World Cup Thoughts – Day Two
England vs Iran, Senegal vs Netherlands, USA vs Wales
Ok, so welcome to the first proper one of these. I’m going to be writing thoughts on every game at the World Cup (until we get to multiple games happening simultaneously. I don’t know how I’ll do that). I’m keeping this fairly free-flowing, so you might see some games getting significantly more detail than others if I feel like I have more to say. The first game today is free, and the first two will be free on days when we have four matches.
Off the pitch, we saw the best and worst of what the World Cup can bring today. The protests from Iranian fans inside the stadium, along with the players’ refusal to sing the national anthem, were genuinely powerful. This is where football can be a force for good. Iranians had the microphone on the world stage and made their point for all to see. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the OneLove armband debacle is exactly why so many of us were queasy about this tournament. Just about everyone from FIFA to individual FAs to players deserve some blame, so I’m not going to single out anyone here. I’m just angry.
Now, onto the actual football…
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England 6-2 Iran
I don’t think that’s quite what I expected. Even some of the England coaching staff, according to BBC commentator Guy Mowbray, were anticipating “a dog of a game”. You could see in the early stages how that would work out. England were camped in Iran’s half while Carlos Queiroz put eleven men behind the ball. Queiroz makes José Mourinho look like Kevin Keegan at times. It really felt like we might be in for 90 minutes of England struggling to find ideas to break down Iran’s low block.
England were creating chances, though not brilliant opportunities. It worked out nicely when Bellingham turned a solid cross into a brilliant header, and the first goal is always vital against low blocks. Shortly after, Bukayo Saka absolutely smashed a ball that dipped nicely for him and England were basically safe. Then the game was a little more open, and Raheem Sterling scored a good third.
It’s always a bit strange to parse a game where one side scored three times from 0.8 xG in the first half. You know it’s probably not going to be a serious contest, but sometimes sides feel like running up the score and sometimes, for whatever reason, they don’t.
Bellingham really helped England have a genuine way to progress the ball through midfield, which has been lacking since, well, probably since Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard’s legs went. Otherwise, the second half told us very little about either of these teams. The game as a contest was done at 2-0.
Gareth Southgate seemed genuinely frustrated at England conceding two in the second half. Personally, I didn’t think it was a huge deal. Mehdi Taremi absolutely smashed the ball in his first attempt, while the second was a pretty soft penalty. We didn’t learn a great deal about either team, and I’d expect Iran to stick with this approach against the USA and Wales. Otherwise, there’s nothing to worry about from this one for England.
Senegal 0-2 Netherlands
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