By Paul Giblin
MOSCOW, June 25 (Xinhua) — The second round of World Cup group games came to an end on Sunday with England’s 6-1 win over Panama, and Colombia giving Poland an early ticket home with a 3-0 win. Here are some things we’ve learned so far at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
1. Never write off Germany
They were facing an early elimination before Toni Kroos scored a direct free kick with less than 20 seconds of their match against Sweden remaining, but now they will go into the last 16 if they beat South Korea in their final group game. Rival teams will know what can happen when you let the reigning champions off the hook.
2. Set pieces vital
Kroos’ goal was one of many in this World Cup that have come from set pieces, highlighting the importance of tactical work in training routines. England’s thrashing of Panama was also partly down to their effectiveness from dead balls, with two penalties, a goal following a corner and a header after a cleverly worked free kick setting them on their way. In fact, until Jesse Lingard scored a magnificent long-range effort to put England 3-0 up, all of the Three Lions’ goals at the tournament had come from dead-ball situations.
3. Harry Kane leading from the front
England striker Harry Kane was tipped to be one of the stars of the tournament despite disappointing at Euro 2016, but this time round he is living up to his billing, with his five goals seeing him lead the way in the race for the Golden Boot. Two headers from corners, two penalties and a lucky deflection have put him out in front, but it’s the way the England skipper leads by example that is making Kane one of the heroes in Russia.
4. You can’t have a one-man team
Kane may be England’s leader, but England have other players who have been vital to their cause. By contrast, Argentina have seemingly placed all responsibility squarely onto Lionel Messi’s shoulders. For once, Messi, who has just celebrated his 31st birthday, has struggled with the burden and with nobody else willing (or able) to step up, his side is facing the prospect of an early elimination. Messi has been well below his best, but the responsibility for the lack of a suitable Plan B must lie with coach Jorge Sampaoli.
5. United Belgium look good
England impressed against Panama and their group rivals Belgium have also looked good so far, with Romelu Lukaku scoring four goals and Eden Hazard on fire. The fact that Lukaku could be rested in the last group game against England to rest him for the round of 16 also shows the focus of Roberto Martinez’s squad is on the team, rather than on individual accolades such as the Golden Boot, and that has to be a positive as things get tougher.
6. The party goes on
Aside from some minor incidents between Argentinian and Croatian fans, and controversy over the Swiss goal celebrations against Serbia, the party atmosphere has continued here in Russia with fans and locals doing their best to ensure the World Cup is a success both on and off the pitch. It’s certainly helped that the home side has performed well, but so far the positive atmosphere reigns supreme, and long may it continue.
By Paul Giblin