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From Russia Mit Low...and other coaches (Friday 6th July)

I left my last blog as our commentary team prepared to take our positions in the Rostov Arena for Belgium v Japan, a game that most of us privately thought would be a relatively straightforward victory for a powerful and much taller Belgian team...but then we'd forgotten that this is World Cup 2018, where sheer madness piles on top of craziness.

Japan were quite superb for an hour, with Inui and Haraguchi causing all sort of problems in behind Belgium out wide, whilst the spine of Yoshida, Shibasaki and skipper Hasebe marshalled things magnificently. That said the goals, when they came, were a surprise and a delight. Haraguchi looked to have chickened out of his strike before believing in himself and having a go, whilst Inui's drive for the 2nd was as true a hit as you'll see - one of those shots where the ball doesn't revolve or spin in the air as it travels, but stays stock still - always a sign of how well it's been struck.

Adrian Durham's face when Fellaini was brought on for Mertens was a picture - it was a proper WTF moment to most of us, and we'd have more expected Batshuayi rather than Chadli to enter the fray with Fellaini. This was a proper roll of the dice from Martinez and it paid off brilliantly. I especially loved Hazard's teasing left-footed centre to find Fellaini's head for 2-2 - a quite delicious cross. And as for the drama at the end, well that was astonishing, even by this World Cup's standards. Nishino, the Japanese coach, had no idea how to combat the changes Belgium had made and looked lost as the game slipped from his grasp. I wasn't sure if I'd called the winner by Chadli well enough in commentary, but Jason Cundy and Andy Goldstein were quick to complement me on my work afterwards, so I needn't have flapped really.

Quote of the night from producer Dec; "There's a lot of Japanese media here for this game, aren't there...?"

A relatively early start saw the team return to Moscow, using an airline that we hadn't yet tried - and a company whose rules on hand luggage size were ludicrously stupid. Essentially, your hand luggage needed to be around the size of a cigar box in order not to incur an extra charge. This really was taking the piss, but we all had to wear it and pay our surcharge. The lady on the check-in desk even admitted that her company's policy was daft but was insistent on the charge (all whilst smiling a rather creepy smile which she probably thought put us all at ease - it didn't work, especially on Matt!

But we were soon back in the warm comforting bosom of our Moscow base, and laundry became the most pressing immediate concern. There was a bit of work to do too - being part of the Kick Off show with Saggers in our hotel on the Weds evening and with Adrian and Matt the following day on Drive. In amongst all that, some of the (younger) lads in the talkSPORT team wanted to have a kickabout on a pitch near their accomodation in downtown Moscow. Stupidly I agreed, and muttered to myself en route that I'd be the oldest there by some distance. Not quite as it turned out, as one of our fixers, Artur, brought his Dad with him - a man who must've been over 65 years old! We had team captains to pick from the remaining 8 players...and it was a little disappointing that Artur's Dad got picked 2nd last, ahead know who! Still, I wasn't about to be downtrodden for too long, and proceeded to roll back the (plentiful) years with a defensive midfield performance that would have had Matt Holland sorry, that should be pissing himself laughing. Nevertheless, several assists and a volleyed goal was a decent return for yours truly, whilst Will 'son of Iain' Dowie, a young lad who professed to being like his Dad 'but without the talent' did bag 4 goals in our 10-8 win...those 4 strikes did however come from a good 20+ shots in. Apple didn't fall far from the tree there, then.

Typing this back in Sochi, which is soggy again, ahead of Russia/Croatia tomorrow. The hotel we had been provisionally booked was swiftly rejected on arrival - it was basically a house with rooms in it purporting to be a hotel...something that even The Inbetweeners would have turned down frankly. But we found a much better alternative just as the rain started to fall heavier and heavier. So much so that by the time we'd arrived at the Fisht Stadium media centre to do some prep work, it was as biblical a storm as the one we'd experienced after getting back from Germany/Spain a couple of weeks ago. We had no alternative to dash from our cab, through the media entrance and across the courtyard for a good 200 metres to get to the shelter of the media centre inside the stadium. Rivers of water were sluicing across our path as we ran, and we all resembled drowned rats on our arrival 40 seconds later, though some of us (me) do better drowned rat impressions than others!

So, one more game to go for our comms team - hosts Russia against Croatia tomorrow. Can't wait to see if our 4th visit to this stadium brings us as much drama and fabulous action as the 1st 3 games we've covered here did! It'll have to go some to match the quality of the 10-8 classic played out on the downtown Moscow astroturf yesterday...not really ;)

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