Day 5? Already? We’ve seen some spectacular goals and some slightly controversial decisions, it’s definitely shaping up to be a top class show of talent with some excellent games so far. However, it’s only just beginning and with 3 more games on the way in day 5, the promise of further entertainment is high as the World Cup rarely fails to deliver.
Match 1: Sweden Vs. South Korea- 13:00 K.O.
The second of Group F’s games after the current holder’s Germany suffered a shock defeat to a very good Mexico side who currently sit top of the group.
While most of the anticipation and attention is aimed at England’s opening game later in the day, there’s still plenty on offer before the day’s final game. First off, we see a Sweden team without their maverick striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic (who decided to stick to the decision which saw him retire after Euro 2016) face off against a South Korean team who enter their 9th consecutive World Cup tournament.
Without their superstar striker, Sweden lack a standout player who’s universally recognised, but with 6 of their World Cup squad currently plying their trade in the UK, they have got some relatively big names. The biggest of those is 23 year-old centre-back, Victor Lindelöf, who despite having a fairly underwhelming debut season at Manchester United, is still a strong presence at the back for the Swedes. Despite his young age and mediocre season at United, he has got previous tournament experience after he started all 3 of Sweden’s games at euro 2016. This is experience which could prove vital to Sweden’s chances of progressing through a tough group.
The South Korean, line up also features some familiar faces, however, with the side’s captain Ki Sung-Yeung regularly turning out for Swansea. He will also be joined on the pitch by Tottenham hot-shot Son Heung-Min, with the 25 year-old in a very similar position that Zlatan found himself in as he finds himself being the man they all look towards. This status is not undeserved, however, after 3 strong seasons at Spurs and earning 67 caps so far for his country. With his blistering pace, intelligent runs, pinpoint crossing and fine finishing, he has all the potential to be a large thorn in Sweden’s side.
- Sweden are unbeaten in their four previous head-to-heads against South Korea (won two, drawn two). It is their first encounter at a World Cup finals.
- Sweden’s joint-biggest win was a 12-0 victory against South Korea in the 1948 Olympic Games.
- South Korea are unbeaten in their last four opening matches at World Cups (won three, drew one).
- South Korea have won only one of their last nine World Cup games (drew three, lost five) – it was in their opening match of the 2010 edition against Greece (2-0). That win is also their only clean sheet in their last 12 matches in the competition.
Match 2: Belgium Vs. Panama- 16:00 K.O.
Match 2 of the day sees outside favourites Belgium take on a Panama team who turn out at their first ever World Cup tournament. With Eden Hazard saying his team can’t waste their golden generation like England have on so many occasions, they’ll be hoping to get off to a strong start in group G.
Belgium are without Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany and his fellow defensive partner Thomas Vermaelen of Barcelona as they head into this opening group game in Sochi. The Belgians come into the game on good form having gone unbeaten in qualifying and having had two comfortable results in warm up games with a 3-0 win over Egypt as well as strolling to a 4-1 win over Costa Rica.
Panama received a blow with key winger Alberto Quintero ruled out last week with a foot injury. Emotions will be running high according to defender Roman Torres who is expecting a few tears back in his homeland, and maybe even some from himself as well. However, although expectations aren’t exactly high for them, there could be a high scoreline in this one as their ageing squad are exposed by a vicious Belgian side. And with only 3 wins in 10 during qualifying they will have outdone themselves if they manage to get away lightly or with anything from the game. Although, as we’ve seen through the years, anything can happen and the small underdogs are often underestimated can prove to be stubborn opposition.
- Belgium are unbeaten in their last nine World Cup group games (W4, D5), winning each of their last four. They have made it to the second round in six of their last seven World Cup appearances, the only exception coming in 1998.
- They haven’t scored more than two goals in an opening World Cup game since 1970, when they beat El Salvador 3-0.
- Gabriel Torres and Roman Torres were their joint top scorers in final qualifying with just two goals.
- Panama made it to Russia with a negative goal difference (-1), winning only three of their 10 games in the last round of Concacaf qualifying.
Game 3: Tunisia Vs. England- 19:00 K.O.
This is it, it’s finally here as England take on Tunisia at 7pm to kick off our World Cup campaign. With Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ in our group we will have to be strong from the first whistle if we want to have any hope of securing a top place finish in our group (it’s been a while since we’ve managed that!).
Although we come into the game as favourites, is never that simple for England. But with Gareth Southgate’s free-flowing style and youthful squad we’re sure to create some good chances and maybe even score some goals (or is that too much to ask?). England come into the tournament with their squad averaging just 26 years of age, joint second youngest in the tournament so a lack of legs shouldn’t be an excuse. While youthful this squad may be, it comes with little international experience, which could prove to be costly if we’re required to see a game out.
Tunisia, meanwhile, may prove to be a tough nut to crack. They’re tidy and precise in possession and have shown to be a stubborn side when it comes to breaking them down, they do have the potential to be a banana peel side for Southgate’s men. This could prove to be an interesting match up. Much like England, Tunisia went through their qualifying campaign unbeaten, but in contrast they have the the longest active winless streak in World Cup tournaments which stretches back 11 games.
England come into the game in good form having not lost a game since the humiliating 2-1 defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016 they also won both of their warm up games against Nigeria and Costa Rica.
Tunisia have also had some impressive friendly results recently including a win over Costa Rica and a draw with current European champions Portugal. their only defeat since their African cup of nations exit to Burkina Faso, was a very respectable 0-1 defeat to Spain after holding them out for 84 minutes.
- The Carthage Eagles ended the qualifying stage unbeaten and conceded just four goals in six matches in the final group.
- Tunisia are 21st in the Fifa rankings, the highest of any African team.
- England have never lost against an African team at the World Cup (W3, D3).
- They have topped their group just once in their last five World Cups, in 2006.
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