For one, the fairy tale ended last night. For the other, the fairy tale moved a step closer to becoming reality. One wanted the World Cup to stay at home; the other wanted to take it home.
That was the fate of Stanislav Cherchesov, coach of the Russia team and Gareth Southgate, manager of England’s Three Lions. On Saturday, the two teams faced Croatia and Sweden respectively for a chance to enter the penultimate stage of the competition. For the first time in a very long while, the English team seemed to be on the cusp of greatness. Although there hasn’t been a universal agreement that the sport was invented there, the country is home to the oldest and most successful football leagues.
In 1966, they hosted the FIFA World Cup and won it. They haven’t done so ever since. The closest they’ve come is the 1986 final when Argentina’s Diego Maradona broke English hearts with his dubious goal. Since then it’s been heartbreak upon heartbreak. Until now.
England is steadily forging ahead at Russia 2018, get the wins and by the time they faced Sweden in the quarterfinal, the odds were in their favour. Two goals secured their place in the semifinals. You can tell how delighted Southgate was- he even became a conductor, directing the chant of thousands of England fans. Football’s coming home!
It was the quite the opposite for Stanislav Cherchesov. His team drew 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes, going into extra time. No sooner did they start did Croatia score the 2nd goal. The shell-shocked Russian fans couldn’t believe that the carnival they had enjoyed was coming to an end.
Cherchesov seemed not to like their malaise. Repeatedly he turned to the stands, gesturing to the fans to sing and raise their voices. He looked angry each time he had to. Eventually, Russia got an equalizer and the match went into penalties. Croatia got the better outcome, winning by 4 kicks to Russia’s 3. Cherchesov was livid.
Even a phone call from his country’s president couldn’t brighten his mood. “Vladimir Putin talked to me on the phone during the day and he called me just now to congratulate us on a good game, but I told him I was disappointed”, he said in his postgame press conference.
In the end, all sportsmen know that one team must win at the expense of others. Russia’s fairy tale might be over now but for England, the journey continues.
The first semifinal comes up on July 11 between Croatia and England. Belgium versus France is on the following day.
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