Our worst fears about this World Cup have been confirmed: none of the countries left in the tournament have left-wing governments.
The Second Round, which you can read about here, was something of a massacre for the left’s chances, with Spain, Portugal, Mexico and Colombia all crashing out. That meant only Uruguay and Sweden remained as representatives of progressivism in the Quarter Finals, and both went into their matches as underdogs; Uruguay against centrist France, and Sweden against right-wing England.
In retrospect, we should have seen England’s victory coming. Prior to Saturday’s game, Sweden had lost one game against their sole right-wing opposition so far, beating two left teams and one centrist state. They were the only team still in it not to have beaten countries from both the right and left on the way to the Quarter Finals. The political guide saw it coming.
Of the four countries left, all are European, with England, Belgium and Croatia represented by right-wing governments, and France by a centrist one. In 2014, by contrast, we had two right-wing countries and two left-wing countries in the Semi Finals, and a straight left versus right fight in the final, which right-wing Germany won. The 2010 World Cup was also left against right, though left-wing Spain came out on top that time.
Belgium’s coalition government consists of four parties which are all various shades of centre-right or right-wing: the New Flemish Alliance (which has the most seats), the Christian Democratic and Flemish party, the Open Flemish Democrats and Liberals, and the Reformist Movement (from which prime minister Charles Michel is drawn). Should they face England in the final, the Brexit angle will ensure I am not be the only person drawing out a tenuous political angle from the football.
Their Semi Final opponents and neighbours France have Emmanuel Macron as president – a former Socialist Party minister who launched his own party, which he describes politically as “neither left nor right”. This is the nearest progressives have to a champion in the final four, but while his one-man mission to save the EU has won some admirers, the clashes with trade unions that have marked his first year in the Elysee has put many off.
England’s opponents Croatia have knocked out two right-wing teams since the Group Stage, although had to rely on penalties to beat both Denmark and Russia – the latter result leaving us with only democracies left in the competition. Croatia has had a right-wing government since 2016, with the Croatian Democratic Union – which has governed for 20 of the 28 years since the country was founded – returning to power in 2016.
The more concerning news for England is that our record against right-wing teams in this year’s competition is more mixed than against the left. On the route so far, we have beaten Tunisia, Colmbia and Sweden from the left, while beating Panama and losing to Belgium from the right. Given the political makeup of the remaining teams, that record will have to improve.
The political turmoil at home for England is covered in detail elsewhere on the site, and raises a tantalising prospect: if the government falls by Sunday, the fact that England only ever wins the World Cup under Labour may remain true.
Democratic centre France v democratic right Belgium – 7pm, Tuesday 10 July
Democratic right Croatia v democratic right England – 7pm, Wednesday 11 July