Well, that’s it, England have officially kicked off their 2018 World Cup finals campaign with a win (albeit a tense one). So to did fellow Group G members Belgium alongside, Sweden who beat Group F rivals South Korea.
Match 1: Sweden Vs. South Korea (1-0)
Sweden got their first World Cup appearance in 12 years underway with a 1-0 win over a South Korean side who were turning out at their 9th consecutive World Cup tournament.
In the opening moments of the game, it was the South Korean’s who looked the most threatening. They made use of their wide players to create some sharp attacking play down the wings early on, particularly the right-hand side. They continued to look the sharper and more agile side right up until a poor forwards tackle in the 11th minute which disrupted their rhythm, which they subsequently failed to get back into as they failed to register a shot on target.
Marcus Berg missed a golden opportunity to put the yellow and blues ahead on 20 minutes as Cho pushed away his close-range effort, which would turn out to be 1 of only 4 shots on target for the Swedes in a scrappy and fairly underwhelming game all round.
The game remained level until the 64th minute when the VAR awarded it’s 3rd penalty of the tournament so far. There was a minor delay before the penalty was taken as VAR checked over the foul before Granqvist sent goalkeeper Cho the wrong way to put his side in the lead.
Further highlights in an otherwise barren game included a super save to deny an Ola Toivonen header on the end of a Swedish freekick, as well as a late header by Hwang Hee-chan which was sent wide despite arguably being South Korea’s best chance of the game. As a result, Sweden Join Mexico at the top of Group F after they beat Germany by the same margin.
Match 2: Belgium Vs. Panama (3-0)
Despite the final scoreline, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ as you might have initially expected. A stubborn Panama side managed to hold out a sloppy and incohesive Belgian side until halftime. There was a definite lack of togetherness in the Belgian squad that boasts some fine individual talent, but they just couldn’t seem to click together as a team. Recipient of the Premier League’s new ‘Playmaker of The Year’ award, Kevin De Bruyne, couldn’t get any rhythm together with his trademark pinpoint passing nowhere to be seen.
Belgium came out in the second half in a similar fashion to the first as they looked lethargic and bereft of ideas going forward. However, the deadlock was broken only 2 minutes in following a superb volley from Dries Mertens to put the Red Devils in front. The goal seemed to give the team a momentary lift as they looked to get forward and had seemingly found an extra gear. Unfortunately, this period only seemed to last for around 5 minutes as they soon slipped back into their old habits which allowed an adventurous Panama side who were giving their all, a chance to keep hitting them on the counter.
With former Athletico Madrid winger, Yannick Carrasco deployed in a wing back position, the pacy Panamanian youngster Rodriguez could take advantage of his inexperienced and lazy defensive work to slip in behind and cause issues. they managed to create a few exciting chances and managed to draw huge noise from their travelling supporters, as well as the neutrals. And despite a Belgian side who were now growing into the game, they continued to play good football.
Belgium then doubled their lead in the 69th minute through United hitman, and Belgium’s all-time top scorer, Romelu Lukaku, who was picked out to header home from a sublime De Bruyne ball in. That’s more like it. And Belgium weren’t done yet as a swift counter-attack saw Lukaku played through again to sweetly lift the ball over an onrushing keeper in the 75th minute, putting the game to bed.
Match 3: Tunisia Vs. England (1-2)
The one we’ve all been waiting for England’s inaugural game in the 2018 World Cup finals. And we weren’t disappointed in the opening stages as England produced some exciting displays early on, with a couple of good chances missed but they just seemed to keep on coming. Eventually, we were rewarded after just 11 minutes with a Harry Kane tap in. The goal came from a floated corner into the penalty area by Ashley Young which was met sweetly by the head of John stones before being palmed to the foot of the captain Kane who was jogging on the spot for the rebound. England on top as the players pile on the goalscorer.
England ran rings around the Tunisian side in the early minutes and those immediately following the goal. England were then made to rue a host of missed opportunities when a harsh penalty was given against Kyle Walker for a challenge on Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. the subsequent penalty was then converted by Ferjani Sassi and seemed to take the wind out of England’s sails a little bit with half-time approaching.
Tunisia proved stubborn opposition as England tried to find a way through to goal. With VAR and the referee failing to spot Harry Kane being wrestled to the ground in the penalty area on two occasions, England fans and players felt hard done by. Given up they had not, and captain Kane was there again to head home from Maguires flick in the 91st minute to see justice served and England win their opening game of the tournament.
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