GAMES 27, 28 & 29


Belgium 5-2 Tunisia

Alarm bells for England as Belgium put five past Tunisia? Or is there more to this story than the scoreline? Well, there’s the other half of the scoreline for a start. Tunisia scored twice and made Belgium look vulnerable on both wings despite playing, for the most part, appallingly. That may seem harsh, but it really isn’t – they looked a very different team from the far more organised outfit that tried to wrestle a result from England in their opening tie.

Eden Hazard and Lukaku got two apiece, against a defence who lacked discipline and energy. They were outstripped for pace and effort and seemed to be intent on giving Belgium as much time as they wanted on the ball. “No mate, go ahead,” they seemed to say, “we’ll just follow your lead.”

This leads us to another conclusion, which could stop premature panic in the England camp: despite a huge number of shots on target, Belgium only scored five. They could, and probably should, have had 10.

And while Lukaku (now tying with Ronaldo in the Golden Boot stakes) is clearly a threat, the Manchester United striker is a danger that the England defence will be more than used to facing. That may sound like the desperate hope of an England fan, but if you don't hold on to unreasonably high hopes, you end up with absolutely nothing to shatter.  



South Korea 1-2 Mexico

Mexico must have fancied their chances going into this tie, having beaten Germany in their first game and then seen South Korea fail to get a single shot on target against Sweden. As it was, their feeling proved to be right. A late consolation goal in the dying moments of the game from Tottenham’s Son Heung-min wasn’t enough to stop what, to many would have seemed an inevitable result after a goal in each half (Vela’s penalty and Hernadez’s 50th international strike respectively).  

Probably most notable (other than the goals) were the 24 (or so) fouls committed by South Korea which caused Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio to complain. It also took the tally of fouls by the team in total this final to 46. They lead the field in this respect but sadly, it’s the only table they’re likely to top in a very long time.



Germany 2-1 Sweden

A great escape for Germany. A superb Toni Kroos goal saw them come from behind in a World cup match for only the second time ever. The first time was also against Sweden – for whom there can be little consolation after a solid performance and the nearly realised belief that they could have four points from their first two games. As it stands, they need both a result against Mexico (tricky) and South Korea to do them a solid against Germany (hmmmm) for them to progress. Even if we were betting people, we wouldn’t take a chance on them.

The delicate balance shifted on one goal, 20 seconds from time as a 10-man Germany desperately tried to avoid a draw that would have been a catastrophic result for their World Cup campaign. As it was, it seems that the winner, does indeed, take it all.

While Germany may have had three times as much possession and twice as many shots, they found themselves 1-0 down and as mired in performance problems as a middle-aged man going through a crisis.  That they waited so long increased not just the drama, but also the sense of relief, both for the team and the nation.

The difficulties are still there, and there’s a lot of work to do if Germany are going to stand any chance of defending their status as champions. But, for now, arguments about tactics, age and temperament can be put to one side for a moment and replaced with endless re-runs of what could easily be the most important German goal of the tournament.