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 – Group F Three Lions Slay The Red Devils

It’s England’s group and many people have written England off already, some even who don’t follow football as is the national pastime. There has been little fuss over the last few months since qualifying but even still there is much to be optimistic about. Whilst not being everyone’s first choice, the FA appointed Gareth Southgate after a four game trial. England qualified relatively easy and under the former England defender the Three Lions have suffered only two defeats, both in Friendlies. Only Germany and France have beaten England whilst Italy grabbed a late and controversial VAR aided penalty to deny England another victory.

Unlike previous tournaments, Harry Kane will lead the team out and certainly won’t be taking corners anytime soon. Southgate picks a squad mixed with youth and experience. Pickford leads the way in goal taking the number one jersey whilst back ups include Stoke City’s Jack Butland (shirt number 13- not an omen I hope) and Nick Pope. Defence sees the likes of Stones, Jones and Cahill with fullbacks including Walker, Rose and Alexander Arnold.

The form of Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford see them take a place in the squad and I wouldn’t be surprised to see young Rashford bag some goals.

Vardy and Kane will no doubt lead the attack, but can look forward to support from the likes of Lingard, Sterling and Delli Alli.

England should win the group, there is hunger and youth and with the U-21’s winning the Toulon tournament, doesn’t England’s future look really positive. A group win for England would see them face either Poland, Colombia or Senegal. Surely it’s time?

Belgium are looking to hit the big time again but they like England, now have a Golden Generation which though has struggled to show their worth. Having nailed World Cup qualification from 1982 all the way to 2002 where they either exited in the group stage or losing in the 1986 semi finals, 2014 saw their first World Cup finals after 12 years. Down in Brazil they had high hopes only to be knocked out in the quarter finals by Argentina.

Qualification this time round came very easily where only a draw against Greece with a last minute Lukaku equaliser denied Roberto Martinez’s team a 100% record. With Greece being the strongest rival, the remaining group saw Bosnia, Estonia, Cyprus and Gibraltar. Any nation though should get through that group without a hitch.

The Belgians have another good run of form having not lost since their post Euro 2016 friendly. The key games post qualifiers seen six friendlies with four clean sheets out of 6. The squad of course will have a familiar look as 12 of the finals squad ply their trade with Premier League clubs. Familiar faces will include Eden Hazard, Kompany, Lukaku, Vertonghen Courtois are some of the names we will see.

Martinez though will be sweating over the injury of Kompany who picked up an injury against Portugal. Not such a concern will be Eden Hazard who picked up a dead leg. Not that two players out of 23 will have a direct affect in Belgium’s squad.

Belgium will progress, but can they improve on previous competitions who knows but then of course that is when things can get tricky. The squad though will see some players playing their last World Cup whilst others pushing to further to Qatar 2022. The likes of Vermaelen, Kompany and Vertonghen will be 34/35 at the next tournament, too late for one more? But will though still have the likes of Hazard, Januzaj, Tielemans helping to steer the national team forward to the next Euro’s and World Cup.

Tunisia are back in their fifth finals tournament and their first since Germany 2006 when they finished third. They have faced England and Belgium at the finals and if there is a glimmer of hope for the North African nation then it comes in the form of their meeting against Belgium ending in a draw. Sadly their last game against England ended in defeat. Panama brings new opportunity for three points. They have lost one in their last 6 games which came against Spain with an 84th minute goal conceded. The side can expect to finish third once more as experience proves crucial.

Panama complete the group and it doesn’t look great for the Central American nation who make their debut. Having been drawn in the same group as England and Belgium, they have managed one win against Trinidad & Tobagoin their last five and have managed a solitary goal which came in that win against Trinidad whilst conceding eight goals although 6 which came against Denmark.

They will go in against Belgium hoping to put in a reasonable performance where they can hope to at least score a goal and to keep their defence as tight as possible. When you have the likes of Hazard, Lukaku, Vardy and Kane coming at your defence in the first two games, many would probably cross their fingers and close their eyes. I think that Panama’s World Cup debut will be one that they wont want to remember in a hurry.

Group Prediction

England take top spot, Belgium second as Tunisia gain first win. Its bottom for Panama

Is this really the best eleven – Dan Raywood guest blog

Today saw the announcement of the PFA team of the year.

 Unsurprisingly the team was dominated by players from Manchester City (5), Spurs (3) and Chelsea, Man United and Liverpool got one player in each.

 PFA team of the year:

GK | David De Gea
RB | Kyle Walker
CB | Jan Vertonghen
CB | Nicolás Otamendi
LB | Marcos Alonso 
MID | David Silva
MID | Kevin De Bruyne
MID | Christian Eriksen
FWD | Harry Kane
FWD | Mohamed Salah
FWD | Sergio Agüero

It is unsurprising that Manchester City dominated this team, as they have dominated the league. But in the case where U2 are the greatest band, does that mean that The Edge is the greatest guitarist? Of course not, there are some sublime guitar players in this world, and would The Edge be as revered if he were in a different band?

 To drop the analogy, my issue here is with the inclusion of Sergio Aguero. To be very cynical, has this really been an outstanding season for Aguero? Yes he’s third in the goal scoring charts, but no one really mentions him as being in the form of De Bruyne, Sane and Silva – a lot of players could count themselves as being very unlucky to not be selected.

Think the likes of the of Leroy Sane, Sadio Mane, Dele Alli, Glenn Murray and Ashley Barnes, they can count themselves unlucky to have not been included.

Is it the case that some players are in great teams, and therefore are better? Arguably yes, but I do wonder if the PFA are looking at an easy spine, and rest are filled in by looking at the form teams.

 As for the problem positions, well De Gea has been the outstanding goalkeeper this year when some others have faltered, and the overall poor form of Chelsea and Manchester United has left some players, who should have been outstanding (hello Pogba, Lukaku. Morata) very much in the B team.

Overall it is hard to pick fault as apart from De Bruyne and Salah, the rest of the top 11 have had consistent patches of form but I do wonder if a better representation of the league would have been better for all.

Two out of three ain’t bad – Dan Raywood

Spurs have qualified for the champions league knock out stages for the second time, having suffered a Wembley headache last year that concluded with Dele’s sending off against Ghent in the Europa League.

That all seemed like a long time ago last night though, as Spurs swept away the holders Real Madrid 3-1. Was it one of the greatest nights in the club’s history? Probably, but combined with an absent performance by Madrid there will be many who will not consider this to be among the great performances.

After all, against Inter Milan in 2010 Spurs were facing a good side and with an in form Gareth Bale, they swept the Italians aside. Compared to the team that Spurs played a few weeks ago in the Bernabau, last night’s team looked disappointing – Kroos was a shadow of the player he was in Madrid, Sergio Ramos almost spoilt the night with some petulant efforts against Dembele and Harry Kane struggled to get past the last man and seemed to lack pace.

Yet no one will consider those facts in history, and remember that Spurs played Real Madrid off the pitch and with some excellent performances across the 11, this should go down in history for the right reasons.

On a positive note, Spurs have now qualified for the knock out stages with two games to play, and can focus on the league campaign and getting performances back on track. A week ago we were bemused after being beaten by West Ham, a week later we conquered the European Champions. It feels good say that!

30 Years a Lilywhite – Dan Raywood guest blog

So another season is over, and it is one that is magnificent for Spurs for a number of reasons. Firstly, we finished second for the first time since the 1960s, and of course we ended the curse of St Totteringham’s Day that has long lingered over N17. That postcode is also significant, as Spurs will not call White Hart Lane home for a year, as the new stadium takes shape and Spurs relocate to Wembley Stadium for next season.

The last game and following pitch invasion and ceremony were all lavishly done. A final victory at the stadium over a half hearted Manchester United – who probably have most eyes on the Europa League final – was followed by a parade of legends in the rain, and choir and opera singers of some terrace chants. Amusing of course was the pitch invasion, with one claim from The Spurs Show podcast that to clear it, all they needed to do was give the microphone to Pat Jennings!

I’m writing this an hour ahead of the final games of the season, where Spurs finish off against a relegated Hull City. The season has been a good one from my point of view – Spurs were generally excellent despite struggles in the Champions League and FA Cup when we hit Wembley. The winners Chelsea are led by a terrific coach in Conte, while the on-off form of West Brom, Southampton and Bournemouth has showed that this remains the best league in the world.
On the downside, Arsenal and Manchester United look to be in disarray. United will buy their way out of trouble, but Arsenal face a divided fan base over the future of manager Arsene Wenger. See my previous post for my view on that situation.
The main down point of the Premier League season has been it’s end. A strong title race between Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City was over after one defeat by West Ham over Spurs, while the relegation places were confirmed over a disastrous Sunderland, too defensive Middlesbrough and resurgent Hull City. All three will struggle to hold on to the few big names they have and I don’t know how fast they will return with Newcastle United and Brighton and Hove Albion claiming the promotion places.

The last things to confirm are the final fourth place in the league to play in the Champions League next season – that is in Liverpool’s hands. Also I’ll be hoping Everton don’t score so Harry Kane can claim the golden boot, one trophy for Spurs to boast about this season!

The Deciding Month – Dan Raywood

Now comes the month of uncertainty for Spurs, as February has typically been the month where the 20 something games played already goes to waste.

Memories will be cast back to those who chose to remind our not-so-noisy neighbours to “mind the gap”, while in 2011/2012 Spurs backed up an impressive five goal win over Newcastle with another collapse and failure to qualify for the Champions League. This season does look like things could go right. At the time of writing Spurs are third in the league and have a capability to grind out results – recent games against Norwich City and Colchester United are a great example of that.

Yes the stories about the price of the starting 11, Delle Alli’s emergence and Harry Kane’s goal scoring have all been told and are crucial to the tale of this season. Crucial also is the lack of any new players to arrive in January, while Andros Townsend, Federico Fazio and Alex Pritchard all left the club for the rest of the season. I did see an analogy that said when Chicago Bulls had Michael Jordan in prime form they didn’t go out and get another Jordan, instead they put full faith in the playing squad that they had. Same here I guess, Kane, Eriksen, Alli, Alderweireld and Lloris have all remained fit, and the squad has so far only been set back by the injury to Jan Vertonghen.

Many will point to the failure to boost the defence and striker positions in January if the season collapses, but a collapse now would mean a failure to qualify for the Champions League. Some are whispering about the league championship, others on the FA Cup and Europa league, the truly ambitious on all three. What I know is this is the strongest team we have seen in years and week after week Spurs are getting the results they need to ensure strength in the finish.

Whether the unspeakable (be it positive or negative) should happen, the club will never satisfy everyone, but in a season where so much is possible, this dark February could be the month that sits in history books and is talked about for generations. Again, whether it is positive or negative remains to be seen.

Judging after 11 – Dan Raywood blog

Steve McLaren started his tenure as Newcastle United manager with a declaration to the toon fans to “judge me after ten games”. Now more than ten games into this season, we have one of the most open and scintilating seasons upon us in years.

Let’s face the truth – I’m a pretty smug Spurs fan with our place in fifth after 11 games and only one defeat (on the opening day, away at Manchester United, courtesy of an own goal) and signs of a pretty good first third of the season attributed to us. The ambition of Pochettino to play a high-line pressing game has paid off so far and with laptop touching wood, this has not seen the team caught out too many times – the Mahrez goal for Leicester the main exception.

The danger with playing a fast-paced pressing game is stamina, and while our team is relatively young there is not a huge amount of strength in depth and Spurs are an injury to Jan Vertonghen, Dele Alli or Christian Eriksen away from a major problem.

The change in management at Liverpool has seen new German boss Jurgen Klopp try a similar tactic and arguably, Liverpool have not adapted to this and this could cause changes to be made at Anfield in the January transfer window. At Spurs, the lack of strength in depth is evident in the centre of defence and in attack, and I would expect to see the end of Federico Fazio’s tenure with Spurs and a new face in attack to aid Harry Kane.

Another reason to love Spurs this season has been in the development and use of young players. Following the addition of Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason, Eric Dier and Kane to the starting 11, along with opportunities for Joshua Onomah, Harry Winks and Tom Carroll, this is something to be excited about. However these mostly fill the already-crowded midfield and many Spurs fans are excited about the introduction of defender Cameron Carter-Vickers in the coming seasons.

For now, this (and a new striker, although I expect the addition of Saido Berahino to be completed in January) remains the biggest concern. Not being at the wrong end of the table, not a bad run of form and not a looming visit to Arsenal. No, the biggest concerns are four days at the end of month, containing a trip to Azerbaijan to play Qarabag in the Europa League, and a game against out of form Chelsea. Let’s hope everyone plays safe.