A step before it comes home...

Amol Gokhale
Sunday, 8 July 2018

“I would beg for their (fans) forgiveness, especially those Argentina supporters who made such a great effort to be here. I was just as dreamy-eyed as any fan before,” is how Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli expressed after his team's loss to Croatia in the Group Stage.

“I would beg for their (fans) forgiveness, especially those Argentina supporters who made such a great effort to be here. I was just as dreamy-eyed as any fan before,” is how Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli expressed after his team's loss to Croatia in the Group Stage.

His reference to being just as ‘dreamy-eyed fan’ can be easily picked up and applied to any of the four semi-finalists. For the first time in the history of FIFA World Cup, any of Germany, Italy, Brazil and Argentina are not in the semi-final of the tournament and it just shows the number of surprises this World Cup has sprung up.

The cliché does not end here as out of four, France and England are only two previous champions, while Belgium and Croatia have reached the last four once before. It is every bit possible that we might see a new champion crowned or the long wait since either 1966 or 1998 ending in a triumph. But no matter what, the Cup is staying on European soil, like England fans have been singing, "It's coming home..."

Elite club

France manager Didier Deschamps is ever closer to join the elite club of Mario Zagallo from Brazil and Franz Beckenbauer of Germany to win the World Cup, both as a player and as manager.

Zagallo won the World Cup as a player in 1958 and 1962 and as a manager in 1970, while Beckenbauer achieved the feat as a player in 1974 and as a manager in 1990.

Now, Deschamps, 49, the World Cup winning captain of Les Bleus stands a chance to become the only third person to lift the Trophy as a manager as well.

It won't be an easy task, especially after seeing the tactical acumen shown by Belgium in their 2-1 quarter-final win over Brazil. As Belgium's Vincent Kompany said, that this match (vs Brazil) will define the generation of Belgian football and they proved that they have the same chance as any of three other semi-finalists to lift the trophy.

It's coming home

There is a famous song by England's Barmy Army sung in Sydney during the Ashes and the lyrics go like this: "So hoist up the John B sail, See how the mainsail sails, Call for the captain ashore, Take the urn home, We'll take the urn home, We'll take the urn home, We'll take the urn home, With Strauss our captain we'll take the urn home..."

It's been a long 52-year wait for England since they last triumphed on the biggest stage. Despite the political tensions between England and hosts Russia, England fans have made a long trip to support their country.

Once again, quoting England manager Gareth Southgate, the Three Lions might not get a better opportunity than this to end the long wait.

England fans can feel that this might just be their chance as they are already singing "It's coming home..." indicating that the World Cup is returning to the home of football.

But led by inspirational Luka Modric, Croatia, who themselves are hoping to better their record of finishing third in 1998, stand in their way to the final. They stamped their mark on the tournament in Nizhny Novgorod with a 3-0 thumping of Argentina, which left Sampaoli begging for forgiveness. In the round of 16 shoot-outs, they edged past Denmark, while on Saturday night, they broke the hearts of Russia with another victory in penalties.

Final corner

The tournament has just about turned towards the final corner with just four games to go, two each in St Petersburg's spaceship-like St Petersburg Stadium and in Moscow's iconic Luzhniki Stadium.

Four equally star-studded teams will go head to head as they aim to take one step closer to the dream of lifting the coveted World Cup trophy. Like Sampaoli said, 'dreamy-eyed fans' from these four countries will be hoping that it's not a heartbreak that they suffer as the glory day is within the sight.

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