Rob Smyth emails in, and is correct, as ever. “I think it was Sweden who finished third in 94, if only because I vaguely remember a dreadlocked Henrik Larsson scoring.”
Tony “TP” Paley has interviewed the man whose voice will guide UK viewers through the final. Guy Mowbray and Steve Wilson continue to be such safe pairs of hands for the BBC, and Jon Champion and Clive “Clive” Tyldesley did a good job for ITV, before the latter’s somewhat controversial early exit, while Sam Matterface continues to come in for a criticism that often appears a tad OTT. The breakout stars on the mic have been Seb Hutchinson on ITV, who has been excellent and full of fun, and Pien Meulensteen on the BBC.
Barney Ronay on the dark shadow that will, despite Fifa and Qatar’s gush, forever loom over the 2022 World Cup.
The fact is death and suffering were the inevitable collateral to this project from the moment Sepp Blatter read out the word “Qatar” in that weirdly strangled upbeat tone, crowded on his own stage by glad-handing power-brokers; and feeling, perhaps, through the lineups and posed smiles, that shadow already at his back, just out of shot, scythe clanking happily.
Do we have to say this again? Because what we have here is still an open case. The dots have not been joined.
Let’s start with the big one, the third-place playoff.
From today’s World Cup briefing:
Another chance to see Infantino
It seems within seconds of any World Cup match starting, the camera pans to Fifa president Gianni Infantino looking glum in the stands. The host broadcast camera operator always knows where to find him, allowing the world to celebrate his greatness. Rarely has he looked happy when watching a match but he is always there, committed to the cause like a parent on muddy sidelines every weekend. He will make the best of the occasion to celebrate football as a cohesive power for good or some such, while ignoring the empty seats. And if that does not entice you, then nothing will.
It’s MD-1, as they call these things, and the buildup continues to the final. First though, there’s the third-place playoff, and the chance for Croatia or Morocco to finish on the World Cup podium. Winning would make it three podium finishes for the Croats – 1998, 2018 and now – while Morocco can do something nobody in the Arab or African world has done. Should they do that, then they would follow the likes of Turkey in 2002 and Bulgaria in 1994 as being surprise packages who get a nice reward for a near-golden month at the World Cup.
News is keenly awaited from the French camp as to the health of their players amid that unfortunate flu outbreak, with Raphaël Varane, Ibrahim Konaté and Kingsley Coman in the sick bay. Argentina meanwhile seem to have a relatively clean bill of health, give or take Angel Dí Maria’s creaking bones and the possibility Lionel Messi is carrying a hamstring problem. No word of the latter, nor is there likely to be, but could he emulate his old mate Ronaldo at Euro 2016 and find himself coaching from the sidelines?
The latest news and features will roll in all day ahead of Croatia-Morocco, so join me.