World Cup Group Stage – Match Day 2 Review

Given their form running up to the World Cup, who would have thought that Russia could muster a win let alone two but that’s what they did. The second game saw them take on Egypt and Mo Salah. Having beaten Saudi Arabia 5-0, one maybe had thought that Egypt might prove hardier opponents. The first half drab but the second half picked up. The Russian opening goal had deflected off the knee in bizarre fashion and into the net. It was probably something that summed up Egypt’s plight so far. Two further goals in three minutes from Cheryshev and Dzuyba and it was game over for the African nation even with the penalty from Mo Salah.

Uruguay secured their passage into the knock out stages with a solitary goal against Saudi Arabia via Luis Suarez. A far from convincing win for the South Americans and they will need to step up if they want to progress in the knockout stages.

Group B saw a quieter second round of games, Portugal beat Morocco with a goal from none other than Cristiano Ronaldo who netted after four minutes. Portugal were top and their star man was top scorer. It also finished a bad week for the Moroccans, who had seen their World Cup bid for 2026 rejected and now eliminated from the 2018 competition. Portugal’s time at the top was short lived as Spain came through with a win against Iran. A hard fought win against a tough Iran side who had already opened their tournament with a win against Morocco. Costa’s 54th minute goal put the Spaniards on top of the group having had a better disciplinary record.

Group C saw France take control with a solitary goal to beat Peru 1-0 and qualify for the knock out round. It wasn’t easy for Les Bleus as Peru gave the 1998 World Cup winners a run for their money. Chances were there but minimal were converted and the South American nation had slightly more possession. Possession counts for nothing unless you use it, but the fortune wasn’t with Peru. They were eliminated.

Australia drew with Denmark in another game featuring VAR. The Danes had gone in front early on with Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen netting after 7 minutes. Mile Jedinak converted the penalty after Yussuf Poulsen’s handball. It was a point that meant that the Green and Gold nation were still within a chance of qualifying for the knock out stages. They might need to step up in the final game but will though need France to beat Denmark.

Well what a match day two is was for Group D. Argentina went into the game needing to get a result against Croatia, but for a second game in a row, the South American nation looked far from it’s past line ups that had seen it reach several finals. Croatia grabbed their first win against South American opposition in five attempts yet had started not so greatly as they finished. Argentina conceded their first through a blunder by Caballero gave Rebic a chance to put the ball away.  Had the Balkan nation been more accurate in front of goal, they might well have embarrassed Argentina even more. The second goal came in the 80th minute and was game over when Croatia broke away with Luka Modric making it 2-0 with a cracking goal. It was interesting to see the lack of running back from the Argentinian players in the build up. Rakitic made it 3-0 and heads dropped. Messi retired from international football once before, could Messi retire from international football for good, especially as he will be 34 going into the 2022 tournament.

Iceland’s surprise defeat against a better performing Nigeria, gave Argentina hope in making it out of the group. Having lost to Croatia, the Super Eagles knew it was win or bust. Whilst it was goalless in the first half, a double from Ahmed Musa lifted the African nation’s spirits. Crucially though Iceland missed a VAR penalty and going into the third round of group games, the previously doomed looking Argentina, might still have a chance of qualification.

Group E saw Costa Rica eliminated after two late goals from Brazil that in turn put them top of the group on goal difference. With time running out and Brazil still not looking like Brazil, it looked like two draws out of two especially when VAR actually overturned a penalty award. Step up Coutinho in the 91st and Neymar in the 97th minute. When they face Serbia, it will be winner take all. This came after Switzerland came back from 2-1 down to beat Serbia,  thanks to Shaqiri’s runaway 90th minute winner. Serbia though could feel hard done by after an obvious and blatant penalty was not given. The Swiss look favourites to qualify following their win as they complete their group campaign against Costa Rica. There is still a chance that Serbia could qualify given that they wont hold back against Brazil who wont be given the opportunity to waste their chances. Come Wednesday night we shall know who progresses.

Group F saw Mexico move closer to securing qualification with a 2-1 win over South Korea, it would come as no surprise given the Central American nation’s beating of Germany in the group opening game. Hernandez scored the second to reach 50 international goals. It was disappointing for South Korea who to be honest still have a slim chance of progression should they beat Germany and Mexico beat Sweden, but that seems very optimistic.  Their slim opportunity came thanks to Germany who came back from 1-0 down against Sweden to grab an injury time winner. It had been win or bust for the holders Germany. Having lost to Mexico, defeat against Sweden would be devastating and handed the holders a group elimination that was seen at the last World Cup.

Group G saw Belgium trounce Tunisia 5-2. The team that had proved to be difficult against England, were attacked early and were two up after 16 minutes with one each from Hazard and Lukaku. Dylan Bronn gave hope to Tunisia just two minutes later. That hope looked to have disappeared when Bronn went off with an injury in the 24th minute. That hope was then all but crushed when Lukaku netted in first half injury time. Hazard added his second five minutes into the second half to give them a big goal difference. Batshuayi of Chelsea made it five and a plus seven goal difference until Tunisia added a second to still leave the Red Devil’s a strong goal difference.

England had won a hard fought game against Tunisia,  which had they taken early chances might have been a bit clearer result, although it didn’t help that the referee was seemingly thinking he was refereeing a wrestling match. Their game against Panama was completely different. England were all over Panama, when Panama players weren’t fouling England players that is. Thankfully the referee wasn’t taking any rubbish. Southgate’s team finished the first half 5-0 up and points secured. Harry Kane grabbed a third goal to nail a hat trick in a game that saw Man City defender John Stone almost grab a hat trick. England could find themselves disappointed that they conceded as it put them back level on goal difference with Belgium. Thanks to their better disciplinary record, England go into the Belgium game in pole position. Belgium national coach may find enforced changes with fitness checks over Mertens, Hazard and Lukaku.

The final group saw an entertaining game between Japan and Senegal that had seen both sides take the lead at one point in the game. Japan went into the tournament as outsiders to qualify, but found themselves leading the group following their win over Colombia. Senegal had opened with a crucial win and knew that anything other than a defeat gave them a reasonable chance of qualifying. Colombia who had been expected to do well netted their first win of the group over a very disappointing Poland. Lewandowski struggled again and their final game against Poland will see them finish without a win or get a result that could throw open the qualifying. That though may take some doing.

Lets see what Matchday 3 brings us, will there be upsets or last game salvages for the big nations.

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World Cup Preview Group E- Brazil fly as the rest fight for second

Another World Cup and another group that Brazil should win. They have only failed to get out of the group stage on two occasions which were 1930, when the competition held in Uruguay was invitational and in then in 1966. In that the 1966 tournament, they finished third in the group behind group winners Portugal and Hungary.

Brazil have rarely finished either second so it could be inevitable that they end up group winners, especially in a group consisting of Switzerland, Serbia and Costa Rica.

Switzerland make their tenth appearance at the World Cup finals and will hope that they can reach at least the last 16 like they did in Brazil. Argentina broke their hearts with an extra time winner with two minutes to go. They will hope not to go through that again. They had to come through a play off win after blowing their qualification group lead, but their defeat against Portugual was their only defeat since the penalty shoot out defeat at Euro 2016. Their pre World Cup friendlies have seen a 6-0 thrashing of England’s opponents Panama, a draw with Spain and a win against Japan.

The Swiss will be captained by new Arsenal signing Stephane Lichtsteiner, who will be hoping to not only move level  with Swiss legend Stephane Chapuisat on 103 caps but even move ahead. He has helped to keep the Swiss team tight at the back and hard to break down. They have conceded just eight goals in the last 17 games. He will be joined by fellow England based winger Xherdan Shaqiri, currently of Stoke City.

Switzerland kick off with Brazil, I guess it’s always better to get the big one out the way first, because know nation wants to go into their final game knowing that possible qualification hinges on beating Brazil. Last time out though Switzerland beat the Boys from South America thanks to an own goal from Dani Alves. A repeat of that win will go down well.  They follow up with Serbia where the two nations meet for the first time so it will be interesting to see how they fair against each other. They finish the group with a tie against Costa Rica. The Central American side won’t be pushovers though so things could be close.

Costa Rica in their fifth World Cup finals will be strong contenders to get out their group, but they will need to put their recent form behind them. Since finishing the qualifying period the CONCACAF nation have lost four out of six friendlies and have one final friendly to play against Belgium. Saying that though Costa Rica’s pre World Cup 2014 form was nothing to shout about and they got to the Quarter Finals. A positive result against Serbia in the opening game will give them good stead to progress

Costa Rica will hope that Celso Borges finds his shooting boots again having not scored since 2016 although he will move up to joint third if he plays all three group games. Goals from the strikers have been thin on the ground but if the others can pla their part then that should help them. Marco Urena has bagged four in their last nine, although his international career is fairing better than his recent club career.

Finally it is Serbia,who qualify for their second tournament as Serbia,they had previously played in 2006 as Serbia & Montenegro. Their route to the finals saw them top a group including Wales and the Republic of Ireland. They dominated the group only losing once and drawing three out of the ten games. Aleksandar Mitrovic finished top scorer with ten of his nations goals. He’s been in top form for Serbia bagging 14 goals in his last 19 games. This form helped was enough to also see him bag 12 in 17 games on loan with Fulham.

The Balkan nation go into the finals with two defeats in the last six games although two of those in the last four against Morocco and Chile. Nothing can be really taken from those friendlies especially with wins and defeats against nations from the same continent.

Should one of Costa Rica, Serbia or Switzerland deny Brazil all three points in one game, anything could happen, but I expect Brazil to come through the group.

 

Group Prediction

Brazil win the group, Switzerland sneak second as Costa Rica and Serbia narrowing miss out.

Look at The Stars – Dan Raywood reflects on fixture of promise

On Sunday I ventured into Emirates territory, which for football fans is not a nation but a football stadium, for an experience of international flavour.I choose the word flavour appropriately, as the two combatants of Brazil and Chile took the field. The game? Well it was dire to tell the truth, and despite the presence of Sanchez and Neymar, there was little to get excited about. Apart for the three pitch invaders, one of whom entered the playing field to hug the Brazilian captain, and another for nothing but a jog where he returned to his seat afterwards with a “what did I do wrong” attitude.

The loyal readers will know that a visit to the Emirates isn’t common for me, in fact this was my fifth trip there – 3 Arsenal games (one corporate, two when the wife couldn’t go and the seat would be empty) and Muse live in 2013. I’ll save my judgement for a future blog when the Spurs stadium is completed, but I was glad we were in the upper tier when the rain came down during half time.

As I said the game was poor, finishing 1-0 due to a Firmino goal, but the best part of the day was the trip to the game. On the bus we ended up sitting with a 12-strong Chilean family who now reside in North London, who had not only printed off song sheets of the Chilean national anthem, but convinced us on which team to support.”Sing  the national anthem loud” we were instructed, my efforts on the bus to even pronounce the words gaining some approval. Inside the stadium, the national anthems were a little one-sided as the unsegregated seating meant there were no central sections to create that singing, and the “plastic fans” mostly chose the gold and green team. Also, when the Brazilian national anthem was played, there was singing on the recorded version.

This event was sponsored by Chrysler as part of a world tour by Brazil, and appropriately too as some members of the Brazilian team still play in Brazil, whilst Chilean internationals play across Europe and for QPR. I’ve been to a couple of these tournaments in the past, which are dressed up friendlies in order to get a sponsor logo on the stadium and a crowd to see it (Emirates Cup anyone?) and overall I have no problem with it, but I do have a problem with poor performances and an unknown Brazilian team.

The number 3 bore a resemblance to Roberto Carlos but in stature only, whilst of the Chelsea Brazilians, only Felipe Luis appeared. There was no Dani Alves, no Daniel Luiz whilst Marcelo looked uninspiring. On the Chilean side, the substitutes were cheered, but like Neymar, those local fans were there to see Alexis, and neither star really shone.

The game came during an international weekend and some would have ticked this and the England game on Friday night, we didn’t see England but did catch the end of Ireland v Poland and all of Israel v Wales. In those games the stars shone, it’s a shame that the biggest star didn’t shine for us.