Monday 2 July
Brazil 2:0 Mexico
It seems a little harsh on Mexico to bow out at the same stage seven tournaments in a row but however enthusiastic Mexico were Brazil just needed to be patient and wait for their chance. Neymar finished one tap in from Willian’s arrowed pass and set up another for Roberto Firmino in a simple win.
Sadly Neymar has learned a little too much from watching his future team-mate Ronaldo.
Belgium 3:2 Japan
A little difficult to get your breath back as a dull nil-each first-half gave way to utter chaos with a couple of drops of the sublime.
Belgium A&E will be full of beery middle-aged men clutching their chest with one hand and a Chimay Trappist with the other.
Japan started brilliantly, shut down everything Belgium tried to do and created the clearest openings. The three minutes after the break they struck. Genki Haraguchi ran on to a through ball, making Jan Vertonghen look like a gibbon and shimmied neatly before finishing inside Courtois’ far post.
It got better, the goal gave Belgium the jitters and Japan a lift as Takashi Inui’s thrashed 25-yarder screamed in for 0-2.
The pressure looked to be telling on Roberto Martinez – a man we recommended for the England job back when he was at Everton – as he stared at the pitch dumbstruck.
But he finally reacted on 65-minutes bringing on Fellaini and Chadli. Most football fans would shrug, why bring on a thug and a wet cucumber sandwich but after Vertonghen’s looping header looped in to give them hope it was Fellaini who muscled in his header for the equaliser and Chadli who finished the storming end-to-end move for the heart-stopping last-minute winner.
Hands up if you thought we should have fought to win the group in order to play the easy tie against Japan
All together now: Belgique, ô mère chérie, À toi nos cœurs, à toi nos bras, À toi notre sang, ô Patrie!
It was breathtaking, brilliant, like this World Cup.
Jake Clarke-Salter will join Vitesse Arnhem for the whole of next season on loan. Jake had a semi-successful spell with Sunderland last term and is a serial winner or silverware with our age group teams as well as an U20 World Cup winner last summer.
Tuesday 3 July
Sweden 1:0 Switzerland
For all the drama and brilliance of the World Cup so far there had to come a real stinker. Switzerland had only one tactic – funnel the ball to Xherdan Shaqiri so he could whip in a cross – it worked to a degree but there was never anyone on the end.
Sweden looked to hit on the break but were hopeless in attack, shanking decent chances into the stands or in Albin Ekdal ’s case ballooning an attempted volley when a header was a simpler, more elegant solution.
The Swedish goal took a huge deflection and that was about that. VAR had a chance to shine as the ref awarded an absurd penalty and sent off Michael Lang for a push on Martin Olsson. In real time it didn’t look a penalty, any slight contact was outside the box. It looked like Olsson felt a contact in his back ran forward two paces, in order to be in the box, and then threw himself to the ground. It was clearly a dive.
Checking VAR the ref decided that contact was outside but that the slightest touch from Lang still warranted a red card.
VAR was supposed to discourage cheats but if you can still dive and get away with it on review then they should stop awarding goals and have Olympic judges giving points for artistic impression.
Sweden will be in the quarter-final and they have been a bogey team for England down the years. But this squad is making its own history.
England 1:1 Colombia
(England win 4-3 on penalties)
The penalty kick is the subject of misery; shame and humiliation. The worst exit and England have found that way out so often in the past that this feels like a turning point for our national side.
Since St George’s Park opened, 15-years late, we have started to perform well, coherently, at age group internationals. All the while the full squad was mismanaged by the FA who appointed the tactically inept Roy Hodgson and followed up their failure to sack him after Brazil by rewarding Sam Allardyce’s years of out-tacticing all the Allardicis by giving him one game to prove he was as much a fifties throwback as his predecessor.
Big Sam’s liking for a pint of wine left Gareth Southgate in charge. As U21 manager Southgate hadn’t really looked more than competent. He had won the Toulon Tournament but with an U21 side in a largely U20 competition.
What Southgate could tap into was the coherent tactical style adopted at St George’s Park, the much-derided England DNA, and he drafted in some of his trusted U21 players. Jordan Pickford won his place in this squad and that shootout as much for his performance back in 2014 in southern France for the U21’s as his form with Everton. Ruben Loftus-Cheek had the same route into the side.
This squad are still learning this system and will get better and more mature as they progress. Hoping to win the next Euros looked more realistic as they started this tournament but they don’t have anything to fear now.
We don’t need to write a match report because you all watched that. We’d just like to say how much we had underestimated Kieran Trippier, awful haircut, great player.
Thursday 5 July
England fans are like someone who has been on a quite successful first date and starts planning the wedding. Calm down.
It is coming home fever has started to get everyone’s expectation level beyond the realistic. This is a young squad at their first tournament with a novice manager. Time will tell if it can achieve something but engraving our name already is a bit premature.
Friday 6 July
Jon Panzo has joined AS Monaco on a permanent deal. No details of the size of the cheque (rumours around the £2.5m mark) but Jon is a very promising youngster who represented us in the U17 World Cup winning squad last summer.
Our first live televised game of the season will be the home game against Arsenal, now a 5.30 kick-off Saturday 18 August.
Of our opening matches only Newcastle away, now Sunday 26 August, West Ham United away Sunday 23 September and Liverpool home Saturday 29 September have been moved for screening.
Uruguay 0:2 France
Uruguay, without Cavani, looked very functional this afternoon and France needed to do little more than be competent. Raphael Varane headed in a very precise opener for Les Bleus before Hugo Lloris clawed a goal-bound header with a brilliant save.
The French second squirmed in through their goalkeeper and we will save his blushes by saying his teammates let him down every bit as much as he let them down.
Colombia flew back to a rapturous reception with the streets from the airport lined with admirers. Can’t see the M25 heaving with grateful fans if we’d lost that shootout.
Brazil 1:2 Belgium
The Chelsea boys really pulled together, Courtois pulled off the save at the end that denied Neymar a shot at redemption and Eden ran them ragged from start to finish. Willian toiled in a Brazil side that tactically seemed only to funnel the ball toward Neymar. Sadly the world’s most expensive footballer seemed to have not the first clue what to do with it once it had arrived. Once his favourite tactic of throwing himself to the floor had been unmasked by VAR he looks a one trick pony.
Belgium started brightly and a neat corner routine, with Vincent Kompany running across the front post, and Nacer Chadli’s corner flew in off Fernandinho ‘s arm.
The second was sumptuous, Chelsea reject, Kevin de Bruyne doubled Belgium’s lead with a sublime arrowed finish from 20 yards after Romelu Lukaku’s powerful run.
Brazil did snatch one back but never quite did enough to grab an equaliser.
And so another giant falls. With the Netherlands and Italy not making the party at all, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Brazil already gone this World Cup is really opening up.
This was a superb performance from Belgium. They missed out, narrowly, to Argentina four years ago in Brazil. This time they looked focused from back to front. Courtois was solid in handling everything, pulling off one finger-tip save in injury-time to deny Neymar an equaliser.
Eden Hazard twisted and turned the Brazil defence inside out but it was a night for our old boys as Lukaku and de Bruyne both cam of age on the international stage.
Saturday 7 July
Sweden 0:2 England
The beer really went flying as Harry Maguire and Dele Alli scored headers either side of the break. It wasn’t all our own way as Jordan Pickford picked up man of the match.
We can all be proud of the way Gareth Southgate’s side have come this far. It feels like they have established a blueprint for future tournament success, even if they don’t quite bring it home this time.
Russia 2:2 Croatia
Russia missed the chance to lose to us in the semi-final as Croatia held their nerve in the penalty shoot-out for a second match in a row.
Russia took the lead with a screamer from Denis Cheryshev, snapped goalwards with the merest flick of his boot.
The Croatian equaliser was more mundane as Andrej Kramaric headed the ball home.
Croatia dominated the rest of the match and Domagoj Vida’s late header looked to have won the tie only for Fernandes to head level again.
The penalties started badly as a soft Panenka that was comfortably saved. Fernandez, having just provided the late, dramatic equaliser, skewed his kick wide of the posts and the Croata didn’t blink.
Wednesday night then, in Moscow; lets hope we don’t have to wait 28 year to be back in this position.
Back at Cobham and the players are back for pre-season. Those not involved in the World Cup turned up, jogged around a lot and then spent the afternoon in medical checks.
Tuesday 10 July
France 1:0 Belgium
A simple headed goal from a corner shouldn’t have decided this clash of the titans but Samuel Umtiti lost his marker to head the winner.
The tactical chess match of a first-half was almost slide-rule even, as Toby Alderweireld turned and thrashed a loose ball goalward only for Lloris to claw the ball away and Courtois turned away a Pavard shot with the outside of his right leg.
Both sides had their fair share of possession but Griezmann for France and Nacer Chadli for Belgium wasted too many balls.
The second-half deteriorated into attack against defence as Belgium struggled to create chances against the French defence. Sitting deep and looking to break through Mbappe the French looked one dimensional. They defended deep and convincingly but how would they react to being a goal behind.
The Belgian’s wanted to play on the break themselves and were frustrated as Hazard faded out of the game and de Bruyne tried an ounce too hard, every pass slightly too much, every tackle a little bit more wild.
Olivier Giroud worked extremely hard and only had a couple of sniffs of goal. N’Golo Kante was the heart of a colossal French defensive performance. Eden Hazard worked his tricks and magic in the first period but couldn’t effect the same changes on the second. The ref didn’t help Belgium by blowing up for every French dive, even awarding a Gallic throw when the ball clearly had not gone out. He ignored a foul on Hazard on the edge of the box and awarded a free-kick at the end when Mbappe threw himself to the ground.
In the end Belgium ran out of steam. It has been a pleasure to watch them in this tournament, Hazard and Courtois have increased their reputations and old boys Lukaku and de Bruyne also played well.
In the end they beat England to top the group and play Brazil and France. We wait to see if playing Sweden and Croatia was a better choice.