Matthew Booth Reflects
25 Jun 2018 SPORT
i snova privyet tovarishi (Hello again comrades)
In 2002 myself and the Zambian international, Gift Kampamba , set off on our Russian odyssey and very much into the unknown. We arrived towards the end of the Russian summer as most of the Premier League clubs ensure so that the foreign players, particularly from Africa and South America, can ease themselves into the minus thirty degree climes of the Russian winter.
One of our first experiences upon arriving was jumping excitedly into a ‘taxi’…you can hail any official taxi or ‘skorokoro’ from the side of the road and they will stop for you for the extra income. I once saw an ambulance with a body in the back stop for a member of the public…the ‘taxi’ driver regaled us in broken ‘engrish’ about the fact that Russian drivers are so erratic that it is the only place in the world that one can overtake another vehicle and still get hit from behind! I remember, distinctly, looking at Gift, aghast, as we simultaneously clicked our seatbelts firmly into place.
This current World Cup hosted in Russia has already been erratic enough and caused many a ‘bumper-bashing’ and surprised looks…so scratch my predictions!
I seriously thought that most of the African contingent would pull through. Was it good judgement or purely sentimental? Senegal flew the flag against Poland with some clinical finishing while Egypt and Morocco have already booked their flights home. Morocco, in particular, can feel hard done by because they played some very enterprising football but sometimes this is not quite good enough as the margins between success and failure at this level and in this modern age of football are minuscule.
Take for example Egypt’s loss of concentration in their opening game in the 90th minute as Jose Gimenez powered in a header and then in their 2nd group game captain, Fathy, opened the scoring with an own-goal as he attempted to clear the ball with the wrong foot after Egypt had shown stoic character and tenacity for the entire 1st half against the hosts, Russia. A small mistake and seemingly innocuous chain of events can lead to a massive change in fortune.
Heart-break seems to be around every corner at Russia 2018 as Morocco conceded not one but two headed goals due to lapses in concentration after battering Iran and failing to man-mark the obvious…the dangerous Ronaldo.
Even the favourites, Germany, who won the Confederations Cup at a canter with their 2nd string squad, are under immediate pressure due to the Mexican wall that was built…leading to quips on social media about ‘Trump’ and the ‘Germans paying for it.’
Another example was Harry Kane’s decision making to take a chance to drop into the space at the far post, pick up the ‘second ball’ and decide to head the ball in at the near post after seeing two defenders on the line at the far post…and get lucky as the Tunisian goalkeeper took an ever-so-slight step to his left in a split-second guessing game with Kane. The margin between three life-giving points and an early trip back home.
The football I have watched over the last 9 days has reaffirmed my view that the lethargic football associations are being left behind and the growing elite leaves you with a choice of making predictions at your own peril.
As I finish typing this article so the final whistle blows on a Brazilian victory over Costa Rica. Normality resumed?
Paka paka i shes leva! (Bye and keep well)