World Cup Warm-Up: Football's *not* coming home
Disappointment Correspondent Jack Lang picks through the bones of Croatia vs England...
THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES
Breaking: England hearts
It’s not coming home.
The end of the road
In a parallel universe, The Warm-Up is writing this – or not writing it, more realistically – in a ditch after the greatest night out in memory. Clothes sodden with tears and beer. Voice hoarse from Atomic Kitten sing-alongs. Plans already afoot for Sunday and the aftermath.
It wasn’t to be. But the very fact that any of that was even a possibility is testament to the achievements of this England team in Russia. We might be adding a couple more notches to the ‘Years of Hurt’ column, but the truth is that this summer has been a blast, not a blow-out.
For decades, the Three Lions have turned major-tournament appearances into funeral processions. This year was different. We’ll always remember the hope and the pride – The Warm-Up never, ever expected to be writing that about an England team – and the songs and the memes and the endless sunny days that have made this the best summer for yonks.
Even against Croatia, who – let’s be completely honest – battered Gareth Southgate’s charges for long periods, there were moments: brave blocks, super Jordan Pickford saves, Kieran Trippier channeling David Beckham. IN A WORLD-CUP SEMI-FINAL.
IN A WORLD-CUP SEMI-FINAL – that’s the kind of sentence that you have to type or read two or three times. to shake you out of adjusted reality and back into a state of innocence. England were IN A WORLD-CUP SEMI-FINAL. This actually happened.
It ended in defeat, but football is about more than brute results. You’ll look back on these few weeks, 28 or 52 or 70 years from now, and you’ll experience a little shiver of recollection. You’ll go to YouTube, or whatever has replaced it, and you’ll watch Harry Maguire’s thumping header against Sweden, Jesse Lingard dancing, Pickford saving a Colombia penalty, Southgate lapping up applause in a waistcoat, all soundtracked by You Know What.
Football didn’t come home. But the England team did.
Well done to Croatia, who were excellent – both during the game and after it, when they dropped some nifty verbal bombs.
“People were talking… English journalists, pundits from television,” said Luka Modric, the chief architect of the victory. “They underestimated Croatia tonight and that was a huge mistake. All these words from them we take, we were reading and we were saying: ‘OK, today we will see who will be tired.’ They should be more humble and respect their opponents more.”
Oof. And then right-back Sime Vrsaljko arrived on the scene with another two-footer: “The all-round perception was that this is a new-look England who have changed their ways of punting long balls upfield. But when we pressed them it turned out that they haven’t.”
WORLD CUP SHORTS
Roy Keane hates everything you love and a good deal of the things you feel ambivalent about, too. Joy? No. Excitement? No. Existence is fundamentally meaningless, just a random constellation of atoms swirling round and bumping into each other. Love is a meaningless societal construct, happiness can only ever be a fleeting flicker, and the only reasonable response in the face of the hopelessness of it all is to embrace oblivion.
Genuine request to TV executives everywhere: get Keane and Graeme Souness on the same panel at some point. Then find something they disagree on, remove all other guests from the postcode, supply them with weapons and broadcast the results live. It’d be way, way better than Love Island.
NEW FAVOURITE PLAYER
It could be worse, England fans; you could be Nikola Kalinic. The Blackburn legend, you may recall, was named in the Croatia squad this summer, but was sent home after refusing to come off the bench during their opening game, citing a vague back issue.
Doing as little work as possible is very much a pillar of The Warm-Up’s personal philosophy, but you have to imagine Kalinic has had a pretty miserable few weeks, watching his nation’s greatest World Cup run from home.
Still, at least his back has had some rest. Your back… was hurting, right, Nikola?
Nikola Kalinic failed to attend morning training with FiorentinaPA Sport
FANS OF THE DAY
“We are England, and there is no way I can possibly express my joy without lobbing this full round of pints, which I just spent 35 minutes queueing for and cost me £83, into the air. That’s just non-negotiable, sorry.”
This, meanwhile, is brutal but very neatly done:
WORLD CUP MEMORIES
[To the old-school Batman theme tune] Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na – REST DAY! And you know what? There are only two games left at this World Cup. That sound you can here is real life hungrily licking its lips, just waiting to start chewing on you again.
Tomorrow’s Warm-Up will be provided by Tom Adams, who has always – ALWAYS – been a vocal supporter of third-place play-offs.