GAMES 12, 13 & 14


Sweden 1-0 South Korea

Without wanting to turn this into a TED talk about the power of marketing, the World Cup can tell us a lot about the importance of branding. Each World Cup has its own story, its own narrative arc, and the sponsors are all over it like fox shit on a garden slide. For Russia, it’s been all about the fonts and the visuals. Curves and curls replacing the straight, constructivist lines of Rodchenko to present a modern take on Cyrillic heritage. 

Today, however, the influence of branding became even more obvious as Sweden took on South Korea. Every time I saw the blue and yellow surge forward, power and size bossing the play, all I could think was, “I need another two by four kallax shelving unit and some picture frames”. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ikea FC. I hope they’re getting a commission, they’d be minted from Bluewater sales alone.

With a flat-pack four (sorry, couldn’t resist), the Swedes were always going to trouble South Korea for height and strength playing off a solid base, but hey-ho, no easy games at this level, and so it seemed.

As it turned out, VAR was the key factor, awarding a penalty to Sweden after a short delay. It was the right decision as Claesson was clearly caught, and Granqvist’s strike led to nuetrals everywhere feeling that justice had been done at the end of 90 mnutes. In the end, South Korea simply weren’t up to much. Other than Hwang Hee-chan’s wasteful header right in front of goal in the dying embers of the game, they looked about as likely to hit the target as their near neighbours in the north.

This was the game that South Korea needed to win to stand a chance and one can’t help but feel they will be run ragged by Mexico and dominated by an, admittedly under-par, Germany who sit above them in the table due to nothing other than alphabetic advantage. Actually, on the basis of yesterday’s match, Germany are probably Korea’s best chance of a result. Now that’s a sentence I didn’t anticipate writing.


Belgium 3-0 Panama

Now, I love an underdog as much as the next man, but Panama are a bit different. There's a lovely report showing how former Millwall outreach officer Gary Stempel has made a massive impact on the national game since he moved back to Panama (he was born there and currently manages the national U-17 team). His pastoral care and humanity has helped to grow this team and make a genuine impact on the lives of players in this tiny country. It’s about as feelgood as it gets.

The second smallest country after Iceland, no one has given them a chance – former England striker and BBC anchor Gary Lineker has agreed to strip naked if they win the World Cup. To be fair, he’s got form after Leicester’s unlikely Premier League win, but even so, you just know it’s not going to happen. The most they could realistically hope for going into this was an avoidance of the
6-0 drubbing they got from Switzerland last March.

The good news is that they halved the scoreline. The bad news is that Gary’s trousers will stay on this time. Belgium extended their unbeaten World Cup group game run to 10 while frustrated Panama amassed yellow cards rather than goals – five of them, which is almost impressive in an odd kind of way.

In fairness, it took Belgium until the second half to break Panama’s defences, Dries Mertens’ spectacular volley opening the floodgates for Lukaku to get a brace. They were great goals and a shots across the bows for England, who were preparing for their tumble with Tunisia…

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England 2-1 Tunisia

OK, so… here it is. I’m invested in this one. I’m partial. I am Partisan bloody Belgrade. I am absolutely behind my team, all of whom I could have biologically fathered, given their age. Even Ashley Young. Seriously – England is not a country short on 13-year-old fathers. Despite that, I ask you this… WHAT IS THE POINT OF HAVING VAR IF YOU REFUSE TO USE IT?

I am referring to, of course, the penalty that gifted, wrapped and bow-fucking-tied a goal to the Tunisians, from a referee who at times appeared to be as biased as me. There have been several instances of diving and overreaction that have been wilfully ignored by those at the VAR controls (or the referees who don’t fancy their call being overturned) and it’s ludicrous. Consider if you will, the lilies in the field, blowing this way and that. Look on, if you can, as a Tunisian player wrestles an English striker to the ground like a brisk wind lays a dandelion flat, and then ask yourself the question… “Can they not see over the enormous bank of monitors? Isn’t VAR supposed to stop EXACTLY this kind of thing?"

I suppose, in the name of balance, I should concentrate on the positives that Tunisia brought to the match. There were none. They were terrible. Good grooming, I’ll give them that – some very sharp lines on the fades, but generally? They were bodies on the field. They were content.

That’s not to say England were great. Wasted chances, timing issues, passing that went to the body rather than the space, but overall it was OK. Let’s not forget, after all, that Tunisia are the highest ranking African team in the tournament. No, I know… ridiculous isn’t it? I'm telling you, they make them up.

There were times (not many, but some) where England looked imperious, but the finishing isn’t there. They looked like a team who’ll be good to go in four years’ time, but – of course – they’ll have had to undergo some pretty extensive genetic mutations to deal with the heat – not to mention the stupifying moral fallout from the Qatar finals having been built on slave labour and dubious money.

I was involved in a fairly fruity text exchange with my father, brother and nephew during the match. Most of the words wouldn’t have won a game of scrabble, but the ferocity of opinion and feeling led me to a heartening conclusion: although a young squad, this is a side we can care about; a side that can play; a side that could win games; a team whose captain can lead by example – and be played by Ryan Gosling in a biopic.  

Speaking of Kane, his last-ditch, victory-clinching header was great, but one has to ask why he was given so much space. I’ll tell you again then. It’s because Tunisia are really, really, really poor.


GAMES 9, 10 & 11

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Costa Rica 0-1 Serbia

And so dawned a new day… a day full of potential, a day full of promise, a day full of football. Rainbows streaked across the sky, gently arcing downwards like a perfectly pin-pointed pass, and landing in a great big pot full of football. Ahhh… football – despite its current abundance, more valuable than gold. “Really?” I hear you mutter as part of a neat rhetorical device, “Why’s that then?” Well, I’m glad you asked…

Can gold score a scorching free-kick from 25 yards out? No, no it can’t. Can gold comfortably dominate a game despite enjoying less possession than its rival and looking quite handy on the break? Nope, not a chance. Can gold, I ask you, bide its time and wait, with calm assurance, for a chance to come and then take it with clinical poise? No. That’ll be Serbia you’re thinking of.

Their opponents, 2014 quarter finalists Costa Rica, started well enough and had some early chances to make their mark, but I think it’s a fair bet that they won’t be enjoying as long a stay at these finals. It’s a young man’s game, and Costa Rica have precious few of those. Only Johan Venegas, Francisco Calvo and David Guzman were making their World Cup debuts – everyone else was a 2014 veteran. Not that experience isn’t important. Age brings with it level heads, calm composure and intelligence. Having said that, age also brings lower back pain, muscle loss and IBS, so age can sort of fuck off.

Keylor Navas showed all of these (the level head, calm composure and intelligence stuff, I can’t comment on the rest) and couldn’t have done anything about the goal. In any other tournament, Kolarov’s 25-yard belter would have been a clear favourite for free-kick of the tournament, but it’s been an embarrassment of riches so far.

And on that thought, we leave the Samara Arena with its odd metal lid, like an extravagant peep-hole bra cup, and head to Luzhniki Stadium where the champions were getting ready to start their campaign.


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Germany 0-1 Mexico

No one could have predicted this. Yes, there’s something of a precedent for defending champions making a less than auspicious start (Italy were held 1-1 by Paraguay in 2010 and Spain were dumped on their arse 5-1 by the Netherlands in 2014), but this was extraordinary.

It didn’t look like a blip, either - it looked an awful lot like a problem. The sort of problem where Joachim Low’s side were simply outplayed. It may be a tired cliché to talk of German efficiency, but that’s exactly how they won in 2014: peerless pass completion, incredible shots on target ratios, tight defending… this was nowhere to be seen as they consistently lost the midfield to a team whose pace they seemed, for the most part, unable to contain.

In short, Germany looked leaky at the back, and not the sort of leaky that can be remedied by cutting back on alcohol and high-fibre foods. The build up to Lozano’s goal didn’t even look to be Mexico's best chance – his second touch seemed to have reduced both his angle and window of opportunity. Mexico could have (and possibly should have) been at least two up by half time. It wasn't all one-way traffic though. At the other end, Kroos struck a lovely free kick, forcing a superb save and proving once and for all that you’ll never get Mexico to pay for building a wall.

The second half was better for Germany, if your definition of ‘better’ is pummelling away for ages with no discernible end product. But that’s not a definition anyone would use, except, perhaps, Jerry Hall. It was immaterial in any case; Mexico defended and clung on as they needed to, Teutonic hearts sank and half of England Googled the German for schadenfreude.

Phew, still, Brazil Switzerland next, eh? What could possibly go wro…



Brazil 1-1 Switzerland

You have GOT to be kidding me... I know the Switzerland are ranked 6th in the world, but those are just made up as soon as you get outside the top five aren’t they? Like Eurovision scores, or high-profile tax returns…

So what happened? I mean other than one team failing to score more goals than the other, obviously. I know it’s late (for me in any case), but I think we can do better than that.

Many have concentrated on Neymar (channeling the haircut of Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore for the evening) and the degree to which he was fouled. Extraordinary grooming choices aside, it was snide on the part of the Swiss defence who targeted him – that level of fouling will take the shine off any player, no matter how good they are. On the plus side, this means that Switzerland can now add cynicism to their national traits of neutrality, prompt timekeeping and the hoarding of Nazi gold.

This was Brazil’s first experience of anything other than a win in an opening match since 1978, but that statistic may flatter them a little. The draw means they have now three World Cup games without a win, and the desperation started to show as the shots flew in. Too few of them were on target, however, and none up to the quality of Philippe Coutinho’s strike, but then not much is.

There were suggestions that there had been a push before Steven Zuber’s equaliser, but they were less convincing than Jesus’ claims for a 74th minute penalty. I can’t help but think past form may have played a part as he’s certainly got previous for diving – he’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy. Here though, they should surely have used VAR – it’s what it’s for, after all.

Brazil will feel they could have done better, and it's true, they should.

GAMES 5, 6, 7 & 8


France 2-1 Australia

Day 3 brings with it four games and a huge amount of heart. To honour this, and show that we listen and respond; we’ll breathe in rhythm with the game and change the format a little. To reflect the Soceroos discipline and positional craft, we’ll be offering you four points per game. Points that move, as if harnessed by some invisible logical bond, to an undeniably rational conclusion.

Yep, basically, it’s the weekend and we’re busy.

Telling you this, of course, breaks the precious fourth wall (difficult to do on a blog, to be fair), but then Brecht would have approved, and you generally get a better audience at a football match than you do at an opera house.

So, without more ado:

  • Going into this match, Deschamps’ Didier-men would have been confident of progressing from the group stages without too much trouble. Nearly 200 years after Napoleon failed to take Russia with nearly 700,00 men, could 23 really be expected to do the job though? It was a big ask. People would have thought that Pogba would have been key – if he could find anything approaching consistency, they could prove unstoppable though, to be fair, they’re far from a one-man team.
  • By contrast, Australia made tough work of the qualification process, playing 22 games to get to Russia, but they proved equally resilient and tireless – up to almost exactly 82 minutes. Not enough, perhaps, but still surpassing the work-rate one would expect from a nation so famously laid back that they take a half-day holiday for a horse race.
  • Too many draws and too few goals were the main issues for the Socceroos in qualifiers. Going in to this, it was clear that, if they ended up playing too deep, they could find themselves ripped apart like a quiche at a WI finger buffet. They didn’t. With amazing discipline and a genuine sense of artistry, they played their defensive line high and harnessed it beautifully to the midfield. It worked for the most part and they deserved much, much more than the scoreline dictated.
  • France were many people’s favourites coming in to this tournament but, in truth, their recent form doesn’t really warrant it. This game proved that. Not to take anything away from Australia, who played far better than anyone could have expected, France looked like the sort of team that Spain or Portugal would kick from arseholes to breakfast time. The VAR controversy surrounding the first penalty (it was no more controversial than Ronaldo’s impression of a Jenga tower last night) notwithstanding, France were, in short, lucky to get the points.

Argentina 1-1 Iceland

  • The hand of God, the hair of Kevin Keegan and the self-restraint of Shane MaGowan… Maradona and the World Cup are forever intertwined since the greatest tournament proved the perfect platform for arguably the sport’s greatest player. And although Lionel Messi might argue the toss on that call, we’d argue that hoofing a load of gak at half-time isn’t what anyone could accurately refer to as ‘performance enhancing’ – up your game Lionel. Regardless, the smart money would have been on Argentina pissing their group, but history don’t mean shit these days.
  • After a phenomenal Euro 2016, Iceland topped their qualifying group on their way to Russia. This boded well for a country whose support could barely fill out a provincial multiplex cinema. Much was made of the fans’ “thunder clap” chant which, if you haven’t seen it, accurately answers the age-old question, “what does We Will Rock You sound like after five Xanax and half a bottle of gin?”
  • The hand of God, in this game was the hand of Hannes Halldorsson. Don’t believe for a second the narrative that claims Messi missed. He didn’t – the penalty he was awarded was saved, and brilliantly. It was, crucially, saved by a man (of the match) whose day job is “film director”. At this point, every person involved in the creative industries must throw their weight behind Iceland or forever be labelled “dangerous dissenter”.
  • “Context is everything” once said a wise man (it was me actally, just then). So, fair dos, let’s provide some. World cup debutants hold hugely fancied team to a 1-1 draw. Messi did nothing to suggest that he’s the best player in the world and, despite the massive height advantage, Iceland didn’t have to rely on this in neutralising the Argentinian threat. Instead, it was organisation and belief, the same territory on which Australia chose to fight France. These decisions may yet make this the best World Cup in living memory.
  • Fifth point. Sorry, but hey, it’s our blog and we never claimed consistency – well, apart from that bit above where we did. But anyway, forget that, for now… The point is that I’m not entirely sure that Pogba’s goal was even his. It looked for all the world that the deflection actually steered the shot. Had it not figured, the ball wouldn’t have gone in. Only an opinion, but a correct one I think we can all agree.

Peru 0-1 Denmark

  • Their first finals since 1982, plucky Peru should count their lucky stars that their captain and star player, Paolo Guerrero, is playing at all. His year ban, for suspected cocaine use, was halved after some pretty odd courtroom scenes involving some 500-year-old mummies and claims about cocoa leaves. It’s the first time a woman that old ensured a happy ending for a football player since Wayne Rooney decided he needed a back rub.
  • Meanwhile, Denmark had Nicklas Bendtner staying at home with groin strain, so it was down to Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen to realise his nation’s dream. Was he to be – or not to be – Denmark’s crown prince? If so, would it be through prolific goalscoring, or a spiteful contempt for his mother after she marries his dead father’s brother, leading to his a borderline sociopathic lust for revenge that sees innocents die? It is, in a very real sense, anyone’s guess.
  • The 34-year-old forward Guerrero ended up on the bench – always the bridesmaid… It looks very much like a bad decision in retrospect. As for Eriksen, his nifty assist fed through to RB Leipzig forward Poulsen secured the three points with the kind of assurance normally reserved for middle-class white men who have been to Cambridge. It’s a shame as the best team lost.
  • I haven’t really got a fourth point. It’s late and I was at a neighbour’s house until midnight doing sambuca shots. To be honest, it’s a miracle that I’m still able to write. Having said that, Guerrero's backheel was close to being the best thing I saw all day. One game to go, let's press on, shall we?

Nigeria 0-2 Croatia

  • Some of the Croatia fans who travelled to France in 2016 would happily start a fight at a school fete. The flare ups – both figurative and, indeed, very literal – at Euro 2016 were not the tournament’s finest moments. Tonight seemed fairly innocuous but, if hooligan problems become an issue, FIFA have previously forced Croatia to play behind closed doors. The worry is that this could lead to a small, far-right racist element stalking the streets of a major Russian city, their attitudes marking them out as some kind of informal community support officer programme to Russia’s main police force.
  • In the event of tonight's match, such worries proved needless, as Croatia beat a lacklustre Nigeria with Oghenekaro Etebo's own goal and Luka Modric's penalty proving the difference. Like Ronaldo, Modric had to put non-football worries (in his case a charge of perjury and a possible custodial sentence) to one side. I'm not sure what the connection is between high-pressure pending court cases and improved performance, but I suggest that the lacklustre Croatian forwards try to get arrested before the Argentina game. Either grand theft auto, shoplifting, or simply holding hands in public should do the trick.
  • As for Nigeria themselves, despite being ranked 43 places below group favourites Argentina, we all know they can produce quality. They showed as much when they came back from a two-goal deficit to win 4-2 in a friendly between the two teams last November – although, to be fair, Messi didn’t figure. Nevertheless, it would have felt like sweet revenge bearing in mind Argentina have booted Nigeria out of four of the last five World Cups. While we wouldn’t stake the mortgage on the Super Eagles flying quite so high after tonight’s performance, Nigeria could still get through the group, bearing in mind Argentina's performance against Iceland. 

GAMES 2, 3 & 4


Egypt 0-1 Uruguay

And so to the Ekaterinburg stadium for the second Group A match. While we're here, let us just take a moment to consider the unusual architectural fix to ensure that FIFA’s minimum seat quotas are met without breaking the bank. Two ‘outside’ stands face the pitch like colossal armchairs dragged up close for a better view of the greatest show on Earth. It’s an amazing example of need firing ingenuit… Hang on a minute! Slap my tits and call me Mildred! The ground’s only half full! Did they stick so many people on the football equivalent of “Henman Hill” that they ran out of people to go in the actual stadium? I know it’s Egypt v Uruguay, but could they literally not GIVE the tickets away?

And while we’re at it, can we just all take a minute to just admit that this ground looks like exactly what it is – the result of a jobbing builder with his eye on the clock taking cash up front and leaving early to finish an extension for his brother-in-law’s sister. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of visionary design thinking, but my preferred means of "bringing the outside inside" is the bi-fold door.

Anyway, going in to this, it all looked fairly straightforward: Egypt without a win in six, Uruguay with three straight wins and three clean sheets. All the talk was of birthday boy Mo Salah and whether he would feature, and the firing power of Suarez and Cavani. Egypt will have, rightly, been worried about the attacking form of Suarez in particular – you only have to look at the stats: odds of being killed by a shark in the ocean: 1 in 3.7million. Odds of being bitten by Suarez in a competitive football match: 1 in 2,000.

As it turned out, Egypt did well and spent a good deal of the match comfortably on top. A mixture of sharp, tight play from them and some woefully inept last-third nonsense from Uruguay conspired to confounded expectations – up to a point, but we'll get to that. Suarez was on particularly poor form and the expression on his face seemed so suggest that he knew it. A great chance poorly missed and a free-kick wasted summed up his first-half perfectly.

By half-time, it was looking like an Egypt win wasn’t out of the question. Hamed, in particular, had done a great job of holding the midfield together and they looked to be playing exactly the kind of intelligent, incisive, space-making passing game that Saudi Arabia didn’t.

The second half saw changes, however. Hamed went off injured, replaced by Wigan’s Morsy. As time passed, Uruguay got progressively stronger and Egypt, it seemed, more tired. Cavani, in particular, grew into the game and had it not been for the superb display by Egypt goalkeeper Elshenawy, could have doubled the scoreline at least.

In the end, of course, Egypt were unable to hold out. Heartbreak came late in the game, dressed in white and with a number 2 on its back, as Jose Gimenez scored a magnificent header that saw the whole of Uruguay breath a sigh of relief – none more so than Suarez who, let’s not forget, was absolutely and objectively AWFUL.

Again, it was a game that left us with questions. Well, one question really, but it’s one that should be repeated, again and again, at volume and into the face of Héctor Cúper: If Mo Salah was fit enough to be on the bench, why in the name of Pele wasn’t he on the pitch with 10 minutes to go? If ever there was a need for him, it was today.



Morocco 0-1 Iran

Well, we all know what the headline is here, but let’s just take a moment to reflect. Morocco hadn’t conceded a single goal in qualifying. Not one. Now, the finals are a quite different bag of balls, and clearly that run was going to end at some point, but were Iran really the team to break the streak? A team whose political isolation is such that even their sanctions having sanctions? A team so cut-off that Nike were forced to withdraw supply of their boots, while screaming, “Don’t do it”?

As the game kicked off, it looked like Morocco’s form was set to continue. They pressurised and pushed. Belhanda looked lively, as did Benatia, and it seemed like it was just a matter of time until their efforts bore fruit. Meanwhile, on the touchline, their coach, Hervé Renard (played here with delightful insouciance by Hugh Jackman) looked like a man who had little to worry about. Any concerns about his best side could be answered equally well by the words ‘left’ or ‘right’ – AMARITE LADIES?

Ahem… anyway, as the game wore on, there were scrambles, scraps and a general dip in both quality and interest. Morocco’s main problem was converting chances into goals, and Iran had their fair share of that as well, with both Ansarifard and Azmoun failing to exploit good opportunities. It was, eventually, down to a substitute to make the difference – and in the worst way possible. Bouhaddouz who came on in the 77th minute managed to connect perfectly with Ehsan Haji Safi's free-kick, putting the ball firmly in his own net with a beautifully executed diving header. In the 95th minute. It was all over bar the… oh, hang on, no. It was just all over.

It was an own goal that has, effectively, put Morocco out of the World Cup. But let's be honest, with these two teams still to play Portugal and Spain, they’re both out aren’t they? This was only ever a tie played for pride, a stocking-filler undercard to the main event, and Morocco can hold their heads up high. It is, after all, preferable to sticking them on a dangerously inswinging cross inside your own area. 



Portugal 3-3 Spain

And then the bigger boys turned up…

It’s fair to say that times have been fairly turbulent of late for the Iberian neighbours. Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui was sacked just two days before the finals kicked off for failing to mention he was heading to Real Madrid after the World Cup. The first that the Spanish camp knew about his new job was a hurried phone call from Madrid five minutes before they made the news public. The sacking has been criticised by some as “excessively harsh” but, by missing out on a disappointingly sparse whip-round, a hastily signed card and a poorly researched farewell speech from Janet in HR, Lopetegui got off lightly.

Meanwhile, four of the Portuguese squad are currently free agents, having torn up their contracts after a training ground attack by fans in May following Sporting Lisbon’s failure to gain a Champions League spot. And all that’s before we get to the little matter of Ronaldo being accused of defrauding the tax man.

And a potential rap sheet surely isn’t the only thing on Ronaldo’s mind. He wants to win this competition and time’s running out for the man who has everything except a World Cup winner’s medal, a decent brass bust of himself, or any humility whatsoever.

The game itself was extraordinary, zig-zagging and jackknifing as advantage went one way then the other. Ronaldo’s early penalty, following Nacho’s clumsy, but slight, challenge, was cancelled out by a moment of sublime skill by Costa. His movement and strength will have left every Chelsea fan watching with their head in their hands wondering why Conte froze him out.

Spain, who had been looking slightly dulled until then, came alive. Neat, short passes and long, long periods of possession that spoke of patience and maturity; changes of pace that were almost musical in their execution – crescendos breaking down into subtle, calm codas, before building back up.

They looked vulnerable on the break, mind.

There were mistakes on both sides, of course. De Gea’s fumble, to allow Ronaldo his second, was uncharacteristic and very poor, and the Portuguese defence weren’t blameless for Costa’s second equaliser as Busquets headed the ball into the path of his oncoming teammate.

However, Nacho’s redemptive strike, low and hard and perfectly placed, appeared to stop time as it took all the words out of everyone’s mouth and replaced them with just one: “fuuuuuuuuuuck!”

At 3-2 and with their passing game now drifting into the sublime Spain must have thought it was in the bag, their minds turning, not unreasonably, to thoughts of a safe three points against Iran next Wednesday before a meaningless romp with Morocco the following Monday.

What they clearly weren't thinking about was the danger of giving a needless free kick in a dangerous position in the 88th minute. It was, of course, Ronaldo (50% intense focus, 30% pure determination, 20% Adam’s apple) who stepped up to deliver as perfect a set-piece as we’re likely to see. The result was a 51st hat-trick for both him and the World Cup finals.

And after all that, Iran top the group. It’s a funny old game…



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…