I was talking to Jules (the good wife) last night. She had the TV turned to some nonsense, so I was doing her a favour. Don’t know what it was she was watching but it seemed to feature that politician bloke who was caught snogging a woman with Covid, along with a load of celebs. (To clarify – he wasn’t snogging a load of celebs. At least, I don’t think so. Although one of them does keep refusing to sleep with him in a caravan. Very confusing.) Oh, it also has some old bloke with tattoos who won’t stop singing. And moaning. Weird stuff. (Young Ade told me later that it’s a guy called Georgie Boy, and he’s either eighty or from the eighties. I wasn’t paying attention. Either way, not much of a boy.) Not that it matters. I wasn’t watching. Anyway, I was explaining to Jules about the World Cup, elucidating on the finer points of how it works and who was going to get through to the knock out stages. All interesting stuff. She was riveted. Kept looking at me with a sort of open mouth expression of admiration she often uses when I’m teaching her something.*AJ gives you one of the World Cup finalists – on a plate*
I could tell she was taking it in. She kept asking me to be quiet, so she could process what I was telling her. Then, after about ten minutes of staring at the screen, her mind whirring, she’d come back to me. Usually, that coincided with the commercial break: I suppose the sight of a second rate politician grappling with snakes is a bit off putting when you are trying to concentrate.
Anyway, after about half an hour of this, she suddenly came up with an idea. A good one, for Jules.
‘Listen, Ade,’ she said, pressing pause on the remote. ‘This is all wasted on me. Why don’t you write it down, and post it on one of your blogs. Think how interesting that will be for all your mates and followers and other football fans.’
She obviously realised she’d hit the nail on the head, because mentally exhausted, she headed straight back to the TV. I mean, Jules is a woman (obviously) but she still likes her football, and is beginning to get her head round some of its complexities. (That’s down to me, and my patience, of course.)
So here we go. Aiden’s predictions. This is the only place you’ll read them, because I’m not even putting it on my sports pages in the Buckingham, Bicester and Brackley Tribune, the three counties’ leading evening newspaper. (I was going to, but the Editor pointed out that Horris Hardware of Brackley had already paid for a half page ad, and there was nowhere else for that to go other than my inside sports page.)
*Getting Through the Groups*
First up is the challenge of avoiding shocks, poor officiating and bribery. Thank goodness the tournament is being held in Qatar, so this time there’ll be none of the last of these. A FIFA first already. It’s going to be one great, controversy free, tournament.
Obviously Netherlands will top this particular pot. The first game is usually a low scoring draw, and that will suit Senegal. The mighty Lions of Teranga should qualify anyway, but with Qatar dropping points against lowly Ecuador they’ll have a bit of wiggle room. I’ve got to say, even with my extensive world cup knowledge, I can’t imagine why the organisers put Qatar v Ecuador as the opening match. Bore fest or what? Not the best way to get the tournament up and running.
The group of death. Well, moderate potential injury risk anyway. Surely everybody will beat Iran. Wales and England will hope they’ve both already qualified by the time they play each other in their last game of the group stage. It’s hard to see anyone but the Big G’s lads topping the table, especially with Diero and Kano keeping them out and bashing them in respectively. Gareth the Great, ex Spurs two-time legend naturally enough, will find enough class to ensure Wales defeat the Yanks.
Argentina (along with Brazil, France, Germany, England, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Uruguay and, the perennial dark horses, Switzerland) are my tip to win the tournament. Although, as I’ll explain later, they won’t actually make the final, the way it’s going to pan out. That all comes together to mean there’ll be no shocks as to who tops this group. As for the bit part players, Robbie Lev is beyond it these days, and my insider in the Polish camp, the Krakow Kid, is hinting that he might not be 100% fit and ready to go, so Mexico will finish second. Everyone, of course, will beat the Saudis.
No doubt here. France win (Du Croissant tells me that the camp is like a family reunion. Everyone hugging and sharing tales of what they’ve been up to since they last met. I didn’t like to say that most family get togethers fall apart once Uncle Mike has had a couple and starts on about immigration or Aunt Lucy sees cousin Kate’s had that boob job. Hint hint. Know what I mean?) Denmark, with the fearless King Christian, come second. As for Group D’s makeweights, even Barbie Baz is telling me the Aussies are planning to get the steaks on the grill early, expecting a quick return to Oz. Tunisia? Well it’s nice to be inclusive.
*Group E *
2022. November 27th. 7.00pm. Mark it in your diary now. Spain v Germany. The first really big match of the cup. Winner to play the aging Croatians. Loser to face Belgium. (See below). Victory will be essential. Japan and Costa Rica might as well leave their kits at home and don their swim shorts. No chance for them. I think Germany will edge it. But it could be close.
The group of lingering fear, as I like to call it. Not because of who is there, Belgium and Croatia will go through easily enough, but because the last 16 means facing either Germany or Spain. Who wants that? Belgium should top this quartet. Waffle Man tells me that everybody in camp knows this is it. Last chance saloon. The final countdown. The end of the road. The last look at Heaven. The writing is on the wall. Will this group of Belgians leave a legacy which defines them as the Golden Generation or the Golden Goons. It is up to them. I tell you, the Waff is not confident. Although Robbo Martinez is. Then, he’s always a bundle of optimistic energy.
Brazil might be pre-tournament favourites. But not where it matters. Not in AJ Rutherford’s three bed detached executive home with en suite and downstairs toilet. Not at Stable End, 32 The Grove. Problem is, who’s going to be picking the team? According to Big Fella Favela, and this is absolutely top secret, so don’t tell a soul, it might not be who we think it is. And that will cost them. Dear. So, although they’ll get through, you have it here on excellent advice that if you fancy a flutter, don’t spend your unbaked dough on Bachi’s Beach Boys. The Vibrations emanating from the camp are not Good. Wouldn’t It Be Nice if they didn’t Let Him Run Wild. God Only Knows. Which is a neat and precise (and clever, see what I did?) way to say Switzerland will win the group. Brazil will qualify, but only just.
It’s going to be no party for Partey, and for super Son it won’t be ‘Nice one son.’ Portugal top the group, and Uruguay come second.*The Knock-Out Stage – Qatar Warms Up*
*Last 16 Line Up*
Netherlands v Wales: They won’t be singing in the valleys after this.
Argentina v Denmark: No Argie Bargie. Sadly, Denmark are going home
France v Mexico: Les Bleus give Mexico the blues. But it might be closer than many expect.
England v Senegal: Handy draw for England, and the Lions are captured.
Germany v Croatia: A step too far for the old legs of Luca. The notion that German sides are a machine is a lazy old cliché, and Teutonic efficiency will win the day.
Switzerland v Uruguay: Tough one this, but the Swiss roll on.
Belgium v Spain: What a contest. The rain falls on just too plain Spain, and Belgium march on. Just. Might even take penalties.
Portugal v Brazil: First proper shock. Brazil out. Fernandes falls. Penalty. Ronaldo wins it. But this time, he’s a Portuguese one.*Quarter Finals*
Germany v Switzerland – A game destined to go all the way, 90 minutes, extra time, golden goal, the works. On to penalties. The contest between Europe’s coolest blood seems like it will never end. But it does. And it is the Swiss who have climbed the mountain.
Netherlands v Argentina – Flair, passion, controversy. Red cards abound. Tackles fly. Argentina win through, but at what cost?
Belgium v Portugal – The Belgians always flatter to deceive, but here they are still in the flattering stage. A comfortable victory by a couple of goals.
England v France – This is a battle between the world’s best striker, Mbappe (apart from Haaland, Kane and a couple of others) and the world’s best defender. Bar none! It is Erik the Viking who wins the day, sending Kylian berserk with frustration. At the other end, Kaney is there, and our ‘Arry completes the next stage towards his beautification.
Switzerland v Argentina – An understrength Argentina team see red yet again, and it is all too easy. Incredibly, Switzerland reach their first ever major final. From the Flemish lowlands to the Pennine peaks people smile. Surely, either Belgium or England are now just ninety minutes from World Cup glory.
Belgium v England – It’s been a long old slog in the air conditioned heat. Belgium’s weary legs fail as Souther’s side pass with pace and precision. An ‘Arry ‘at-trick sees England go one better than in Russia. Now can they go one better than they did in the Euros? The country waits. All other concerns – war, climate crisis, cost of living, Covid, HS2, political wrong-doing, rail strikes, petrol prices, social divide – can be seen in perspective. For once. Is football coming home? Are thirty, forty, fifty-six years of hurt to finally be given an aspirin?
*Third Place Play Off *
Argentina v Belgium – The chocolate finally melts, and Argentina win the game nobody wants to play in. Easily. It is a massacre. The end of the road for the Belgians. The jury remains out on whether they are their nation’s greatest ever team, or greatest ever disappointment.
England v Switzerland – YES!!!! Need I say more? Time for a new song, Dave and Frank. They think it’s all over. The last fifty six years are now.
Whatever it is Jules is watching seems to be over! Looks like the politician bloke won, although weird prize! Meal of Tasmanian Devil testicles washed down with Coca Koala! Strange tastes, the Aussies! I thought they bbq’d everything!
Anyway, I promised Jules I’d explain variations in the handball rule, which might take a while, so I better go. Remember, my predicted England squad was 100% right (bar a couple of understandable last minute changes made by the Great Gatesby) so chances are, these predictions will be too.
Look forward to the anticipation,
*Photo: Ocdp, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons*