Well, that’s it for another year, or four. Earlier today the Wimbledon Tennis Championships came to an end, on schedule thanks to this year’s heatwave. The Football World Cup was all over by 6pm UK time, France beating Croatia 4-2 in the Final. And in their All-Ireland Hurling Quarter-Final Kilkenny lost to Limerick, so my interest in that tournament is now severely diminished.
These sports have all prompted pieces on these pages in recent weeks. There are a few Trivia Challenges related to tennis here. Our distracted way of watching World Cup games became more focused once the knock-out phase began, a mere 15 days ago, the day that Lionel Messi’s involvement in the tournament ended. In the Hurling last weekend, the Leinster Final Replay (anticipated here) saw Kilkenny lose to Galway, in Munster. Today’s Quarter-Final was the team’s last chance to progress, and I really thought that they would. I have grown used to Kilkenny still being in contention in August, when the club football season begins again here in England. There are some big cricket matches still to come in the weeks ahead (India are touring, and the Test Series hasn’t begun yet), but today it feels like the sporting summer is mostly over. The following 600 words reflect on sequences of winners, colours, flags and wall charts.
After the weekend’s Wimbledon Finals, two big pieces of trivia which were included in that earlier piece still apply. In the women’s game the last 7 Grand Slams have been won by 7 different women. Angelique Kerber won the US Open in 2016, and Wimbledon this year, and the 6 Majors in between were won by Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbiñe Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep, in that order. In the men’s game 7 players have won the last 54 Grand Slams, going back to the French Open in 2005: Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic (including today’s Wimbledon victory over Kevin Anderson), Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro, Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic.
With France playing Croatia in today’s World Cup Final we were guaranteed a fifth different winner this century, after Brazil (2002), Italy (2006), Spain (2010) and Germany (2014). France won it in 1998. If Croatia had won we would have had a sequence of six different countries winning the competition, which has never happened before. Five remains the longest run of different teams winning the World Cup. It happened between 1966 and 1982 (England, Brazil, West Germany, Argentina, Italy) as well as 1998-2014, or 2002-2018 if you prefer. Today was only the fourth time that the Final has not featured at least one of the following three countries: Brazil, Italy, Germany (including West Germany). The other years were 1930, 1978 and 2010. Back in April, and again in June, I wrote about teams in blue and teams in red. As in this year’s FA Cup Final a team in blue (France) overcame a team in red (Croatia).
On the first two Sundays in July I watched the Leinster Final, and then the Replay, with my 13-year-old son in the local Parish Centre. Today my 11-year-old daughter came with us to a different venue, the Raven. During half-time in the Hurling, and with Djokovic well on the way to winning his fourth Wimbledon title, we looked up at all the flags hanging from the ceiling, representing the 32 countries who made it to the World Cup. There is one local pub (The Packhorse and Talbot) where the flags are arranged according to the groups that the teams played in at the start of the competition: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay / Spain, Portugal, Iran, Morocco, and so on. I have observed this arrangement many times in recent weeks while walking past, and have found it a useful way to remember how the groups were arranged. Everywhere else the flags are hanging in no particular order. Back in April, in this piece, I wrote about my daughter’s design for a poster for her school’s Summer Fair, which incorporated her own drawings of all 32 flags. We looked up at the ceiling of the Raven and identified 31 of them easily enough, but were both stumped by the bands of red either side of a band of white. We had to start going through the 8 groups of teams to work out which country was missing: Peru, who lost 1-0 to France on 21 June, just before Croatia beat Argentina 3-0. I’ve just checked those details in the centre pages of my Guardian World Cup Guide, which I have been filling in more conscientiously than the Wall Chart that was mentioned here. Every single result has been noted down in The Guide, but the Wall Chart was last updated on 27 June (Switzerland 2 Costa Rica 2). Nope, can’t remember that one at all.