I have a confession to make.
Kayode: Confession? We are no Reverend Fathers!
Sunday: Let’s hear him out, please.
Thank you, Sunday. England had such high hopes and their football anthem was everywhere on social media, newspapers, TV, and radio with the lyric “it’s coming home”. I didn’t want England to win because to me it will have a negative impact on football and football reporting. And then, on Wednesday, Croatia came from behind to beat them 2-1 in extra time. The World Cup might be coming home, but only if football’s home is Zagreb or Paris! I was so glad. Was I exaggerating the effect of a Three Lions’ win on the Premier League and football in general?
Kayode: No doubt their media and fans blew things out of proportion. But can you blame them?
Sunday: Let me come in here. If that game was replayed Croatia would still defeat England. Like Modric said, the English press underestimated Croatia and this, maybe, crept into the players with the early goal. Their press was all about football coming home but their team rarely played football. It is still the cross-laden English game, but with more efficiency from set pieces. Getting to the last four is more of a curse, as their subsequent major tournaments must deliver like this, they won’t find it this easy again.
Remi: It’s really a moot point to say England winning the World Cup would have had a negative effect on football. Like I said in previous shows, the team targeted a quarterfinal finish in Russia and further progression in 2022 and 2026 editions. They exceeded their target and they dared to dream. The media hype for England players and the English Premier League especially from the English press is not a measure of how solid the Three Lions are. Over the years, that has affected England in making it to the finals of a major tournament despite the hype.
Kayode: For Croatia, their Cinderella story continues. As for England and their praise singers:
It’s coming home
It’s coming hom
It’s coming ho
It’s coming h
It’s Croatia sending England home…
Sorry viewers for our ‘indiscretion’…welcome to today’s show!
Sunday, let’s have a recap of the semifinals.
Sunday: The semifinals games were a little bit flat, but still delivered drama. Croatia against England happened just like I imagined, with the Croats working their way back to win against an English team that relied more on set pieces. They, however, paid for their early negative approach, running a backpass routine that was anti-football.
Remi: England have been lucky on their way to the semifinals. The only big side they played was Colombia where they narrowly won on the penalty shootout. James Rodriguez, who could have given Colombia an advantage, did not play due to injury. And they were also denied a goal.
What’s your impression, Kayode?
Kayode: The hype surrounding England gave people high hopes and the World was waiting for a Three Lions’ win but surely Croatia did not read the script. Interestingly, England took the lead and we all thought they will capitalise on the goal but they then tactically lost it. They played without purpose and lost the plot. Naturally, Croatia with the master orchestra Luka Modric took charge and we all know what transpired. There was a crowd of 64,286 in attendance to watch France and Belgium in a game that could have gone either way. Belgium controlled the game even without the ball possessions. Samuel Umtiti snatched all Belgium hopes with his headed goal that I blame the tall and experienced Belgian defense for. It was of course to be the only goal and it saw France taking on Croatia in a much anticipated final that will be difficult to predict.
Hold on to your prediction for. Were you disappointed in Belgium?
Kayode: Who wasn’t? I was gutted they failed to make it to the semis after raising the hopes of neutrals like me. I can’t say they were overawed by the atmosphere or their opponent. They didn’t just come with their A-Game and paid dearly for it. Quite a sad exit!
Sunday: Definitely. But it was down to the brilliance of France’s tactics. The major disappointment was watching a flat-footed Belgium shorn of ideas despite the best efforts of captain Eden Hazard. France were always going to play pragmatic football and try to mark out both Hazard and De Bruyne which they did brilliantly. The onus was on coach Roberto Martinez to find a way through the seven-man French block, but Hazard kept running into cul-de-sacs while De Bruyne was shadowed all night by the trio of Kante, Matuidi, and Pogba, and Lukaku was silenced by Varane.
Remi, what’s your assessment?
Remi: After watching Belgium dismantle tournament favourite Brazil in the quarterfinals, with a master class performance from Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, I was shocked at their poor display against France in the semifinals. The likes of Hazard, De Bruyne, Fellaini, and co. did not come to the party. They raised my hopes and dashed it within two games. Sad.
Sunday, what are the key battles in the final game between France and Croatia?
Sunday: Kante, Pogba, and Matuidi will need to do the Belgian job against Croatia. None of Modric, Rakitic, and Perisic must have a foothold on the game if the French want to repeat their 1998 success. Didier Deschamps must also find a way to put Mbappe around Lovren as he seems to be the most erratic of that backline.
Kayode: Didier Deschamps has really proved people wrong. He favours a 4-3-3 formation but sometimes a 4-4-2 style depending on the opposition. Critics continue to insist his team needs pace. Mbappe is one of the youngest in the squad but surely one of the most influential. A meeting between France and Croatia in the final is a must watch and very tough to call. For Modric, his International career looks over but he is still of course good enough for this championship and will do all he can to wear a gold medal at the World Cup.
Remi: France are very good and tactical side, with sharp and deadly precision in attack. They parade the best-attacking strike force and Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe could be deciding factor for them. Croatia have shown over the last six games that they are no pushovers. The game is evenly poised.
Sunday, who will win the World Cup?
Sunday: Croatia. They know how to play boring football like the French, while they have the patience and determination to work their back into the game if they concede first. Unlike the Belgians, silencing Modric and Rakitic doesn’t mean the downfall of this Croatia, and if any of Perisic, Mandzukic, and Rebic/Krammaric get opportunities, it means Modric will control the game. Croatia to win 2-1 or via penalty shootouts.
Remi, who will win the World Cup?
Remi: Croatia have impressed me. They played three straight extra time games and eliminated the host nation Russia and ended Lionel Messi’s hope of winning the World Cup following an emphatic 3-0 victory. They deserve the cup, but football, especially the World Cup is full of upsets and surprises. I still tip them to win, though. Croatia 1-0 France.
Kayode, who will win the World Cup?
Kayode: Pundits insist France will be clear favourites to win the final but Croatia will be well rested and might really shock France if the French team fails to learn how dangerous Croatia can be. Can Deschamps win the World Cup as a captain in 1998 and a coach in 2018? Sorry, Didier, it’s Croatia all the way! 2-0.
So after 64 games between June 14 and July 15, we have come to the end of The Panel’s World Cup coverage. But you won’t miss us for too long because we’ll be back when the English Premier League resumes in August. And thank God we won’t be inundated with commentaries like:
“World Cup winner Dele Alli passes the ball to the 2018 World Cup top scorer Harry Kane. The World Cup-winning captain controls the ball with his chest, goes past Ngolo Kante who scored an own-goal in the 3-0 defeat to England in the final of the World Cup in Moscow. Kane, also voted the best player at the World Cup, dribbles his fellow World Cup-winning player, Gary Cahill. Kane is now one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois, who couldn’t stop him in a similar situation in Russia when England beat Belgium 2-1 in the semifinals on their way to winning the World Cup. Kane, winner of the World Cup, shoots. It’s a goal…Reminds me of the World Cup goal he scored in the World Cup against France in the World Cup winning-campaign to win the World Cup!”