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FIFA World Cup 2018: England impressed far more than Belgium, writes Bhaichung Bhutia

England and Belgium both won their first group stage matches in the FIFA World Cup 2018, but it were the Three Lions who looked in better touch.

football Updated: Jun 20, 2018 09:04 IST
Bhaichung Bhutia
Bhaichung Bhutia
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
FIFA World Cup 2018,England football team,Belgium football team
England started their FIFA World Cup 2018 campaign with a 2-1 win over Tunisia.(REUTERS)

After Germany and Brazil fluffed their opening lines, it was good to see normal service restored on Monday with Belgium and England beginning with wins. I say this because too many upsets can’t be good for the health of a World Cup, can it?

Belgium notched up a bigger margin of victory but it was England that I liked more. Belgium were anything but impressive against, perhaps, the weakest team of the tournament. They had an ordinary first half and despite scoring thrice in the second, didn’t really look like a team that had cruised through the qualifiers scoring 43 goals.

I am not sure if I am being too harsh here but you don’t expect a team that has Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Dries Mertens, who had 22 goals and 12 assists for Napoli last term, among others to hoof the ball upfield in search of big Romelu Lukaku, do you? That is what Belgium were doing after the early goal proved elusive. It meant Lukaku hardly got the ball and Panama were the happier of the teams at half-time.

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Mertens struck with a bang and Lukaku got two but frankly, I didn’t see a quality pass apart from the one De Bruyne sent for the second goal. Like Harry Kane, Lukaku headed in at his near post. Whether you can do that depends on the pace of the delivery and where the striker is positioned but the header at the near post definitely makes it difficult for the goalkeeper, who would rather it went across the face of goal.

Kane’s second goal fetched young England the full points they so thoroughly deserved. England were fast, used the width of the park and, in general, played a good brand of football. They could have won by a bigger margin but Kane was denied a clear penalty and because they missed a hatful of chances.

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Gareth Southgate wouldn’t be too worried about that because creating opportunities is the hallmark of a good team and once that happens, the goals will come. Tunisia may not have provided the stiffest of tests but the manner in which Jordan Henderson found mates with cross-field passes should augur well for England.

Spain most pleasing

The top guns have now played their first game and the results have been middling to bad. On Wednesday, Portugal and Spain take on Morocco and Iran respectively and will look to give their campaign a fillip. Cristiano Ronaldo’s genius with the dead ball may have denied Spain but they were superb in their buildup and have been, for me, the most pleasing team to watch. I think they will beat Iran and take an important step to get out of the group.

Morocco will provide Portugal the kind of test they didn’t face against Spain. Unlucky to have lost against Iran, they will probably try and shut out Portugal and look for chances on the counter. It will be interesting to see how Portugal react if Morocco can keep Ronaldo quiet.

Former Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia is writing exclusively for Hindustan Times.

First Published: Jun 20, 2018 09:04 IST