After France defeated their longtime rivals England 2-1 on Saturday to advance to the World Cup semifinals and send their neighbors home, the French cockerel crooned loudly into the night.
The defending champions resisted England’s attacks and crushed English hearts on a piece of lush grass that seemed out of place in the middle of a dry Qatari desert.
Ironically, a wild and horribly mishit penalty shot by England’s typically dependable goal machine Harry Kane into the stands finally decided the outcome of a closely contested game of millimeters.
Few people in the enormous Al Bayt Stadium would have predicted that the striker would miss his opportunity to tie the game at 2-2 and set the record for most goals scored by an Englishman after earlier sending a powerful penalty kick past Hugo Lloris.
But that’s the nature of sport, and rather of leading the comeback, the man the English media refer to as “King Harry” instead walked off the field in despair.
“It’s a game of fine margins,” said England coach Gareth Southgate, who missed the decisive penalty in a shootout against Germany in the semifinals at Euro 96.
“For me, we win and lose as a team and we’ve let a couple of goals in and missed a few chances. Harry has been incredible for us, so reliable in those sorts of situations. We wouldn’t be here, but for the number of goals he scored for us.”
In this first-ever World Cup knockout match between two countries with such a long-standing rivalry, such drama was probably inevitable.
The stage was set for major drama before the game even started. After a pre-match fireworks show, smoke hovered in the air.
Both teams of athletes were more than prepared and attacked each other with no restraint if this sporting contest was, as English essayist, writer, and journalist George Orwell put it, “war without the firing.”
Early exchanges were heated, and appropriately, France seized the lead as England griped over a foul that wasn’t called on Bukayo Saka. Aurelien Tchouameni received a perfectly weighted pass from Antoine Griezmann as the English were yelling and waving their arms.
an exercise in millimeters. Jude Bellingham would have been hit if Tchouameni’s shot had been a millimeter off, as opposed to neatly passing through the area between his extended legs.
In either case, Jordan Pickford would have pushed the ball around the post rather than removing it from the goal.
Jules Kounde and Raphael Varane of France made a rough tackle right away, and Theo Hernandez eventually received a booking for repeatedly bringing down England’s attacking threat, particularly Saka, who had beaten him down the right wing earlier in the game.
Not to be outdone, lanky forward Griezmann received a booking in the first half for repeatedly colliding with England’s players.
When Saka was fouled by Tchouameni, it was only fitting that England was able to get back into the game. Kane beat Hugo Lloris with the ensuing penalty kick to tie Wayne Rooney for most goals scored for England with 53.
When Olivier Giroud scored his fourth goal of the competition to restore France’s lead, it was all thanks to that man Griezmann and another flawless assist.
But once more, French disregard for the law allowed England to escape when Hernandez destroyed Mason Mount. However, as the entire stadium prepared for the game to end in a draw, Kane missed from the penalty spot – not by millimeters this time, but by a much, much greater distance.
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