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Belgium a Bit Spicy for Mild-Mannered England

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Match Report by Ishan Bhasin


England will face Colombia in the last 16 while Belgium will be facing Japan as they top Group G courtesy a ripper of a strike by Adnan Januzaj. This game was made interesting because of the possible fixtures it could create. The winner would go on to face Japan in the last 16, but possibly Brazil in the quarters and maybe France or Argentina in the semis. The runner-up, however, would get Colombia in the last 16, Switzerland/Sweden in the quarters and Croatia/Spain in the semis. This is what gave the match its confusing juxtaposition.

It was designed not to be too thrilling, and that’s exactly what was delivered by both teams tonight in Kaliningrad. With qualification already confirmed for both sides moving into this match, England lined up with as many as 8 changes from their win against Panama, while Belgium went even further and made 9. With Harry Kane, Eden Hazard and 15 others in the dugout, this was a game for the substitute bench.

Belgium had the first half gently by the collar, as they dominated proceedings albeit a bit frustratingly at times. There were numerous non-attacking passes that often lead to quick sharp football from the Belgians. When England did get the ball, they looked rather Premier-League ish, with their long balls to the flanks and bulldozing clearances, and they progressively got better during the game.

Januzaj’s truly wonderful strike lit up the contest in the 50th minute. Assisted by a little trickery, he got one pace ahead of the defender and curled it into the left corner with precise precision. The celebration was mildly euphoric, with the goalscorer hi-5ing a cameraman on his way to celebrate.

Marcus Rashford stood up to the challenge and really gave it a go, constantly piercing the Belgian defence with his threatening runs. He had a great chance on 65 minutes when Vardy played him on in front of goal, but the keeper Courtouis got his fingernails on it and it went for a corner.

Danny Rose had a very good game, he was skilfully effective in defense and had a part to play in almost every major attack. The Spurs man has had a frustrating domestic season, with injuries and an overpopulated bench leading to his modest 10 appearances.

Thorgan Hazard was really pesky and was at England’s throat throughout the match. Januzaj also had a good game, as did Fellaini, who was amongst the thick of most of the action as one would expect.

Towards the end, the only England change was World Cup debutant Alexander-Arnold for Danny Welbeck, who was mildly influential.

The highlight of the match was actually right after the goal was scored when Michy Batshuayi kicked the ball to celebrate, but it rebounded off the goalpost and smacked him right in the face a millisecond later. Twitter went into meltdown!

It could be considered correct to think that neither side was playing with a burning desire to win, quite uncontradicted by the non-introduction of Harry Kane in the 2nd half. A couple of players from both teams had good games, but the crowd really missed out on a performance from Belgian midfielder Mousa Dembelé. He can be an absolute terror to deal with and today wasn’t his hunting day.

Today we saw some talented football, but not a competitively fought contest like other matches this World Cup. This was one of those odd fixtures where the difference between winning and losing is quite unclear, and both teams are satisfied with whatever outcome the encounter yields. Belgium though, look really good to make it to the semi-finals.


Feature Image via Guardian

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