Another round-up from the 2018 World Cup in Russia, focusing on outstanding displays of attacking flair from Belgium and England as they brush aside minnows Tunisia and Panama with ease.
There are many similarities between Belgium and England. We’re nations transfixed on eating chips, but we are also alike when it comes to our international football teams promoting false hope.
In many ways, Belgium’s current crop of players reminds me of the England squad in 1998. We were playing in France. We couldn’t use the heat or humidity as an excuse. We knew that South American sides never won on European soil, so it was down to Germany, France, Italy, Spain or us.
David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Paul Ince and Alan Shearer.
I liked our odds.
But we failed.
Gems sparkle in the current Belgian side, two of which shone so brightly against Tunisia that their goalkeeper is still walking into lamposts along the Russian high street.
Belgium crushed the Tunisians by 5-2 in the Spartak Stadium. It was a win that sees Roberto Martinez’s side win six World Cup Group Stage games on the trot. They have now won 11 of the 12 competitive matches since Martinez took charge.
But can they win the World Cup?
I would keep your paper hats, balloons and kazoos in the cupboard for now.
Eden Hazard opened the scoring within ten-minutes, picking himself up off the grass to despatch a penalty after being barged over by Syam Ben Youssef.
Ten minutes later and Romelu Lukaku made it two after a neat set up by Dries Mertens. Dylan Bronn gave Tunisia hope when he got on the end of a Whabi Khazri free kick to pull one back, but Lukaku moved level with Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the Golden Boot when he scored his second (a fourth of the competition) in first-half injury time, his 17th goal in his previous 11 internationals.
Hazard got on the end of a brilliant long ball from Toby Alderweireld to score his second, and Belgium’s fourth ten minutes after the break. And then Michy Batshuayi played merry hell with the African nation after replacing Lukaku with 30-minutes remaining.
The Chelsea player saw a shot cleared off the line, and hit the crossbar from three-yards out before finally getting his goal in the 90th minute. Khazri pulled one back for Tunisia with the last kick of the game, but Belgium won’t worry too much about that.
“It’s easy to play with Lukaku, pass him the ball and he scores every time.” – Hazard told the press after the win.
The comprehensive victory meant that Belgium would qualify alongside England if the Three Lions could take the head off Panama in Nizhny Novgorod, and they did more than eat the head. The swallowed the whole nation.
England 6 v 1 Panama
Belgium had never scored five goals in a World Cup Finals.
England had never scored six.
Two records smashed two days apart from two of the dark horses of this World Cup.
England was utterly dominant against a Panama side who seemed more interested in kicking lumps out of Jesse Lingard than playing football.
Two headers from John Stones (the second from a technically perfect free kick manoeuvre straight from the training ground), a hat-trick from Harry Kane and one of the goals of the tournament from Lingard have once again placed hope into the hearts of every man, woman and animal residing in the home of football.
England were the benefactors of some great officiating, especially in the use of VAR, with the ref pointing to the spot in first-half injury time, after a Tunisian defender hauled Kane down to the ground. Kane scored two penalties in the first half, both of them as fine a finish as you would see. His third goal was fortunate (Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s shot deflected off his heel), but he won’t care. That’s five goals in two matches for England’s captain, placing him ahead of Lukaku and Ronaldo in the Golden Boot pecking order.
The win means both Panama and Tunisia are out.
England and Belgium meet on Thursday to determine who will win the group.
1. England – 6 pts
2. Belgium – 6
3. Tunisia – 0
4. Panama – 0
Group G Winner Odds
Golden Boot Odds
Harry Kane – 7/4
Cristiano Ronaldo – 3/1
Romelu Lukaku – 9/2
Diego Costa – 6/1
Neymar – 20/1
World Cup Winners