Another round-up from the World Cup in Russia focusing on Group G victories from England and Belgium over minnows Tunisia and Panama.
The last time I watched England play Tunisia in a World Cup game was in 1998. I was 23. I watched the game in a nightclub that had opened especially for the match. Strongbow stole my memories of the game, but I do remember Paul Scholes scoring a late stunner to give us some breathing room.
Last night, was somewhat different, watching the game in my mother’s front room, drinking black tea. Throughout the 90-minutes my sister and my mother slowly descended into the alcohol pit, turning gregariously louder, a slight edge to their attitude.
My boy sat next to me, bored.
At half time during the Belgium v Panama highlights, he said, “I’ve never heard of Panamania.”
Geography teachers must be in short supply.
Liza once visited the Panamanian jungle during a poker trip.
“Man, that must of been frightening for her,” my Mum exclaimed.
Given the number of whores with fake butts in her hotel, it was safer in the jungle.
Talking about jungles, when did Russia turn into one? After reading John Vaillant’s brilliant book The Tiger, and watching too many crappy war movies, I assumed the largest country in the world was also one of the coldest, as did my boy.
“Is that why they called it the Cold War, Dad?”
So where did all the heat and midgies come from?
I can’t imagine how many of the things the English and Tunisian players ate during the 90-minutes that England controlled.
England began brightly and was ahead within no time thanks to a fast finish from Harry Kane after the Tunisian keeper had done remarkably well to keep out John Stones’ powerful header.
And then more Video Assistant Replay (VAR) controversy.
It can’t be that hard, can it?
Before the match began, the BBC showed you a shot of inside the VAR Room. There were at least four officials and technicians watching the game from every conceivable angle.
So, in the 35th minute, when Fakhreddine Ben Youssef walked into the back of Kyle Walker’s arm and fell to the floor like a victim of a Bruce Lee One Inch Punch of Death why didn’t someone whisper into the referee’s ear, “It wasn’t a penalty, mate.”
Isn’t this why FIFA introduced VAR in the first place?
Isn’t it to clear up these types of game-defining moments?
We introduced VAR to reduce human error. The irony that humans are now screwing the system up through error is not lost on me.
After Ferjani Sassi equalised from the spot, England should have had a penalty themselves after Sassi dragged him to the ground during a corner. Once again, the referee refused to use VAR, and the Tunisians got away with it.
Fortunately, as in 1998, the English had a late winner up their sleeve. As my family were going insane about a ginger man playing for the Tunisians – his mother must have been Scottish – I was screaming at the TV for people to get into the six-yard box because corner after corner both Stones and Maguire were winning every header only for the keeper to mop things up.
Then with the last England corner of the game, the man my sister said was the hottest on the planet, Kieran Trippier, swung in a corner, Maguire headed towards goal, and there was Captain Kane to head home a vital winner for the English.
Cue tears from the Tunisian with the ginger hair, and much bouncing up and down from my family and me while my son played Fortnite on his phone.
“Is it over?”
“Who won, Panamanian?”
Belgium 3 v 0 Panama
England’s primary group threat, Belgium, made easy work of Panamania after a strong second half display in the Fisht Stadium.
Dries Mertens opened the score with an exquisite lob in the 47th minute, and Manchester United’s bull of a striker, Romelu Lukaku, scored a brace in the second half to put him in the running for the Golden Boot award.
Next up for Belgium is Tunisia, while England faces Panama. Both sides will hope by the time the two titans meet in the final group game it will be a dead rubber, and I think that will be the case.
1. Belgium – 3 pts
2. England – 3
3. Tunisia – 0
4. Panama – 0
What Are The Odds?
Group G Winners
World Cup Winners