Belgium claim bronze in forgettable but decent affair

The unfortunate nature of third-placed play-offs is that their intrigue is based on things which are not relevant to the outcome of the tournament. Both sides are already eliminated when the clash takes place, and the nature of semi-final defeat means that they have often come from agonising losses. This particular third-placed play-off, between England and Belgium, didn’t look any different. England had a chance to avenge their group stage defeat to the Belgians, but they hadn’t looked too worried when they were losing and it hardly seemed likely that they had been waiting for their opportunity to exact revenge. In the end they didn’t get their revenge, and they didn’t seem to care too deeply. There was also the golden boot battle, although it hardly seemed likely that Romelu Lukaku would score the two goals needed to wrest the title of the tournament’s top scorer from slightly lucky English skipper Harry Kane. He didn’t score any.

Bizarrely, neither side took the field in their traditional colours, even though it was hard to see any clash between Belgium’s traditional red and England’s traditional white. Still, FIFA decided a kit clash existed, so Belgium wore yellow and England, oddly, wore red. Such bureaucratic matters didn’t seem to trouble Belgium, and it didn’t take them long to find the back of the net. Lukaku received the ball in the centre of the field, and one well-placed ball unlocked England’s defence and picked out Nacer Chadli. Chadli was streaming into space on the left, and his cross fell perfectly for Thomas Meunier in a dangerous position. Meunier’s incisive run allowed him to receive the ball on the edge of the six-yard box, and he had no trouble putting it past Jordan Pickford from such close range.

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Thomas Meunier (right) scores Belgium’s first goal past Jordan Pickford. The goal left England needing to chase the game, a task they didn’t apply themselves to until the last 20 minutes.

Then the game broke down a little, as neither team really threatened. Mainly, Belgium’s moves looked dangerous and then fell apart after attempts at telepathic passing which left a lot to be desired. The prime example of this was Kevin de Bruyne’s no-look backheel for Lukaku, which was delivered into a dangerous spot. It would have been a brilliant play, had the big striker not been positioned some five metres from where de Bruyne’s pass was aimed. One chance came when Lukaku’s pass somehow slipped through to de Bruyne, who seemed surprised to be receiving the ball, let off a half-hearted shot and nearly scored with the half-hearted shot as said shot was deflected dangerously. In defence, Vincent Kompany perfectly split the middle of Jan Vertonghen and Chadli, and everyone could only watch in disbelief and slight disinterest as the ball rolled out for a throw-in. In the middle of it all, Lukaku had a genuine chance one-on-one with Pickford, but he fluffed his lines with a heavy touch and the ball was claimed easily by the English goalkeeper.

As it progressed, the game developed into a collection of disjointed moments which didn’t really take a defined pattern. Belgium were mostly on top, but they never really broke past England’s five-man defence, and sometimes England looked decent too. Both teams gave the impression that the score didn’t really matter, and it was easy to forget that Belgium were ahead 1-0 as the teams went about their business. They weren’t exactly uncaring, and it wasn’t exactly poor quality, but it was easily forgettable football punctuated by the occasional moment of skill or the occasional attacking gaffe. Such gaffes were usually met with indifference, and such moments of skill inevitably came to nothing. There weren’t many chances, but those that did come often arrived with no warning, and were sometimes even accidents (like when Youri Tielemans miscued a shot and presented Toby Alderweireld with an unexpected chance to volley inside the box).

The start of the second half didn’t represent much of a deviation from the haphazard pattern of the first. Any chances, like Jesse Lingard’s dangerous ball across goal which missed Kane’s diving attempt at volleying it home, weren’t telegraphed, and both teams were about as sloppy as ever. Belgium took a particularly pointless corner as Eden Hazard rolled the ball to Dries Mertens, who attempted a cross. It was blocked by the man given the role of blocking the cross: and flew out for another corner. In short, a few seconds had been wasted, and absolutely nothing had been gained by either side. A few minutes later, both Kane and Kompany ended up on the ground after Kane attempted a volley and just fell on his backside. It wasn’t clear why Kompany was down, but there was little time to dwell on it as Belgium attempted a dangerous-looking counter-attack which fell through.

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Eric Dier (left) watches as club teammate Toby Alderweireld (centre) clears his chip off the goal line and out. Dier’s shot was the closest England came to getting an equaliser.

Suddenly (neither side was exerting enough pressure on the other to actually create anything that wasn’t sudden), England nearly scored. Eric Dier and Marcus Rashford combined beautifully to play Dier through, and the powerful midfielder managed to chip Thibaut Courtois. Unfortunately for him, Alderweireld reacted quicker than anyone, and he was already sliding in to clear the shot off the line. At that point, the momentum of the game turned. Belgium had been turning the ball over all game and suffering no consequences. Then England, 70 minutes in, finally started to look threatening after receiving errant passes, and the results were instantaneous. They had some dangerous set pieces and a few good chances, and they looked set to break through.

Counter-intuitively, England’s late offensive tipped the balance of the match firmly in Belgium’s favour. Space began to open up when they won the ball back, and they looked increasingly dangerous on the break. De Bruyne, Hazard and Mertens started to combine, and Meunier nearly nabbed a second when he slammed a volley to Pickford’s right and forced the English goalkeeper into an excellent save. Pickford’s face was a mix of exasperation and petulance as the ball moved back up the field. Eventually, one of Belgium’s counter-attacks broke through, killing off England’s hopes once and for all. De Bruyne provided the pass, splitting the defence open and picking out the run of Hazard, who gave Pickford no chance as he stroked the ball into the bottom corner.

After that, there was very little to play for, as Belgium commanded the rest of the game and continued to look the more dangerous side as the increasingly ragged-looking English stretched themselves further and further in pursuit of a goal that would never come. At one point Kompany surged forward from his home in the heart of defence, pushing into the box and hoping for a cross from Hazard. Hazard’s cross wasn’t great, and Kompany’s avaricious attempt to hunt a goal left him caught out of position. It didn’t matter too much, as England’s slow build-up allowed the veteran defender to sheepishly trot back into place. Belgium’s win was a nice way to finish their tournament, and the bronze medals they received are a nice trinket to mark a truly great generation of Belgian footballers. For England, who had nothing to lose and have a bright future ahead of them, the loss is unlikely to sting too badly. In the end, it didn’t really matter to anyone, but the game wasn’t too bad. That’s about as good as third-place play-offs get.

Saint Petersburg – Krestovsky Stadium
Belgium 2 (Meunier 4, E Hazard 82)
England 0
Referee: Alireza Faghani (Irn)
Belgium (3-4-3): Courtois – Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen; Meunier, Tielemans (Dembélé 78), Witsel, Chadli (Vermaelen 39); de Bruyne, Lukaku (Mertens 60), E Hazard.
England (3-5-2): Pickford – Jones, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Loftus-Cheek (Alli 84), Dier, Delph, Rose (Lingard 46); Sterling (Rashford 46), Kane.

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Belgium’s players celebrate after receiving their bronze medals. The medals will be a nice trinket for a great Belgian team, but they won’t make up for the disappointment of a semi-final defeat.

Top 5
1. Thomas Meunier (Belgium)
Meunier wasn’t always as clinical as he could have been, but he looked fresher than anyone else thanks to the suspension that ruled him out of the semi-final and he had a massive impact on the game as a result. He found the scoresheet early, and he created plenty of opportunities for Belgium with his hard running.
2. John Stones (England)
It wouldn’t be fair to suggest that Stones was responsible for England’s semi-final defeat, but he was certainly responsible for Croatia’s winning goal. The third-place play-off gave him a chance to atone for his costly error, and he did so with a strong defensive performance. If something needed blocking, he was there, and he denied Belgium on a few occasions.
3. Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium)
De Bruyne’s plans didn’t always come off, mostly because his teammates often failed to understand their role in them, but he had the ball in the final third more than any other Belgian and he was always dangerous. He was the only Belgian capable of breaking down England’s massed defence, and when he caught them on the break Belgium always threatened to score.
4. Eric Dier (England)
Dier played more of a back seat role throughout the tournament, and he seized his chance when he was drafted into the team for Jordan Henderson. He came into his own in the second half, bossing the midfield and using his physicality and skill to give Belgium some real problems.
5. Youri Tielemans (Belgium)
This game may mark the end of Belgium’s golden generation, with most of their starters set to be past their prime when Qatar 2022 rolls around. In Tielemans, however, the Belgians may have found someone who can become one of their key players in years to come. His influence waned in the second half, but Tielemans showed that Belgian football still has a bright future with a good effort.

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Croatia seal historic extra time win over tamed Lions

After 124 minutes of end-to-end drama, one free-kick was all that stood between Croatia and a historic victory. Marcus Rashford, having come on as a late substitute, stood over the ball preparing to deliver the free-kick that had the potential to make or break England’s deep World Cup run buoyed by their youthful exuberance. Normally Kieran Trippier would have delivered the kick, but he was sitting on the bench having picked up an injury which reduced the substitute-less English to ten men in the dying moments. The ball went into the box, and Croatian centre-back Dejan Lovren rose to head the ball away. It was over, and Croatia’s bench rushed onto the field, making no effort to hide their euphoria.

It started well for England, who came into the game full of confidence after a dream run through the tournament. The Three Lions had the lead within five minutes, courtesy of a perfect free-kick. The chance was created when Dele Alli was brought down on the edge of the area, and Trippier had the chance to shoot from a dangerous position. He made no mistake, curling the ball over Croatia’s wall and burying it in the top corner. It was an emphatic finish despite the class and finesse required to place the ball with such precision, and Danijel Subašić couldn’t get near it.

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Kieran Trippier (left) curls in the opening goal from a free-kick. The goal came within five minutes of kick-off, and it got England off to an ideal start.

Croatia had come from behind in their previous two matches, but those games had a different feel. Against a confident English side, Croatia didn’t look like drawing level in the moments that followed the goal. Instead, they only looked like falling further behind. Croatia survived against the danger posed by England’s prowess at corners, but they were obviously troubled by Raheem Sterling’s pace and their attacking play was riddled with incautious errors. Eventually, they began to work into the match, with star playmaker Luka Modrić looking particularly dangerous, but they never quite got to the point of seriously testing Jordan Pickford in the English goal.

The game began to open up as both sides settled into the match. Somehow, England didn’t score again just before the half hour when they broke through the Croatian defence with a surgically precise passing move. The move left Harry Kane facing off with Subašić in a position from which England’s captain has scored plenty of goals. His shot was saved, and his follow-up effort was hit into the post from an acute angle before rebounding against Subašić’s knee and floating across the face of goal. Croatia barely survived.

At the other end, Modrić, Šime Vrsaljko and Ante Rebić combined to create problems for England, but Rebić’s cross from the right wing was deflected away and his follow-up shot was easily stopped by Jordan Pickford. A good sliding challenge from Ashley Young saved England moments later as Ivan Perišić’s ball managed to slip past the English back three. Rebić was in position to capitalise, but the English wing-back just diverted the ball away and the corner was harmlessly dealt with. A few minutes later, Alli won the ball on the edge of the box, drew the defence in by standing completely still and gave Jesse Lingard a chance to shoot. He missed.

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Ivan Perišić wheels away in celebration as England’s defence try to make sense of Croatia’s opening goal. The equaliser allowed Croatia to get back into their game, and it drove them to deliver some of their best football of the tournament.

Croatia had some more chances as the half wound down, and Dejan Lovren’s clash with Harry Maguire in the box could have led to a penalty on the stroke of half time, but Croatia didn’t really seem like scoring. They had more of the ball in the early stages of the second half, but the spark was missing from their play. Passes were misplaced, and their most promising moves broke down in the decisive moments. They needed some kind of cutting edge against an English side that was looking increasingly comfortable. They needed a hero.

They got one. It wasn’t Modrić, or main striker Mario Mandžukić, or key midfielder Ivan Rakitić. It was Perišić. Vrsaljko provided the cross, receiving the ball in space and whipping it in towards the back post. The dynamic winger did the rest. Perišić timed his run to perfection, slipping past Trippier and approaching the unsuspecting Kyle Walker from behind. Walker dived forwards in an attempt to clear the ball, oblivious to the presence of a dangerous attacker behind him. The only indication of Perišić’s presence he received came when a leg was wrapped around him and the ball was raked into the back of the net. Croatia celebrated wildly, but Perišić wasn’t done just yet.

Soon after, he nearly shed tears of exasperation after missing a golden opportunity to hand Croatia the lead. Perišić pounced as Pickford and his defenders confusedly cleared a long ball, and he found the space to run into the box and fire off an unstoppable shot as Pickford scrambled back into position. Unfortunately for Croatia, the shot hit the post and bounced out, and England managed to survive. Perišić didn’t relent, however, and soon Croatia’s play had gone to another level. Modrić had been good, but suddenly he was calling the shots and making England’s midfield look completely inadequate. Rebić and Mandžukić were providing support, and the team was suddenly working like the well-oiled machine they had been in the tournament’s early stages. England had chances, but they weren’t looking like scoring.

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Mario Mandžukić (centre) gives Croatia the lead in the second half of extra time with a nice finish. It was the most important goal ever scored in Croatia’s footballing history, and it allowed them to reach the final for the first time.

Both sides sparred in the final stages of normal time, but neither could quite find the opening they needed to settle the match in their favour. For the third match in succession, Croatia were going to extra time, and a third consecutive penalty shootout was on the cards. The English started the extra period brightly, and they looked to have scored when John Stones’ header beat Subašić. Vrsaljko acted quickly to clear the ball off the line, and Croatia began to push in the other direction. Perišić bobbed up again to feed Mandžukić’s dangerous run as the first half of extra time drew to a close, drawing Pickford into a brilliant close range save. It was a sign of things to come.

Perišić found Mandžukić again a few minutes after play resumed for the last time, and the consequences were devastating. Josip Pivarić’s cross into the box was cleared by Walker, but he was only able to parry it to the edge of the area. Perišić and Trippier awaited the ball’s arrival, and Perišić’s height won out as he rose above the diminutive wing-back and headed the ball into the open space around the six-yard box. None of this would have been too harmful had it not been for Stones. The centre-back was caught napping by Mandžukić, and his belated response was not going to atone for his catastrophic loss of concentration while at the wheel. Croatia’s frontman slammed the ball past Pickford’s dive, and Croatia were through. Photographers were kissed as a huge and joyous scrum formed, and Croatia had one foot in the final.

They managed to hold on. The Croatians professionally ran down the clock, even managing to mount some dangerous counter-attacks as Trippier’s injury left England a man down and dangerously exposed. Rashford’s free-kick was the last roll of the dice, and England’s hopes were extinguished as the attack was snuffed out emphatically. England are still young, and they may well push for the title again four years from now, but four years is a long time. They may not get a better chance to lift the trophy that has proved so elusive in the last 50 years. For Croatia, a date with France, their semi-final opponents in 1998, awaits. They have already eclipsed the famous team of 20 years ago, and the final will give them another chance to make history. They have the players to do it.

Moscow – Luzhniki Stadium
Croatia 2 (Perišić 68, Mandžukić 109)
England 1 (Trippier 5) (a.e.t)
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (Tur)
Croatia (4-2-3-1): Subašić – Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinić (Pivarić 95); Rakitić, Brozović; Rebić (Kramarić 101), Modrić (Badelj 119), Perišić; Mandžukić (Ćorluka 115).
England (3-5-2): Pickford – Walker (Vardy 112), Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Alli, Henderson (Dier 97), Lingard, Young (Rose 91); Sterling (Rashford 74), Kane.

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Ivan Perišić reacts after the final whistle. Perišić stood up with the game on the line, scoring and providing an assist in Croatia’s historic victory.

Top 5
1. Ivan Perišić (Croatia)
When Croatia needed someone to break the game open, Perišić stepped up. His smart positioning allowed him to capitalise on Vrsaljko’s dangerous ball into the box, and he continued to break the English defence open with a series of dangerous runs and incisive passes. is HHis assist for Mandžukić’s extra time winner was a fitting way to cap off a devastating performance.
2. Luka Modrić (Croatia)
Perišić was the cutting edge that finally allowed Croatia to realise their potential and beat the English, but Modrić was the man pulling the strings. Croatia’s captain showed his experience with a masterful midfield display which put England on the back foot and allowed Croatia’s talent to shine through.
3. Kieran Trippier (England)
Trippier’s brilliant individual tournament ended rather unsatisfactorily, with the wing-back sitting on the bench as his team slumped to a heartbreaking defeat. He was, however, the man who put them in the box seat with a brilliant free-kick, and his performance was a good one until it was cruelly curtailed.
4. Mario Mandžukić (Croatia)
England had looked solid in their previous matches, but Mandžukić highlighted their lack of defensive experience with some wily runs and clever forward play. His winning goal will go down in Croatian footballing history, and it capped off a great performance in which he used his skills to good effect and combined perfectly with his attacking teammates.
5. Šime Vrsaljko (Croatia)
Vrsaljko wasn’t expected to feature in the semi-final after injuring himself during Croatia’s quarter-final clash with Russia, but he managed to get up for the game and he showed that he is an important part of Croatia’s success. He assisted the first goal, and he managed to push up the field and joining to the attack while making some key defensive contributions.

2018 FIFA World Cup Semi-Final Preview – Croatia vs England

Croatia vs England

Form Guide

Croatia
Group Stage
Croatia 2 (Etebo 32 og, Modrić 71 pen), Nigeria 0
Argentina 0, Croatia 3 (Rebić 53, Modrić 80, Rakitić 90+1)
Iceland 1 (Sigurðsson 76 pen), Croatia 2 (Badelj 53, Perišić 90)
Round of 16
Croatia 1 (Mandžukić 4), Denmark 1 (M Jørgensen 1) (a.e.t, Croatia won 3-2 on penalties)
Quarter-Finals
Russia 2 (Cheryshev 31, Mário Fernandes 115), Croatia 2 (Kramarić 39, Vida 101) (a.e.t, Croatia won 4-3 on penalties)

England
Group Stage
Tunisia 1 (Sassi 35 pen), England 2 (Kane 11, 90+1)
England 6 (Stones 8, 40, Kane 22 pen, 45+1 pen, 62, Lingard 36), Panama 1 (Baloy 78)
England 0, Belgium 1 (Januzaj 51)
Round of 16
Colombia 1 (Mina 90+3), England 1 (Kane 57 pen) (a.e.t, England won 4-3 on penalties)
Quarter-Finals
Sweden 0, England 2 (Maguire 30, Alli 59)

Game Plan

Croatia have kept the same system in all of their games, and although they have some injury concerns Zlatko Dalić is unlikely to change his 4-2-3-1 formation. With the team unlikely to change too much ahead of Croatia’s biggest game for 20 years, Dalić can focus on getting the best out of his players, who haven’t quite found their rhythm in two long and tiring penalty shootout victories. They have fought very hard, and there were positive signs in their win over Russia. Luka Modrić looked good in a deep midfield role, and Croatia’s front four of Ivan Perišić, Mario Mandžukić, Ante Rebić and Andrej Kramarić is very dangerous. Dalić’s biggest concern going in will be injuries to his defence, and Croatia may look to dominate possession to keep England out of the game. They have the talent, and if their high-level European players stand up they will have a very good chance of victory.

Like their opponents, the English haven’t made any changes to their system throughout the tournament. Gareth Southgate’s side is full of confidence, and their approach is based on pace and physicality. Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard are England’s key threats in open play, and both will look to slip in behind the Croatian defence. Then there’s England’s second, and more potent, threat: set pieces. Kieran Trippier has been brilliant, and his delivery (as well as Ashley Young’s) has been dangerous all tournament. Harry Maguire, John Stones and Harry Kane are rarely beaten in the air, and most of England’s goals at this tournament have come from corners, free-kicks or penalties derived from corners or free-kicks. Kane has profited from the penalty situation, and although England’s captain leads all scorers at this tournament he is yet to find his best form. If he can do that, England will be tough to beat. With a solid three-man defence of Kyle Walker, Stones and Maguire and a talented midfield of Lingard, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli, the English are a well-rounded side who can do some damage.

Key Questions

1. Who will feature in the Croatian defence?
Croatia’s gutsy quarter-final victory over Russia could have come at a heavy cost. Šime Vrsaljko is unlikely to take his place in the team, and goalkeeper Danijel Subašić is also doubtful after playing through a hamstring injury and saving a penalty in the shootout. With Dejan Lovren coming in under an injury cloud, there’s a chance that Croatia could go into the match with three significant defensive changes. Against a dangerous English attack with the all-round quality of Kane and the pace of Sterling and Lingard, this defensive upheaval could cost Croatia their place in the competition.
2. Can England go all the way?
The obvious answer to this question is yes. In the final four, and with a good chance of eliminating the Croatians, the English have the ability to win this tournament. Despite their success, however, it remains unclear how well they’ve played. Much of the support for the theory that England can win it all comes from the fact that they ended up in the softer side of the draw, avoiding powerhouses like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, France and Belgium. The flip side of this, however, is that the English are yet to prove themselves against top-level opposition. They did play Belgium in the group stage, but it’s worth noting that neither side was at full strength (and England’s reserves lost in a very dull match). In the knockouts, they played a Colombian side who made themselves too angry to play with any fluency and a Swedish team that, while disciplined, didn’t provide too much of a test. Croatia are different. They’re spirited, and very dangerous, and this game will give a good indication of whether England have the quality to beat the French should they go through.
3. Will fatigue be a factor?
Croatia and England couldn’t have had more different quarter-final wins. While England swept Sweden aside with contemptuous ease, Croatia battled hard and eventually eliminated Russia in a 120-minute slugfest and penalty shootout. Croatia come into this match off two shootout wins, and aside from the injury toll of their win over Russia they are not likely to be as mentally fresh as their opponents. It’s worth noting that England did go through a shootout of their own against Colombia, but it’s likely that they will have recovered from that difficult game and their preparation for this match will have been helped by their comfortable quarter-final victory. If Croatia can’t recover physically or mentally victory will be very difficult to achieve.

Key Players

Luka Modrić has been central to Croatia’s hopes since his international debut in 2006, and he is still at the centre of their success 12 years on. He dictates the tempo of the game, he rarely makes a mistake and he is capable of playing a killer ball which can unlock a defence in a second. Complemented by the brilliance of Ivan Rakitić and the work of his dangerous attack, Modrić is the man England need to stop if they are going to progress to their first World Cup decider since 1966. The midfield is shaping as a key battleground, and if Modrić can take control in the centre then Croatia will go a long way to winning this match.

Raheem Sterling has all the weapons. He’s quick, he has good skills and he can threaten in wide areas and in the centre. He should be the kind of player who can breach any defence. Somehow, he can’t. Despite his best efforts, he hasn’t been able to add to his meagre tally of two international goals at this tournament, and he will be desperate to change that against Croatia. He has found himself in so many brilliant positions that his place is not under threat, and a goal in the semi-final could make all the questions about his performance for England go away.

Teams

Croatia’s front six is likely stay the same, with Kramarić excelling in the quarter-final after replacing Marcelo Brozović and the rest of the attack performing well. The defence, however, is a different question. Vrsaljko seems unlikely to start, and Domagoj Vida is likely to shift to the right of defence with Vedran Ćorluka set to take his place. Lovren should start, although should he fail to make it Duje Ćaleta-Car would come in to partner Ćorluka in central defence. The other question surrounds Subašić, who is in more serious doubt than Lovren. If the goalkeeper doesn’t start then Lovre Kalinić would be the most likely replacement, although Subašić’s form means that Dalić will be very unlikely to make a change unless the injury is very serious.
Possible Team (4-2-3-1): Subašić – Vida, Lovren, Ćorluka, Strinić; Modrić, Rakitić; Rebić, Kramarić, Perišić; Mandžukić.

Unlike their opponents, England have few selection worries. It would be surprising if Southgate was to tweak his side given his players’ performance against Sweden and the efficiency of his 3-5-2 formation throughout the tournament.
Possible Team (3-5-2): Pickford – Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Lingard, Henderson, Alli, Young; Kane, Sterling.

Prediction

This game could be a very even contest, and the possibility of extra time and penalties is a very real one. Both sides have quality, and although Croatia are probably the more talented side they may struggle due to the settled nature of England’s team and the fatigue of two long and arduous knockout games. The deeper the game goes the better England’s chances will be due to their greater physical and mental freshness, but Croatia’s resolve to reach this point shouldn’t be underestimated and they are a very good chance of winning. England 2-1 (a.e.t).

England outclass Sweden to sail into the semis

Before this tournament, the British press was strangely subdued. For 50 years, they had proclaimed England champions-in-waiting at every major tournament. For some reason, this young and inexperienced team didn’t receive such lofty pre-tournament support. Now, for the first time since 1990, and for only the second time since lifting the trophy in 1966, the Three Lions are in the semi-finals of the World Cup. They did it without breaking a sweat, comfortably outclassing Sweden and announcing themselves as a genuine contender as they cruised into the tournament’s final four.

Perhaps the greatest sign of England’s progress came from the inherent Englishness of the opponents they were playing. Sweden’s footballing development has been influenced heavily by England, and their mostly lifeless and uninspired performance was the kind of effort plenty of talented English sides had served up in the past. Their system was introduced by the English, the kind of simple tactical plan England had gone for in years gone by. Now, England’s young stars dismantled their opponents’ disciplined but ultimately toothless structure with their exciting new brand of play.

The game started slowly, with neither side able to offer any real threat and neither defence looking tested. England, unsurprisingly, began to take the ascendency against Sweden’s previously solid defence, but the Swedish knew their roles and didn’t seem to be too troubled. Then England scored, from one of their main sources: the humble corner kick. Ashley Young delivered the corner in question to where a mass of players awaited the ball’s arrival. There seemed to be plenty of defenders there, and Sweden looked to have set up well. Then Harry Maguire’s header shot into the bottom corner, and it was clear that something hadn’t quite worked. English centre-back Maguire, the second heaviest player at the tournament, was marked by diminutive Swedish playmaker Emil Forsberg. Forsberg never stood a chance.

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Harry Maguire (right) scores England’s first goal from Ashley Young’s well-directed corner. The goal came from a defensive breakdown, and it left Sweden chasing the game.

Sweden offered little attacking threat for the rest of the half, and England kept pushing. Raheem Sterling had a series of chances to double the lead in the minutes before the break as he found the ball in behind and began to terrorise the Swedish defence with his pace. A long ball picked him out over the top of the Swedish defence, but Victor Lindelöf was just able to bundle the ball away. Robin Olsen was forced into a good one-on-one save when Sterling slipped through again a couple of minutes later, and Sweden barely survived (he was offside anyway, so the goal wouldn’t have counted). He wasn’t offside when he got in behind again, and this time only a fingertip save from Olsen and a sliding block from Andreas Granqvist stopped him from scoring. It didn’t feel like Sweden would be so lucky if he slipped past them once more, and Sweden’s record in stopping him from slipping through the net wasn’t exactly looking great.

Sweden started the second half more aggressively, and they had their first genuine chance a few minutes after the game restarted. It was a good chance too, as Jordan Pickford was forced into a tough diving save when Marcus Berg rose above Young to head towards the bottom corner. When Forsberg started to get involved, even going so far as to send what was possibly a shot flying fairly close to the bar (it may have been a really bad cross, but it looked vaguely dangerous) the Swedish looked like they had an equaliser in them. That equaliser never came. England began to reassert themselves on the game, controlling possession well and looking increasingly dangerous when they had the chance to deliver a corner. Then, after slowing the game down and steadying the ship after Sweden’s fast second half opening, England got their second and began to professionally kill the game.

Dele Alli scored it, and again it came from a good cross into the box. Jesse Lingard delivered the pass, receiving the ball on the edge of the box and targeting a cluster of teammates on the back post with a delightful looping ball. Alli, having pushed into the box from midfield, rose above the rest as Lingard’s cross hit him perfectly on the forehead. Once he put the header on target, Olsen had no chance of making the save. England were 2-0 up, Sweden had barely threatened, and the Three Lions were almost certainly heading for the dizzy heights of the last four.

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Robin Olsen attempts in vain to save Dele Alli’s close range header. Alli’s goal gave England a 2-0 buffer which Sweden never looked capable of overcoming.

Sweden did threaten when some excellent combination play between Ola Toivonen, Berg and Viktor Claesson provided Claesson with a chance and forced Pickford into another brilliant save, but England survived. They had their third real chance of the game when Pickford made another great save to tip Berg’s very dangerous shot over the bar, but they couldn’t break through. The latter chance even created tension within the English team, as Pickford politely bellowed at his defenders in pursuit of an explanation for the ease with which Berg found space to shoot. Presumably the matter was resolved amicably, as England didn’t look like conceding again.

For the most part, England just sauntered around the pitch doing as they pleased while the Swedish desperately chased them trying to get the ball back. Occasionally they got a corner, and really tested the Swedes. In four previous matches, Sweden’s defence had been extremely solid, especially in the air. Here, every corner seemed likely to pull them apart. Considering this strange effect has happened to all of England’s previous opponents, it may simply be that England are very good at corners. Sweden tried to make use of their height by bombing the ball long at every opportunity, and they even brought on Pontus Jansson, a central defender, solely to control said long balls. It didn’t work, and barely created so much as a half chance.

In the end, England weren’t tested by Sweden, who based their success around organisation and didn’t have the requisite skill or game plan to react to falling behind. As such, England’s cruisy run towards the latter stages of the World Cup continues unhindered, and the claims that the tournament is “coming home” will only intensify in the days to follow. Such statements started as something of a joke, as England weren’t actually expected to get this far. Now, they could well prove to be prophetic. Some will point out that Sweden had just three chances, and it may not be advisable for English fans to get ahead of themselves. After such a comfortable win, however, it seems unlikely that such advice will actually be heeded. Before this tournament began, the British press was strangely subdued. They’re unlikely to be so subdued now.

Samara – Cosmos Arena
Sweden 0
England 2 (Maguire 30, Alli 59)
Referee: Björn Kuipers (Ned)
Sweden (4-4-2): Olsen – Krafth (Jansson 85), Lindelöf, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Claesson, Larsson, Ekdal, Forsberg (Olsson 65); Berg, Toivonen (Guidetti 65).
England (3-5-2): Pickford – Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Lingard, Henderson (Dier 84), Alli (Delph 77), Young; Kane, Sterling (Rashford 90+1).

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Jordan Pickford makes a diving save to keep out Marcus Berg’s dangerous header. Pickford wasn’t called into action very often, but he was still required to make some very difficult saves to preserve England’s lead.

Top 5
1. Jordan Pickford (England)
Sweden had three golden opportunities to score in the second half, and just one of them going in could have turned the game on its head. Thankfully for England, Pickford was there to ensure that England’s clean sheet remained intact and that there were no nervous moments. He made three stunning saves, and justified his selection with an excellent performance.
2. Raheem Sterling (England)
Watching Sterling play, it’s hard to see how he has managed just two goals in over 40 English caps. Here, he was too quick for the Swedish defence and he put himself into all the right positions. Somehow, he was still denied. His dynamic runs in behind scattered the previously well-organised Swedish defence, and he was England’s most dangerous attacker by some distance.
3. Harry Maguire (England)
Not for the first time this tournament, Maguire’s attacking exploits outshone his defensive work. The centre-back made good use of his size as he threw himself around in the box, and he managed to find himself a goal and create some chances with his dangerous headers. He is a big part of England’s success at set pieces.
4. Marcus Berg (Sweden)
Berg didn’t give up in his pursuit for a goal, and he was involved in all of Sweden’s dangerous attacking moves. His positioning was good, and he will consider himself unlucky to be leaving the tournament without a goal to his name. Had a lesser goalkeeper than Pickford been present he could have scored a couple.
5. Ashley Young (England)
Young looked dangerous as he moved up and down the left wing, and it was his corner that provided the assist for Maguire’s opener. His influence waned somewhat after that moment, but he continued to threaten and he put in some dangerous crosses. He asked plenty of questions of the Swedish defence.

England break the curse in fiery affair

Jordan Henderson looked confident as he walked towards the penalty spot. He even juggled the ball as he was preparing to take England’s third kick of their decisive penalty shootout against Colombia. The shootout was evenly poised. Colombian captain Radamel Falcao had gone first, and made no mistake. His opposite number, English striker Harry Kane, scored his penalty with similar confidence. Juan Cuadrado, Marcus Rashford and Luis Muriel took the next three shots, and all of them scored. The pressure on each kick, especially each English one, was increasing. Henderson’s penalty was good, hit with power and precision to the right. Unfortunately for Henderson, Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina was ready. He made a brilliant save, and England seemed done. They had worked determinedly to break their penalty shootout jinx at major tournaments. They had prepared themselves mentally and physically for the dreaded tiebreaker that has so often proved England’s undoing. Now, it seemed that, despite their best efforts, they had lost on penalties again. Turin 1990, London 1996, Saint-Étienne 1998, Lisbon 2004, Gelsenkirchen 2006 and Kiev 2012, England’s previous penalty shootout defeats, were about to be joined by Moscow 2018.

It started brightly enough for England. They had most of the early play, and created some good chances. Kane came especially close to scoring when he got on the end of a dangerous Kieran Trippier cross, but he couldn’t quite put the tough header away and it landed on the roof of the net. Colombia began to settle, but their sole attacking threat was a couple of long shots from Juan Fernando Quintero. England had a few more chances, but they never really looked like scoring as the first half drew to a close. The first half did, however, set the tone for what was to come with a few heated incidents.

The first flashpoint involved Trippier and Falcao. The English right-back pushed into the Colombian striker from behind, the Colombian striker went down, and Colombia received a free-kick. Then the pair exchanged words as Trippier seemed to accuse Falcao of exaggerating the contact. It didn’t seem too unfair an accusation considering the incident, but Falcao shot to his feet immediately, determined to address this slight on his honour. A couple of minutes later, Harry Maguire and Cuadrado looked like they were about to come to blows. Had other players been in the vicinity, blows may well have ensued. There was an undercurrent of tension bubbling up, and it looked like things might just go crazy.

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Raheem Sterling (front) is fouled by Yerry Mina as they battle each other for the ball. There was plenty of physical play during the game, and it resulted in a contest that was often heated.

Then they did. A larger fracas broke out when Kane was brought down on the edge of the area, although none of it actually stemmed from the original foul. Instead, the trouble originated from the wall. Colombia arranged their wall effectively, before England decided to get involved in an attempt to disrupt Colombia’s defence of Trippier’s shot on goal. Amidst the chaos, Wílmar Barrios softly headbutted Henderson in the chest. Henderson went to ground, England remonstrated, the video assistant referee intervened, and eventually Barrios was fairly lucky to escape with a yellow card. All the jostling was a waste of time in the end, as Trippier didn’t even put his free-kick on target.

Mateus Uribe had the next penalty after Henderson’s miss. Colombia now held the upper hand, and all Uribe needed to do to consolidate that advantage was put his penalty past Jordan Pickford. For Pickford, it was do or die. He needed to save the kick, or England would almost certainly be consigned to another penalty shootout defeat. Uribe went high, aiming for the top corner. It was impossible to save. It was also off target, hitting the underside of the bar and bouncing out. England were suddenly back in it. Trippier slammed his penalty home. Scores were level.

There was another minor incident as the increasingly spiteful half drew to a close, as Raheem Sterling seemingly sent Yerry Mina crashing to the turf in an off-the-ball coming together. It turned out that Sterling had done nothing of the sort, and Mina had just taken a massive dive before angrily remonstrating with his supposed assailant. The Henderson-Barrios incident hadn’t yet cooled temperatures, and American referee Mark Geiger was desperately fighting to keep the game under control.

Then, shortly after half time, Colombia won a penalty and sparked the biggest incident of the match. It wasn’t surprising. As the English prepared to take a corner, four English attackers – and Colombian Carlos Sánchez – stood in an orderly line awaiting the delivery. Sánchez wasn’t really meant to be there, and England didn’t really seem to want him around, but he wasn’t willing to let Kane out of his sight. Or, more importantly, he wasn’t willing to let Kane out of his grasp. Referee Geiger gave the customary talk on holding in the box, but Sánchez clearly paid little attention. The ball was eventually put into the area, Sánchez attempted to block Kane from running at the ball, and eventually Kane went crashing to the turf as Sánchez seemingly attempted to mount him. Sánchez’s actions wouldn’t have been out of place at a rodeo, and Geiger didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot. England were happy with the call. Colombia were incensed.

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Harry Kane celebrates after putting England ahead with a well-taken penalty. The lead lasted until the 93rd minute of the match.

They remonstrated very vocally with Geiger, forcing a delay in the game as they made their feelings clear. Sánchez and Falcao led the protests, but there were consistently four or five Colombians surrounding Geiger and demanding that the egregious injustice they had just suffered be rectified. Eventually, the kick was taken, and scored quite easily by Kane. England had the lead, and Colombia didn’t seem ready to get it back just yet. They were just angry about how the game had panned out, and the result was chaos.

Falcao clashed with John Stones immediately after the goal. Then he accused Maguire (not unfairly) of sharp practice as the big centre-back went to ground in the box, and found himself booked for his slightly over-zealous and threatening protests. Geiger soon decided that when in doubt, brandishing the yellow card was the best option. Carlos Bacca came on and clattered into the back of Stones, receiving a yellow card as a result. Stones wasn’t best pleased, and he rejected Bacca’s apologetic handshake. Bacca just looked slightly sad. Jesse Lingard clipped Carlos Sánchez’s heels rather unnecessarily. He too received a complementary caution. It was beginning to seem like it would take a miracle for both sides to finish the game with their full complement of players.

Bacca was entrusted with taking the crucial fifth penalty for Colombia. The shootout had reached the point where the slightest slip, or one moment of brilliance from either keeper, would almost certainly decide the game. All Bacca had to do was score. He couldn’t. Pickford flung himself the right way, and almost flung himself too far. The ball was above him, but he raised his left arm, batted the ball away and left England on the verge of the unthinkable: a win in the knockout stage on penalties. Could it really happen? Eric Dier stepped up to take the kick that could seal it.

A rare moment of footballing action saw Lingard attempt to find Kane in the centre after slipping into the box with a nice run. It was blocked, and the resultant corner saw Maguire head the ball onto the roof of the net. Then Kyle Walker gave Colombia their best chance of the game. The English centre-back was dispossessed in a very dangerous area and England’s defence was outnumbered. Cuadrado missed the target. Suddenly, with the game on the line, Colombia seemed to decide that fighting the English wasn’t really the answer, and seemingly realised that Cuadrado’s missed chance, and Quintero’s pair of long shots, was the sum total of their attacking efforts. They needed to do better, and they lifted.

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Carlos Bacca (right) is distraught after having his penalty saved by Jordan Pickford. Pickford’s stop allowed England to win the match on penalties.

Out of nowhere, Pickford was required to make a stunning save to deal with Uribe’s ridiculously ambitious attempt from a very long way out. He managed to tip the ball away for a corner, one of Colombia’s first of the night. The clock had passed 90 minutes, and the match was into added time. The corner was Colombia’s last throw of the dice. It was swung in, and Mina rose to meet it. Mina had scored from corners in Colombia’s previous two matches, and now he found space against Maguire in the box. He headed it into the ground, hard, and it bounced towards goal. Trippier was too short to get his head to the bouncing ball and keep it from crossing the goal line. Pickford was too far away to make a last-ditch save. The game was going to extra time, and penalties were on the agenda.

There were a few chances in extra time, but neither side was able to break the deadlock. The game was to be decided on penalty kicks. This English side had been hailed as the new generation of stars who could make their own history. Now, that reputation was at a crossroads. England could overcome the scars of the past, and continue to forge ahead into the quarter-finals and, quite possibly, beyond. Alternatively, they could lose. It was hard to know what a loss would do. Would it prove that this English side, for all the hype surrounding the fresh and exciting squad, couldn’t overcome the historical burdens carried into every tournament? Would it suggest that England’s supposed renaissance under Gareth Southgate was just a false dawn, driven by the media excitement accompanying their success? It wasn’t clear.

Thankfully for England, those questions didn’t need to be asked. Dier was calm as he slotted his penalty into the bottom corner, and England celebrated madly as they made their way into the quarter-finals. It was fitting that Southgate, on the losing side in the shootouts of 96 and 98, was the man in charge of the team as they finally overcame their demons. Maybe England are a newly resurgent force, although the jury could still be out. After all, their next game is against Sweden, and they have a horrible record against the Swedes. It seems the perfect opportunity to create some new history.

Moscow – Otkritie Arena
Colombia 1 (Mina 90+3)
England 1 (Kane 57 pen) (a.e.t, England won 4-3 on penalties)
Referee: Mark Geiger (USA)
Colombia (4-3-2-1): Ospina – Arias (Zapata 116), Mina, D Sánchez, Mojica; Barrios, C Sánchez (Uribe 79), Lerma (Bacca 61); Cuadrado, Quintero (Muriel 88); Falcao.
England (3-5-2):
Pickford – Walker (Rashford 113), Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Alli (Dier 81), Henderson, Lingard, Young (Rose 102); Sterling (Vardy 88), Kane.

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England’s players pile on top of Jordan Pickford after their penalty shootout victory. After losing six of their seven previous penalty shootouts at major tournaments, including three World Cup shootouts, the victory was a huge weight off England’s shoulders.

Top 5
1. Kieran Trippier (England)
Trippier has been brilliant all tournament, and he delivered another excellent performance to send England through to the last eight. He worked hard going forward and tracking back, and his crosses from the right wing were very dangerous. His set piece delivery was on song once again, and it caused plenty of problems.
2. Harry Kane (England)
Kane scored England’s only goal, and his sixth of the tournament, from the penalty spot, and his impact stretched beyond that one moment. He made plenty of dangerous runs, and fought through a number of fouls as he desperately attempted to drive England forward. He appears to be England’s greatest hope of an even deeper run into the tournament.
3. Johan Mojica (Colombia)
Mojica was the only Colombian who consistently threatened the English as he used his pace and crossing ability to good effect. He had little support on the left and was often forced to go it alone, but he always worked hard and he very nearly breached the English defence on a few occasions.
4. Jesse Lingard (England)
Lingard was his usual energetic self, making penetrating runs in midfield and establishing himself as England’s main second half threat with his work on the counter-attack. He came close to scoring or assisting an English goal on a few occasions, and put Colombia under the pump.
5. Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)
Cuadrado worked hard to get into some decent attacking positions, and he made some decent forays forward. He collected the assist for Colombia’s late equaliser, and he looked more likely than most of his teammates to make something happen.

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.

Kane’s fortunate hat-trick headlines crushing English victory

Ricardo Ávila delivered the free-kick into the box from a fairly dangerous position. The set piece wasn’t particularly well defended by the English, and 37-year-old Panamanian substitute Felipe Baloy, on World Cup debut, found space in the box. He slid in, the ball caught his outstretched boot, and Jordan Pickford’s dive couldn’t keep it out of the bottom corner. In their second World Cup game, Panama finally had their first World Cup goal, and the Panamanian fans in Nizhny Novgorod were jubilant. An outside observer may have seen the rapturous celebrations and assumed Panama were level, even ahead. If only those six English goals (five in the first half) were taken out of the equation. Panama had some chances, and Baloy’s historic goal ensured their fans left the ground in fairly good spirits, but they were never going to match it with a classy English team. After going into half time 5-0 down following a steady procession of English goals, the Panamanians were lucky it didn’t get any worse.

The first goal came from a poorly-defended corner. There was a delay in taking the kick as referee Gehad Grisha delivered the customary lecture on not holding in the box, and then had to deliver said lecture again when Harry Maguire and Gabriel Gómez both tumbled to the ground. Finally, Kieran Trippier swung the corner in, despite Maguire and Gómez continuing to jostle aggressively with each other. They attracted the attention, but it was John Stones who scored the goal. Stones was seemingly unmarked, having benefitted from some unbelievably loose defence from Michael Murillo, and he had no problems heading the ball into the bottom corner.

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Raheem Sterling (left) is thwarted by Jaime Penedo as he looks to get in behind the Panamanian defence. Sterling made plenty of good runs and got into dangerous positions, but he couldn’t get himself a goal.

The second goal wasn’t too long in coming. Jesse Lingard made a good run in behind the Panamanian defence, and was picked out on the edge of the box. Then he was brutally hacked down by both of Panama’s centre-backs, with Fidel Escobar getting in first before Román Torres added his weight to the very heavy – and very illegal – challenge. Harry Kane stepped up to take the penalty, and the English captain drilled a perfect spot kick past Jaime Penedo.

If the game wasn’t already over after Kane’s penalty, it was after Lingard scored the third goal. The energetic midfielder received the ball on the edge of the box, played a one-two with Raheem Sterling to get himself in position and fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner. It looked ridiculously simple. It most definitely wasn’t. Penedo’s full-length dive was in vain against Lingard’s casual brilliance, and there were still 10 minutes left in the half. Time enough for two more goals, then.

The fourth came from a carefully designed set piece. England won a free-kick in an awkward position, where neither a shot nor a cross was particularly simple. Instead, Trippier went for a short pass to Jordan Henderson, who crossed the ball across the goal face to where Kane was waiting. He headed back towards the middle, and Panama’s defence was so poor that both Sterling and Stones were wide open in front of goal. Sterling missed, with Penedo making a good reflex save, but Stones gleefully headed the rebound into the roof of the net. England’s plan worked like clockwork, and Panama’s defence couldn’t lay a hand on them.

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Harry Kane scores his second goal, and England’s fifth, with a successful penalty. The penalty was one of two Panama gave away with clumsy pieces of defending.

Another set piece, leading to another penalty, gave them the fifth as the steady procession of goals continued. It’s not clear who gave away the penalty from Trippier’s corner, with Aníbal Godoy tackling Kane to the ground particularly vigorously and others receiving similar treatment. Kane happily accepted his second goal from the spot, with Penedo beaten once again. The half time whistle gave Panama some respite, but the scoreline was already beyond ugly.

England only scored one in the second half, with Kane bagging his hat-trick in a comical fashion and looking almost apologetic as the ball went into the back of the net. Ruben Loftus-Cheek did the hard work, taking on an ambitious shot directed at the bottom corner of the Panamanian goal. Then it took a big deflection. Kane was in mid-stride and not looking at the ball as it rolled into the back of his heels, and Penedo could only watch helplessly as the ball looped into the back of the net. There was a suggestion that Kane was offside, but the goal stood and England’s captain was substituted immediately after his last touch led to a goal he didn’t intend to score. You couldn’t make it up. In the end, Baloy’s goal gave Panama something to celebrate, but there was no hiding their inadequacy when compared with their opponents. For England, expectations have been muted up to this point. That could be about to change.

Nizhny Novgorod – Nizhny Novgorod Stadium
England 6 (Stones 8, 40, Kane 22 pen, 45+1 pen, 62, Lingard 36)
Panama 1 (Baloy 78)
Referee: Gehad Grisha (Egy)
England (3-5-2): Pickford – Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier (Rose 70), Loftus-Cheek, Henderson, Lingard (Delph 63), Young; Sterling, Kane (Vardy 63).
Panama (4-5-1): Penedo – Murillo, R Torres, Escobar, Davis; Bárcenas (Arroyo 69), Cooper, Gómez (Baloy 69), Godoy (Ávila 64), Rodríguez; Pérez.

Top 5
1. Jesse Lingard (England)
Lingard backed up his performance in England’s tournament opener with another energetic display. He found a goal for himself with an excellent strike into the top corner, and he provided the spark for Kane’s first goal with a great run in behind. He continued to make dangerous runs until his eventual substitution and he seems to have found a rich vein of form.
2. John Stones (England)
Stones had very little defensive work to do, but it was his work at attacking set pieces that set him apart. He was left completely unmanned at a corner and a free-kick, and Panama played a heavy price for their weak defence as Stones found two goals and worked his way into good positions.
3. Harry Kane (England)
A hat-trick is a hat-trick, but his three goals against Panama will rate as three of the most fortunate of his career. His two penalties were both well-hit, however, and although he was lucky to complete his hat-trick with a goal he didn’t even mean to score his three goals were a testament to his ability to get into good attacking spots.
4. Raheem Sterling (England)
Sterling will be unhappy that he missed a brilliant chance to break his international goal drought, but he did put in a good performance filled with plenty of dangerous runs and a couple of involvements in goals. He was putting in a big effort for 90 minutes, and he was unlucky not to find the back of the net.
5. Kieran Trippier (England)
Trippier’s set piece delivery may have been dangerous against Tunisia, but against a Panamanian team with poor defensive organisation his corners and free-kicks were even more damaging. His set pieces contributed, directly or indirectly, to three of England’s goals, and he did his few defensive duties diligently.