The World Cup may only be a few days old but Chelsea legend Pat Nevin, out there reporting on the games, has already sent back his first column on his observations on the ground…
It was a very odd build up to this World Cup. I have been at six of the tournaments now and none so far have been quite as subdued at the start because of a variety of reasons. The timing, the location and the politics have all been covered understandably, but the football was at best an afterthought up until Matchday One, so something needed to bring the football itself centre stage.
I was at the opening game and to be fair, there was no lack of star power going through the media queue as we approached the Al Bayt Stadium. As I chatted with John Terry, Marcel Desailly, Ruud Gullit and even some people who didn’t play for Chelsea, it actually started to get ridiculous.
Alessandro Del Piero couldn’t get his bag though the scanner, Gary Lineker actually stopped tweeting for a minute, Alan Shearer sounded happy and Gary Neville to be fair was also on very chipper form. I was beginning to think I had the makings of a good seven-a-side team and then Andy Gray, the former Villa striker, put his foot down and said he still wouldn’t go in goal, even if he was the oldest.
We were a merry if slightly bedraggled bunch as we trudged up the little hill to the stadium which was doing a good impression of a Bedouin tent, but then that is exactly what it was designed to do, and very fine it was too. Fitting as well because they had organised a sandstorm just to add to the realism. We were in the desert so maybe it wasn’t organised, maybe it was just a sandstorm.
Then we were in the midst of the opening ceremony - well we were four hours later...they do like you to turn up early here in Qatar for games if you are working for the media. Anyway, the usual mind-bending show followed and then the voice of Morgan Freeman was used for the voiceover, nice touch I thought, shame they couldn’t get the man himself to turn up. Then blow me down in a sandstorm, old Morgan was there in the centre circle.
Some other bloke stood up and tried to nab some of the glory and limelight but failed spectacularly, then the football started at last. Unfortunately, not only did the Qatari national team fail to turn up for the first 45 minutes, most of their fans failed to turn up for the second 45 minutes.
I have been to three World Cup opening games and to be fair to the Qataris, there is never a good atmosphere at them, mostly because the place is packed to the rafters, or in this case the pretend rugs on the roof, with people who have never been to a football match.
The tickets for this game are filtered out to people who want to be seen to be there and once they had their selfies there was no need to stay. I did meet one person at half-time who clearly had no idea there was a second half.
Anyway, the game was an oddity and a bit of a bore, so it was down to England in the second game to lift the tournament though considering their recent form nothing was sure, other than they would be better at football than the hosts at least.
Suddenly the tournament was lit up by a blistering performance and it was great to see two Chelsea boys in the starting line-up. I couldn’t be happier for Raheem Sterling getting on the scoresheet after a bit of a drought at the Blues. This was what was needed and to be fair I finally spotted football fans in decent numbers in a decent array of national football strips. I was beginning to worry that the hosts had shipped in a rent-a-crowd for every nation, but now at last it began to feel a little like a World Cup here on the ground.
I do wish Mason Mount could have got among the goals as well, but once again his selfless work-rate made lots of space for his team-mates and they made good use of it. In a very selfish way, I am happy Gareth Southgate finally let go of the back-three he seemed wedded too. I hope he sticks with the change. Considering the attacking ability available, they need to get those lads on the field and you can get one more on, if you have one less defender. To win a World Cup these days, you have to be bold. Maybe Gareth has embraced risk.
My favourite fans
I reckon Christian Pulisic will have watched the England game by the time you are reading this, or indeed he has if he is reading this. He will know after his team’s draw versus Wales that England will be a very tough one for them to get anything from, but I expect it will be a cracker.
The USA fans have turned up being their usual excitable and I must be honest, lovable selves. I have said for years that the USA national team fans are my favourite fan group in world football. I will explain it one day, but they are knowledgeable about football, love their team, endlessly back their boys, follow them over land and sea. Remind you of anyone?
They are an unstintingly positive and friendly bunch so I do hope Christian and his mates can give them plenty to cheer over the next few weeks.
I am off to watch another game now, Denmark versus Tunisia, the first of five games in five days for me which I am really looking forward to. I hope to have much more to report and with any luck, a whole load more goals. England have shown the way. It’s up to the rest to follow!