Desert Outtakes: No arrests for England for the first time at a World Cup, they’re all coming home

World Cup records to be proud of and one not so much, and what happened to the Golden Boys of five years ago

They’re all coming home

The World Cup isn’t coming home, but at least all of the England fans who went to support their team in Qatar are. For the first time in the county’s 92-year history in the competition, there were no English fans arrested at the World Cup.

The head of UK football policing Mark Roberts praised travelling fans in the Middle East for their “exemplary behaviour”. No English – or Welsh for that matter – fan was involved in a single criminal incident. Approximately 4,000 England fans flew out to Qatar, less than a year and a half after the shocking scenes which marred the delayed Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

However it seems a lot of the more troublesome English fans stayed at home, where the BBC reports there’s been 531 football-related incidents. Of those, 150 took place on Saturday night, when England lost to France in the quarter-finals.

Answering the obvious question which springs to mind when reading the above, Roberts admits: “It would be wrong to entirely attribute this excellent behaviour to the restrictions on alcohol in Qatar but I do think it has helped to some degree.


“The atmosphere at all the games was passionate but friendly, and it would be fantastic to see this replicated at matches back home throughout the rest of the season.”

Delivering passes not pizza

Youssouf Fofana has had quite the journey. He started Wednesday night’s World Cup semi-final for France, something he’d have scarcely imagined when working in a pizzeria.

The 23-year-old was dropped from France’s famed national training centre in Clairefontaine in 2015.

“When you leave Clairefontaine there are doubts. When there are doubts you have to move forward. That was the best way to earn money and also to follow my dreams,” the Monaco midfielder told journalists in Qatar.

He joined Strasbourg’s youth academy in 2017 and worked his way through to the first team, and then earned himself a transfer to Monaco in 2020. And since then his luck has certainly turned around, with injuries to Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Christopher Nkunku helping him make the French squad. Then, with Adrien Rabiot ruled out due to a virus, he started against Morocco.

From pizza delivery man to the World Cup: “I like to remember it. It allows me to keep my feet on the ground.”

In numbers

1958 – Théo Hernandez’s goal after four minutes and 39 seconds in France’s win over Morocco was the earliest scored by any team in a World Cup semi-final in 64 years, when Vavá scored within two minutes for Brazil against France.

In words

We’re off to America in four years’ time, with Canada and Mexico, but obviously America’s an extraordinarily racist country. So, there’s always issues...”

—  In defending the BBC's criticism of the Qatar World Cup, Gary Lineker took aim at the 2026 co-hosts.

Unwanted record

Morocco striker Youssef En-Nesyri has left his mark at this World Cup. His second goal of the tournament edged his team past Portugal and into the semi-finals. He rose to a remarkable 9ft 1in to head that goal in, but just a few days later and there’s a new stat he’s being talked about for.

The most unwanted record of the tournament: the big Sevilla striker has now recorded the fewest touches of the ball by any player to play 45 minutes or more in a match in World Cup history. After an impressive tournament as his team beat Belgium, Spain and Portugal to reach the final four, En-Nesyri struggled to make any impact against France.

He only touched the ball three times and was replaced by Abderrazak Hamdallah after 66 minutes. Still, his lasting legacy is more likely to be that leap and header.

Golden boys as men

Five years ago, after joining PSG for crazy money and having already made his international debut for France, it wouldn’t have taken a genius to pick Kylian Mbappé out for greatness. Nevertheless the top 10 for the 2017 Golden Boy – the award for the best Under-21 footballer playing in Europe – does make for interesting reading half a decade on. Of course Mbappé tops the list, followed by his French team-mate Ousmane Dembélé who had that season signed for Barcelona.

Marcus Rashford, who scored three times for England in this World Cup was in third, one place ahead of Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus who joined Manchester City in 2017. Italy and PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma completed the top five, ahead of American Christian Pulisic, then of Borussia Dortmund.

Kasper Dolberg was flying it for Ajax at the time but has yet to live up to expectations since. Emre Mor is another surprising inclusion, looking back, he joined Fenerbache on a free transfer last summer. Federico Chiesa was in electric form for Italy in Euro 2020 and he was in at ninth ahead of Tottenham midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur. All in all, the majority have stepped up and continued to make their mark.

Eamon Donoghue

Eamon Donoghue

Eamon Donoghue is a former Irish Times journalist