NZME's award winning* football blog Goalmouth Scramble is back. Our rotating stable of football writers will offer daily hot takes on all the action from the World Cup in Russia. Today, Steven Holloway takes your questions from his Funbag.

From Diego, Hamilton

Hi Steve, I'm loving the return of the Funbag almost as much as this World Cup. But with kick-off times at midnight, 3am and 6am, I wanted to know your strategy for watching as many games as possible while still operating as a functioning member of society?

Sacrifice. Plan. Learn from your mistakes. Prioritise.


Getting up at 3am last Friday morning to watch Russia play Saudia Arabia was a mistake.

It didn't feel like a mistake at the time, but it was a clear gaffe. It lacked foresight. There was no planning.

The 'butterfly effect' of watching the Saudis get pummeled - in a match where they appeared to forget how to play football – meant I slept through Mexico's incredible win over Germany on Monday morning. For that, I will never forgive myself.

But, I will learn from my mistakes, and as New Zealand Football CEO Andy Martin often says, hindsight is 20/20.

I missed Mexico's win because I was exhausted from watching football. I attempted to scale Everest on my first climb, reaching for the France v Australia (10pm), Argentina v Iceland (midnight), Peru v Denmark (3am) and Nigeria v Croatia (6am) combo on Saturday night. No priorisation, every match treated equally, never again.

My process is now simple. There are three games every night and I watch every 6am kick-off (non-negotiable) but only get up for a midnight or 3am if I can name at least three players in each team.

My processes, management and learnings will undergo a full review (Martin again) when the tournament switches to the knockout rounds.

As far as set-ups go, I've found on these chilly Hamilton mornings the optimal play is to stream the games using SKY GO, in bed, with headphones (to prevent dealing with a chilly wife).


The hardest part of getting up for a silly-timed kick off is the getting up part. But this way you don't have to. The downside is that SKY GO is at least a minute behind the live action, so when the NZ Herald 'breaking news' alert for Harry Kane's 93rd minute winner flashed across my iPad, I hadn't seen it yet. And that's the sacrifice.

From Sandra, Hastings
Dear Funbag, I love a good World Cup conspiracy theory. Got any goodies?

Only one so far, but I like it a lot. The host nation, with a well documented history of state-sponsored doping, are running A LOT further than any other team at the World Cup...

From Todd, Huntly

Hi Steve, in your opinion where does the standard of football at the World Cup rank in terms of worldwide quality?

Good question Todd, and a tricky one to answer. The World Cup can't be matched for drama, popularity or its ability to create unbridled patriotism, but it doesn't produce the world's best football.

That's pretty well-established now with the Champions League widely regarded as the pinnacle of footballing quality. But if the World Cup was a 'league' where would it rank? Probably somewhere under the EPL but above Serie A.

In my totally unscientific opinion, the strength of the world's top leagues looks like this:

1. Champions League
2. La Liga
3. English Premier League
4. Europa League
5. Serie A
6. Bundesliga
7. Ligue 1
15. A-League
500. ASB Premiership
750. New Zealand Northern Premier League
1520. The Waikato Federation League that I sometimes play in.

The easiest way to break this down is to pick the teams apart, and Russia can provide a good gauge. They have, so far, been the standout performers at the World Cup – scored eight, conceded none, solidifying their position as one of the tournament's 16 best teams after two games. But how many players from their starting eleven would warrant a spot in even the worst EPL squads? Based purely on the two Russian World Cup games I watched, I would guess two or three. But how many players from, say, West Ham (13th place last year in the EPL) would make the Russian squad? A LOT.

Then you look at the world's best teams. If Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich entered a team in the World Cup, they would be odds on favourites to win. And players from their starting elevens would all be locked-on starters for their country.

But even the best team at this World Cup will have players that wouldn't warrant a start at the big three.

So I'm happy to hang my hat on the World Cup producing the 'fourth tier' of footballing quality, because anyone at the World Cup could get a game in the Europa League, right?

From Che Martin, Hamilton Central
What's up with Lionel Messi, bro?

No idea, but I found this take fascinating:

In the opening seven days of Russia 2018 one outfield player ran less over 90 minutes than anyone else in any position in any team. His name? Why, it's Lionel Messi!

Messi ran 7.61km. Five days on this is still fewer than any other outfield player to complete 90 minutes. Unsurprisingly Messi has also run less without the ball than any other outfield player, less even than Kasper Schmeichel and Hugo Lloris who are, of course, goalkeepers.

Against Iceland Messi made 17 sprints, half as many as Philippe Coutinho and Mesut Özil in their opening games. The quickest player at the World Cup so far is Cristiano Ronaldo who clocked 34kph against Spain, perhaps while he was running off to celebrate one of his goals. Messi's top speed is 25kph, slower than David Silva, Andrés Iniesta and even Sergio Busquets.

When you're fastest sprint is slower than Busquets, we got problems. Take the handbrake off Lionel - what's going on?

Argentina's Lionel Messi stands on the pitch at the end of the group D match between Argentina and Croatia at the 2018 soccer World Cup. Photo / AP.
Argentina's Lionel Messi stands on the pitch at the end of the group D match between Argentina and Croatia at the 2018 soccer World Cup. Photo / AP.

From Clayton, East Tamaki

Is there anything else you'd like to get off your chest that wasn't asked by these other definitely real people who appear to have sent you questions without being prompted?

Yea, there is actually. I was one of the desperate sods who got up at 3am to watch Uruguay suck the life out of a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia and it made me worry for the future of the World Cup. The current 32-team model is perfect. There have been a few mind numbingly boring games (refer to the game above) but the majority have been filled with excitement, drama and quality. We can kiss that goodbye when the tournament expands to 48 teams in 2026. Sure, it will be good for New Zealand who should qualify every tournament through Oceania, but at what price.

A further dilution of quality means more Uruguay v Saudi Arabia's. And no one wants that. Enjoy this World Cup before it's RUINED!

*Goalmouth Scramble's 'award' was more of an inter-company acknowledgement in an email from 2012.
Previously, on Goalmouth Scramble:
Michael Burgess: Why I'm missing Sepp Blatter
Cam McMillan: The far too early second round projections
David Leggat: A few things you need to know about the World Cup
Damien Venuto: Messi - The Argentinean Andrew Mehrtens?
Cam McMillan: Why Brazil will (and won't) win the World Cup
Niall Anderson: The best (and worst) games to watch
Chris Rattue: Funny footballs and goalkeepers
Chris Rattue: The big World Cup questions
Steven Holloway: Fancy a punt? The World Cup's best bets