The dearth of spectacular free-kicks at Qatar ‘2022 could be down to a ‘fly away’ World Cup ball. There have been plenty of goals at the tournament since it started 10 days ago but show-stopping set-pieces have been noticeable by their absence. England’s Kieran Trippier, who struck with a stunning free-kick against Croatia in the semi-final in Russia four years ago, says the Al Rihla tournament ball is noticeably different – and not just for containing a tracking sensor.
“Every time I’ve crossed the ball I’ve felt the balls are a bit different,” said Trippier. “I feel it’s a bit lighter. It feels if you put too much power on it, it’ll just fly away but it’s one of those where we have to deal with that – all of us do. We train with the same ones. There are no excuses really. It’s a football, isn’t it?”
The balls, which retail for £130, were trumpeted by manufacturers Adidas as the fastest in the tournament’s history ahead of the World Cup. However they have made more of an impact with the data they have supplied than with net-busting shots. The hi-tech sensor in each ball has assisted with the successful implementation of semi-automated offside decision-making at a World Cup for the first time.
Regardless, Trippier is lapping up the World Cup experience in the Qatar sunshine. Starting matches, watching matches, strolling along the promenade at Al-Wakrah beach – these are milk and honey days for the England defender. In many ways it is a triumph for persistence. Nothing has come easily in Trippier’s career from being released by Manchester City to serving a ten-week ban for betting offences two years ago.
But here he is, out the other side, in the exalted position of being first amongst equals in the most competitive position in the England team. “I feel like I’ve started the season well for my club and I try to bring that into the international level. If I get the opportunity and I’m called upon then I will always do my best for my country,” he said.
“It’s all about improving. There was no shame in dropping down a league and playing in the Championship. I played there for five years and built myself up. Then I was at Tottenham and when I first went there I didn’t play and I had to be patient. Leaving Tottenham and going to Spain…
“I’ve had so many obstacles throughout my career but I wouldn’t change anything.” The struggle has been the making of him. At 32, the career-long search for improvement has turned him into one of England’s most consistent operators. There are racier options available to Gareth Southgate at right-back but none as relentlessly reliable. “We’ve got Trent [Alexander-Arnold], Walks [Kyle Walker], Reece [James], myself – it’s good competition and that is what you need in teams like this,” he said.
“At the Euros I played and I didn’t play but I was always ready. In tournament football, everyone has to be.” Reece James is absent which has eased the right-back bottleneck but England remain well-stocked in this area. Trippier though is the man in possession.
Four years ago in Russia he made an indelible mark on the World Cup with that dipping free-kick in the semi-final. His assessment of the class of 2022 is that they have the capability to go deep again. “In Russia the squad was really good. We had players like Gaz Cahill who was brilliant around the place and the whole team togetherness was really good. That showed in the tournament,” he said.
“Comparing that to now we have so many more younger players but they are playing at such a high level. And the togetherness in the squad is probably something I’ve not seen before. The characters we have in the dressing room – all the young boys – and you’ve got old people like myself trying to help the young players as well.”
This evening he will win his 40th cap. He was captain the last time England and Wales met in a friendly two years ago. England won 3-0 at Wembley but there was no Gareth Bale or Aaron Ramsey to contend with that night. “They’ve got good individuals who can change a game. You see Gareth throughout his whole career, Ramsey… they’ve got pace as well with Dan James. So they’re a good, well-organised team and we certainly respect them and have to be ready,” said Trippier.
The public criticism after the snoreathon against the USA has been taken on board but politely rebutted. “I understand where they are coming from, of course I do, because they want us to win and score goals but sometimes in games, especially in tournament football, it’s not 4-0, 5-0, 6-0 every game. It was a tough battle against USA the other day,” said Trippier.
“All I can say to the fans is that the boys have given everything, keep supporting us like you have been in the last tournaments.”