The first set of matches for all teams have now concluded. We’ve had our first look at who’s looking impressive and who’s been underwhelming. I will review Groups G and H in this article.
I will also preview the second set of matches for Groups C and D.
Match 1: Belgium vs Panama
Belgium were on the front foot right from the kick-off, peppering Panama’s goal throughout the first half without any reward. The Panamanians defended well, and their goalkeeper was particularly impressive in keeping the Europeans at bay. Courtois was hardly troubled in the first half. Dries Mertens broke the deadlock for Belgium early in the second half, with a superb volley over the goalkeeper and intot eh far corner. Panama had a glorious chance to equalize a few minutes later, but Murillo, without any pressure, could only hit his shot against Courtois. Lukaku doubled Belgium’s lead close to the 70 minute mark with a free header from De Bruyne’s cross. He doubled his tally just 5 minutes later, meaning that Belgium cruised through their opening encounter and looked good doing so.
Final Score: Belgium 3 – 0 Panama
Match 2: Tunisia vs England
England made a lightning start, taking the attack to the Tunisians right from kick-off. Their adventure was rewarded with an early goal from their captain Harry Kane, who pounced on the rebound after the goalkeeper saved Stones’s header. England kept the pressure up for some after taking the lead but their opponents started coming into the game more and more. In the 33rd minute, Kyle Walker inexplicably elbowed Ben Youssef in the box. The referee had no choice but no award the penalty. Ferjani Sassi made no mistake in the conversion. Once again, the English looked to have given away their advantage in a big tournament. However, to this team’s credit, they did not give up, and for most of the rest of the match, the English were in command of them. However, the second goal remained elusive. A couple of timely clearances and a post hit later, and in injury time, harry Kane found himself open at the far post, got on the end of a Henderson header from a corner and gave his nation the lead. There was no coming abck for Tunisia from this sucker-punch. This was quite different from what we’ve grown used to seeing from the English in recent tournaments. For once, they stuck to their task till the end and got the job done.
Final Score: Tunisia 1 – 2 England
Match 1: Colombia vs Japan
The match started in the worst possible way for Colombia, with Carlos Sanchez sent off in just the 4th minute, incidentally the first red card of the tournament, for handling a goal bound shot inside the penalty box. The resulting penalty was converted by Kagawa to give the Japanese an unlikely lead. To their credit, despite being a man down for almost the entire match, kept plugging away. They were rewarded when Juan Quintero squirmed a low free kick into the near corner of the goal, shooting under the wall instead of trying to get the ball up and under. Japan were the team in control in the second half, although chances were few and far between. Yuya Osako headed in from a corner in the 73rd minute and Japan were in the lead once again. The Colombians were able to get a couple more attempts on the Japanese goal after going behind, but in the end their efforts fell short. This was the first time that an Asian team had beaten a South American one at the World Cup.
Final Score: Colombia 1 – 2 Japan
Match 2: Poland vs Senegal
Poland are the 8th ranked team in the world but it was Senegal who started off with more intent in this game. They had a couple of good chances in the first 20 minutes. Poland got into the game following that but they did not threaten the Senegal goal too much. In the 37th minute, a low drive from the edge of the Polish penalty box took a wicked deflection from Cionek and went in. Senegal had taken a deserved lead. The Poles started the second half better, forcing a smart save from N’Diaye from a free-kick. Another moment of madness in the Polish defense led to them falling further behind. Niang ran onto to a loose back-pass rounded Szczesny and slotted into an open net. There was a touch of controversy surrounding the goal as the Senegalese striker had just run onto the pitch with proceedings ongoing after receiving treatment for an injury. Gregorz Krychowiak halved the deficit in the 85th minute with a brilliant diving header, but it porved just a consolation as Senegal held on, making them the first African team to win a match at this World Cup.
Final Score: Poland 1 – 2 Senegal
Match 3: Denmark vs Australia
Australia were very unlucky not to get a point from their opener against France. They go up against Denmark, who should feel lucky to have won the game against a better Peru side. If the Australians can repeat their performance from the last game, we could be in for a cracker of a match. Once again, Denmark’s hopes rest on Eriksen’s shoulders. The two will probably cancel each other out and I’ll go for a draw in this one.
Prediction: Denmark 1 – 1 Australia
Match 4: France vs Peru
France need to up their game when they come up against Peru in their next match. The Peruvians looked to be in control for long parts of their previous match, but inexperience showed and they failed to capitalize on their chances, not least helped by Cueva’s penalty miss. Unfortunately, their task is about to get even harder in this game. Despite France’s wobbles in the earlier game, I do believe they will come good in this match and should have enough firepower to see of the challenge of the Peruvians.
Prediction: France 2 – Peru
Match 3: Argentina vs Croatia
A lot rides on this match for the mighty Argentines. They were off the pace and off their game in the opener against Iceland. The reliance on Lionel Messi was evident for everyone to see and that’s what brings them down in major tournaments. The Croatians were comfortable winners in their first game and have the tools to bother and possibly even defeat their opponents. A loss would disaster for the Argentines, so they should be looking to finish off their opponents early. Keep he match in the balance for too long and the lurking insecurities will most likely come back! A really tough match to predict as I can see the possibility of all three results with just a small tweak of circumstances in the game. I will sit on the fence and predict a draw, which will pile on the pressure on the former two time World Champions, especially if Iceland get a win in the other game. Phew!
Prediction: Argentina 1 – 1 Croatia
Match 4: Nigeria vs Iceland
Nigeria will be looking to improve from their last match. Iceland, however, will not an easy opponent. They have shown in the Euros in 2016 and against Argentina that they are one of the hardest teams to beat in football. Reading an article written by their captain Aron Gunnarsson recently, it is clear that Iceland are not a team to let complacency get into their game. They go full throttle into every match and I can see them doing the same here. The Nigerians will need to be smart in their approach and will probably have to have a plan B and a plan C in place to tackle the Vikings. Somehow, I get the feeling that this match will be the first goalless affair of the tournament, with both teams cancelling each other out.
Prediction: Nigeria 0 – 0 Iceland