Back to top

From Russia Mit Low...and other coaches (Monday 25th June)

I think Matt Holland put it best when he turned to me on our walk back to our Sochi hotel from the Fisht Stadium and simply said, "Dants, we are absolutely having one!"

By 'having one', Matt meant that he and I were having the sort of World Cup where everything we've seen so far has just been utterly riveting. Once again, we'd travelled south to the Black Sea coastline and seen an extraordinary game with a stoppage time wonder-free-kick by a Real Madrid star - only this time it was Toni Kroos rather than Cristiano Ronaldo who scored it, and the German goal was a winner rather than a leveller. As anonymous as Kroos appeared to be in the first half against Sweden, he was completely transformed at the turnaround and dragged his teammates through the 2nd half to come from behind and claw on by their fingernails to their World Cup status. That status is not quite guaranteed of course - South Korea will have to be seen off to secure passage to the knockout rounds - but it looks a darn sight healthier for Low & co than it did after 45 minutes where Sweden had soaked up more pressure than could be imagined having conceded 88% of the ball to Die Mannscaft only to land a huge sucker punch and lead through an exquisitely taken Toivonen lob over Neuer. Indeed, it could have been worse had Neuer not expertly flung himself to his right to keep out Berg's diving header right on the whistle.

You have to remember that Germany have always made semi-finals of all tournaments since Low came into the management setup as Klinsmann's assistant, so the thought of them surrendering their trophy after 2 games must have led to quite the half time team talk from him - Kroos was certainly listening if so. Sweden can still qualify of course, and their final match against Mexico in Yekaterinburg on Wednesday looks to be a terrific battle royale for qualification. Not just that game either - Columbia/Senegal, Nigeria/Argentina and Iran/Portugal look equally tasty to me. And how about this? No jeopardy for England in their final group game other than whether we win or come 2nd? As dear old Graham Taylor would have said "What sort of thing is happening here?"

The reception staff at the hotel in Sochi remembered Matt, Will, Declan and I when we checked in for our 2nd visit - which either means we were memorable in a nice way or an utter nightmare. I know which one I'm going with. We have our own WhatsApp group in our little team to keep in touch with one another and make arrangements to meet up, eat and so on. But what it's actually become is a vehicle for is brutal (if well-meant) insults preying on each other's worst traits. Up to now I can sum it up from the memes and gifs sent that: Will can't actually speak Russian and he's been kidding us on since minute one; Dec would be late for his own funeral; Matt misses penalties against the Spanish; and I want all estate agents and solicitors obliterated off the face of the earth. That's pretty much what gets bandied about hour after hour. It's all pretty harmless stuff though, even if you have to be on your toes to reply wittily to something aimed fairly and squarely at you! It's added a nice extra element to our trip together - something tells me it will carry on past July if Matt has anything to do with it...

Paul Hawksbee and Andy Jacobs are, of course, talkSPORT royalty and my favourite show on the station then, now and always. The lads flew into Sochi on the morning of the Germany/Sweden game along with our Football Editor David Walker, and we were able to meet up for lunch before our team made tracks for the stadium to set up and prepare for our commentary. Paul has one of the sharpest wits I've ever come across and is consistently and brilliantly funny, whilst Andy is equally witty whilst having a slightly more cynical, downtrodden view of the immediate world around him at times, something that Paul latches onto with great zeal. Things also happen to Andy in a 'Larry David' kind of way that happen to almost nobody else on the planet (like being forced to go on holiday with his parents to a nudist camp as a boy!) and that only adds to his personality as his exasperation with things makes for consistently great listening. They also work bloody hard on their show - I know, I've covered for both of them, and you can't just turn up and blag it with either of them - and hopefully will be a fixture on the afternoon wireless for a good few years yet.

We'd agreed to meet the lads back at the hotel after the game for a drink. It's a 25 minute walk from the Fisht Stadium to our hotel, and it was a dry if humid night as we set off after our commentary duties were done. Up in the mountains that overlook Sochi and the Black Sea, however, the night sky was much more foreboding as pulses of lightning from what appeared to be a mere electrical storm lit up the heavy banks of clouds to our right. We couldn't hear any thunder at this point, but the lightning flashes we saw were many and often, and so, even though it wasn't raining on our walk back, we all picked up the pace a tad to make it a 20 minute walk back instead.

I think we did just about the right thing as, not long after we'd all reconvened in the hotel bar, an absolutely biblical storm broke overhead and rain lashed down well into the night as it turned out. Our hotel there has a glass roof which you can see all the way up to from the ground floor bar area. Oddly after 30 minutes of this cloudburst, we could all feel the tiniest droplets of water hitting our faces. Not a flood, but enough to realise that there was a slight gap in the glass roof that was allowing rain water to get in. Naturally no one's phones were affected by the constant dripping apart from - yes you guessed it - Andy Jacobs - whose handset needed rescuing unbeknownst to him as he casually chatted to BBC staff on the other side of the room.

There appears to be a knee injury crisis running through English broadcasters and journos out here. Paul Jiggins from The Sun (whom we met out in Rostov) had turned his knee just before we met up with him and was not best pleased about the 2 mile walk he had to undergo from the edge of the traffic exclusion zone to the Rostov Arena. Similarly, Jonathan Pearce of the BBC clearly had a bit of knee trouble when we caught up with him in Sochi. Matt's knees are not in the best of health after our 6-hour car drive to Nizhny, and he's not been able to 'gym bully' me as much as he'd like as a consequence. I'm watching myself on that treadmill from now on, I'm telling you. And I've nearly stacked it twice already!!

5 days in Moscow now and 2 games to commentate on this week with plenty riding on them: Denmark play France in the Luznikhi on Tuesday, trying to keep Australia at bay to grab 2nd spot and then Serbia/Brazil in Spartak on Wednesday sees both sides needing points to be certain of advancement as Switzerland can potentially overhaul them both. Hope you can join Matt and I on talkSPORT for both of those. After that? It's all in the lap of the gods - or more accurately the talkSPORT bosses - about where we go next. Based on what's happened up til now, I know they'll choose our R16 and quarterfinal games wisely ;)

Add new comment