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It’s a Funny Old Game at FIFA World Cup 2018


It’s a Funny Old Game at FIFA World Cup 2018

England 0-1 Belgium

He was widely tipped to be watching the FIFA World Cup 2018 from the comfort of his living room or somewhere on a beach.

Certainly, the talented but often underachieving Adnan Januzaj wasn’t expected to make the Belgium squad days before it was announced.

Yet he did. And here was a moment which showed why the winger, so highly thought of by Sir Alex Ferguson before he retired, could yet still develop into the player the Scot hoped he would become.

SBOBET odds on Januzaj being the hero in Kaliningrad were hard to find yet his goal here was another of the FIFA World Cup 2018 highlights.

Highlights of the game

In truth, for long spells, this looked like a match that was not the priority for either side on what was a flat and subdued evening.

England boss Gareth Southgate made eight changes from the team that thrashed Panama. Belgium manager Roberto Martinez went one better with nine from the comprehensive win over Tunisia.

Even Martinez admitted before this one that the priority was ‘not to win’.

Calculated gambles? Only time will tell.

With both nations safely through, none of the big hitters were risked. Away from the goal of real quality by Januzaj, this was not the high-intensity or epic fixture it was promised to be when the draw was made.

Both nations knew that topping the group would lead to, in theory, a more straightforward last 16 clash.

Yet both also knew that finishing runners-up in Group G would, on paper, provide a more straightforward passage to the latter stages if the first knockout phase was successfully overcome.

Defeat would lead to accusations that England could only beat nations outside the top tier and risk losing the momentum of the first two matches.

Victory would increase the possibility of a quarter-final with five-time World Champions Brazil.

There were so many permutations but there really were no givens after England’s exit to Iceland at Euro 2016 and Belgium’s underachievement at the same tournament.

And so as fans digested the possibilities, much of this first half was played at a little more than a friendly pace.

Aside from a mistake by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford which led to Gary Cahill clearing off the goal line and another goal-line clearance from Trent Alexander-Arnold to deny Marouane Fellaini, there was little excitement to thrill the crowd.

Six minutes after the restart, Januzaj provided a moment out of keeping with the fare which had gone before it.

Not for the first time, he was too clever for Danny Rose. The former Man Utd man curled an unstoppable shot beyond Pickford into the top left-hand corner.

A current United youngster was closest to finding an England equaliser – Thibaut Courtois tipped away a Marcus Rashford shot after he had been released by Jamie Vardy.

Then substitute Danny Welbeck, another player with Man Utd connections, saw his shot diverted wide of goal by Fellaini.

However, despite the counter-attacking threat of the Belgians who carved out the better chances, there were no further goals. Some fans were probably left confused after this meeting – sometimes played at a little more than walking pace – between two weakened sides.

Victory for Belgium. A bubble slightly burst for England, but the gamble, if that’s what it was, will only pay off if England can see off Colombia in the next round.

Perhaps it will work out better that way.

We will find that out in the days ahead.

With the unheralded Januzaj the hero, this was a night which proved the funny old game is still very much alive.

If you don’t believe me, watch this!

Key statistics

England have never come from behind to win a World Cup game in normal time.

England have only won all their World Cup group games once – in Spain in 1982 when they saw off France, Czechoslovakia and Kuwait.

This was England’s first defeat in more than a year.

Apart from goalless draws, this is the first time at a World Cup in which England have failed to score since a 1-0 defeat to Portugal in 1986.

What’s next?

It’s a fairly quick turnaround for both nations as they prepare for the knockout phase.

Belgium meet Japan at the Rostov Arena next Monday night, and FIFA World Cup 2018 predictions see this as an easy win for the Red Devils.

England now face a dangerous Colombia side at the Otkrytie Arena in Moscow 24 hours later, a match Southgate has described as the biggest for England ‘for a decade’.

After a rest day tomorrow, the knockout stages begin on Saturday and there are no second chances.

Now, the World Cup really begins!


 


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