld's shot was majestically steered wide of the net from the diving Hugo Lloris. What a save, and what a tournament the French keeper was having. Not since Fabien Barthez in World Cup '98 have we seen France perform this well between the sticks. Giroud blew an opportunity to break the stalemate as too did Pavard who's shot was deflected wide by Bourtois' boot. This was indeed a terrific game but we just needed a goal to really kick things off!
After the break France they did just that! Griezmann's corner was flicked home by Samuel Umtiti (maybe with the help from Fellaini's fro) to put the French one up. I think they were good for their lead too, France played far more like a team involving many of their players in the build up play where as Belgium seemed to rely on one or two individuals. With the advantage France did push for a second and Mbappe did some jiggery pokery with some fancy footwork on the edge of the area to set up Giroud but once again he squandered it.
Belgium couldn't ever be discounted as Hazard and de Bruynne tried desperately to set up Lukaku but it just wasn't happening. Fellaini had a header go wide and Witsel struck a beauty only to see it go straight towards Hugo's gloves. Time was running out and Tolisso nearly capped it off nicely but Belgium's keeper did save his team from going farther behind. If this was England holding on to a one nil lead like this we would all be on tenterhooks waiting to see the outcome but the French were far more professional and they expertly ran the clock down whilst snuffing out any Belgian attack coming their way. Special credit must go to Pogba and Varane who were instrumental in their success.
So France become the first team to make it to the final of the World Cup 2018 and their third final in their history. Who will they face? England or Croatia? Only time will tell!
And so to the Footcall League...We have a brand new leader folks, Mick "Spicy" Spicer has snuck into the red with 62 points. There alongside him is Kevin "This is going to be better than 2010" Appleton also on the same number of points. Mick is top by way of the fact he had nine red squares in the Group Stages to Kevin's six. I can't quite believe my eyes but Jamie Sains is still 100% for his predictions as he picked France to win and the four points bagged today see him up to fourth!
Andy Brunt also predicted a French win and has moved in to the money bracket. Creeping up the table we also have Richard Ware, Adam Palmer, Paul O'Donnell, Christopher Lane, Manoj Gupta, Birgit Hoffstadt, Yasmin Coupland, Nick D'Avanzo, David Ginger, Mike Davies, Helene Wilkinson, Sam Ford and Leigh Boardman all of whom scooped a valuable four pointer today to see them race up the table.
I am going to give my Player of The Day award to my old mate and fellow Footcall TV pundit, Neil "YTee" White who not only predicted all four semi finalists correctly but also had France through to the final. Well done Neil, you're up to 64th and maybe more to come?
Back tomorrow folks for the big one, is it coming home?
When Harry Met Alli
Day 21 in the Footcall House...
More fun and games on the footy field as we have the final two Quarter Final matches to savour and today was the return of Eng-ger-land! Now I must a confession here, I'd managed to book myself out for running a photographic workshop today so I always knew I would be missing the afternoon match. But no worries; it's only Croatia Russia game, I shall be back in time for the England to play in the evening. Then at 3pm when my phone lights up with a multitude of texts from fellow Footcallers I realise I've got the times wrong. Not only that but I published them incorrectly on the predictions form. What a schoolboy error and I now know not to trust the times on a knockoff World Cup Wallchart that Monkey Harris sells down the market. Anyway I kept abreast of the game via social media and I caught up with it all when I returned…
Sweden 0 v 2 England
The first Quarter Final for England since 2006 when we rather ignominiously went out on the proverbial penalties to Portugal. But in this tournament we have put the ghost of penalties past to bed and now we are looking to make even more history on the field.
For me personally, you will know, if you have read any of these ramblings, I have put my faith in the Swedes to do the business and go on to lift the trophy. This is a philosophy I have adopted in Footcalls past to pick a team that I think nobody else will have selected on the proviso that if I'm right, you lot are wrong and I shall be bounding up the charts. So this game was a win win for me either way. Well I should have honoured my patriotism as the stalemate was broken with a wonder header from Harry Maguire halfway through the first half. If one Harry doesn't get you the other will! Side note; if any of you have seen the series Billions on Sky Atlantic you will recognise the actor Toby Leonard Moore
you'll know he's a dead ringer for Harry Maguire. We were one up and cruising. Sweden really didn't trouble us at all and time and again Jordan Henderson would set up Raheem Sterling with a golden goal scoring opportunity only to see him stick it wide or spoon it over the chuffing bar.
After the break, Sweden did make strides to get into the game and they tested Jordan Pickford between the posts drawing out a magnificent save from a great header by Marcus Berg. It didn't take long for Sweden's misery to be magnified when Jesse Lingard picked out Dele Alli in oceans of space on the back stick to nut home a free header into the back of the net. Two nothing and do we dare to dream maybe? Well let's not count our chickens just yet we still had another half hour to go. Sweden pushed up and a well worked move which ended in a Claesson strike on goal was unbelievably saved by Pickford again! What a game this young man was having! Moments later he was at it again as he tipped the ball over the bar with his outstretched fingers from a terrific Berg shot. Jordan was single handedly keeping us in it.
Eventually the time ran out and those adorning the three lions crest were left salivating the prospect of our first Semi Final appearance since 1990. Most of our current team weren't even born but for those that do remember the heartbreak of Gazza's tears and losing to West Germany on penalties will linger. Maybe, just maybe this young team we have now will lay that ghost to rest as well and we can go a little further this time?
Russia 2 v 2 Croatia (Croatia win 4-3 on penalties)
The home nation, Russia, were not only the lowest ranked team in the Quarter Finals but in the whole competition and the pundits were astonished they were still here. Croatia were on paper the team to come out on top in this match but we all know that often isn't worth the paper it's written on. Denis Cheryshev was the first Russian to potentially tear up the sheets with a blinder of a goal that really came out of nowhere leaving the keeper rooted to the spot. However it didn't take long before the scoreline was all square when Kramaric from the perfectly weighted Mandzukic cross. Despite this amazing start, much of the remainder of the first half was about as scintillating as a bed time story read by Philip Neville.
After the break it was much the same and the only highlight of which was a Perisic shot that hit the inside of the post only to see it virtually roll across the Russian line and back into play. This match had ET written all over it and I was wondering who was going to phone home to order a delivery of magic and inspiration!
At least Extra Time was far more entertaining as both teams felt the urgency to prevent the game from going to the penalty lottery. On the 100th minute of the match, the boy with the Viking haircut, Domagoj Vida latched on to great cross to head home a goal to take the Croats back into the lead, surely this was a match winner? Well Russia really were playing this tournament by their own rule book and they unbelievably managed to draw level once again with a late late equaliser from the head of Figueia Fernandes. Now it really was going to pens.
It has to be said the spot kicks in this shoot out were not the best. Maybe it was exhaustion, maybe it was the pressure but the first attempt was so weak I thought it was just a practice swing where he made contact and you could see Fedor Smolov look longingly at the match official as if to ask "Can I take a mulligan ref?"
Anyway after a mixed bag of strikes the final kick of the match fell to Croatia's Ivan Rakitic which he duly dispatched to see his nation over the line. The Croats were once again in the semi final a feat they last achieved in 1998 and now they set up a showdown against England on Wednesday evening.
And so to the Footcall League...
As ever there was overwhelming support for England and their victory put two points on the scoresheet for a lot of Footcallers. Dr Phil hangs on to the lead with Mick Spicer now moving in to second spot. But wait, who's this sneaking up on the inside rail? It's none other than Footcall 2010 Champion, Kevin Appleton who's been skulking around the lower section of page one but has now decided that it's time to make a move and a terrific run of results has seen him rise to fourth. Neil Jefferis, Chris Amos, Eddie Bojtler Jnr, and Jonathan Hodgson all picked up four points today to move into the yellow money bracket.
I'm going to have to give my player of the day to none other than Jamie Sains who is still note perfect in the Knockout Stages so far, is it possible he can go right through to the end without dropping the ball. Let's wait and see shall we?We are back on Tuesday for the first Semi Final when France take on Belgium.David
Muslera in a flap offers no French Resistance
Day 20 in the Footcall House...
A couple of days off to assess the magic of the World Cup just long enough for us to develop a taste for it again. Now we have the Quarter Finals to look forward to and the prospect of venturing up the Footcall League with double bubble points on offer with each successive round. This is like the Big Money round in Family Fortunes and if your selections come good just watch you leapfrog the others, brace yourselves folks…
Uruguay 0 v 2 FranceFirst up we have the return of the French and the Uruguayans both of whom have excellent defensive records with neither team letting in many goals to date. France were formidable in their dispatching of Argentina but I don't think South American team will quite so easy to pick apart. Early on the keepers were tested but much of the first half they cancelled each other out with all the excitement coming on the 40 minute mark when Griezmann's free kick was headed on by Raphael Virane. One nil to France and they were looking good. Now we know that France have been known to lose their heads in the World Cup arena, I'm sure many of us remember Zidane's red mist descending as he went tête à la poitrine (head to chest) in the 2006 final, and as they used to say on the Stingray anything can happen in the next half hour! Well what did happen was Uruguay nearly equalised on the stroke of half time when an almost identical replay of the French free kick was taken at the opposite end. The difference here was that Cáceres' header was magnificently saved by Hugo Lloris between the French Sticks. This was keeping of the highest order, I'm talking a save worthy of Gordon Banks, Higuita Zapata or even Scott Sterling.
After the break, that cheeky Nandez went on a mazy run down the right but Bentancur's shot didn't trouble the French goal this time. Soon after, calamity struck at the other end when Griezmann's speculative shot was parried by keeper Muslera only to see it skid off his gloves and bobble over his own goal line. Good lord what was he thinking "Don't worry lads, I've got this one, look for the early break, as soon as I've caught this I'm gonna launch it route one style. Oh sh*t! Taxi for Fernando!" Comparatively speaking this was the complete opposite of the French keeper's heroism, as Uruguay's back stop made a slip worthy of Loris Karius. So we had one a Lloris at one end and a Loris at the other! In the closing moments of the match Tolisso nearly made three nil but his shot went over the bar. And so it finished with France two good for the other lot and they must be confident of their forthcoming Semi Final match.
Brazil 1 v 2 BelgiumPerhaps the pick of the Quarter Finals (for the non patriotic of us fans) was surely this match up of the all time greatest World Cup winning nation Brazil against the Golden Generation of the Belgians. For all the flair boys up front perhaps the most impressive stat about this Brazilian team is that they had only conceded one goal in the past nine games as manager Tite had really shored up that defence. My first memory of a World Cup was Spain '82 when the likes of Zico, Junior, Eder and Falcao lit up the tournament but it was Captain Socrates I most remember, probably because he was tall like me and he'd be quite proud of the defensive record of the current squad. I'm not sure he'd be too impressed with some of the rolling around they do nowadays though. They were up against it today though as Belgium were a wonderfully creative and industrious team that could come back from the brink as they did against Japan in the last match.
Brazil went oh so close to opening their account when Thiago Silva hit the upright in the first few minutes and Courtois counted his blessings there. The first goal of the game didn't take long to come on the 13th minute when a Chadli's corner struck the arm of Brazil's Fernandinho and went in his own net wrong footing Alisson. Cue up the tannoy to play Gala's "Freed From Desire" a song more annoyingly catchy than Planet Funk's "Chase The Sun" the music played at all the Sky Sports darts events!
Brazil's misery was compounded in the 31st minute when Kevin "Foot Like a Traction Engine" de Bruynne pummelled a power shot from outside the area leaving the Miranda and Alisson stranded. What a goal, just another star in this magnificent tournament… freed from desire!
After the break, Brazil really made great strides to back in the game and the play was so open and end to end, it was hard to keep up with it all. This was really unfolding to be a classic and a Brazil goal now would really set the C amongst the Ps. Mr Neymar could be key that could unlock the Belgium defence, one blessed with so much talent he really could eclipse the status of Messi and Ronaldo. Sadly though he's tarred himself with a his own brush as some of his antics in previous matches has not won him any friends and an appeal for what looked like an obvious penalty was immediately dismissed by the ref. A closer look at the slow mo showed there was no contact at all so the cheeky South American was trying to pull a fast one; again! What really annoys me is smug faced smirk when the referee waves off his gestures for an infringement in the most pathetic acknowledgement that he's been found out like a naughty little schoolboy. Well this nonsense didn't detract too much from the rest of the entertainment and in the 76th minute the stadium erupted as too would have Jo "Come on Brazil" Mackenzie's hopes when Renato Augusto headed home the perfectly weighted loft from Coutinho. Two one, game on! There was plenty of time for an equaliser and they really went for it. Belgium tried to shut up shop and they subbed Lukaku in the hope that it really wouldn't go to penalties. In the closing minutes that man Neymar popped up again on the edge of the area and made a shot that drew out the save of the match from Thibaut Courtois. This was magnificence worthy of Hugo Lloris and it kept his nation ahead in the match. The full time whistle came soon after and Belgium had done it, seen off tournament favourites Brazil and into the Semis they strolled.
And so to the Footcall League...After the France victory, Rachel "I'm on me holibobs" Rowland momentarily went top of the table as Richard Goodwin let go of his reign. After the evening match Dr Phil joined her on 56 points but took the number one position by way of the number of red squares in the Groups. The top 14 players in the yellow money bracket are all in there fighting it out and now the points are worth so much more, just watch how this table shifts from game to game. Jamie Sains is still the only player out of 271 to have an unblemished Knockout Stages report and he is now banging on the door of the money places!
I'm going to give my player of the day to Helene Wilkinson who really didn't have the best of Group Stags but has made up for it with a superb showing in the KOs only dropping two points. A lovely brace of twos today has seen her rocket into 225th, who knows where her next few predictions will take her.
Back again tomorrow for England against the mighty Sweden!
England Through After Penalty (Val)Drama!
Day 19 in the Footcall House...
The final day of the round of 16 today as four more teams fight it out for the last two Quarter Final spots. I am honoured to be joined by my good friend and fellow Footcaller, Iain Baker, as he has very kindly written the evening match report for Colombia versus England. But first up was the head to head of the two SW teams…
Sweden 1 v 0 SwitzerlandAfter my earlier declaration in the week that I have pinned all my hopes on not just a Swedish victory today but to see the Scandinavians through to lift the cup I watched this match with great intent. There I was dressed all in yellow like a giant banana with my face painted and flags and bunting decorating Footcall Towers. All I'll say is please don't ask me to point to Sweden on an atlas, it really will be a one in three pin in the map. Nevertheless my support was undiminished despite some indifferent standards of play in the Groups all I can hope for is they raise their game and the ghost of Zlatan seems them through.
Mama Mia, this game was bad! It has to be said, the first half of this game was definitely one for the World Cup purists and one that I really had to Take a Chance On. Me, a Footcall veteran, and my three year old nephew, Fernando, could have put some of the chances in this match closer to the target than they did. The build up play was often pretty decent but the delivery in the final third was Gimme Gimme Gimme heart palpitations as their shots seemed to trouble the audience members in rows O-Z more than the oppositions keeper.
Sommer was tested once in the Swiss goal but that was about it. Both teams were as bad as each other and the goalless first half was somewhat obvs. This wasn't doing much for my Swedish nerves and my allegiance was being thoroughly tested. But when it comes to Footcall we all know the Name of The Game, once you have committed to the team you think will win the trophy you're stuck with it and the Winner Takes It All.
After the break however, the quality did improve and the empty scorecard was blotted by Emil Forsberg has his speculative shot got lucky when it flicked off the foot of Akanji and spun into the top left corner of the Swiss net. This seemed to typify the game really, lots of industrious movement but the result wasn't quite as expected. But neither the Swedes, nor me, could care one jot about that, all we wanted was the result and now the boys in yellow really were Super Trouper.
The goal did at least lift the momentum of the match and Shaqiri and Seferovic had a couple of good efforts on goal. One thing the Swiss have got going for them is that their flag is a 'big plus' and they often looked 'positive' when attacking. Sadly though they were often exposed at the back and their defence had more holes than a wedge of their delicious cheese. Time was running out for Switzerland and they nearly had to send out an SOS when Martin Olsson burst into the box with a golden opportunity to put the game out of sight. The Swedish number five was brought down by Swiss number six, and Michael Lang got himself sent off in the process. Initially we thought it was a penalty but Mr VAR stepped and downgraded it to a free kick on the edge of the area.
Toivonen's shot was majestically stopped by Sommer but that was to be the last kick of the game and the referee's whistle meant the Swiss were crying and the Swedes Dancing. Queen Silvia of Sweden was no doubt at home doing a little jig. That was it Sweden were into the Quarter Final for the first time in almost a quarter of a century. I Have a Dream that come Sunday week Sweden will lift the World Cup and I shall be in the Money Money Money!
Colombia 1 v 1 England (England win 4-3 on penalties)Report by Iain Baker
So England faced the acid test. When it really mattered and they weren't playing The Dog & Duck B Team, could this fledgling side really show the world they mean business? All the talk in the build up to the game was of Southgate's waistcoat. Fashion expert Jeff Banks was even wheeled out to give his verdict on the manager's sartorial credentials. It does have lovely buttons though. Colombia, shorn of their best player James Rodriquez, were surely there for the taking. Relegated through injury to the stands, he simply bolstered the ranks of the South American faithful, many of them resplendent in Valderama wigs. Tragically, Brian May never played for England.
The first half started brightly with England making full use of their new found assurance at attacking set pieces. England expects. From corners and free kicks at least. The early tempo was high which suited the team in red. Colombia's gamesmanship on the other hand did not. Colombia jaw butted, wrestled, body slammed, piggybacked and generally fouled their way through the opening half, disrupting any flow to the game with the glee of a pantomime wrestler! However it was England's failure to find that elusive final ball that ensured the first half ended in stalemate. Even then, as the teams trudged off the field a member of the opposition coaching staff, found Sterling with a sly dig.
As the second half got underway, so frequent became the sound of the referee's whistle that I started having 90s rave flashbacks. He was only missing the white gloves and spaced out facial expression. No matter, England kept their nerve and their game plan. Then, 13 minutes into the second half the breakthrough came. Predictably it all came from a corner. Trippier's delivery swung into the box coupled with an England party piece that wouldn't look out of place in a synchronised swimming competition, flummoxed the Colombian defence and I counted not one but three fouls by Sanchez on Captain Kane before the referee signalled for a penalty.
There then followed a short eternity. Continents drifted apart, the ozone layer recovered and Oasis got back together and split up again. All the while the petulant Colombian's, railing at the injustice of the world around them, engulfed the ref in so much yellow he must have thought himself trapped inside a massive, whining custard tart. Harry's focus was unflinching and he did what needed to be done. One nil England.
As the second half wore on the Colombian's began to see more of the ball. Heading into the final 15 minutes, their collective dander was up and England went into their defensive shell, preferring to hold what they have and bringing Dier on for Alli. Heading into added time Pickford silenced any doubters with a stunning save from Cuadrado's screamer. Just when it looked like England would see the game out uncomfortably, Yerry Mina rose to head home from Cuadrado's corner and a nation's pints were at once half empty.
30 minutes of added time followed as a visibly drained England gathered themselves for the task ahead. The first 15 minutes was all Colombia as England get their heads together, dusted themselves off and came again. Vardy was a constant nuisance at one end, whilst Harry Maguire held firm at the other.
And so with a doom laden sense of inevitability, our nations arch nemesis the penalty shoot out tapped us on the shoulder and invited us to spin the wheel. Why even bother? We all know how it ends, right? We don't stick it in the onion bag and the other lot win.
Only this time it would be different. A chance for redemption for a manager who even now agonises over what was more embarrassing, missing his own penalty or putting a paper bag over his head for the Pizza Hut advert! A Jordan Pickford wonder save and the underside of the bar did for Colombia. And so it came to pass that England put their penalty jinx to bed, tucked it in and read it a bedtime story.
And so to the Footcall League...Richard Goodwin sneaks back topside once again as Dr Phil drops to second and the rest of the peloton gang up behind them. I'm sure many of you patriotic fans picked England to win, maybe even go all the way so I'm sure their first ever World Cup penalty win not only kept their dreams alive but many of yours as well, right?
Not much change at the bottom of the table as my brother is going toe to toe with the dynamic duo of Jamie & Ian as they both have 18 points as they all have a big bundle over ownership of a plastic trumpet.
I shall give my player of the day to two players! Jamie Sains and Rob Pearson both have scooped a super impressive 8 out of 8 from the Knockout Stages so far. Surely they must both feeling confident of climbing the Footcall ladder as the tournament progresses. Well done lads you deserve this pat on the back.
We have a couple of days off now for the back room boys at Footcall Towers to rest and recuperate. Many thanks to Iain for his wonderful incisive report and I shall see you lot, back here on Friday.
Mexico Waves Goodbye to the Cup!
Day 18 in the Footcall House...
Two more last 16 matches to excite our footballing taste buds…
Brazil 2 v 0 MexicoA South American derby to really entertain us on this balmy Monday afternoon, it seems the weather in Russia is much like it is in the UK. Brazil scraped through the Group Stages but did in the end top their group whereas Mexico looked far more emphatic in their earlier games, don't forget they beat Germany. But the Knockout Stages is where it counts and now it was all about getting that win and pushing on to the Quarter Finals. The game started lively enough and the Mexicans really took it to the star studded Brazilians. They got up in their grill right from the word go and Brazil barely had a touch of the ball in the first twenty. As the first half wore on Brazil came more into the match and Neymar and Paulinho tested the gloves of keeper Guillermo Ochoa a few times. As the clock ticked on you really felt Mexico were needed to have made some hay while the sun was shining early doors because the Brazilian cream was rising to the top. Fair play to the Mexicans though they managed to get to half time without conceding. The quality in the Knockout Stages really has gone up a few notches and after the break Brazil opened the taps as Neymar and Co really went through the gears (boy am I getting those cliches in on this report!) On the 51st minute it was indeed Neymar who broke the deadlock as he danced along the edge of the 18 yard area before deftly back heeling it to Willian who took it to the goal line and cut it back to world's most expensive player to tuck it in the net and no doubt putting another 15 grand on his weekly pay packet at PSG. With a goal under their belt we really started to see an exhibition of pace and guile as they asked more questions of the Mexican defence. Whilst Neymar has all the tricks it was Chelsea's winger, Will.I.An who was pulling the strings and orchestrating all the significant moves. In the 88th minute their lead was doubled when super sub Roberto Firmino who had only been on for a minute or so, scored a simple tap in from a dynamic Neymar run. That was it all wrapped up and done, the Mexicans were dusted and whilst the Brazilians wax lyrical about Neymar his reputation was slightly tarnished by some Oscar winning rolling around feigning near death from the slightest of contact. He really didn't need to leave us all with this sour taste but I'm going to overlook it this one time and if it happens again I'm going to be on that phone to Mr VAR.
Belgium 3 v 2 JapanAfter the Brazilians had laid down a marker for this tournament it was down to top ranked European team, Belgium, to respond. The Footcall league predictions will tell you that the smart money here was on the Belgians to do a number on Japan and dismantle their defence. This really is a golden generation of stars and surely this would be one way traffic. Well no actually! Japan had clearly not read the script and they kept Belgium at bay with a few attacks one chance almost trickled over the line as keeper Thibaut Courtois fumbled it between his legs and had to match a frantic dive to save his blushes. Belgium were certainly not having it their own way in the first half as Japan pushed them on to their back foot again and again. The half time whistle came and it was still goalless so who knew how this would unfold in the second half. Well we were in for an absolute treat when Japan marked the scoresheet with a little tick on the 48th minute as Genki Haraguchi ran onto a long ball, which Jan Vertonghen should have intercepted. The Belgians were in shock, we were in shock, in fact everyone apart from the Japanese team and fans were in shock. How were the Europeans going to respond to this. Let me tell you how; they went another goal down that's how! Only four minutes after the opener Takashi Inui's belted the ball in from all of 25 yards to make it two nothing! If we were in shock before now we utterly astonished. Belgium were being rolled over and dipped in some of that lovely chocolate sauce they are so known for. If they didn't stem the tide we might end up with a hatful to Japan. Time for the likes of de Bruynne and Hazard to pull up their socks, drop deeper and defend their own goal for a few minutes to at least restore some equilibrium. This was getting embarrassing, surely we weren't in for another upset in this World Cup? Seventeen minutes later an opportunity did fall Belgium's way with a real Garry Owen of a ball landed right on Jan Vertonghen's bonce on the edge of the penalty area. I'm not sure if it was a shot or a cross but his header pinged up in the air and looped over Kawashima's head to sneak in the side of the far post. It looked as if the keeper thought it was going out of play but the sudden realisation it was going in was too late and the Belgians were back in it. Five minutes later it was all square as substitute Fellaini nodded home a nicely cushioned header from a superbly delivered Hazard ball. It really was all to play for now and as the clock ran down it looked for all the world it was going to E.T. (Extra Time). With only 31 seconds left to go Courtois rolled the ball out to de Bruynne who passed it out wide to Meunier who crossed it in to the box where it looked like Lukaku was going to bury but he let run past him for he knew second sub Chadli was right behind him in acres of space. Nacer made no mistake as he slotted it past the outstretched keeper. Absolutely extraordinary! You really know when you have a last minute winner when the ref blows straight after the kickoff. What drama, what a World Cup.
And so to the Footcall League...No doubt the Belgium win saved a few Footcaller's blushes as this was virtually unanimously predicted by you lot, maybe only my brother and one or two others plumped for Japan. Dr Phil stays top with his six out of six so far. But it's tight at the top and one slip could make all the difference. The Brazilians winning was also a popular choice although Gavin Day and Ric Robinson clearly had no faith in them and have fallen slightly, I hope they didn't have Mexico to go all the way?
I shall give my player of the day to Sara Wood who didn't pick up a single red square in the Group Stages but has managed to get four out of six so far in the second phase. If you can just keep it going Sara you might make it on to page five of the league! I hope you are enjoying it nonetheless.
Back again tomorrow for some more Footcall bantz.
Russian Roulette Shoots Out Spain!
Day 17 in the Footcall House...
How on earth are we going to follow the drama of the quality matches from yesterday? I still have that tune from Evita playing in my head right now… Don't Cry 4-3 Argentina!
There is one thing guaranteed to be more exciting than a seven goal thriller and that is PENALTIES! There's nothing like a penalty shootout to spice up the excitement of a great World Cup and today we had not one but two so read on…
Spain 1 v 1 Russia (Russia win 4-3 on penalties)The afternoon match saw the return of hosts, Russia face against 2010 World Champions Spain. On paper this would be a one horse race but then again we didn't think Russia would make it out of the Group Stages. An early goal got the ball rolling as it looked like Sergio Ramos scored from five yards out but a replay showed it actually hit the heel of the Russian defender Ignashevich and deceived the keeper all ends up. We thought the Spanish would shut up shop and play their legendary tiki-taka style footie and just wear the opposition out like a big cat toying with her prey. However Russia were thrown a lifeline when a corner struck the arm of Gerard Pique and he gifted the home boys a penalty just before half time. Dzyuba did the honours from the spot and equalised, this was not going to script.
After the break there were chances at both ends and each side had chances to go ahead but both teams lacked the imagination we saw the French demonstrate. Even the introduction of Iniesta didn't make enough of a difference, and so it went to Extra Time. In the last moments of additional time Spain were dramatically denied a penalty that looked ever so obvious. They got Mr VAR on it and the response came back "Nyet" (there is no truth in the rumour that Mr Putin is on the VAR team!) This left only one thing; penalties. The first shootout of the tournament, who was going to make themselves a hero for their nation? After the first four penalties were scored Koke's shot was saved by Russia's keeper Igor Akinfeev. Russia scored again from the boot of Cheryshev and that meant it was down to Spain's Igor Aspas with the pressure on his shoulders to score to keep the reds in the match. He did the little dressage pony trot run up and powered it down the middle only to see the trailing leg of Akinfeev save it with his foot! Cue the celebrations, the home team went wild and the fans made so much noise they nearly brought the roof off the Luzhniki Stadium. So that saw Russia march on to the Quarter Finals whilst the reign of Spain fell mainly in that game.
Croatia 1 v 1 Denmark (Croatia win 3-2 on penalties)Following the high jinx of the earlier game we returned for the evening match and would need a sensational start to match up with that. That's exactly what we got when the Danes went one up in the first minute with a mad scramble from point blank range which ended up with a shot from Mathias (Huddresfield's finest) Jorgensen which put the ball through the legs of Danijel Subasic in the Croatian net. The Croatians responded superbly well Mandzukic equalised barely three minutes later with a great twist and shot from an unexpected chance that fell his way from just over six yards out. One all; now we had a game on. We thought the flood gates would be opened but both teams cancelled each other out throughout the game. It was hard to tell if one team deserved it more than another so it went into Extra Time to see if we could sort it out. With only minutes left just like in the earlier match a penalty shout went up when Modric sent Rebic through on goal, around the keeper and had an empty net ahead of him. But he was brought down by none other than the Danish goal scorer Jorgensen. Penalty! Unlike the earlier game this time it was given and it was quite bizarre how there wasn't a red card. Anyway Luka Modric had the duty from 12 yards out but sadly for Croatia his shot was magnificently saved by Kasper Schmeichel much to the delight of his Dad, Peter, watching from the crowd. This left us with our second penalty shootout of the day. The first of which was taken by Christian Eriksen whereupon he fluffed his lines as Subasic pushed his shot on to the post. But Schmeichel was able to save the Danish bacon by saving the first Croatian attempt. This was going to be tense. Some goals followed and some more tremendous feats of goalkeeping heroism ensued until it was down to Ivan Rakitic to put the ball in the net. Fortunately for them he did send the man in yellow the wrong way and the ball crossed the line to put Croatia through. We had to tip our hat to both keepers in this dramatic finale as they both performed an outstanding job, and if Carlsberg did penalty shootouts this would be it. So this sets up a tie for Croatia against the home nation next Saturday afternoon.
And so to the Footcall League...We have a new leader! Dr Phil has returned to the top of the table as his clean sweep of the last four games has pushed him above the dynamic duo of Richard and Rachel by way of points scored in the Knockout Stages. Neil Jefferis has snuck into the money bracket (highlighted in yellow), with his correct answers today. Other players also picking up two points today include Jamie Sains, Rob Pearson, Eric Krieg, Eddie Bojtler Jnr (2), James Smith, Vikki Hill, Nigel Mirza, Bryan Relf, Emma Evans, James Jones, John Trent, Dan Schroeck, Eleanor Fairman, Neil (last minute man) White, Elizabeth Mailiey, Charlotte Cook, Patrick Ferguson, Darren Cook, Gary Thorp, Alan Church, Rob Smith, Craig Amos, Helene Wilkinson, Nigel Lougher and Hannah Wakefield.
My player of the day will go to Peter Mulvey who was one of just a handful of Footcallers to have a clean sweep of correct answers over the past two days and his four points have pushed him up in to 73rd ahead of his mate Brian Field and just behind Simon Field. The three of them are having a right ol battle in the Zoff Division. I'd like to thank Peter for all his Footcall contributions and his comical text commentary have certainly kept me motivated this season.
Back again tomorrow for some more Footcall bantz.
Mmmbappe! Wasn't that Hanson's big hit single?
Day 16 in the Footcall House...
Well, well, well fancy meeting you here again! Did you miss me? More importantly did you miss the football? We were only without it for one day. I think there is one word that can perfectly sum up a World Cup and that is, Relentless!
The warm up show that is the Group Stages were done and dusted (well done to the prize winners so far) and now we welcome to the stage the all important Knockout Stages. This my friends is where Footcall really kicks off. The back nine of a golf major, the final session of the World Snooker Championship, the last Boondock in a marathon Tiddlywinks showdown!
The points from the first section were (C/F) carried forward (not a reference to Celsius and Fahrenheit btw) and now we have a brand new league table with a whole new points structure! Yes this is still Footcall folks but now we are at the business end. No longer did we need you guess the scores, now we need you to predict just the winners but the kicker was you had to do the whole lot, right through until the end. So what to do? What choices to make? Heck, I haven't watched a single game I can hear some of you saying. How am I supposed to pick a winner out of this lot, I can't even see Germany in the list!
For me personally it was a choice of head or heart. So I thought, damn it, I'll go with my heart and pick England. Moments later; what am I thinking? Flashbacks of previous World Cup failures flash through my mind. Fight it negative thoughts Jenner, we need PMA. OK, OK, I'm sure this year will be different, England are a young team without all that baggage of former disasters, I'm sticking to my patriotism, England all the way. Come on England you can do it. Right, one last thing before I commit myself, let's have a look at my league position; 87th! Aww man, I've got no chance. I need to think outside the box, some blue sky thinking, some severe radical football prediction strategy, so I abandoned my home nation and have plumped for, wait for it, Sweden! You know what, I reckon if I'm right then I'll be the only one right so watch me sail past all and sundry whilst I bathe in the glory of a Scandinavian victory. If that doesn't win me a free plate of meatballs at my local IKEA I don't know what will.
No doubt many of you agonised over your predictions just like me, I'm sure many of you just went with your head, many with your heart and many with a blindfold and a pin. The matches up until now have been so unpredictable I wouldn't scoff at any combination of results in the remainder of this competition. It must be tricky at the top as you will want your choices to keep you there but it's difficult to pick the best nations, equally if you are my brother Simon and you covert the Vuvuzela then you need to pick the teams you think will go out of the tournament sooner rather than later so there's choices to be made at both ends of the table. With 32 points up for grabs with 15 of those going to anyone who correctly selects the team that is going to win the cup making the right choices could make or break your Footcall chances. We had a tremendous turn out for the Knockout Stages entries, we usually expect a 10% non return rate but this year 254 out of 271 got their entries (I can't do that maths) before the three o'clock buzzer. As soon as the first game kicked off the gates shut and if your name wasn't down you wouldn't be scoring any more points, but hey, that's Footcall, I don't make the rules*.
So with no further ado let's get this show on the road, first up we had…
France 4 v 3 ArgentinaThe French had strolled into the KO Stages without breaking too much sweat whereas their opponents today scraped in by the skin of their teeth so who knows how this match was going to unfold. Well unfold it did! Right from the off we could tell we were watching two high quality teams, this was Quality. Street(s) ahead of anything we'd seen before in this tournament. They looked right up for it and the Kazan Arena was jumping with joy. It didn't take long for things to get going when Kylian Mbappe went on a one man mission in to the Argentinian half as he launched the ball then ran ahead of the defender making him look like he was wading through treacle. As he burst into the box he was brought down like a young gazelle on the Serengeti; penalty! Antoine Griezmann did his customary short run up and put the ball away to make it one nil to France. This lit Les Bleus touch paper and the game exploded into life. Fortunately for the impartial fans Argentina were not going to take it lying down and in the 41st minute Di Maria powered how a sumptuous left shot out of reach of Lloris between the sticks. What a goal, one of the best we've seen. One all and the Argentine manager who was a dead ringer for the dad from Stavros Flatly did a little dance of joy on the touchline. Now we've got a game on.
After the break the quality shone through again and again, just the control of the ball and the pace of the game made this without doubt the game of the Cup so far. From a free kick which Lionel Messi latched on to and he attempted a shot from the edge of the French box, it looked like the keeper had it covered but Mercado stuck his foot out and deflected it past the wrong footed Lloris. Argentina were now two one up. Maybe this would see the French crumble? Not a bit of it, they responded in the most majestic fashion when Benjamin Pavard volleyed in a strike from 25 yards out to rival the quality of Di Maria's earlier effort and I think he just shaded it, absolutely wonderful equaliser. It only took another seven minutes before France were ahead again with a fantastic left foot shot from the star of the show Kylian (I'm still only 19) Mbappe, three two and this match was turning into a belter. But the boy wonder wasn't done yet as just moments later he struck home his second and France's fourth with an awesome (I'm running out of superlatives here) cross field goal. Now it was four two to the boys in blue. This was end to end stuff and there were chances galore. As we pushed in to injury time super sub Aguero headed home an amazing cross from Messi, who was still yet to score a goal in a World Cup knockout match. It was 4-3 and well beyond time but there was one last chance for the South Americans to try and force extra time but sadly the last touch of the match was deflected over the bar along with the hopes of Mr Messi and his men. Is that Lionel's last game in a number 10 shirt in a World Cup? We shall see. What we did know is that a new star had been born, Kylian (I have t-shirts older than this lad) Mbappe was the new number 10 on the block and he is clearly set for great things in the future, what a player, he's even got his own logo!
Uruguay 2 v 1 PortugalI'm still quite exhausted form watching the French demolition job, how on earth were we going to follow that? Well the good thing is we were blessed once again with world class exponents of the game gracing us with their skills. Neither of the two names that immediately spring to mind opened the scoresheet as it was Edinson Cavani who headed in a sensational cross from Suarez in just the seventh minute. Well I say header, it was more like a 'facer' as it came right off his noggin and went in the back of the net. I know if that had happened whilst he had been defending his own goal he would have gone down holding his face like he'd hit by a frying pan. One nil to Uruguay and they were looking good. Suarez had a free kick saved, Ronaldo rolled up his shorts and hit his free kick into the wall and the first half finished with just the one difference.
Soon after the break the reigning Euro 2016 champions equalised with a free header by Pepe, the Portuguese number 3, from eight yards out and this was the first goal the South Americans had conceded of the tournament with some shocking defending. Were we all set for a extra time and penalties? Well no actually. Mr Cavani doubled his tally with the most sublime strike from just outside the area beyond the outstretched keeper, Muslera's gloves. Yet another fantastic goal from a day that featured more than our fair share. Portugal pushed on for another equaliser and Ronaldo tried every trick in the book but to no avail. Uruguay nearly put it out of sight when Rodriguez nearly made contact with a cross field ball but his touch put it out of play. It didn't matter, time was up and so was Portugal's efforts. Uruguay were the victors and now they have the ever so delectable prospect of facing up to France next Friday.
And so to the Footcall League...Well I've done a lot of writing there and my fingers hurt so let's keep this brief. Only one point for the win today isn't that significant but it can have a bigger effect if the team you picked to win the cup goes out that's a sh!t load of points gone for a George Burton!
All the main players guessed both France and Uruguay would win today, which I was a little surprised at so barely any change at the top. Jack Law and Eddie Bojtler Jnr slipped slightly and who knows if they had picked one of these losing nations to go all the way. Lots of players scored double points today and I wonder if anyone would have predicted a 4-3 scoreline if this had been a Group Stages match?
I am going to give my Player of the Day award to Dan Schroeck who supported Footcall more generously than anyone else by entering not one but five teams this year. Despite covering all those bases he won't mind me saying he has underwhelmed himself across the board with his best team only in 115th. No matter where Dan finishes in the league I know he'll be back in 2020 for another go and you know what, he's not out of this one just yet. Thanks for all your support Dan, you've been totes rubbish and to be honest, the best thing about your performance this year has been your inspired team names. Having said that, we love you here at Footcall Towers and you are a Footcall legend despite what your scores might indicate.
Back again tomorrow for some more Footcall bantz.
* I do make the rules.
The Final Red Squares in Red Square
Day 15 in the Footcall House...
The final group of Group Stages matches today saw the conclusion of Groups G and H.First up were the afternoon matches and we kicked off with…
Japan 0 v 1 Poland
The climax of Group H saw top of the table Japan play Poland who had been nothing but a disappointment in this tournament and were on their way home no matter what happened. A win for Japan would seal their place in the final 16. The Japanese worked really hard and pressed the Polish defence and they tested Fabianski a few times in the first half. However it did finish nil nil in the first 45. After the break we had a shock when the Poles broke the deadlock in the 59th minute when Southampton's Jan Bednarek latched on to a great freekick to put the Japanese campaign for promotion in jeopardy. In the last few minutes Lewandowski could have doubled their lead but he put it over the bar in an effort that really summed his World Cup. And so it finished one nil to Poland and this was their only win even though it made not a jot of difference to them. The final quarter of an hour of this match were reminiscent of West Germany v Austria in 1982 when both teams played out time to run down the clock as it suited both teams with that scoreline. Even those this tournament was curtains for the Poles this was a dangerous game to play because if Senegal had scored in their match it would have made a mockery of the Japanese strategy. We just had to see how the other game went to see if their opponents went through.
Senegal 0 v 1 Colombia
The African team here had the points advantage going into this match and they only needed a draw or better to go through. Colombia really needs a win but what we needed in this match was the late Stephen Hawking to figure out all the permutations for us! The first half was typically energetic but lacked the quality to finish off the chances. The referee did blow for a penalty which was awarded to
Senegal but Mr VAR stepped in again and determined the tackle was legit and so the penalty was overturned. Soon after Colombia's star player, Rodriguez picked up a knock and was promptly substituted and could be a concern should they get through to the Knockouts. The first half finished without the scoreboard being troubled and after the break more urgency was needed. In the 74th minute Yerry Mina did chalk one up for Colombia with a fantastic power header from eight yards out. One nil to the South Americans and now the future of Senegal's World Cup hopes were hanging by thread. The clocked ticked on until there simply was no more time. The whistle blew and Colombia had done it, they were into the second phase but we had to head to Norris McWhirter to determine who was going through with them. On count back of yellow cards it was Japan who were awarded the second place spot as their disciplinary record was better than Senegal's. Heartbreak for one but joy for the other, I'm sure many of you Footcallers can associate with this.Over to Group H for the two decisive evening matches with…
Panama 1 v 2 Tunisia
In this broken condom of a match (aka dead rubber) Panama took on Tunisia in a match that was purely played out for the good of the Footcall league. Before the match started I put in a word with the FIFA head office to make sure this game still went ahead as there were a lot of red squares riding on this result. For a game that didn't matter it was pretty competitive and way more entertaining than the game going on at the same time. In the 33rd minute it was Panama who got the ball rolling when Rodriguez's shot took a wicked deflection off Meriah and into his own net. Chances were rife from end to end and it was astonishing that the first half finished with just the one in it. After the break Tunisia had clearly had the pep talk to lift their spirits as they quickly equalised with a superbly worked goal that was finally tucked away by Ben Youseff. The North Africans were rampant now and they doubled their advantage a quarter of an hour later as Sunderland's Whabbi Khazri dissected the Panamanian defence again and scored from point blank range. That was how it would stay, two one to Tunisia and a great match to watch for the fans, I just wished I'd seen it!!
England 0 v 1 Belgium
Whilst the two protagonists in this match had already qualified there was the little matter of deciding who was going to take top honours in Group G. Both team coaches had made adjustments to the line ups so that they could rest some and leave others with bookings on the bench so this was far from the two best sides either team could field. It was patently obvious as we did our usual England style tippy tap game with little imagination up front. Belgium seemed content to do the same but Tielemans did test the gloves of Jordan Pickford. Moments later a desperate fumble later almost saw the ball over the England line only to be cleared in a last ditch boot by Cahill. Loftus Cheek did go close as the first half came to a close nil nil. After the break we were hoping this match would spring into life and it did that when Adnan Januzaj swung in a beautiful strike that went high into the net beyond Pickford's reach. Dang nabbit, this was not going to script. Marcus Rashford did find himself one on one with the keeper and really should have scored but his effort was tipped past the post by Belgium's Courtois, I could hear echoes my old PE teacher, Mr Smiley, bellowing "get it on target boy!" Not much happened after that and without doubt the highlight of the game was seeing the hilarious slow mo replay of Michy Batshuayi belting the ball against the post only for it to rebound off the post and into his own face as he attempts to celebrate Adnan Januzaj's goal... CLICK HERE
So Belgium take top spot and march on to play Japan whilst England take the runner up place and now face Colombia in the final sixteen. Some pundits mused upon the section we now find ourselves in is going to give England an easier run to the final. Who knows? All I know is that this World Cup has been and will continue to be totally unpredictable.
And so to the final Footcall Group Stages League...
With another 12 points up for grabs today it was inevitable the players would bounce around the top of the table. Rachel Rowland had adopted a 2-1 strategy across the board saw her drop from 1st to 10th at one stage but Tunisia's 2-1 victory meant there would be a whole heap of red squares and Rachel did climb back up to 2nd on 48 points joint top with Richard Puncheon Above Your Weight) Goodwin who put in a magnificent performance to reclaim the top spot he had occupied for so much of the Group Stages. His 1-0 strategy across the board paid off and even though he too finished on 48 points he takes first place by stint of the fact he had 10 red squares to Rachel's 8. Rachel very generously has donated her £50 to our chosen charity Bloodwise.
Phil Vingoe celebrates third place in his first Footcall foray with Tom Foster putting in a tremendous performance over the past couple of days saw him finish joint fourth with Martin Young who was at one moment today riding high in the top place. Jack Law claimed sixth, Eddie Bojtler Jnr seventh, Mick Spicer joint eighth and Keith Firmston also managed to take joint eighth which is the last money spot of the Group Stages despite my earlier email saying Mick had won eighth place twice!
GROUP STAGES PRIZE MONEY1st: Richard Goodwin - £80
2nd: Rachel Rowland - £50
3rd: Philip Vingoe - £45
Joint 4th: Tom Foster - £37.50
Joint 4th: Martin Young - £37.50
6th: Jack Law - £30
7th: Eddie Bojtler Jnr - £20
Joint 8th: Mick Spicer - £5
Joint 8th: Keith Firmston - £5
Two players today picked up an unbelievable 10 out of a possible 12 and they were Jack Law who raced into the money bracket in sixth and Amaia Borges Clark the reigning Footcall World Cup 2014 holder who has moved into contention in twelfth ready to make a decisive move in the Knockout Stages.
I am going to give my Player of the Day award to Tom Hutchison who had not had any red squares up until today then just like London buses two came along all at once as he guessed the England game and the Tunisia game results exactly right!That's it, over to you to get your Knockout Stages entry in online before 3pm Saturday.David
Shin Tae-Yong: High - Joachim: Low
Day 14 in the Footcall House...
Another four matches in one day as Groups E and F sorted out the footballers from the Footcallers. I'm excited as a very excited person with a jolly good reason to be excited.First up were the afternoon matches and we kicked off with…
South Korea 2 v 0 Germany
If the Argentina match was packed full of drama then this match would prove to be off the charts as Germany took on South Korea in a must win match for the reigning champions in Group F. Surely this was never in doubt and we would be looking to the other match going on at the same time to determine who out of Mexico and Sweden would be going through with the Germans. Before the match started the South Korean coach, Shin Tae-yong gave his team a 1% chance of beating Germany, not very confidence inducing I know but I guess history has taught us that no matter what happens in the World Cup, they always make it through to the latter stages. So it kicked off and almost immediately the Germans were squirming when Manuel Neuer fumbled the ball on his own line. Playing in green the Germans just didn't look at the races and some significant players were distinctly missing in the first half and I think Mesut Ozil-Gummidge was notable in this stat. It begged the question, why was Leroy Sane not on the plane to Russia? Astonishingly it was nil nil at half time and I'm sure Joachim Low would be asking some of his players to step up and be counted. After the break they piled on the pressure and Cho Hyun-Woo put in a stellar performance in the Korean goal although it looked like there was an invisible force field in front of the net. Loads of headers went wide or over the bar or straight to the keeper's hands. As we hit the 90th minute it looked like desperation status and the German woes amplified when Korea's Kim Young-Gwon was one on one with Neuer and he tucked it in the roof of the net. The linesman flagged for offside but the ref wasn't sure so he called for VAR intervened and it was deemed to have come off the inside of Sule's leg which effectively played Young-Gwon on and so the goal stood. This was not good for the Europeans and they pushed everyone in to the Korean half to try and force an equaliser. In the final minutes even crazy Captain Neuer decided to play rush keeper was found on the left wing and almost the furthest man forward only to get caught in possession and the ball was launched deep into the German half. This moment of madness saw Tottenham's Son Heung-Min raced on to it to slot the ball into the open goal, two nil and the game was out of sight. The Korean bench erupted in euphoric glee as they all piled on to Heung-Min as if he had scored the goal that was going to win the Cup! The final whistle blew and the German's fell to their knees as the Korean's celebrated like mad. What an unbelievable match, the defending champions weren't just out, they were out out!
Mexico 0 v 3 Sweden
Mexico were already top of the table and confident they would qualify but Sweden needed a win plus the Germany match result to go their way as well. The first half had chances at both ends but ultimately it finished goalless. Soon after the break Ludwig Augustinsson put the Swedes in front with a great volley. The boys in yellow really were the better team which was a surprise as Mexico had been so good in their victory over the Germans. Andreas Granqvist doubled their lead from the penalty spot with a superb strike and the match was capped off with an own goal that kind of summed up the Mexican's day as it went in off the hapless Alvarez. As it happened this Mexican demolition job had no bearing on their status as the news filtered through from the other game about Germany going behind to Korea. At the final whistle Mexico did still qualify in second behind the dominant Scandinavians and it was true that Swede dreams were made of this!Over to Group E for the two decisive evening matches with…
Serbia 0 v 2 Brazil
Just like one or two other favourites in this tournament, Brazil were yet to set the world alight and now they were bang up against it coming down the stretch. The permutations on these two matches were crazy but all we knew for sure was that Costa Rica who were the only team yet to score were definitely going home. A Serbian victory would see them through and Brazil were playing with the same mind set. The golden boy Neymar was clearly returning to full fitness as he was starting to conduct the game with incisive runs and perfectly placed passes. It was Coutinho who put Paulinho in on goal in the 36th minute and his outstretched leg managed to divert the ball past the oncoming keeper. Neymar nearly doubled their lead with a solo effort but had his shot saved by Stoichovic. In the second half Brazil continued to dominate although now and again Serbia had the odd chance squandered. The game was heavily weighted towards a Serbian exit when Thiago Silva increased Brazil's lead to two nil in the 68th minute. Despite some valiant efforts from a selection of players ending in ic there could be no doubt that the South Americans had shown their hand and were ready to compete in this tournament and the full time whistle meant they did in fact top the group.
Switzerland 2 v 2 Costa Rica
The final game going on at the same time was the other match in Group E. Up until now Costa Rica had failed to impress which was a surprise as they were quite decent four years ago when they played England. Well the first half was all one way traffic with the Costa Ricans peppering the Swiss box as they found more holes in their defence than their national cheese! The South Americans had several shots saved by the pretty boy keeper, Yann Sommer as again and again he was called upon to keep the Swiss hopes alive. Victory here for Switzerland would certainly see them through but they didn't count on Costa Rica being so up for it. Despite all the pressure the Swiss did manage to weather the storm and they found a breakthrough as Dzemaili actually put them in front with a power strike from eight yards out. What a relief. After the break Costa Rica were rewarded for all their effort as Kendall Waston brought them level in the 56th minute. The pendulum swung the other way as Switzerland forged ahead again in the 88th minute with a tidy finish from Josip Drmic. Surely they could hang to full time and see a Swiss victory? Well no actually as once again Costa Rica evened things up in the 93rd minute with a penalty as Campbell was bundled off the ball and Bryan Ruiz. stepped up and blasted it against the crossbar only to see it bounce off the bar and down on to the back of keeper Sommer's head in true SCOTT STERLING
style! Sadly for Yonn, unlike Scott the legend the ball deflected in to his own net and Costa Rica made it two all.
And so to the Footcall League...
Rachel stays top but the slenderest of margins, Keith, Richard, Phil, Martin, Chris and Eddie Jnr are in the closing peloton with just 24 hours to go before the closure of the Group Stages. All those last minute goals really shuffled the pack and some players picking up red squares today included Robert Law, Christopher Lane, Gavin Day, Kevin (Footcall 2010 Champ) Appleton, Ric Robinson, Matt Clark, Jason Shillito, Spencer Collins and Jack Law. Gary Holmes and Julie Parrish get a special mention for picking up their first reds today.
There were three notables who picked a fine brace of reds and they were Peter Arnold, Bryan Relf and Chris Griffin and I could have awarded any one of them the player of the day. However that honour must go to my good friend Richard Ellis who was the only player to predict South Korea to beat Germany two nil and this first three pointer has propelled him in to 267th!See you back here, same time, same place for the final Group Stages report.David
Diego Laughing Stock and Two Smoking Goals!
Day 13 in the Footcall House...
As temperatures soar in the UK it's also rising in the World Cup as Groups C and D and decided.First up were the afternoon matches and we kicked off with…
Denmark 0 v 0 France
To quote Spinal Tap, I am going to give this match a two word review; "Sh!t Sandwich!"
This was a terrible match, quite probably the worst of the tournament so far and it's symptomatic of two teams who were virtually guaranteed of Knockout football providing they didn't lose. A draw suited both countries and at times it certainly looked like they were playing for that. They may have both had a "cunning plan" but this was definitely one for the purists you might say which resulted in the first goalless match of this World Cup. I really hope the England Belgium match is not like this on Thursday.
Australia 0 v 2 Peru
It's been 36 years since Peru had scored a World Cup goal and a further four years on top of that since they won a match but today was going to update those records when Andre Carrillo rifled in a super shot on the 18th minute. The Aussies were struggling to keep tempo with the Peruvians and this was by far a better match than the tepid affair going on simultaneously in Group C. Sadly though this was almost a dead rubber because Australia had to win and rely on Denmark losing plus they needed some goal difference to go their way. Leckie had two if not three golden opportunities to equalise which were either blown or defended tremendously well by Peru. After the break the South Americans doubled up when Paolo Guerrero swivelled and tucked home their second in the 50th minute. This is a guy who has only just served a 14 month drug ban for drinking contaminated coca tea which he was unaware of. His ban was overturned after Peruvian fans took to the street and here he was in Russia making a hero of himself on the pitch again. Meanwhile Mr Sainsbury did well (what a shame he doesn't play for Iceland) as he was a playmaker for Australia setting up Behich on more than one occasion but two nil it stayed and such a shame this match didn't have more riding on it.Over to Group D for the two decisive evening matches with…
Iceland 1 v 2 Croatia
The Croats were already through to the second phase with two wins already but they were determined to keep their 100% record. Iceland however not only needed a convincing win but also for the other match going on to end in a draw. Chances were slim for this little nation putting in their first appearance in the World Cup finals and hey, we've had more astonishing upsets than this before. Iceland really took it to them as Onmeheadson passed to Tomefeetson before Inbehindson took pot shots from speculative distances! Joking apart they did go really close in the first half with some terrific efforts from Alfred Finnbogason and Birkir Bjarnason. However it was Croatia that took the advantage after the break with when Milan Badelj powered it home to score his second goal for his country. The great thing about Iceland is that their heads never drop as they are motivated by the spine chilling Thunderclap that echoes out throughout the stadium. Their doggedness paid off too when they won a penalty after a defender stuck his arm out and made contact with the ball. Brave Gilfy Sigurdsson stepped up to take the spot kick after missing one against Nigeria in the last match but this time he did convert to make the score level. All the Footcallers with a one all draw must have been rubbing their hands in delight at this stage but we must never rule out those pesky last minute goals and that's exactly what we got in the 90th minute. Ivan Perisic made it a full house of victories for Croatia in the Group Stages when he buried the ball (and Icelandic dreams) in the right hand edge of the goal to finish the game two one.
Nigeria 1 v 2 Argentina
What a match we had here, two countries that really needed to win if they wanted to guarantee advancing in this Cup. The Argentine Captain (and temporary Manager if the press is to believed) Lionel Messi had failed to perform in their two previous matches. Well he was going to set that right tonight as he proved why he is one of the best in the world when on fourteen minutes he latched on to a perfectly weighted pass from Banega. His first touch was sublime, his second even better as he took the ball away from the defender tracking back and before we knew it Mr Messi had slotted it in the bottom left corner with his right foot, what a goal! The 'As It Stands' table updated on the screen and the Argies were going through with Croatia. Lionel nearly dobibled their lead with a gorgeous free kick which struck the post, a slow mo replay showed the young Nigerian keeper, Uzoho got a fingertip to it. After the break the table was turned on its head when Nigeria won a penalty for some extreme cuddling went on in the box. Victor Moses stepped up and confidently parted the waves as he rolled the ball almost dead weight past the diving Armani. Was this Argentina's self destruct button? Nigeria had another golden opportunity for a winner which Ighalo put wide. Higuain blew a similar chance at the other end and as Maradona looked on from the stands it was clear that South Americans really needed "a hand" if they were going to pull something out of the fire. Well that's exactly what happened in the 86th minute when Marcus Rojo connected beautifully with a Mercado cross-field ball with a sweet a volley as you are ever going to see and it flew into the bottom right corner. This was every bit as good as Messi's earlier finish. The Argentine fans went berserk, the players went mad and Diego went over the top as he indicated to the Nigerians that they had scored two goals by provocatively flexing his middle fingers towards them! He might well be one of the greatest players to have ever lived but there is no need for that behaviour. And so the game finished two nil, Nigeria were out and somehow by hook or by crook Argentina march on where they will face France in the last sixteen.
And so to the Footcall League...
We have a new leader! All bow to the top of the table girl, Rachel (Two One does if for me) Rowland who bagged a fine pair of threes today to jump into first. Richard slips to second and Martin Young joins him. Eddie Bojtler Jnr had a great day as too did Jill Fuller, and Jo (I love Footcall almost more than Dan) Mackenzie. Those last minute goals were the undoing for many of you I am sure but for others it propelled them up the table and many of you had more than one red square today including, Ian Sayer, Phil Vingoe, Jamie Sains, Manoj Gupta, Andrew Hodgson, Scott Meyers, Vikki Hill, Rob Pearson, Rachel Denny, Yasmin Coupland, Richard Croft, Jack Goodwin, Chris Martin, James Jones, Daniel Volausek, Alan Williams and Graeme Jones.
Two players gathered their first red square and they were Jack Hennebry and Craig Amos both pulling away from the Vuvuzela zone which is now occupied by Jamie Marshall & Ian Pope. Ian actually emailed me before the competition started to ask to have his name added alongside Jamie's name as it was a team effort, I bet he's wishing he'd left it now?!
My player of the day goes Eric Krieg who was the only player to score three perfect predictions out of four today, very impressive Eric, you have gone from bottom of the table obscurity to mid table mediocrity in one day but at least you got a pat on the back from me!
You should have received an alert email about the forthcoming Knockout Stages which you will need to be around to complete either Friday or Saturday morning before the second phase kicks off on Saturday afternoon at 3pm. Please email me if you have any questions. More information and details about the points available can found on our RULES
page.See you back here, same time, same place.David
Day 12 in the Footcall House...
The final lap of Group Stage matches as joy will be celebrated and hearts will be broken. As these matches were played simultaneously to prevent any on field shenanigans but off field it meant you had to have two televisions!
First up were the afternoon matches and we kicked off with…
Uruguay 3 v 0 RussiaUp until now Russia had flattered to deceive with their thrashings of Saudi Arabia and Egypt but today's opponent, Uruguay was a whole different kettle of fish. It only took ten minutes for star man Suarez to get his teeth stuck in to things (he's never gonna live that down) when he bent the ball around the wall to make it one nil. Maybe if there hadn't have been a wall… (not now Jenner!) The Russian woes were compounded when in the 23rd minute a deflection off Denis Cheryshev deceived his own keeper and gift the South Americans another tick in the box. It was clear the Russians were being out classed and a late tackle from Smolnikov saw himself sent off for an early bath for a second bookable. After the break it was pretty much one way traffic and even though both of these teams had already qualified it was clear Russia would have to find another gear come the Knockouts. Uruguay capped off a resounding victory with a tap in from Edinson Cavani in the 90th minute simply to annoy a few Footcallers (including me) who had this down as two nil. And so it finished 3-0 and they will face the winners and runners up of Group B.
Saudi Arabia 2 v 1 EgyptWhilst the other two nations were duking it out to decide who would win Group A the Saudis took on Egypt in a dead rubber just to give a few players another cap for their country. This event was marked by the appearance of Essam El Hadary, Egypt's 45 year old keeper who became the oldest player to feature at a World Cup! Just goes to show's it's never too late so maybe I might dust off my Uhlsport 040 ZOFF 1982 keeper's gloves one more time. It was the Egyptians who went ahead first as Mo Salah lobbed the keeper on the 22nd minute. I wonder how different this tournament would have been if he had been fully fit from the start? He really should have doubled his tally as well when he found himself one on one with the keeper but managed to stick it wide of the sticks. Saudi Arabia nearly equalised from the penalty spot from Fahad Al Muwallad, but the senior man in the gloves heroically prevented the ball going in his net with an amazing one handed save from El Hadary. However lightning did strike twice when the Saudis were awarded another penalty in the 51st minute of the first half (yes you read that right) and this time the veteran couldn't stop Salman Al Faraj's spot-kick hitting the back of the net. It looked like this was destined to finish in a draw until Salem Al Dawsari scored a second goal for Saudi Arabia with literally seconds left on the clock. Whilst this was their first World Cup victory since 1994 this was another goal denying me (and many others no doubt) another red square.
To conclude the group we had two evening matches with…
Iran 1 v 1 PortugalGroup B would be decided this evening in a far more open group. Before this tournament started I mistakenly referred to this as the group of death until it was pointed out that Portugal and Spain would be nailed on certainties for qualification. Well it turns out I was right, we hadn't realised that Iran might just put the cat amongst the pigeons here. Ronaldo looked sharp and ready to add to his goals list and a couple of early Portuguese efforts left the Iranian keepers and defenders having a set to with each other. As the first half looked like it was going to be goalless a moment of magic from Ricardo Quaresma bent the ball with the outside of his right peg and sailed into the top left corner of Iran's net in the final minute of the first half. After the break things got a little unsavoury when Ronaldo was brought down in the box, the ref didn't see it but VAR did and a penalty was awarded. Big Ron stepped up and promptly had his spot-kick saved by Beiranvand to keep Iran's hopes of qualification alive. Then things got really tetchy and Mr VAR spotted another infringement off the ball this time from the golden boy himself, Cristiano as he swiped Pouraliganji with his forearm and got himself booked for is misdemeanour, maybe if it had been a slightly more anonymous player it would have been a red. Time was running out and that man again, VAR stepped in with a lifeline for Iran in the 93rd minute with a rather ridiculous decision of a Portuguese handball in the box. Penalty! Karim Ansarifard made a name for himself back home as he did what CR7 couldn't do and scored to make it one all. In the dying moments of the match it looked like Mehdi Taremi was going to steal the show with a late winner and put his nation through but he dog gone hit the side netting! That was it, a draw it finished and it was over to the other match to see just who was going through top of the group.
Spain 2 v 2 MoroccoThe other Group B match also had a lot of weight riding on it, although the North Africans couldn't qualify they could turn things on their head in regards to who would be going through from this group. Some shambolic Spanish defending allowed Khalid Boutaib to open his account in the 14th minute and he charged in to slip the ball through the legs of De Gea. They did redeem themselves with a terrific equaliser from Isco set up by Iniesta. Lots of hard fought challenges going on in this game as the Spaniards were desperate for a win or a draw to see them qualify with one of the teams from the other match. After the break the Moroccan Nourdin Amabat did his level best to break the frame of the goal with a pile driver of a shot the struck the upright with such force I expect it to still be shaking now. In the 81st minute En-Nesyri did manage to put the Moroccans ahead with the most wonderful header powered in from a superbly delivered corner. The light at the end of the tunnel for Spain was looking dim until the 91st minute when Iago Aspas scored a fabulous goal from the inside of his heel but we had an agonising wait as VAR got involved again to see if he was offside. It was deemed level and so the scores were levelled and that's just how it stayed, two two (or a Desmond as it's also known). The draw meant Spain did qualify along with Portugal, just as we all thought they would, but maybe not in the manner they would have done it.
And so to the Footcall League...A very low scoring day with very few red squares today so Richard and Mick remain joint top. A few notables who did pick up some three pointers include Ric (Up Pompey!) Robinson, Jack Bojtler, Matt (the stat) Clark, Steve (decant vowels) Cowland, Kevin (make mine a double) Ford, Manoj Gupta, Sean (about time I got a mention) Ellis, Kathryn (not at the bottom anymore) Rowland, Martin (where's Birgit) Stobitzer, Pete Sweeney, Mark Brown, Sarah Lennon, Lee (this is my first red) Albrecht, and finally Hannah (who did my predictions Mum) Wakefield who has risen to 263rd with her first three pointer of this Footcall.
My player of the day has to go to a man who emailed me last Friday to say, "I'm thoroughly enjoying Footcall again David but I'm not doing very well. I had help from a football pundit this time but I think it's my worst year ever!" at that stage his team was wallowing in the lower echelons of the Footcall league with no accurate predictions. Ever since then he has been picking up more red cards than the Russian defence and now finds himself on page one of the league with 29 points with six three pointers to his name and that person is Adam Palmer. Well done sir, let's see if your momentum will take you any higher.
See you back here, same time, same place.
Colombians Poles Apart!
Day 11 in the Footcall House...
The final wave of second matches for the Group Stages as Russia is gripped by a heat wave.
First up was the lunchtime match and we kicked off with…
England 6 v 1 PanamaFollowing Belgium's emphatic 5-2 win yesterday, England knew a bar had been set and we had to produce a similar result against Panama just to show we too can play with the big boys. It only took eight minutes for a marker to laid down when John "he got things rolling" Stones opened England's account with a wonderful header from twelve yards out. Little did we know what was in store for us at this point. Just over ten minutes later Jesse Lingard was bundled over in the box and Captain Harry Kane smashed the ball home into the top left corner, two nil. Then a moment of magic happened as Lingard tripped the light fantastic around the Panamanian defence before lofting it into the top right corner to make it three. This was turning into a rout! With five minutes before half time we weren't done yet as England performed a training ground routine like we were the Harlem-chuffing-Globetrotters! Everybody seemed to be in on the act which culminated in John Stones doubling his tally with a point blank header to make it four nil. Panama's defensive tactics clearly were as naive as the Dog & Duck XI thinking they could compete on the World stage and sadly they did resort to some rather underhand tactics. Fortunately the ref was wise to it and he spotted an infringement in the box in the 45th minute. Yet another penalty awarded and yet another goal for Harry Boy Kane as he pinpointed it in the exact same place as his first effort. Half time came it was five nil. After the break we made it six of the best and half a dozen of another with a lucky deflection for Citizen Harry Kane as it pinged off his boot and into the open net as the keeper went the other way. A wonderful hat-trick for Citizen Kane and surely now the game was not only out of sight but we were making a few other nations sit up and pay attention. Astonishingly the goals were not done just yet as our opponents did manage to get on the sheet with the old man of Panama in 37 year old Felipe Baloy latched on to a superb free kick as their fans celebrated like they had actually won the match. Maybe a warning for England to remind us all that we can still switch off and we will have to guard against that when we face Belgium on Thursday. But let's wallow in the joy of six as this has to be the greatest victory since the Winchester flowering-arranging team beat Harrow by twelve sore bottoms to one!
Japan 2 v 2 SenegalAfter the adrenaline of the save goal thriller earlier on we were back to two more rather comparable teams. Both these nations won their opening games so the winner here would go top of Group H. Sadio Mane opened Senegal's account with a cheeky deflection from six years out when the Japanese keeper ridiculously tried to punch clear with the ball no more than a yard off pitch level. However their lead didn't last long as Japan equalised in the 34th minute with a great strike from Takashi Inui as he bent round the defence into the bottom right corner. After the break Japan ever so nearly went ahead with two glorious efforts. Maybe their chances would be rued as it was Senegal who forged ahead with a power shot from Wague. Fortunately there was enough time for Japan to match the scores again. And they did when Japan's World Cup record scorer Keisuke Honda found himself in the right place at the right time following a calamitous effort from the N'Diaye in Senegal's goal. And to finished two all which keeps both nations in a commanding position going into their last games.
Poland 0 v 3 ColombiaA must win match for both of these teams following their first game defeats and surely Poland would surely raise their game like we know they can. Well it was the South Americans who blotted the Polish copybook with a neat header from Yerry Mina in the 40th minute to head in to the break one nothing. Clearly Poland did not quite understand the significance of this match as they were as lack lustre in this game as they were against Senegal previously. Although Lewandowski almost caught them out the Polish woes were doubled when Colombia went two up in the 70th minute from a Radamel "Rock Me Amadeus" Falcao as he slid the ball under the keeper from 12 yards out. The match was topped off by former Chelsea player Juan Cuadrado who had been the man of the match made it three nil with a terrific solo effort it put the game out of sight and Polish off the Poles. Colombia are force to be reckoned with and full of talent and energy they will be a formidable possible opponent against England in the next round.
And so to the Footcall League...Mick and Richard stay top by the odd point as Robert Law, Gary Poxon and Ron Stevenson all move in to contention topside. Paul O'Donnell and David Blakemen picked up reds today and leapt up the board. As too did Steve Cowland, Ben Cross, Mark Stratton, Spencer Collins, Chris Sampson, Lee Baker, Adam Palmer, Ellis Parsons, Rob Pearson, Sean Broad, James Bradford, Dan Wilks and Robert Pritchard.
I very nearly gave player of the day award to Dave "Cool Dave" Billington as he predicted England to win five nil and that could have been one of the best of Footcall 2018 until another two goals went in So I shall give the prize to Christine "Mrs Footcall" Jenner for it was her on this fine day who bagged her first red square to move off the bottom spot. She had set her heart on the Vuvuzela award but it looks as if she is leaving that to my brother and Craig Amos to fight it out for the plastic trumpet!
See you back here, same time, same place.
Germans Turn On The Kroos Control!
Day 10 in the Footcall House...
Another day, another three matches, what fun this is.
First up was the lunchtime match and we kicked off with…
Belgium 5 v 2 TunisiaOff to the Spartak Stadium in Moscow for the Group G match of the Belgians who comfortably beat Panama in the first game against Tunisia who really needed a result today following their initial defeat to England. One of the tournament faves Belgium really should dish up in this match as their stats were far more favourable than their opponents. Well it only took six minutes to get the scoreline ticking over when Eden Hazard was clattered on the edge of the box. We all knew what that meant, another penalty! We have had more penalties in this World Cup than we did in the whole of 2014. Come 2022 every goal will be taken from the penalty spot. Hazard converted the spot kick and we could hear the keys to the floodgates being jangled. Only ten minutes later, Romelu Lukaku netted his first of the game with a peach of a cross area kick beyond the outstretched keeper. Two nil and this was looking ominous. Well two minutes later, shock of shocks, Tunisia managed to get in on the act with a converted header by Dylan Bronn. With so many lack lustre first halves this was proving to be the antidote and we weren't done yet as Lukaku scored again as he chipped the keeper in the last minute of stoppage time to go into the break 3-1. After the break the Belgies really started to turn on the charm with Captain Hazard making it four on the sheet with a wonderful display of individual skill. This is how we thought it would stay despite the one way traffic but Batshuayi wanted in on the act with a terrific half volley that left the keeper open mouthed. We weren't done yet as Tunisia got another consolation goal in the 93rd from Khazri. And so it finished, 5-2, you know it could have been 10-2, Belgium looked every bit the colour of their shirts; mustard!
South Korea 1 v 2 MexicoThe Mexicans looked pretty formidable in their victory of Germany in game one whilst the Koreans really needed a rocket up em to get their tournament underway (oops, sorry, wrong Korea - I really should go and see my Koreas advisor). Well another game, another penalty, I'm losing track of all these spot kicks, this one was perhaps slightly contentious as the Korean defender made contact with the ball with his outstretched arm. It seems the ball to hand rule doesn't apply any longer. Carlos Vela converted the pen to Mexico one up. Korea really had not got into the game yet and time was running out because they absolutely needed a win. After the break the South Americans doubled their advantage when they hit them on the break with a terrific counter act goal from Javier Hernandez. The Koreans remonstrated with the ref to say there was a foul that was overlooked in the build up to goal. VAR were not called in so the goal stood. Now we were in to extra time and the writing was on the wall for SK as their loss against Sweden in the first game meant that another defeat will see them going home. In the 93rd minute however Son Heung-Min did produce a wonder strike which flew in to the left corner to make it two one. Sadly though there was no time left to get an equaliser and so Mexico march on in to the last sixteen.
Germany 2 v 1 SwedenLosing to Mexico in their first game put a lot of pressure on this match for the Germans to produce a positive result to ease them through as they always do into the Knockout Stages. Sweden however won their first game so another victory will guarantee their place in the final sixteen. Whilst Germany looked more up for it than they did previously this was not the dominant team we were expecting before the tournament began. They had a chance that Draxler squandered before Marcus Berg had a shout for a stonewall penalty which astonishingly wasn't given, maybe the luck was going to Germany's way after all? Well maybe not, as in the 32nd minute Ola Toivonen was charging into the box and managed to lob Manuel Neuer to score the most famous Swedish goal of his career. The Swedes were one up and the Germans well and truly on the back foot. Right on half time Neuer prevented his team from going two behind with a magnificent save. After the break Marco Reus did balance the books with a close range goal that wrong footed the brilliant Robin Olsen between the sticks. Then the game got a bit tasty as Boateng made two shocking challenges to see himself given his very own red square, sadly it wasn't a Footcall three pointer but a humiliating sending off! Now the Germans were down to 10 and they were really up against it. As the clock ran down it looked for all the world it was going to end in a draw the plot of this little drama had not been concluded when in the 95th minute (boy these matches run over a lot these days), Toni Kroos stepped up to convert a free kick on the edge of the box to curl into the far end of the goal beyond Olsen's effort. A goal! Two one and with the final kick of the match. The German players were ecstatic, the German fans delirious, the German press thought "never in doubt", the Swedish management went berserk and the English fans just rolled their eyes and thought "typical Germans!"
And so to the Footcall League...Oooh it's tight at the top! Now we have not a two way, not even a three way but a four way tie for the lead with Richard Goodwin being joined by Mick Spicer, Keith Firmston and Dave Billington. Who is going to emerge from this pack and who is going to sink like a stone?
Whenever there is a 2-1 scoreline the ol Footcall table lights up with red squares all over the place. This has to be the most common prediction of any match and this philosophy has been employed by Mrs Rachel Rowland who picked up a nice pair today to move into 14th. Loads of you scored doubles today including Simon (outstanding in his) Field, Eddie (the younger) Bojtler, Neil Jefferis, David Hitch, Janette (so much better than her grandchildren) Rowland, Ed Rowland, Colin Jessop, Jack (so much better than his Granddad) Bojtler, Andy (so much better than Emily) Brunt, John (looking to catch Neil) Jefferis, Patrick Ferguson, Gary Bowman, Stewart Speake, Adam (I have no idea what I'm doing up here) Palmer and George Relf all netting two red squares today.
Those of you bagging your first three pointer of the tournament include, John McGinty, Eva & Stephen Townend, Leigh Boardman, Paul (30 max characters) Wakefield, David (has anyone seen Carol) Ginger, James (looking forward to RyderCall) Jones, Thomas Connop and the amazing Darren Cook all breaking their red ducks today. A distinct moment panic set in when Mrs Footcall had predicted the Germany game to finish 1-1 and she thought she was on for three points thus spoiling her chances of the Vuvuzela award until Kroos' goal cemented her back down in 271st position now all on her own with Craig Amos and Simon (Vuvu pro) Jenner just one point ahead.
My player of the day goes to one man who didn't get any red squares today and only scored two single one pointers and finds himself in 116th place and that is Kev (the Welsh Wizard) Ford. However he was absolutely nailed on to pick up the prediction of the tournament with his 5-1 scoreline for the Belgium match earlier today. That was until the 93rd minute when Tunisia decided to score again with a pointless goal for themselves but a cruel point robber for poor Kevin. I felt so sorry for him as I was live scoring the match and I was amazed to see his name light up when it went 5-1 only to see it drop back to a one pointer when the seventh goal went in. Hey Kev, I really hope this doesn't have any long lasting impact on your psychological state, don't forget you can always call the Footcall helpline.
See you back here, same time, same place.
Shaqiri! Shaqiri! His Goal Don't Lie!
Day 9 in the Footcall House...
Another wave of international football delight sees us turn the corner in the Group Stages.
First up was the lunchtime match and we kicked off with…
Brazil 2 v 0 Costa RicaStar studded Brazil have the best record of any country in the history of the World Cup so you'd think the likes of Costa Rica would pose no threat to a team of world class players. It wouldn't surprise me if boy Neymar up front for Brazil costs more than the whole Costa Rican team put together but it all matters on the day and today could have well been a shock. The first half was, at best, tepid. Both sides had chances and Brazil had a goal ruled out for offside. I think the ref was so bored he blew the whistle dead on the 45 minute mark as he couldn't bear to see them play any injury time. If the Russia v Saudi Arabia match was El-Gassico, surely this match would be branded El-Coffee-Co! Sadly though the first 45 were far from a classic. Tournament favourites Brazil couldn't exactly rest on their laurels because they only drew their first game against Switzerland so they really need a positive result to make sure they qualified for certain. After the break the indifference continued and we saw a side of Neymar as he blatantly dived in the box appealing for a penalty only for VAR to rule it out which was good to see despite it leaving a sour taste in the mouth over the antics of the frontman. It really was looking like it was going to end goalless despite Jesus going close. But his prayers were answered when his knock down was tucked away by Philippe Coutinho in the 91st minute! I felt really bad for anyone who picked nil nil. With all the VAR stoppages this match had an incredible six minutes of extra time added and even that ran over and in the 97th minute, show pony Neymar doubled their lead from six yards out. The final whistle came and the young man broke down in tears.
Nigeria 2 v 0 IcelandAfter their draw with Argentina, the tiny nation of Iceland were looking to guarantee their place in the second phase with a win over Nigeria. Well the Icelandic boys went close a couple of times from dead ball situations but failed to convert. After Nigeria lost two nil to Croatia I think it was only a matter of time before the team with the Thunderclap fans would be forging ahead. After half time it didn't take long for the deadlock to be broken as Ahmed Musa the Nigerian number seven scored a wonderful goal from a dreamboat of a first touch in the area before powering it into the net. Twenty minutes later the Super Eagles were two up when that man Musa again belted in from the left hand side danced through the frozen defence, round the keeper and buried it in the top corner. A sparkling individual effort from A. Musa, loosa, aboot this hoosa! It appeared that the Ice Men really were melting in the heat and under the pressure and this was demonstrated when their one lifeline was squandered by Gylfi Sigurdsson who cleared a penalty kick over the bar. And so it finished two nil and with Croatia already through the second place team was still up for grabs.
Serbia 1 v 2 SwitzerlandThe final game of the day saw Serbia (already with three points) take on the Swiss (who only had one). It only took five minutes before the Serbians were in front with a scintillating header from Aleksandar Mitrovic and it really looked like one way traffic as the team in red had all the possession in the first half. Several chances came and went but it remained one nil going into the break. After the return it didn't take long before the Swiss were back on level footing with a wonder strike from Xhaka smashed the Telstar 18 in the back of the onion bag with a phenomenal goal, this guy really has got a foot like Granit! Fact checking Santa has just popped up to tell me that Granit Xhaka is the first ever player with a last name beginning with X to have scored in the World Cup finals. This game was now as wide open as Melania Trump's Stylist's appointment diary, and you had to Serb Your Enthusiasm as Switzerland really did go for the win. In the final minute of the game their persistence paid off when Stoke's finest, Xherdan Shaqiri, made a break from the centre circle out stripping the last defender before sliding it past the on rushing keeper. That's it, all over, two one it finished, what a game!
And so to the Footcall League...Richard remains top by the solitary point as Dave Billington cruises in to second spot. There were red squares galore today, there always is when a match finishes 2-1, and some notable players moving up the ranks the first of whom must be Dan (why am I so bad at Footcall?) Mackenzie who picked up a brace of reds today for his efforts, look at his little face, Jo will be so proud of him! Mick Spicer, Ian Sayer, John Aitken, Gary Bowman and Jonathan Hodgson, also had double bubble three pointers on this fine day.
Not only that but Jamie & Ian (no longer joined at the hip), Stuart (not better than Vikki) Acott, Stephen (just got out of bed) Faint, Alan Williams, Kevin Smith, Dan (the 3rd and 4th) Schroeck, Kieran Moore, Nick (finally I got one) Rowland, Jonathan (not over the) Hill (just yet) and Maxine (I can't believe it took this long) Read, all broke their red square virginity today! Even Adam (my friend has a lot to answer for) Palmer picked up a three pointer today as he waved goodbye to Christine (Mrs Footcall) Jenner down in the Footcall relegation zone.
My players of the day go to four individuals all of whom scored, as Len Goodman would say "SEVEN" points today for their efforts and they were Russ (Maximus) Morris, Simon Field, Jasper Dudson, and Ben Cross who has rocketed up the charts. Well done to you all.
See you back here, same time, same place.
Messi’s Mission Massively Missing!
Day 8 in the Footcall House...
Well it's been a week since the opening ceremony and whilst some of you might be all footballed out we are not even halfway through the Group Stages yet!
First up was the lunchtime match and we kicked off with…
Denmark 1 v 1 AustraliaGroup C matches today that could put some nations in commanding positions going in to the last group game. Denmark beat Peru in match one and now faced the Aussies. Well it didn't take long for the silence to be broken when in the 7th minute Christian Eriksen struck home with a phenomenal goal that he did well to keep from flying over, that'll put a few zeroes on the end of his contract at White Hart Lane. Well their joy was short lived when that man V.A.R. got involved again as the boys in the bunker spotted a handball that the referee overlooked. Penalty to Australia! Up stepped Mile Jedanik looking distinctly like an extra from the film 300. He sent Kasper Schmeichel the wrong way and dispatched the equaliser. I swear I saw him mouth the words, "I, am, Sparta!" as he ran over to the touchline steadicam. This was the first goal the Danish keeper had let in for some 570 plus minutes of play. At the end of the first half Mr Sainsbury was dead lucky not to put the ball in his own Australian net. After the break it was Schmeichel was kept the busiest none more so than when "the Leckie went out" of his mind with a strike that nearly made the top left corner. So it finished one one and Denmark top the group for now.
France 1 v 0 PeruOne of the pre-tournament faves, France, were looking to cement their place in the last 16 whilst Peru really needed a victory to stand any chance of advancing to the next stage. Despite having an energetic team and going close from Captain Guerrero the Peruvians just couldn't cut it against the class of the French and Deschamps' team went one nil in the 34th with a goal form Kylian Mbappe. At just 19 years old he became France's youngest ever goal scorer in the World Cup. With this lead France really started to turn on the charm with step overs and nutmegs galore. The second half did see a resurgence from Peru but their long range efforts couldn't fox Lloris despite belting the outside of the framework. The French soaked up the pressure and this young team ran out the clock until the game finished with the one goal difference. They certainly looked lively enough to go further in the competition but let's see how they fare against stiffer opposition.
Argentina 0 v 3 CroatiaEnter stage left the world class Argentinian hero that is Lionel Messi. A player that was pretty much triple man marked in their first game against Iceland surely he would given more freedom to exercise those twinkle toes against Croatia? Sadly the problem with the South Americans is not their strike force but their lack lustre defence, I've seen less holes* in a broken colander than I have in Argentina's back four. After that initial draw in their first game the boys in white and baby blue stripes really needed a decisive result in this match. Well it was the Croats that seemed to take control early on with a good effort. The Argies did have an opportunity at the other end as Perez put it agonisingly wide. The first half was nearly won by Mandzukic dived for a header from six yards out but rather than power it in he glanced it wide and so it finished nil nil. After the break it was all to play for there was not a soul in the Nizhny Nogorod Stadium that could have predicted what was coming next. In the 53rd minute the usually reliable Willy Caballero suffered a dose of the willies when an attempted clearance ended up as a spooned scuff kick that floated up into the air no more than five yards from himself, a shot that even Phil Mickelson would have been proud of! Tragically for the Argentinian Keeper it wasn't his defender backing him up but Ante Rebic who expertly managed to rotate and lob the ball over the hapless keeper's hands. What a stroke of good fortune for Croatia as they took the lead. We shall talk about this goal for many a World Cup to come. Now the Croats tails were up and if the first goal was good they compounded Argentina's fate with an even better one from Luka Modric when he curled it from outside of the post to just inside the bottom right corner. Two nil and the writing was on the wall. Just to put the cherry on top of a very fine performance Rakitic made it three with a typical Argentinian style goal, a quick break with two on two as they side step the advancing defence to leave a virtual empty net. Beautifully worked and well worthy of the victory and the guarantee of more footie in the Knockout Stages. Sadly for Messi and his men this looks grim and they will need to beat Nigeria and hope for other results to go their way.
And so to the Footcall League...First up I need to make a special announcement, I was made aware that young Tom (Ajax Treesdown) Foster was flying high in the top ten and I had failed to mention him in my reports. I just want to put that right now and apologise for that oversight. The fact that he performed quite shoddily today only taking one point in nine is somewhat disappointing but hey Tom, that's Footcall fella!
Richard picked up another three and remains top but it's still tight up there and Ron Stevenson has moved up to join the party. At the other end of the table Mick (Footcall double champion) Mallion, Andy (I've not started well) Kirchell, Pete Sweeney, Ben Cross, Nigel Mirza, Eric Krieg, Mark Mandry, Rob Pearson, Steve (you're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off) Wagon, Patrick Ferguson and Keith Hurricks all of whom gathered their very first red square!
Tom Ruff and Paul O'Donnell also collected red squares as too did Amaia (as easy as ABC) Borges Clark picked up another. A number of notables today picked up double reds today and those heroes are Thomas Frost, Jill Fuller, Jamie Sains, Ian (look me now Steve) Sayer, Peter (master headliner) Mulvey and Paul Firmston all making great strides in the right direction.
Whilst I could give any of the above the player of the day, there can only be one man to take that accolade today and that is my young brother Simon (I'm only here for the Vuvuzela) Jenner. His prediction of Croatia to beat the Argies three nil not only was a bright red spot in an ocean full of ones and zeroes but quite possibly the prediction of the tournament. You should know that my brother's approach to Footcall is like your average bear as he his focus is purely to try and secure the bottom spot at the foot of the table. Some of his crazy ass predictions would lead you to think that Simon had never seen a football match as some of his scores were more like those you'd see in your average rugby game. Well his prediction tonight has well and truly his scuppered his plans as he leapt 18 places well out of reach of last place. There's still a long to go yet and if Serbia do manage to beat Brazil 21-2 next week I have promised to eat the Footcall trophy!
PLEASE NOTEIf any of you have been severely traumatised by the effects of Footcall then we have set up a freephone helpline on 0800-KISSMYFOOTCALL. Alternatively you are welcome to pop in to any one of our drop in centres where you can receive free advice on how to come to terms with your poorly performing team, it's called "your local pub" there are hundreds of them up and down the country, in fact all over the world. A place where you can go and commiserate with likeminded folk that understand your Footcalling problems, just tell them Mr Footcall sent you.
See you back here, same time, same place.
* Not less holes you grammatical ignoramus, fewer holes, damn it, how many more times?
Costa; this Star-bucks the trend!
Day 7 in the Footcall House...
The World Cup is a conveyor belt of footie and us Footcallers have to keep up with three more matches to savour.
First up was the lunchtime match and we kicked off with…
Portugal 1 v 0 MoroccoIf this tournament is to remembered I'm sure we will say three little letters, V.A.R. but for the stars of the show surely the prime contender will undoubtedly be Cristiano Ronaldo. His hat-trick in the opening game was Roy-of-the-Rovers-esque and it took him all of four minutes to chalk another one up when he fearlessly headed home his fourth goal of the finals. We perhaps thought the flood gates were going to open at this stage but the Moroccans weathered the storm and made some valiant efforts to get back in the match. Despite putting the Portuguese under considerable pressure they just couldn't break down the defence and Belhanda went mighty close on more than one occasion. None more so when his headed flick forced keeper Rui Patrício to perform a stunning Gordon Banks style save to keep Portugal in the match. The game was noted for some terrible theatrics from Portugal's Pepe who went down like a felled ox when he received an ironic pat on the back from the Saudi defender. Regardless of this, they hung on until in the end and took the spoils to top Group B.
Uruguay 1 v 0 Saudi ArabiaFrom one world class player to another, Luis Suarez was the Uruguayan talisman that was most likely to make the difference. And he did just that in the 23rd minute when he latched on to a corner with a real poacher's goal as the Saudi keeper flapped at it aimlessly. After the pounding Saudi Arabia got against Russia it would be natural to think the same would happen here but despite all the possession of the South Americans they just couldn't extend their lead any further. Al Owais was tested numerous times but no further goals were scored especially when Cavani was one on one with him in the closing minutes. An unremarkable game that ended one nil and see Uruguay through with Russia to the last 16 however Suarez and his colleagues will have to lift their game if they want to progress.
Iran 0 v 1 SpainThe final game of day was the other match in Group B as the Spanish who really needed a victory against Iran who already had three points on the board. A niggly competitive match with hard fought tackles and even more hard earned play-acting whenever there was the slightest touch and the referee's attention was demanded. Surely VAR will be able to retrospectively sort this nonsense out. Fortunately there was enough skill on display to keep us entertained and despite Iniesta feeding balls into the box David Silva was yet to break his World Cup duck and the first half surprisingly finished nil nil.
After the break most of the crowd thought it was Iran had broken the stalemate when Ansarifard made the net bulge, sadly for him and his fans though it was just the side netting. Moments later we did have our first goal but at the other end in the 54th minute when Diego Costa cashed in his loyalty card with an amazing piece of good fortune as he saw the ball cleared by the Iranian defender, Rezaeian, to ping off Diego's leg and in the back of the net. Of course he celebrated like he meant it and this was a crucial for the hopes of Spain qualifying from the Group Stages. Some time later we genuinely thought we had an equaliser when Saeid Ezatolahi's six yard poke did find the back of the net. Cue the obligatory mass celebration in the corner flag once again. However, after the euphoria died, Mr VAR was called into action again and the goal was ruled out for offside.
Spain very nearly doubled their when a scrambled ball in the box inched towards the line as body after body piled in like a rolling maul something akin to what you'd see in a Six Nations match. Keeper lying on the ball, players in red lying on the keeper, players in white kicking the players red, wave after wave got involved to try and push the ball over the line. I swore I saw a few fans and one of the mascots get in on the act! But finally the ref had enough and put a stop to it before somebody lost a contact lens. There was one last ditch attempt from Iran to draw level in the last few minutes when Taremi couldn't keep his header down and it sailed over the bar. So it finished with a Spain win and just like Portugal they are tied on four points each.
And so to the Footcall League...Red squares a plenty today so I shall attempt to pick out some players who have not had a mention as of yet. Steve Russell, Rachel Denny, Gracie Rodgers, Sean (better than Noaksie) Broad, Eleanor (has anyone seen Jill) Fairman and Alex Church all broke their red square ducks today. Other notables included Pam Herbert, Bryan Relf, Mark Stratton, Melvyn Stringer, Mike Davies, Ryan (double tap) Tapper, Jamie Sains, Simon (Facebooker) Field, Zhaomin Meng, Patrick Johnson, Jill (I'm up here Eleanor) Fuller, Charlotte Cook, James Smith, Jack Law, James & Henry McKillop, Adam (make mine a double) Jones, Neil (Hall of Famer) Jefferis, Tom Ruff, Toyah Wood, Ron Stevenson, David (Game of Throw Ins) Hitch, Jonathan Rowland, Charlie Perry and Christopher (I love Footcall) Lane all scored particularly well today.
My players of the day must go to young Amaia Borges Clark (four years old) and the reigning Footcall World Cup Champion, yes she really did win Footcall in 2014 at six months old. Along with Richard (good going) Goodwin both of whom scored a perfect nine pointer today with a triple red square performance. Amaia is now up into 29th but Richard has leapfrogged into the top spot and is two clear of Keith and Phil. Long way to go yet Richard but today is your day, take a bow.
See you back here, same time, same place.
Senegal Nail Polish!
Day 6 in the Footcall House...
Are you having fun? How is your Footcall experience going, we'd love to hear about the highs and lows and how those late goals can change fortunes in to disaster or vice versa.
First up was the lunchtime match and we kicked off with…
Colombia 1 v 2 JapanThis match kicked off with a bang when within three minutes the Colombians were down to ten men when Sanchez got himself sent off for wafting his arms about in the box and he deliberately denied the ball going towards the goal. Just to rub salt in the wounds the ref gave a penalty as it seems obligatory for every match to have one, and Kagawa confidently rolled it down the middle whilst the keeper dived to his right. Japan were one up but from now on they were under some severe pressure from the team in yellow. Just before half time Colombia equalised from a free kick when Quintero rolled it under the Japanese wall as they all jumped in unison like it had all been rehearsed earlier on. The ball dribbled over the line and the Japanese keeper dived on it and pretended it had never crossed despite the whole stadium thinking otherwise. GLT (Goal Line Technology) showed us what we already knew that the Colombian was a sniff over the white line!!! One all going into the break and despite more pressure from Colombia after they returned it was the Japan that forged ahead again the 73rd minute when Osako latched on to a corner and headed it into the bottom right of the net. Colombia squandered a golden chance to equalise again but it was Japan that took the spoils in another shock result.
Poland 1 v 2 SenegalAnother mismatch of potentials here as Poland are ranked 8th in the world and have a star player in Robert Lewandowski in their midst a world class goal scoring machine for his domestic team Bayern Munich. This match had 'one way traffic' written all over it! Well the magic of this World Cup is how we have had the rule book well and truly torn up. The The Lions of Teranga were the team to go in front in the 37th minute with a freak deflection off Polish defender Cionek to put Senegal one up. We barely heard a sniff from Lewandowski in the first half and I'm sure their coach gave them the hairdryer treatment at half time. Well it barely made any difference because the African boys doubled their lead when Niang sprinted on to an errant ball leaving the absent minded Polish defence looking lethargic and he sidestepped the oncoming keeper to make it two nil. The Poles remonstrated to the ref about the timing of allowing Niang back on from the touchline but the goal stood and the Europeans were under extreme pressure to get something from the game in the last half hour. Well they did get a consolation goal when Krychowiak headed home a true goal poachers finish with five minutes left to play. However the guys in green hung on and took three well deserved points leaving the Poles to lick their wounds.
Russia 3 v 1 EgyptThis match was to begin the second phase of the Group Stages as hosts, Russia took on Egypt. The home nation were looking to prove that their five nil win over Saudi Arabia was no fluke and Egypt were looking to prove themselves on the big stage after their initial loss to Uruguay. The Russians don't have any players of worldwide note but they really play like a team and they do of course have the twelfth man driving them on from all four corners of the stadia. Conversely Egypt have one world class player in Mohammed Salah who was left out of their first game but started this match out of necessity. Sadly though he was a shadow of the genius that has graced Anfield Road this season no doubt he wasn't quite fully fit. Despite the Russians having most of the possession it actually finished nil nil at half time. On their return it only took a couple of minutes for the deadlock to be broken with the second own goal of the day. A freak deflection off the knee of Ahmed Fathi and beyond the reach of his own keeper. Don't be sad Ahmed, keep your lip up Fathi. Russia were rampant right now and they doubled their lead ten minutes later when Cheryshev slotted home from six yards out. Three minutes later it was three nil when the big front man, Dzyuba danced his way through the Egyptian defence and powered it in the net. There was no way back from this. Even when Mr VAR gave Egypt a penalty for a trip in the box that the ref initially thought was outside and Salah converted it was little consolation for a very decisive Russian victory. Maybe it's a good thing that the home nation goes through to the Knockout Stages as it certainly keeps the atmosphere lively.
And so to the Footcall League...Keith is now joined by Phil at the top but hot on their heels is Sue (Auntie Purple) Huke, and Robert Law making moves in the right direction. Dave Billington, Russ Palmer, Andrew Hodgson, Janette (Auntie (insert colour here)) Rowland, Paul O'Donnell, Josh Mcgahan, Matt (what have you got me into Broady) Noakes, Paul Foster, Richard Croft, Matt Green and Sara (also known as Amaia's Mum) Borges all collected valuable red squares.
Unbelievably Dan Wilks held his nerve to get his first three pointer, as too did Martin Stobitzer, Gary Thorp, Jade Amos, Paul Harrison and finally Emma (Legs EL) Evans also scored their first red square of the tournament.
My player of the day must go to the unmistakable James (so much further up the table than Steve) Parker who picked up back to back reds for his impressive Japan and Senegal predictions. He's raced into 10th position and must be considering a move towards the money bracket soon.
See you back here, same time, same place.
Kane Was Able!
Day 5 in the Footcall House...
Here we go again for another triple whammy of matches for the Footcalling masses.
First up was the lunchtime match and we kicked off with…
Sweden 1 v 0 South KoreaThis match marked as being the first match in an international tournament without Sweden's super hero front man, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Named as second only to Bjorn Borg in Sweden's all time greatest sportsmen we were wondering how they would fare in this era without a man that was so vain he once nicknamed himself Indiana Jones. However, let's not forget that even without the great man, they had managed to put Italy out of the finals by beating them in the qualifiers. Their first opponents were South Korea who were perhaps one of the weaker teams in the tournament, a nation that did superbly well back in 2002, but we will have to see just how they get on this time round. Their best player would probably be Son Heung-Min who is known for plying his trade at White Hart Lane in the Premier League. The match started lively enough with a couple of last ditch tackles keeping the Koreans in the match from the onslaught of the Swedish attack. Cho Hyun-Woo between the sticks made a magnificent save to deny Marcus Berg.
After the break the Swedish pressure paid off when in the 65th minute they won a penalty when Clesson was upturned in the Korean box for what was a stonewall penalty. At least we thought so but the referee wasn't sure so he called for a VAR review whereupon it was confirmed. Captain Andreas Granqvist, stepped to take the spot kick, not really the player we'd expect to take penalties being the central defender but I imagine Zlatan probably sent him a text to say if you want to legendary status like me you've got to put your balls on the line sunshine (or words to that effect). He looked noticeably nervous as he licked his lips before the whistle but tuck it away he did and the team in yellow were in front. Mr Ibrahimaovic would have been proud. A few more chances came and went but the Scandinavians took the honours.
Belgium 3 v 0 PanamaIf ever there was a mismatch in this competition this was it, the all star line up of Belgians faced up against World Cup debutants Panama. This was going to be a walk in the park or at least so we thought. The first half was typical Belgium, a team full of world class players that did it time and again for domestic sides not really getting the job done internationally. Some how the Panamanians managed to hold the Europeans to a goalless first half. Surely we weren't in for another shock were we? Well, no. Is the short answer. Almost immediately the stalemate was broken in the 47th minute when Dries Mertens scored a magnificent goal as lobbed Panedo to bury it in the far corner. Twenty minutes later their lead was doubled when Man Utd striker headed home a peach of a cross from Man City midfielder, Kevin de Bruyne. The big man put the tin hat on it when Lukaku doubled his tally in the 75th minute when he chipped the keeper to make it a very convincing three nil and simultaneously laying down a marker for the Golden Boot award as well as sending out a message to the other nations in Group G.
Tunisia 1 v 2 EnglandThis was it, the game of the day for so many Footcallers, no apologies made here for some dyed in the wool patriotism in this section. As with every big event, England were virtually invincible in qualifying proving to have the best defensive record in Europe as we topped our group and waltzed in to Russia. Despite early on in the process our previous manager, Sam Allardyce was politely asked to hand in his locker key and the FA appointed Gareth Southgate who most of us remember for missing that penalty in the semi final of Euro 96. Well he had worn the scars of that event, retired from the game and subsequently proved himself to be a decent manager as he took the reigns of the England Under 21 squad. He was then asked to take on the top job when Big Sam left at first in an interim status but he soon made the role his own with a great rapport with the players and a good run of results. Our first game against Tunisia should not have been a problem as we beat them two nil in 1998 so we should do that again tonight. We started well, we were linking up well and hungry for the ball and Jesse Lingard went mighty close in the first few minutes. Soon after our Captain Harry Kane latched on to a loose ball from six yards out and he tucked the ball in the back of the net to send the English fans delirious. What a start! We were bossing it big time, I think we thought this would go the same way as the Belgium match. Sadly though, this is England we are talking about and we have this trait of taking our foot off the gas, losing our discipline and giving our opponents a glimmer of hope. This came in the 35th minute when Kyle Walker who was facing his own goal rather clumsily clipped Ben Youssef with his forearm. Of course he barely touched him but the Tunisian went down like he'd been shot by sniper! Ferjani Sassi opted to take the spot kick and just about squeezed it past the outstretched hand of Jordan Pickford. Typical England! Off to changing rooms we trundled at one all.
On their return England really had most of the possession and the Tunisians really had to resort to a few underhand methods to keep our best players at bay. Captain Kane was man marked and on two occasions was intentionally brought down to prevent him doing any damage. Surely this is exactly what VAR was for? The referee has an almost impossible job to manage all the jostling that goes on during dead ball situations and the VAR boys are supposed to be looking out for these infringements. Well it seemed the VAR team either nodded off or maybe they were playing Minecraft or something because they certainly weren't watching what we were watching! Sort it out FIFA, either we are going to use this technology or we're not. Time was running out and so too was our luck by the looks of it. We really needed a win here to ease the pressure on our next two games and also from the notorious British press. As we headed in to injury time Mrs Jenner was praying for a goal and decided to vacate the sitting room in a hope it would prompt a moment of inspiration. Well her decision paid dividends as in the 91st minute that man again, Kane fashioned a wonderful header to redirect the ball into the corner of Tunisia's net. What a goal, what a time to score it! Cue the obligatory mass pile up of bodies down by the corner flag. Even Coach Southgate got somewhat animated when the goal went in and he very nearly crumpled his navy blue waistcoat. Perhaps Mrs Jenner should spend all future England games in the kitchen ;-)
And so to the Footcall League...What a difference a day makes as Keith Firmston takes over at the top with Phil Vingoe right behind him with both of them scoring a creditable seven points today. Chris Amos slips to third allowing the chasing pack to bunch up behind him on this hot scoring day. Good lord there are red squares left right and centre here, I'm not even going to be able to mention you all. I shall give some credit to Chris Martin who was rock bottom at one stage but now races into 251st. Footcall stalwarts, Jamie Marshall and Nick Stacey pick up their first Footcall three pointers along with Paul Firmston (twice), Charmaine (I coming for you now Chris and Nick) Stimson, Sarah Lennon, Tom Breitenbach, Aaron (de Bruyne) Sutcliffe, Vikki (Ditton Juniors) Hill, Peter (the Dragon) Nilsen, Ryan Tapper, Helene Wilkinson, Dave Herbert, Ray Amos, Stewart Speake, Grant (the smarter brother) Broad, Eddie (catching his boy) Bojtler, Keith Kennard, Lloyd Johnson, Lee Harris, Sean (did Grant pay you to say that) Broad, Adam Botting, Stuart Acott, Rob Smith, Peter (Footcall XXX TVs new cameraman) Mulvey, George Burton, Patrick Johnson, Dan (I've got five teams) Schroeck, Steve (Man U) Loughlin, Jill Fuller, Eric Church, Ian (catching up with Gemma) Barker, Daniel Meredith, Yasmin Coupland, Manoj (2012 runner up) Gupta, Gary (twice) Bowman, James Vallender, Sadie (always looking forward to Footcall) Colyer, James Smith, John (by the skin of his teeth) Dawson, Simon (showing Jasper a thing or two) Dudson, Charlie Talbot, Birgit (flying the German flag) Hoffstadt, Geoff Ott, Keith Reynolds, heck even I got in on the act with not one but two red squares today as I race up into 114th place!
Player of the day is in fact players of the day as two people scored the perfect clean sweep with not one, not two but three red squares and they are Martin Young up to 4th and young Ross Vallender up into to 10th. A rare feat indeed, well done guys if you do nothing else in this competition you'll always have this to brag about to your fellow Footcallers.
See you back here, same time, same place.
Mexican Tequila Shot Leave Germans Punch Drunk!
Day 4 in the Footcall House...
Another three games to whet our whistles and today we would see two teams we'd expect to feature in the latter stages of the tournament.
First up was the lunchtime match we had…
Costa Rica 0 v 1 SerbiaThe first half saw the Costa Ricans take charge and they really pressed the Serbian defence. But it was Sergai Milinkovic-Savic who performed a spectacular overhead bicycle shot which nearly found the goal, although would have been discarded for being offside. Despite everyone's best efforts in the heat the went to changing rooms goalless. After the break it was clear that cups and saucers had been broken in the Serbian Coach's halftime talk as they had much more purpose and in the 56th minute were awarded a free kick on the right hand edge of the area. Their Captain Aleksandar Kolarov, a highly decorated chap, by that I mean he's got a lot of tattoos, did the dead ball honours. Costa Rica fashioned a four man wall but it mattered not a jot as Kolarov majestically swept it over their heads and buried it in the right hand corner to make it one nil. It was clear that the keeper saw it extremely late and had no chance of getting his gloves on it. This once again begs the question, do we need a wall? I bang on about this every two years as time and again I see keepers get hoodwinked by free kicks simply because they were unsighted. If there was no wall there he would have plenty of time to see the trajectory and make a better fist of it. I'm sure this won't be the last time I mention it and I am determined to make myself heard :-) Anyway it took nothing away from the wonderful nature of the strike and Serbia were in front. The game continued and despite the South American's best efforts it finished one nil to the Serbs.
Germany 0 v 1 Mexico Match two of the day saw the returning World Cup champions and tournament favourites, Germany. Once again the hot money was on the all conquering heroes of Europe to destroy the Mexicans in their typical clinical fashion, we all remember what they did to Brazil four years ago. Well let's not be too hasty. Mexico are a savvy crew that certainly know how to upset an apple cart, after all they are the reigning Olympic champions. Right from the off the boys in green were creating havoc in the German defence and the champions had few answers for their devotion. In the 35th minute a quick Mexican break saw Hirving "Chucky" Lozano sidestep the defenders and blast the ball into the net past the hands of Manuel Neuer, was this going to be a bigger shock than the Argentina draw yesterday? From now on Germany started to rest and impose their skill but time and again the South Americans had an answer for it. Even when Toni Kroos had a German freekick, the Mexicans built a wall that Donald Trump would have been proud of and keeper Ochoa managed to palm it on to the bar. They really were the real deal as they kept the Germans at arms length throughout the game. A last minute strike by Brandt went mighty close but whistled past the upright and the match finished one nil to the Mexicans. What a shocker!
Brazil 1 v 1 SwitzerlandAfter the earlier results in this tournament we were all beginning what on earth is going on here? With all the seeded clubs faltering at the first hurdle surely we could rely on World Cup super heroes Brazil to turn on the style and really deliver in the final match of the day. Now the Swiss boys have had the beating of Brazil in the recent years but that was at youth level so let us see if they could cause an upset here on the big stage.
The talent on show in the gold tops was obvious and talisman Neymer would be the player to watch although the Swiss were certainly not going to let him have it all his own way and I'm sure that would have started with some playground taunting of his ridiculous cockatoo style haircut.
Once the game got underway it was Paulinho who went closest when from four yards out he scuffed the ball wide! A slow mo replay showed it was a great fingertip save by the Swiss keeper. However a few minutes later the Brazilians did take the lead when Coutinho curled a pearler in off the far stick! Phenomenal goal.
After the break the Swiss won a corner on near side which Shaqiri whipped in where an unmarked Steven Zubar had a free header into Brazil's net. One all and now another shock was on the cards. The South Americans pushed and pushed and despite some close efforts including another good effort from Coutinho, one from Firmino and one from Miranda (clearly taking a break from her sitcom) who's shot went jolly near. Astonishingly the Swiss held on for the draw leaving both teams to take a solitary point from the match. Not the most scintillating game but a terrific result for Switzerland. It is worth noting that none of tournament favourites, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina or Germany have won their opening match at this World Cup. So maybe we will see a team one of the less fancied nations turn the tables upside down, many of us remember what the Greeks did in 2004.
And so to the Footcall League...Some impressive predictions today sees Chris Amos forge his way two pints (points) clear with Keith Firmston hot on his heels (please note Keith's second team is in 236th). Several players picked up red squares for the Serbian victory and a few of you predicted the Brazil game would end in a draw. Other than Mr Amos, only two other players scored a double header today, Will (has anyone seen George) Relf and Toyah (has anyone seen Sara) Wood.
Let's give some credit to a few lower ranked individuals who scored their first red today, Josh Mcgahan, Scott Meyers, Peter Breitenbach, Karen O'Neill, Darren Cook, Alan Church, Nick D'Avanzo, Nathaniel (I won this once upon a time) Ridley, Andrew "Reggie" Brunt, Kathryn (not sure where Nick went) Rowland, Jonathan (more commonly known as Kathryn's Uncle) Rowland, Kevin Ford, Peter Wood and Eddie Bojtler Jnr.
Perhaps the more decisive scoreline of Mexico win separated a few of us and although nobody scored a three pointer, six people did pick up a very valuable single and they were Simon (I don't believe this) Jenner, Emma (Hi Jo) Evans, Jonathan (don't be like Dave) Hill, Sara (I really love Morocco) Borges, Paul Foster and finally my player of the day award goes to Russ Palmer who not only got one point for this game but also got the Serbia result dead right too, well done Russ, up in to 23rd and ready to push up the table.
See you back here, same time, same place.
Mr Messi Made a Massive Mess Of It!
Day 3 in the Footcall House...
Back once more for round three and this time we were going to be blessed with a full day of footie as we had a whopping four matches today, it was pretty much wall to wall soccer from morning till night. We were still revelling in the ecstasy of the six goal Iberian derby from last night, could that be the game of the tournament? We shall see. Interesting fact for all you stat heads out there, Ronaldo's hat trick in this match was the 51st of his career and not only that it was the 51st hat trick ever scored in the World Cup!
First up was the early match, the only 11am game in the tournament…
France 2 v 1 AustraliaEuro 2016 finalists France faced up against the team from down under. Once again this would be appear to be a mismatch but the Aussies have got a lot of spirit and it wouldn't surprise me if football was fast becoming their national sport, I'm certainly not going to mention their cricket team at this point. A lively affair as the boys in gold hustled the French for a full 45 minutes, they tested Lloris between the sticks as it went really close and they fully deserved to go in nil nil at the break. Soon after the return World Cup history was made when Griezmann went hurtling into the box to receive the faintest of touches. The ref wasn't sure so he consulted the much maligned fourth official known as VAR (Video Assistant Referee). This isn't POD from Snog, Marry, Avoid or indeed Holly form Red Dwarf but a real life ref somewhere tucked away in a sound proof panic room where he could look up from his copy of Dinosaur Collector magazine put down his Pot Noodle and have another look from about 53 camera angles but it still looked impossible to call but nonetheless it was given; a penalty! So the boy Griezmann stepped up and tucked it away to put Les Bleus in front.
Well it didn't take long for the French to reciprocate very nicely by offering up a spot kick at the other end when French defender Umtiti (no sniggering at the back thank you) had a moment of madness when he leapt up to defend a cross and struck the ball with his outstretched hand. As the Aussie Captain, Jedinak converted the spot kick to make it one all. Rumours about the French demanding a VAR review to check the Australian's pockets for sandpaper were quickly dismissed! If it had stayed like this I think it would have been fair but France had other ideas when Pogba lobbed Ryan to ping the ball off the underside of the bar and over the line. Once again VAR was called into play but not for the ball crossing the line but for the suspicion of offside but that was ruled out and the goal stood. The Blues played out time to take the three points and leave the Aussies crestfallen.
Argentina 1 v 1 IcelandMatch two of the day saw one of the tournament favourites, Argentina take the mighty force that is Iceland. Who can forget they were the team that dispatched England in the last tournament through a team spirit and tenacity that we can only dream of. Well it didn't take long to prove themselves once again and this time on the biggest stage of them all, not only that, this was their first ever appearance in the World Cup finals. Well the Argies showed their class when Aguero turned and turned about in the box to power home their first goal of the finals. A lot of teams (no names mentioned) would have crumbled at this point and let the South Americans run rampant but not Iceland. A team that comes from an island that has the population comparable to Coventry City (340,000) and is made up from a total of just under 100 playing professional players in the whole country, compare that to Argentina played 45 professionals just in qualifying! How on earth can these minnows compete on the world stage? Nobody outside of Iceland really knows but they seem to and their army of travelling fans with their signature thunderclap definitely do. Despite going a goal behind it only took four minutes before Alfred Finnbogason struck home an equaliser. A high tempo match ensued and it looked like the Icelandic efforts would be worth nowt when Argentina won a penalty. Talisman, Lionel Messi stepped up and proceeded to kick the ball into the outstretched arms of Halldorsson. He saved it, magnificent! You could argue Messi didn't take the best spot kick of his career but let's give the credit to the Iceland keeper who picked up the man of the match award for such an amazing performance. Both teams huffed and puffed and eventually it finished one one. Argentina were poor by their standards but the Icelanders proved they are solid contenders to cause a few upsets in future matches.
Peru 0 v 1 DenmarkAfter the thrills of the earlier games this was proving to be slightly lack lustre but on the stroke of half time, Peru did (through the powers of VAR) was awarded a penalty, only to see it spooned wildly over the bar by Christian Cueva, I think Paddington Bear himself could have made a better fist of it. Danish goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel was relieved and they went to the break goalless. In the 59h minute, Tottingham legend Christian Eriksen released Yussuf Poulsen on goal and he tucked it away leaving the Peruvians seeing red. The Danes soaked up the pressure and Peru did nearly equalise with a cheeky little back heel by Guerrero. Kasper (son of Peter) Schmeichel made several telling saves that kept Denmark's lead at the final whistle.
Croatia 2 v 0 NigeriaThe final game of the day saw the chequer boarded Europeans take on the Super Falcons. England played Nigeria in a warm up match and they failed to inspire much faith in the African side but that was a friendly, let's see if they can turn it on here. Well not really I'd say. This was quite turgid match with both teams cancelling each other out and the complete antithesis of last night's star studded showcase. The deadlock was broken when Etebo pinged the ball into his own net off a Mandzukic flick, the poor guy didn't know much about it as it slid in off the inside of his leg. Croatia were one nil up and did start to control the game and it stayed that way until the 71st minute when some rather unorthodox defending meant the Croats won a penalty. I've lost track of how many pens we have had today, I think it's five but it could be six. Either way, the Real Madrid midfielder, Luka Modric slotted it in the bottom left corner to double their lead. The Nigerians really didn't have the game to compete and they will do well to get out of the group stages.
And so to the Footcall League...With all these matches going on I'm sure there was joy and despair by the bucket load. I love hearing the snippets of these stories as players tell me how they are thwarted by last minute goals and indifferent VAR decisions. Please do email me or use the Facebook page to vent your frustration, you're amongst friends here we all need a little Footcall therapy now and again. I was surprised to learn today that a regular Footcaller didn't actually know we had a Facebook group so if you fall into that bracket then get yourself on over to: https://www.facebook.com/groups/footcall/ where you can welcome my buddy Iain Baker and join in the discussions but remember to play nicely folks.
With four matches today a whopping 12 points were up for grabs and what a difference the events of today were going to make as we saw Thomas Baus fall quicker than a French striker looking for a penalty. Those all important reds made all the difference and nobody picked up more than a brace today but they did include Paul O'Donnell, Emily (I love my team name) Rodgers, Charlie Perry, Charlotte Cook, Jack Butler, Richard Ware, Harvey Broad, John Aitken, Robert Law, Jason (The Blades) Shillito all doing well in their first Footcall foray. But top of the newbies pile and also top of the table is Sue "Auntie Purple" Huke who hauled in a creditable seven points and stands astride of everyone else (at least for today), I'm sure sister Janette Rowland will be delighted for her.
More seasoned Footcallers, Gemma (look at me now Ian) Simms, Carol (Chelsea) Gerrard and Keith Firmston also brought home a couple of red squares. I know that Ric Robinson went through the mill as I'm sure many of you did as the goals did (or didn't go in) but hey, that's Footcall folks. My player of the day is in fact players as Gary "this Footcall lark is easy" Poxon and Chris "I'm way to experienced to get excited just yet" Amos who both picked up a magnificent eight points for their efforts today.
Back to three games including the returning champions, Germany. Feel free to email me back as many of you have to show your support for my ramblings.
One more thing before I go, you will see some new information in the header of this email and that is your new Division name. Regulars will know all about this but for you Footcall youngsters I have divided us all in to 12 different Divisions all named after World Cup legends of the game. I made it my mission to try and put those that know each other in the same division. An immensely difficult task as many of you didn't mark the box in the registration that indicates how you know about Footcall some I had to lots of cross-referencing and if you are not paired up with anyone you know I can only apologise.
At least you will be able see your team in a smaller group rather than a massive league and should you finish the highest in your Division (outside of any money winners) you will qualify for free entry to Footcall 2020. Just another added dimension to our little show. To see your Division just click the link at the top of this email and scroll down until you see your team.
See you back here, same time, same place.
The Three Ronnies Equal Nacho From Costa!
Day 2 in the Footcall House...
After all the glitz and glamour of the opening day here we are again for round two of the 2018 World Cup, now the games can start properly. For the newcomers to Footcall I hope you enjoyed my ramblings from Day 1 and to all the returning fanbase, well more of the same eh? I'm sure many of you were thinking, Oooh I've missed Jenner's biennial nonsensical chit chat, it looks like he's going off on one again! Well get used to it folks you've got another twenty odd reports like this to go.
Three games today and the early doors kickoff was…
Egypt 0 v 1 UruguayThis match was suppose to feature two world class players in Mo Salah and Luis Suarez but the Liverpool ace, Salah, had been relegated to the bench no doubt still not fully fit from his Champions League injury. A lively game nonetheless and we all thought Suarez had put Uruguay in the lead but only to find out it was the side netting. That certainly would have silenced the critics as Luis had served a nine goal World Cup ban for biting in the 2014 finals which provided me with a many a headline four years ago. As the game went from end to end it looked like Egypt were playing the classic 4-3-2-1 more commonly known as the Pyramid formation. For all the Egyptian efforts it was their opponent, Cavani who went close twice hitting the woodwork. It looked for all the world like it was going to be a goalless draw when Jose Giminez bobbed up like a good apple to nut home the winner in the 89th minute. Salah never did make it out of his trackie bottoms so we will never know if he would have made a difference.
Morocco 0 v 1 IranMatch two of the day saw two of the lower ranked teams in the tournament go head to head and it was marked by huge number of empty seats as if two Sunday morning pub teams had clubbed together to hire Wembley for the afternoon. Like the earlier match this was also a lively affair and it just goes to show that even the teams you least expect to do well in this event will certainly put the effort in. Sadly though there is often little in the way of end result and this was to be the case despite a couple of close efforts it looked like a clean sheets all round were going to be the order of the day. It looked like the best thing there was going to be the Moroccon manager, Herve Renard's neatly quiffed haircut but just like in the earlier game his heart was going to be broken when deep in to injury time the deadlock was shattered in the 95th minute as his defender Aziz Bhouhaddouz netted the ball into his own goal with a power dive that looked like he was trying to score! The keeper had no chance and the clock had no time, so the Iranian's went wild as it was they that galloped off into the sunset with all three points.
Portugal 3 v 3 SpainThe final pairing of the day was the nicknamed the Iberian Derby with the current Euro champions taking on 2010 World Cup winners in a match that we could all salivate over. The breaking news was that two days ago the Spanish board decided to sack their manager, Lopetegui, as he done the dirty and gone and signs a deal with Real Madrid, naughty boy Julen! in came Spanish legend Fernando Hierro to rally the Armada. Typically these matches look good on paper but end up being pi$$ poor on the pitch. Well tonight Matthew, we were in for a treat!
Both teams were packed with stars left, right and centre, not even Donald Trump would get a look in on these teams. The king pin of them all was none other than Cristiano "Look at my Ballon d'Ors" Ronaldo. We all remember when this kid broke on to the world stage with his fancy step overs and a swagger that rivalled Billy The Kid. Now the boy is a man and at 33 could be nearing the twilight of his international career. Well it didn't take long for CR7 to break the deadlock as he was brought down by Nacho's foot in the penalty area and the star boy stepped up and tucked it away from the spot. Were we going to see the Spaniards collapse, maybe all the off pitch antics may have affected morale but not a bit of it as former Chelsea front man Diego Costa equalised in the 24th minute. As we neared half time it was Ronaldo again who forged the Portuguese ahead with a speculative shot that was fumbled by David de Gea, it must be his dodgy Karius style pony tale that made him nause it up!
After the break Spain did look purposeful and their efforts paid off when Costa doubled his tally to draw level again. They pushed on and looked dominant and three minutes later Spain's number four, Nacho was served the ball on a plate as he powered it into the bottom left corner for what was one of the sweetest strikes you will ever feast your eyes on. The team in white were rampant whilst the team in red rattled. Portugal needed a moment of inspiration and they got it in the 88th minute when they won a free kick on the edge of the Spanish area. Ronaldo's international free kick record has been somewhat diabolical for a player with so many goals but undaunted he stepped up to swerve it around the wall leaving de Gea wondering when his Uber was going to arrive! Phenomenal goal from a sensational player, what a match. A six goal thriller that finished three a piece.
And so to the Footcall League...After the table was left bereft of any red squares, the table could not have looked any different today. 33 players picked Uruaguay to win 1-0 so there were plenty of colours there including Les Herbert, James Rowland and Ridley, Peter Arnold, Mark Stratton, Sam Ford, Christopher "I love Footcall more than football itself" Lane, Richard "I've been here before" Goodwin and Karen Holmes.
Game two was also a popular result as several of you had Iran to win 1-0 including Robert Ham, Darren "in the frame" Brame, Gavin Day, David Frost, Jonathan Hodgson, Bryan Relf and Thomas "Dan can you see me up here" Baus who is now top o the table. It's amazing what a red square will do to your league position.
The final game really did sort the Footcallers from the Footsmallers as 3-3 was for an elite band of five players featuring Andy and Matt Green (no relation), Thomas Frost, Carol "Footcall lover" Gerrard and Carol "I'm enjoying this Footcall lark" Bache Wiig.
My player of the day goes to Philip "First time Footcaller" Vingoe who has embraced the nature of the game and his consistency including one red square has got him into joint second place. Don't forget Phil, Footcall scores can down as well as up as many folk here will testify.
We've got four games in one day ahead of us now.
El-Gassico: Sponsored by OPEC
We did it again! We smashed the entry record!
Day 1 in the Footcall House...
Sound the trumpets and hang out the bunting, the World Cup is back and you know what that means, so is Footcall. Yes the greatest football competition is here to entertain you once again and this our 11th incarnation. 2016 was a bumper Footcall year with a massive 194 entries but that is mere Tolstoy compared to this year's unbelievable field of cabbages as we have a phenomenal 271 entries! A splendid effort not only by the back room boys in the Footcall task force but by you the adoring Footcallers themselves. You spread the word, you sent out flyers, you let off smoke signals to draw in the punters far and wide to make our little show the spectacle it truly is. And far and wide is appropriate as our US contingent is growing as well as representatives from Germany and Portugal as well as the usual small cluster of Welsh Footcall stalwarts. A big welcome to you all especially to the first time Footcallers, as they say in the Spanish suburbs, mi casa su casa!
Now I'm sure you newbs are wondering what all this Footcall caper is all about, especially those of you who might have been railroaded into joining this quirky club, well over the next four weeks you can expect Footcall to became an integral part of your daily routine. I don't say this flippantly as the hardcore among us will testify just how this game grabs you by the scruff of the neck and straps you in to the most exhilarating rollercoaster as you follow the antics on the pitch in conjunction with your predicted result. Be prepared to experience the highs and the lows, the pure joy of picking up last minute points as well as the utter despair when a late goal can rob you a cherished three pointer. This is Footcall folks, I didn't make the rules (well I did actually), you have to take the rough with the smooth, brace yourself for the long game and I'm not talking Wimbledon FC circa1996, there's a lot to contend with in this show but I know you'll cope. I shall do my level best to keep you motivated and entertained even when your under performing team means all you've got to cling to is the Favourite Team Name Award, something else I will explain in the fullness of time. Now I must warn you, if you haven't figured out already my reports do tend to ramble on, I write these very late at night fuelled on a diet of Adnams bitter and Maryland Cookies (other beer and biscuits are available), I'm not expecting you to read this drivel but for some folk this is what they are here for. Expect the odd smelling pistake and a smattering of grammatical errors, I can here my darling wife Christine 'Mrs Footcall' Jenner, sighing as I write this as she rolls her eyes at my misplaced apostrophes and plethora of splint infinitives. Sadly there is no time to run this through a proof reader because by the time I've finished writing it we have another wave of matches upon us and I really might be losing the will to live at that stage! Another thing to expect are puns, these reports are entirely constructed about cheesy lazy arse jokes but it's all part of the fun, I know you'll love it just as much as I do and maybe you too will become a Footcall addict just like many of us here. You're amongst likeminded friends and if you would like to stand up and introduce yourself, go right ahead, here's my icebreaker for you "My name's David and I, errr, I love, ummm, love Footcall."
See, you've got me rambling now like a Footcall madman, and this is the first report of who knows how many to come. So sit back, enjoy the football on the pitch, enjoy the Footcall off the pitch and remember to play nicely. If you want to get in touch you do so by the Facebook page or drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org maybe you might have some insight on the matches or Footcall itself or indeed you might have a great headline ideal for my reports. I can't do this all on my own, I am ably assisted by my aforementioned wife who allows me to indulge myself in this charade whilst my two assistant managers in Matt "The Stat" Clark and Neil "YTee" White contribute their wisdom and offer their two penny worth to keep me abreast of the action on the pitch and on social media. Backstage is the legend that is Spencer Collins who looks after the technical engine that powers the magnificent database that Jenner-ates the league table every day. There are many other regular Footcallers who contribute as well and it's you guys who keep me motivated in these dark hours as meander along my merry way. I think that's about all from me at this juncture so enjoy the show folks and may your world be full of three pointers!
Russia 5 v 0 Saudi ArabiaRussia were here hosting the World Cup for the very first time and as is the tradition the hosts would entertain us with the opening match and their first opponents would be Saudi Arabia. For the politically minded amongst us this was a pairing full of intrigue off the pitch and the special guests for this match just happened to be Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in attendance with Russian President Vladimir Putin and sitting between them like a prize gooseberry was FIFA President Gianni Infantino, it certainly amused the Twitterati as they looked on as former Take That pop star, Robbie Williams performed at the opening ceremony. Once Robbie's rendition of Let Me Entertain You was done and dusted the match kicked off.
On paper this was expected to be as sparkling as the paper it was written on as neither team were highly ranked nor did they feature what we term as world class players, so we all thought it would result in a rather lack lustre match. Well how wrong were we? With only 12 minutes in Yuri Gazinskiy popped up in the box to head home a sweet opener to light up the Luzhniki Stadium. Cue the Russian fans to go bezerk and then cameras panned over to capture the two main dignitaries shaking hands for some odd reason. With the Footcall live scoring (me updating the scores if I happen to be watching) we saw the board light up with a plethora of three pointers with several players predicting one nil. well sadly that was to be short lived as just before half time substitute Denis Cheryshev did a sublime little dink whilst in on goal to take out two defenders before he tucked it away in the roof of the net and double their lead. After the break the Russians were in no mood to sit back when Artem Dzyuba made it three in the 71st minute with a terrific header to put the Saudis out of the match. In the closing minutes Denis doubled his tally with what could be considered one of the goals of the tournament as he clipped the ball with the outside of his left peg Stevie Staunton style to make it four nil. We were well into injury time when str player Golovin made it a magnificent five nil with a fantastic free kick that left the Arabians feeling quite sorry for themselves. What a match!
And so to the Footcall League...Well look at that, tons of you had Russia to win the match, in fact a whopping 231 of you, but nobody predicted a 5-0 victory so the table stands bereft of any red squares. what can I say if so many people have got a one pointer? Who can we pick as player of the day? Well I am going to pick my brother Simon who had Russia to win 4-2. For those that don't know Simon is the Vuvuzela king as he has finished bottom of the Footcall pile on no less than three occasions and he has really set his stall out this year to do it yet again and some of his predictions are quite bizarre and you will learn about these over then next couple of weeks. This match perhaps did not go to plan for him so he is enjoying the lofty heights of being in joint first probably for the first time in his Footcall career. Let's see where he goes from here.
As for the rest of you, I'm sure you will get your moment in the sun and have your name in one of my reports for outstanding play. Good luck everyone.
Until tomorrow (or later today, I've got no idea what time it is now)...