World Cup Recap: Day 5

Sweden, Belgium and England pick up wins; Panama plays in first World Cup

Sweden, Belgium and England pick up wins; Panama plays in first World Cup
Harry Kane and England got an opening win. Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

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

Attendance: 42,300

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

Attendance: 43,257

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

Attendance: 41,064

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)

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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