World Cup Recap: Day 5

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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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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