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The England vs. Croatia World Cup Match Made for Some Awkward Television

Fox Sports started Wednesday’s broadcast of its pre-game show, titled “2018 FIFA World Cup Live,” with a dynamic montage recounting France’s semifinal victory over Belgium at St. Petersburg Stadium. Samuel Umtiti glanced a header into the net from three different angles; euphoria frothed on the field and all around; in slow motion, a celebratory Umtiti sashayed away from his achievement with good rhythm and GIF-conscious savvy.

Surfing this wave of excitement, Fox’s Rob Stone welcomed us “to a clear day here in Red Square,” over a soundtrack sludgy with synthesized strings. Stone began to set up the upcoming semifinal match, between England and Croatia, at Luzhniki Stadium, with its naturally juicy narrative of England, the ancestral home of association football, questing after its first trip to the finals in five decades. “Could the World Cup be coming home, after last winning it all in 1966?” Stone wondered, with enough assurance in his delivery to give the sentence an illusion of grammatical fitness.

Stone then turned to Ice Cube, whose sinewy voice-over restated the theme over footage of the 1966 team and its young Queen. Cube paid homage to tradition, and in the next breath hailed this particular English team as rebels: “They’re playing like they don’t care what history has to say.” Cube talked up Croatia as a giant killer with the “vision” and the “nerve” to spoil England’s party. Stone thanked Ice Cube for the introduction and plugged Fox Sports’s relationship with Big3, the three-on-three basketball league co-created by the rapper.

After the break, Stone was behind a desk in Fox’s Red Square studio with Kelly Smith, Clarence Seedorf, and Alexi Lalas. A sulfur-colored cloudscape dominated the sky, onion domes hovering outside the frame. Smith, a veteran of the England women’s national football team, had just confessed to sweating

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