Back At It On The Home Front

Big Night Looms For Julen

Julen Lopetegui during his two-year stint as Spain boss.

Could the contrast be any greater than this?

Yesterday, in the heat of the Gulf, it was all about the best ever World Cup final and adios and possibly au revoir to Messi and Deschamps respectively.

At what we assume will be a distinctly chilly Molineux tomorrow, it’s opening night for Julen Lopetegui against the team lying 92nd in the League.

Wolves and other Premier League clubs are all but at the end of their unique mid-season break of five and a half weeks – the domestic action is about to resume and the fabulous tournament we have just witnessed can only have whetted the appetite.

For all the misgivings about FIFA’s choice of location, the entertainment was largely outstanding and we even had a former Wolves player, 30-year-old Emiliano Martinez, collecting a winner’s medal and the Golden Glove as the competition’s best goalkeeper.

Argentina’s last line of defence played 15 games on loan at Molineux in 2015-16 and, with a critical save in the dying seconds of extra-time and then a demonstration of his imposing personality in the shoot-out, he left a mark on a tournament that passed the uncapped Jose Sa by in terms of game time.

Wolves’ 2022 player of the year didn’t make it on to the pitch for Portugal, nor did his Roma-based predecessor, Rui Patricio, but Ruben Neves added another five caps to take his total to 32 and Matheus Nunes was given one start and one substitute outing.

Elsewhere, we can only imagine the pride felt by Romain Saiss in captaining Morocco to the feat of becoming the first African or Arab country to reach the World Cup’s last four.

He even scored a vital goal against Belgium but what a pity injury forced him off early in the semi-final against France and presumably puts a question mark against his availability for Besiktas’s return to League combat away to Gaziantep. It will surprise British followers to learn that this game takes place on Christmas Day.

While Martinez became a World Cup winner, Hwang Hee-chan was a finals scorer as he netted a dramatic winner against Portugal, his two appearances at the tournament taking him to the brink of a 50th cap for South Korea.

With countries who didn’t make it beyond the group stage, Raul Jimenez followed up his substantial spell of Wolves inactivity by having three goalless substitute appearances for Mexico and Villa’s Leander Dendoncker featured twice for Belgium.

Conor Coady….a spectator role again when Wolves go to Goodison Park a week today.

Another former Molineux man, Vitinha, significantly increased his tally of Portuguese caps by figuring three times and, in returning to Paris St Germain, will at some point be able to hear more about yesterday’s pulsating events from his club colleague, Lionel Messi.

One final observation from us before we leave the World Cup behind for now…..and one that adds another twist to the decision in Molineux’s corridors of power to let Conor Coady join Everton on loan in August.

As in the European Championships last year, the central defender didn’t kick a ball other than on the training ground, although we trust he was again a valued, popular and vocal member of Gareth Southgate’s squad behind the scenes.

The Liverpudlian, who had feared for his World Cup place if he had stayed at Wolves but out of the starting line-up, will no doubt be a frustrated figure when prevented by the terms of his loan deal from lining up for Everton against Lopotegui’s men at Goodison Park in the eagerly-awaited Premier League resumption on Boxing Day.

Until then, all the very best from us to the former Spanish boss for a lower-key first game in charge against Gillingham – one at which we will be interested to witness the impact of the club’s World Cup representatives.

Thomas Publications