And with a rumble and a roar and a laser-guided swing of Mario Mandzukic's boot, it was all over. The World Cup that England had earmarked as football's homecoming ended crouched on their haunches, their shapes denting the Luzhniki turf. Party over. Lights on. Everybody out. England are coming home, but football looks like it will be staying in the taxi and going on somewhere else.
It seems faintly surreal to recall it now, but shortly before the start of the 1998 World Cup, the French team were under siege. Months of scathing dispatches, particularly from the daily L'Equipe, were beginning to take their toll, and the man bearing the brunt of the criticism was the man who would go on to lift the trophy just a month later: coach Aime Jacquet.
‘Arsenal win the World Cup”, read the front page of the Daily Mirror on July 13, 1998, the day after France had beaten Brazil 3-0 in Paris. And if the headline feels a bit of a stretch now – only one Arsenal player (Emmanuel Petit) actually started that game, with Patrick Vieira coming on as a late substitute – then it provides a handy snapshot into those innocent, light-headed early days of the Premier League.
If you were to say the name of Stephane Guivarc'h to most people outside France, it wouldn't bring much reverence. He has instead become a bit of trivia, something that almost seems a trick of the mind, renowned as one of the worst players to ever start and win a World Cup final.
Just under six years ago, a few months after Didier Deschamps had taken the French job and when Roberto Martinez was still at Wigan, the Catalan was enthusiastically discussing his football philosophy at the club when a question stopped him in his tracks.
At the final whistle, the players in red converged one another. Gareth Southgate was locked in a bear hug with his staff and a party was already under way behind the goal to their right. England had booked their place in a World Cup semi-final and it has been so long coming - over a quarter of a century since the last occasion - it was no surprise that they would soon be dancing on the pitch as well as in the stands.
Crotia sealed a place in the World Cup semi-finals after a dramatic penalty shoot-out win in Sochi last night, but the damage inflicted in the winners of this draining quarter-final must have played into the hands of their next opponents, England.
There was a moment late in Belgium's win over Brazil on Friday when Eden Hazard led a break. He charged into the opposition half, turned back inside and, as runners went by him, taking defenders with them, space opened up for a pass out to the left to substitute Youri Tielemans. There was an overlap, a chance of a third goal that would have finished the game. Hazard saw it. He tried to play it. But his legs, for once, did not obey. The ball set off in the right direction but with nothing like enough pace; Marcelo intercepted. Hazard had essentially been too exhausted to pass a ball 40 yards. Like the rest of the team, he was spent.
The city of Samara has a rich history when it comes to expeditions into unknown territory. Yuri Gagarin's transport for the maiden journey into space in 1961 was a rocket that was manufactured here. There's a monument to commemorate it in the town centre.
Can you win the World Cup with headers and penalties? With the odd rebound and a lucky deflection? With a luminous green superhero in goal? In Samara Sweden cut off the low route to Harry Kane's feet, but England are becoming very good at finding another way, any way, something you could not have said about many of their recent iterations. Against Colombia they found it from 12 yards. Here they went the aerial route.
It was February on the 'Bate-Bola' football show on ESPN-Brasil and the presenter, Joao Carlos Albuquerque, was leading a discussion on whether Neymar's broken metatarsal on his right foot would rule him out of the World Cup, when they received an unexpected call.
Nike's advertising department certainly did not waste its opportunity last Saturday. Football's newest global mega-star Kylian Mbappe was the predictable subject of a new video, but what felt especially symbolic was how he strode from a rippling Tricolour flag to deliver a smiling "believe" message in response to a narrator telling him that he was "too young" at every critical juncture of his career.
It wouldn't be a World Cup quarter-final without a few mind games, of course. Brazil, according to the Belgium coach Roberto Martinez, are "the best team in the competition", and he urged his players simply to enjoy the experience. "I don't think anyone expects us to go through to the semi-finals," he added.
This has been the World Cup of shattered assumptions. Everywhere you look, what you think will happen has not: England won a penalty shoot-out, Germany went out at the group stage, Russia are still in it. But the most astonishing undermining of the norm comes in this statistic: the team with the fewest yellow cards are Uruguay.
Until this World Cup began, Nikolskaya Street was seldom in the top rank of attractions that Muscovites would use to advertise their metropolis. Bounded by Red Square to the south and Lubyanka to the north, it was scarcely more than a forgotten sidetrack of soulless luxury shops.
There are obviously many world-class players on show in Russia but are there any world-class coaches out there? Spain sacked their manager on the eve of the finals and the team, the style of play and their brilliance has stayed the same under Fernando Hierro. If the departure of Julen Lopetegui to Real Madrid caused turmoil in the Spanish camp, you can't see it in their performances so far.
Cristiano Ronaldo long ago removed himself from the laws of football probability, and, yes, it is a good 10 years since his most damning critic had to yield the point that he was so much more than a self-possessed, if superior, show pony.
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