I may have to come up with a new title for this blog, as I am most definitely not 'Mit Low' anymore at this World Cup.
Hard to believe that Jogi and the boys would be jetting home before me, but there it is - for the 3rd such tournament in a row, the holders have exited stage left without troubling the knockout stages. Italy, Spain and now Germany...perhaps Die Mannschaft had nothing left in the tank after a hectic domestic season with a desperately intense and close run title challenge combined with no winter break to recharge the...oh, wait...
The cheer from both inside and outside the Spartak Stadium from (mostly) Brazilian fans filtering in from the Metro station nearby as Son Heung Min was given the 'after you Claude' signal by Manuel Neuer as if to say 'Go on, old horse - stick it away, I need the exercise' was tumultuous. That 7-1 crushing by the Germans still rankles with the Selecao and their devoted followers, so to see them disappear was a bit of a tonic and no mistake. Some of it seemed a little premature given that Tite's men still had work to do themselves to make the last 16, but the subsequent 90 minutes that played out in front of us showed that Neymar & Co had little to worry about, save for a 10-minute spell after half time when, despite being a goal up, they had to withstand a lot of pressure from the Serbs with Nemanja Matic and Sergey Milinkovic-Savic driving on through the midfield to ask questions of the back 4. They answered well, especially Thiago Silva, whose continued selection at the expense of Marquinhos still mystified me given the latter's prominence in the qualifiers - he was outstanding, and late call up to the squad Fagner had a very neat and tidy game at right back. Not quite in the galloping Cafu/Josimar/Dani Alves mode that we're so used to seeing from Brazilian players in that position, but eye catching in a different, more subtle way.
Oh and did Adrian mention that the Germans went out on air? Yeah, once or twice...a minute ;)
As entertaining and intriguing that Brazil/Serbia game was, the abomination Matt, Adrian and I had witnessed 24 hours before in the Luznikhi stank more than I do after 45 minutes in the hotel gym. France/Denmark had nothing to recommend it whatsoever, save for perhaps the industry and guile of Griezmann in the first half. But no one around him in a French shirt was anywhere near on the same wavelength whilst the Danes retreated to their defensive 3rd, circled the wagons and said 'They shall not pass'. Even with the news that Denmark's rivals for qualification, Australia, were 2-0 down against Peru and therefore no threat to them anymore, they refused point-blank to do anything remotely off the front foot. The whistles, catcalls and - yes - boos that accompanied the last 20 minutes made it clear what the paying public thought of their attitude. Denmark and their travelling support clearly didn't give a stuff about that, and they are through which was of course the aim. But Croatia will tonk them, whereas in my opinion, Argentina (their opponents if they'd had a go and won the game to win the group) are far more fragile and beatable than Modric's men. We'll see anyway. Certainly that match has now usurped Stoke 0-0 Plymouth as the worst game I've ever seen live and will be nigh on impossible to top.
Now comes the part that Kathryn, David & the bosses at talkSPORT have probably not been looking forward to with too much relish - the logistics of organising where to send commentary teams on the hoof for the knockout stages onwards. England's continued participation means that Saggers, Jim, Stuart and co know where they're going to a point (pending a 1st or 2nd place finish for us) and wherever they end up watching our boys in the R16, they can be allocated another tie in and around it to suit. Similarly, it became clear after Groups A & B completed that me and our team would be heading back to Sochi for the little matter of Uruguay v Portugal. Cue frantic flight and hotel searches on our behalf which got sorted out mercifully quickly. I have to say at this point that the job that Kathryn and the team have done in organising this trip has been faultless. It's easily the best trip we've been on, as we all agreed in the hotel bar last night having returned from Spartak. We were also informed upon our return for a nightcap (or 2) that post-Sochi, we'd head up to Samara for our other R16 commentary. I mean, who wouldn't want to keep following Brazil around? Works for me and the lads, so Brazil/Mexico it shall be. We shall have to wait and see which quarter final suits best once the other half of the draw gets completed tonight.
Somebody was looking online somewhere and told me that apparently I've done over 80 commentary games for talkSPORT and talkSPORT 2 this season, and with my World Cup games, it'll be pushing towards 3 figures by the time I fly home. That's easily my busiest season ever, not forgetting the darts coverage that I've also loved being involved with. I'm not going to rest on my laurels despite it being such a busy campaign, though - going to have to try and match that target next season too. It was always my desire to get the commentary gig back, and the Euros, followed by the arrival of talkSPORT 2 and Saturday/Tuesday/Wednesday live games has been a brilliant time for me to get my teeth back into my favourite aspect of sports broadcasting i.e. live commentary.
Another great aspect of this trip has been the camaraderie and bonhomie between me, Matt, Adrian, Will, Dec and all others who are part of our comms team. As I mentioned before in a previous blog, the savagery of jibes and jokes at others' expense on our private WhatsApp group has now intensified if anything. You have to be on your toes with a witty riposte to a gif or meme designed to poke more than a little fun at you. Matt is clearly the instigator in most instances (you can see how he ran dressing rooms at Ipswich & Charlton to be honest), but as you can probably imagine, Adrian always has a withering put-down up his sleeve and ready to go. It's all added a fun element to the more arduous travelling part of the job, so whilst one can be the butt of the jokes for hours on end, the time spent winding each other up sure beats just sitting looking longingly at the departure boards in the airport willing the gate to open.
To Sochi once again!