And that concludes the second round of matches. Two games apiece for every team now, 32 played overall. The herd is getting thinned, the arena of battle has already claimed a few victims; six already have passage to the next round, eight can't go any further than this stage, which means the final round of group games is a case 18 sides jostling for 12 spots:

 

England 6-1 Panama

A win for England, and they'd be in the next round. In none of the past two World Cups have the Three Lions won their opening two games, or any of them, in fact, but they began with victory over Tunisia in Volgograd. And here in Nizhny Novgorod they got off to the perfect start, John Stones heading them in front after just six minutes. One became two soon after, Harry Kane tucking home a penalty with aplomb, after a foul on Jesse Lingard. Lingard himself added a third, with a curling effort, before Stones made it four following a well-worked free-kick routine five minutes before halftime. Kane added another, again from 12 yards, before halftime, then he sealed his hatrick just after the break. Panama would get on the scoresheet though, Felipe Baloy grabbing a consolation, cue euphoria from the fans of CONCACAF side following their first ever World Cup goal. Victory has England safely to the next round, and the result means they're level on points, goal difference, and goals scored with Belgium in Group G.

Hit...

Harry Kane: No player had scored successive World Cup braces since Diego Maradona in 1986, then Romelu Lukaku did it. It took Kane 24 hours to follow suit, and the England captain is now top scorer at the World Cup. His hatrick also means he's the first Englishman to bag a treble since Gary Lineker in, you guessed it, 1986.

England: Through to the next round with room to spare, something they haven't done in World Cups for a while. Despite the undoubted lack of quality of the opposition, the result will give Gareth Southgate's side confidence going into the knockout phase, and of course get knocked out by Germany.

Felipe Baloy: Panama may lost so emphatically, but for the skipper, it was an occasion his grandkids will tell their grandkids, as he became the first Panamanian to score on the world stage.

 

Senegal 2-2 Japan

The clash of both sides who won their opening games, a win here and a path to the last 16 becomes clearer. Senegal took only seven minutes to strike first, Eiji Kawashima's poor punch from Youssuf Sabaly rebounding in off Sadio Mane. Japan found an equaliser through Takashi Inui, who then hit the crossbar after halftime. Senegal looked to have bagged the decisive goal when 19-year-old Moussa Wague put them back in front, but an equaliser by Keisuke Honda, 12 minutes from time, ensured a share of the spoils.

Hit...

Moussa Wague: The teenager has had an impressive start to the World Cup, and scored his first ever international goal for the Teranga Lions.

Keisuke Honda: Continues to step up for the Samurai Blues, creating the winner against Colombia and salvaging a point here.

Miss...

Eiji Kawashima: The Japanese goalie had another moment to forgot, his unconvincing punch led to Japan conceding the opener, following up with sluggishness in conceding in the open knockout game.

 

Poland 0-3 Colombia

It was loser-goes-home in Kazan, as Colombia and Poland squared up. Los Cafeteros took the lead midway through the first half, Yerry Mina heading in James Rodriguez's cross. Radamel Falcao added a second for Colombia, from a delightful Juan Quintero pass, before Juan Cuadrado, from another James assist, scored a third. Colombia have their fate in their hands ahead of their final group game with Senegal on Thursday, while Poland are out.

Hit...

James Rodriguez: The Bayern Munich man showed why he's still Colombia’s talisman, with two delightful assists and an all-round display as Los Cafeteros got their World Cup back on track.

Juan Quintero: After starring in Colombia’s first game, Quintero didn't disappoint on day two either, another top notch performance capped off with an assist for Colombia’s second goal.

Radamel Falcao: The Colombian captain missed the 2014 World Cup through injury, and didn't do quite well against Japan in his side's first game. So picture his delight when he got on the scoresheet here in Kazan, his first ever World Cup goal.

Miss...

Poland: Adam Nawalka’s side came into this tournament with a lot of promise and expectations, but are out with a whimper after just two games. Like in their defeat to Senegal, they looked toothless up front, and never really looked like scoring.

 

Matter of fact

  • Keisuke Honda is the first Japanese player to score in three different World Cups.
  • This World Cup still awaits its first goalless game.
Published in International Watch

It's coming thick and fast isn't it, penalties at this World Cup. Two today, which means the five-day and 14-game old World Cup has witnessed seven spotkicks already. Fingers point to VAR, who review almost any form of contact in the box these days. The video technology has neither quelled the debate over the validity and controversy of decisions, nor the skepticism over its use. Maybe its calls are right, maybe not. Either way, that's not the only point of note today:

Good Day For...

Harry Kane: Whenever he captains, he scores. But none has come on a bigger stage than this, his brace giving England a win in their opening World Cup game for the first time since 2006. The clock ticked 91 minutes in Volgograd when Kane was in the right place at the right time to head home the Three Lions' winner. He keeps coming good for club and country.

Belgium: On evidence of the first half, it looked like this would be another game where the underdogs nick something, Belgium had dominated the opening 45 but couldn't find a way through, and frustration was starting to creep in. But once the floodgates opened up at the start of the second period, Belgium, getting room to relax, took charge and coasted home. At the start of a World Cup in which the big guns have failed to deliver so far, beginning with a win is a big plus for the Red Devils.

Sweden: A win in their first World Cup game in 12 years. It may have come via a penalty, but it was well-deserved, and could, just about should, easily have been more. Which brings us to...

...Hyun-Woo Cho: Kept South Korea in the match against Sweden arguably longer than they deserved with a few good saves.

Dries Mertens: The goal you don't see coming in. Almost disrespectful in its occasion, to calm Belgium at such a crucial time in the game.

Romelu Lukaku: Perhaps the man everyone now wants to have a wonderful World Cup, the forward hit a brace, a well-taken brace too, in Belgium's opening day stroll. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more International goals in the past three years.

VAR (at first): The decision to review and award Sweden a penalty for the foul on Victor Claesson was spot on, making a case for the technology, even though cynics (i.e me) may choose to focus more on how the officials initially missed the foul.

Ferjani Sassi: His 35th minute penalty against England made him the first African player to find the net in this World Cup.

 

Bad Day For...

South Korea: Entered this tournament with skepticism and little expectations, and, on evidence of this, will go home in next to no time. The Koreans looked lacklustre, and had their goalie to thank for losing by just the one goal. This is what Shin Tae-Yong didn't want the Swedish spies to see?

Panama: Was it really a bad day? No one is thrilled to lose, but being in the World Cup is just about victory enough for the maiden minnows.

Tunisia: On the cusp of an invaluable point against England, only to concede so late, Nabil Maaloul's face afterwards said it all. The wait for an African side to grab a point in this World Cup continues.

VAR (afterwards): How did it not catch Harry Kane being wrestled to the ground jujitsu-style?

And some 'anonymous' others: Who were only minutes away from an opportunity to blame Raheem Sterling for England not beating Tunisia. Damn you, Harry.

 

Results

South Korea 0-1 Sweden

Belgium 3-0 Panama

Tunisia 1-2 England

Published in International Watch

FIFA World Cup 2018 Preview: Group G

Thursday, 07 June 2018 09:27

 

Belgium

Glass half-empty: Given the poisoned chalice of the tag ‘golden generation’, Belgium are under quite an enormous amount of pressure to deliver at a major tournament. Questions have already been put forward over tactics and squad harmony in general.

Glass half-full: Belgium have a talented squad, most of whom come into the tournament on the back of terrific form, and as Brazil showed in 2002, sometimes a collection of individuals is enough for the big prize.

How they qualified: Belgium topped Group H of UEFA qualifying.

Last voyage: The Red Devils were knocked out of the previous World Cup in last eight, by Argentina.

Best adventure: Belgium got as far as the semis in 1986, before been knocked by, yes, Argentina.

Coach: Appointed after Euro 2016, Roberto Martinez will see that tournament as the benchmark, given a quarter-final exit was deemed as a failure for his predecessor Marc Wilmots. Known for his time in the Premier League with Everton and Wigan, the former FA Cup winner has a degree in Physiotherapy.

Expectations: Winning the World Cup is by no means unrealistic, getting to the semis is surely the minimum.

 

England

Glass half-empty: In the past four couple of tournaments, no matter how low the bar has been set, England have managed to go under it. No strangers to impeccable qualifying campaigns, then shambolic tournaments, the Three Lions might get cold feet again on the big stage.

Glass half-full: There’s a- please whisper it- little sense of optimism with England ahead of Russia. The players look like they’re finally not terrified of having their ball at their feet, and there are no overblown expectations. Also, Harry Kane is unlikely to take corners this time.

How they qualified: England eased to qualification in Group F of UEFA qualifying.

Last voyage: England failed to win a game in 2014, going out after three.

Best adventure: As they are always quick to remind us, England won the World Cup as hosts in 1966.

Coach: Not afraid to make big calls, Gareth Southgate has impressed many since taking the job in 2016. The former England centre-back and Under 21 coach won the League Cup as a player with Middlesbrough, and co-wrote ‘Woody and Nord: A football friendship’ with ex-teammate Andy Woodman.

Expectations: (Don’t) Go out on penalties. Skipper Kane has said the side are going to Russia to win the tournament, the last eight should be the minimum.

 

Tunisia

Glass half-empty: Tunisia are by no means the most experienced side at this tournament, have been handed a tough group, and will be without creative go-to man Youssef Msakni. The lack of substantial squad depth is a concern as well. And then there’s their record of seven defeats in 12 World Cup games.

Glass half-full: The Carthage Eagles showed their resolve in an unbeaten qualifying campaign, and are under no pressure to deliver. Plus Wahbi Khazri, off the back of an impressive season at Rennes, could well soften the blow of losing Msakni.

How they qualified: Tunisia finished ahead of DR Congo in Group A of CAF qualifying.

Last voyage: Tunisia were last at the global stage in 2006, exiting at the group stage after amassing a solitary point in Germany.

Best adventure: They’ve never made it past the group phase in any of their four previous attempts.

Coach: Nabil Maaloul replaced Henri Kasperczak after the Nations Cup in 2017, and built on his predecessor’s two opening wins in qualifying. Tunisia’s youngest player at the 1988 Olympics and assistant to Roger Lemerre in the country’s 2004 Nations Cup success on home soil, he won a treble with ES Tunis in 2011.

Expectations: Getting past their group seems like a tough ask, as qualifying itself was a major success. A positive showing and perhaps a win would do nicely.

 

Panama

Glass half-empty: Panama are novices on the world stage, possess an ageing squad, and their joint-second top scorer in qualifying was own-goal, with two. They were just about the side everyone else wanted in the draw.

Glass half-full: Panama have an experienced manager in Hernan Dario Gomez, who has coached in previous World Cups, and are under no pressure to succeed. Plus, every World Cup has a surprise result in it, and they’re in a group with England, so…

How they qualified: After coming close to qualifying for Brazil 2014, Los Canaleros beat Costa Rica in October to pip Honduras and USA to third spot in CONCACAF’s final round of qualifying.

Last voyage: Panama have never been at a World Cup tournament before, which…

Best adventure: …makes this part moot.

Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez is no newbie on the World stage, having been here with three different teams previously, although he suffered group stage exits in all of them. The 62-year-old was appointed in 2014, three years after resigning from Colombia’s national side after attacking a woman in August of 2011.

Expectations: Getting to Russia is already an enormous achievement for Panama, whose fans might just be here to enjoy the ride.

 

Flashback: England and Belgium have previously met twice in the World Cup, a 4-4 draw in 1954, and an extra-time win for England in the second round in 1990. Both sides have also met Tunisia on the global stage before, England winning 2-0 in 1998, while Belgium drew with the Tunisians four years later.

 

Fixtures

June 18- Belgium v Panama (Sochi)

June 18- England v Tunisia (Volgograd)

June 23- Belgium v Tunisia (Moscow)

June 24- England v Panama (Nizhny Novgorod)

June 28- England v Belgium (Kaliningrad)

June 28- Panama v Tunisia (Saransk)

 

Published in International Watch

 

  • Goalkeeping area still leaves much to be desired

It’s hardly news; that when it comes to the goalkeeping department, Nigeria are, for a lack of a more appropriate term, lacking, and at Wembley it was on show again. There’s a reason why Francis Uzoho is referred to as talented but raw; from decent saves to uncertain spills, from his ability to come out and gather crosses with a fair bit of command, to Harry Kane’s goal with which he should have done better, Uzoho showed there’s still much for him to improve on. The fact he’s got this far despite mostly turning for out Deportivo’s reserves, though, is just about a preamble to how far he can get once he cements a regular place at club level.

  • If this was an audition, Joel Obi failed it

This was the game that was always going to test Nigeria. The previous friendlies weren’t quite against top opponents, and the Argentina game in November has been dismissed by a few as not-so significant. So this meeting with England at Wembley was a chance for the team to prove how far they’ve come, for one of the midfielders to grab the game by the scruff of its neck and stake their claim, especially one of the midfielders not certain of any place in the final 23. For ‘midfielder not certain of place’, read Joel Obi. This was the stage for the Torino midfielder to stake his claim in the team, offer that variety in the middle that’s different from the other archetypal Super Eagles midfielders, the variety that would make him an odd yet must-have option in Russia, and he fluffed it. His touch was as sloppy as his passes were over-hit, his attempts to play in Nigeria’s frontmen and catch the English defence off-guard amounted to little. Not that he was a sore thumb in the middle, his midfield partner Ogenyi Onazi didn’t do much good either. But Onazi has been around for a while, and his bad performances can be dismissed as one-offs. So, when you’re a player like Joel, not the first name that’s considered in midfield, and one who’s still auditioning for a place in the side, a bad performance is seen as the reason why you shouldn’t be picked. He’ll know he passed up a big chance.

  • Rohr demonstrates tactical acumen on big stage

It was hard not to be disappointed by Nigeria’s first half showing at Wembley, which was lacklustre, to say the least. It felt like the players didn’t want the ball, every time they had it they gave it back, Odion Ighalo was feeding on scraps up front, and at the back there were too many spaces, as the Eagles couldn’t cope with England’s wing-backs, and the Three Lions were actually enjoying themselves. Rohr saw this deficiency and, with the introduction of John Ogu as something of a third centre-back, as well as shifting Alex Iwobi into a more a central position, tilted the second period Nigeria’s way. Suddenly the ball wasn’t received with utter nervousness, Nigeria were winning possession in the midfield, and England were pushed back. Ultimately it wasn’t enough to even share the spoils, but the second half showing from Nigeria made England’s first half display all the more flattering to the Three Lions, whilst offering the Super Eagles encouragement ahead of the World Cup.

  • Clichéd game of two halves for Eagles

Again, the first half performance was nothing if not disappointing, just as the second period’s was impressive. But as stated earlier, it wasn’t enough, and it’s the kind of Jekyll and Hyde showing that Nigeria would have to avoid once points and substantial progress are at stake. For all the second half improvements, they had one goal, and hardly any other chance, to show for it. Plaudits are nice in friendlies, but serve next-to-nothing in the competitive games.

Published in Awa Football

 

The Technical Adviser of the Super Eagles Gernot Rohr has dropped Junior Lokosa, Dele Ajiboye, Stephen Eze and Uche Agbo from the 30-man World Cup provisional list.

The team who were hosted by President Muhammadu Buhari earlier today have departed for London for a friendly game against the Three Lions of England on Saturday.

 

In a thread on The NFF official Twitter handle, it was also confirmed that Gent forward Moses Simon who had been reported to have been ruled out would still be on the standby list.

He will travel with the team to London for a scan to ascertain the level of his injury.

The omission of Nigeria Professional League highest goal scorer Junior Lokosa, who impressed on his debut game against Congo DR, and Plateau United goalkeeper Dele Ajiboye from the list means Ikechukwu Ezenwa will be the only home based player on the list.

 

Full list of players that made the cut: Daniel Akpeyi, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Francis Uzoho, Abdullahi Shehu, Elderson Echiejile, Leon Balogun, William Ekong, Chidozie Awaziem, Ola Aina, Tyronne Ebuehi, Bryan Idowu, Wilfred Ndidi, Mikel Obi, Ogenyi Onazi, Oghenekaro Etebo, Mikel Agu, Joel Obi, John Ogu, Odion Ighalo, Simeon Nwankwo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa.

 

The 2013 African Champions have been drawn in Group D of the World Cup and will lock horns with Croatia, Iceland and Argentina.

 

 

Published in Awa Football

The Englishman and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder has revealed that he had his first marriage at the age of six.

Dele Alli said he had his first crush at a very tender age, and admitted he went as far tying the nuptials with his then crush on the fields at school when he was a youngster.

The 21-year-old Alli made the revelation at the Lynx’s You Gold Campaign, a campaign aimed to help guys overcome embarrassing moments.

“My first crush was when I was six or seven, there was a girl that lived on the other end of my council estate and we used to pretend to get married and everything, either in a field or our school field. 

“We got married a couple of times, and I even remember one time I went there and I ran off as I didn't want to do it,” Alli said.

Alli can be playing for the Three Lions of England, but he is a true son of the Yoruba land and Nigeria at large.

We can’t be more proud of Bamidele Alli who took our mummy and daddy game as far as England. All hail Bamidele!!!!!!!

Published in International Watch

Ian wright fears Madrid may sign Mohamed Salah if the Egyptian attacker maintains his incredible form for Liverpool

Mohamed Salah has registered 36 goals in all competitions this season - with his four goals against Watford last weekend drawing him praises from various football icons.

Ian Wright, who said he was taken aback by Salah's remarkable form submitted that Madrid would be looking towards the direction of the former Roma man.

The Arsenal great said on Skysports debate: "Anybody scoring goals the way he is, coming into the premier league, the toughest league i would say in the world, and taking it by storm the way he has, you are going to court that kind of attention."

"He has done it magnificently .... He's done it surprisingly. Surprisingly to me, i didn't think he's going to have that kind of impact.

The 54-year old English man explained further, "When you've that impact, you're going to court attention.

"With what we've seen and with what Real Madrid have seen, if he does press on, they {Real Madrid} might get him in the end.

Salah joined Liverpool in the summer for a fee worth around 39m, and aside scoring 36 goals for Liverpool, he also assisted 10 goals in all competitions this season. 

 

Published in International Watch

The former Manchester United and England striker has described Ruud Van Nistelrooy as the best finisher he had seen in the Premier League and chose Argentine international, Carlos Tevez as his favourite strike partner.

Wayne Rooney played with Van Nistelrooy for two seasons (2004 – 2006) with the former Netherland international recording 95 Premier League goals in 150 appearances – he also played alongside his ‘favourite’ from 2007-2009 with the two {Rooney and Tevez} sharing over 40 goals between each other in the League from 2007-2009.

Rooney alongside Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Rooney alongside Ruud Van Nistelrooy

 

Rooney with Carlos Tevez
Rooney with Carlos Tevez

 

Speaking on Monday Night Football, Rooney, who was not short of quality strikers In his 13-year stints at Old Trafford – as he played alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Louis Saha, Dimitri Berbatov, Robin Van Persie to mention a few, described Ruud Van Nistel Rooy as the best finisher he had seen in the Premier League and said Carlos Tevez was his favourite strike-partner.

“We suited each other’s {himself and Tevez} games.

“We worked off each other. It must have been horrible for defenders to have faced us, because we were just in their faces.

“When he signed, there was talk we wouldn’t have been able to play together, but we hit it off,” Rooney, who adds that Nistelrooy is the best finisher he has seen in the EPL said on MNF.

“Ruud Van Nistelrooy was the best finisher I have seen in the Premier League. Even if we won by four or five goals, he would just sit there on his own, gutted. He was fantastic.

The United great also picked the overhead kick against rival Manchester City at Old Trafford as the best goal of his career.

Rooney with the overhead kick goal that condemned City to a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford in 2011
Rooney with the overhead kick goal that condemned City to a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford in 2011

 

“The size of the game, City were going for the league it was one of the worst games I have played to be fair.

“The ball takes a bit of deflection, I have realised I was a bit of a space and tried it, and normally I might miss that, but caught it perfectly. It was surreal after I scored.

“In the dressing room after the game, all the staff were in shock. To be honest, I am sick of it.

“The amount of people who come up to me and talk about it. Still it is rightly the best,” Rooney submitted.

The England and Manchester United ended his 13-year-old association with Manchester United after he was allowed to join boyhood club Everton in the summer for free.

He has registered 10 goals in 20 appearances in the league this season but was good only for the substitute in Everton’s 5-1 loss in the hands of Arsenal last Saturday.

 

 

Published in International Watch

Adult fans to pay £18 while Junior fans are to pay £10

The Nigeria Football Federation ( NFF )has confirmed that fans will pay between £10 to £18 for the friendly match between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Serbian national team billed for March 27 of this year.

The friendly match has been scheduled to take place in London, but a specific venue has not been announced yet

According to a tweet on the NFF verified Twitter account, tickets for adults will go for £18 (around 9,200) while that of the juniors will go for £10 (around 5,200).

The tweet read, “The road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup continues: join the @NG Super Eagles in London on March 27th for the game against Serbian National team. Tickets start from £18 for adults and £10 for juniors.#SoarSuperEagles #NGASRB.”

Spotkick reported that the 2013 African champion will also lock horns with the three Lions of England in a friendly match scheduled for June 2. 

The friendly game against the Gareth Southgate led boys was reported to be the last of the friendly games the NFF has set aside to prepare the Super Eagles for the World Cup, where they will meet the trio of Argentina, Croatia and Iceland in the group stage.

Other friendly games lined up for the Super Eagles ahead of the World Cup are against Poland, DR Congo and Czech Republic.

 

Published in Awa Football

Neville Rates Wilshere as England's best midfielder

The United legend has branded the 26-year-old Jack Wilshere as the best English Central midfielder.

Wilshere, who came through the Arsenal’s Youth Academy has suffered various degrees of injuries which has hampered in growth at Arsenal.

The midfielder spent last season on loan at Bournemouth and he is in the final six months of his contracts at Arsenal though reports are having it that the England international has been offered a new pay cut deal at the club.

With Arsenal’s recent awful showings of late, Wilshere has been one of the few bright points to talk about – and that made Gary Neville to describe him as the best English midfielder – saying he could feature for any team when fully fit.

Both Neville and Wilshere worked together from 2012-2016, when Neville was the assistant to Roy Hodgson, who was then the England Manager.

Garry Neville believes Wilshere is the best English midfield player (Getty Image)

 

And talking about Wilshere, who last featured for England in 2016 on Monday Night Football, Neville said there was no other midfielder in the country than Wilshere.

“He’s the best English midfielder by a street,” Neville said. “I worked with all of the English midfield players for four years and he could play in any single team in this country and live in that team or any single team in Europe, he’s that good.

“He takes the ball on the half-turn and hes the only English central midfield player (like that). Dele Alli yes and Ross Barkley Yes, but I class them as being more forward.

“I’ve worked with him and I’ve got no allegiance to Jack Wilshere or Arsenal Football Club and this is a fantastic player and talent, who is a must for England if he’s fit and playing well.”

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Though a fan of Wilshere’s talents, Neville conceded that injury has made the midfielder not to be reliable.

 

Neville says injury has hampered Wilshere's progress (Getty Image)

“Every time he goes to into a challenge or over-runs the ball a little bit, I think ‘broken leg.’ I know that sounds really bad.

“That is the only problem with him. His performance levels are high, but the reliability is not good enough. You need him to play three, four or five seasons on the bounce.

“The talent is unquestionable. For me, he is the best midfield player that I saw with England in my time there. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were coming to the end in my first year, but I overall in that four-year period, for me he was the best of the bunch,” he added.

 

 

Published in International Watch

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