Schadenfreude addicts, conspiracy theorists and permutations junkies | World Cup 2022


What the Human Rights World Cup lacks in equality, dignity, human rights and Scotland, it is more than making up for in drama. The last group games have been popcorn-gorging, brain-melting belters, with something for everyone: schadenfreude addicts, conspiracy theorists, historians and permutations junkies. Belgium and Germany went out on Thursday, and for a delirious couple of minutes, in which it was beyond the wit of man to utter anything other than “Oh my God!”, it looked like Spain might join them. Belgium’s exit was on the cards after their defeat to Morocco on Sunday, but nobody saw the manner of it coming. Poor Romelu Lukaku produced a tragi-cameo for the ages, with a personal xG of 1.98 and a G of 0.00. His only shot on target was when he rammed his fist into the dugout after the game.

Germany followed Belgium to the airport a few hours later despite beating Costa Rica 4-2. That’s because Japan beat Spain, with a winning goal that, at first glance, seemed to involve the ball going out of play before Kaoru Mitoma cut it back to the goalscorer Ao Tanaka. Everyone shouted “Over the line!” like Walter Sobchak until, a long time after the event, somebody stumbled upon an angle that showed the curvature – don’t pretend you’d ever heard that word before it came out of Peter Walton’s mouth – of the ball may not have been completely over the line. This was not enough for ITV pundit Graeme Souness, who muttered darkly about cover-ups and stopped just short of saying that Fifa was responsible for a psyop called Covid-19.

Friday’s matches will decide the last four places in the second round, which begins on Saturday. England play Senegal on Sunday evening, which is bad news for the viewing figures of Countryfile on BBC1 – not to mention Craig Charles: UFO Conspiracies on the History channel, this time with guest presenter Graeme Souness. Before all that, there’s the small matter of Ghana v Uruguay to decide who joins Portugal in the last 16. There’s a small chance that South Korea could finish above them both, but the likelihood is that it’ll be a fight to the death, just like it was in the quarter-final 12 years ago. Luis Suárez, whose handball on the line stopped Ghana becoming the first African team to reach the semi-final, pointedly held court in front of the press on Thursday. The gist of his message was, well: bite me.

“I didn’t say sorry because I did the handball but Ghana’s player missed the penalty, not me,” he said. “Maybe I would apologise if I tackled and injured a player but in this situation I took the red card, the referee gave a penalty and it’s not my fault because I didn’t miss the penalty. The player who missed it said he’d do the same. It’s not my responsibility to take the penalty.” The Ghana coach Otto Addo agreed with Suárez, pretty much, but such reason is unlikely to be evident when the game gets going – especially if Suárez again demonstrates his win-at-costs-you-can’t-imagine mentality. Popcorn please!


Join Rob Smyth from 3pm GMT for MBM coverage of Ghana 1-1 Uruguay, while Barry Glendenning will be on deck for South Korea 1-2 Portugal at the same time. Then Scott Murray will be your guide at 7pm GMT for Cameroon 0-0 Brazil, when Will Magee will also be at the wheel for Serbia 0-0 Switzerland.


“Ousmane is scared of cats. There are cats strolling around and he’s scared of them. It makes everyone laugh” – France’s Randal Kolo Muani is short on sympathy for teammate Ousmane Dembélé, who is apparently struggling to deal with the number of stray felines on the streets of Doha.

Ousmane Dembélé keeping his eyes peeled.
Ousmane Dembélé keeping his eyes peeled. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Pressinphoto/Rex/Shutterstock
The miaown streets of Lusail.
The miaown streets of Lusail. Photograph: Pavel Golovkin/AP

“So, there we were, on a winter sun holiday in Tenerife, and decided last night (of all nights) to go to a lovely restaurant with no TV and no football. Good food, good wine and good chat with Mrs Smith. A romantic evening. On our way there I caught a glimpse in a bar, of the early scores, 1-0 to both Germany and Spain. You’re a genius Mike, the best night not to watch. About an hour later and well into food, wine and chat, my phone receives lots of WhatsApp messages from friends back home in freezing Wiltshire. ‘Hope you’re watching this mayhem, bedlam, carnage, chaos, ridiculousness …’ I then spent 30 minutes or so constantly refreshing the scores. Romance went out the window when I excitedly told Mrs Smith that, at one point, Spain and Germany were going home. All is fine here, we love each other – I’ll make it up to her on Sunday when we get home to freezing Wiltshire. Oh no, it’s England v Senegal” – Mike Smith.

“‘Denmark as the HRWC’s biggest disappointment (yesterday’s Football Daily)? Roberto Martínez has entered the chat” – JJ Zucal.

“So, like any Football Daily pedant, I was intrigued by your crafty line that the Danish team took ‘flight DO1 to Copenhagen’ (yesterday’s Football Daily) after their poor runout at the HR World Cup. Well, that’ll be a long travel day. ‘DO’ is the international code for Compania Dominicana de Avia. I’ll assume they have a quick layover in the Dominican Republic and be home by nightfall” – Mike Wilner.

“Liverpool’s 2,500 new rail seats (yesterday’s Beyond the HRWC) won’t be much use for any fans wanting to travel to Anfield with Avanti West Coast, given they’ll struggle to get a rail seat, rail stand or rail hide-in-the-toilet to get there” – Jim Hearson.

Send your letters to Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Mike Wilner.

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