This last weekend of blissful, fatigued, conflict-free World Cup watching may have given a false impression: That, aside from those early wakeups, Russia 2018 was going to be an easy lift, for us.
Not true. At least, for most of us, that’s not true, and while a lot of people may have burned a sickday Friday to usher in the first full day of this summer's tournament, Monday arrived without such luxuries. Three games across eight hours, all of which while you have to deal with work.
Social media is carrying us through most of the action. For some, they can stream games to their computers while they’re pretending to work. Others, still, had eyes on the job while keeping ears to the radio.
Thanks to the Timbers’ pub partners, there is a collection at rally points throughout the city, most of which will see a huge uptick in business for the 11:00 a.m. PT kickoffs. Today, myself and our social media savant, Kayla Knapp, were out at Kells Brewery on NW 23rd, taking a working lunch while connecting with the largely pro-England crowd.
This is our life, for the next month-plus. Not just my life and Kayla’s life, but yours, too. The compromises we’ll make to fit our passions into work will happen on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Whether that’s at your computer or between bed and the bar, we all live new lives during the World Cup.
The day’s most important came in the Jan Brady match - what I’m going to call the middle game of these three-match sets. There, Belgium became the first of the tournament’s top-tier teams to post a decisive result, turning a 0-0 game after intermission, leaving the field with a 3-0 victory over World Cup debutantes Panama.
They sit on top of Group G on goal difference after Harry Kane’s late goal, his second of the match, gave England a late winner in their match with Tunisia. The 2-1 victory leaves the Three Lions on full points and Kane as the tournament’s early, joint-top, non-Cristiano Ronaldo goalscorer.
Each game, on entertainment value, eclipsed what we saw in the 5:00 a.m. PT kickoff, with Andreas Granqvist’s second-half penalty conversion serving as the only distance between Sweden and South Korea.
The 1-0 victory leaves the Swedes even atop Group F with Mexico, who, as we'll see below, continue to be front-and-center in the World Cup narrative a day after upsetting the Germans.
1. On the same day he bagged a brace in Belgium’s World Cup opener, Romelu Lukaku released a long feature on The Players’ Tribune, one which traced much of his professional motivation back to, as a six-year-old, seeing his mother mixing water with milk, his family having become too poor to stock up on basic supplies for their week’s meals.
"People in football love to talk about mental strength. Well, I’m the strongest dude you’re ever going to meet. Because I remember sitting in the dark with my brother and my mom, saying our prayers, and thinking, believing, knowing … it’s going to happen."
“It’s” was his professional soccer career, his avenue to make sure he and his family would never have to experience that level of poverty again. He describes those motives in his feature, the first half of which will make you reconsider the context of athletes and their fortunes.
2. On a slightly lighter note, South Korea’s head coach, Shin Tae-yung, confessed in the leadup to today’s loss against Sweden that he’d taken advantage of an anthropological quirk to try and deceive some potential spies. Seemingly knowing there’s a “cross-race effect” in recognizing faces, Shin had his players switch uniforms in training, hoping the confusion might deceive the European eyes most interested in the Koreans' approach.
3. Just thought you should know that this Tunisian fan exists, and he was very happy when his team equalized against England.
4. And in case you missed it, this video began making the rounds on social media in the wake of Mexico’s upset victory over Germany on Sunday. Paola, yours is the world’s grandma, now:
5. Lastly, another highlight from Mexico’s fanbase, with a group of fans carrying a cardboard version of a friend across Russia after his “wife didn’t let him go.” I’m skeptical that’s the whole story, but carrying a life-sized version of your pal across Russia is still a #DrivingMarPar-level stunt.
Guzmán and Polo
It’s grind it out time for both Peru and Costa Rica, who have pivotal second matches on Thursday and Friday, respectively.
Peru (0-1-0) face their group favorite, on Thursday, giving them three more days to deal with a sobering reality. Their loss to Denmark was a close one, the chances having broken relatively evenly while falling 1-0. But that defeats means a mere draw against Les Bleus in Yekaterinburg may not be enough to get them into the next round. That would max Peru out at four points, should they beat Australia (no given), while Denmark and France both project to eclipse that mark.
Costa Rica (0-1-0) is in an identical spot. They play Friday, against their group’s toughest team (Brazil), knowing that a draw might not be enough. Like Peru, a second-game draw would max them out at four points. And like Peru, los Ticos have at least two teams (in their case Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia) with viable paths to eclipse that mark.
This is the reality of this tournament format. On one hand, these group stages are far more forgiving than a pure-knockout-round competition. But once you’re off full points, every game quickly becomes must win, if only to avoid having your knockout round fate being torn from your hands.
Right now, the only way Peru and Costa Rica can regain control is to knock off one of the tournament favorites. And in that way, their coming games, while only the second of their tournaments, may be the most important of their competitions.
The one, remaining, isolated group that hasn’t seen action yet finally kickoffs on Tuesday, with Colombia and Japan commencing Group H play from Saransk at 5:00 a.m. PT (FOX Sports 1). That means James Rodriguez, Shinji Kagawa, Radamel Falcao and … perhaps not enough reason to get in a game before work.
Elsewhere in Group H, Poland and Senegal become the last teams to kickoff their tournament when they play in Kazan at 8:00 a.m. PT (FS1). Finally, in possibly the day’s most intriguing game, hosts Russia (1-0-0) face Egypt (0-1-0) at 11:00 a.m. PT (FS1), with the Pharaohs needing a win to get their knockout round hopes back on course. Thankfully, according to head coach Héctor Cúper, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is scheduled to play, having missed Egypt’s first match with a recovering left shoulder.