The curtain on Russia World Cup 2018 falls

Maswood Alam Khan   | Published: July 15, 2018 22:00:16 | Updated: July 17, 2018 11:11:34


Chances were created by England, but Belgium put the kibosh on those chances. Opportunities were made for more goals, but goalkeepers of both sides stood in the way. It was impressive to see how both countries strained weary legs and tired minds to uphold their nations' images.

For England, 'Football is not coming home this time', but it has been a good ride for them.  "Football is coming home" either for France or for Croatia.

Belgium have earned their best World Cup finish in their battle against England on Saturday in an event just before the final on Sunday. They are happy as they had reached the semi-final and beat England by 2-0 for the third place in this year's World Cup at St. Petersburg Stadium.

Just reaching the semi-final is a dream for many, a dream that, for several aspirants, may not see the daylight in light years. England have reached the semi-final with dignity. They have reasons to feel happy too. English people should rejoice the fact that it was England's best World Cup result since winning the tournament for the only time in 1966.

England, which had made set pieces the cornerstone of its run to the semi-finals, created chances for Harry Maguire and Dier in the second half. Both tragically missed the target with their headers.

At the end of the day, England were lamentably unable to bounce back from the despair of Wednesday's extra-time loss against Croatia in the semi-final in Moscow.

"Today shows there's room for improvement," England striker Harry Kane said. "We're not the finished article. We're still learning. We're still getting better. We don't want to wait another 20-odd years to get into another major semi-final."

England's young squad did their best possible over this tournament. Luck played its role nonetheless. But it is an undeniable truth that no other English team have ever bettered the fourth place they have earned, unexpectedly and joyously, on a foreign soil. Their achievements should be celebrated and they should be encouraged to learn from their mistakes in a big game. A little reinforcement may once again make England an outstanding team.

Belgium have showed magnificence and their two strikers, Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard, displayed their brilliance, each scoring a goal.

Every single Belgian has been feeling proud of their team.

MEUNIER MOMENT: What a goal in the 4th minute into the game! What a crispy goal as Meunier poked home the ball from six yards after knocking a magical cross from the right by Chaldi, baffling the England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford! Simply cathartic! First goal within four minutes pumped energy into every Belgian player and heralded their victory in the pipeline. Meunier's early goal, his first in the tournament, matched a World Cup record for Belgium. Belgium had 10 different goal scorers, their joint best in World Cup history. Only two other teams have had 10 different players score: France in 1982 and Italy in 2006.

HAZARD MOMENT: Eden Hazard ran the show for Belgium against England. He wrapped it up for Belgium with only eight minutes left when he got the better of Phil Jones, off a pass from Kevin De Bruyne, to beat the English goalkeeper for the second Belgian goal. He has been instrumental in seven World Cup goals for Belgium, four goals and three assists. Since 1966, no player has been involved in more. He was rightly declared the Man of the match.

Yes, with the second goal in Belgium's bag it was clear that England were perhaps missing the third position. Poor England!

There was a Pickford moment too. He had saved magnificently from Meunier, with a powerful finish. The Belgians could easily have scored more, if Pickford didn't make a superb save to stop another shot from De Bruyne.

The moment that thrilled the spectators most was Toby Alderweireld's hilarious intervention. What a save it was! It was amusing to see how Alderweireld slid the ball to hook it off the line! He saved Belgium and denied England's best chance of the game.

Throughout the match, Belgium enjoyed and utilised spells of possession. Their movement and passing was significantly sharper and terser than England's. They were obviously the better side and deserved the lead.

It was the second time, England and Belgium had met in this year's tournament. In the group stage, both teams had already qualified before Belgium's 1-0 win in Kaliningrad.

What was, however, distasteful was the game itself: the third-place play-off game.

It's like a typical teacher beating up a boy on his buttocks for a wrong answer to a question or missing his homework. The amount of embarrassment, if you remember those painful days, would have doubled when the teacher would ask you to keep standing on the last bench during the entire class when your classmates would suppress their giggles until the end of the period.

Shaming and humiliating a dignified loser publicly is a sadist's job. FIFA's innovation in giving embarrassing punishment through third-place playoff is like public flogging of a convict.

Was it necessary to fleece the spectators only to exhibit the losers' devastated faces after England were beaten 2-1 by Croatia in the second semi-final and then their knackered bodies in the wake of the double whammy as England were thrashed 2-0 by Belgium in the third-place play-off on Saturday night?

The whole thing was unnecessary and humiliating. What's the point of the World Cup third place play-off?  Absolute stupidity. Such third-place mockery, the last thing any player wants, should never be played. It is like adding insult to injury.

Immediately after the semi-finals, Belgium or any other team could easily be given the third place based on their overall performance in the World Cup tournament. Third place playoff should immediately be scrapped. Unlike in Olympics, people remember the trophy winner. The World Cup third and fourth-place playoff is a game for FIFA's sponsors greedy for money, not for those who are decent fans or players. People remember trophy winner in the World Cup. Nobody remembers the second place, let alone the third or the fourth.

In a sporting race when runners cross the finishing line at nearly the same time, one who crosses first gets the gold and the next immediate crossers get silver and bronze. That is a decent way to judge the racers' merit as it is done in one single event. The second and the third winners don't need to reappear in one more competition to prove their authenticity.

France and Croatia are playing in the final on Sunday at Luzhniki Stadium. The French beat Belgium on Tuesday in the semi-finals, while the Croats defeated England on Wednesday. Many fans in Bangladesh are with Croatia. They want to see a new face lifting the trophy.

maswood@hotmail.com

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