England’s first game at Russia World Cup 2018 verses Tunisia – torturous?

  

GROUP G – England [rank 13] opponents are: Tunisia [rank 14] Monday 18 June in Volgograd] Panama [[rank 55] Sunday 24 June in Nizhny Novgorod, Belgium [[rank 3] Thursday 28 June in Kaliningrad [pre-June rankings]

 

Gareth Southgate was the only one of 12 penalty takers to miss in the Euro ’96 England v Germany semi-final, an embarrassment which was quickly subject of his spoof Pizza Hut TV self-mocking ‘shame’ ad

 

England have a shoddy record in their opening game at tournaments and had only won less than a quarter of them AND NONE FOR 12 YEARS !

Now, it was essential that they got off to a good start at this World Cup, and that meant not just winning against Tunisia tonight in our opening game, but doing that convincingly and well, with an assertive disciplined display shown in breaking down a potentially strong defence – only then could the team proceed with some confidence of success towards the real challenges of the knockout phase, eh? Most importantly of all though England needed to play for a change in a manner that makes the nation proud – win or lose.

Well, you might say England had history on their side, as in 1998 we indeed beat Tunisia 2-0 in our opening World Cup game there in Marseille. Moreover, Tunisia haven’t won a match at the finals for forty years, no less?

However, England’s build-up to this has been a bit of a worry to many of us, not least the choice of a team base in Russia – a thousand miles from the initial game venue in this ‘hothouse’ of Volgograd, as was manager Gareth Southgate’s strange decision not to give his preferred line-up, match playing experience in the two final warm-up friendlies against fellow World Cup finalists (Nigeria & Costa Rica) over the past couple of weeks – playing together on the training-pitch against the rest of the squad doesn’t really compare one iota, does it?

As a bit of a boost though, the pressure on England to ‘perform’ in this opening match should have been reduced somewhat by other major and superiorly rated teams to get a result in THEIR opening matches, showing that THEY haven’t hit the road running (seeded Portugal [Rank 4] only getting a 3-3 draw with Italy [Rank 6], seeded Argentina [Rank 5 only getting a 1-1 draw with Iceland [Rank 22], holders & often predicted winners seeded Germany {Rank 1] losing 1-0 to Mexico [Rank 15], and ‘most predicted’ winners  seeded Brazil [Rank 2] only getting a 1-1 draw with Switzerland [Rank 6] ).

Nine players chosen to start tonight were in the original line-up in the friendly against Nigeria but swapping out the other two very experiences players was a risk.

However, the ‘very, very, very’ good news tonight is that at the end of the day England won – just [2-1].

The bad news is that the team made very, very, very hard work of it all.

Oh, they started really well indeed with lead striker and captain Harry Kane certainly putting England in the driving seat with a good goal after about ten minutes. In the next quarter of an hour England were still great and created many many other chances though without scoring again – but you really can’t afford to miss those chances at this level, can you?

Against the run of play, England conceded a penalty in the last ten minutes of the half and that not only allowed Tunisia to draw level, but it seemed to demoralise England, so heads went down – hence Tunisia went in at half time on cloud 9.

In the second half, England continued to dominate, but didn’t actually create many clear chances, while Tunisia defended doggedly (if not always fairly?). As the clock ran down to 90 minutes, it certainly looked as if England was going to have to settle for a draw and a single point (or conceivably could even have lost?). But then that man Kane popped-up again, latched onto a final opportunity a minute into stoppage time and score with a header from a corner – that saved manager Gareth Southgate’s bacon, didn’t it? Well post-match he said that HE was proud of the team’s performance – many of us others will be less so, and see it as unconvincing, so might feel unimpressed but nevertheless mightily relieved, eh?

[Note that neither goal came from open play – both were from corners – which doesn’t auger well against tough teams, does it?].

While England’s next game on Sunday against Panama should be a pushover on paper, in reality there are no walkover ‘easy’ games in international tournaments, (as England experienced in losing 1-2 against low ranking but heroic Iceland at the Euros two years ago), are there? No, but England are now well placed to play with freedom and without fear in that match, which should mean another three points and a place in the last 16.

[That 16/1 odds bet on England winning the Trophy in July is looking a bit brighter tonight – they are getting some lucky breaks for a change?]

World Cup Finals’ Rules for progression

Group Stage:           4 teams in each of 8 league groups [A B C D E F G]

Top 2 teams in each Group qualify to progress

Round of Sixteen     Winner A v. Runner-up B = 1

Winner B v. Runner-up A = 2

Winner C v. Runner-up D = 3

Winner D v. Runner-up C = 4

Winner E v. Runner-up F = 5

Winner F v. Runner-up E = 6

Winner G v. Runner-up H = 7

Winner H v. Runner-up G = 8

All winning 8 teams to progress

Quarter Finals          Winner 1 v. Winner 3 = A

Winner 2 v. Winner 4 = B

Winner 5 v. Winner 7 = C

Winner 6 v. Winner 8 = D

The winning 4 teams to progress

Semi Finals               Winner A v. Winner C

Winner B v. Winner D

The winning 2 teams to progress

Final                              15th July

 

 

 

 

 

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