Following a flood of news stories regarding the instable ownership situation at the club, the 2018 World Cup has been a decent distraction for fans of Aston Villa. The worldwide carnival of football that has descended upon the host cities of Russia has taken the world by storm, and for plenty of good reasons. For Villa fans, for once, the main narrative is not one that concerns the fate of their hyperlocal interests, but a global story, shared by us all. What’s more, Villans had a number of key interests competing within the global spectacle.
Until tonight.Three first-team Villans were taking part in the tournament in Russia - Mile Jedinak of Australia, Ahmed Elmohamady of Egypt and Birkir Bjarnason of Iceland, and following Iceland’s loss to Croatia, Aston Villa will no longer have any first-team players competing for the FIFA World Cup trophy in 2018.
Elmohamady and his Egyptian side were the first to fall, crumbling late on against a rigid Uruguay side before collapsing against a steadfast Russia. Their talismanic forward, Mohamed Salah carried the weight of the world upon his injured shoulder, and could not find a spark of magic to push his team onwards. Elmohamady failed to make a single start for Egypt throughout the tournament before the bowed out with a loss to Saudi Arabia.
Mile Jedinak and Birkir Bjarnason had much brighter tournaments - especially the former. Jedinak stormed the early days of the competition, bagging two penalties against France and Denmark respecitively to extend Australia’s hopes of qualifying, but the Socceroos fell apart in their final game and couldn’t muster a fightback against a plucky Peru. Bjarnason’s Iceland on the other hand were drawn in a Hópur dauðans with Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria. They shut down Argentina to earn a point in their first match (with Bjarnason leaving his mark on Lionel Messi on more than one occasion), but weren’t able to capitalise on the stumbling form of Nigeria and Argentina, with the latter progressing from the group along with Croatia.
While there is no success to relish for these three Villans, some of them have no doubt boosted their reputation (and transfer value) with their performances on the most escalated of footballing stages.
Worry not, though, there are still teams with Villa connections competing in the tournament. Gareth Southgate’s England have a spine of ex-Villans performing for the team, along with the manager himself. Idrissa Gana’s Senegal are still alive and fighting and despite Carlos Sanchez’s handball, his team have a shot of qualifying alongside Senegal. Other teams with Villa connections, including Morocco and Peru, have already left the competition.
This tournament is saying goodbye to its current Villa players, but it is far from over just yet. With local events dragging us down, let’s enjoy this - and enjoy football.