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]
Well, well, well, Monday gone England overcame the millstone around their necks of not having won an opening game at an international tournament for a dozen years, albeit by scratching a stuttering 2-1 win against Tunisia in the dying minutes.
It doesn’t matter though that the win performance was ‘less than convincing’, as 3 points on the board were much more important, because they should act as a springboard for the upcoming games in Russia – as this afternoon’s one against Panama, in Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, is expected to demonstrate, eh?
The other thing that augers well and should have put a spring in the England camp’s step was the uninspiring initial performances of the supposed top teams rated to win the Trophy [when England are most certainly NOT] – Germany [Rank 1], Brazil [Rank 2], Portugal [Rank 4], Argentina [Rank 5], and seeded Poland [Rank 8] all flopping (their campaigns barely alive), while hosts Russia [Rank 66] are excelling and belying their pre-competition status (not having had qualifying matches as measurement, you see?).
That can only mean that England’s prospects are rosier than riginally expected and gives some (but little) credence to Manager Gareth Southgate’s unwise boast that “England are a match for anyone at the World Cup”, doesn’t it – but ‘proof is in the eating’ as the saying goes, doesn’t it?
However, Southgate doesn’t inspire much confidence though, when he insists that his England team’s performance in the win over Tunisia on Monday was as good as anything he has seen at the tournament – should have gone to , eh?
The manager has caused a bit of a spat a couple of days ago by implying that the British press in reporting events in Russia should be ‘supporting the team’, so restricting what they include – that is most certainly NOT the way of things and NOT their role, however much access Southgate might be allowing them, is it? [The issue was all about his assistant naively being unaware of long-range cameras, as they exposed his notes on the starting line-up for today’s game – silly man. Southgate believed the Press ‘should stay stum’ about the selections (as if it blooming well matters anyway, eh?).
One leaked selection was for Rashford to replace Sterling, which is a good sign to many of us. Reportedly, Southgate has ‘a thing’ about Sterling (rates him as exciting, you see?) and picks him to start even though he is the biggest squander of chances ever ( a striker who hasn’t scored for the team in 3 years?), as he showed again against Tunisia on the 18th [even then the manager let him keep playing until twenty minutes to go before sending Rashford on instead (as he didn’t want to dent Sterling’s confidence, eh?)].
Southgate’s Southgate’s suspect [‘crazy’?] choice of base outside St Petersburg, so training in the cool breezy North of Russia (with only 2 hours of night) as preparation for this afternoon’s match is called into question again, since they will now play a mid-afternoon game in the totally ‘un-acclimatised’ different climate conditions of a blowtorch heatwave in the mid 30soc, wouldn’t you say?
As for today’s game, it will be an ‘acceptable’ result if England win, a ‘good result’ if they score from ‘open play’ in winning by 2 clear goals, and an ‘excellent result’ if by 3 clear goals, won’t it?
We got the possible outcome, an ‘excellent’ result, with an incredible first half of pace and energy that exposed Panama as ‘first-timers’ (and had them stupidly physically cheating in the penalty area).
However there were early warning signs when the England defence got sloppy so was caught-out, initially after just 5 minutes, but England got their first goal just a few minutes later [‘Stones’ header into the bottom corner from a free-kick] that calmed things for a little.
As for the most part Panama were out of their depth, England’s first goal was followed by ‘Kane’ scoring after 22min [penalty, brilliantly taken, unstopable], then ‘Lingard’ after 35min [a beautifully curled effort shot into the top corner of the net from open play], followed by ‘Stones’ second goal resulting from a free-kick [a close range header, a follow-up to an open goal header miss by ‘Sterling’], and ‘Kane’ for his second on the stroke of half time [penalty, brilliantly taken replica of the first].
So England went in from the overbearing heat at halftime an unprecedented 5-0 up.
The second half wasn’t played by England in the same vane unfortunately [boring half?], as they seemed to have switched-off a bit with the heat, the unassailable lead and substitutions, so perhaps were just waiting for the next game, eh? Nevertheless, they got yet another goal, the sixth and Kane’s hat-trick in 61min [‘Loftus-Cheek’ strike accidental rebounds off ‘Kane’s heel to wrong foot the goalkeeper].
To give them due credit Panama were still gamely fighting (literally less savagery), and with the England falling asleep at the back, they got a well deserved consolation goal in the 78min through ‘Baloy’ (the 37-year-old substitute) from ‘Avila’s outswinging free kick [well directed close range sliding half-volley effort into a bottom corner that goalkeeper ‘Pickford’ couldn’t reach].
During the match, there were numerous more times that Panama had other clear chances to score, and that must be a big worry, as lazy defending and mistakes gets punished by top teams, don’t they?
It was a disappointment to find that ‘Southgate’ had in fact reverted to favourite ‘Sterling’ and indeed kept him on for the whole time, despite the striker doing sod-all, apart from one assist [‘Lingard’s goal], and committing a few fouls. Against even an aweful Panama team, he never looked like adding to his sparse couple of goals in 40 games for Country, did he?
England now has a chance of in fact winning Group G, but they will be going anyway into the knockout phase on next Monday or Tuesday [with (unhelpful?) increased ‘expectation’, won’t they?].
[England’s next game on Thursday is against seeded ‘Belgium [Rank 3]’, who are really motoring with two solid wins under their belt (breaking down Tunisia well, when England couldn’t?, in a 5-2 win yesterday). That’s the game ‘if’ it is contested strongly by either team (because there is little difference in the resulting opponent in the last 16), that should indeed show what England are made of, and if we can expect progression from the Group of Sixteen, won’t it?]
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