De Futebol Brasil Wins! Tops Group E!

Brasil defeated Serbia 2-0. The Guys win Group E with seven points. Switzerland and Costa Rica tied two all.

Up next for the guys is Mexico. Switzerland will square off against Sweden.

In Group F Sweden beat the crap out of Mexico 3-0 and South Korea shocked Germany winning 2-0. This loss sent the defeating World Cup champions packing.

The Daily Mail:” Some may say this is not a vintage Brazil team, not yet anyway. But they do have classic Brazilian traits.

Coach Tite’s team are talented yet capriciously vulnerable and isn’t that just how we have always liked them?

Nobody likes a flawless football team and this is certainly not one. They won deservedly here and have recovered admirably from the shock of drawing their opening group game against Switzerland.

But the way that Serbia were applauded from the field by their noisy, vibrant supporters told us that this had been a little bit closer than Brazil would have liked.

Brazil will now face Mexico in the last sixteen in Samara. They remain beguiling to watch and will probably get better from here. Last night, for example, there were signs that Neymar is growing in to the tournament after recovering from his long-term ankle injury.

They were not always convincing, though, and this remains a tournament that feels as though it could throw them from the tracks at any moment.

When the Mexicans – and anyone else who may yet face Brazil – look for encouragement then all they require is to watch the first 20 minutes of the second half. A goal down and needing victory, Serbia pushed hard at the Brazilian door and more than once it almost flew open.

The problem, really, is quite simple. Brazil are not adept at dealing with quality crosses. They have a goalkeeper who prefers to punch rather than catch and central defenders who do not communicate with him or indeed with each other.

That is never a good combination and it really was only through a smattering of good fortune that it was not their undoing.

Tite may wake up this morning and look at the remainder of the competition and wonder if his team may have been better to finish second in the group. They are now in the tougher half of the draw by far.

But he will see progress and after the way they started the tournament that would be right

Here they were the better team in the first half and deservedly led.

Serbia began the game cautiously and at least had a plan. They sat in behind the ball in numbers and that made it hard for Brazil to pierce them early on.

The South American sections of the crowd got excited early on when Gabriel Jesus looked as though he may score but he was actually offside while another movement involving the Manchester City player ended with Serbia goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic pawing away an effort from Neymar that may have passed safely across the face of goal anyway.

Jesus then got clear down the left in the 29th minute but chose to cut back inside instead of trying the shot from an angle. He successfully stepped inside Milos Veljkovic but that allowed other defenders to arrive and the shot struck a Serbian leg and went behind for a corner that came to nothing.

That rather summed Brazil up for a while. Nearly but not quite. And when their goal arrived it was rather more direct.

The excellent Philippe Coutinho spotted the surging run of Paulinho and dropped a perfect pass over the top of the Serbian back four and in to his path.

Unlike the ball that Lionel Messi turned in to a goal for Argentina 24 hours earlier, this one only required one touch and that was to lift it over the top of the Serbian goalkeeper. Maybe Stojkovic had committed himself a little early but maybe there wasn’t much choice.

So Brazil were ahead and Serbia had no choice but to attack. Twice early in the second half they came close, Thiago Silva clearing an Aleksandar MItrovic header off the line after goalkeeper Alisson palmed a clearance straight to the Newcastle striker and then the same attacker heading a cross powerfully down for the keeper to save on the line.

There were other moments of panic, too, as Brazil struggled to cope but moments after City’s Fernandinho was sent on to shore up the midfield, Thiago Silva headed in a corner at the near post and that settled the game.

It was not a very Brazilian goal towards the end of what had been, at times, a very Brazilian performance.

De Futebol Left for Dead Argentina Advances to the Round of Sixteen!

Argentina came back to defeat Nigeria 2-1 to finish in second place in Group D. Croatia defeated Iceland to win Group D

Argentina will face Group C winner to France.

Croatia will take on Denmark.

The Daily Mail:’ The ball, delightful from Ever Banega, arrived over his shoulder, on the run. Lionel Messi watched it onto his left thigh, killed it there, let it drop to his left boot, took a perfect controlling touch and switched it, right.

Kenneth Omeruo, whose job it was to in some way harness the wind at that point, knew he was in trouble. In these moments, it is as if Messi has a way of rendering opponents powerless. He shot, across goalkeeper Francis Uzoho, and the ball moved obediently into the far corner of Nigeria’s net without further instruction. A gem of a goal from a gem of a player.

So that’s what you would have been missing. That’s what would have disappeared from this World Cup had Argentina lost on Tuesday night. Sunshine. Magic. Wonder. Ultimately, it was a fabulous volley from Manchester United’s Marcos Rojo that propelled Argentina into the final 16, but this was about him. This was about our desire for one player to stay. Save Messi. That is what the neutrals desired.

Argentina – well, they have to take their chances with the other mortals. This is a team with an average age above 30 and some significant frailties. With France up next it may only delay their departure by days, not weeks, but for now, they and Messi remain.

The world will watch again on Saturday, to see if one man can inspire a nation once more. St Petersburg’s stadium was overwhelmed by Argentina’s travelling support, but their joy was spread wide. It would take a heart of stone not to smile at this. Messi endures.

This might have been his last World Cup appearance, without Rojo’s goal. There would have been a reckoning in Argentina after this, with speculation Messi was going to be among several senior players in an aging team to retire from international football. Yet had this goal, this performance, been his farewell, it was one that encapsulated why this prize has remained so elusive throughout his career.

In the end, it is too much for one man to drag Argentina out of their malaise. This was overwhelming, even for him. A Victor Moses penalty had taken Nigeria to second in the group and had Cuneyt Cakir, the referee, been consistent with the call given against Portugal on Monday night, Argentina would have been out.

Rojo headed the ball on to his arm, much as Cedric had done 24 hours earlier against Iran, but after consulting the VAR, Cakir ruled no penalty. It was the right call – Rojo couldn’t get out of the way and there was no intention to handle – but not a harmonious one. The same could have been said of Cedric, too; yet that was given.

Argentina had started so well but as the competition ebbed away from them grew increasingly desperate and haphazard. They were on the brink, no doubt of that. And then: salvation. Cristian Pavon crossed from the right and Rojo simply met it with all he had. He could have taken a touch, could have finessed. He didn’t. He seized the moment, seized the day, seized a place in the second round for Argentina.

There were four minutes of normal time remaining. As cameras zoomed in on the crowd, the players, at the end, everybody seemed to be in tears. Angel Di Maria was sobbing. Argentina had been through an emotional wringer; and this was only the group stage.

Yet there were times in the first-half, and plenty of them, when it must have seemed unfathomable Argentina had got themselves into this state. Their supporters must have been wondering it, maybe the players, too. Argentina are ordinary defensively and Javier Mascherano’s legs have gone, but in attack, focused and firing, they can be sublime.

The introduction, in particular, of Sevilla’s midfielder Banega changed this team and Argentina should have been done by half-time. As well as Messi’s goal, the little genius hit a post and played an exquisite ball through for Gonzalo Higuain that should have amounted to more.

Di Maria was also clear until cynically felled by Leon Balogun, coming to Brighton from Mainz in time for next season. Only the presence of goalkeeper Francis Uzoho stopped that sequence ending with a red card.

Argentina’s World Cup, from the ill-conceived preparation match in politically-charged Jerusalem —that had to be cancelled at short notice — to the obvious tensions around coach Jorge Sampaoli behind the scenes, has been chaotic even by their standards.

It was said that the team for this last roll of the dice in Group D had been selected by the players, not the coach – although some players are more equal than others, one imagines – but they did a decent job.

Initially, this appeared a more balanced, secure Argentina side, starting in goal where Willy Caballero was jettisoned for Franco Armani, a 31-year-old from River Plate, on his international debut. His kicking was wayward but no more so than that of Cabellero, who gifted Croatia their first goal in a traumatic 3-0 defeat, and then failed to recover.

That has been Argentina’s problem at this tournament. Setbacks have had a debilitating effect. Messi missed a penalty against Iceland and it has taken him more than a week to shrug it off; Cabellero was poor for Croatia’s first goal, and then ineffectual for another two.

Big players have shirked responsibility at important times, gone quiet, gone to sleep. It took this, the very real possibility that their World Cup would be over at the group stage, for the real Argentina to show itself.

Argentina could have been three goals up by half-time had they taken their chances and caught the breaks. In the 28th minute, a perfectly-weighted through pass by Messi, found Higuain who outstripped his marker but was thwarted by teenager Uzoho in goal, the young man bravely off his line, saving at his feet and catching a painful blow, knee to head, in the process. Fortunately, he was able to carry on.

In the 32nd minute, a long ball from the back set Di Maria away until Balogun gave up chasing and took up tripping instead. Had Uzoho not been at home he might have gone, instead referee Cakir produced only a yellow card and from the resulting free-kick Messi flighted the ball over the wall and Uzoho got the merest touch to push it on to the far post.

Argentina were playing well, full of confidence, but defensive frailties and the determination of referees to at last address man-handling in the area conspired against them.

Mascherano – past his best and no longer a player Roy Hodgson considered more influential than Messi when distributing his Ballon D’Or votes – had several goes at Balogun as a corner came in, before dragging him to the floor.

Cakir pointed to the spot, the usual mimes of protests resulted, replays showed the right call had been made. Victor Moses stepped up, took two paces and hit a gentle one, only slightly to the right, deftly sending Armani the wrong way. At that point, Messi was on his way home. He has a lot to thank Rojo for; but so do we.

De Futebol Peru Gets Their First Win! A 2-0 shutout over Australia!

Peru defeated Australia 2-0 in their final match of the World Cup in Group C.

France won Group C with a nil-nil draw against Denmark.

Both the French and the Danes are on to the round of sixteen

Peru finished third with three points.

The Daily Mail:” Peru striker Paolo Guerrero, who spent seven months fighting a drugs ban just to be in Russia, scored an emotional goal to knock Australia out of the World Cup in a 2-0 victory played in what was a carnival atmosphere in Sochi.

The goal, together with a wonderful strike by Watford’s Andre Carrillo, may not be enough to send the South Americans through — they were already destined to go home — but Guerrero’s journey has been such that it will nevertheless go down in Peruvian football history.

The captain feared he would never get to play in a World Cup after being banned for 14 months for testing positive for traces of cocaine.

But a fierce legal battle to clear his name – he claims the traces came from a drink Peruvians used to reduce the effects of playing at altitude – together with a letter signed by all captains of Group C rivals Australia, France and Denmark eventually earned him a temporary reprieve while his appeal is considered.

So when the 34 year-old hooked home a second half shot to seal Peru’s first victory of the tournament and end Australia’s dreams, the 26,000 Peru fans packed into the Fisht Stadium went into meltdown.

For Australia, whose own fans also travelled in numbers, it marks the end of an era because coach Bert Marwijk will now be stepping down and replaced by Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold.

In truth they never looked like making the Dutchman’s reign last any longer.

As it happens even a victory here would not have been enough with group rivals France and Denmark drawing – but the Socceroos were not at the races anyway.

They had enough energy and enough ball possession to challenge for the last 16 but a lack of cutting edge, after also losing to France and drawing with Denmark, was evident from the start.

In fact they leave Russia without having scored a goal from open play, with Aston Villa midfielder Mile Jedinak’s two penalties their only contribution.

The irony is that it was Jedinak who signed the letter to FIFA urging them to allow Guerrero to play in the tournament and Peru’s captain, after thanking the Villa man before kick-off, was the architect of Australia’s demise.

He set up the opening goal after 19 minutes when Miguel Trauco’s ball over the top of the Australian defence found him on the left. The Flamengo striker’s chipped cross to the edge of the area was volleyed home first-time, across goalkeeper Matt Ryan, by Carillo, who joined Watford on loan last season from Benfica with a view to a permanent transfer.

It was Peru’s first goal of the tournament having lost their opening two matches 1-0, and it couldn’t have been celebrated any more loudly had it been scored in a semi-final.

Australia threatened briefly to make a comeback after that but never truly had the self belief or the skill in the final third to make it happen.

Tom Rogic’s weaving run and shot, saved by Pedro Gallese, almost pulled them level in the first half and the Celtic man, coming from deep, was a danger early on.

He also helped set up Mathew Leckie for what seemed a tap-in until Anderson Santamaria brilliantly denied him with a sliding challenge six yards from goal.

That lack of ruthlessness cost the Aussies dear in the end because Peru made it 2-0 following a neat 50th-minute break down the left flank which left the impressive Christian Cueva to set up his captain to score.

Cue mayhem and a cacophony of noise inside the Fisht Stadium.

The only way Australia could add to the drama was by bringing on veteran Tim Cahill to play in his fourth World Cup at the age of 38.

That’s exactly what they did in a bid to rescue their tournament but despite one blocked effort there was nothing the Millwall man could do to save his team – and Peru almost made it 3-0 when Flores’ shot hit the post.

Sadly for Cahill, in what is probably his last cap, the game will be remembered not for what Australia did but for Peru, their wonderful fans and their talismanic striker.

De Futebol Uruguay Defeated Ten Man Russia 3-0 to win Group A!

Uruguay defeated Russia 3-0 to win Group A.

Portugal and Iran tied one all in Group B

Spain and Morocco tied two all so.

Uruguay will taken on Portugal while Russia and Spain hook up.

The Guardians Nick Ames:” The opinion among Russia’s more phlegmatic observers has been that, vibrant and positive as the early stages of this World Cup have been, it would be wise to extract every last ounce of fun from the party because reality will soon bite back. At some stage life will return to normal and the euphoria around the national team’s performance is one uplifting aspect that, on this evidence, may not last a great deal longer.

This defeat had no impact on the hosts’ progression from Group A but it was a reminder that, against practised opponents with a dash of quality, they will hit a ceiling on any normal day. Uruguay sailed past them with an efficient, unfussy display, aided by an early Luis Suárez free-kick and an own goal from Denys Cheryshev. By the time Edinson Cavani had sealed the issue the game had long since fizzled out and Russia, who lost Igor Smolnikov to a first-half red card, must now seek to make this a bump in the road rather than a juddering halt.

Samara considers itself to be one of the country’s more passionate football venues and there was certainly a more raucous, partisan atmosphere than local fans had produced in Moscow or St Petersburg. Russia had never played here before and, coupled with the dramatic swing in sentiment towards Stanislav Cherchesov’s side over the past 10 days, it made for something fresh: the boisterousness of a provincial city equipped to love its team.

Suárez’s goal was something of a buzzkill, then, and perhaps the most alarming aspect for Russia was that it came from the kind of error Saudi Arabia and Egypt showed little capacity to exploit. Uruguay were always going to present a step up in quality and it showed when the right winger Alexander Samedov played a careless pass backwards into his own half. Suárez was onto it smartly and the result, after his initial centre had been cut out, was a rash foul by Iury Gazinsky on Rodrigo Bentancur. The position of the free-kick, 18 yards out and central, already looked like a gift for Suárez and when a bout of wrestling in the wall opened up an angle to Igor Akinfeev’s left his prospects increased further. He made no mistake, finishing low inside the post, and Russia’s momentum had hit its first sizeable hurdle.

They flickered in response, Cheryshev drawing an uncertain save from Fernando Muslera on the latter’s 100th international appearance and Artyom Dzyuba bouncing a header over. The attacking pair have been two of the foremost stars in a group stage of unexpected Russian success stories; it was in keeping with this game’s start, then, that its next unhappy accident befell one of them.

It was Cheryshev, unable to avoid being struck by Diego Laxalt’s left-footed shot, who diverted the ball past a scrambling Akinfeev to effectively kill the game. The effort, aimed back into a crowded box after a corner had been half-cleared, was going well wide; Cheryshev had already scored three goals at the right end in the previous two games but now had an own goal to his name.

This had all happened by the midway point in the first half. It almost got worse for Russia when Akinfeev saved at the feet of Bentancur but another reminder of their mortality would follow soon enough. Smolnikov, one of three newcomers to Cherchesov’s starting XI, had already been booked when, nine minutes before the break, he chopped down a full-flight Laxalt. There was nothing to question about Malang Diedhiou’s instant reach for the red card and on an oppressively hot evening you wondered whether in a perfect world everybody would have called things a day there.

For long periods nothing happened to sway anyone who held that view. Uruguay kept possession to moderately good effect and threatened a third when Cavani rolled Sergey Ignashevich, who recovered well to deny the chance. The home fans, unwilling to let the occasion slide completely, kept the noise up and would have had something to cheer about if a VAR referral had awarded Russia a penalty after Diego Godín caught Dzyuba with a stray arm. That particular physical tussle had, until then, been anticlimactic and the review offered Dzyuba nothing to show for it. The centre-forward had bullied and buccaneered to cult-like effect against Egypt before scoring a beautifully taken goal; here he looked very much a player whose calendar year has been spent in exile at Arsenal Tula.

Another striker, Cavani, was more constructively involved throughout but was frustrated that Suárez, who would have laid on an easy chance if his radar was functioning, overcooked his pass after another Russia mistake. Cavani looked like a player who needed a goal and duly got it at the death, snaffling up a rebound after Akinfeev had saved from Godín. Uruguay had hardly been at full tilt but then they tend to save their most pugnacious fare for the big guns. The question for Russia, though, is whether they have used up the last of their own strength.

De Futebol England destroys Panama 6-1! On to the Round of Sixteen!

England kicked ass and took names in 6-1 blowout city win over Panama. The guys are level on points and goal difference with Belgium six points each and plus six in Group H.

Both Belgium and England advance.

The Guardians Daniel Taylor:” Perhaps we should start with a note of caution. The opposition will not always be this obliging and nobody, surely, can expect Harry Kane to keep scoring so prodigiously throughout the rest of the World Cup. Maybe England have peaked too soon. And no doubt the most overheard line over the coming days will be that, yes, it was only Panama. Stay calm, it was only Panama.

All the same, it was difficult to come away from this freewheeling win for Gareth Southgate’s increasingly convincing side without the overwhelming feeling that it has been a long time since an England team have played this freely.

It was their biggest World Cup victory and at half-time, no kidding, there were people in the press box flicking through the history books to find out how many more goals were needed to establish the biggest ever win in the history of this competition.

England were 5-0 ahead at that stage courtesy of two penalties from Kane, a pair of headed goals from John Stones and a beauty from Jesse Lingard. Kane’s hat-trick followed in the 63rd minute and, after that, it came as a jolt that the only other goal was delivered by a Panamanian boot.

Hungary’s 10-1 win against El Salvador in 1982 will have to be a target for another day. Thursday, perhaps, when Belgium are the opposition, to establish which team wins Group G.

Already, it is mission accomplished as far as qualification is concerned and, on this evidence, it is no exaggeration to say England should not fear anybody in the knockout stages.

Kane is now the leading scorer in the tournament, with five goals, and Gary Lineker is the only player, through all the ages, who has accumulated more World Cup goals for England. Yet the acclaim here should not just apply to the Tottenham striker when Stones has been so effective, when Kieran Trippier’s supply line has been so instrumental, and Lingard is emerging as a genuine category-A player.

England had not scored five first-half goals in any game since doing just that against Luxembourg in 1999, and it is only the third time since 1950, out of 24 attempts, they have begun a major tournament by winning back-to-back matches, emulating the World Cups of 1982 and 2006. It is still only two games but something important is happening. England are becoming the team their supporters want them to be. And it is great fun.

Panama’s ordeal did at least include the consolation of a 76th-minute goal and their supporters were still partying at the end. Ultimately, though, the imbalance of talent was far too great for a team fielding four players from Major League Soccer and others from the Romanian and Slovakian leagues. Panama had to resort to other measures. They argued with the officials. Their goalkeeper, Jaime Penedo, seemed to be threatening a one-man protest before Kane’s first penalty, and it was incredible, in particular, to see their tactics from England’s corners.

Even by modern standards, has there ever been another set of players so dedicated to restricting the mobility of their opponents? Their approach led to Kane’s penalty, to make it 5-0, when Aníbal Godoy manhandled him to the floor. Yet that was the norm, rather than the exception, for every corner and an argument could be made that Panama also got their just deserts for the opening goal.

For that one, Harry Maguire was brought to his knees twice because of Gabriel Gómez’s attempts to pin him down. Godoy was clinging to Kane like a mollusc on the side of a ship. Twice, the corner had to be delayed to sort out the chaos. Nobody, however, seemed to designate Stones as a potential danger. Trippier swung the ball over from the right and Stones powered in his header from eight yards.

Even by that early stage, eight minutes in, it had become clear it was going to be harder to like this Panama team than many of us imagined. Indeed, England ought to have had a penalty inside 90 seconds after Gómez swung an elbow into Lingard’s jaw. Gómez, a repeat offender, went down clutching his own face and the Egyptian referee, Gehad Grisha, was taken in by the deception. Later, an elbow from Armando Cooper bloodied Maguire’s nose. Román Torres responded to Maguire’s complaints by flicking his opponent’s nose and pushing in his forehead in the manner of a rutting stag. Southgate had told his players not to react to any provocation and they did not let him down.

Lingard’s was the pick of them all, exchanging passes with Raheem Sterling before running across the line of the penalty area, left to right, and curling a shot that went in off the underside of the crossbar. Yet the fourth goal was brilliantly worked, too. This time, Trippier played a free-kick short to Henderson. A first-time cross was headed down by Kane and Stones put in the rebound after Penedo had blocked Sterling’s close-range effort.

The second half was an exercise in damage limitation for Panama and, to give them their due, Kane’s hat-trick goal was a fluke, Ruben Loftus-Cheek letting fly from 20 yards and the ball striking his teammate on the heel to loop in.

England’s lingering imperfections were briefly exposed when Felipe Baloy, one of Panama’s substitutes, turned in a free-kick with an outstretched leg. Yet Southgate and his players can still enjoy the view from the top of Group G, with the same points and goal difference as Belgium but ahead on fair-play rules, and the manager was pumping his fists at the end, no matter that it was only a few days since he dislocated his shoulder. Nobody should get too carried away but, good heavens, it can be hard sometimes.

De Futebol Brasil Wins! The Guys are atop the heap in Group E

Brasil missed by that much in the first ninety minutes of the match against Costa Rica. The guys didn’t give up scoring twice in injury time to win 2-0.

This win was huge for the guys.

Switzerland came back from a goal down to beat Serbia 2-1. Both my guys from Brasil and Switzerland each have four points in Group E. Brasil is the top dog with a plus two while the Swiss is a plus one. Serbia is third with three points and Costa Rica has zip-zero-nada.

The Guardians Barney Ronay:” Well, that was late; and indeed more than a little ugly. On a breezy, bad-tempered afternoon by the Gulf of Finland Brazil defeated Costa Rica 2-0 at the St Petersburg Stadium to ease them towards the knock-out stage of Russia 2018.

The goals were both scored in injury time, the key one by their best player Phlippe Coutinho who came haring through a crowd on to a miscrontrolled touch from Roberto Firmino to poke the ball through the legs of Keylor Navas and send the yellow shirts into a wild, squealing catharsis in the stands.

As the clock ticked down Neymar added a second, the Costa Rica defence parting after some fine, dogged efforts. Brazil’s captain celebrated like a World Cup winner having stabbed the ball into an empty net from Douglas Costa’s cross.

It was an eventful day for the world’s costliest player, who was a source of constant friction, who grumbled and moaned and threw himself to the floor constantly and might have been sent off for a combination of dissent and cheating. Neymar wept dramatically on the pitch at the final whistle, shoulders shuddering, hands shielding his visage from the world. Indeed.

Brazil now have four points in Group E. A draw with Serbia will guarantee progress, if not in the wider sense of the word after another performance that stuttered and stumbled. In reality this game will be remembered for Neymar’s antics more than a fine showing from Coutinho, excellent defending from Costa Rica and an important win for Tite’s team.

A turning point seemed to have arrived around the hour, as the Dutch referee Björn Kuipers finally snapped. For the preceding 60 minutes Neymar had been chirping, chattering, groaning, writhing, winging in his ear, enraged at some perceived rough treatment from a gnarled Costa Rica defence.

As Brazil defended a corner Kuipers could be seen telling Brazil’s captain to be quiet in the way an exasperated father might speak to a sullen and spoiled teenager. Seconds later Neymar broke with the ball down the left wing, finding finally a huge green steppe of space in that white-shirted defence.

Seventeen minutes later Kuipers was finally, and briefly, beaten into submission. No doubt it just wears you down. As Giancarlo González touched, briefly, the Neymar abdomen Brazil’s captain toppled backwards in a ludicrous pantomime of a dying sapling. Kuipers gave the penalty. Neymar lay on the floor being cosseted and nursed by his teammates, preposterous spectacle, as though finally victorious in his battle with injustice.

Out of his sight Kuipers trotted off, looked at the VAR screen, and reversed the decision. He should also have booked Neymar. Well played Mr Kuipers, and well played VAR. A penalty would have been a reward for superstar strops, diva-pouts, and utterly graceless behaviour from a man who carries his nation’s name and its sporting reputation.

This World Cup has been waiting for somebody to provide a statement performance, for one of the usual Alpha teams to pull themselves up to their full height and decide that, in fact, this tournament is there for the taking if somebody can get the thrusters lined up, the gears to click, and point all that star power in the stronger squads the right way.

This wasn’t it, at least not for the opening 85 minutes or so. The St Petersburg Stadium is out on the water, lodged beside the stunning cantilevered bridge that swoops in above the tide and funnels the main traffic arteries into the city centre.

It is, as ever at this World Cup, a stunning thing, another enormo-drome with the most astonishingly vast and heavy roof fanned out around steel girders of dizzying scale and heft, ranged above the pitch like a vast iron giant cradling his fingers. The stands were the usual wallpaper-setting of Brazil gold, broken up by some wildly enthusiastic blocks of Costa Rican red as Brazil kicked off with the afternoon sun on the pitch. With Cost Rica unchanged Fagner came in at right‑back for Brazil who pressed early on, Coutinho shooting just over after Bryan Ruiz had given him the ball.

But the blue shirts were slow through midfield, a porridge of sideways passing and sludgy movement. It was Costa Rica who should have taken the lead on 12 minutes, as Celso Borges came striding forward and shot low and hard but past the left‑hand post from a cut-back from Ruiz, with Brazil’s midfield equally static chasing back. A couple of minutes later Neymar was down once again in howls of agony as he turned his ankle, rising to limp on a little sullenly.

Neymar is targeted. But he doesn’t half make it easy, never once hiding his disgust and his distraction, shuddering with celebrity disdain at these lesser beings, these rough boys. Again Neymar went down, this time after “putting a hat on” Cristian Gamboa (nicking the ball over his head) a terrible humiliation in Brazilian football. Again there were chunterings to the referee, a loss of focus, pointless quibbling from a group that would be better served trying to inject some snap into its passing, some venom into its movement.

There were dives and triple-pikes and wonderfully dramatic falls, constant TV closeups of that pained, tearful Neymar face. This is a different player right now to the sprightly warrior of 2014 already an A‑lister then, with the home hopes of his nation, but transformed now into a mardy, perpetually wronged drama-magnet. Life moves pretty fast, Neymar old boy. If you don’t stop rolling around once in a while, you could miss it.

As the teams walked off for half‑time there were complaints from a delegation of Brazil players. Outside the dressing rooms Neymar approached the referee and prattled on some more about his treatment. This was not a dirty game, or anything close to the mugging Brazil’s captain seemed to imagine. Cost Rica were simply competitive. But Brazil looked a fragile, high‑maintenance team here.

And despite his princely status Neymar was overshadowed again here by Coutinho, who really should be taking free kicks, who should right now be the hub of this team, given as much leverage as he likes to take the ball and make the game up in front of him.

Tite took off Willian, who had been poor, at half time, and put on the more direct Douglas Costa. And suddenly Brazil were tearing into Costa Rica, Jesus heading powerfully on to the bar from a Douglas cross. The ball bounced out to Coutinho whose shot was deflected just wide by Cristian Gamboa.

And still most of the good things for Brazil came through Coutinho, the chugging, ferreting heart of an otherwise prosaic midfield.

Tite twisted again, bringing on Roberto Firmino for Paulinho. Neymar shot wide of the post on the run with space in front of him. Clearly he has rushed his way back to this tournament. But he doesn’t deal with rustiness well.

Moments late Neymar was finally booked, this time for a pathetic hissy fit, throwing the ball away after a tackle. Frankly, he should have been off at that stage, for the sake of a no-doubt exasperated audience and also for his own benefit. Something is awry here. This was not the behaviour or the demeanour of a happy young superstar athlete, or indeed anyone charged with providing entertainment for a dizzyingly high price. Two late goals will disguise a strange performance from a team with plenty of work still to do.

De Futebol Stick a fork in em Argentina is done! Almost!

Argentina got their asses kicked by Croatia. Croatia wins 3-0. Argentina is on the verge of not making it out of Group D.

Nigeria defeated Iceland 2-0.

Croatia is top dog with six points and has advanced to the round of sixteen.

Nigeria is second with three points.

Iceland is third with a point  a minus two and Argentina is fourth with a point a minus three

The Guardians Stuart James:” Jorge Sampaoli held his head in his hands. Lionel Messi stared at the floor. The rest of the Argentina players were speechless, standing with hands on hips and gazing aimlessly into space as wild Croatia celebrations broke out all around. Luka Modric had just filed a contender for the goal of the tournament showreel and twisted the knife in the process, leaving Argentina, twice world champions, on the brink of elimination. By the time Ivan Rakitic added a third, in the 91st minute, Argentina were broken.

This was about as humiliating as it gets for Argentina as the limitations of a team that only just managed to qualify for the World Cup were brutally exposed. Messi, their talisman and inspiration, was a passenger throughout, lost in a game that took place around him as Argentina, abject defensively, overrun in midfield and clueless going forward, crumbled in the face of a terrific Croatia side.

To put an extraordinary evening into some sort of context, this was Argentina’s heaviest defeat in the group stage of a World Cup since losing 6-1 to Czechoslovakia in 1958. It is also the first time they have failed to win either of their opening two matches at a World Cup for 44 years. Sampaoli’s players, in other words, were creating history here – just not the sort of history that Messi had in mind when he came out of international retirement two years ago.

Messi could never have envisaged when he made that decision that Argentina would descend into such a sorry mess, encapsulated by the sight of Willy Caballero, who made his first competitive start for his country on Saturday, making the sort of blunder that will live with him for ever. Ante Rebic was the grateful recipient of a dreadful pass that sent Sampaoli, who must have covered more yards than some of his players as he paced up and down the touchline in a blind panic, into a meltdown.

What followed showed just how weak and brittle Argentina are these days as Croatia took the game away from Sampaoli’s side with alarming ease. Modric, shifting the ball one way and then the other, curled an exquisite 25-yard shot past Caballero, before Rakitic completed the rout by tapping in the third.

As Croatia’s jubilant supporters celebrated the sight of their country winning back-to-back World Cup matches for the first time since 1998 – they finished third that year – the Argentina fans sat in silence, wiping tears from their eyes as they tried to digest a woeful performance that prompted Sampaoli to “beg for forgiveness”.

With one point on the board and a final group game against Nigeria to come, Argentina could still qualify for the last 16. Yet it is hard – almost impossible – to imagine how Sampaoli and his players can possibly recover from such a chastening experience and one that highlighted all the concerns that had been voiced before a ball had been kicked at this World Cup, not least the unhealthy extent to which Argentina are dependent on Messi.

It felt strange, almost uncomfortable at times, to see Messi struggling to emerge from the shadows of this game, waiting for the pass that never came and powerless to bend the match into Argentina’s favour after Caballero’s error. He is still looking for his first goal at this tournament and may not get another chance after the Nigeria game, although Sampaoli summed it up rather succinctly when he was asked about the inevitable comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo’s contribution for Portugal. “The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Leo’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said.

Messi is so often the scapegoat when Argentina lose, yet Sampaoli will not escape the fallout this time. His decision to keep faith with Caballero – something that one reporter told him 40 million Argentinians could not understand – badly backfired and it was also a huge gamble to dispense with a four-man defence and set up with a back three instead. A huge gamble that spectacularly failed.

Croatia sensed vulnerability early on and targeted the flanks, where so much space opened up behind the two Argentinian wing-backs. Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic and Rebic all had excellent chances to open the scoring before Caballero pressed the self-destruct button. Only he knows why he chose not to punt upfield when Gabriel Mercado, running towards his own goal, passed the ball back to him. Instead, Caballero tried to return the ball to Mercado with a little chip, horribly miscued and gifted Rebic a chance that he was not going to refuse. The winger volleyed the ball straight back over Caballero’s head and Croatia were on their way to one of their most famous victories.

Sampaoli then rolled the dice. He replaced Sergio Agüero with Gonzalo Higuaín, brought on Cristian Pavón and introduced Paulo Dybala, as he became more and more desperate. Messi, with a rare sight of goal, had a close-range effort blocked by Rakitic, his Barcelona teammate, after Maximiliano Meza had been denied by Danijel Subasic, Croatia’s goalkeeper, but there was nothing menacing about Argentina’s play.

Croatia, in contrast, looked threatening every time they attacked and ran riot late on. Modric’s goal was a beauty and Rakitic, who hit the bar with a free-kick, slotted in the third to put Zlatko Dalic and his players in dreamland. “We were excellent,” Dalic said. “But now we must be calm, dignified and humble.”

De Futebol France shutout Peru! Voce Vai Peru!

France defeated Peru 1-0 to advance to the round of sixteen. Peru is sent packing.

The Guardians Amy Lawrence:” The audacity of youth was unfurled all its swaggering glory. Kylian Mbappé bounded off after scoring the match-winner to decide an absorbing game, his first on this stage, and one that could not have been easier. Then he suddenly stopped and shrugged, as if to say, what is the fuss all about?

Life moves pretty fast for Mbappé. The whirlwind forward, already the most expensively valued teenager in football, became France’s youngest ever goalscorer at a major tournament and took it all in that easy stretch of a stride.

He broke a record that had stood since the World Cup in 1998 (just a few months before he was born) when David Trezeguet scored against Saudi Arabia. In a moment of sweet symmetry, a grey-suited Trezeguet just happened to be watching on from the stands in Ekaterinburg, a guest of honour for this match.

It was riveting, its tightly bound emotions propelling both teams to give everything to reach their stated goal. France found a mix of enough style and substance to seal qualification. Unfortunately for Peru, their was no reward for their gutsy, energised display. A second defeat ends their hopes of reaching the next round, even if the adventure off the pitch with their army of fervent supporters will go on for the next game at least. At times this felt like the Lima of the Urals, with Peru’s bouncing red and white mass crammed into the seats that had lain empty for Egypt against Uruguay.

The excitement levels were raised in the 6th minute when Yoshimar Yotún tried an audacious lob from close to the half way line. It skimmed the roof of Hugo Lloris’s net. France needed sangfroid. When they pieced together some early possession the whistles cascaded down from the stands, so they needed to master the atmosphere as well as the technical questions of the game all at once.

The inclusion of Olivier Giroud, designed to give the team more balance and to allow others around him to have more freedom to do damage, made an instant impression. Giroud bustled up front, fighting for possession and looking every inch the big man towering over Peru’s defenders. He gave France a target that was perfect for Antoine Griezmann and Mbappé to buzz around. They put Peru under pressure with a series of chances which all originated from Giroud’s knock-downs and buildup play. Griezmann twice darted on to shoot. Mbappé was sandwiched by defenders as he sped onto another assist. The chances, ominously for Peru, kept coming as the influential Paul Pogba let fly from long range and Raphaël Varane glanced wide from a corner.

Peru had to hang on, regain a footing, and they suddenly found room to carve an opening on the half hour mark. Miguel Trauco’s cross sliced through the France defence and Paolo Guerrero intuitively stepped in front of Samuel Umtiti for a one-on-one with Lloris. He shot low but it was close enough for the France keeper to parry.

The response came quickly. Pogba won the ball off Guerrero in the centre of midfield and played a clever pass for Giroud, whose effort took a looping ricochet off Alberto Rodríguez. The ball spun, almost in slow motion, and as Peru’s stranded goalkeeper could only helplessly watch the trajectory Mbappé arrived to tap into the empty net.

The moments when Mbappé and Greizmann put set the afterburners purring were too much for Peru. Mbappé even began to showboat, with a flick here and a chop there, enjoying the opportunity to express himself.

Ricardo Gareca made changes at half-time. Desperate measures and all that. On came Jefferson Farfán to provide another attacking option paired with Guerrero. Peru were soon on the attack, and Pedro Aquino shot with glorious power and swerve only to see his effort crack against a post.

Peru had fresh wind in their sails and swarmed forward with extra intent. The crosses were fizzed in, André Carillo swept a shot over the bar and Luis Advíncula smashed in another that was even more fierce. Farfán whipped in from an angle and hit the side-netting. The crowd did their utmost to will one of these opportunities in as the emotion swirled around the stadium.

It was not to be. Lloris collected his 100th cap without ever being overly troubled and France advance emboldened by their improvement.

De Futebol Uruguay wins 1-0! On to the next round

Uruguay is on the round of sixteen with a less than convincing 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia.

The Daily Mail:” Luis Suarez scored on his 100th international appearance to send Uruguay through to the knockout stage along with hosts Russia as Saudi Arabia and Egypt were eliminated from Group A.

The Barcelona star became the first Uruguayan to score at three different World Cup finals when he prospered from another Saudi blunder midway through the first half in sweltering Rostov.

It was just as well too because it was a second flat performance at this tournament from a team boasting the likes of Suarez and Edinson Cavani following an unconvincing win over Egypt in their opener.

For the Saudis, there was at least a measure of redemption in the wake of their horror show against the Russians. They remain on a 12-game winless streak at the World Cup going back 24 years, and will be hoping to sign off with a win against Egypt in what is now a dead rubber.

They had endured a miserable start to the tournament following that embarrassing 5-0 defeat to Russia in Moscow. Even their team flight to Rostov had gone badly after one of the engines caught fire.

The nation’s sports authority chief Turki al-Sheikh had to apologise to Saudi heir Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after admitting that the team gave ‘less than five per cent effort’ in their Group A opener.

Football federation chief Adel Ezzat went one step further by naming and shaming three of the players – goalkeeper Abdullah Almuaiouf, striker Mohammed Alsahlawi and defender Omar Hawsawi – while vowing they would face a ‘penalty’ by a state not known for its leniency.

Being dropped is the very least they could have expected, and it was no surprise to see coach Juan Antonio Pizzi name all three on the bench as he made a total of four changes.

On the other hand, Uruguay boss Oscar Tabarez made just two as the inclusion of Carlos Sanchez and Cristian Rodriguez meant that the South Americans started with seven players over the age of 31.

If there was any hope for Saudi Arabia, it was Uruguay’s difficulty in breaking down Egypt in their opening game before winning with a late goal. It was a similar story here for the first quarter before the favourites capitalised on more kamikaze defending from their opponents to take the lead.

Replacement goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais, winning just his second cap, rushed out to meet a corner in the 23rd minute but ended up flapping at thin air under pressure from Diego Godin. Suarez was waiting unmarked to meet the ball with a side-footed volley from close range.

At that stage, you feared another Saudi collapse but they actually rallied to create two chances before half-time.

Both efforts came from Hatan Bahbri who cut inside from the right after 26 minutes and unleashed a fine effort that forced Fernando Muslera to tip the ball over his bar.

Bahbri should have done better three minutes later when Godin lost track of Yasser Alshahrani’s cross from the left. The ball fell at the No.9’s feet and he seemed to be caught by surprise as he steered his effort over.

Saudi had to make a change before the interval when Taiseer Aljassam pulled a hamstring as he overstretched for the ball, but was rather bizarrely retrieved from the tunnel and thrust back into the action for a few moments before Hussain Almoqahwi was ready to come on as a replacement.

However, they continued to match their highly-rated opponents whose slender lead was looking increasingly precarious as the second half progressed.

Tabarez sent Lucas Torreira and Diego Laxalt in an attempt to raise his team, and they almost added a second just after the hour mark when Cavani’s excellent cross picked out Carlos Sanchez but his header flew well over the bar.

Cavani also went close on two occasions but, ultimately, Suarez’s strike was enough to send Uruguay and Russia through. However, the South Americans will need to raise their game in the second stage if they are to justify their tag as dark horses to win the World Cup.

De Futebol England needed a Daily Double from Harry Kane to beat Tunisia 2-1

England needed a late goal from Harry Kane to secure a hard fought 2-1 over Tunisia In Group G.

Belgium defeated Panama 3-0.

Both England and Belgium each have three points in Group G however Belgium is a plus three while England is a plus one.

The Daily Mail:” Soft penalty. Tick. Raheem Sterling missed sitter. Tick. Underwhelming opening-game scoreline, plenty of work to do now, a frustrated nation watching from home. Tick, tick and bloody tick.

So it was shaping up as another typical World Cup opener for England. And then Harry Kane scored. He scored in injury time, his second of the game.

The cynical will say they were two tap-ins: a header and a close-range finish, six-yard box interventions from corners. But let’s put that into perspective. England last scored two in any finals game in 2006 against Sweden. And an England player last scored twice at a World Cup 28 years ago. Gary Lineker, against Cameroon, in 1990. England did quite well in 1990, too. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

England won. The best team won. That’s good news, too. England haven’t looked as lively as they did in the opening 45 minutes here in close to two decades. It was far from the perfect display but it is not going to be when Gareth Southgate is sending out England’s youngest team at a World Cup since 1962.

There will be errors like the one Kyle Walker made to give away the penalty for Tunisia’s goal — although it was still a soft fall —there will be misses, like Sterling’s horror show after just five minutes. Nerves can do that.

Yet, in glimpses, Southgate saw his vision, his England, take flight. They were everything the manager would have wished: fast, positive, ambitious, optimistic. They dominated Tunisia, creating enough chances to have won not just this first group game, but maybe all three.

They had six shots on target before half-time: more than any team at the World Cup so far. More than Spain and Portugal, more than Lionel Messi’s Argentina against Iceland; more than Brazil. And it was just like watching Brazil at times. Except the finishing. The finishing, Kane aside, was like watching Alan Brazil. Long retired, and after four days at Cheltenham. Not a pretty sight.

And then there’s Kane, entering a World Cup as if born to it, the youngest captain of his country at the tournament, the oldest head on the field when it mattered.

Anyone who wondered why Southgate made him captain now knows: because he leads by example, because he stays cool under pressure, because he makes good things happen, and can drag people through adversity with him. And memo to Roy Hodgson: it’s a lot easier to score from corners when you’re not taking them.

Kane changed England’s World Cup narrative and maybe this entire campaign, too. England were slipping towards another night of disappointment, but Kane had other ideas. He’s always got other ideas. He had other ideas when Tottenham thought he wouldn’t make it as an elite goal-scorer, other ideas when the European Championship in 2016 appeared to have blighted his England career, and other ideas when England were conforming to type in Volgograd.

The announcement of four minutes’ injury time had just been made and England appeared to have run out of steam. We’ve seen this film before.

They won a corner, but hadn’t threatened even from that favourite area in the second half. Kieran Trippier whipped the ball in, Harry Maguire won the header, as he had all night, and there was Kane — just as he had been for the first goal — at the far post seeking the glimmer of a chance. He nodded it past reserve goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha. Against all expectations, England were going to get what they deserved.

Now this has to be repeated. Not just the performance but the scoreline. One won’t do. That has been England’s problem at tournaments for too long now. They score one. Never two. And if they are going to take risks as Southgate wishes them to, they have to be prepared to score two.

For, as tame as Tunisia’s penalty looked, there was plenty of professional opinion that blamed Walker for giving it away. Fakhreddine Ben Youssef made the most of it, and then some, but Walker’s positioning was poor. It needed Kane to overcome that. It now needs his team-mates to chip in.

That England went in level at half-time was a travesty; but it was a travesty, sadly, of the players’ own creation. Miss followed miss, blunder followed blunder. Not just half-chances, or even good chances, but absolute sitters, the sort any professional feels he could score with his eyes shut.

Defensively, Tunisia had no answer to Kane, Jesse Lingard, Sterling and Dele Alli in England’s front line. From set-pieces, they could not handle John Stones and, largely, Maguire. England were dominating, winning every ball in the air, getting behind the full backs, working opportunities in the box.

Had they scored even half what they created they would probably have been safe. But the chances fell to everybody bar Kane. That, and a dubious penalty award from Colombian official Wilmar Roldan, went against them.

Walker, out of position as a rare cross came in, caught Ben Youssef with a trailing, extended arm. If Ben Youssef falls that easily when touched he must be a nightmare on public transport but Roldan bought it, pointed to the spot, and despite some conversation with the referee impersonators dressed in their kit in a television studio, was given no reason to consult a screen or change his mind. Against that, Ferjani Sassi’s finish from the spot was outstanding. He swept the ball into the side-netting to his left, even though Jordan Pickford guessed correctly. Yet it should have been little more than a consolation. It should have been an irrelevance: and here’s why.

his was England’s best performance in a tournament opener in many years. Much better than their last win, over Paraguay in 2006. Had the scoreline reflected England’s supremacy Southgate’s side would have laid down the most emphatic marker of any nation at this World Cup so far.

Instead, it was hard. You’ve heard commentators tell you how a player did the hard part, only to miss the goal. Ignore him; it’s rubbish. The goal is the hard part. That’s why strikers get the most money. Time and again, England did exactly what Southgate asked of them, got to the hard part, and flapped.

The game was only three minutes old when Jordan Henderson — whose passing range impressed — played a lovely ball over the top for Alli. Sterling couldn’t quite get on the end of it, but Lingard could and should have done better, his shot diverted around a post by the feet of goalkeeper Mouez Hassen. Just two minutes later, Alli played a beautiful reverse pass inside to release Lingard and his cross put Sterling in, the ball on a plate. What happened? He went for it with his wrong foot, somehow getting mixed up between that machine-gun right, and his lesser left, and sending the ball bobbling wide. There were 85 minutes to go and already the chance of the night had been spurned. It surely wasn’t going to get better than that.

Yet, it did. From an Ashley Young corner on 11 minutes, Stones’s header was palmed out by Hassen, but only as far as Kane, who turned it in. To make matters worse for Tunisia, the goalkeeper injured his shoulder making the save. He was replaced soon after by Ben Mustapha, but still England tried and failed in front of goal. Young hit a great cross after 24 minutes, but Lingard finished it woefully at the far post, scuffing the ball tamely wide. It was hoped the unexpected reverse of Tunisia’s equaliser would focus English minds. Sadly, no.

A 39th-minute goalmouth scramble saw Sterling miss the ball with an attempted overhead kick, then Stones miss it entirely trying a more conventional finish. Finally, Lingard went through one on one, slipping the ball past Ben Mustapha and then watching as it rolled agonisingly and hit the near post, diverting wide instead of straight out for a rebound finish.

Maybe Panama will give the rest of them the chance to get their eye in.

They need to, before what should be the group decider against Belgium. Kane can’t go it alone from here.