GAMES 21, 22 & 23


Australia 1-1 Denmark


We need to talk about VAR

Indulge me, for a moment. Imagine an alternative universe, one devoid of reasoned debate, where every call, every disagreement was argued from a deep, emotional pull that sat outside of a rational self. It’s hard, I know, but try.

This is a universe so plagued by argument that we would look at it when at our very worst, and still fell compelled to say, “Whoa, let’s all be a little bit more fucking Vulcan about shit, yeah?”

Now, imagine that, within that universe, they thought of a way to navigate some of those decisions. “We know” they said, “we’ll record EVERYTHING, show it to a panel of faceless experts with absolutely no public accountability in a bunker and then go with whatever they say.” “Oh, of COURSE!” I can hear you cry. “That would be absolutely FINE. Why would anyone have an issue with THAT?”

There are problems, of course, with ceding control of a sporting event to anyone but a referee, but I can see the argument for doing so. It’s all about the implementation though, isn’t it? Going in to this tournament, I felt positive: “VAR” I thought, “could be the key to effectively cutting down on diving and off-the-ball nonsense.”

However, Pepe’s cynical play acting histrionics go unpunished, Tunisia’s rugby tackling of England players is glossed over and a clear ball-to-hand incident is ruled as a penalty, overturning the referee’s decision. So, not only is VAR woefully myopic when it comes to implementation, it’s actually putting mistakes into the game. That can’t be right, surely?

Rugby adapted well, the Television Match Official besting VAR not just on Acronym use, but also how it’s integrated into the game. I know fuck all about it to be fair, an aversion to Top Gear and boot-cut denim means that I don’t often mix with the crowds at Twickenham, but I’m reliably informed by a Facebook pal that screens  around the ground show exactly the replays that the TMO sees and the technology is only used when the referee calls for it.

In an age where there are increasing calls for transparency and accountability, it feels like VAR is tethering football to the past, not propelling it into the future.

Having said that, I have to confess that, although I thought it was as much a penalty as I am a principal ballerina, I’m pleased that Australia got something out of the game. They deserved it I thought, I like Mile Jedinak and Daniel Arzani looked bright when he came on. Nineteen years old… Jesus.


France 1-0 Peru


A Grim Fairy Tale

One morning, a woman sent her young son to market, in order to sell some of the vegetables she had been growing in the garden of her modest shack. It was the pair’s only source of income and she was insistent that he should not accept a penny less than she had told him they were worth.

On the way, the child met an old man who said to him, “I’ve worked on markets my whole life, I can help you get a much better price for those vegetables. All I ask is that we split the difference.”

The boy looked warily on the stranger. He did not know whether to trust the man, but noticed that he was dressed well, with nice shoes and a timepiece hanging from the pocket of an old, but well-made waistcoat.

“Nah,” said the boy, before kicking the man squarely in the balls, nicking his watch and shoes and running back home to show his mother the haul.

The end.

Yes, youth triumphed over an ageing Peru squad as Kylian Mbeppe became the youngest player to score in a World Cup. France appeared to have settled down a bit since their opening draw, and Giroud, Pogba and co. set about redressing the balance for the big guns in these finals.

It’s a real shame for Peru, who go into their last group game with nothing to play for but pride, but, apart from Pedro Aquino’s long-range belter, which cracked against the post, they rarely troubled Hugo Lloris – whose 100th cap was a reasonably uneventful one.



Argentina 0-3 Croatia


Keeping a Messi House in Order

They say, “a team that plays together, stays together…” although they also say, “Ne'er cast a clout till May be out”, so it’s entirely possibly that ‘they’ are, in fact, full of shit. But consider this. Ronaldo comes on the pitch for Portgual and rallies his teammates. They feed off him, and he benefits from a team who want to do well for him. It’s a symbiotic relationship that I can’t quite find the right metaphor to illustrate. I was going to use those birds who clean a crocodile’s teeth, but that really doesn’t seem to carry the point adequately to be honest, but hey – we all know what I’m getting at, right?

Messi, on the other hand, can’t even be bothered to turn up to a team barbecue after a disappointing 1-1 draw. Using that as a baseline, he’s going to be like Lord Lucan after this performance (by which I mean go into hiding, not brutally murder the family nanny – he’s not a monster, just a very sulky millionaire).

The result was a poor performance in a match against a Croatian side who seemed to have found the form of their lives. Caballero's awful blunder allowed Rebic to fire past him, while Luka Modric’s wonderful strike left his opponents, and the crowd, open-mouthed. Ivan Rakitic sealed the deal late on, but Argentina were never really in it. Messi cut a lone figure, neither leader nor inspiration. He had just six touches in the last 15 minutes – exactly the time you would have expected there to be a flurry of activity and last-ditch heroics. Instead there was just dejection, resignation and a head dipped so low it looked like he was checking himself for B.O.

Argentina’s fate is now out of their hands. Even a win against Nigeria (which is no way a bolted on certainty) could still see them out, depending on Iceland’s result today (Friday).