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World Cup: Belgium Pip England 1-0, Poland Same To Japan

Japan progress despite defeat

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With both teams already through to the Round of 16 before a ball had been kicked and relatively little riding on this encounter, the England and Belgium coaches rang the changes compared to their previous fixtures.

As a result, there was unsurprisingly a disjointed and somewhat subdued feel to the game right from the off, with many players struggling to find their bearings.

That is not to say there were no chances. The Belgians were the first to threaten. Jordan Pickford denied Mousa Dembele early on before keeping out Marouane Fellaini.

Trent Alexander-Arnold then saw his cross-shot whistle narrowly past the post on the half-hour mark and Ruben Loftus-Cheek failed to find the target with a header four minutes later.

However, that was about as good as it got in the first half, leaving the crowd at the Kaliningrad Stadium craving more action after the break.

Soon enough, Adnan Januzaj ensured that the fans would go home having got their money’s worth.

With just six minutes on the clock in the second period, the Belgium attacking midfielder dropped a shoulder, skipped past Danny Rose and curled a sumptuous left-footed strike into the top corner.

To their credit, the Three Lions did not lie down after going behind.

Phil Jones had an opportunity to equalise after an hour and Marcus Rashford twice went close, but Belgium held on to secure their third win in as many matches at Russia 2018 and clinch top spot in the group.

TEAM REPORTER ANALYSIS

This game had two intended illustrations for Gareth Southgate, firstly offering him a chance to see players who were yet to start a World Cup game under his watch, and revealing their last-16 opposition.

While his side, with its eight changes, stumbled through a fairly uneventful first half, they edged Belgium on possession and both Danny Rose and Trent Alexander-Arnold gave encouraging performances, while the team stuck to the system and looked ready to prey on set-pieces.

Adnan Januzaj’s beautifully curled finish brought out a more competitive streak in the Three Lions, however, as those players competing for starting positions battled to prove a point to the dugout.

Roberto Martinez had thrown down the gauntlet to the incoming understudies, challenging them to seize their chance and stake their claim to dislodge the regular starters.

While he can be pleased with a symbolic victory over big-name opposition, the coach will not be prompted into rethinking his plans in the Round of 16.

Leaving aside bright spark Adnan Januzaj, the Red Devils struggled to impose their tempo on a match that was undermined by sloppiness and a general lack of intensity.

JAPAN PROGRESS DESPITE DEFEAT

Though beaten by Poland, Japan still qualify for the knockout phase as the Poles claim their first win of the tournament.

Japan knew that a draw against Poland would guarantee their spot in the knockout phase at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, but events in Group H transpired in such a way that the Samurai Blue progressed on the back of a defeat.

It is the third time the East Asians have made it past the group stage at a World Cup finals, having achieved the feat in back in 2002 and 2010.

Akira Nishino made six changes to the line-up that started against Colombia and Senegal, and it would be fair to say the large-scale rotation did his team no favours.

The Japanese lacked a cutting edge in attack, and it was Poland who created the two best chances of the game.

Shortly before the interval, Eiji Kawashina was forced into a spectacular diving save to claw Kamil Grosicki’s header off the goalline.

But the goalkeeper could do nothing about Jan Bednarek’s short-range volleyed finish in the second half.

For the Poles, who even before the start of today’s match knew they were on their way home, it was their first win in the competition.

TEAM REPORTER ANALYSIS

A draw was enough for Japan to qualify for the Russia 2018 knockout phase, but the changes to the starting XI and the new tactical approach did not help the team.

The Japanese only advance to the Round of 16, thanks to Colombia’s win over Senegal and having picked up fewer yellow cards than the Africans.

A win, a draw and a loss ultimately turned out to be sufficient for the Samurai Blue.

Poland already had zero chances of making it to the knockout rounds, but victory in their last match of the group stage does redeem the national team somewhat in the eyes of their fans.

The Poles risked suffering their worst World Cup in history, so Jan Bednarek’s goal has saved them this fate.

Nevertheless, the performance of Adam Nawalka’s side at this World Cup was highly disappointing.


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