GAMES 41, 42, 43 & 44


South Korea 2-0 Germany

"Listen, don't mention the VAR! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it."
Basil Fawlty

  • This is a Löw – and a Korea Löw at that, one where everything went South. Germany’s loss is also eerily predictable if you look at the past history of the competition. 1998: France win, 2002: France out in the groups. 2006: Italy win, 2010: Italy out in the groups. 2010: Spain win, 2014: Spain out in the groups. 2014 Germany win, 2018: you see? There’s a certain persuasive symmetry to it, you have to agree. 
  • It’s actually worse than that when we look at the fine print. Germany didn’t just not win, they lost. The game, the group, the whole kit and caboodle – goal difference placing them below Korea because goal difference.  It’s really no more than they deserve, Germany have been woeful at this World Cup. Maradona’s lanyard has been more adaptable, serving at least two functions by the look of it. Meanwhile, most of the German team seemed to struggle to remember why they were in Russia in the first place.  
  • Now, while historical German forays into Russia provided, if nothing else, a stark reminder as to the importance of wrapping up warm and conserving energy, that’s no excuse for the astonishing lack of commitment and drive they showed, not just in this game, but throughout the tournament. Did you see the Korean team after the game? They’d run themselves to the point where they didn’t know where their feet ended and the blisters began. That’s what proper commitment looks like, and they were already out!
  • Meanwhile, after Sweden had to endure taunting from the German bench after the late and (now) utterly meaningless win in their earlier tie, this result isn’t so much opening the door to schadenfreude, it’s welcoming it in, sticking dinner on, giving it the keys to your house and then moving back in with your mum.
  • Fifth point, (because this game UTTERLY deserves it). South Korea were great. They ran, chased, passed, bossed and wanted so much more than their opponents and the decision on their first goal was the best vindication of VAR that we’ve seen all tournament. A crucial – and correct – decision that neither linesman nor referee could have seen clearly, and one where the wrong call could easily have changed the whole group.

VAR! Dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum, What is it good for? Mexicans mainly…



Mexico 0-3 Sweden

  • Hindsight means that we all know that this result meant nothing but, going in to this tie, the sight of Mexican fans holding South Korea flags seemed almost an ironic gesture – a knowing wink from people who knew that they needed a win to be sure. As safety nets go, it’s like jumping from a fourth-floor window onto a warm Peshwari naan.
  • Sweden meanwhile, played like a team possessed. I can’t help but think that Toni Kroos’ goal and the resulting showboating spurred Ikea FC on to produce a performance that was all about grit, determination and some really good football. Let’s not forget that Mexico are a decent side and yet Sweden produced a win that defined ‘emphatic’ in much the same way that Donald Trump defines ‘acquired situational narcissism’.
  • Although there were occasional hints that a Mexico revival may be on the cards, in truth today was all about Sweden and Mexico’s inability to deal with them. As the game wore on and it became increasingly likely that the result of a match nearly 1,000km away was going to seal Mexico’s fate, the tension was almost to much to bear for the neutral. It’s no surprise that there were tears once the reality sank in – South Korea had played for pride and done so brilliantly – their win was also Mexico’s.
  • Nothing to do with the game as such, but consider this… If Sweden were to meet Denmark, the graphic at the top left of the screen would read SWE – DEN. As well as this, the unseen letters would read DEN – MARK. Pointless, but possibly a pub quiz question of the future, so I’d commit it to memory if I were you.



Serbia 0-2 Brazil

  • Brazil turned it on at just the right time and all of a sudden you could almost hear the other teams in a moment of sudden realization, going, “Oh fuck, yeah, we forgot… those guys!” Not that it was a great performance by any means, but it was certainly enough. There were some moments of lovely skill and beautifully close control (Neymar’s turned up at last and Paulinho was outstanding). However, as well as reminding everyone what they’re capable of, this also showed that they remain eminently beatable.
  • And, as if to prove a point, Serbia enjoyed a good spell themselves. It may only have been 20 minutes, but their shots on target and ability to upset the Brazillian back line will be something that Tite will want to iron out before the next game – they may be emerging as favourites, but that’s largely to do with Germany going out and France going shit. The truth is, they still look shaky and there are plenty of teams left who can exploit that.
  • At the other end of the pitch, Neymar didn’t get the goal that he seemed to be desperately looking for, but he did provide the corner for Silva’s header. Silva has said that the move was something they’d worked on in training, and this may go someway to countering worries that Neymar has, at times, looked pretty isolated during this tournament. Of course it could just be that they have a much more balanced team than in 2014 and rely less on one player. As we said though, there’s still a lot of work to do…
  • … particularly when your goalkeeper looks quite as unsteady as Alisson. Thought by many to be the best in the world, he didn’t even look the best on the pitch during this game.



Switzerland 2-2 Costa Rica

  • Everyone’s a winner! OK, so they’re not, that’s only infant school sports days and Ponzi schemes, but with their brace against the Swiss, the last team to score in the World Cup finally broke their duck. Which was nice. They still didn’t win any of their matches though, which is less nice.
  • Another dramatic, late goal flurry, an absolute mainstay of the group stages at this World Cup, saw Switzerland go ahead for the second time in the 88th minute, before an injury time penalty miss for Costa Rica ended up ricocheting off the crossbar, on to Yann Sommer’s back and then into the goal. Not sure quite how that works, but they all count!
  • To finish, consider this (via Four Four Two deputy editor James Maw): We now have a World Cup where one of Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, England, Senegal, Japan or Colombia will be in the World Cup semi-finals. The total number of World Cup semi-finals these teams have played between them in the last 50 years? Three.




Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia

Before we get to the opening game, I think it’s important we should, for a minute, reflect on the opening ceremony. A minute, coincidentally, is exactly how long I’d wish it had lasted. For a nation with such a rich history, vibrant folklore and sense of anchoring tradition to present the best of itself as being a mediocre Robbie Williams medley is, to say the least, a little disappointing.

Our disappointment however must be nothing compared to that of Williams who, one can only assume, was expecting to be the very centre of a towering testament to the sporting zeitgeist. Instead, it was like watching a sous vide Morrissey opening an overreaching private school fete. If Russia took this approach to their military, they’d be terrorising Syria with little more than a kitchen knife gaffa taped to a Second World War rifle.

Williams is an odd choice, to be fair. He is, after all, the man who sang, in Party Like a Russian, “It takes a certain kind of man with a certain reputation/To alleviate the cash from a whole entire nation.” Given this and Robbie’s strong advocacy of LGTB rights, I think it’s fair to say that he's not an artist whose back catalogue Putin has given the closest of readings. Maybe that’s why Robbie flipped the bird to billions watching – as a defiant but barely discernible display of something important but poorly defined. Of course we can never completely eliminate the possibility that he’s just an insufferably smug twat with more chutzpah than talent. We’ll never know… we’ll never know. Probably easier to just turn the gig down really.

Speaking of more chutzpah than talent, all of a sudden there they were – the two lowest ranking teams in the contest, single filing their way onto our tellies to kick off the world's biggest football competition – the World Cup was happening! After the opening ceremony (as discussed, the equivalent of an MC in a working man’s club telling us that the finger buffet was open) no one could have been expecting much. I was just happy to be drinking lager after six weeks on a no-carb diet.

Without a win in the last seven games, Russia were looking to the crowd to give them an extra boost which, given their fans’ performance at Euro 2016, is a bit like asking a special forces unit to "just stand there and cheerlead". Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, must have fancied their chances to nudge Russia towards a first-round exit. “We’re shit,” they must have been thinking, “but then, so are they.”

In fact, Russia were simply too strong for them. While Saudi Arabia went looking for cracks to play through, Russia simply created them through pace and force. Their opener, at 12 minutes, was really the only one where goalkeeper Al-Mayoof might have done better, but the defence was nowhere as Yuri Gazinskiy headed home Golovin's cross. One shot on target, one goal. Already, it looked like there could be more to come, and indeed there were.

While Saudia Arabia seemed content to knock the ball about in their own half, looking for a chink of light, Russia pounced with a mix of clever tactics and running REALLY fast. Substitutions proved key, with Cheryshev bagging a brace after coming on for the hamstrung Dzagoev, and Artem Dzyuba scoring just 89 seconds after coming off the bench. Add to this a superb injury-time free kick by Alexandr Golovin and all of a sudden it looked like it was time to get the vodka out. And in a way, it was.

BUT, BUT, BUT! Despite the result and the entertaining game, some harsh truths still remain. Yes, it’s good to see the home nation do well, but Saudi Arabia were woeful and could be worth a punt for worst defence to ever grace a World Cup. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my mum would have looked more lively – and she’s got chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Despite this, there were still a couple of occasions where Russia looked troubled.

Egypt and Uruguay are an entirely different prospect, and they’re up next…