World Cup Recap: Day 5
Sweden, Belgium and England pick up wins; Panama plays in first World Cup
Premier League stars Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku each scored twice to lead their respective countries to victory on Monday. They also tied Russia’s Denis Cheryshev and Spain’s Diego Costa for second in the goalscoring charts - all behind Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Sweden 1-0 South Korea
Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
Sweden and South Korea faced off for the first time at a FIFA World Cup, with both looking to pounce on three points after Mexico’s win over initial group favorite Germany on Sunday. Sweden was the much more dangerous side by far, outshooting the Koreans nine to one in the first half. This was one of the more physical matches yet in this World Cup as South Korea could have had two penalty opportunities called against them in the first half. One of those tackles came in the 18th minute while a more glaring one occured in the 43rd minute - the referee did not chose to consult the video review booth for either play. Sweden’s best chance came in the 21st minute when forward Marcus Berg was denied by Korean goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo - a play that had Liverpool fans on social media calling for his signing [see: 2018 UEFA Champions League final]. The half would end nil-nil.
In the second half, both teams would have a better attacking outbursts but neither would take a stranglehold of the scoreboard. The deciding play came in the 62nd minute when one tackle inside the box proved too many for South Korea. Referee Joel Aguilar signaled for video review and proceeded to award a penalty in favor of Sweden. Team Captain Andreas Granqvist converted on the opportunity which would secure the full three points.
Analysis: The two favorites to move out of Group F are still Mexico and Germany, but the chance to play spoiler may have been decided here. Sweden’s next match against the defending champions could mean qualification if they are able to follow up Mexico’s performance to potentially eliminate the defending champions. Even a draw would bode well for Sweden, only because it would give them four points with Monday’s result. In South Korea’s case, they will need to come out with their best effort against Mexico as the three points are not an impossible task if they face off against an overconfident Mexican side.
Notable stat: Sweden won their first opening match at a World Cup since 1958, the year they hosted and advanced to the final against eventual champions Brazil.
Belgium 3-0 Panama
Fisht Stadium, Sochi
Belgium, with one of the most talented teams in this World Cup, faced off against debutantes Panama. With many of Europe’s elite players on this Belgium team, it’s no surprise the Panamanians were outshot nine to three. None of Panama’s first half shots were on target. The first half would end scoreless, dominated mostly by untreathing attempts from both sides.
Belgium’s quality would show immediately in the second half as Napoli forward Dries Mertens capitalized off a badly cleared ball from the Panamanian defense to produce on of the better goals of the tournament. Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku would extend the lead with goals in the 69th and 75th minute to put the game out of reach.
Analysis: There are matches that are won ahead of time on paper and this was one of those. Belgium boasts one of the strongest teams in this World Cup and are contenders for that reason - halted from being favorites only because of their history. Panama first World Cup finals appearance is a case that sees them bring one of the oldest rosters in the tournament as a reward to their players’ career with the national team. Panama were impressively able to keep it nil-nil until the quality of Belgium - as expected - proved to be the difference.
Notable stat: Belgium won by its biggest margin of victory at a World Cup since defeating El Salvador 3-0 at the 1970 edition.
Tunisia 1-2 England
Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
People would tune in to this match to see if a young England squad could get the job done, led by one of the top European scorers in Tottenham’s Harry Kane. It would only take 11 minutes for Kane to make his presence felt on the scoreboard, capitalizing off a rebound from a corner attempt to give the Three Lions the 1-0 lead. Things would go from bad to worse for the Tunisians as goalkeeper Mouez Hassen had to be taken off in the 16th minute due to a shoulder injury. Hassen garnered attention during pre-World Cup friendlies for faking injuries after sundown so his teammates could break their fast during Ramadan. Tunisia would hold up quite well before lazy defending by Manchester City’s Kyle Walker would award a penalty against England. Ferjani Sassi would convert and tie things up 1-1.
Tunisia would generate very little in the second half, only two additional shots to bring their total up to six. The North Africans were able to fend off the English for the rest of of the match but losing focus in stoppage time would do them in. England had an opportunity off the corner where they found a lonely Harry Kane near the far post. Kane would head the ball in to send England fans into a frenzy.
Analysis: This was an expected win for England but they were made to work for it and almost shot themselves in the foot. The win will bring a sigh of relief and, more importantly, not bring the added pressure of the English media had they walked away with the draw. Tunisia gave a respectable effort but things look tough as they face Belgium next. The match against Panama may be their best chance to leave Russia with a win.
Notable stat: England picked up a win at a World Cup for the first time since 2010, after going winless in the 2014 edition.
Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):
Tuesday, June 19
7 a.m. - [Group H] Colombia vs. Japan (FS1, Telemundo)
10 a.m. - [Group H] Poland vs. Senegal (FOX, Telemundo)
1 p.m. - [Group A] Russia vs. Egypt (FOX, Telemundo)