World Cup 2018, Day 5 Review: Hazard shines in sluggish Belgium display

Our review today will be brief, as we’ll have full length articles on both Sweden and England elsewhere on the site. As the whole of the core Twelve team supports one of those nations, you can rest assured they will be well covered here.

Sweden got the day underway with a 1-0 win over Korea Republic. Our main review of the match is here and it focusses on the victors, so we’ll take a quick look at the Asian side. They were fairly disappointing, and it’s never a great sign when your goalkeeper is one of your top performers. Cho Hyun-Woo made multiple key defensive actions, and none more so than a saving Marcus Berg’s clear-cut chance.

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Sweden 1 – 0 South Korea: Granqvist leads with passion and numbers

Sometimes a contrast is drawn in football between passion and statistics. We are told we can’t capture the commitment of players by numbers alone.

When we see a player like Andreas Granqvist run out to represent his nation, this narrative is easy to understand. The Swedish captain made his presence felt from the start, pushing his team forward after a nervous first 15 minutes.

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Brazil 1-1 Switzerland: Neymar needs to do more

Brazil’s attacking power is all about the left. The Canarinhos debut in the World Cup 2018 could have been a celebration of the associative football that Marcelo, Philippe Coutinho and Neymar can play on that side. But only being successful in the first 20 minutes also means that Tite’s squad is unbalanced and kind of predictable, if someone could label that sparkling trio as such.

Whenever Brazil holds the ball, the natural compass of the defensive line and the holding midfielders is to find Coutinho and Marcelo, who scored the highest sum of points in Twelve’s ratings.

When some force of destiny pushed the play to the right, Willian experienced again the solitude brought in the last friendlies by the company of the unimaginative Danilo. The Manchester City man replaced the injured Dani Alves, who did not make to the World Cup. The Chelsea arrow will dribble and cross, with a flare of the legendary Garrincha in his intentions; nevertheless, it never gets quite dangerous enough, as Swiss goalkeeper Sommer may tell you. But this is the pessimistic take.

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Costa Rica 0-1 Serbia: the day the world met Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

Serbia kicked off its 2018 World Cup campaign with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica. What would have been an intriguing encounter anyway, as the 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists took on a side back at the global stage for the first time in eight years, turned into a nerve-wrecking affair which could have gone either way.

Both Costa Rica and Serbia created chances but it all came down to a moment of brilliance from the Eagles captain Aleksandar Kolarov, who curled in a wonderful free kick four minutes shy of the hour mark.

A punch to the air and a loud roar as the Serbia captain rushed towards his teammates in celebration is a clear indication of what the goal meant to Serbs. With baggage from tournaments past dragging behind them, the Serbian team is determined to harness their individual talents and wrap them up in a commendable team spirit and a sense of unity.

And that’s exactly the kind of a message their – at times cautious but still courageous – display against Costa Rica sent.

The importance of the 1-0 victory grew hours later when mighty Brazil were held to a 1-1 stalemate by resilient Switzerland, and with the soaring Eagles now topping Group E in Russia, here are three things we learned.

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World Cup 2018, Day 4 Review: Mexico stunned the holders

Day three (which we reviewed here) was notable for the fact five penalties were awarded. There were only four goals in total on Sunday, but there was still plenty of quality on display and a very notable result.

There’s only one place to start, and that’s with Mexico’s 1-0 win over Germany. Juan Carlos Osorio’s team fully deserved their victory, but the top performer on our system was Toni Kroos.

While the Real Madrid man made some impressive attacking passes, his defensive work was arguably more notable. He made 10 ball recoveries, which would be a lot anyway, but when your side has 67 percent of the possession, it’s colossal.

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Pedestrian Nigerian side disappointed in uninspiring match against Croatia

Could it have been worse? It was the antithesis of what was expected: free flowing football from Croatians and Nigeria trying to stymy the technical abilities of Zlatko Dalic’s side in the midfield. Dalic flipped the script, and  pulled Luka Modric into the deep end of the midfield alongside Ivan Rakitic.

Fiorentina’s Milan Badelj had been primed to play as the team’s anchor with Modric playing behind the central striker. The effect was that Modric was scheming deep in the midfield third, rather than impacting the game with his abilities further forward. The compromise had been to slot Andrej Kramaric into the side behind Mario Mandzukic.

The fear for the Vacreni had been that the pivot of Modric and Rakitic was not steely and could be easily be troubled without a specialist defensive midfield anchor in front of the defence. However, the fears were easily allayed when John Obi Mikel playing as the Nigeria’s central attacking midfielder barely did any incisive attacking.

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World Cup 2018, Day 3 Review: Penalties Galore!

After day two featured plenty of late goals (and you can read more about that here), the theme of day three was penalties. All four matches featured at least one, and there were two in the opening game between France and Australia.

VAR played a part in some of the decisions, and five penalties across four games is absurdly high; for context, there were six penalties in the last six weeks of the 2017/18 Premier League season, or 0.1 per game.

However, despite Griezmann and Jedinak both slotting home their penalties, it was Paul Pogba who Twelve rated as the best player in the opening match on Saturday.

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Cruel ending to Egypt’s fairytale start

Egypt’s return to the World Cup after a 28-year absence was marred with disappointment, not living up to the fairy tale it could so easily have been.

All the talk prior to kick off was about whether or not Mohamed Salah was going to be fit enough to start after his shoulder injury in the Champions League final. A day before the match Egypt manager Hector Cuper said that Salah would “100% play” in the game, however, this was not the case.

Another surprise shock was the inclusion of Mohamed El-Shenawy into the starting line up, having only previously featured 4 times for Egypt. The veteran 45-year-old keeper Essam El-Hadary was tipped to start and become the oldest player in World Cup history, but this was not the case.

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Cristiano’s best performance with Portugal

Let’s keep it simple: Cristiano Ronaldo has had some special days with Portugal – July 10th 2016, for example – but this was his best performance for the country. In the most important tournament, against one of the best teams in the world.

Cristiano needed only one game in Russia to score as many goals he had scored in three previous World Cups, and became the oldest player to score a hat-trick at the tournament. He has now scored in four World Cups, something only Uwe Seeler, Pelé and Miroslav Klose can also say.

But there’s more: he now has 84 goals for Portugal and equalled Ferenc Puskas in 2nd place of national teams’ all-time goalscorers, only behind Iran’s former star Ali Daei (109 goals). Tremendous!

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Nigeria vs Croatia preview: Young Super Eagles expected to disrupt the flow of Croatia

After the Super Eagles defeated Argentina 4-2 in a friendly last year, there was a wave of optimism that swept Nigeria. Fans were upbeat, almost certain the budding team would make a dent on the World Cup stage, regardless of which opponents they were grouped with. Some who dangerously rode the wave too far swore the Super Eagles, led by Gernot Rohr, would win the World Cup.

It was all hinged on over-excitement, disregarding the obvious fact that Argentina’s talisman Lionel Messi was not available for the match. Four friendly games without a win has undoubtedly doused the bullishness.

Fittingly, the Super Eagles were drawn in the same group as Argentina for the fifth time, alongside Croatia and Iceland. The worry was not Argentina, with many tipping them as leaders of the group but Iceland and Croatia who are quality sides that could finish second.

It is the reason the stakes for the Super Eagles’ opening game against Croatia are high, as it could hand either team a head start in the race for the last sixteen. How will the Super Eagles cope with the technical superiority of the Croatians?

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