25 June 2018

If you are a sports fan – and English – today feels like a pretty good day.

I am just getting over one of the best weekend’s in my sporting memory.

A good mate of mine summed it up well on Facebook, noting that England teams had whitewashed the Australians at cricket; beaten the Springboks in rugby union; trashed Panama in the football World Cup and Lewis Hamilton (not a team in the strictest sense) had won the French Grand Prix.

He could have also listed the rugby league team’s triumph over New Zealand at the home of the Denver Broncos in Colorado which was part of the sport’s bid to interest the American public in the game. I watched bits of it. An attendance of 19,000 in a stadium that holds 76,000. Success?

Well, the jury is out of that one. But England won!

 

 

But what of the significance of the other wins?

I’ll take them in the order I’ve listed them in…

England beat the Australians for the fifth time at whiteball cricket.

 

 

On my friend’s Facebook post someone commented that it was a dead rubber.

I have no argument with that. However, I would not try to convince any proud Australian that the match had little or no significance. They will have hated to lose – even if some of their best players were not available for reasons I struggle to sympathise with. It was a bad weekend for the Aussies given that the Irish also completed a 2-1 win over them in a three-match rugby series.

In another dead rubber the English stopped the rot by beating South Africa in the rugby international. But, that’s all they did – stop the rot. You won’t hear me trying to talk up England’s chances in next year’s rugby World Cup. If we didn’t have a great kicker in Owen Farrell, I think we would be in real trouble.

 

 

But, hey, we also had a pretty useful kicker in the shape of Jonny Wilkinson the only time we won the thing. So, who knows?

In the football England (ranked 12 in the world) beat Panama (55th) by a big score. Let’s not get carried away. In my mind the World Cup proper starts for England on Thursday when they face Belgium.

 

 

I think that result will tell us more about how far England can go. Though, that said, some (my son included) are trying to make out a case that it might be best for England to finish second in the group. That would mean we might avoid Germany or Brazil at the quarter-final stage. This assumes England can win their last-16 match, which certainly isn’t a given.

I don’t go along with the “best to finish second” theory. I think teams gain momentum based on positive results. To win the whole thing it’s likely a team will have to overcome one of the favourites along the way so let’s keep wins coming. Interested to see if Belgium do rest some of their stars given they have also qualified for the last 16.

 

 

And Lewis Hamilton won. I’m not going to suddenly pretend that I’m a fan of F1. I like to see England do well in any sport, so I’m pleased he triumphed.

 

 

But, back to the football. Before the World Cup kick-off I made a few predictions then promptly told you to ignore them. I hope you did.

I thought Poland (ranked 8th) were a shoe-in to go through mainly because they have one of the best strikers in the world – Robert Lewandowski. They are out already after two games.

In Group A I didn’t give Russia a chance and said that Egypt would progress alongside Uruguay. How wrong can you be? I was daft to ignore the lift that hosts get in the World Cup.

My Group B predictions – Spain and Portugal – both through but was getting close towards the end.

 

 

In Group C I thought France and Denmark would progress and that still looks likely though Australia remain in with a shout.

In Group D I named Argentina and Nigeria and was dismissive of table-topping Croatia. Some pundit, me. I wouldn’t be surprised now if Argentina don’t make it out of their group.

 

 

In Group E I picked Brazil and Serbia and both still have a chance, but Switzerland may have something to say about that.

I described Group F the following way: “Definitely a ‘who will be runners-up?’ group. Germany apart, I don’t think there’s a lot to separate them.” Well, with 30 seconds to go against Sweden it looked like Germany were heading out. I picked Germany and South Korea to progress. The Asian team are out and Germany are flirting with elimination.

 

 

At least I got Group G right. Picking Belgium and England wasn’t the toughest of calls. But then nor was chosing Poland or Germany or Argentina.

Group H sees Japan, Senegal and Columbia still in the hunt. I picked Japan. Let’s see.

So, England is gripped with “we can win it” fever.

A very old joke comes to mind … man falls off the Empire State Building and, as he passes each floor horrified people in the building hear him say: “So far, so good.”

For England it is a case of so far, so good. But the real tests are yet to come.

 

Is football coming home?

At least England are still in with a shout.

 

By Dave Buckley