And then there was one. After Germany’s shock exit and Poland’s elimination, FC Bayern München lost eight players before the knockout stages. After this week’s second phase matches, the remaining three became one. The last Bavarian standing is France’s Corentin Tolisso.
It was a miserable week for James Rodríguez and Colombia. On so many levels. Having sustained an injury in Los Cafeteros’ final group match against Senegal, it was a case of touch and go for the creative FC Bayern midfielder. The injury was not so bad, meaning that he would be able to line up against England. Then, it was not so good. Then, not so bad again. He might be on the bench. Nor not.
Then, the final team news came through. The 2014 Golden Boot winner had not made it after all, and was not even on the bench. Having to watch from the stands, James would go through the entire gamut of emotions in what was a torrid two and bit hours of footballing drama.
Without their talisman, Colombia adopted a bad old-fashioned street war approach against a surprisingly streetwise English team. It resulted in a scrappy, bitty, messy encounter. England had won it with a Harry Kane penalty, until defender Yerry Mina scored in the last minutes of added time.
Cue the inevitable penalty shootout, which saw Colombia take the lead before the woodwork and the hand of England ‘keeper Jordan Pickford turned the tables. The the final kick from Eric Dier to win England their first-ever Elfmeterschiessen at a World Cup.
For James, it was a heartbreaking tournament. While not fully fit, there were flashes of his brilliance. A complete contrast to Brazil in 2014, where he had lit up the tournament.
Two days earlier in Moscow, Thiago Alcântara’s Spain took on hosts Russia. Despite their scratchy showing in the group stage, most pundits had expected the star-studded Spaniards to derail the happy home train.
When the 2010 champions took an early lead, it was all going to script. Cue a Russian comeback from the penalty spot, and another game going the distance. In over two hours of football, Fernando Hierro’s team had racked up well over a thousand passes, but with little to show for it in the final third. Their play was chillingly similar to Germany’s.
In the end, it was all decided from the penalty spot. Misses from Koke and Iago Aspas, coupled with some steely shooting from the Russians, brought Spain’s rather strange World Cup odyssey to an end. There was no pitch time for Thiago, who had to watch everything unfold from the bench.
Last Bavarian standing
It was a much better story for Corentin Tolisso and France, who kicked off the quarter-finals with a thrilling 4-3 win over 2014 runners-up Argentina.
After taking the lead with an early Antoine Griezmann penalty, Les Bleus fell behind to two sucker punches, but charged away again with a brace from teenager Kylian Mbappé and a cracker from VfB Stuttgart right-back Benjamin Pavard. If the current transfer gossip is to be believed, Pavard could be a Bayern player by the time the next World Cup comes around.
Argentina pulled a goal back right at the death, but there was no stopping an impressive-looking French side.
For Bayern fans, there was some good news. A yellow card for centre-back Blaise Matudi meant that he was suspended for the next match, and French coach Didier Deschamps took the opportunity to send on Tolisso with a quarter of an hour left. He had little to do, but looks a good bet to start in the quarter-final against Uruguay.
Allez les Bleus
As Bayern’s last man standing in Russia, Tolisso will need to make it all the way to the final to keep another record running. Since 1982, there has been at least one Bayern player that has started in every World Cup final – nine successive tournaments. If France reach the final and Tolisso plays, the record will extend to ten. Even if he is on the bench, we can live with that.
Here is the roll of honour from previous finals:
1982: Paul Breitner, Wolfgang Dremmler, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge for Germany
1986: Lothar Matthäus, Norbert Eder, Dieter Hoeneß (sub) for Germany
1990: Klaus Augenthaler, Jürgen Kohler, Stefan Reuter (sub) for Germany
1994: Jorginho for Brazil
1998: Bixente Lizarazu for France
2002: Oliver Kahn, Thomas Linke, Jens Jeremies for Germany
2006: Willy Sagnol for France
2010: Ajen Robben, Mark van Bommel, Edson Braafheid (sub) for the Netherlands
2014: Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and Mario Götze (sub) for Germany
If we really want to get desperate, there are a couple of former Bayern players who are also still in the competition – Croatian striker Mario Mandžukić and Brazilian winger Douglas Costa.