Argentina 0-3 Croatia: Messi and Argentina outclassed by Croatia’s midfield

All eyes and pressure were on Lionel Messi and his Argentina team during their second group stage match against Croatia. Unfortunately for the little magician, it was his Barcelona team mate Ivan Rakitić and club rival Luka Modrić who stole the show.

Up against a very talented, hard working and organized Croatian side, Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli was naïve enough to completely give up the midfield and put the emphasis on wing play which cost his team dearly. For a country (which historically speaking) has produced world class midfielders such as Juan Román Riquelme, Pablo Aimar, Fernando Redondo and Juan Sebastián Verón (to name but a few), it was frustrating to watch the team pull away from tradition and completely give away the middle of the pitch.

The midfield duo of Rakitić and Modrić gave Argentina a footballing lesson in how to control, press and dominate the game from midfield as if the Albiceleste were a country with no footballing past.

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France 1-0 Peru: No more war for Guerrero

Peru suffered their second defeat, and they are eliminated from the World Cup without scoring a goal. There remains a last match against Australia, but the dream is over. It was surely not the expectation of the tens of thousands of Peruvian fans who believed in their team’s strengths in it’s first World Cup appearance since 1982.

This was another story of Peru working hard, passing the ball well with style but rarely threatening. Their best first-half chance came when record-scorer Paolo Guerrero sprinted in front of Samuel Umtiti but Hugo Lloris, on his 100th cap for France, got down well to block the chance.

And that was about it. Really not the volume of chances you expect from a team who arrived in Russia full of ambition, and with good players aiming to make history.

In total Peru had 10 attempts, with only two on target. The other decent effort was a shot from Pedro Aquino: a wonderful curling strike from 30 yards which had beaten Lloris but cannoned off the angle between post and crossbar.

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World Cup 2018, Day 8 Review: Rampant Rakitic

As the days and games tick by, we continue to see teams sent home from the tournament. Thursday’s casualties were Peru, who followed their defeat to Denmark on Saturday with a 1-0 loss to France.

It was perhaps a little surprising they bit the dust so early. Many people had thought they could be dark horses at the tournament and do reasonably well, but for most that was probably based entirely on this clip rather than anything more concrete.

That goal was against Croatia too, but more on them shortly. Kylian Mbappe scored the goal which put Peru out, and he was the game’s top performer in our view. But to my mind it was Paul Pogba who deserves the accolades, as he had a key creative role in France’s two top quality chances.

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Colombia 1-2 Japan: A Whisper in Davinson’s Ear

Have a search on Twitter for “fullback whisperer” and you will find the unending adulation of Spurs fans towards Mauricio Pochettino. His rapid development of, first at Southampton, Luke Shaw, Callum Chambers, and now Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier has been remarkable. Hope for the future of Serge Aurier and Kyle Walker-Peters is quite high, despite the former’s ugly start.

But as a former centre-back himself it’s slightly surprising that it is wide defenders that he is most closely associated with as a coach.

On Tuesday many Tottenham fans will have tuned in to watch Colombia. A chance to get a sight of rumoured target Wilmar Barrios, and to see familiar face Davinson Sanchez. But he failed to turn in a familiar performance.

There’s no doubt that Carlos’ Sanchez 3rd minute red card had a significant impact on the remaining ten men’s games but it was Davinson’s fluffed clearance that led Carlos to reactively, illegally throw out his arm and stop the on-target shot.

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World Cup 2018, Day 7 Review: Narrow wins all round

Morocco are out of the World Cup, but they’ve impressed a lot of people along the way. They lost 1-0 to Portugal in the first match today but it wasn’t for a lack of trying; they had 15 shots, with 11 from within the Portuguese penalty area.

But oh how they need a good striker. Hakim Ziyech amassed their most shot points, but even he only got 172. Divide that by his four attempts, and on average they each only had around a four percent chance of being scored. However, the Ajax man had a decent game overall, playing several excellent passes and making a whopping seven ball recoveries in Portugal’s half of the field. Ziyech definitely looks destined for bigger and better things.

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Portugal 1-0 Morocco: Ronaldo papers over poor performance

For many years Portugal charmed with a showy way of playing, but never conquered. Two years ago they presented unattractive football and went from draw to draw, but claimed the European title. Now Portugal seem to be playing even worse, but they have four points in Group B and are close to the knockout stage.

The game with Morocco was one of the worst in Fernando Santos’ tenure, but another goal from Cristiano Ronaldo (his fourth in this tournament) secured a hard-fought 1-0 win. It was an unfair result for Hervé Renard’s team, who became the first team eliminated in the group stage. Read More

Russia 3-1 Egypt: Salah shackled, Elneny poor and Cuper out?

Egypt’s hopes of progressing through to the round of 16 have been all but ended after their 3-1 defeat to Russia in St. Petersburg

Prior to kick off, Egypt were boosted by the announcement that Mohamed Salah would return to the starting XI after sustaining an injury in the Champions League final. Egypt were hoping with the return of Salah to pick up a vital three points after a relatively impressive performance against Uruguay, but this was not to be the case.

From the start of the first half, Russia put a lot of pressure on Egypt and created a number of chances, rattling the Egyptian defence. Mohamed Salah was contained extremely well by the Russia defenders who remained very tight to him, not allowing him to get much of the ball.

Salah was instructed by Cúper to play very high up the pitch to try and counter-attack, however, this was useless as Egypt were never able to counter and get the ball to him quickly enough. It was extremely disappointing to not see him get involved in the game by coming in deeper to get the ball.

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Quintero vs. James: the Colombian issue

Maybe the greatest surprise of the day was not Japan beating Colombia (which was the first time they beat a South American team in the World Cup), but the absence of star man James Rodriguez in the initial XI of the Cafeteros.

With Juan Quintero playing James’s functions, we expected a Colombian team working the ball, valuing possession and being less vertical on offensives transitions as usual.

But the red card to Sanchez at the beginning of the match pushed Quintero to play as a “regista”, close to the defensive line and making long ball passes to connect with the attack.

We can see this in his first half heatmap and pass map from OPTA. Quintero was making correct connections with the right side, where Juventus forward Cuadrado moves and allows good passing lines. There was not the same accuracy on the left side, with Izquierdo.

Maps from OPTA

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World Cup 2018, Day 6 Review: Lack of Lewandowski costs Poland

We’ve now seen every team appear at least once at the 2018 World Cup, and it could be argued that England have been the best so far. Weird eh?

Anyway, the last teams to join the party in Russia make up Group H. There’s an article on Colombia’s performance here, so we’ll just take a quick look at Japan.

It’s never easy to play with 10 men, let alone for 87 minutes, yet Colombia were perhaps the better side in the opening 45 minutes. The fact that Eiji Kawashima, the Japanese goalkeeper, was the top defensive performer in the first half is evidence enough of that.

Football makes fools of us all, but no sooner had the BBC commentators berated the performance of Yuya Osako then he became the game’s key player. He scored the winner, but also made a vital defensive block too. Osako also created a couple of chances, and was a worthy man of the match.

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Tunisia 1-2 England: Kane the hero, but Henderson the heartbeat

England are up and running at the 2018 World Cup, but only just. Well, not exactly. Yes they left it incredibly late to score the winner, but they had already had the best collection of chances any team has mustered in Russia this week.

Harry Kane was the hero as he scored both goals, but that aside he did very little. That’s the life of an elite goalscorer I suppose, but without the points from his brace he’d be lurking in mid-table on our rankings chart for the match.

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