Eng­land go look­ing for more golden mo­ments in Moscow

Can Eng­land fol­low in the foot­steps of Coe and Ovett and taste that golden mo­ment in Moscow’s Luzh­niki Sta­dium? Richard Sut­cliffe re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - WORLD CUP 2018 -

NOTH­ING but the site it­self re­mains from the first in­car­na­tion of the venue that will stage next month’s World Cup fi­nal.

But the Luzh­niki Sta­dium, which will also host Thurs­day’s open­ing match be­tween Rus­sia and Saudi Ara­bia plus five oth­ers be­fore the July 15 fi­nal, re­mains tied ir­re­vo­ca­bly to fa­mous Eng­land sport­ing tri­umphs.

Da­ley Thompson ran, threw and jumped his way to the first of two de­cathlon Olympic golds at the then 103,000-ca­pac­ity Moscow arena in 1980.

That same Games also saw Seb Coe and Steve Ovett go head to head in a ‘Bat­tle of Bri­tain’ duel that ended with the son of Sh­effield tri­umph­ing in the 1500m fi­nal as his great ri­val took gold in the 800m.

Fast for­ward 28 years and an­other all-Eng­land af­fair was fought out in the re-named and, by now, fully re­de­vel­oped Luzh­niki Sta­dium, as Manch­ester United and Chelsea met in the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal.

United pre­vailed on penal­ties as John Terry slipped on the sod­den turf when tak­ing what, if he had scored, would have been the de­ci­sive spot­kick.

He was in­con­solable af­ter­wards, the tears on Terry’s face flow­ing al­most as eas­ily as the Moscow rain that had poured all the way through what re­mains the only meet­ing of teams from these shores in Europe’s most pres­ti­gious club game.

Whether Gareth South­gate’s side will get the chance this sum­mer to fol­low in the foot­steps of Coe, Ovett et al re­mains to be seen. But it seems un­likely.

The draw for the fi­nals means Eng­land will have to reach the last four to play at the Luzh­niki, and even then that will be de­pen­dant on the Three Li­ons fin­ish­ing sec­ond in their group.

Oth­er­wise, the route to poten- tial glory in­cludes just one game in a sta­dium that was re­de­vel­oped again at a cost of £350m a cou­ple of years ago, the fi­nal.

There are a host of coun­tries who seem far more likely to be do­ing bat­tle in­side Rus­sia’s pre­mier sta­dium come the sec­ond week in July. Brazil ar­rive as fa- vourites thanks to an ex­cit­ing blend of tal­ent in a squad whose swag­ger in­vites com­par­i­son with the great sides of the past.

Hold­ers Ger­many, mean­while, boast such strength in depth that Leroy Sane failed to make the fi­nal cut. Joachim Low’s men, like Brazil, join Spain and Ar­gentina on the strongly fan­cied list.

Else­where, Bel­gium’s ‘golden gen­er­a­tion’ must prove a fate sim­i­lar to the Eng­land squad who failed to live up to an iden­ti­cal tag un­der Sven Goran Eriks­son is not to be their destiny. It is, how­ever, France who look to pos­sess the qual­ity to pre­vail in Rus­sia.

Paul Pogba’s do­mes­tic sea­son may have tailed off at Old Traf­ford but ex­pect big things from not only him but also An­toine Griez­mann and Kylian Mbappe.

As for Eng­land, this has been a heart­en­ing 12 months for the na­tional set-up. Vic­tory in the Un­der-20s World Cup last sum­mer, the first by a Three Li­ons side at any level since 1966, was fol­lowed by an­other tri­umph for the Un­der-17s.

South­gate, whose squad in Rus­sia in­cludes just five of the 23 play­ers on duty in Brazil four years ago, has gone about the job of re­viv­ing the na­tional team in an im­pres­sive fash­ion.

The switch to a three-man de­fence in the wake of qual­i­fi­ca­tion be­ing as­sured has made Eng­land much harder to beat, even if goals re­main hard to come by against the bet­ter teams.

A place in the quar­ter-fi­nals beck­ons, thanks in part to a kind draw that will pair South­gate’s side with one from the less than in­tim­i­dat­ing quar­tet of Poland, Sene­gal, Colom­bia or Ja­pan in the Round of 16.

That said, it is al­most 40 years since that Olympic duel be­tween Coe and Ovett cap­ti­vated not just this na­tion but the world.

Com­mon sense may dic­tate that the chances of Eng­land’s sport­ing tri­umphs be­ing added to in the Rus­sian cap­i­tal this sum­mer is slim. But this is the World Cup and his­tory tells us the un­ex­pected can hap­pen. Go well, Three Li­ons.

FLASHBACK: Chelsea’s John Terry misses his penalty in the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League Fi­nal at the Luzh­niki Sta­dium, Moscow, in 2008.

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