Two weeks from the day that Russia and Saudi Arabia kicked-off in Moscow, the group stage has officially come to a close. A memorable fifteen days of action was capped off with four matches across Groups G & H.
- Senegal failed to secure the lone point they needed to progress from Group H as a resurgent Colombia sent them packing courtesy of Yerry Mina’s second goal of the finals.
- The 1-0 score-line highlighted the lack of quality in the final third for much of the match.
- Colombia’s James Rodriguez lasted all but 31 minutes before being forced off due to an injury, leaving him in doubt for their Round of 16 encounter with England. No official announcement yet on how bad it is or isn’t.
- For Japan, their 1-0 defeat to Poland at the Volgograd Arena wasn’t enough to eliminate them thanks to a superior disciplinary record to that of Senegal’s after drawing level on points with the African side with 4.
- It was a bizarre choice from manager Akira Nishino not to start either Shinji Kagawa or Takashi Inui, but his structured 4-4-2 lineup got the AFC side over the line and in to the knockouts…barely.
- Poland continued the trend of eliminated nations winning their final match as Southampton’s Jan Bednarek scored the winning goal giving the seeded team of the group something to smile about.
- Tunisia and Panama played out a dead rubber in Saransk as both sides looked to secure no higher than a third place finish.
- Wahbi Khazri’s second goal of the tournament sealed a 2-1 victory which sees Tunisia finish Group G in third on 3 points, while Panama bows out of their first ever FIFA World Cup without a win.
- The (billed) match of the day saw England face Belgium to determine first and second spot in Group G.
- Both managers set out drastically different teams from the ones that brought them success in their opening two fixtures, respectively, as 17 combined changes took to the pitch in Kaliningrad.
- Neither team seemed to find a rhythm in a match featuring goal-mouth scrambles, missed shots on target and miscued set plays.
- In the end, it took a moment of wonderful skill from Belgium’s Adnan Januzaj soon after the restart to propel his side to first place in Group G teeing up a knockout round encounter with Japan, whereas Gareth Southgate will prepare his team for a game of equal magnitude against Colombia.
- With progression, Colombia will feel they got what they deserve from their group following a horrendous start which saw them play a man-down for virtually 90 minutes against Japan.
- However, the potential omission of James Rodriguez for their test against England could prove vital as they still appear to be a side playing below their top gear without him. The eventual goal tally of striker Radamel Falcao may certainly depend on the Bayern Munich loanee’s fitness.
- The ever-present “Rest vs. Form” debate will live on fiercely among Belgian and English supporters as both sides’ preferred starting XI’s will enter the knockouts relatively untested (no disrespect to Panama or Tunisia).
- England may feel frustrated not to have penetrated a far-from-perfect Belgium backline, although Harry Kane’s Golden Boot chase looks odds-on to right such fears going forward.
- As for Belgium, the time has come to make good on the claims of a “Golden Generation.”
- This final match did not tell us anything new about the Red Devils necessarily, aside from the fact that a Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens trio are what Japan would be wise to dedicate most of their pre-match planning to. To the knockouts…we go!
Goal of the Day
Any Manchester United supporters watching the England match were given a reminder of what one of their former players was (briefly) all about. Januzaj repaid the faith shown in him by Roberto Martinez by popping up with a lovely finish in the 51st minute. He picked up the ball on the edge of the 18-yard box, pulled out a tidy toe drag relegating Danny Rose to a shot-blocking stance, and with a clear site of goal curled a well-struck shot to the roof of the net on Jordan Pickford’s right side. The best part: it was his first goal for Belgium.
— Stefan in Kosovo (@StefanInKosovo) June 28, 2018