Let’s talk about VAR, why don’t we? We love the World Cup though the football is getting bonkers. The scoring of a goal or a penalty decision or just a foul is merely a starting point for negotiation, as players compete to be the quickest with the ‘check the TV’ hand signals after every tiny incident. You can pop out for a cup of tea and come back to find the whole landscape of the game has changed, with the course of the match rewritten like Bobby Ewing’s murder in the 1980s. ‘I thought South Korea were five goals down?’ ‘No, that didn’t really happen: they’re 2-1 up now but down to nine men.’
Or ‘And in breaking news the judicial inquiry into several retrospective penalty claims by Saudi Arabia in their first group match is expected to be published early next month. The referee’s decision to blow the final whistle in tonight’s game has been temporarily rescinded and the announcement of the final result is still pending. We are confident a firm decision will be reached by the original date of the quarter-finals, or certainly the semi-finals,’ said a spokesman.
There are more correct decisions overall now than at previous World Cups. But do we really want every decision to be forensically correct and totally sanitised? In Test cricket umpires seem increasingly content to leave all LBW decisions to the third umpire. I hope the same won’t happen in football.
It’s a fabulous World Cup, though, so what else have we learned? First, that Harry Kane takes sensational penalties, the best since Gary Lineker whacked two past Cameroon at Italia 90. You would have had to build a brick wall to keep out Kane’s pair of rockets against the wretched Panamanians, and they would probably have blasted through that as well.
How nice it is to see this team treating playing for England as an enjoyable honour rather than the equivalent of being waterboarded, which is how it has seemed at the last couple of World Cups and, outclassed and frozen, against Iceland in the 2016 Euros. Look at Maguire, the sublime Jesse Lingard, Trippier, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling… all of them: this is a modern team, multiracial, youthful — a pleasure to watch.
The diminutive Lingard is our standout player — his goal against Panama was the best by an England player at the World Cup since Bobby Charlton scored that beauty against Mexico in 1966. Lingard’s contract at Old Trafford pays him £100,000 a week. By the end of this tournament his valuation could be off the scale.
And if you want to make an impact, wear yellow. The entire population of Colombia appeared to have decamped to Russia for the Poland match, but they are even madder for it than we are, and the country has a big middle class that can afford the trip; as does Peru it seems, and Panama and Costa Rica, not to mention Senegal and other countries whose populations we might have thought would not have been able to nick off to Russia in their thousands. How wrong we were. Only the Brits have stayed behind in large numbers.
It’s touching how commentators keep going on about how welcoming and lovely the Russians are (and they are, of course). ‘Honestly, I haven’t seen anyone poisoned or heard of another country being swallowed up by Russia since we’ve been here. Every-one has been absolutely super. No sign of unpleasant detention centres for political opponents, or anyone being victimised on grounds of race or sexual orientation… marvellous. What do you think, Lawro?’
Finally, as there are enough men on our TVs talking balls about football, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be some women as well. And they’re not talking balls either, as even Patrice Evra had to admit.