There will be no World Cup matches today, fitting since today is the 242nd anniversary of the independence of a nation which cannot fight its way out of a wet paper bag in association football, at least when it counts the most.
It’s even more fitting the World Cup is off today, because the country celebrating the 242nd anniversary of its independence gained said independence from the country which birthed “the beautiful game”.
One of the constituent countries of the nation where association football (soccer for those snooty Americans) is still alive in the World Cup, thanks to ending a curse which had long haunted it.
England advanced by winning a shootout (kicks from the penalty mark) yesterday over Colombia.
Repeating: England advanced by winning a shootout.
Let that sink in for a few seconds.
It’s the first time The Three Lions have won a shootout in the World Cup since it was introduced to team sports’ greatest spectacle in 1978 (but not put into practice until 1982).
Previously, England had been eliminated in 1990 (semifinals vs. West Germany), 1998 (round of 16 vs. Argentina in a match which saw David Beckham draw a straight red card two minutes into the second half; that England was able to hold Argentina scoreless for 73-plus minutes was amazing) and 2006 (vs. Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo burying the winner).
England appeared as if it would win in normal time 1-0, with Harry Kane burying a penalty kick in the 57th mniute after he was taken down in the box rather aggressively.
Colombia played borderline dirty all match, with the manager giving an English player a hard shoulder as they exited the pitch at halftime, and another Colombian player getting away with a headbutt as they jostled in the box on a free kick.
However, Colombia’s Yerry Mina scored the equalizer only seconds from full time, and the match continued. The half-hour of extra time was scoreless, and the groans went up from Newcastle and Sunderland in the North East to Bournemouth and Southampton on the south coast, and all points in between.
The tension had to be most palpable in Sunderland and Liverpool.
English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is a native of the North East of England. He played for Sunderland before leaving the Black Cats in the summer of 2017 after they were relegated out of the Premier League.
Everton, located in Liverpool and the archrival of the world-famous Liverpool Football Club, won the bidding war for Pickford. However, the Toffees were unable to fully take advantage of having Pickford and Wayne Rooney, finishing well behind Burnley for the final European qualifying spot, and obviously behind the Big Six of the Premier League: Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal.
FYI, the four most famous residents of Liverpool, two of whom are sadly no longer with us (one at the hands of a bloody murderer) did not care about the Merseyside Derby, the name given to the Liverpool-Everton rivalry. It was reported The Fab Four did not care much for football, at least the kind played with a round ball (Paul McCartney performed during the Super Bowl XXXVI pregame show and Super Bowl XXXIX halftime show).
In fact, when England won the 1966 World Cup at the old Wembley Stadium, Paul, John, George and Ringo were on the last leg of their last concert tour in the United States. And if you think few Americans care about soccer in 2018, the number of soccer die-hards in 1966 may have numbered less than the number of members of United States House (435).
Back to 2018, Pickford and his mates.
The announcers on Fox stated throughout extra time that Colombia was a lead-pipe cinch to advance to a quarterfinal meeting with Sweden. They felt Colombia had enough momentum from the late equalizer to score in extra time, then kept harping on England’s failure in shootouts in the past when it looked like the third shootout of the round of 16 would be a reality.
Surprisingly, English manager Gareth Southgate chose Kane to go first. Many managers save their best kicker for the fourth or fifth round, which is what the United States women did in shootouts in the World Cup finals of 1999 and 2011. In 1999, Mia Hamm, arguably the greatest female association football player to date, went fourth, leaving the heroics to Brandi Chastain and her famous sports brassiere. In 2011, Abby Wambach went fourth, but because the three before her–Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath all missed, it didn’t matter, and Japan won. More of the blame lies on the shoulders of Hope(less) Solo (now Stevens).
Kane and Marcus Rashford scored for England after Radamel Falcao and Juan Cudrado did the same for Colombia. Luis Muriel scored the third kick for Colombia, but Jordan Henderson’s attempt was turned aside by David Ospina, shifting the edge to Colombia.
The pressure was now on Pickford. If he could not stop Mateus Uribe, the South American side would have a huge edge, knowing it would at the very least go into sudden death.
Pickford got a piece of Uribe’s arching shot. It hit the crossbar anyway, and England’s condition was upgraded from critical to satisfactory. It became completely healed when Kieran Trippler scored to knot it up again.
Carlos Bacca stepped to the mark for Colombia. He went right, and Pickford was spot on, easily stoning the Colombian substitute forward.
Southgate sent Eric Dier onto the pitch in the 81st minute to spell Dele Alli, the Tottenham striker. Dier now was called upon to take the last kick of the regulation round. If he missed, the kicks would go into sudden death. If Dier scored, England would play again Saturday.
Dier went hard and low to his left. Ospina guessed wrong. England was jolly indeed.
England now plays Sweden, a 1-0 victor over Switzerland. The winner of that match plays the winner of Croatia-Russia, which is also Saturday.
Friday’s matches are France-Uruguay and Brazil-Belgium. I picked Croatia, England and Brazil as semifinalists before the knockout round, and I’ll stick with that. I had France playing Portugal, with Les Bleus losing. I’ll pick France to win, though, against Uruguay.
Maybe it was time for England to end its curse. The Red Sox ended the Curse of the Bambino in 2004. The Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA championship, ending Cleveland’s sports curse which spanned 51 1/2 years. The Cubs ended the Curse of the BIlly Goat by winning the 2016 World Series, their first in 108 years. The Astros broke through last year, their 56th season, to win their first World Championship. The Eagles won Super Bowl LII earlier this year, Philadelphia’s first NFL title since 1960. The Capitals won their first Stanley Cup last month, ending a long run of playoff futility.
See? Most bad things will end. The bad news? All good things WILL end sooner or later.
Meanwhile, the Rays and Marlins played 16 innings last night. How depressing. Paid attendance: 6,259. I’d like to know how many people actually went to the game in Miami, and how many were left when it ended at 0040 Eastern.
The Royals and Orioles seem to be racing to the bottom. Both have lost 60 games, and both are so far out of the playoff race they need the Hubble telescope to find the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros, Mariners and Indians. Both are on pace to lose 114 games. Neither will probably lose that many, but both will likely fall short of 60 wins.
The Royals host the Red Sox this weekend. There are only nine more big-revenue home games left on the schedule at Kauffman Stadium: the three this weekend, plus three-game sets with the Cardinals and Cubs.
In case you’re curious, the Royals and Orioles play three in Kansas City Labor Day weekend. I’m sure the ticket office at The K is burning up over ticket sales for that one.