High Noon in the Dunes


Tuesday 29th November, 7pm

Wales @ 13/2
England @ 4/9
Draw @ 16/5
view odds

There was a chance it wouldn’t happen.  And it did look a bit shaky there for a while.  But finally, in the midst of a global symposium of debates and lectures on vast, complex subjects such as history, the environment, and international ethics…a football tournament has broken out.

And as we approach the conclusion of the group stages in the Gulf, I’d say, overall, it has been, well…decent.  An opinion which will no doubt reassure Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad that his $220 billion investment has been completely worthwhile.

A surfeit of 0-0 draws has been offset by some truly seismic upsets.  The arid conditions don’t appear to have had a detrimental effect on the players.  Several big names have delivered moments and created images with the power to reverberate around the globe.  And, though not quite full to capacity, the immaculate stadiums have been sufficiently stocked to create a respectable din in most instances.

I would welcome a few more stunning goals – the kind to turn my armchair into an ejector-seat – and perhaps some Luis Suarez-style insanity that transcends the sports pages.  But with many groups in the balance, and some truly heavyweight 2nd round fixtures on the horizon, there is still much to anticipate in the strange, Ballardian, tortilla sands of Qatar.

Following a delirious opening match, Gareth Southgate, wisely, took the opportunity to dampen the molten expectations of England fans.

Unifying the country was the chief goal, apparently.  Because in serving-up such a stultifying Friday night dog’s dinner, Southgate ensured that by the time the game had finished, all the people watching in beer-soaked bars across the country were exactly as sober and sullen as the crowd over at the Al Bayt Stadium.

Comparisons have been made to the supremely dire England v Algeria World Cup game in 2010 – a match I watched in a buzzing, busy pub; which, by the time the final whistle peeped, possessed all the atmosphere and joie de vivre of a wake for a beloved grandparent.

Tuesday evening sees Wales tackle England in a match that had the potential to be a vitriol-filled, sinew-perishing battle to determine, once and for all, which country’s national animal is the most unrepresentative.  But with England effectively through, and Wales effectively out, the impact of the result has been somewhat diminished.

This fixture will, however, provide us all with another opportunity to bear witness to the quality known as ‘passion’ – an attribute which, according to TV commentators, is unique to the country of Wales.  Other nations can only look-on in awed disbelief and wonder if they too will ever know what it is like to feel this mythical energy surge through their drab, inanimate bodies.

Seeing whether Southgate will surrender to the clamour to include Phil Foden in England’s next starting XI should provide some intrigue to the game’s prelude.  Though I wonder, in a team sport, just how much impact one person can really make?  Is the expectation that the introduction of the skilled Manchester City forward will somehow transmogrify the entire outfit?

Obviously there are players that can do this.  Fans and players of their respective countries look to Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, and Mbappé to provide the magic to take them over the line.  Is it purely technical skills that they provide, or is it the confidence and experience that helps to elevate those around them?

Louis Vuitton’s celebrated pre-tournament advert showed Messi and Ronaldo on opposite sides of a chess-board, in a modern-day mirror of Rodin’s The Thinker.  A football match, however, isn’t quite so simple.  There are many factors at work during the course of 90 minutes, and many players; even though only one of them, ultimately, gets to score the winning goal and checkmate the King.

So as the knock-out stage looms – the coming shoot-outs, the thrilling high-noons in the dunes – who will be the individuals that deliver these decisive shots?

For all your bets on the FIFA World Cup, visit our dedicated football betting page.

Please play responsibly