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Further sporting idioms

With Wimbledon now in full swing and competing with the World Cup for the attention of sports fans everywhere it’s a good moment to look at some further useful idioms and expressions which you will come across in newspaper, on TV and on the internet. They can also be used in other contexts and are therefore of wider interest than just for sports fans. 

In English we have many different ways of describing success or failure, how well or poorly a team or individual performs and the different feelings these arouse in us. 

As the World Cup progresses through the knock-out stages with four games ending in nail-biting finishes with last-minute goals and nerve-racking penalty shoot-outs fans from many countries have seen their hopes raised one minute and dashed the next.  England finally put their penalty shoot-out hoodoo to rest against Colombia and then overcame Sweden to reach their first semi-final for 28 years.   It was the first time they had ever won a shoot-out in the World Cup finals.  Sweden had edged out Switzerland in a tight quarter-final, the only goal resulting from a cruel deflection which left the goalkeeper stranded. 

Croatians were relieved to scrape through their last eight match against Denmark on penalties while Spain fans were both shocked and dismayed to see their side go out against Russia, as big an upset as Germany crashing out in the final round of group matches.  Croatia and Russia had to go through the same drama again in their quarter final with Croatia coming out on top.  Mexico had their chances against Brazil and dominated the early exchanges of their quarter-final before the five-time champions took control, triumphing in the end by two goals to nil.   They met their match in the next round however and were beaten 2-1 in normal time to Belgium.  Belgium’s place in the semis had been in doubt until the last minute of their game against Japan, possibly the unluckiest side in the competition.  After leading Belgium by two goals and having subdued and outplayed their opponents for long spells, despite being brought back to 2-2, they were pressing for the winner themselves in the final minutes only to go down in the last seconds of stoppage time to a dramatic winner by the Belgians.  Full marks to Belgium however for a great come-back. 

France got the better of Argentina in a seven-goal thriller winning more clearly than the final score-line suggests and then had a relatively straightforward win over Uruguay to set up a mouth-watering semi against Belgium and leave them on course for their second World Cup.  Fans of the other three countries left in the tournament will disagree and think their teams all have a chance.  Maybe England’s dream will come true and “football is coming home! “

With more free days between matches in Russia it’s time for us to get our breath back and to turn our thoughts to tennis 

At Wimbledon Roger Federer cruised through the first week, winning each match emphatically in straight sets; he is currently on a run of 67 unbeaten service games stretching back to the first set in his semi‑final last year.   Will anyone topple him from his number one spot or will he once again retain his title?  Certainly, it seems to be his Wimbledon to lose.  Nadal may disagree, however, and the biggest threat to Federer’s hopes of winning it for a record-extending ninth time does seem to come from the number two seed.  He too has been in commanding form as he advanced through the early rounds, strolling through his matches on the other side of the draw without dropping a set.    

As in the football World Cup, the first week of Wimbledon was full of upsets and the top stars did not have it all their own way.  This was particularly true in the women’s competition where five of the top eight seeds fell before the third round; Serena Williams must already fancy her chances of adding to her long list of titles.

With both competitions coming to a climax on Sunday there will still be plenty to talk about


Expressions and adjectives meaning to win or succeed easily:

  • Federer cruised through his first-round match
  • George strolled through his exam
  • It was a straightforward victory and he eased into the second round

Expressions meaning to win or succeed in doing something, but with some difficulty

  • Germany scraped through their game with Sweden, winning in the last minute.
  • Tom didn’t do any work and was lucky to scrape through his exam.

You could also use the expression “stumble through”.   Normally it means to walk and almost fall over. The actor was very nervous and stumbled through his speech.

Expressions meaning to win or be better than an opponent.

  • When they last met at Wimbledon Nadal outplayed Federer to win a thrilling match. (in other sports you can use “outfight” or “outbox”)
  • In 2014 Germany beat Argentina to win the World Cup.
  • England overcame their nerves to win the penalty shoot-out.
  • After leading the rankings for 2 years the champion was finally toppled from his number one position.
  • Sweden got the better of Switzerland in a narrow one-goal victory.

Expressions meaning to fail badly.

  • Everyone expected Germany to do well but they crashed out at the group stage. 

Some words and expressions which are opposite in meaning

  • An emphatic victory (5-0 ):  a narrow win  (1-0)
  • An open game with lots of chances and attacking by both teams; a tight game with few chances where midfield and defences dominate.
  • Their hopes of winning were raised by an early goal and dashed when the other team scored a last-minute equaliser.
  • They went through on goal difference.  He went out in straight sets (4-6, 3-6, 2-6)

Other expressions

  • If you “meet your match” it means you come up against an opponent who is equal or better and the opponent wins.
  • a mouth-watering game; one which you think is going to be really good and exciting to watch.  An expression which is usually used when talking about food.
  • A nail-biting finish; a very close, exciting end to a game which
  • A nerve-racking experience; something which is very stressful, or even frightening.
  • The party was in full swing; a game, party or activity which has already started and is in progress.  We can also say it is “well under way”.

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