So Steven McClaren had an umbrella. Who the fuck cares? Why was I the only person in old Brittania thinking, “Smart move.” Shouldn’t we criticise the dumb fuckers who stand by the sidelines in their suit, soaked to the bone, when humanity created umbrellas to protect us from a good drowning?
I was more concerned with my bets.
It was 2008.
The day my career as a professional sports bettor punter came to an end.
England needed to beat Croatia at Wembley to reach the 2008 European Championships in Austria-Switzerland.
Qualification for a major tournament.
I lumped everything I had on an England win.
Eight minutes in and Scott Carson did what Scott Carson always did, he fumbled a 30-yard effort from Nico Kranjcar, and it trickled into the net.
Most England fans reached for the morphine pump at this point. Not me. I saw an opportunity. I reached for one of my credit cards and laid Croatia.
Six minutes later, and Eduardo (not the most Croatian of Croatian names) wriggled into the box, squared to the Ram Man like Ivica Olic, and England were two down.
I grabbed another credit card, bet on England to score next, and laid Croatia for a few hundred more.
The second half and Jermain Defoe goes over in the box. The referee pointed to the spot, and Frank Lampard rammed the ball home. I bet on England to score next and laid Croatia some more.
McClaren sent David Beckham onto the pitch, and the former England superstar crossed for Peter Crouch, who chested down in the box and finished beautifully.
I grabbed every credit card I could find and lumped everything on England to score next and laid Croatia again.
Then, with 13-minutes left, Mladen Petric scored a 25-yard screamer. I found more money, repeated the process, and 13-minutes later, I had to deal with the reality that England wouldn’t play in the 2008 European Championships, and I had dug a hole big enough to bury a mammoth.
No step ladder.
I was in the basement, and I didn’t know how I was going to get out of it.
A young lad was playing in midfield on the day I stopped being a punter.
His name was Luka Modric.
And ten years on, England need to keep him quiet if they are to avoid a repeat of that most awful of nights when the pair clash in the World Cup Semi-Final on Wednesday night.
And yes, you’ve guessed it, I won’t be having another bet.
England v Croatia: What You Need to Know.
Firstly, here are the odds.
Tunisia (W) 2 – 1 (Kane (2)
Panama (W) 6 – 1 (Stones (2), Kane (3), Lingard)
Belgium (L) 0 – 1
Round of 16
Colombia (D) 1 – 1 (Kane) *England won 4-3 on penalties
Sweden (W) 2 – 0 (Maguire, Alli)
Kane – 6
Things to note:
The Quarter-Final match against Sweden was England’s first clean sheet of the competition. The decision to play with a back three of Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire and John Stones was intelligent. Watching each of them stride forward into midfield has been refreshing. But all three are prone to mistakes, as they learn to gel together.
Let’s get real for a moment.
Momentum is everything.
Everyone in England can feel it; it’s palpable.
But we only beat Tunisia thanks to the last minute strike by Harry Kane. Panama is Panama. We lost to Belgium and drew against Colombia. Yes, we beat Sweden, but they performed as poorly as a piece of smoked salmon would in a fish version of Crufts. A decent side hasn’t tested us, and fortunately, Croatia is not a decent side.
On a positive note, England has managed to reach the Semi-Final with Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling performing way under par. Sterling had everything in his arsenal except the ability to score when a Liverpool player. Pep Guardiola fixed that problem, so why has the former Liverpool star turned up for England?
He wouldn’t be in my lineup.
Yes, he scored against Sweden, but don’t let that one act overshadow the memories of witnessing him continually giving the ball away, and not getting involved in anything of importance for England.
Playing with three at the back allows our wingbacks to bomb forward. I like Keiran Trippier. His set play delivery is peach perfect, but he is still not getting ahead as much as he should be. And why on earth is Ashley Young in this team? He never crosses the halfway line, can only pass the ball backwards and sidewards. Get Danny Rose on the pitch for peat’s sake.
England are the World Cup’s set-piece specialists, Kane is the odds-on favourite to win the Golden Boot, and they have more heritage than Croatia, if that even means anything, having won the competition in 1966, and made the Semi-Final in 1990.
But 17 members of the squad weren’t even born in 1990, so on paper, they are the most inexperienced of the two sides, but young as they may be, most of them are winners for their respective clubs.
England has won three of the five competitive games since the turn of the century. Croatia has won two.
The last time we played them was in 2010 when we won 5-1 and 4-1 during the qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup.
More of the same, please.
Here is Croatia’s record thus far.
Nigeria (W) 2 – 0 (Own Goal, Modric)
Argentina (W) 3 – 0 (Rebic, Modric, Rakitic)
Iceland (W) 2 – 1 (Badelj, Perisic)
Round of 16
Denmark (D) 1 – 1 (Mandzukic) *Croatia won 3 v 2 on penalties
Russia (D) 2 – 2 (Kramaric, Vida) *Croatia won 4 v 3 on penalties
Modric – 2
For – 10
Against – 4
Croatia is a mess at the moment.
The destruction of Argentina a distant memory.
They have been abysmal during their last two knockout games, needing penalties to get through the stubborn resistance of both Denmark and Russia, and neither side contained defensive lines that seemed unbreachable.
Suddenly, they look old, frail, and not up for the task.
In the wake of the Russian win, the Croatian coach Ognjen Vukojevic and the Croatian goalscorer Domagoj Vida created a video quoting “Glory to Ukraine” (both players have ties with Dynamo Kiev), and the video went down like a lead balloon with the Croats sacking the coach. Vida got away with a smack on the wrists.
Croatia had only made the Semi-Finals once before, in 1998 when Davor Suker was banging goals in for fun.
It will be the last one for Modric, Rakitic and co for sure.
England will win in 90-minutes.
Croatia is a team showing weariness and decline. England is looking stronger in every game.
The pair meets in the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow on Wednesday 11 July at 7 pm (BST).