Monday 31 December 2018

Summer Lovin' Hazard So Fast. France v Belgium, 10th July

Four from the starting line ups tonight play for Tottenham (one for France, three for Belgium), plus one former player, but I found that I could put club prejudice aside in the hope that the Tottenham/'s of whoever went through to the Final, would be fit and unscathed to face the Tottenham's of England on Sunday, should that looming personal disaster come to pass.

Like with De Bruyne, I've let go of my normal animosity towards Lloris, (admittedly minimal), Vertonghen (not so minimal), Alderweireld (minimal) and Dembele (not so minimal) this summer, and though the affiliated of Tottenham would have ended up claiming credit for Belgium becoming world champions - like West Ham with England 1966 - this irritation carried a more distant quality than the surely unbearable, forever, ever crowing of England 2018 winning it with half of the Spurs.

Anyway, all I've done so far in this piece, is shine Tottenham in a good light, which was never the point of this blog, but the amount of representatives they have in the last four of a World Cup can't be ignored, like that time I had a strep rash all over my body. In tonight's commentary, Danny Murphy repeated something he'd referred to in Belgium's last game, citing Alderweireld as playing a key role in Tottenham's "success" over the last few years. As a prickly Arsenal fan, I carry out petty investigations on the use of this term, having suffered nine years of invariable journalistic thread about Arsenal's trophy drought from 2005-2014, despite the club's far longer run of successive Champions League qualification.

Tottenham have certainly made an improvement under Mauricio Pochettino, though even before him they would have theoretically been Champions League regulars, or at least qualifying play/off regulars, had it not been for the impact of Russian and Qatari oil to the Premier League. With Poch, Tottenham not only came runners up to Chelsea in 2016-17, but recorded a points tally that was good enough to have won the Prem on eight occasions, So OK, I'm prepared to let Murphy off with his version of "success". Call the petty investigation off, and loosen up, man, no need to dredge up the fact Tottenham haven't won the league since 1961. No ever mentions it anyway, so need for me to.

Less contentious is the ability of Eden Hazard, who early on tonight, tested the stability of Raphael Varane's head with a right footer, coming in off the left flank. His displays this summer against both minnows and favourites, is surely proof that he has transferred his Premier League excellence to the world stage. Perhaps he's been even more impressive in Russia, combining his attacking threat with periods of defending. Although I dearly love Anders Limpar, Robert Pires and Marc Overmars, I do get pleasure from wingers who track back, like Ryan Giggs used to. I certainly helped out when I played on the left for Highground in Division 2 of the Arlon Printers League, scoring a number of own goals to prove it. 

There aren't many players I warm to who play for a top six club that isn't Arsenal, but I have liked watching  Hazard (except against Arsenal) ever since he started playing in the Prem for Roman Abramovich's Chelsea (not sure which manager, hard to keep track). And yes, I realise it may seem contradictory to admire any Chelsea player in the post Ken Bates era in light of comments I have made in a recent post.

"So what's the difference with De Bruyne, then?", you definitely ask.

Well, I think my peak dislike of Chelsea was tied up in Mourinho, who was a good baddie, but not on the same level of evil as Mansour and friends are at City. While Mourinho deliberately provokes a core following of haters, he doesn't facilitate serious, authentic, dreadful suffering that is far removed from anything football can offer. Abramovich has no doubt as ruthless steak as anyone with a reported £8billion fortune (on arrival in England), but his only equivalent crime is to have rescued Chelsea from huge debt and funded their development to domestic and European glory.

Tonight, I was even worried for the welfare of Hazard and De Bruyne (although, in truth, more for my welfare), knowing they were both on yellow cards going into this match. But then I learned that this threat of the cruellest of sporting punishments had itself been rescinded, as all bookings are now apparently wiped from the record in semi-finals. I'm sure this a source of much comfort for messrs Gascoigne, Caniggia, Costacurta, Blanc and Ballack to know that their personal heartbreaks haven't been in vain.

I should of course, have realised that my concerns for Belgium were, as Del Boy would put it, "epidemic". Arsene, after all, had already indicated that Belgium couldn't win the cup, so I should have reserved my fretting for the wellbeing of Lloris who, shortly after Hazard's shot was diverted by Varane's head, kept out an Alderwereld shot from inside the box. Yet in such a tight, even game like this, 11 v 11, does history and population really influence the winner?

History says history does, and indeed the nation with the 40,000+ benchmark won through tonight to help keep that tradition alive. Lloris's two centre halves matched their captain's contribution, with Barcelona's Samuel Umtiti heading in the only goal of the game from Griezmann's corner and Real Madrid's Varane impersonating a nightclub bouncer with a zero-entry policy. Umtiti even took time out in this Premier League-heavy match, to parody the antics of Liverpool's Bruce Grobelaar during the 1984 European Cup Final penalty shoot out.

France could even afford the luxury of playing a centre forward as a 'false nine', Olivier Giroud, who has always had the whiff of high-end Europa League quality about him (love you, Olly) refusing to score in the great traditions of the striking French, even when extravagantly back-heeled in by Mbappe. In fairness to Gizza, who has scored over 100 goals for Arsenal in 5 and a half seasons, he at least ran on to the ball while the rest of us dropped our jaws.

So France are back in the Final, which will be their third appearance in it, and I'm just one game away from Chris Sutton (pre tournament) and my dad (second phase) having their predictions come true.    



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