2018 Soccer World Cup – Finally the Cup

The French national team was crowned world champions after defeating an underdog Croatian team 4-2 in the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday, capturing its second World Cup title and its first since it hosted the 1998 tournament 20 years ago. Les Bleus manager Didier Deschamps was the captain in 1998 when his team shocked Brazil in Paris, and on Sunday he became the third to ever win the World Cup as a player and coach.

Overall, the World Cup was very successful and has been seen as a triumph for Russia. There was a lot of revenue brought in by the cup for Russia, the teams and betting companies. Fans who won money through betting and fantasy soccer (see this site for more information on fantasy soccer) also went home happy! The final saw a sold-out stadium celebrate the amazing final match with the bookies favorites France winning.

In a match that featured anything you could have ever imagined, an own goal, a goalkeeper gaffe, pitch invaders and a teenager wunderkind finding the back of the net, France rolled to a convincing 4-1 lead and managed to hold on to earn its second star.





A penalty-kick goal from Antoine Griezmann and goals from Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe were enough to lift one of the pre-tournament favorites to the title, capping off a magnificent run in the group stage and the knockout stage that featured wins over Australia, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium. Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s wild final.

First own goal in a World Cup final

It didn’t take too long for this one to get going. Despite Croatia playing better in the first half, a mistake gifted the lead to France. Mandzukic headed the ball into his own goal 18 minutes in on a set piece to make it 1-0. Mandzukic became the first player to score an own goal in the World Cup final. For those counting at home, there have been 20 World Cup finals before Sunday’s match.

One of the best goals of the tourney

Just 10 minutes later, Croatia knotted things up off a lovely set piece that ended with Ivan Perisic’s rocket golazo. It’s probably one of the best goals you’ll have seen this tournament, and it’s significant because it happened in the most important game these players have ever played.

First VAR-assisted goal in a World Cup final

Unfortunately for the underdogs, it was all downhill from there. A handball on Perisic was called a penalty kick after the use of the video assistant referee, and Griezmann finished it in the 38th minute. With this being the first tournament with video assistant referees (VAR), it was the first time we saw it used in the final. Boy, did it have an impact:

Fortnite meets World Cup final

Griezmann scored from the penalty spot, which meant he did his signature Fortnite dance celebration, as seen in the popular video game. The “taking the L” dance has been a celebration of Griezmann’s for a few months, debuting it with Atletico Madrid during the La Liga season.


Pogba makes Manchester United history in World Cup final

Aside from being the first Premier League player to score a goal in the final since Emmanuel Petit for France in 1998 against Brazil (it all comes full circle), Pogba became the first Manchester United player to score a goal in the final.

The 25-year-old star midfielder made it 3-1 with this fine finish inside the box 59 minutes in:

Move over, Pele

Croatia, trailing every knockout stage match this Cup, had to do something to try and comeback but it couldn’t find the creativity in the final third. Instead, Mbappe ended it. The young Paris Saint-Germain star made it 4-1 with this stunning hit atop the box 65 minutes in.

Mbappe became the first teenager to score in a final since Pele. No big deal at all. He is the second youngest player to score in a World Cup final at 19 years and 207 days.

Goalkeeper gaffe by Lloris

Croatia was able to get one back from Mandzukic on an error by Hugo Lloris. Mandzukic capitalized on the gaffe and became just the second player in World Cup history to score a goal for his team and an own goal in a single game. The other? Ernie Brandts for the Netherlands against Italy in 1978.

Deschamps third to win as player and manager

Didier Deschamps joins Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer as the only to win the men’s World Cup as a player and manager. Zagallo was a champion for Brazil as a player in 1958 and as a manager in 1970. Beckenbauer did the same as a player for West Germany in 1974 and as a manager in 1990.

Pitch invasion in a World Cup final

As if that wasn’t enough, there was a pitch invasion during second half of the match. Approximately four spectators invaded the field before security did its best to stop them. As always, it’s a huge concern when you think of the safety of those involved but it was quickly handled and play continued. More on that here.

Croatia’s Dejan Lovren wasn’t thrilled with the pitch invaders. Getty Images

France moves up the list with its double

France became the sixth country to win at least two World Cups, joining Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina and Uruguay. Just eight teams have won the cup in its history, with Spain and England each having one.

Four goals a first in a final since the days of Pele

France became the first team to score four goals in the final since Brazil did against Italy in 1970. Les Bleus also scored four in the knockout stage against Argentina.

In the end, it was destiny for France and heartbreak for Croatia, who was playing in its first final. A wild World Cup concluded with a team everyone thought could win actually doing so, while Croatia’s miracle run falls painfully short. There could only be one winner, and a deserved France team managed to step up with its most convincing showing of the tournament when it mattered most.

England star Harry Kane wins Golden Boot after bagging six goals in Russia

The Tottenham striker netted a double against Tunisia, a hat-trick against Panama and a single strike against Colombia in the last-16

HARRY KANE has become the first Englishman to win the World Cup Golden Boot since Gary Lineker in 1986 after he bagged six goals in Russia. The 24-year-old proved to be influential as the Three Lions reached the semi-finals under the tutelage of popular boss Gareth Southgate.

 England striker Harry Kane has won the World Cup Golden Boot with six goals

England striker Harry Kane has won the World Cup Golden Boot with six goals
 It is the first time and Englishman has won the award since Gary Lineker in 1986

It is the first time and Englishman has won the award since Gary Lineker in 1986
England may have not reached the World Cup final but Harry Kane is still the top scorer of the tournament

Tottenham‘s lethal marksman netted twice in the Group G opener against Tunisia as England left it late to win 2-1.

He then banged in a hat-trick against Panama in a 6-1 rout, before scoring a penalty against Colombia in the last-16 clash.

Kane featured in six games for England at the World Cup, but failed to get on the score sheet in the quarter-final win against Sweden, and the following defeats against Croatia and Belgium.

Incredibly, Kane is now second on the list of England’s top scorers at the World Cup in his maiden tournament.

 Kane, 24, was the focal point for the Three Lions in Russia under boss Gareth Southgate

Kane, 24, was the focal point for the Three Lions in Russia under boss Gareth Southgate
 Only Gary Lineker has scored more goals than Kane for England at the World Cup

Only Gary Lineker has scored more goals than Kane for England at the World Cup

Lineker stands top of the pile with ten strikes after netting six goals in Mexico, before finding the back of the net on four occasions in 1990.

Geoff Hurst netted five goals in two tournaments between 1966-1970, while Bobby Charlton and Michael Owen both stand on four.

Kane’s tally of six goals in Russia was two more than his nearest challengers with five men scoring four goals for their respected nations.

Antoine Griezmann, Romelu Lukaku, Denis Cheryshev, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe all went close as they failed to dethrone Kane at the top.

France Wins World Cup – Trounces Croatia 4 – 2

Croatia’s Ivan Perisic, second left, handles the ball to give away a penalty as he jumps for the ball with France’s Blaise Matuidi during the final match between France and Croatia.
Matthias Schrader/AP

France is the champion of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final, besting Croatia by 4 goals to 2.

France entered the tournament as a favorite, powered by stars such as Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, while Croatia was seen as a longshot for victory.

The game opened with Croatia dominating possession of the ball – at 15 minutes in, Croatia held the ball for 59 percent of the time. Then, at 18 minutes in, Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic mistakenly scored a goal for France by heading it into his own team’s goal.

Shortly after, Croatia’s Ivan Perisic delivered a goal, tying up the game. Then, referees awarded France a penalty kick for a handball from Perisic, giving France a valuable opportunity.

It’s an opportunity that France’s Antoine Griezmann made the most of, scoring a goal and bringing the score up to 2-1 at the half.

France’s Paul Pogba scored at the 59 minute mark, quickly followed by another goal from France six minutes later, this time from Mbappe.

Croatia’s Mandzukic then scored, bringing the score to 4-2, thanks to an error from France.

The teams met at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday, ending the month-long tournament played across Russia.

Croatia’s appearance in the final had a lot to do with their historic streak of endurance, as NPR’s sports correspondent Tom Goldman reported.

“It’s a day of firsts for Croatia: first time in a World Cup Final, first team to get to the final after winning three straight extra time games.” He added that “if France can outlast the Croatians, it will mean a second championship and the first since 1998.”

Les Bleus have done just that.

Where To Watch The Final 2018 World Cup Games In Houston

Biggio’s Sports Bar is a collaboration between Marriott Marquis Houston and Craig Biggio.Photo by Ellie Sharp

There are only two matches left in the 2018 World Cup and Houston has plenty of restaurants and bars that are opening early and offering specials for hungry fans. Belgium plays England in the third-place play-off Saturday at 9 a.m. while France takes on Croatia in the championship match Sunday at 10 a.m.

Artisans Restaurant, 3201 Louisiana: Kick off Sunday’s championship match with a special brunch menu at Artisans. Featuring a Gabriel Boudier crème de cassis Kir Royale, quiche lorraine, scrambled egg puff pastry, creamy au gratin potatoes and a triple-layered chocolate cake, Artisans is providing a deliciously sweet brunch for only $29. There will be large screens installed specifically for the day so every seat comes with a great view. Seating is limited and can be reserved by calling (713) 529-9111.

downstairs bar at Biggio's

A wall of TVs is front and center at the main bar, just a fraction of the 30+ screens available throughout Biggio’s. Photo courtesy of Biggio’s

Biggio’s, 1777 Walker: Head downtown to the Marriott Marquis and grab a stool at this two-story sports bar. Known for its massive, 30-foot tall HD screens and equally massive entrees, every seat in Biggio’s is guaranteed to completely immerse you in championship match action. Biggio’s is opening early at 9:45 a.m. so patrons can attack the Bloody Mary bar and order chicken and waffle specials just before the 10 a.m. match. Splash some Pernod on top of your Bloody Mary for a French kick.

Bosscat’s red velvet churros are a great way to celebrate every sweet goal. Photo by Josh Armendariz.

Bosscat Kitchen & Libations, 4310 Westheimer: The match may be France vs. Croatia, but Bosscat is coming out in full support of Les Bleus with a French watch party. The already popular Sunday Funday brunch is getting a French twist with croissants and Champagne all around beginning at 9:30 a.m. Reservations may be made by calling (281) 501-1187.

El Big Bad

The downstairs Bar at El Big Bad. Photo courtesy of El Big Bad.

El Big Bad, 419 Travis: Owner Steve Sharma has been showing all of the matches to packed crowds, but Sunday’s final is extra special for him. His mother Slavitza “Sylvia” Sharma was born in Croatia and left because of Croatia’s war for independence in the 1990s. Though Sylvia won’t be onsite for the match (she lives out of state), Sharma is hosting a huge watch party. All of El Big Bad’s TV’s and projectors will be showing the match with the sound on. Telemundo Houston is also going to be onsite with a camera crew and plenty of swag to pass out. Reservations can be made by calling (713) 229-8181.

Harold’s Restaurant & Tap Room, 350 West 19th: Reservations are recommended for the Final Match Brunch Party on Sunday, July 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. but the restaurant is actually opening up bright and early at 7 a.m. Brunch is a three-course prix fixe affair for $22.95 plus tax and gratuity. It includes guest’s choice of beer, mimosa, Bloody Mary, sangria or the Featured Match Drink of the Day. Just for fun, Harold’s is giving away Saint Arnold pint glasses while they last. Nine Banded Whiskey shots are $7 and 11 Below Brewing beers are $4. Both companies are giving away swag, too. Believe it or not, that is just a smattering of the available specials both upstairs in the restaurant and in the tap room. Vote by 9 a.m. on Sunday by commenting on the Facebook post above on what you think the winning team will be an get a chance at a $50 gift card. Call (713) 360-6204 for reservations and more information.

Snow Topi's Nutty 4 Nutella bubble waffle

Snow Topi’s Nutty 4 Nutella bubble waffle. Photo courtesy of Snow Topi.

Holler Brewing Co., 2206 Edwards: This Washington district brewery is opening at 10 a.m. Sunday morning for a special Kegs & Eggs brunch. Wear your team’s jersey and you just might win a prize or receive a special discount. Snow Topi will be popping up with a special menu that includes Three Sister Farms eggs poached with Holler beer with a sweet or savory version of Snow Topi’s bubble waffles—think Asian crepe. The match should be over just after noon, and there will also be plenty of Snow Topi handcrafted gelato to cool patrons off. Holler Brewing is both dog and kid friendly, so bring the entire family out to cheer your team on.

La Villa Saint-Tropez will be serving its Banoffee pie. Photo courtesy of La Villa Saint-Tropez

La Villa Saint-Tropez, 4315 Montrose: When this new French restaurant soft opened on July 4th, only eight of the original 24 countries were still competing in the World Cup. La Villa Saint-Tropez is combining it’s grand opening with Sunday’s championship match. Along with the game being, patrons can listen to Parisian DJ Dr. Fazz.

Mongoose versus Cobra, 1011 McGowen: Celebrate the World Cup with one of the most celebrated beer lists in the city. Root on Belgium on Saturday with a Belgian IPA from Danish microbrewery To Ølor pay homage to World Cup host and perhaps our future overlord Russia with a Russian Imperial Stout—a high ABV beer initially brewed to impress a Russian Czar. Pair that with MvC’s infamous 32 oz. pretzel and celebrate a victory with an order of fresh baked chocolate chip and pecan cookies and it’s as if you’ve won as well.

Pitch 25, 2120 Walker: This might be the most popular spot in the city to watch a soccer match. Saturday’s third-place match will be busy, but it’s a solid choice for patrons with well-behaved children. The real party is on Sunday for the championship match. Pitch 25 and Warehouse Live are hosting an all-day festival that spans over 20,000 feet of air-conditioned space with giant screens showing the championship. Following the match, there will be performances from DJ’s and live bands with food trucks on-site for bites. Sunday Funday could very well turn into “surprise vacation day” Monday.

Shay McElroy’s Irish Pub, 909 Texas: The downtown pub takes pride in its Reubens and Guinness and is hosting a watch party for the final World Cup game on Sunday. The drink specials feature $4 Bloody Marias and Bloody Marys, $3 Mimosas and $4.50 Saint Arnold’s Summer Pils. Seating is first come first served and kickoff is at 10am.

There are also plenty of great spots around the city for those who just want to watch the match. Our favorites are Axelrad Beer Garden in Midtown, Heights Bier Garten (confirmed to be opening at 10 a.m. on Sunday by co-owner Steven Salazar), The Kings Head Pub in West Houston, and Rudyard’s British Pub in Hyde Park.

Josh Armendariz is Houston Food Finder’s lead freelance beer and cocktail writer. He can often be found on a stool at your favorite bar, sipping a hoppy craft beer and talking about the Astros with anyone who’ll lend an ear. Follow him on Instagram at @drinkwithjosh.

France Vs Croatia: The Battle Between Two ‘golden Generations’ In The World Cup 2018 Final


  • After over a month of exciting and enthralling football action, World Cup 2018 will come to a close when France and Croatia take on each other in the final hurdle
  • France are one of the strongest teams in the world, and given the fact their current squad is called as their ‘golden generation’, it isn’t much of a surprise to see them one step closer to the crown

After over a month of exciting and enthralling football action, World Cup 2018 will come to a close when France and Croatia take on each other in the final hurdle. Not many heading into the tournament would have predicted these two fighting it out on the last day.

France are one of the strongest teams in the world, and given the fact their current squad is called as their ‘golden generation’, it isn’t much of a surprise to see them one step closer to the crown.

Croatia, on the other hand, are a very good side. But few would have predicted them to reach the semi-finals, let alone the final. There is little doubt about the quality they possess, especially in the midfield, where they have the ‘Golden Ball’ probable Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

So, ahead of the July 15 encounter, let’s see how the two ‘golden generations’ stack up.



They have reached the final only for the third time in their history, and no one can say they haven’t deserved it. The 1998 champions have been solid at the back, and have conceded a mere four goals in the tournament (three of them coming in the same game, against Argentina).

Hugo Lloris has been at his usual best in front of goal, and has produced some really good saves along the way. Though, he hasn’t been tested much, and that’s due to the back four in front of him.

In Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti, France have unearther a solid centre back partnership. Both the players are strong in the air, good with the ball, but more importantly, have pace. Take away the Argentina match, and the ever-present duo have let in a mere one goal in the tournament so far, which is incredible in it’s own rights. And the two have also shown their attacking threat, chipping in with a goal each.

Not many were sure about France’s full backs Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. But the duo have proved their critics wrong. While Pavard has been a rock defensively, Hernandez has been a willing runner going forward. Though, it comes as a surprise that out of the two, it is Pavard who has scored a goal. His screamer against Argentina was one of the moments of the tournament, and that backed Didier Deschamps’ decision to play him.


Take away Croatia’s midfield, and France would stake claim to have the best duo in this position. In Ngolo Kante, they have a player who will run all day long, and even after the final whistle. His tenacity and composure has brought calmness in the defense, and confidence in the attack. His displays may never create headlines, or be highlighted, but he has undoubtedly been one of the ‘player of the tournament.’

If Kante is all about tenacity, then his midfield partner Paul Pogba is the complete opposite. With a giant like figure, Pogba is full of creativity. This may not have been one of his best tournaments till date, but he is capable of producing something extraordinary any moment.

France have tried and tested Blaise Matuidi and Corentin Tolisso as the third midfield option, someone who can play on the left side. Both the players have performed decently, but Matuidi edges his compatriot. The Juventus man has legs in him, which allows him to break forward when France have the ball, and help defensively when they are out of possession.


What can you say about France’s attack. There is a tall striker, a creative attacking midfielder, and a pacey youngster. The mixture of Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe has done wonders.

While Giroud hasn’t got the goals, his off the ball running, link up and hold up play has been important. His hardwork has meant the other two have enjoyed their time in the attacking half.

Griezmann started the tournament slowly. He was scoring goals, but struggling with his performances. But once the knockout round started, he has come to life. Against Argentina, his runs and movement were brilliant. Then in the quarter-finals against Uruguay, he tormented the opposition defense. With three goals and two assists in the tournament, he ranks high in terms of the most influential players.

His partner in crime has been Mbappe. Tasked with leading the attack at a tender age of 19, the Paris Saint-Germain man has grabbed onto the opportunity. Just like Griezmann, he was quiet in the group stage, but roared back to form with a sensational match-winning performance against Argentina. While there have been moments of his immaturity and selfishness, there is no denying he is the biggest threat to Croatia in the final.



You don’t always need big names in your back line to be strong. And Croatia have proved exactly that. Their goalkeeper Danijel Subasic is hardly considered world class. But in World Cup 2018, his performances have been extraordinary. Two match winning displays against Denmark and Russia has earned him the ‘legend’ tag in his country.

The back four of Croatia have been dependable. Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida have been neat and clean, and have played to their strengths. If anything, they have performed well above their expectations.

Full backs Šime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinić, just like the centre backs, have to be lauded for their performances. Both of them have been strong defensively, but have not shied away from going in the attacking half every now and then.


‘The Best’. This sums up the midfield duo of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. In reality, both of them are attacking minded midfielders, and many predicted them to be overrun by opposition attacks. But that hasn’t been the case one bit. Rakitic has dropped deep on several occasion to play as the anchor man. But when he goes upfield, Modric is always there to cover his space. The Real Madrid midfielder has arguably been the best player in the tournament, and she his side come victorious on Sunday, he will surely be ranked high amongst the Ballon d’Or candidates.

In few matches, Croatia have gone with a midfield three, playing Marcelo Brozović. His role has basically been to form a trio with Modric and Rakitic. But there is also the option of playing Mateo Kovacic, who is one talented midfield option.


‘Tenacity, fight and will’. In Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebić, Croatia have three attacking options who will fight till the end of the day. They have creativity in them, but it is their hardwork which wins praises.

Perisic on his day can be a lethal winger. Playing on the left wing, he can either cut on his right foot to unleash a shot, or go down the wing using his pace. The other two, Mandzukic and Rebic, are sloggers, who will fight for the ball day long. Their ability in the air is also very useful.

There is always another option in Andrej Kramarić, who can give the other attackers run for their money.

FIFA World Cup: Final schedule, TV time and storylines for Croatia vs. France

Two years ago when it hosted the European Championships, France was upset in the final — which was played in Paris — by Portugal.

France is back in the final of a major international tournament, and once again is the favorite to win. Croatia — which is playing in its first-ever World Cup final — is the opponent, and needed penalty kicks in the Round of 16 and quarterfinals, and extra time in the semifinals, in order to get to this point. France, meanwhile, made it look easy getting to Sunday’s 2018 World Cup final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Despite its status as the established power, France is a youthful team and could be a force to be reckoned with on the international stage for years to come. Croatia’s veteran-laden team has been called its “Golden Generation.”

While Croatia might be a surprise finalist, the on-field star power is still impressive. Luka Modric — a candidate for the tournament’s Golden Ball award — is the key player for Croatia. France’s 19-year-old phenom Kylian Mbappe is also in the Golden Ball conversation and the favorite for the tournament’s Best Young Player Award.

World Cup final predictions: Will France or Croatia lift the trophy?

One of the best World Cups in history comes to an end Sunday in Moscow, as France and Croatia face off at the Luzhniki Stadium with the world championship on the line.

This is the third time France has reached the World Cup final, winning it all in 1998 and losing to Italy in the 2006 championship game. Croatia’s national team didn’t officially join FIFA until 1992 – with players previously competing for Yugoslavia – and is here in the final for the first time.

USA TODAY Sports’ soccer staff gives their picks for the World Cup final and who will win the Golden Ball – awarded to the tournament’s best player:

Martin Rogers

Prediction: France 3, Croatia 0

  • There isn’t much to choose between these teams except for the fact they are at the polar opposite ends of the “effort expended” spectrum. Croatia has played what amounts to an entire additional game thanks to three bouts of extra time. France has the movement to exploit those tired legs.

Golden Ball winnerLuka Modric, Croatia

Jim Reineking

PredictionFrance 2, Croatia 1 (after extra time)

  • Croatia once again pushes an opponent into extra time, but this time succumbs to the uber-talented French, who crush the dreams of another “golden generation.”

Golden Ball: Luka Modric, Croatia

Adam Woodard

Prediction: France 2, Croatia 1

  • Croatia plays incredibly well as a team, and I expect Modric and Rakitic to put on a show. That being said, France is too strong in the attacking third, not to mention the advantage at the goalkeeper position with Hugo Lloris. Olivier Giroud scores his first goal of the tournament and Les Bleus are champions once again.

Golden Ball: Kylian Mbappe, France

Jesse Yomtov

PredictionFrance 3, Croatia 1

  • If there’s a group that can throw Croatia’s heralded midfield off its game, it’s the one featuring Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. The Croats aren’t going to be able to dictate the tempo like in past games, while the speed and creativity of France’s Antoine Greizmann and Kylian Mbappe should be able exploit a tired team.

Golden Ball: Kylian Mbappe, Franc

Russia Finally Falls, Leaving a Trail of Admirers and Doubters

Croatia celebrated beating Russia on Saturday and earning its second trip to a World Cup semifinal.

SOCHI, Russia — It was only a couple of minutes to midnight, and Miroslav Romaschenko did not want to leave. As Croatia’s players bounced around in ecstasy and as Russia’s collapsed, disconsolate, onto their backs, the losing team’s assistant manager sat down, frozen in place on the Fisht Stadium’s turf.

He stayed there, staring into space, as the Croatian captain, Luka Modric, leapt into the crowd, celebrating his country’s second-ever World Cup semifinal; as both teams sought out Fyodor Smolov and Mário Fernandes, the two players whose missed penalties brought Russia’s tournament to a close; and as the fans turned to leave, back to the beach, back to the bars, back to reality.

His colleagues tried to rouse him, leaning in close to whisper their commiserations, asking if he wanted a hand up. Gently, he waved the first few entreaties away. When he finally moved, urged to his feet by Alan Dzagoev, the Russian midfielder, he did so slowly, reluctantly. Once he left the field, once the clock ticked 12, once tomorrow came, he knew it would all be over. For all the sorrow and the hurt, he had the look of a man not quite ready for it to end.

Nobody expected Russia to remain at its own party for quite this long. A kind draw in the group stage raised the possibility that the host — on the eve of the tournament ranked just the 70th best team in the world — might avoid the embarrassment so many here feared it might suffer. At best, Stanislav Cherchesov’s team might have expected to survive to the knockout rounds. Aleksandr Samedov, the midfielder, said on the eve of the tournament that all he wanted was to “make the country proud.”

He and his teammates did that, and far, far more. The first weeks of this tournament felt like a reverie for Russia. At the start, as the seemingly endless crowds of Latin American fans swept into the country, an invading force wearing sombreros for helmets, the host seemed unsure of what to make of it all: welcoming, of course, and intrigued, but a little detached.

By the time Russia had dispatched Saudi Arabia and Egypt in its first two games, however, the mood had shifted: from hope to excitement and on, ever upward, to elation. A loss to Uruguay in the final group game — with qualification in the round of 16 assured — did not dampen it.

When Russia then sent Spain spiraling out of the tournament in a wildly intense round-of-16 game decided by a penalty shootout, hundreds of thousands of jubilant Russian fans, if not more, spilled onto the streets of cities the length and breadth of this vast country.

Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, left, sat alone as Croatia players celebrated after scoring the winning penalty on Saturday. Credit Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

Central Moscow ground to a halt, an impromptu street party that some compared to the celebrations at the end of World War II. From Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, the nation was in thrall. “The entire Russian country is in love with us,” as Cherchesov put it.

The rest of the world benefited, too. Russia’s unforeseen success illuminated the whole tournament. It meant that the host was not just a stage for the carnival, but a continuing participant in it. By knocking out Spain, Russia also did its bit to add to the air of the surreal that, most likely, will be the abiding memory of this World Cup.

That victory was not enough to ensure Russia a place in the planet’s collective heart, however. A note of doubt, remained. It is not unusual for World Cup hosts to exceed expectations, for an average team to be spurred by a partisan crowd and patriotic pride, and advance further into the tournament than its apparent talents might suggest.

Nor is it unusual for such homegrown success to attract raised eyebrows: Witness South Korea’s referee-assisted run to the semifinal in 2002; Argentina’s controversial appearance — and victory — in the final in 1978; even the longstanding South American allegations of a European plot to ease England’s path to glory in 1966.

In Russia’s case, those suspicions came easily. It is only four years, after all, since the Winter Olympics in Sochi, in which a vast state-backed doping program corrupted the results and boosted Russia to the top of the medals standings. Russia played Saturday’s World Cup quarterfinal in the stadium that opened and closed that event; the doping laboratory at the center of the accusations sits just outside the arena’s security zone. It is a restaurant now.

Grigory Rodchenkov, the whistle-blower at the center of the Sochi case, has alleged that he was told to make sure there was “no noise” when it came to failed tests for soccer players.


Mário Fernandes, who tied the game, 2-2, late in overtime, grimaced after missing Russia’s third penalty in the shootout. Credit Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Mail on Sunday, a British newspaper, has claimed FIFA knew of cover-ups in Russian soccer 18 months before this tournament started. Travis Tygart, chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, told USA Today in the past week, “We’re fools to believe it’s any different this time around from what happened in Sochi.” Denis Cheryshev, one of Russia’s breakout stars, has been forced to deny taking a growth hormone after his own father — apparently misquoted — suggested he had.

There is no documentary evidence of any wrongdoing, of course. It is all supposition and conjecture. It would all be roundly rejected not only by the Russian authorities but by much of the Russian people, inclined to be suspicious of anything any government tells them.

But in that climate, seeing a Russian team not only surpassing its fans’ wildest expectations, but doing so by running farther than every other team here — and by some considerable distance — it is hardly unreasonable to withhold a little affection for this Russian team, to wonder if what we have seen is real.

That is the price you pay, of course — just as all cyclists are vulnerable to being tarred by the sins of the past, regardless of their own guilt, so too all Russian athletes are now, unfairly, greeted with skepticism. But that is not to say that the culpable always bear the cost alone. Presuming their innocence, they are victims here, too. They are the ones who should be receiving garlands of praise for all they have done, and not dealing with any innuendo and rumor.

From the way they responded to the end of their journey, there is no question that it has all seemed real to the players, and to the staff. They arrived here in Sochi believing, with all of their hearts, that they could sustain this monthlong fantasy for a few more days.

When Cheryshev scored yet another wonderful goal in this dreamlike summer of his, it seemed they might; when Fernandes drew the game back to 2-2, deep into extra time, forcing yet another penalty shootout, the whole stadium seemed to believe fate and fortune were on Russia’s side.

And when, in the middle of the shootout, Dzagoev urged the crowd to make yet more noise, to make itself heard out across the Black Sea and into Turkey, and in the caldron, Mateo Kovacic duly missed his spot kick for Croatia, it seemed that, once more, they were.

The spell, though, could not hold. At some point, even at the best parties, everyone has to go home. Fernandes missed; Domagoj Vida scored for Croatia, and so, too, did Ivan Rakitic. Croatia’s players raced to their fans. Russia’s players sank to the floor. And as the lights came on and the reverie evaporated, Romaschenko sat on the turf, waiting for midnight, hoping to stretch it out just a bit more.

After a game of highs and lows for Russia fans, the end brought only dejection. Credit Mohamed Messara/EPA, via Shutterstock

England’s unexpected rise reaches World Cup semifinals, and its fans’ chorus grows louder

This victory means that England have reached the last four for the first time since Italia ’90, and ensures that hey will play two more games in Russia – either the third-place play-off or in the World Cup final.

SAMARA, Russia — Curiously, unfittingly, they numbered relatively few. Somehow, after 28 years and all the fecklessness and all the nuttiness and the can’t-make-it-up human frailty around the England national soccer team, the England fans present Saturday formed but a wee bloc among the 39,991 in a widely neutral Samara Arena.

Way out here where the Volga and the Samara rivers meet and the Kazakh border sits just over yonder, those fans seemed to summon the bottoms of their lungs when, in the second minute of stoppage time, they again had something to sing.

“God save our gracious Queen!

“Long live our noble Queen!

“God save the Queen!” 

As they contorted their voices for that funny thing they do, simulating the musical lilt that follows those lyrics, they would not and should not have worried that England’s 2-0 win over Sweden may have ranked among the most forgettable matches of Russia’s rambunctious World Cup. It would not and should not have caused them a jot of moderation that the path to England’s first World Cup semifinal since 1990 hadn’t been cluttered with any titans. As they boomed their a cappella as much as they could, maybe they sang for the droves at home who avoided traveling to Russia because of one misgiving or another.

Those aged enough had followed some outlandish shenanigans through the 28 years until Gareth Southgate, a 47-year-old former England player given to a competent look with a vest and tie, became the third England manager to reach a World Cup final four, following upon Sir Alf Ramsey (who won in 1966) and Sir Bobby Robson (1990).

They had seen 13 England managers, three of those interim, since the 3-2 comeback win over Cameroon in the 1990 World Cup quarterfinals in Naples. They had seen the damnedest lunacy: a manager (justly) sacked for saying disabled people are repaying sins from past lives, a manager tricked by a “fake sheikh” who turned out to be a reporter, a manager ridiculed after his final night on the job because he unfathomably had stood on the sideline using an umbrella.

They had seen Southgate get the job in fall 2016 only because the previous manager, Sam Allardyce, was caught on camera after managing for 67 days and one match talking about doing some rascally deals with business executives who turned out to be . . . reporters.

“It’s an incredible privilege to be the England manager anyway” — let alone in the World Cup semifinals, Southgate would say.

On they sang in the stands, and thanks for the reminder.

As they got to the lyric that calls for the word “victorious,” many singers surely could recite all this: England, the birthplace of the game, the home to its most revered league, didn’t make the 1994 World Cup, lost to Argentina on penalties in the 1998 round of 16, lost to Brazil in the 2002 quarterfinals, lost to Portugal on penalties in the 2006 quarterfinals, lost to Germany in the 2010 round of 16, went meekly and dismally after group play in 2014 and saw the coming and fizzling of a generation allegedly great along the way.

It lost to Iceland at Euro 2016, enabling England’s zesty array of chroniclers of the English game to note that Iceland’s population did not quite match that of Sheffield or Leeds.

Now the English souls who made it all the way out here by conquering or ignoring fears of Russian fan violence similar to that at Euro 2016 — or the distance or the paucity of flights or the cost or the Russia-Britain strife after the poisoning of Russian citizens within England — knew what they saw. They saw an England team that had weathered penalties against Colombia and turned up superior to Sweden. They saw a discernible difference in quality.

They saw defender Harry Maguire’s first goal with the national team on his commanding header off a corner in the 30th minute and 22-year-old Dele Alli’s header off Jesse Lingard’s swell cross in the 59th. They saw a goalkeeper, Everton’s Jordan Pickford, make enough athletic saves to get called man of the match.

They saw togetherness where there used to be cliques, so that Pickford said, “We know our ability, and it’s all about our togetherness, and I feel like if our togetherness is there as it always is, we control what’s on the pitch.” They had the manager of a rugged quarterfinalist, Sweden’s Janne Andersson, saying, “Sometimes your opponent is better,” calling England “heavy, forceful, well organized” and saying, “They don’t give a lot of openings. I believe they will be perfectly able to go all the way.”

Then they saw a young team in infectious group hugs, jumping up and down together, dancing in front of the fans. Said Southgate: “We’ve come to this point because the collective has been so strong,” seeing “a young team, really maturing before our eyes,” while knowing “that in years to come they’re going to be stronger, but today was a huge opportunity for us.”

The singers saw something that looked very much like a clear identity, a willing young captain in Harry Kane, who won’t reach 25 until later this month, and a welcome dose of character, of which Southgate said, “And when you’re away for however long we’ve been away, I’ve lost track, that can be really important.”

Twenty-eight years, it was, so much absurdity and futility leading way out here, to a World Cup for which England bid years ago but did not get, all the way to smallish section of singers who accomplished some volume — “Long to reign over us.” — and then yielded eventually to stadium speakers, which played the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” Really.

— Chuck Culpepper

In-game updates

Alli comes out

Alli’s day is done in the 75th minute, though he tries to waste time by dawdling and turning his back to the technical area when Fabian Delph comes to take him off. Cheeky.

Almost, Sweden

Viktor Claesson makes a beautiful run into the box but Pickford dives right and gets a hand on the ball for another great save.

Goal, England! 

A wide-open Dele Alli sends in a brilliant header to put England up 2-0 off Jesse Lingard’s assist.

♦ Culled from the Washington Post

Moses, Mikel both score as Nigeria take care of business against Algeria in World Cup qualifying


Today’s performance from Victor Moses in Nigeria’s 3-1 win over Algeria should put to rest any bit of consternation surrounding his commitment (or lack thereof) to the national team left over from the last international break.

The Chelsea wing-back, deployed in his more traditional winger role alongside Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi and Manchester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho in attack, took advantage of being a bit closer to goal by scoring twice and winning Twitter’s consensus for Man of the Match.  From the first minute to the last (check out his almost successful attempt to replicate Hazard’s second goal against Everton in the 7th minute!), Moses was full of running, drive, and determination — continuing his great form for Chelsea for the Super Eagles.

There were strong performances from others as well, including 21-year-old midfield dynamo Oghenekaro Etebo, whom we might remember from this summer’s Olympics, and of course captain Mikel John Obi, who also managed to score thanks to some hilarious defending from the visitors.  Not even Mikel believed that he was onside, but he definitely was.

Chelsea loanee Kenneth Omeruo played as well, getting just over an hour at right back, which is not his best position.  Algeria were perhaps unlucky to not score more than just the one goal, but with both defenses capable of conceding at any moment, their finishing lacked the cutting edge of Nigeria’s.

After a couple years of mixed results and upheaval at the football federation, which saw them fail to qualify for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations, Nigeria seem to have righted the ship and are looking good at the moment to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.  It’s a long way to go still of course, but they already have a four-point lead at the top of the qualifying group after just two games.


German goalkeeper arrested after conceding 43 goals in one game


No goalkeeper wants to see this happen 43 times.

Sometimes, a performance on the field is so bad that it’s criminal. That may quite literally be the case for a goalkeeper in the lower leagues of Germany.

In a recent league game, SV Vonderort broke an undesirable record when it lost 43-0 to rival PSV Oberhausen.

[ Also: Goalkeeper’s best friend? Stray dog saves a goal in Chile ]

According to German newspaper Express, SV Vonderort was down 35-0 at halftime – that must have been a fun team talk in the interval! – and at one point it was only able to field eight players. PSV Oberhausen was so embarrassed by its lead that it made the sporting gesture of removing three of its own players to even up the numbers.

[ Also: Swedish clubs offer new twist to pregame tradition ]

After conceding a goal nearly every two minutes, goalkeeper Marco Kwiotek may have wanted to completely forget about the performance.

However, five days later at a training session, two police cars arrived at Vonderort’s training ground in Bottrop (around 30 miles west of Dortmund). The 25-year-old keeper was escorted from the training field by armed officers and brought to the local police station for questioning.

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