MORE THAN A GAME
At 5pm (BST) today, around about the time your daily dose of football tittle-tattle from Fiver Towers slithers into tens of thousands of spam folders around the world, it will be 173 days and 18 hours until the Human Rights World Cup kicks off in the international football hotbed that is Qatar. The Fiver is counting the seconds, staring wistfully at the official countdown clock on the Fifa website, powered by Hublot, official timekeeper of the Fifa World Cup™.
With their extremely likable fans invariably a huge credit to the few international tournaments their team has qualified for in recent decades, few would normally begrudge Scotland a place in this year’s finals. This year, though, the Scots find themselves facing the daunting prospect of taking on Ukraine in their playoff semi-final tomorrow night.
Hosting the national team of a country currently under illegal invasion from Russia, in the first competitive match they have been able to play since the declaration of war, is quite the honor for Scotland. Not least because it allows a nation that has historically been bullied by a tyrannical neighbor to show support for their Ukrainian visitors on a global stage. It is also a slightly unenviable one, as victory for the Scots will be viewed by some as tantamount to kicking a blind man’s stick, or shooting Bambi’s mum.
“We’ve got the utmost respect for their situation but on Wednesday night for 90 minutes or even beyond that, 120, we’ll give our all to win that game and that’s all that matters,” said Scotland midfielder John McGinn, whose official timekeeper is unknown. “I don’t think you can get away from how horrible the situation is and our sympathies go to the players, the staff and everyone involved but it’s important for us not to get caught up in the emotion of it all. We’re there to win a football game and try to realize our dreams.”
With a winner-takes-all eliminator against Wales up for grabs for whoever emerges victorious from Hampden Park on Wednesday night, it is important to note that the Ukraine manager, Oleksandr Petrakov, and his proud players neither want nor expect special treatment from Scotland. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Petrakov and his wife refused to flee the besieged capital city of Kyiv. The 64-year-old even tried to enlist in his country’s territorial defense forces, but was turned down. He and his players have spent recent weeks training in Slovenia but arrive in Scotland desperately short of proper match practice, despite practice games against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Empoli and Croatian side Rijeka.
“We want everyone in Europe to know that we want to be part of the EU family,” said Petrakov. “Ukraine is Europe.” Speaking in March, a tearful Petrakov paid tribute to his compatriots fighting against Russia’s illegal invaders, saying “I am the coach of the national football team and I want to kneel in front of you and say thank you from all our players. May God protect you and glory to Ukraine.” While it’s not “lads, it’s Tottenham”, one suspects that’s the team talk sorted.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“He seemed oblivious. He said to me: ‘We’ve only had three months to organize this, we’ve killed ourselves to get this game on.’ I replied: ‘I’m more concerned that people aren’t killed outside.’ He indicated I was being disrespectful.” Steve Rotheram, Liverpool City Region mayor and Hillsborough survivor, tells Andy Hunter about his encounter with the Uefa president, Aleksander Ceferin, inside the Stade de France on Saturday while chaotic scenes were unfolding outside.
David Squires takes a wistful look at a night of true Big Cup romance in Paris – with guest spots from Camila Cabello, Gérald Darmanin and Carlo Ancelotti’s eyebrow.
“Not only did the Beautiful South predict three of this year’s European finalists in Rotterdam (Monday’s letters), in Pretenders to the Throne they mention both Madrid and Paris [and Hull – Fiver 90s Indie Muso Ed] suggesting they had begun to predict not just future Big Cup winners, but also the scene of their triumphs. Although their final single was called Manchester, which suggests that their soothsaying abilities dried up around the same time as the hits” – Tim Woods.
“It’s good to see that the one thing that PSG have learned from this recent period of spending vast sums of Qatari money to desperately chase Big Cup is that they should give their star players more power” – Noble Francis.
“Re: KdB moaning (Monday’s Fiver). You’re a long time retired, son” – Jim Gregory.
Send your letters to email@example.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Tim Woods.
Get your ears around the latest Football Weekly. And while we’re at it, Max, Barry and the pod squad are going back on tour. Tickets to live shows in June and July are available here.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Craig Farrell, the former England youth striker who played for Carlisle and York among others, has died at the age of 39. “I am so sorry to hear this news, Craig was such a likable young man,” said the Carlisle chairman, Andrew Jenkins. “Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones at this very sad time.”
Bad news for the PR team at the Human Rights World Cup: a report from Carbon Market Watch has cast serious doubt on Qatar 2022’s “carbon-neutral” claims.
Liverpool have demanded an apology from Gérald Darmanin, the French interior minister, for doubling down on blaming counterfeit tickets for the Paris Big Cup debacle.
Croatia winger Ivan Perisic has been reunited with Antonio Conte after joining Tottenham on a two-year contract. And the revolving door at San Siro could keep spinning, with Romelu Lukaku still very keen on a return to Inter.
Like an overly ambitious couple on Grand Designs, Manchester United are ploughing on with their rebuild. Former academy coach Andy O’Boyle has been brought in as the new deputy football director, it says here.
Strong work from the boffins on Uefa’s Technical Observer Panel, who have trawled through the footage, crunched the numbers and decided that Karim Benzema was Big Cup’s best player this season.
Frank Lampard’s Everton manager Frank Lampard has been fined £30,000 after getting the right ‘ump with referee Stuart Attwell over a penalty decision at Anfield.
Mick Beale might sound like a new arrival in Albert Square, but he’s actually headed up west – QPR want to appoint the Aston Villa assistant as their new manager.
And Ste Howson, a prominent podcaster who has appeared on Rio Ferdinand’s “digital lifestyle magazine” FIVE, has apologized for claiming Ed Woodward’s tenure was Worse for Manchester United than the Munich tragedy. “I definitely should have worded this better and apologize for any offense I’ve caused,” Howson tweeted.
STILL WANT MORE?
Given how much it winds him up when he isn’t included in listicles, we can only hope Thibaut Courtois is satisfied with Ben McAleer’s offering on his Big Cup brilliance.
Ben Fisher has the inside track on how Steve Cooper managed to transform Nottingham Forest from Championship no-hopers into playoff winners.
Adam White takes a look at the borderline totalitarian power now in the possession of Kylian Mbappé at PSG.
And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!