If only he wasn’t unavoidably dead, Kafka would be having a whale of a time with World Cup 2018 and the tangled web of incomprehensibility that the new order is creating.
World Cup 2018 Diary: England To Face Colombia, Senegal Lose The Card Game
Once upon a time, you actually had to play football matches to separate equal teams. These were days when travel was tougher, when footballers were supposedly less fit, but if sides found themselves locked together at the end of the group stage, they went off and had themselves a play-off game.
In these modern times of course, such minor trifles over who is the best team are of no importance, especially when trying to find something as inconsequential as the champions of the world. What matters is the primacy of television schedules and nothing, repeat nothing, can interfere with those.
So it is today that Senegal, level in all important respects with Japan – points, goal difference, goals scored – are on their way home from the World Cup for the deplorable offence of having a marginally worse disciplinary record. No, really.
First off, we can debate endlessly just what a worse disciplinary record is. In a game that’s obsessed with “the show” – see how all the rule changes over the late 20 years have been implemented to increase the number of goals – isn’t it more fun to watch a team that scythes into every blood curdling tackle with a will to wound than watching one for whom it’s all about being nice to each other?
What gets more bums on seats, Game of Thrones or Antiques Roadshow? We’re not talking about real life here. We just want some blood and guts thanks. Give the trophy to the team with most red cards, and if they’ve severed the head of a centre-forward on their way, they can keep it an extra four years.
The aftermath of it all will, inevitably, be the minute analysis of Japan and Senegal’s games, checking every moment to see if cards were awarded “correctly” or not, whether others should have been flashed. The ultimate consequence will certainly be the extension of VAR in yet more corners of the game, such that all fouls will be subject to it, as will all those missed, with a jury handing out yellows and reds retrospectively. Pandora’s Box is open and can never be nailed down again.
The sour taste is worse yet for Senegal had a first half penalty overruled by VAR and because Japan and Poland played out the last few minutes of the game by simply passing the ball amongst themselves, Japan knowing that by not conceding – nor tackling – they would likely go through. That would not necessarily have been the case had Japan known they were facing a play-off with Senegal if things were tied up.
This is no way to run a railroad as they used to say and surely it has to be addressed for the future? In the meantime, FIFA can think themselves lucky that Senegal, a nation with a healthy dose of perspective about football’s real importance, are involved. There are plenty of nations, including some who didn’t make it this time around, who would have been on the phone to their lawyers the minute the final whistle blew.
England and Belgium duly completed the qualification formalities, Belgium winning a game both sides valiantly tried to lose in order to avoid Brazil, leaving us with the last 16 at last – 15 days of football to essentially get rid of Germany and Poland. It leaves us with a knockout phase which, at present, lacks an outstanding side, with none of the pre-tournament favourites standing head and shoulders above the rest.
Much will depend on the vagaries of injuries and suspensions, as well as a bit of luck with the draw. If you had to pick a winner at present, they would all come from the top half of the draw – Brazil and Belgium the most likely, France and Uruguay with potential. But they might punch each other out, exhausting each other before the end, leaving a space for Spain, Croatia or England, perhaps Colombia too, to nip in.