England lose ‘the fear’
One of the most enjoyable aspects of England’s two displays at this World Cup, against admittedly limited opposition, has been the attacking freedom they’ve shown. The mark of England in recent major tournaments is a group of players, who look good when playing for the nation’s biggest club sides, suddenly freezing and looking stifled by the weight of the Three Lions shirt.
This England camp has looked a relaxed one off the pitch and Gareth Southgate’s players have brought that to the pitch. Jesse Lingard, Harry Kane, Kieran Trippier, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and their team-mates have played a dazzling, free-flowing style of football with plenty of passing and dynamic movement off the ball. It’s been terrific to watch and – unlike against Tunisia – England were ruthless with their chances against Panama, punishing them with five first-half goals.
Panama go full WrestleMania – but Henderson cools England
Panama were clearly out of their depth against England, but they didn’t help themselves with an overly aggressive approach. The Panama players’ mauling, holding and shoving in the area was punished by two first-half penalties. You might have thought that with VAR in use – and with holding in the area a big talking point at the World Cup already – this Panama side would have realised pre-match that such an approach was likely to be penalised.
Yet the strong impression was that Panama, rather than being deliberately cynical, simply lost their heads early on. There were so many off-the-ball pushes and arguments that England players did well to retain their cool. In this, Jordan Henderson was key.
Harry Kane is deservedly England captain – he’s his side’s elite player, is popular and leads by example. Yet he has an able deputy in Henderson, a more vocal presence. The 28-year-old Liverpool midfielder was quick on the scene to calm down confrontations and lead some of his younger team-mates away from provocation. It capped a superb day for a player who’s quietly started the World Cup very well.
England’s defence leaks again
It’s ridiculously mean to pick holes in a dazzling England performance that involved six goals, qualification to the last 16 with a game to spare and a hat-trick for Harry Kane that put him top in the Golden Boot stakes. Yet Gareth Southgate will have noticed that, on the rare times they did attack, Panama caused England problems.
Roman Torres missed a good chance just before Felipe Baloy’s consolation strike. Perhaps England had switched off by then, but against both Tunisia and Panama, the Three Lions’ defence looked less than watertight on the rare occasions that their opponents attacked. England will face tougher tests – although it’s difficult to say whether this will come against Belgium, as both sides are likely to make substantial changes.
It’s clear that England are a cohesive and able attacking unit, it’s less clear whether that’s true of their defence. But even if England are just ‘half’ a very good side, that’s a whole lot better than was seen at Euro 2016 or at the last World Cup.
Khadim N'Diaye costs his team a win
A 2-2 draw was a fair result in an entertaining Group H game between Senegal and Japan. The African side lead twice, through Sadio Mane and Moussa Wague, but were pegged back first by Takashi Inui and then substitute Keisuke Honda.
Yet Senegal boss Aliou Cisse will have been wishing his goalkeeper was of the same quality as his key defender Kalidou Koulibaly. Khadim N'Diaye's rash dash and tumble as he failed to claim a cross left him completely out of position as Inue picked out Honda, who calmly slotted home. A draw was no disaster for Senegal – who boast four points and a top-two spot at present – but a better goalkeeper might have had them on six points and all but qualified.
Japan: a surprise package
It was tricky to assess Japan’s first-match win over Colombia. They were gifted a 1-0 lead and played 87 minutes against 10 men, so was the 2-1 win deceptive for a team that were unfancied pre-tournament?
Apparently not. Japan put in another strong performance against Senegal, the Blue Samurai battling back twice to earn a point. In truth, they had opportunities to win the game as Yuya Osako missed a fantastic chance to score and Takashi Inui hit the top of the bar in the second half.
Inui was once more his side’s stand-out player. The 30-year-old midfielder has been dynamic and skilful in a Japan team that looks far better than expected, despite a disrupted World Cup preparation with manager Akira Nishino only taking the job in April.
James is sweet, Robert is sour
It’s not all been smooth sailing for James Rodriguez in the four years since he made his name on the world stage with a series of sublime displays at the 2014 World Cup. Yet he always looks great in a Colombia team built around his talents – and his class told when his side make the breakthrough against a poor Polish side.
James’s inch-perfect, drinked cross found the head of defender Yerry Mina, who nodded in to give Colombia the lead five minutes before half-time. Los Cafeteros romped to a 3-0 win after the break, Radamel Falcao scoring a cathartic first World Cup goal, before James turned provider once more to set up Juan Cuadrado.
Poland, on the other hand, are the first European side out of the World Cup. Deservedly so. For someone who looks so lethal for Bayern Munich, and for Poland in qualifying matches, Robert Lewandowski has struggled at major tournaments. It wasn’t really his fault here as Poland created little for him, forcing him to come deep and look for the ball. Yet the harsh truth is Colombia’s star man made an impact for them, whereas Poland’s did not.
Maradona wants to meet Argentina team
A "furious and upset" El Diego has announced that he wants to meet with the Argentina squad in the aftermath of their 3-0 to Croatia. This sounds like a move as wise as it is logical and we can only encourage it. What could possibly go wrong?
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