And like that, the curtain falls on the group stage of the 2018 World Cup. 14 days, 48 games, 22 penalties and 124 goals since after the opening day of the tournament, the contenders have been halved, 16 will play no further part, 16 will battle it out in the knockout rounds for the prize of standing tall in enviable euphoria on July the 15th at the Luzhniki stadium:

 

Colombia 1-0 Senegal

Japan 0-1 Poland

It was going to go down to the wire in Group H, with Senegal and Japan on four points, and Colombia just one behind- Poland had already been eliminated. Colombia knew a win against the Senegalese in Samara would take them to the next round, a draw enough should Japan lose, while Senegal would book their place in the last 16 with a draw, a defeat would suffice should Japan lose by a heavier scoreline. Japan themselves would go through with a point against already-eliminated Poland in Volgograd, but the first half of both games ended goalless, the biggest highlight in the Japan-Poland game was an Eiji Kawashima save from Piotr Zielinski, while in Samara it was the initial award of a penalty to Senegal early on, rightly overturned by VAR. The second period followed a similar pattern, and as it stood, Senegal and Japan were going through, with Colombia following Poland home, then the changes. First, Jan Bednarek headed Poland in front against Japan, putting the Samurai Warriors in third spot in the group, then Colombia took the lead in Volgograd via the head of Yerry Mina. In a few minutes, Senegal had gone from top of Group H when Poland scored, to third when they themselves conceded. Aliou Cisse’s side were level with Japan on points, goal difference, goals scored and the head-to-head record, but stood in third place by virtue of receiving more yellow cards. They needed a goal, but couldn’t quite trouble David Ospina, pouring forward in numbers, but with little end product. Japan, meanwhile, sat back and defended their one-goal deficit against the Poles, knowing it was enough to send them through. And that proved to be the case, as Senegal bowed out of the competition, with Poland, while Colombia finished top and will face England in Moscow on Tuesday. Japan have a date with Belgium in Rostov-on-Don a day earlier.

Hit…

Colombia: Looked in trouble after that defeat in their opening match, but have recovered really well, and sealed a deserved top spot in Group H. Los Cafeteros will not be short of confidence over equalling 2014’s last-eight achievement.

Yerry Mina: Two goals in two World Cup games, the Barcelona man’s record of five goals in 14 appearances for Colombia is not bad for a defender.

Japan: Coach Akira Nishino took a big risk in making six changes, and the team took an even bigger one in sitting back when one down, as a result of the game elsewhere, but in the end both paid off. Impressed no one with their rather unsporting tactic late one, but they ultimately achieved their aim of qualification.

VAR: Continues to divide opinion, and with good reason, but its call to help the referee overturn the decision to initially give Senegal a penalty was one of the reasons it was adopted, making the right call on a decision that would have been contentious in the past.

Miss…

Senegal: Arguably the least talked about of the African sides to come to this World Cup, the Teranga Lions were the most impressive. Their solidity and resolve was inspiring, and they’ll be heartbroken to exit the World Cup on a technicality.

James Rodriguez: Four years ago on this day, he produced that superb volley against Uruguay in Brazil, leading Colombia to the quarter finals and impressing Real Madrid alongside. This time, he lasted half an hour on the pitch in Samara, before being taken off injured, his disappointment hard to not notice.

 

Belgium 1-0 England

Tunisia 2-1 Panama

It was dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s in Group G’s final round of games, Tunisia and Panama meeting in Saransk to decide who’d finish bottom, while England and Belgium met in Kaliningrad in a more relevant decider over who’d top the group. Panama struck first, and had a halftime lead over Tunisia, Jose Rodriguez’s shot deflecting in off Yassine Meriah, while the England-Belgium game had a 45 minutes to forget, in a game where both managers rang the changes, England goalie Jordan Pickford providing the highlights with his save from Youri Tieleman’s shot and his gaffe that nearly gifted Belgium an opener afterwards. The second period took just six minutes to provide some overdue excitement, Belgium taking the lead with a delightful curling effort from Adnan Januzaj. As Januzaj was giving Belgium their lead, Tunisia were erasing Panama’s in Saransk, through Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Tunisia completed the turnabout through Wahbi Khazri 15 minutes later, to leave the World Cup with a win, while the game Kaliningrad had just Januzaj’s goal in it.

Hit…

Belgium: One of only three teams in this tournament to qualify with a 100% record in the group stage, and the only side to do it in both this and the previous World Cup four years earlier.

Tunisia: Bowed out of the tournament with a victory, their first in the World Cup for 40 years.

Miss…

England: A bad day at the office for the largely second-string side, most of whom didn’t give Gareth Southgate reason to be selected for the last 16 game on Monday.

 

Matter of Fact

  • This World Cup has seen 124 goals in the group stage, an average of 2.5 per game.
  • This is the first World Cup which England have gone through its group stage without a single clean sheet.
  • For the first time since 1982, no African has made it past the group phase.
  • This is also the first time a team has been eliminated from the World Cup via fair play.
  • The group stage of this World Cup saw 22 penalties awarded, no other World Cup in its entirety has had as much.
  • With the group stage over, and breaks now coming in, there’ll be no World Cup games tomorrow. What to do. What to do…

 

Last 16 Line up

Uruguay v Portugal

Spain v Russia

France v Argentina

Croatia v Denmark

Brazil v Mexico

Sweden v Switzerland

Belgium v Japan

Colombia v England

Published in International Watch

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

FIFA World Cup 2018 Preview Group H

Friday, 08 June 2018 19:35

Poland

Glass half-empty: Lewandowski-dependent Poland are in a first World Cup for 12 years, with a side not-so experienced in tournaments but likely to be under pressure to perform. The defence is far from water tight, and Adam Nawalka still tinkers a bit at the back.

Glass half-full: Impressive in qualifying, Poland have a favourable group and a born finisher in Robert Lewandowski. A stroll to the quarter-finals is not implausible.

How they qualified: Topped UEFA qualifying Group E, ahead of Denmark.

Last voyage: Poland’s last World Cup appearance was in 2006, when they lost their first two games to exit in the group stage.

Best adventure: The Poles have reached the semi-finals on two occasions, most recently in 1982.

Coach: Appointed in October 2013, 60-year-old Nawalka led the side to the last eight of the European Championship in 2016. Played in the 1978 World Cup for the country, he won the Polish domestic league as manager with Wisla Krakow- the club of his playing days- in 2008.

Expectations: The achievement at Euro 2016 and a not-so difficult group means a place in the last eight isn’t unrealistic.

 

Colombia

Glass half-empty: Colombia haven’t quite impressed on an International front since reaching the quarter-finals of the previous World Cup, a pair of underwhelming Copa America campaigns since then and a poor start to World Cup qualifying prove that. And a lot of goal-scoring lies on the shoulders of James Rodriguez.

Glass half-full: Los Cafeteros have an experienced and quality side who can easily thrill with flair as they can grind out results. As for the goal scoring part, they’ll have Radamel Falcao for this year’s tournament.

How they qualified: Colombia drew 1-1 with Peru in October to seal fourth place, and automatic qualification, in CONMEBOL qualifying.

Last voyage: Colombia thrilled the world to get the last eight of the previous World Cup, losing to hosts Brazil (but not before taking Neymar with them).

Best adventure: That quarter-final appearance is the best they’ve managed on the global stage.

Coach: Veteran coach Jose Pekerman led Argentina to the last eight in the World Cup of 2006, and has been in charge of the Colombian national side since 2012. He was naturalised by Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos after guiding the country to the World Cup in 2014.

Expectations: Expectations have dimmed somewhat, after the previous tournament displays, but making the next round is definitely the minimum.

 

Japan

Glass half-empty: Japan may have won their group in qualifying, but it was far from a smooth ride, a defensively-suspect will face opponents of greater quality in Russia. Plus, how would the side cope from changing their coach in as recently as April.

Glass half-full: Japan are always a threat going forward, with quality and experienced players up front and in midfield. An open group also means they’re more than in with a chance of progressing.

How they qualified: In the final rounds of AFC qualifying, the Blue Samurai topped Group B, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia.

Last voyage: This is Japan’s sixth World Cup appearance in succession, with the last one ending in group stage exit, after amassing just a solitary point.

Best adventure: Japan have reached the knockout phase on two occasions, in 2010, and home soil eight years earlier.

Coach: Akira Nishino took the job after Vahid Halilhodzic was sacked in April. The former Kawashiwa Reysol man won the AFC Champions League and J.1 League as manager with Gamba Osaka.

Expectations: There are no overblown expectations from back home, but a third second round appearance is not unachievable.

 

Senegal

Glass half-empty: Senegal have appeared at the World Cup since 2002, and lack experience at the International stage. They haven't won a game since qualifying, and their reliance on Sadio Mane could prove costly should the Liverpool man be burned out from a long club campaign.

Glass half-full: Not many teams boast a midfield like the Teranga Lions’, and the defence conceded only three times in qualifying. In a group of equally matched sides, they’re unlikely to look out of place.

How they qualified: Finished top of Group D in CAF qualifying.

Last voyage: Senegal were the surprise package in their last (and only) World Cup appearance, reaching the last eight in 2002.

Best adventure: No African team has gotten past the quarters. So, do the math.

Coach: Captain of that wonderful 2002 side, former Paris Saint-Germain and Birmingham City defender Aliou Cisse won’t be one to want for inspiration. Took over from Alain Giresse in 2015, and was part of the coaching staff of the Under 23 side in the Rio Olympics two years ago.

Expectations: Qualification was a big achievement on its own, nevertheless a quality-laden side with experienced European-based players should be capable of getting out of their group.

 

Flashback: Colombia and Japan met in the previous World Cup in Brazil, with Colombia running out 4-1 winners.

 

Fixtures

June 19- Colombia v Japan (Saransk)

June 19- Poland v Senegal (Moscow)

June 24- Japan v Senegal (Yekaterinburg)

June 24- Poland v Colombia (Kazan)

June 28- Japan v Poland (Volgograd)

June 28- Senegal v Colombia (Samara)

Published in International Watch


Super Eagles’ Technical Adviser, Gernot Rohr has listed captain Mikel John Obi, midfielder Ogenyi Onazi and playmaker Victor Moses in his 28 –man squad to battle Poland’s fellow Eagles and Serbia in pre-FIFA World Cup friendly matches this month.
 
Home –based goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa, who stood between the pipes for the very crucial last four World Cup qualifying games (home-and-away to Cameroon, home to Zambia and away to Algeria), leads the goalkeeping section and will be joined by new boy Francis Uzoho and Daniel Akpeyi.
 
Former junior international Kenneth Omeruo is back among the defenders, as Joel Obi among the midfielders, while Eagles’ B stalwarts, defender Stephen Eze and forward Gabriel Okechukwu, are also handed opportunities.
 
Russia –based Brian Idowu, who scored against Argentina on his debut in a friendly in Krasnodar in November last year, and Al Ahly of Egypt’s Junior Ajayi, who earned an Olympic bronze in Brazil in 2016, are also called.
 
Three –time African champions Nigeria will trade tackles with the Bialo-Czerwoni (White and Red) or Eagles, as the Senior National Team of Poland is known, at the 43,000 –capacity Stadium Wroclaw on Friday, 23rd March 2018.
 
Four days later, the Eagles will take to the pitch against the Senior National Team of Serbia at The Hive, London - home ground of Barnet FC and London Bees.
 
These are the first two in a list of six friendly encounters planned for the Super Eagles by the Nigeria Football Federation ahead of the 21st FIFA World Cup finals in the Russian Federation this summer.
 
THE FULL LIST
Goalkeepers : Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna, Spain); Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba FC); Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United, South Africa)
 
Defenders: Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor FC, Turkey); Tyronne Ebuehi (Ado Den Haag, The Netherlands); Olaoluwa Aina (Hull City, England); Elderson Echiejile (Cercle Brugge KSV, Belgium); Brian Idowu (Amkar Perm, Russia); Chidozie Awaziem (Nantes FC, France); William Ekong (Bursaspor FC, Turkey); Leon Balogun (FSV Mainz 05, Germany); Kenneth Omeruo (Kasimpasa FC, Turkey); Stephen Eze (Lokomotiv Plovdiv, Bulgaria)
 
Midfielders : Mikel John Obi (Tianjin Teda, China); Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor FC, Turkey); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Oghenekaro Etebo (Las Palmas, Spain); John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Israel); Uche Agbo (Standard Liege, Belgium); Joel Obi (Torino FC, Italy)
 
Forwards : Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow, Russia); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Moses Simon (KAA Gent, Belgium); Victor Moses (Chelsea FC, England); Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai, China); Alex Iwobi (Arsenal FC, England); Junior Ajayi (Al Ahly, Egypt); Gabriel Okechukwu (Akwa United
 
(Thenff.com)
Published in Awa Football

NFF confirms Super Eagles, England friendly

Wednesday, 10 January 2018 18:54

Eagles to face England at Wembley on June 2

The Nigeria Football Federation ( NFF ) has confirmed that the Super Eagles will lock horns with the Three Lions of England at the Wembley Stadium on June 2 of this year.

The match will be the last of the four friendly matches the NFF had set aside to prepare the team for the World Cup.

The two sides have met three times in the past - with a win a piece and a draw for the two sides.

NFF 1st Vice President on the NFF official website confirmed the meeting between the two sides (Nigeria and England).

Akinwunmi told thenff.com: “Now, we are happy to say that it is all sealed. Certainly, it is going to be a big match, between two countries of remarkable historical affinity and similarities.

“We have other matches and programs for the team, and we will soon roll out the entire plan for matches, camping sites and training camps.”

Akinwunmi added that the choice of England was as a result of the NFF trying to be strategic to get the best preparation for the three-time African Champions.

“We decided to be strategic in our choice of opponents for the Super Eagles leading to the World Cup, and in total agreement with the preferences of the Technical Adviser.That is why we opted for England. We played Argentina (in November 2017) without even knowing we were going to be in the same group at the Finals,” He added.

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Meanwhile, The Technical Adviser of the team, Gernot Rohr has revealed that England would give the Eagles a good test.

The Franco-German said the game would be a good conduit to test the Eagles for the World Cup.

“This is good news for myself and the entire team,” Rohr said.

“England is a very strong team presently and I believe they will give us a very good match. We will be able to test our readiness for the World Cup when we meet the Three Lions at Wembley.”

The Super Eagles will also face Poland on the 23rd of March

Also 27th of March and 27th of May had been slated for friendly matches with countries, whose identities had not been disclosed by the NFF.

 

 

 

Published in Awa Football