Januzaj’s stunning strike stands out as Belgium beat England

Adnan Januzaj received the ball on the edge of the penalty area. The talented Belgian winger was receiving his first start of the World Cup, and, presumably looking to impress, he skipped into the box, leaving Danny Rose scrambling to keep up as he moved from side to side. Januzaj rolled the ball to the left and right with excellent touch, before eventually deciding it was time to take a shot. He did, nonchalantly stroking the ball past Jordan Pickford’s desperate dive and into the top corner. In any other game, Januzaj’s stunning goal would have been cause for wonderment and rapturous celebration. In this game, it just cued bewilderment.

The match was only a mostly dead rubber, but actual dead rubbers – and indeed friendlies – generally take place with more energy. Both England and Belgium had sealed their place in the knockout stages, but England went into the match on top of the group, ahead of their opponents on fair play points (Belgium had negative three, England negative two). It should have been an enthralling contest, but the only incentive either team could get from topping the group was a place in the harder side of the tournament. As a result, Belgium went into the game having made nine changes, while England had made eight. Neither side had anything to gain from winning, and the result was a spectacle that left much to be desired.

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Gary Cahill (left) makes a key goal line clearance early on. The chance was one of few either side had during the match.

It was clear from the off that both teams knew exactly what the situation was regarding qualification. There were moments where Belgium’s reserves looked like scoring, most notably when Gary Cahill was forced into a goal line clearance, but generally everyone just passed the ball around. Occasionally the passing was punctuated by moments of excitement, like when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s harmless cross was so far wrong that it nearly became a half-decent shot (it still missed the target), but such moments were rare and it didn’t take long for the game to revert back to a funereal pace. Referee Damir Skomina mercifully ended the lacklustre first half without adding any time on, and the image of English wing-back Danny Rose sharing a joke with the Belgian players during the break didn’t suggest that the second half would be any more entertaining. Then, just to add to the weird contest that was unfolding, there was the small issue of the yellow cards.

With neither team really interested in winning, the match seemed destined to end in a draw, bringing fair play points into the equation. With England only leading in the race for the non-coveted top spot in the group by virtue of their superior disciplinary record, there was the possibility that a couple of bad English fouls could push Belgium into first place, something they didn’t seem to want. Obviously, Belgium foresaw this tactic, and saw fit to forestall it by picking up a few bookings of their own. Mousa Dembélé started it, bringing down Tottenham Hotspur teammate Rose a little more vigorously than he needed to. Rose was the victim again shortly after, with Leander Dendoncker brutally hacking him down just outside the box and giving England an unassailable lead in the fair play points stakes. It was complicated, very ridiculous and, above all, just bizarre.

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Adnan Januzaj celebrates after opening the scoring with a brilliant goal. Januzaj’s goal proved the difference between the teams, and it was a very rare moment of class in an otherwise uninteresting game.

Then, just after half time, Januzaj produced his moment of stunning quality. Under the circumstances, the goal felt out of place. How could it tally with a game where neither team was trying, both seemed to be secretly hoping for a defeat, no first-choice players were on the pitch and the most enthralling subplot was based around yellow cards? It almost felt like Januzaj’s goal could have been an accident, as if he unfurled a low-percentage shot and managed to absolutely nail the strike. It was just so out of keeping with everything that had happened throughout the game, and the lifelessness of the affair. After the goal, Michy Batshuayi grabbed the ball and punted it back into the net in celebration. He slammed it into the post, and it rebounded straight back into his head. At least that part was more in keeping with the rest of the game.

England didn’t really seem bothered by their going behind in the match, and they seemed quite content to hold the status quo. They pushed a little harder, but they never took it to the Belgians and didn’t really looked like getting an equaliser. In the final moments, Belgium seemed to adopt the attitude that since England weren’t actually going to beat them, if they were going to hurt their World Cup chances by winning the game then they may as well win it properly. The result was some good chances, with Dries Mertens forcing a save from Pickford and Batshuayi slipping through a couple of defenders and playing a dangerous ball into the middle which formed a dangerous scrum in the six-yard box, but no goals. In the end, with neither team really needing – or even wanting – to win, the result was never likely to be too fascinating. In the end, it was no surprise that it was just a bit dull.

Kaliningrad – Kaliningrad Stadium
England 0
Belgium 1 (Januzaj 51)
Referee: Damir Skomina (Svn)
England (3-5-2): Pickford – Jones, Stones (Maguire 46), Cahill; Alexander-Arnold (Welbeck 79), Loftus-Cheek, Dier, Delph, Rose; Vardy, Rashford.
Belgium (3-4-3): Courtois – Dendoncker, Boyata, Vermaelen (Kompany 74); Chadli, Dembélé, Fellaini, T Hazard; Januzaj (Mertens 86), Batshuayi, Tielemans.

Top 5
1. Adnan Januzaj (Belgium)
Januzaj provided the only real entertainment of the match with his stunning strike into the top corner, and gave Belgium a spark on the right wing which suggests he could be a handful. As Belgium enter the knockouts he could be a very handy player to keep in reserve.
2. Danny Rose (England)
Rose was in pretty solid form, making some good forward runs and causing the occasional problem for the Belgian defence. He showed good pace getting forward, and showed that he has the quality to deputise on the left whenever he’s needed.
3. Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
Courtois was one of few first-choice players on the field, and his excellent goalkeeping allowed Belgium to come away with the win. He made a few excellent saves, always looked confident coming off his line and provided the security Belgium will rely on later in this tournament.
4. Marcus Rashford (England)
Rashford looked like the only English player who was really capable of breaching the Belgian defence, and he came very close on a few occasions with his pace and skill. He kept his energy up throughout the game, and came closer to scoring than any of his teammates.
5. Trent Alexander-Arnold (England)
Alexander-Arnold looked completely at home in just his second international match (even if it was against a less than full-strength Belgian side), and suggested that he can do a decent job off the bench if required. His set piece delivery was good, and he made some nice runs down the right.

Spurs push hard but can’t find a way

Georges-Kevin N’Koudou played a desperate cross into the box. It was the 96th minute, the scores were level and Tottenham Hotspur had one last roll of the dice left. The cross was a failure, but the rebound fell to left back Danny Rose, who was in a fairly strong position. He controlled the ball, took the shot, and could only watch as it hit the side of the goal. Bobby Madley blew his whistle, and it was all over, marking another disappointing draw for Spurs and adding to their ever-increasing list of missed opportunities.

Their opponents were Leicester City, the reigning champions who have not done a thing right this year. They have been crushed by Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, with no hint of the defensive steel which saw them capture the Premier League title against all odds. It was a game that Tottenham, yet to lose a Premier League match this season, were widely expected to win.

The game started slowly, but eventually Spurs began to take the upper hand. Slowly but surely the chances came, and Mauricio Pochettino’s side were soon well on top, almost without anyone realising. Leicester came close when Riyad Mahrez, one of the most dangerous players in the Premier League and a nightmare for opposing defenders, put the ball in for Shinji Okazaki. The resultant header was just over the bar.

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Under pressure: Son Heung-min (left) controls the ball with Christian Fuchs in pursuit.

Aside from that, Spurs were looking in control but struggling to find their touch in front of goal. New signing Vincent Janssen, the Dutchman touted as the next big thing after a record-breaking season with AZ Alkmaar, was part of the problem. He was described as skilful and strong. Instead, on this day he was an obstacle to his own team’s success, bumbling around as Son Heung-min, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli worked tirelessly to feed him. He was the lone elephant amongst a herd of gazelles.

Spurs started to find some more openings as the game went on, with Alli hitting the bar before Janssen gave his side the lead from the spot. Eriksen’s free kick was flicked on by Eric Dier to the big Dutchman, who fought against Robert Huth and Danny Drinkwater to control it. Huth was the culprit, first wrapping an arm around Janssen before throwing him to the ground. Madley didn’t have much of a choice but to award a penalty, and Janssen converted the kick with ease.

Leicester needed someone to step up, and that man was Jamie Vardy. In the lead up to this match Vardy had been a shadow of the player he was as Leicester won the Premier League, rarely contributing to the scoresheet and not really getting involved. In the first half, he had barely touched the ball, let alone done anything with it. Now, however, he stepped up, turning the game on its head with an excellent second half performance.

He started by rectifying the deficit. Victor Wanyama was the culprit for Spurs, leaving all wondering what was going through his head as he headed the ball past centre backs Dier and Jan Vertonghen towards his own goal. Vardy pounced. He used his pace to find some space in behind Dier, and with surgical precision he threaded his pass straight into the path of Ahmed Musa, who simply could not miss. The Nigerian injured himself as he tumbled into the back of the net, but the damage was done.

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Unstoppable: Ahmed Musa (right) puts the ball past Hugo Lloris into the back of the net.

Suddenly, Leicester were back in the game. Vardy had found his touch, and whenever he could get the ball at his feet he looked very dangerous. Spurs, on the other hand, were panicked and rushed. Eriksen was the calm at the centre of the storm, forcing a strong save from Kasper Schmeichel and setting up a great opportunity for Son with a well-executed free kick. He was a cool head amidst the crisis, but even he was struggling to find an opening.

Janssen had a couple of golden opportunities to put his side back in front, but he missed the target by inches with both attempts. Meanwhile, at the other end, Leicester were starting to retain the ball. Vardy was finding the ball and picking out dangerous passes, and soon the hunter had become the hunted. Spurs were forced to keep their opponents at bay as Leicester attacked with a combination of crosses and long throw-ins, and for once it looked as if Spurs had no hope of taking victory.

They had some chances as space began to open up, and Vertonghen came agonisingly close when his header hit the bar, but it was over. The final whistle signified the end of another disappointment for Spurs, another game which they should have won but didn’t. They remain the only undefeated team in the league, but if they are to win it they need to improve. Fast.

London – White Hart Lane
Tottenham Hotspur 1 (Janssen 44 pen)
Leicester City 1 (Musa 48)
Referee: Bobby Madley
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Lloris – Walker, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama (Winks 87), Dembele; Eriksen, Alli (N’Koudou 83), Son; Janssen.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Schmeichel – Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez (Albrighton 72), Drinkwater, King, Musa (Schlupp 68); Okazaki (Ulloa 78), Vardy.

Top 5
1. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)
Eriksen was on top of his game, working his way into dangerous positions and creating plenty of issues for Leicester with his excellent delivery from set pieces. He was in control on the ball, and was a cut above the rest.
2. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
Vardy was almost non-existent in the first half, but his second half effort was enough to save the game for his team. He created a goal for Musa with his run in behind, and caused plenty of defensive problems for Spurs. He has been out of sorts lately, and he will take confidence from his second half performance.
3. Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur)
Rose was a key player in both attack and defence, pushing forward when necessary and finding plenty of good options when he received the ball. He was never beaten by Mahrez as the Algerian looked to weave past him on numerous occasions, and he tested his man with his willingness to push up the pitch.
4. Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)
Schmeichel denied Spurs on a number of occasions, and he was unlucky to concede the way he did. He was lucky at times but whenever he needed to make a save he did, showing excellent technique and rarely allowing his opponents a second bite of the cherry.
5. Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur)
Walker used his pace and ability to get forward to great effect, creating plenty of chances with his dangerous balls from the right wing and often beating Musa for pace as he looked for an opening. Defensively, he was solid, and he was rarely caught out, even when Leicester broke away with pace.

Spurs salvage a point from defensive wreck

Spurs were out of the contest. For the first hour, anyway. Playing against Liverpool, who were coming off a spectacular flop against newly-promoted Burnley, things were not looking good. They were 1-0 down, not creating any chances, and being exposed time and time again in defence. An injury to Kyle Walker threw Mauricio Pochettino’s pre-match plans out the window, and in the centre of the park Victor Wanyama and Dele Alli were unable to keep the ball out of their opponent’s hands. Tottenham’s attack received no delivery, and the defence was more than a little shaky.

Eric Dier had started the match playing in central midfield, but he was moved into right back after Walker went off. Throughout the ninety minutes it was like watching Jekyll and Hyde; sometimes he was composed, most of the time he gave the ball away in very bad positions. Jan Vertonghen was not much better. He looked frazzled when he came under pressure from Senegalese winger Sadio Mane, who nearly took Spurs apart on a number of occasions with his pace in behind. Toby Alderweireld was a rock at the heart of the defence, and Michel Vorm was ensuring not many goals were scored, but those two couldn’t do everything.

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Under pressure: Eric Dier (left) is challenged by James Milner.

Liverpool, on the other hand, looked completely rejuvenated. Coming off a loss in which they had over 80 percent of possession, they had learned from their mistakes. Mane had come in for Daniel Sturridge, a player who wants to be at the heart of absolutely everything and had expressed annoyance at playing on the right wing. Mane tore Tottenham to shreds on a number of occasions, sliding in behind Danny Rose and beating Vertonghen for pace. He received good support from Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, both of whom had been out of action against Burnley, and he generally boosted everything about Liverpool’s attack. Against Burnley they had played with all the pace of a funeral procession. Now, they played with purpose, taking advantage of the extra space available and looking for more opportunities through quick ball movement.

Liverpool had a plethora of great chances in the first half as they were able to exploit the extra space in Tottenham’s defence. No longer suffocated by Burnley’s rigid defensive structure they found their niche against a side who looked to attack them back, and they had nearly opened the scoring within five minutes. Vorm made an excellent save to deny Coutinho from close range after Firmino had played him through, with a well-placed foot trapping the ball on the line and allowing the Dutch keeper to gratefully reel it in.

Mane looked most dangerous on the break, when Tottenham players lost the ball after some errant passing. Vorm was up to the test, even as Mane broke the defensive line on multiple occasions. Vorm risked being booked or even sent off more than once by coming off his line to clear the ball, but he was able to keep it level. Finally, just minutes before the break, Liverpool broke the deadlock. They scored from the spot, with a very soft penalty being awarded to Firmino after a minute clip on the heels from Erik Lamela. The contact was there, but ultimately the Brazilian fell after tripping over his own feet. Either way, the penalty stood, and James Milner was there to stroke it home.

If Pochettino was hoping that his side would recover after the break, he was very much mistaken. After a brief settling in period, the game resumed its familiar rhythm, but with a slightly different beat. Liverpool had reached their zenith, and it was in this short period just after half time that they came closest to sealing a win. Things happened very quickly for Jurgen Klopp’s men. Joel Matip brushed the bar after getting his head to Milner’s corner, and shortly afterwards Vorm had to make an excellent save to deny Nathaniel Clyne, who had marauded into the box from right back. Then came the disallowed goal.

Georginio Wijnaldum, who had been much improved due to increased time on the ball, intercepted yet another poor pass from Dier and started off down the left wing. He had plenty of support, but he kept running to the edge of the area before feeding Adam Lallana with an excellent through ball. Lallana played Mane on the near post, and the ball was promptly blasted into the back of the net. It appeared to be the death knell for Spurs, the sign that Liverpool had finally sealed the victory. But the linesman’s flag said otherwise. It was a very tight call, with Lallana in an offside position by the barest of margins, and it gave Tottenham the lifeline that they needed. Perversely, the disallowed goal acted as a turning point in the match, as Spurs sputtered into gear, albeit belatedly.

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Finish: Danny Rose (in white) levels the score.

It was Wanyama and Alli who stepped up. The solid pairing in central midfield started to cope with Liverpool’s pressure, and the attack found more of the ball and more space. Harry Kane started to pick it up in dangerous positions, and Vincent Janssen looked like a big threat. The hosts started to look like their former selves, stringing together great passing moves and creating some excellent chances. Lamela’s free kick had to be tapped over the bar by Simon Mignolet, and another top-drawer save had to be made moments later as Alderweireld got a head to Christian Eriksen’s corner. Spurs were starting to probe again, and suddenly it looked as if they could punish Liverpool for their missed opportunities. They did.

It started with a brilliant ball over the top from Alderweireld, with Milner completely misjudging it as it flew over his head to the feet of Dier. Milner was beaten again with a good touch, and while Lamela could not get a solid connection on the cross the ball fell to Rose at the back post. It was not an easy finish, but the left back made it look easy. He bundled the ball past Mignolet, and Matip, who had gone in behind to protect the line, had no chance as the shot rolled in next to the post. Liverpool looked to get an equaliser straight away, but the moment had already passed: Liverpool’s momentum was gone.

Liverpool had some chances late as the game opened up, and Alderweireld had to make an incredible challenge to deny Lallana in injury time. The Belgian was Tottenham’s last line of defence, and he risked a penalty by sliding in and blocking Lallana’s effort straight of the boot. The game trailed on, with some meaningless substitutions and a yellow card to Matip only delaying the finish as injury time drew to a close. Liverpool were the better side on the day, but they could not capitalise on the opportunities they created, and Tottenham’s porous defence did not prove costly in the end.

London – White Hart Lane
Tottenham Hotspur 1 (Rose 72)
Liverpool 1 (Milner 43 pen)
Referee: Robert Madley

Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Vorm – Walker (Janssen 28), Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Dier, Wanyama; Lamela, Alli, Eriksen (Winks 90+3); Kane (Onomah 83).
Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet – Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Lallana (Stewart 90+4), Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mane (Sturridge 88), Firmino, Coutinho (Origi 69).

Top 5
1. Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur)
Alderweireld was excellent at the heart of Tottenham’s defence, staying unfazed under heavy pressure and often covering up the defensive mistakes of his teammates. He created the goal with a pinpoint pass over the top of Liverpool’s defence, and he made a brilliant challenge to deny Lallana as the game drew to a close.
2. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Mane made all the difference for Liverpool after coming into the side to replace Sturridge. He cut swathes through Spurs with his pace and ability to get in behind, and he was unlucky not to score. He was the most dangerous attacking player on the ground, and he will be a big threat as the season progresses.
3. Joel Matip (Liverpool)
Matip provided a much-needed solidity for Liverpool in central defence, making life very difficult for Spurs and ensuring that not much got through. He was a significant threat at set pieces, and he came very close to scoring after beating his man in the air early in the second half. He played well in his Premier League debut, and he will want the good form to continue.
4. Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur)
Rose was Tottenham’s best attacking player, and while Mane often caught him out when his teammates carelessly lost possession he was fairly solid in defence as well. He created problems for Liverpool with his ability to go forward and put in incisive crosses, and he finished with excellent precision when he was given the opportunity.
5. Michel Vorm (Tottenham Hotspur)
Vorm had less to do in the second half as Liverpool’s influence waned, but he was excellent in goal throughout and did well to only concede once. His decision making was first-rate, and he saved a number of goals by coming off his line and clearing the ball away. He will only start until Hugo Lloris comes back, but he will take comfort from his early season form.