World Cup tidbits


Pogba dedicates France win to Thai cave survivors

— Paul Pogba dedicated France’s World Cup semifinal win against Belgium to the 12 boys who survived a harrowing ordeal trapped underground in Thailand. The final five members of a young football team were rescued from a flooded Thai cave Tuesday after spending 18 harrowing days trapped deep inside, completing an astonishing against-the-odds rescue mission that captivated the world. Elite foreign divers and Thai Navy SEALs extracted the final batch of four boys, plus the 25-year-old coach, via a treacherous escape route that required them to squeeze through narrow, water-filled tunnels in darkness. Following the 1-0 win in Saint Petersburg, Manchester United midfielder Pogba tweeted: “This victory goes to the heroes of the day, well done boys, you are so strong.” FIFA boss Gianni Infantino had invited the boys’ Wild Boars football team to Sunday’s World Cup final last week. But FIFA said it had been informed “that due to medical reasons, the boys will not be in a position to travel to Moscow”. FIFA also expressed condolences to the family of a Thai Navy SEAL who died after running out of oxygen during the rescue operation on Friday. “Our thoughts are with his family,” FIFA said. — AFP

Courtois blasts France victory as ‘shame for football’

— Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said his team’s defeat by France in the World Cup semifinals Tuesday was a “shame for football”, criticizing Didier Deschamps’s side for a defensive style of play. Center-back Samuel Umtiti’s 51st-minute header from a corner gave France a 1-0 win, as it defended deep to close it out and reach a third World Cup final. “It was a frustrating match. France didn’t play at all, they defended with 11 players within 40 meters of their goal,” Chelsea goalkeeper Courtois told Belgian TV channel RTBF. “They played on the counter-attack with (Kylian) Mbappe, who is very quick. That’s their right. They know when an opponent plays very deep, that’s where we have problems. The frustration is there because we didn’t lose to a team who are better than us, we lost to a team who play nothing, just defend. Against Uruguay (in the quarterfinals) they scored with a free-kick and a goalkeeping error. Today, a corner. It’s a shame for football that Belgium didn’t win today.” — AFP

Ironic twist to French fears in semifinal win, says Lloris

— France was concerned about Belgium’s ability at set pieces but instead scored itself from a corner to book a place in the World Cup final in an ironic twist, said captain Hugo Lloris after Tuesday’s 1-0 win. Samuel Umtiti headed home from a corner six minutes into the second half saw France through to a meeting with either Croatia or England in Sunday’s final. “We feared them on set pieces but in the end it was us who scored that way,” Lloris told reporters. France’s goalkeeper also made two key saves to add to some similar heroics in the previous rounds but looked to play down his individual performance. “We all try to be there to help the team and that will be our outlook again when play Sunday,” he said of the match in Moscow, where France will play in the final of a second successive major tournament. It lost in extra time in Paris in the final of the 2016 European Championship to Portugal. — Reuters

England can win World Cup, says 1966 hat trick hero Hurst

— England’s 1966 World Cup hat trick hero Geoff Hurst says Gareth Southgate’s young team can match the achievement of Alf Ramsey’s men and go all the way in Russia. The 76-year-old — who scored a hat trick in the final at Wembley against West Germany — told the Sun newspaper that Southgate had fostered an impressive spirit of togetherness in the squad. “Just like Sir Alf, he has also stuck by his players and has a very clear way of playing,” said Hurst. “Probably one big difference is that we had four genuine world-class players in Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves (who did not play in the final). “This squad doesn’t have those type of players, they are all of a similar level. Maybe that’s because they are quite young and have their careers still in front of them.” Hurst said Ramsey rightly gets most of the credit for creating a “tremendous team spirit”. “Our camaraderie was excellent,” he said. “Gareth is doing exactly the same.”

World Cup good for French economic growth — finance minister

— France’s World Cup soccer triumphs, which have taken “Les Bleus” to the tournament final, should be generally positive for the country’s economy, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said. “It’s good for growth,” Le Maire told France 2 television Wednesday, without giving any more specific details. The French economy, the second-biggest in the euro zone, has recently shown signs of stalling after a pick-up that followed President Emmanuel Macron’s election in May last year. The World Cup often boosts consumer spending. In Britain, shoppers spent more on beer, barbecues and big-screen televisions in June but the overall increase in sales slowed, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC). — AFP