“Nice reference to Dylan Thomas there, Matt Dony,” says Nathan Barnes. “Here’s hoping Wales can surprise us one last time? Nathan, from South Africa (a distant observer of this tournament).”
“Kia ora from Aotearoa/New Zealand,” writes Annabelle Garnett. “I just cleaned the remnants of cheese from our toasted sandwich machine. I could have sworn the sticky yellow goo resembled England. It can only be an encouraging sign! Up the Three Lions!!!”
That’s the first time I’ve seen the phrase “sticky yellow goo” in close proximity to “an encouraging sign”.
No big Wales game would be complete without a pre-match stream of Matt Dony’s consciousness.
“Euro 2016 was an astonishing, magical, stars-aligning, life affirming journey. But, let’s face it, it was never going to be the pattern for future tournaments. Wales have a decent squad, but that’s it. Their strength has always been an ability to rise above the sum of their parts (and then for Bale to do Bale things).
“I think a lot of people outside Wales have underestimated just how much it means to be there, to be at the party, so long after the last time. I honestly never thought this would happen in my lifetime. The performance against Iran was disappointing, there’s no getting away from it. And as a result of that game, this is likely to be the end of the line.
“Wales’ best performances over the last decade or so have been when Ramsey, Allen and Bale have all been on the pitch. It’s happened with depressing irregularity more recently, but it would be nice if they could sign off with a bang.
“Time catches up to all players; knobbles their legs, throttles their lungs, clouds their vision. But if those three old boys have got one more monster performance in them, now would be a helluva time to rage against the dying of the light.”
When is he going to give Charlie George his head?
“I know I’m old-fashioned (no social media presence) and naive, but I fail to see why a Twitter frenzy puts pressure on Gareth Southgate, or anyone else for that matter,” says Richard Hirst. “Simply don’t read it, ignore it, let the mob eat themselves, don’t give them the satisfaction etc etc.
“I appreciate that these are the words of a bah humbug geriatric but … imagine the frenzy if Twitter had been around when Alf Ramsey played Geoff Hurst rather than Jimmy Greaves, and that didn’t turn out too badly.”
It’s a complex situation that involves an evolving media landscape, changes in human behaviour and notions of identity in a digital world. I suppose the easiest way to summarise it is to say that, at some stage in the 2010s, the entire world went mad.
Group A is done and dusted. The Netherlands put Qatar out of their on-field misery with a 2-0 win, and Senegal pipped Ecuador 2-1 in the second-placed playoff.
That means the winner of this group will play Senegal ojn Sunday evening (UK time), and the runner-up will meet the Netherlands on Saturday afternoon.
Read Jonathan Liew on Jacob Maguire
And what exactly does he know about taking free-kicks at a World Cup?
Tom Lutz is a delightful human being – warm, smart, effortlessly funny, a creme de menthe connoisseur. A credit to the Guardian, and to humanity. Cherish him, appreciate him, say goodbye to him, because the poor bugger has been given the hottest potato in Guardian MBM history.
Gareth Southgate makes four changes to the side that drew against the USA on Friday. The most significant, though not the most eye-catching, is probably at right-back, where Kyle Walker replaces Kieran Tripper. Walker is a key part of Project Mbappe (and, if England are really lucky, Project Vinicius), so England want to get him match-fit. Walker has played only 41 minutes since the start of September.
The public gets what the public wants up front, where Phil Foden replaces Bukayo Saka on the right wing. Marcus Rashford is in for Raheem Sterling on the other side and Jordan Henderson replaces Mason Mount in midfield.
Just one more thing: Ben White, who is unwell, isn’t among the substitutes.
England (4-1-2-3) Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice; Henderson, Bellingham; Foden, Kane, Rashford.
Substitutes: Pope, Ramsdale, Grealish, Sterling, Trippier, Phillips, Dier, Coady, Saka, Alexander-Arnold, Mount, Wilson, Maddison, Gallagher.
Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey start, despite speculation to the contrary, but there are three changes from Friday’s miserable 2-0 defeat to Iran.
Danny Ward, Dan James, Joe Allen replace Wayne Hennessey (who is suspended), Harry Wilson and Connor Roberts. That probably means a switch to a back four, though Ethan Ampadu’s flexibility allows Rob Page to play either way. Or he could go rogue and stick Gareth Bale at left wing-back, like in the old days.
Wales (possible 4-2-3-1) Ward; N Williams, Mepham, Rodon, Davies; Ampadu, Allen; Bale, Ramsey, James; Moore.
Substitutes: A Davies, Gunter, Wilson, Johnson, Roberts, Morrell, Lockyer, J Williams, Harris, Thomas, Levitt, Cabango, Colwill, Smith.
If they win, they win the group.
If they draw, they will win the group unless Iran beat the USA by any score or the USA win by at least four goals.
If they lose, it gets complicated. They will still qualify unless they lose by at least four goals; if England lose by 1-3 goals, they will still top the group if Iran draw with the USA.
If they win by at least four goals, they will qualify for the last 16.
If they win by fewer than four goals, they will only go through if Iran draw with the USA.
If they don’t win, they’ll do one.
Wales v England is one of rugby’s most intense rivalries – “look what these bastards have done to Wales…” – but in football it has generally been a story of distaste rather than disgust. Tonight’s match can viewed in multiple ways: as a local derby, a one-way rivalry, or an FA Cup fourth-round tie in Fifa clothing.
The game doesn’t exist in a vacuum, which is one of the main reasons for the slightly odd pre-match mood. It’s inextricably linked to Iran v USA, a match which could determine whether
#WW3 is trending by midnight Wales qualify and/or England top the group.
The strangest thing is that Wales go into the final group game of their first World Cup since 1958 hoping that England win their group. It sounds absurd – offensive even, and you can direct your complaints to the readers’ editor via email@example.com – but that, realistically, is the only way that Wales can qualify for the last 16. Unless they win by four goals tonight [spoiler alert…], Wales will finish below England. Ergo, if England finish second, Wales do one.
But a one-goal win for Wales certainly isn’t beyond the realms. If they manage that, and Iran draw with the USA, Wales will go through and Robert Page will complete the return journey from bald fraud to smooth-headed genius.
There’s a decent argument, albeit not one I’d volubly articulate in some of Cardiff’s less forgiving freehouses, that reaching the last 16 isn’t the be-all and end-all for Wales. This game feels as much about them leaving an impression on Qatar 2022 after two muted performances against the USA and Iran. Even if Wales go out tonight, the result and especially the performance will shape how their campaign is remembered. You never get a second chance to make a last impression. The likelihood is that this will be their final hit at the World Cup. But there are final hits and final hits. Which one is this going to be?
England, by contreast, are slightly in limbo. To some this is a lifeless rubber, a chance to play Phil Foden, Trent Alexander-Arnold and all the other generational talents (sic) who would walk into a World XI but not Gareth Southgate’s England. To others it’s vital for morale that England win – not just the match but also the group and, at least until the next game, the oscillating voters on social media.
This is a very complicated game, you know: lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous. It’s a night for both might and will, and not just as nouns. England might top Group B with a draw; they might be able to make multiple changes and still beat Wales. But another modest performance will exacerbate the absurd pressure that Southgate is under, largely because of hysterical criticism from Twitter’s finest.
England will top the group if they win, though there is an argument that finishing second is preferable. It would give them a tougher last-16 game (the Netherlands rather than Senegal) but a potentially less terrifying quarter-final (not France rather than France).
For the 974th time in this World Cup, I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s going to be that sort of night.
Kick off 7pm GMT, 10pm in Al Rayyan.