FINAL: BELGIUM 1, ENGLAND 0
Everyone is healthy and no one is suspended, which means both teams are winners in Kaliningrad. As for the actual match itself, Belgium completes a sweep of group play through Adnan Januzaj’s quality strike and will go into the loaded half of the draw to face Group H runner-up Japan on Monday in Rostov-on-Don.
The Red Devils, should they reach the quarterfinals for the second straight World Cup, would face the winner of the Brazil-Mexico match.
England will put aside the disappointment of the loss as it reaches the knockout round, a step better than its group stage flameout from four years ago in Brazil. The Three Lions go to what is perceived to be the weaker half of the draw, but they will still face a formidable opponent in Group H winner Colombia on Tuesday in Moscow. They would face the Switzerland-Sweden winner if they can get by Los Cafeteros.
The race for the Golden Boot was put on hold as leader Harry Kane and his five goals was a spectator, while Romelu Lukaku, joint-second with Cristiano Ronaldo on four, also failed to take off his warmup kit as he nursed a knock to his ankle.
In the larger scheme of things, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez will be happy to have given Vincent Kompany a brief run-out for his first action in Russia, and both sides appear to have a well-established pecking order in terms of potential substitutions going forward. Trent Alexander-Arnold provided plenty of positive play and enough quality on dead ball pieces to be a useful sub, while Marcus Rashford can still be an effective late pacy option.
That’s all for today. Thanks for reading and enjoy the day off to recharge before the knockout drama begins!
90+3 Waiting on the final whistle
That may be the last meaningful act as Belgium are playing keep away and trying to pin England deep. And so it is as the three peeps from Skomina are heard.
90+1 Another goal-mouth scramble
Batshuayi does well to create something out of nothing on the end line, escaping a two-man England trap before sending the ball into the six-yard area. It pings around for what seems to be an eternity before Skomina whistles a foul on Belgium. The Red Devils get another chance, pouring forward on the left, but Fellaini’s sharp-angled shot rustles the side-netting on the left.
90 – Three minutes of stoppage time
89 – Pickford stones Mertens
Belgium work a quick and lovely counter, pinging the ball from deep left to middle to Mertens on the right, and his first meaningful touch is a fizzing 20-yard strike that Pickford emphatically punches away as it slices back towards him. The rebound falls to Fellaini, but his shot is blocked by the defense before it finds the target.
87 – Rose working hard on the left
Rose does well to win possession on the left side, and his up-and-down move on the sideline draws a foul. He makes a quick restart, and Welbeck ghosts in front of Courtois to meet the cross, but he stabs it wide of the near post. Still, very clever from Rose.
85 – England still probing
Belgium is content to sit back and soak up pressure, a risky proposition knowing an England equalizer would see it go top of the group. Loftus-Cheek should have done better with a cross after sidestepping a Belgium defender, but he sends it well wide of the left post. The Red Devils make a swap as Dries Mertens enters for goal-scorer Januzaj.
82 – Belgium concede corners
England wins a corner when Rose’s pressure on the end line on the left forces a play over the end line. Rashford takes the in-swinger and puts a good effort into the mixer Courtois punches out. It falls right to Welbeck, whose shot is deflected by Fellaini before it finds the goal. Rashford overcooks the next corner some as Courtois is able to intercept.
81 – Another England free kick
It’s not a Brexit meeting, but five England players are discussing the merits of this free kick 30 yards from goal on the right. Rashford goes narrowly over the bar with a curling effort, but you also believe Courtois would have gotten one of his big mitts to it if it was threatening.
78 – Snarky comment No. 6
Kompany has made a successful touch, a successful pass and jogged backwards and forwards without clutching a lower body part in pain. A promising start.
In the non-snarky segment, England will make its second switch as Denny Welbeck enters for Alexander-Arnold, who acquitted himself well enough to be a potential sub next match.
75 – A Vincent Kompany sighting
And for 15 minutes, there will be a highly scrutinized groin as Belgium talisman Vincent Kompany makes his first appearance in Russia as he replaces Vermaelen. Vardy wins a free kick on the left from 30 yards. Alexander-Arnold stands over it, successfully picks out Maguire towards the far post, but Courtois intercepts that header in the six-yard box.
74 – Snarky comment No. 5
How nervous do you think Fox advertising executives are knowing its possible, arguably even likely, both Messi and Ronaldo could be going home Saturday?
71 – In the interim
While I was doing that brief dig of research, England had the ball in Belgium’s half for almost all of it, creating half-chances without severely testing Courtois, who had to make a couple of catches.
68 – And meanwhile…
Tunisia has grabbed a 2-1 lead through Khazri and an inside track on a consolation three points. Panama has now conceded 11 goals, which would be the most in group play since Saudi Arabia shipped 12 in 2002. Ah yes, memories of Mirsolav Klose… who the Germans could have used in Russia given their one goal in the run of play in 270 minutes.
66 – Rashford nearly equalizes!!!
Oh and it was right there for the youngster. Vardy delivers a killer through ball into the middle that Rashford races onto with acres of space. But he is far too casual bearing down on Courtois, who gets his left mitt on the attempt to pick out the right corner as it results in an England corner that fails to produce a chance.
66 – Blogger jinx
No sooner do I mention the pace has picked up than England has a kickabout in its own half for 90 seconds.
63 – England continue hunt for equalizer
Rose has a cross from the left cleared by Belgium’s backline as the FIFA feed provides the random yet useful graphic the trio have combined on 11 such clearances. The game has picked up since Januzaj’s strike, but we’re still not at all-out red-line levels yet.
60 – Meanwhile…
Tunisia has pulled level with Panama through Fakhreddine Ben Youssef as the Eagles of Carthage (such a great nickname) seek a consolation point. In this game, Courtois does well to touch a cutback cross away from danger.
57 – Vardy and Vermaelen knock heads
And the Belgium defender takes the worst of it as the collision opens a cut above his right eye. Belgium’s training staff is taking a look at Vermaelen on the sidelines, and the Red Devils will play with 10 for the time being.
56 – Belgium on the front foot
Belgium has its ears up and actively looking for a second. The Red Devils impressively flood the midfield and work it back to Januzaj on the right, but this time his shot is closed off and deflected over the sideline for a throw-in.
55 – As it stands
If the result holds, Belgium would go through as Group G winners and face Japan in the round of 16 while England would face group H winner Colombia. For the moment, yellow cards are moot.
54 – England look for equalizer
England quickly come back down the pitch in search of an equalizer, and Loftus-Cheek draws a foul 30 yards from goal straight on. Alexander-Arnold, however, blasts into the wall and nothing comes from it.
51 – BELGIUM GOAL!
And Belgium have taken the lead through Januzaj’s wonder strike. Some patient build-up on the right side between Januzaj and Tielemans gives the former space to work with in the penalty area. Januzaj, who at one point considered taking England nationality, was able to shake Rose before letting fly with a beautiful left-footed strike that curled away from Pickford and into the net. A classy strike for his first international goal.
48 – Rashford looks to create
Vardy does well to help fashion a half-chance for Rashford as he is first to a second ball in Belgium’s half and passes it ahead to the starlet on the left, but his curling right-footed shot fails to threaten. Rashford gets another chance on the left and jinks his way through and around three defenders before Dendoncker cuts the ball out away from him.
47 – Snarky comment No. 4
You would think two teams playing a combined six defenders would lead to more clear-cut scoring chances, huh?
46 – England sub – Maguire on, Stones off
Southgate has made his first switch of the evening, bringing on Harry Maguire for Stones in a like for like in central defense. Oh, and we’re back to action here in Kaliningrad. Stones has an ice wrap on his left leg, but it does not look serious.
News involving non-World Cup teams
The United States have extended the contract of interim manager Dave Sarachan through the end of the year, which means that the younger players who have been featured since the Yanks’ epic failure to qualify for Russia will continue and the coaching search likely will reach international levels.
In talking with friends, I offered the completely off-the-wall suggestion of paying Arsene Wenger $10 million to be USMNT technical director for two years and let him tab Mikael Arteta as the manager. Knowing that will not happen, I would expect a run at Roberto Martinez at the end of the World Cup, with other candidates including Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio (the outrage from US fan bases would be awesome) and Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner.
HALFTIME: ENGLAND 0, BELGIUM 0
Calling the first 45 minutes cagey would be a compliment, it’s more like a November friendly that breaks up the monotony of league play. Both teams have had some decent scoring chances, with Belgium the better ones through Tielemans’ pile-driver and the goal-mouth scramble Cahill cleared from danger.
Alexander-Arnold has been England’s best player going forward, while Fellaini has been brightest for Belgium. Still to be decided: the actual winner of the group and whether the Red Devils can get under the skin of the young Three Lions to make up this difference of three yellow cards.
Because let’s face it, if given an opportunity to see lots drawn, you want to see lots drawn.
45 – England win a corner
Boyata is forced to clear over the end line after Loftus-Cheek tries to pick out Delph with a ball over the top. The non-threatening corner proves to be the last act of the first half as Skomina blows his whistle five seconds after the first 45 minutes.
44 – Random observation
It seems small in the grand scheme of things, but Pickford’s decision on a back pass to play it out of the back to his defender as opposed to a Route One belter really does show the buy-in this young England has for Southgate’s approach.
42 – Loftus-Cheek spurns a chance
Oh it could have been a belter for the Chelsea/Crystal Palace midfielder, who had time and space to tee up a loose ball that had been cleared from the penalty area by Belgium, but he opted to take another touch closer and was dispossessed. Have you not learned anything from the joy that fizzing long-distance drives can do in this group stage? Have you not learned anything from Nacho and Coutinho?
40 – Hazard miscues a volley
Hazard the younger has another go, but his right-footed volley from 15 yards on the left skims well wide of the target, and England lets it roll out for a goal kick. In the race for third place, Panama has taken a 1-0 lead as Los Canaleros try to make sure all three CONCACAF teams claim at least one point during their stay in Russia.
38 – Hazard the younger goes over
Belgium tries some neat interplay off a free kick, which goes to Fellaini inside the penalty area on the left. He slides it to Batshuyai, who gets closed down in the middle, but not before he lays it back to Hazard the younger, but he shows that he’s not Eden as he balloons a 20-yard attempt well over the bar.
35 – Belgium earns corner, England counters
Now the action is at the other end after Januzaj’s raking right-footed shot is deflected over for a corner. Boyata appeared to get a glancing header on it, but it doesn’t go towards goal and is cleared. England launch a quick counter, but Vardy is unable to get good positioning on Rashford’s cross from the right and Belgium clear the lines.
33 – Yellow card for Belgium’s Dendoncker
Never has a yellow card provided so much drama until today. It’s now a three-card spread after Belgium’s Dendoncker goes into the book for clattering into Danny Rose on the left. The free kick is in a dangerous area on the left just below the 18, but Alexander-Arnold’s scuffed shot is played over for a corner on that side.
The teen puts a strong in-swinger into the mixer, but Loftus-Cheek’s downward header is well wide of the left post. Yellow card count: Belgium 5, England 2.
31 – Ambitious Alexander-Arnold
Going from unknown to promising teenager to Champions League finalist to World Cup player, Alexander-Arnold does not lack for ambition. He tries an audacious curling shot from 25 yards on the right that Courtois calmly observes going high and wide of the upper left corner.
30 – Snarky comment No. 3
Check off “Mexican Wave” observation and backstory on your bingo drinking card.
26 – Belgium springs to life
It’s Belgium’s turn to monopolize possession and it’s having a kickabout in the middle third of the pitch probing England’s back two lines. There’s little urgency, but Batshuayi creates a scoring chance as he pulls away from Cahill and races into the penalty box on the right before his shot is cleared out by Stones for a Red Devils corner.
The outswinger from the right sails deep, with Fellaini able to chest it down and try a right-footed shot from 15 yards that is cleared by an England defender before it reaches Pickford. The action comes in fits and spurts here in Kaliningrad.
23 – Snarky comment No. 2
Here in the U.S., we have Fox as the rights holder. While Aly Wagner has been one of the better color analysts, I’m going on record as saying unless Rashford bags a hat trick in this game, he’s not supplanting Sterling in the starting XI for the round of 16, how ever a big game for Rashford it may be in her view.
18 – Fellaini nearly sees a yellow, Tielemans does see one
The Man United midfielder was fortunate Skomina didn’t reach into his pocket after a professional foul on Ruben Loftus-Cheek as he scampered through midfield, but Tielemans makes a poor challenge shortly after the restart and goes into the book. Belgium now has four yellow cards to England’s two if you’re scoring at home.
The ensuing free kick by Alexander-Arnold from 30 yards fails to threaten as Belgium clears easily. England, though, is spending increasingly more time in the attacking half.
16 – Half-hearted high press on both sides
Both sides are debating the merits of playing a high line to pressure the other’s respective back three, but it’s not an all-out chase. Smorkina whistles a foul on Jones for an inadvertent stamp on Dembele’s foot as he challenged for the ball in midfield. Though that now becomes exciting with the slim separation in yellow cards.
14 – Alexander-Arnold on the hustle
Youth has speed to burn and Alexander-Arnold has plenty of it as he hunts down a long ball in the right channel. While he appeared offsides, the flag stayed down as he launched a cross into the area that Vardy connected with but sent his glancing header well wide of the left post.
11 – England apply pressure
England gets its first corner of the match, but Alexander-Arnold’s outswinger from the right is cleared by Fellaini. The enusing pressure earns another one on the left from the Liverpool teenager, but Cahill’s headed effort at the far post goes wide of the right post.
10 – Belgium nearly get a first
England has to hack it off the line as Belgium create a frenzy in the six-yard box. Januzaj started the play with a cross to the far post Fellaini headed back towards the middle. The ball pinged about as Pickford dropped to the pitch and Batshuayi got a boot to as it slowly rolled to the right post before being hooked away from danger by Cahill.
6 – Blistering shot by Belgium’s Tielemans
And the first shot on target belongs to Belgium as Tielemans finds a pocket of space in front of England’s back three and is able to take a calming touch before unloading a right-footed piledriver of a shot from 25 yards that Pickford parries with both palms as Tielemans tried to curl it under the crossbar.
5 – England the brighter team early
The Three Lions have had a large share of the possession (see what I did there?) and are looking to build play on the left side. What looked to be a corner kick on the left was chalked off since Rashford was offside.
2 – Vardy creates a half-chance
A poor back pass by Belgium allows Vardy to race onto a free ball into the penalty area on the right. He scoots in and sends a low cross across goal that Courtois cuts out with a boot before it can reach its intended target of Rashford. Sloppy by Belgium there.
Smorkina blows his whistle and it’s game on in Kaliningrad. England are going from let to right on your TV feed in white top and blue shorts, while Belgium, befitting its Red Devils nickname, are decked out in said color going from right to left.
Damir Skomina of Slovenia is the man in the middle. England fans will not so fondly recall him being in charge of the 2-1
loss disastrously embarrassing loss to Iceland in the round of 16 in the European Championship two years ago. Arturo Diaz of Portugla is manning the Moscow VAR war room.
Snarky comment No. 1
I look forward to the day when “Seven Nation Army” is raised to the rafters and retired as an anthem song next to Darude’s “Sandstorm.”
Belgium vs England head-to-head
Overall, England are 15-4-2 all-time versus Belgium, and this is the third time the sides have made in the World Cup. The first was in Switzerland in 1954 during the juiced-ball era in which an average of 5.38 goals were scored per match. England and Belgium made more than their fair share of contributions, playing to a wild 4-4 draw in group play in which an own goal by England’s James William Dickinson in the 94th minute was the equalizer.
The teams meet again in Italy 36 years later, with England winning 1-0 after extra time in the round of 16 as David Platt’s
goal filthy volley on a free kick from Paul Gascoigne in the 119th minute spared the Three Lions potential misery in penalties. England would eventually reach the semifinals, losing to West Germany in penalties, and that remains its deepest World Cup foray in now 28 years.
What if there’s a draw?
Why, I’m glad you asked! Since both teams enter this match with six points, a plus-five goal difference and seven goals scored, a draw would see the tiebreaker go to… for the second time today … FIFA fair play points! England has a slight advantage, with two yellow cards to Belgium’s three, and in the event the teams wind up tied on fair play points, football’s governing body would then draw lots to determine the group winner and runner-up.
The drawing of lots has happened only one other time in World Cup history, used to determine second and third between Ireland and the Netherlands in Group F in 1990. Ireland won the draw and was slotted to face Romania in the round of 16, which it won on penalties before losing to host Italy in the quarterfinals. The Dutch, meanwhile, were drawn opposite West Germany and lost 2-1 to the eventual champions.
Three Lions gaffer Gareth Soutgate has made eight changes to the side that also racked up seven goals versus Panama and Tunisia, with keeper Jordan Pickford, central defender John Stones and midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek the holdovers from the starting XI versus Panama.
But like Belgium, there is plenty of talent as Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy up front in a highly intriguing pairing given how the United starlet and Leicester City veteran’s skills appear to dovetail nicely.
Coach Roberto Martinez makes nine changes, leaving only keeper Thibaut Courtois and central defender Dedryck Boyata, which implies talisman Vincent Kompany is either still not fully recovered from his groin injury or will get a late run-out as a substitute.
Still, there is plenty of talent sprinkled throughout Belgium’s starting XI with Mousa Dembele, Marouane Fellaini, Michy Batshuayi and Hazard the Younger, aka Thorgan.
What’s at stake
Well, it depends on which side of the bracket you want to land. The Group G winner will face Group H runner-up Japan, but it is in the absolutely loaded half of the draw, with the winner of that match facing the winner of Brazil-Mexico in the quarterfinal and a potential semifinal match against France, Portugal, Uruguay or Argentina.
The runner-up of Group G will face Group H winner Colombia, but that half of the draw appears wide open as the winner of that match will face either Sweden or Switzerland in the round of eight. Of the seven teams currently on that side, only Spain truly strikes any fear, though Croatia could surprise.
And of course, there’s no Germany.
Well, the first time I did this, it resulted in the only scoreless draw of the World Cup. While this could happen again given the largely overturned lineups for both teams since they are already through to the knockout round, I refuse to accept the lion’s share of the blame should it happen again.
So read along, won’t you?