Next year will be the year of Russia and Putin and the World Cup. It promises to be as smooth and successful as Putin’s Winter Olympics in 2014 (now overshadowed by Russia’s ban from the 2018 games). Lots of glittering infrastructure, well-policed fans and lavish hospitality to cover a multitude of sins.
Who will win? Brazil skated through their interminable qualifying group to win by 10 points over the nearest rival, Uruguay. Does that mean the rest of South American football is poor? After all, England drew with Brazil the other day. But Brazil were playing Harlem Globetrotter football, sauntering around with 75 per cent possession. It will all be different in Russia. Southgate’s young England side can, you feel, nevertheless spring a surprise. They have sailed through their mocks: now for the real exams. And please let’s bring in video refereeing to avoid the errors that can blight matches, tournaments and careers. It boggles what’s left of the mind that it still hasn’t been introduced.
This is an extract from Roger Alton’s Spectator Sport, which appears in the Christmas issue of the magazine