duminică, 8 iulie 2018

Pride of Lions

England - Sweden 2-0
Russia - Croatia 2-2 (3-4 penalties)

Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! I have been very vocal against a country with a great football tradition, but with a squad that's a far cry from the days of Thomas Brolin, Henrik Larsson or Zlatan (in whose time it was, of course, called Zweden). And rightly so. I don't think Sweden deserved to get to the quarter-finals, I don't think they deserved to qualify from the group, I think - despite having not seen the games, they didn't even deserve to qualify for the World Cup and thus deprive us of Italy's presence. But here they were, facing an England team that has just squeezed past Colombia and ignited the hopes of a nation in dire need of pretenses for self-respect.

Not doubting that England's going to win, I decided to sacrifice the first half in favor of enjoying a bit of the London Pride Parade.This is important. Traditionally, the mainstream attitudes of the LGBT and the football supporters communities have been to fear and avoid each other with violent clashes happening if crowds from both of them would meet. A lot of irrational beliefs and outdated or simply untrue stereotypes persist within each of the communities in relation to the other, and even though relationships are improving, today was important as it occasioned massive crowds of LGBT to encounter crowds of England football fans just as massive in probably the most harmonious and friendly get-together of the two in history. First off, it was a very beautiful Pride, aided by great weather and a massive involvement from the allies, businesses and the local authorities. I'm still not entirely comfortable participating in full at a Pride parade because although I fully support inclusiveness, equal rights and opportunities for all and protection of minorities of any kind, I also understand I can at most be a guest, and I haven't even been invited in. Any other mindset going into a Pride as a cisgender raises the danger of cultural appropriation, and I would become the very thing I militate against.

As for the Three Lions, well, in Carragher's undying words, 'fuck it, it's only England'. While I became a supporter of England while I was losing interest in Romania's team, in the early 00s, I had grown out of it after seeing the poor treatment United players get when playing for country, having a palpable feeling of perennial incompetence and under-achievement from the various generations of players but most of all because of the sentiment of entitlement emanating from all the support of the England team, an extension of the entitlement I feel comes with the British passport and sharing with this the set of irrational beliefs in the superiority of all things Saxon with the only basis in reality happening too long ago to matter. Case in point, the cheesy (though relatively catchy) 'It's coming home' tune, implying that somehow the World Cup naturally belongs to England because they won it once 50 years ago. I can't get on board with that. Which makes me very ambivalent towards England's trajectory: I do like the enthusiasm that ripples to various social layers, I like the atmosphere of national celebration around the games and it is very good for football to gain support and popularity; but on the other hand, whenever anything good happens in relation to the England team it immediately gets endlessly repeated and blown out of proportion that a voice inside my head shouts loudly: 'Pull the cork out of your ass!'

For today though, not only did I want England to win, I thought they would, though I wasn't exactly sure how. With Sweden's unmovable 8-man defense, I estimated it will be a scruffy affair sorted wither by a lucky blow (or two, depending if Sweden got a look in or not) or it will go to penalties. Credit to Southgate and his boys though, they got the game by the scruff of the neck and sorted it before half-time. No credit to Sterling, however. Raheem Sterling is a selfish prick who's been given more chances that he deserves and only know how to waste balls, even in a 1-on-1 situation with the keeper. So a goal either side of the break within the hour spelt a comfortable final 30 minutes for the Three Lions, despite some convulsions of the Swedish hopes while dying. So England in the semifinals for the first time since 1990, though this time for dislocating the unmovable object of Sweden rather than bringing to a half the unstoppable force of Cameroon.

And to complete the final four Russia had to fight Croatia in a game during which I realized I want the Croatians to win more than I knew. Which made me rather fearful after Russia broke the deadlock via Cheryshev's wonder strike and once again when the game went to penalties which I wasn't able to watch live. I still think that overall Croatia was the better team and deserving to win, though I shall adjust my previous position in regard to them: while in the group stage Croatia recorded 3 wins, 7 goals scored and 1 conceded with a hammering of Argentina in the process, since then they haven't managed to win against inferior opposition, dropped their goal/game ration from 2.33 to 1.50 and needed penalties on both occasions. Which makes me think England actually has a chance. Not a big one, Croatia is still the better team, but they have lost speed and look like they might be running out of gas, while England are clicking into gear at the business end of the tournament.

Believe it or not, once the game was over I was actually sorry for Russia. The host played under suspicions of foul play ever since the World Cup started, yet we've seen no indication of that and the Putin and VAR memes only surfaced once, over a weak penalty claim by an otherwise poor Spanish team. What we have seen instead was a very well-organised team with players striving to do their best and with a few of them shining. None of the Russian players will make it to much of a better career than the one they have now, but the names of Dzyuba, Golovin, Cheryshev, Ignashevich or Dzagoev are now heard all over the world and this is giving Russia a good platfom on which to build a new, competitive generation. And beyond all of that, Smolov took my request: he attempted a panenka. It was a failed, poor attempt - a half-panenka of sorts - and it has ended up costing his country the qualification, but the guts required to attempt that - specially knowing ridicule is the obligatory consequence of failure - that's something to admire. As is Subasic, the Croatian keeper who saved Smolov's penalty and sat in goal through pain and muscle strains that appeared already towards the end of the 90 minutes. And it's not like he had nothing to do in extra-time. Half the goals have been scored in extra-time. But how does Croatia's tiredness bode for the game against England? We'll find out on Wednesday evening.

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