With both of the first round matches in Group G over, many England fans are already looking past the group stages after beating Tunisia 2-1, thanks to a late Harry Kane winner. And with Belgium comfortably beating a hopeful but ultimately poor Panama side 3-0, it seems like the two teams progressing from the group have already been decided. So what have we learnt from Monday’s fixtures, and what can we expect to see from Group G in the coming Matches
There will most likely be no surprises
When the World Cup draw was made in late 2017, most people would’ve predicted Panama and Tunisia would not be progressing to the second round, and that England and Belgium would subsequently be battling for top spot in the group. These predictions were seemingly proven correct with England and Belgium both beating sub-par opposition. The main point of contention in Group G will be who finishes first, with both teams looking shaky at various points in their respective matches. In the first half against Tunisia, England looked like all of the media-hype around them was justified, with the team playing a fast flowing game with a quick tempo and high pressing. It was clear to see that England were by far the more talented side, constantly opening up the Tunisian defence, creating a plethora of chances. But after they conceded, all of that disappeared, losing all tempo and the likes of Sterling, Alli, and Lingard all being virtually invisible, making no real impact on the game. And although the 3-0 scoreline suggests that Belgium battered Panama, that was far from the truth in the first half, with the Panamanians showing a determined, tireless grit, even making themselves a few good chances. However, in the second half, the true ability of both sides was shown, with the endless class of the Belgium team dominating a very poor Panama side. So even though England’s group currently seems like a foregone conclusion, both England and Belgium need to ensure they dont get complacent, but there is a clear gulf in quality between those two and Panama and Tunisia, so we can expect no surprises in Group G, unless if there’s a particularly quality performance from the underdogs, or a complacent one from the favourites.
Although England have turned a corner, there’s still a lot to build on
In recent years, the media speculation and fan expectation for England before a tournament has been one of two things: Getting knocked out in the second round by a far superior side; getting knocked out in the groups due to a lack of quality and organisation. But this time round there has been a clear difference with the build up to the World Cup, with Southgate distilling a confident, calm nature into the squad and fans alike. And in the first half that confidence only grow more with England getting an early goal and playing quality, fast-paced football. It really seemed like England had turned a corner under Gareth Southgate, with Monday’s win being the first time England have won their opening match of a tournament since beating Paraguay in the 2006 world cup. However that all changed after Walker gave away a silly penalty which led to Tunisia grabbing an undeserved equaliser, then England seemed to resort to play to how we have become accustomed to in the past decade to expect, with the side showing no real tempo or purpose against a Tunisia side that had all eleven men behind the ball. So to what extent have England improved? Of course it is hard to say considered we’ve only played one game in the tournament, but despite the poor second half performance and the negativity that surrounded that at the time, it could be safe to be hopeful about the England team again, with the side showing genuine class and determination, as how many times in previous years have we come out of games against these teams that would just play for the draw frustrated at our lack of talent and organisation. After a positive first half performance and a determination not to give up, we could be seeing a much improved England team, especially as they grow into the tournament.
Individual brilliance could decide who tops the group, along with concentration
There were many positives for Belgian and England fans to take from their first matches at the 2018 World Cup, both sides played with a togetherness and a free- flowing nature. However, there was one thing that punctuated both teams victories; a show of individual brilliance. In the first half against Panama, Belgium put in a very lackluster performance, with there being no cohesion in attack and a lack of understanding between the back three. But as soon as they came out for the second half, their superstars showed their class, with Mertans scoring a superb volley, De Bruyne and Hazard excellently assisted for the second and third goals respectively, and Lukaku showing his clinical nature in front of goal. It wasn’t only Belgium who benefited from having such quality, with England being saved by Harry Kane, who scored a brace that portrayed just how much of a natural goalscorer he is. Also the likes of Trippier, Henderson, and Maguire all played a vital role in England’s victory. So the role of the individual will most likely play a huge role in deciding Group G, but there’s also a great deal to be said about both sides concentration. Both knew they were clear favourites going into their matches, so both showed signs of complacency at different times. Belgium coming out of the blocks slow, allowing Panama to heap lots of pressure onto their defence, and England seemingly losing all hope after conceding, playing with no conviction or purpose. So it’s hugely important for both teams to keep their concentration in the second round of group stage matches, or their could be a shock on the cards.
What do you make of these thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!