Before a ball was kicked I think every England fan around the globe would have a taken a last-four finish. But as I left Moscow in the early hours of Thursday morning, I doubt I was the only person with thoughts of what might have been?
Despite the extra-time defeat to Croatia, my 25 hours and 45 minutes in Russia last week was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. I arrived back at Stansted airport (via Cyprus) on Thursday afternoon with an immense feeling of ‘it could have been so much more’.
England’s World Cup campaign saw three victories inside 90 minutes, the first-ever World Cup win on penalties, two defeats to Belgium, one to Croatia and Harry Kane returned home with the golden boot. I don’t buy into this criticism by his detractors that it’s a flawed win, with two poacher’s goals, three penalties and a deflection.
It’s the golden boot and he’s won it fair and square. He follows Gary Lineker as the second English winner and I’m sure Spurs fans hope that’s were the similarity ends and he doesn’t end up going to La Liga as Lineker did back in 1986.
Returning to Wednesday evening, having arrived at the Luzhniki Stadium nearly two hours before kick-off, with the excitement building, I took a deep breath in, took in the atmosphere and I thought to myself ‘does it get any better than this’? An exciting first half saw England take an early lead. I’ve heard many people ask if it was too early to take the lead? But surely a goal is a goal?
Granted I probably would have rather England had taken the lead with five minutes to go, but once in the lead England had opportunities in the first period to effectively be home and hosed by the break.
For me, having watched the game again back in the UK, the pivotal moment is when Kane shot when perhaps it would have been easier to simply square the ball for Raheem Sterling to tap in. But that’s football, it’s Smith Must Score, Bobby Charlton substituted at 70 minutes in 1970, Michael Thomas at Anfield in 1989, it’s why we love the game.
That said, it clearly was a game of two halves and on the night the best team won – a fact mirrored in the final with France’s second half performance regaining the World Cup they first won 20 years ago.
Back to half-time on Wednesday, despite not getting that all important second goal, I and the rest of my party were still confident this was our night. A meeting earlier in the day outside the Ritz Carlton near Red Square with a Swedish ticket ‘agent’ had secured final tickets, subject to an England win, so 1-0 up, a balmy night in Moscow, life was good.
And bizarrely my thoughts turned to Lenin, who died in 1924 but has never had a conventional funeral, instead lying in state at the Kremlin for over 90 years.
His condition dictates that he’s embalmed every six months, a fact I recount with clients sometimes when asked to explain how the process works. Having done my day job for the last 30 years, it’s been a long held ambition to visit his tomb. So at 9.50pm (Moscow time) my thoughts not only concerned Sunday’s final, but the fact that I was potentially 45 minutes of football away from visiting, regardless of his politics, one of the great icons of the 20th century.
Sadly it was not to be but I will return at some point because despite all the pre-tournament negative press, the Russians delivered a great competition. Qatar have an extremely hard act to follow in 2022.