FIFA World Cup 2018: England may not be tested before knockouts

With both England and Belgium likely to rest a few regulars in their FIFA World Cup encounter later this week, Harry Kane’s team’s real test could happen in the pre-quarterfinals where one from Japan, Senegal and Colombia could lie in wait.

football Updated: Jun 26, 2018 08:28 IST
Bhaichung Bhutia
Bhaichung Bhutia
Hindustan Times
FIFA World Cup 2018,Russia 2018,England national football team
Harry Kane’s (R) England have won both their games (against Tunisia and Panama) so far in FIFA World Cup 2018. (AFP)

Six goals in a FIFA World Cup game could mean either of the two things: the team is like a rock band whose members are at the top of their game or the opponents were some rag-tag bunch who just didn’t turn up. With England, I think it was more a case of the latter.

Of course, this was a great result for a young team; one that had, for a change, come to Russia without great expectations that apparently hobbled its predecessors. The team did its bit for the record books and Harry Kane joined an illustrious English hat-trick club that also has Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker as members.

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Everything that had to go right for England against Panama did. The rankings may tell a different tale but Panama have looked the weakest among the 32 teams. England could not have asked for a better start because an early goal always helps you settle down. You feel completely different from when you started the game.

Then, Jesse Lingard’s goal was top-drawer and England did really well in dead-ball situations to notch up a comprehensive win. En route, Kane gave himself a great chance to win the Golden Boot. Whichever way they come, goals are goals and no striker will complain. I know that feeling.

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With both teams likely to rest a few regulars, Belgium may not provide England a stern test. The earliest that could happen is in the pre-quarterfinals where one from Japan, Senegal and Colombia could lie in wait. So, even after two convincing wins, I would hold my judgement on England. Given how Colombia turned it on against Poland, I would be really keen on seeing how England shape up against them. But as it may well turn out, England could make it to the quarter-finals without really being tested.

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The one team that has been tested and not really come through with flying colours is Argentina. It is ironic that they now have to beat the team that gave them a lifeline, Nigeria.

When two-time champions and one with Lionel Messi gets such a second-chance, they may very well make the most of it. But for that to happen, I think Jorge Sampaoli has to find a way to play Paulo Dybala and Messi together, either give Javier Mascherano support or look beyond him in midfield and use Angel Di Maria’s speed by bringing him on as a substitute.

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

First Published: Jun 26, 2018 08:13 IST