De Futebol Thoughts from the 2018 World Cup

The 2018 World Cup is in the books. France is the champion. No one expected France to win the whole enchilada.

The French did.

This team flew under the radar. Everyone expected Brasil, Germany, Argentina, Spain and even Mexico to win it. Oh, how wrong the so-called pundits were.

The American press were building up the great pretender Mexico. After the Mexican win over Germany The USA press expected Mexico to make it to at least the quarterfinals.

Not so fast bucko, Brasil stood in the way and won with a strong 2-0 win.

Brasil lost to Belgium 2-0 in the quarterfinals.

Argentina barely made it out of the group stage. Thus, Argentinos earned the right to battle France in the round of sixteen.

In a matter of ten minutes in the second half France turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-1 advantage.

France won 4-3 however the final score was not the true reflection of how the French blew doors off of Argentina in that deadly eleven minute span to grab the match by the neck and choke the life out of a helpless Argentina squad.

The biggest surprise was Germany losing two matches in the group stage and thus bombed out and this quick exit shocked the Futebol world.

Japan almost made Belgium eat their own lunch in the round of sixteen. Belgium didn’t quit and scored three second half goals to win 3-2.

Belgium and France hooked up in the semifinals. The difference in the match was France’s lighten quick speed that led to the only goal in the match a header by Samuel Umtiti for the one nil win.

England came out of nowhere to earn a spot in the semifinals. Three Lions were the third youngest club in the World Cup. Nigeria was the youngest. France was the second youngest team assembled.

England lost a heart breaker to Croatia 2-1 in the semifinals. This devastating loss came on the heels of a thrilling 4-3 PK shootout win over Columbia the quarterfinals.

The two shockers of the 2018 World Cup were Russia making it to the quarterfinals. Russia defeated Spain 4-3 in a PK shootout. Spain crashed and burned out of the 2018 World Cup.

The other huge surprise was Croatia making to the finals against France.

The Croatians claimed Denmark, Russia and England on the way to the finals before losing to a superior French side 4-2.

Thus, in the end this 2018 World Cup was full of surprises however the quality of play was below par compared to other World Cups.

The cool thing about this World Cup the favorites wore the choke collar.

The Dogs won.

De Futebol Belgium Shutouts England 2-0 to Win Third Place at 2018 World Cup!

Belgium was too strong for England. Belgium started out quick with a masterful goal by Thomas Meunier in the 4th minute to take the one nil lead.

This sent the English side on their heels.

Three Lions attacked in the second half. Belgium swatted away attack after attack until the match was salted away on a brilliant counter attack goal from Eden Hazard in the 82nd minute winning in a cake walk 2-0.

England put up a fight however Belgium was a superior side.

It was a good tournament for Three Lions. However, England needs to shore up the midfield and work on putting the rock into the back of the net.

England had several great chances to even this puppy up however the guys missed by that much. This is what separates winning and losing.

In the end, Belgium was just too good.

The Guardians Dominic Fifield:” There was a collective puffing of cheeks offered up by England’s players at the final whistle, victims of Belgium’s best World Cup showing, but that sense of disappointment will pass quickly enough. Gareth Southgate’s young and talented squad did themselves proud over this tournament. No other English team has ever bettered the fourth place they have claimed, unexpectedly and joyously, on foreign soil and their achievements are to be celebrated.

The real frustration had been endured in the Luzhniki Stadium in midweek. This afterthought in St Petersburg, a game played amid Mexican waves and those familiar chants of “Rossiya”, should not tint anything that came before. Southgate will actually have been encouraged by the upbeat tempo his side whipped up after the interval, when weary legs and tired minds might have reduced the whole contest to a plod, and threatened for a while to force parity. Chances were created, opportunities were missed. Then Eden Hazard, stirred into action and fed by the irrepressible Kevin De Bruyne, danced down-field and settled the occasion.

Some will no doubt argue that England have still to prosper against top quality opposition in competitive action, if, indeed, that is what this was. Belgium have beaten them twice in this tournament and will be received by the crowds in Brussels on Sunday rejoicing in their best ever performance at the World Cup. Their celebrations at the end, from bench to pitch, reflected a sense of achievement. But, as Southgate had pointed out in the build-up, England never expected to be here. “I’m not sure anyone in our country thought we’d be playing seven matches,” he had offered.

They ended up competing well here, despite a slack opening which left them chasing the game almost from the outset. England’s second half showing demonstrated all the pride and commitment for which Southgate had called. They were the dominant team after the interval, even if Belgium retained a considerable threat on the break, as demonstrated eight minutes from time by Hazard’s smart finish inside Jordan Pickford’s post. Yet headers at set-plays would drift wide, and Toby Alderweireld would hook Eric Dier’s clipped finish from the line. The stubborn refusal to wilt, despite having shipping a goal with the game in its infancy, was still admirable and said so much about the spirit of this collective.

The introduction of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford at half-time had clearly made an impact, but to see the group straining to respond despite weary legs and tired minds was still impressive. There was actually plenty to admire: from Fabian Delph’s versatility and fine challenge to thwart Thomas Meunier; to Kieran Trippier’s delivery which so stretched even this experienced opposing back-line at times; the substitutes’ zest and a far more impressive showing from Ruben Loftus-Cheek; and Eric Dier’s increased influence in midfield. It had been the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder, one of five changes from the semi-final, who exchanged passes with Rashford midway through the second half to advance on Thibaut Courtois at an angle. His shot was clipped smartly over the goalkeeper, only for Alderweireld to slide in and scramble the effort from under the crossbar.

England’s players massed in front of their supporters after the final whistle, serenaded to the heavens for their efforts, while Belgium prepared to mount the stage to claim their bronze medals. Theirs had been the bite, their ambitions made clear by the reality the wing-backs had combined to force them ahead while the game was still settling into its rhythm. That reward had stemmed from a Courtois clearance, nodded down by Nacer Chadli for Romelu Lukaku to accept and exploit the gaps in a rejigged England midfield. His pass inside Trippier for the galloping Chadli to collect was still superbly weighted, with the West Bromwich Albion player – who would depart before the break with hamstring trouble – squaring across the six-yard box. There appeared Meunier, sprinting in ahead of a startled Danny Rose, to convert beyond Pickford.

The Everton goalkeeper would do well to paw away De Bruyne’s deflected effort, and thrillingly from Meunier’s late volley after a counter-attack crammed with back-heels and precise passing which left England gasping in the vapour trail. Twice the Manchester City playmaker split England’s back-line with subtle and perfectly weighted passes only for Lukaku’s heavy touch to kibosh the chance. The striker, four times a scorer in Russia, was substituted on the hour-mark and strode off straight down the tunnel, and was even absent in the post-match huddle out on the pitch.

His chances of claiming the golden boot had died here, with that honour surely now Harry Kane’s to celebrate, unless Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann runs riot in the final. The England captain only really had one sight of goal here, after the excellent John Stones clipped over a fine pass for Raheem Sterling, who squared neatly across the penalty area. Kane has looked as fatigued as anyone of late, and his standing duly leg gave way as he struck his shot. The effort veered wide of Courtois’s post.

Those misses left England watching the post-game ceremony from the fringes, but they have not been peripheral to this tournament. And it has been a while since the nation has had that to celebrate. Southgate and his players can look back with pride.

De Futebol England shocked the so-called Pundits with a semifinal Berth in The World Cup

No one expected England to make to the World Cup semifinals. The so-called expects told us that Three Lions were at least three years away from making a dent in the World Cup. Wrong Bucko. The guys played with heart and guile.

The Guardians Barney Rona:” Leave the flags out. Have another glass. Take another look, if you can, at those moments from Kaliningrad to Moscow when this capable England team played above itself and turned a drowsy, toxic summer back home into something else.

Let’s not have any anguish this time. England’s four and a half weeks at the World Cup deserves a little better, even after a 2-1 defeat by Croatia in Moscow that was decided deep into extra time.

And no tears even at the memory of that goalscoring start when for a few moments the planes flew backward through the sky, the cats barked, the police horses meowed and England did seem to be heading towards their first World Cup final on foreign soil.

Gareth Southgate’s team played to their limits at the Luzhniki Stadium, as they had against Colombia and against Tunisia all those millions of years ago in the midge-mists of Volgograd.

In the end England found a superior opponent here, a team with deeper gears and with a mania to run right to the end. Croatia came out like warriors in the second half, the craft and winning habits of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic starting to intrude like a firm hand on the elbow as the game ticked down.

By the start of extra time it was a case of counting who could still run. England looked done, cooked. Harry Kane limped gamely. Jordan Henderson kept on chugging about like a cavalry captain on a dying pony. Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli found weird depths of energy, running on fumes.

The Luzhniki had been full to capacity at kick-off, the light above the lip of the roof fading to powder blue. The crowd was swollen by 10,000 England fans who made it here by lay-overs and nights spent on airport benches, and who pegged out the bed-sheet bivouac at one end, the familiar pageantry of painted flags, a tour of Albion from Exeter to Hartlepool.

With five minutes gone the evening seemed to be heading their way. Alli was fouled on the edge of the box. Kieran Trippier has been getting closer all tournament. As the ball dipped and curled and bulged the net the air seemed to rush out through the roof, then rush right back in as England’s fans basked and bumped and rolled over each other in puppyish joy.

For 20 minutes this felt like England’s game. On the touchline Gareth Southgate looked calm, striding about in his waistcoat, stroking his whiskery chin and resembling once again a very clever cartoon badger who drives an old-fashioned car and plays the violin.

Raheem Sterling ran hard but lacked edge. Harry Kane missed a chance he would normally gorge himself on like a starving man. And at half-time and 1-0 up England really did seem to have one foot jammed in the door for a return to this stadium on Sunday.

Except they didn’t start again after the break. Croatia were suddenly driving the game, pressing England back on the flanks, finding holes that had previously been concealed. The equaliser came from the right, Ivan Perisic sticking a leg up above Kyle Walker’s dipped head to deflect the ball in.

On we went into a bruising, draining extra time. The goal felt like it was coming, even before Mario Mandzukic peeled off the back of John Stones and finished smartly.

And so: exit music. England’s World Cup summer is done. How will we remember those four weeks spent watching Harry and Dele and Harry from the dust of Samara to the semi-detached oddity of Kaliningrad?

Above all, this has been a dreamy, all-consuming piece of escapism. In tough times back home football has felt like a warm embrace, like a rush of chemical pleasure, like the best night out you’ve had in ages.

There will, of course, be that urge to give all this some wider meaning. It has been an odd feature of England’s progress at this tournament that so many have latched on to the idea of a moral dimension to victory, the notion that England have won matches because their methods are righteous, their hearts pure, and not, say, because Mateus Uribe didn’t hit his penalty kick two inches lower at the Spartak Stadium.

Sport is a chimera, it drags stories along in its wake. Champions are often blackguards. Losers are often nice. Sport and its storylines are just a decoration, a picture on the wall.

But it can still provide something uplifting. It is hard not to feel part of the enthusiasm for this team comes from a feeling of relief. A lot of young English people have been told for the last few years that times are hard, that their lives are set one way and that things were always, always better in the past.

Watching this England team – and yes, it is of course just a football team – has seemed to provide a different kind of script. A young, unheralded bunch of players have gone further than those before who were more obviously talented, more golden, more authentic, finding ways to succeed through teamwork and energy and a refusal to be cowed.

It is hopeful to see this, to look at Alli or Harry Maguire or Jordan Pickford and say, well, people told them that they probably couldn’t do it either.

Football isn’t real life. It is a separate world packed with hammy emotions and big fat wet notes of drama, always straining to mean a great deal more than it does. But it can provide a little inspiration along the way, another kind of story. England in a semi-final, with a likable team led by the great Gareth, has been exactly this. No tears this time. There is St Petersburg on Saturday to follow. But they are, finally, coming home.

De Futebol Croatia Wins in Extra Time a 2-1 win over England

England scored first off, a sublime free kick from Kieran Trippier in the 5th minute. However, Croatia came back to score two goals to break England’s hearts to win 2-1 in extra time to advance to the finals against France.

Ivan Perisic leveled this puppy in the 68th minute with a toe poke off a ball that found the back of the net to make it one all.

The heart break came in the 109th minute.  Mario Mandzukic flat out beat the keeper and the entire England defense for the pulsating 2-1 win.

The match became a little chippie in the end however Croatia proved they were slightly superior to England.

Three Lions gave it all they had.

No one expected England nor Croatia to make it the semifinals. Sure, the young lions lost in the semifinals however this World Cup is a success for the guys.

No one expect England to make it this far.

Harry Kane stepped up to the plate and he is now on the way to becoming a world class player.

England will take on Belgium in the third-place match on Saturday.

The Daily Mail:” One lapse. That is all it takes in this rarest of atmospheres. Kieran Trippier lost his header to Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic ran off John Stones, and England were out of the World Cup.

It took Croatia 109 minutes of football to take the lead against England, but they edged it in the end. They were the better team in the second-half, they hit the post, Jordan Pickford made one magnificent save.

But let’s get one thing straight. England were not lucky to be here. They were not fortunate beneficiaries of a soft draw, or undeserving contenders for the 2018 World Cup. They were, in many ways, the best team here. Not in football terms, or technical terms. No-one is claiming them the match for France, or even Croatia, the finalists. But as a team, a band of brothers, a group of players amounting to more than the sum of their parts, England were outstanding.

There is no shame here, no failure. England did as well as could possibly be expected given their youth, inexperience and the absence of a playmaker in the class of Luka Modric.

Gareth Southgate, the manager, has done an exceptional job and the national team should be his to mould for another four years at least. He deserves that, and so do they, his loyal lieutenants.

Anyone who thinks England just got lucky, doesn’t know football. This game was the proof of it. They battled Croatia to a standstill, both teams exhausted, all energy and emotion spent.

They could not have given more, either of them and that a single goal separated them is fitting. Better that than to lose of penalties and see that hoodoo return. That is another curse that has been lifted at this World Cup.

Credit Croatia, too. This was a spirited performance after two knockout games that have reached penalties. When England took the lead after five minutes, and dominated the opening 30, it would have been easy to be overwhelmed.

Instead, they found a way back into the game, through Modric and man of the match Perisic, outstanding technical talents that point the way forward for Southgate and his men. But they know that, having come so close. They know there is a missing link, and the next step is finding it. Easier said than done.

Croatia were always going to be the strongest test England had faced in this competition to here, and so it proved. If England had the upper hand for the bulk of the first-half, the second – in its entirety – belonged to Croatia. This was the team England – the country, more than the team – feared.

Controlling the ball in midfield through Luka Modric, with Ivan Perisic quite brilliant coming in from the left. England looked ragged through that second 45 minutes, leggy, edgy, panicked.

In a seven minute spell, Croatia took them apart, physically and technically. Poor Kyle Walker was struck a devastating blow in the crotch from a shot by Perisic, collapsed, and when the ball did not go out of play, got up to clear the recycled cross. Then he fell again. It was a heroic moment. Whether it played a part in what happened next is hard to say.

Just three minutes later Sime Vrsaljko hit a superb deep cross from the right, and Perisic drifted off Kieran Tripper and attacked the ball. Walker went for a diving headed clearance but Perisic nipped in first and met it with a volleyed flick past Jordan Pickford.

A high boot? Possibly, but Walker was stooping, so it was a judgement call. Referee Cuneyt Cakir went with the scorer. To be fair we would have moaned like hell had he disallowed one of ours like that.

The pressure was now unrelenting. Perisic capitalised on the growing uncertainty in England’s back line and hit the far post with a shot, Ante Rebic putting a tame rebound into the arms of Pickford. This was as rattled as England had looked all tournament. Pickford came for a high ball, didn’t get it, and Perisic shot over, the goal unguarded.

And yet there were moments when England’s strengths surfaced once more. Substitute Marcus Rashford won a free-kick, which Trippier curled in only for Harry Kane to steer a free header wide. The glorious fifth minute seemed an age away as the game moved into extra-time.

It is a very select group, those that have scored for England direct from free-kicks. Even more exclusive, the little club that have done it at a World Cup. It’s David Beckham, actually. Just him. One against Colombia, most recently against Ecuador in 2006. Still if he does ever decide to form an England World Cup Free-Kick Scorers Society at least he’ll have company at their annual ball. He’ll have Kieran Trippier after Wednesday night.

Just five minutes gone, first real attack of the game. What a start it was for Trippier and England. There can be little doubt now that we are watching the best deliverer of a dead ball this country has had since Beckham. We’ve already seen his first-time crosses, his vicious perfectly flighted corners, but he has never scored a free-kick for England. No time like the present then. No time like a World Cup semi-final.

It began when Dele Alli was fouled by Luka Modric just inside the penalty area D. England had been on red alert for Modric and what he could do, so it was ironic that Croatia were suffering with the pace and movement of England’s forward midfield instead. A trio of England players stood around the ball deliberating, but the suspicion always was that it would be Trippier’s responsibility at this range.

He did not disappoint. The whole Croatia wall jumped but somehow the Tottenham man got it up, over and down to leave Danijel Subasic grasping at thin air in Croatia’s goal. The ball passed over Dejan Lovren’s head en route. Not small, Lovren. It was a quite exquisite free-kick. Beckham would have been proud of it. So, for that matter, would Cristiano Ronaldo – or Roberto Carlos.

n the bench, Gareth Southgate pumped his fists and then returned to default concentration mode. Five minutes is desperately early to take the lead in a World Cup semi-final. Better than going behind after five, obviously. But it’s an age to defend that lead – and, as against Tunisia when this campaign began, England squandered several chances to take the pressure off.

In the 14th minute, a Trippier corner was met by Harry Maguire – when are they not? – and he steered his header low towards the far post. A touch from a lurker and England would have been two ahead but no-one was there. Maybe England are so used to scoring headers direct from these dead balls, they aren’t following in.

Then the chance that amazed and frustrated in equal measure. Frustrated because it was a genuinely good chance missed by England; amazed because it was Harry Kane who fluffed it. The pass from Jesse Lingard was perfect and suddenly Kane was clear. Free of Croatia’s defence only Subasic to beat.

He tried to slot it past him and the whole stadium expected to see the ball come to rest in the goal, but no. Subasic saved and Kane scrambled desperately to be first to the rebound, now at an acute angle. He tried to whip it in, but the ball hit the near post, came out, struck Subasic and spun up in the air across goal and out on the other side. The second chance was tough. But the first? In Kane’s world that was a sitter.

Six minutes later, England could have scored again. Alli, enjoying his best game of the tournament, the provider, finding Lingard whose attempt to pass it into the net from the edge of the area was ambitious and travelled the wrong side of the post.

But this was still a huge performance from England, with Lovren struggling to contain Raheem Sterling in particular. It was clearly the plan to use his pace in running races against Croatia’s back line, and it worked. With Alli and Lingard skipping around in his orbit, England looked dangerous.

Of course, when Modric got on the ball so did Croatia, and the 10 minutes before half-time he controlled. It didn’t add up to much, though – an Ante Rebic shot comfortably saved by Jordan Pickford, and a few important interceptions by Ashley Young and John Stones. In the 19th minute, a crossfield pass by Modric picked out Ivan Perisic, whose low shot went just wide, but England’s chances were better, and clearer. Not that this stopped the jangling nerves, mind you. But it is hard to imagine what would, at this late stage.

De Futebol England Wins! Up Next the Semifinals of The World Cup!

England is on to the semifinals of the World Cup. Three Lions shutout Sweden 2-0. Goals by Harry Maguire header in the 30th minute and the stake in the heart of Sweden by Dele Alli noodled home the winner in the 58th minute pushed England to the semifinals of the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1990.

The Daily Mail:”It didn’t have anything like the drama of the Colombian shoot-out, nor was it quite the spectacle when an England team beat Cameroon at this stage in 1990. And it was nowhere near as controversial as their progression from the quarter finals against Argentina in 1966,

But make no mistake. In the Samara Arena, situated on the banks of the River Volga in a far-flung corner of the sprawling Russian Motherland, an England team made history.

Few gave them any serious chance when they left for Russia last month. Now they will contest a World Cup semi final on Wednesday night in Moscow. It will be only the third time they have done so since England deigned to appear at this tournament in 1950.

A young team which seemed devoid of real ego or heavyweight stars a month ago will now forever go down as one of the best.

Gareth Southgate, a seemingly unassuming man yet deceptively determined, who was parachuted into this job amidst chaos twenty-two months ago, will join Sir Bobby Robson as the only Englishman to guide a team to this stage of the World Cup in foreign territory.

What is truly enticing is the realistic prospect that he might go one better than Sir Bobby, a man who would visit him when he was struggling to find his feet at Middlesbrough manager. He has come a long way since then, Southgate, as he bestrides the world stage now.

His team have travelled far too, scaling previously unimagined heights. Harry Kane, of course, has been the breaththough act though this wasn’t so much his day.

But Harry Maguire is a secret no more. The world is awake to his talents, which go far beyond his headed goal. And Jordan Pickford has grown, figuratively if not literally in this tournament. He may always be 6’1” but his riposte to Thibaut Courtois questions about his height have been perfectly timed.

Sweden were extraordinarily limited and initially unambitious and yet it still took three wonderful saves from Pickford to get England over the line. And that the game was devoid of tension by the end, virtually a stroll, was a credit to the goalkeeper.

Of course, all should share credit. Though Sweden were poor, they are a team that has disposed of Holland and Italy in qualifying and who got rid of Germany from the group stages.

England managers have been photoshopped into turnips by Swedes before now so the fact that this team made light work of this fixture was a testament to their mental strength.

That said, England started tentatively, like they were suffering from a collective brain freeze form the magnitude of the occasion and the failure of an opponent to engage. The early passes from Ashley Young and Dele Alli betrayed the nerves which seemed to be suffocating England.

There was no high press, nor panache. At times the game resembled a pre-season Championship friendly, with the Brazilians presumably bemused that one of these teams would be contesting a semi final and they wouldn’t.

It took 19 minutes for England to find their feet with Keiran Trippier playing nicely out from the back and finding Raheem Sterling. Suddenly Sterling was accelerating away, an injection of energy into a soporific occasion. He beat his man and then went past Sebastian Larsson and, with a shooting chance opening up, ran into Harry Kane and ceded the shot to him, the England captain shooting wide from the edge of the box.

It was an least a sign of life. Ashley Young started beating Emil Krafth down the left and on 23 minutes a move starting with Jordan Pickford found its way via Young and Kane to Sterling again, whose striker brought hopeful shouts for a handball against Emil Forsberg.

Referee Bjorn Kuipers rightfully ignored that but it was the first real sign of England’s ability to play with fluidity and pace from the back. Until then, Sterling apart, no-one had moved with anything like the urgency required to unsettle Sweden.

That said, it took a familiar route for England finally to break Swedish resistance. Their first corner kick award on 32 minutes saw Young tee it up and the usual suspects of Harry Maguire, John Stones, Jordan Henderson and Kane amassed at the back of the box.

The only variation in England’s routines was that Dele and Sterling joined them initially. As Young struck the ball, they all scattered and it was enough to confuse Sweden because, in the melee, Maguire was lost, He spun away and his eyes never left the ball. Poor Forsberg was left trying to out-jump him but it was vain task. Maguire rose, connected with his head directed the ball firmly home with a magnificent header.

It didn’t quite bring the release for which England yearned but there was a better finish to the half with Sterling twice breaking free.

On the first occasion, he was offside but when Henderson lifted the ball through on 45 minutes, he sprinted free and took a great touch down. Only the alert reactions of Robin Olsen in goal stopped him skipping round the keeper. By the time Sterling then had to turn to shoot, the familiar figure of Andreas Granqvist was there to block.

Still, these were hopeful signs.

Nevertheless it was Sweden who presented the first sign of danger in the second half. Ludwig Augustinsson swung in an excellent cross on 47 minutes and Marcus Berg rose above Young and directed his header goalwards. Only the excellence of Pickford leaping to his left prevented an equaliser and a Swedish revival.

It was an apposite warning. But also wholly out of character for the game up to that point. England were establishing a foothold. Young’s free kick on 52 minutes found Maguire at the back post – the default England set piece – and his header across was met with spectacular if imperfectly-executed bicycle kick by Sterling.

But there was a patience to England’s play and a degree more craft. So when Trippier had the chance to swing another cross in on 58 minutes he instead opted for a more subtle cut back to Lingard.


He, in turn, dinked the ball over the Swedish defence and there was that run from Dele Alli that Southgate has been so keen to unleash. No Swede had picked him up so his was a fairly simple task to head home. Half the team celebrated with Dele and, fittingly, half with Lingard whose cross was so precise.

Sweden had been so limited and unadventurous that it seemed as though the game might have been won in that moment.

Yet within minutes of the re-start, Sweden were breaking down the left and when Berg touched the ball back to Viktor Claesson a goal seemed inevitable, He struck it well enough but Pickford produced another outstanding save, down to his left to parry away.

Sweden, their World Cup slipping away, had sprung into life When Claesson burst down the left on 72 minutes and crossed for Berg, the centre forward took a touch and struck a rising shot which Pickford again met superbly, touching it over.

It was save that would break Sweden, never again would they truly threaten.

Their race was run. England’s, thrillingly and unimaginably, is far from done.

De Futebol England Advance on a 4-3 Nail Biting PK Shootout! Sweden shocks Switzerland 1-0!

England and Colombia engaged in one of those knock down drag out brawls. Three Lions advanced to the quarterfinals of the World Cup on a 4-3 PK shootout win.

Sweden pulled the upset city special a 1-0 win over Switzerland.

England-Sweden will duke it out in the quarterfinals.

The Daily Mail:” When it came down to that last one, when England were one penalty kick away from a World Cup quarter-final, we peered, a nation anxious to see who would step forward from the pack.

Jamie Vardy, who takes them for Leicester, was unused. Jesse Lingard had apparently been banging them in during practice. Walking towards the end lousy and noisy with yellow shirts …Eric Dier.

Dier, a defensive midfielder or centre-half, fifth at best in the penalty ranks at his club, Tottenham. Dier, ordinary against Belgium in his only start of the tournament. Dier, who had a pass completion rate of less than 25 per cent in his first 24 minutes on the field here.

Dier? Anchor man penalty taker? Dier? Have we taken leave of our senses? Apparently not. Gareth Southgate, more than any England manager, knows the agony of the shoot-out. That was one of the reasons he had his squad going through the routine, day after day, in training. With hindsight, why did we ever doubt?

If Dier was the man to hold his nerve, there must be reason, some numbers, some profiling to back that up. Now let’s be truthful. It wasn’t the cleanest. A bit scuffed and Ospina got a hand to it. But not enough.

There it was, in the net. There England were: in the quarter-finals. And all down to penalties. Not just the shoot-out, but the one Harry Kane scored that should have put England through in normal time. The penalty that took what seemed like forever.

Southgate is coming off like Yoda at this World Cup. Even when he loses, he wins. And when Dier nailed that winning penalty, he became the only England manager ever to emerge victorious from a shoot-out at a World Cup. Considering his back story, this was redemption.

Three penalty finales, three defeats: that had been England’s story until now. From here, whatever this competition holds for this young side, there will be the belief they can cope. Even if it goes to penalties; especially if it goes to penalties. The Germans went home at the group stage, and England have started winning shoot-outs. From here, pretty much anything can happen.

This is a moment in time; a moment when the cards are falling England’s way. Sweden are a well-organised team that defeated Italy in a play-off, then battled their way out of Germany’s group and through a knock-out game with Switzerland. So respect is due.

Yet, it cannot be forgotten that at the quarter-final stage it was envisaged England might meet one of either Brazil or Germany and would then go home – if they even got that far. A match-up with Sweden for a place in the last four? Come on, an opportunity like this may never open again. At worst, England have a puncher’s chance; at best – well, better not to even go there.

When Jordan Henderson’s third penalty of the shoot-out was saved by Ospina, it looked as if Southgate’s group were about to embark on a familiar path, the nation the same. More torture; more heartbreak; more wry songs making light of pain and hurt, to mask how we really feel.

But this night was different. Mateus Uribe and Carlos Bacca missed for Colombia; Kieran Trippier scored for England and suddenly victory was a shot away. Yet here’s the bizarre thing. It might not even have been the most nerve-shredding penalty of the night. At least Dier got his over quickly.

Three minutes and 31 seconds. Three minutes and 31 seconds was the time between the foul on Harry Kane in the 54th minute, and the moment he put the ball past Ospina to give England the lead.

That is a lot of time for a young man to think. Not about himself, for in these moments, individual awards such as a World Cup Golden Boot are a trifle. This was time to think about his team-mates, his country, everyone whose kindness and guidance had brought him to this point.

About the nation watching, at home. About kids in school looking up to him. And yes, it’s only a game of football. But for three minutes and 31 seconds it must have felt like the world.

In the time elapsed between referee Mark Geiger pointing to the spot, and Kane converting the penalty that should have brought England victory in normal time, Kane must have tried to disappear into his little bubble of familiarity. Tried but, probably, failed. Mayhem was unfolding around him.

Colombia appeared to regard the award as the start of a symposium, as if the whistle and the pointing gesture were merely the prelude to an opening address by several players. Henderson, normally so cool, was shown a yellow card for flicking his head backwards towards an opponent who was particularly persistent in his attention. He made no contact, but it’s the thought that counts.

Finally, Kane stood over the ball, with only goalkeeper Ospina in his path. Just as it was with Dier: Tottenham versus Arsenal, played out on the world stage. Kane has always loved that fixture. He waited for Ospina to make his move – to the left – and struck it straight down the middle, his sixth goal of the tournament, equalling Gary Lineker’s total for England at Mexico in 1986.

He has now scored in six games straight for his country. The last to do that was Tommy Lawton in 1939. Kane feels a little Lawton-like, a little old school, a bit of a throwback. But Lawton never knew pressure like this for his country. He never did three minutes and 31 seconds, with the nation at a standstill, heart in mouth.

And there was no let-up, no respite from there. One-nil isn’t a lead anyone is happy with going into the final ten minutes of a World Cup knock-out game. Better than trailing, of course. Better than shipping fo ur as England did to Germany at this stage in 2010 – but not good for the nerves.

When Kyle Walker gave the ball away and Colombia broke in the 81st minute, there would have been a collective national scream. Juan Quintero fed Juan Cuadrado on the overlap – one of those Colombians with a score to settle against the English game – but his shot was snatched and flew over.

Changes were made, the tension increased. It felt as if it was happening. The chance of lifetime. Almost too much to bear: and then it was snatched away, as every England fan feared.

Uribe hit a shot from range that Jordan Pickford tipped wide magnificently. A Colombian corner. England could handle those, surely. Up came Ospina, against the judgement of the bench – particularly when Colombia have players the size of Yerry Mina on hand.

He was the target, and he was the man the corner found. He outjumped Harry Maguire and headed the ball down. It reared up and was misjudged by Trippier on the line, his header only helping it on his way. Colombia were level, against the odds. Yet for England it felt painfully familiar. In the first-half of extra time it looked as if there would only be one winner: and it wasn’t the team in red.

Yet justice, over the full expanse of the game, prevailed. Colombia’s Wilmar Barrios was very lucky not to be dismissed for a butt on Henderson just before half-time. Geiger showed him a yellow card, probably the first time that has been considered the correct punishment for such an offence.

As they left the field for half-time, Barrios shook Geiger’s hand, and thanked him. A Colombian coach deliberately shoulder barged Raheem Sterling. It was a rather unpleasant scene and England were sucked into it at times. Colombian players made a meal of every challenge, but then Maguire dived, too. He could easily have been booked had Geiger spotted that.

Cameos from the shoot out? Well, Pickford’s save from Bacca obviously – and Marcus Rashford’s penalty. He has never taken one at senior level but he was second up here, England 2-1 down, smashing the ball left as if he was messing about with his mates. Credit Southgate’s influence there, too. This is a rare spirit England’s manager has engendered. Where it will take him from here, we can only dare to imagine.

De Futebol Belgium Defeats England 1- to Win Group G

England and Belgium fielded their second teams in this showdown. Belgium won 1-0 to win Group G with nine points.

England is second with six.

Belgium will battle Japan while England has a hot date with Colombia.

In Group H,Colombia defeated Senegal 1-0.

Japan lost to Poland 1-0

ESPN: “Three thoughts from Belgium’s 1-0 victory over England in their Group G decider.

  1. Januzaj seals top spot for Belgium

In the end, Adnan Januzaj’s second-half winner banished any suggestion of Belgium wanting to avoid victory — yes, victory — against England but the former Manchester United winger’s goal was a rare highlight of a bizarre Group G game in Kaliningrad.

Having seen first-half bookings for Youri Tielemans and Leander Dendoncker cheered by Belgian fans keen to avoid a possible quarterfinal clash with Brazil — the bookings ensured Belgium would lose a fair play head-to-head with England — Januzaj’s curling strike on 51 minutes was a celebrated with surprising passion by the Belgians and their supporters.

The goal also ensured that Belgium topped the group and booked a last-16 clash with Japan in Rostov, consigning England to a match-up with Colombia in Moscow and a much less formidable opponent in the quarters in Switzerland or Sweden if they make it past the South Americans.

With both managers making wholesale changes having already secured qualification from the group, the two teams played with so little intensity during the first half that they were booed and jeered by local fans inside the ground at half-time. Belgium, reputedly keen to finish second to avoid that potential clash with Brazil, stepped up a gear in the second half though, breaking the deadlock through Januzaj.

Marcus Rashford had a subsequent chance to equalise for England and reclaim top spot but he missed his chance and let Belgium off the hook.

Time will tell as to the pros and cons and finishing first and second but both England and Belgium will expect to overcome Colombia and Japan respectively in the round of 16.

  1. Freshness could be crucial for Belgium and England

Having got this strange game out of the way, both Belgium and England can now focus fully on going deep into the World Cup knock-out stages and their fresh legs could be crucial. Each manager exploited the luxury of resting key players for this game and despite the controversy it may generate, both Roberto Martinez and Gareth Southgate arguably have to play the long game in this World Cup.

The two teams have had a relatively stress-free progression from Group G and been able to rotate their squad, but their potential rivals have not. Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia have all been pushed to the limit in their groups, with only France having a similarly easy ride into the round of 16.

England and Belgium still have plenty left in the tank for the knock-out stages but how much will the group games have taken out of their rivals?

Former England defender Gary Neville told ESPN FC recently that the successful teams in major tournaments are often the most resilient rather than the best and England and Belgium have an advantage in terms of resilience because their energy levels should be higher than virtually everyone else’s.

  1. Januzaj still has potential to be a star

Januzaj has often been accused of coasting through his career and potentially wasting the huge talent he was born with, but on a night when most of his teammates and opponents were taking it easy, the former Manchester United winger showed he can still make his mark at the top level.

His goal early in the second half, when he cut inside and curled a left foot shot beyond England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, was one of the best of the tournament so far and a real glimpse into Januzaj’s capabilities.

Since bursting onto the scene as a teenager under David Moyes at Old Trafford, Januzaj has drifted through loans at Borussia Dortmund and Sunderland and is now attempting to rebuild his career at Real Sociedad. Now 23, he still has time to hit the heights once again and his goal in this game will give him a real confidence boost.

When he emerged at United, he toyed with the idea of playing for England due to his eligibility for a number of international teams but he chose the country of his birth in April, 2014 when he decided to represent Belgium. He almost missed out on Roberto Martinez’s 2018 squad after a poor season in Spain but the Belgium coach showed his faith and Januzaj paid him back with his goal and performance in Kaliningrad.

In contrast, another United wonderkid had an off-night, with Marcus Rashford unable to inspire England as Januzaj did for Belgium. Rashford had the opportunity to equalise for England with a great chance but shot horribly wide instead.

Rashford and Januzaj are undeniably big talents, but they’ve both had their ups and downs.”

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 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.

De Futebol England Defeats Costa Rica 2-0

The guys final tune up before the World Cup begins June 14th England defeats Costa Rica 2-0.

The Daily Mail:” Elland Road no longer has its diamond lights, but fortunately England do.

Marcus Rashford illuminated England’s final public performance before departing for Russia next week, with a display that suggests he could make an impact at his first World Cup, even if he does not win a place in Gareth Southgate’s starting line-up.

England’s manager wasn’t looking for any great breakthroughs against Costa Rica, he almost certainly knows his starting line-up by now, but Rashford provided a reminder of the strength in depth, certainly in England’s forward line.

He scored a lovely goal, played a smart, neat pass in the build-up to England’s second, and delivered an energetic, bold 90 minutes, showing he was a serious contender for any of four forward positions in the event of injury – or certainly could be first off the bench if England seek to unlock a resilient defence.

This was Rashford’s night, one of those games when everyone wanted to play with him, certainly in the first-half when he was quite outstanding, albeit against limited opposition.

He was involved as players are when colleagues spot they have the wind behind them. Team-mates sought him out, even if there were easier options on. They could see he was buzzing, see he was the best player, that he was having a match that might just change the mind of his manager, and the pecking order in this squad.

They wanted to be a part of it, wanted to help him along, as mates do. Jordan Henderson fizzed forward passes his way, Fabian Delph and Danny Rose attempted clever one-twos to set him up.

Even when these did not come off, Rashford somehow made it work. Delph stuck one in to Rose, which he miscontrolled – but Rashford spared his embarrassment, scrambling to the touchline, keeping the ball in. This was his night, and everyone inside Elland Road knew that.

His name drew a smattering of boos when first read out. A Manchester United man, you see. By half-time he might as well have been one of their own. It wouldn’t do to bear a grudge, faced with a young man alight like this.

They don’t see talent like Rashford’s around these parts anymore, sadly. The days when Leeds produced England forwards have, for the moment, gone. So this was a thrill for them, as well as for him. One of the virtues of taking England around the country, particularly to grounds that do not see Premier League football, is the lighting of candles in the darkness. There were a lot of young faces here. They will remember seeing Rashford play – and score.

Usually, we question why players do not perform for England as they do for their clubs. With Rashford last night, it was the other way around. Where has this player been for Manchester United this season? What has Jose Mourinho done with him?

‘Now you see why I always pick Romelu Lukaku,’ Mourinho sneered after one tepid performance from his forward understudies, but can this be all the player’s fault? Rashford didn’t seem to lack confidence in an England shirt, didn’t appear reluctant to take risks, to run at defenders, to try his tricks, to shoot from range. He did everything that Manchester United wanted of him all season. So where has he been; and why so different?

The goal, of course, was his crowning glory. Rashford picked the ball up on the right, looked, saw Costa Rica backing off, saw goalkeeper Keylor Navas slightly off his line, and went for it.

At first it looked as if his shot had gone through Navas’s hands, Loris Karius style, but replays revealed the truth: the goalkeeper was simply caught out. It went over his hands and he was slow to react, it wasn’t his finest moment, but there was no handling error. Rashford simply beat him with power, dip, a lovely strike, his third in an England shirt.

Will it be enough to earn him a place in the starting line-up? One imagines he will have to maintain this in every training session between now and the eve of the match with Tunisia to change Southgate’s intentions.

The team is as good as picked. Only one player kept his place from Saturday’s win over Nigeria – John Stones at the back – and time is running out for a bolter.

Where would he play? Presuming Harry Kane’s position is secure, including Rashford would mean leaving out one of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard or Raheem Sterling. Southgate would be unlikely to lose faith with any member of that trio on the back of an impressive display in a friendly. But, if it wasn’t working, if England couldn’t get the breakthrough? Southgate will surely recall this night when he is hailing his first cab off the rank.

In the circumstances – that many of the players out there must have known by now that they are squad men, when the tournament begins at least – this was a very decent performance.

What largely constitutes the shadow XI – Stones, Jordan Henderson and, possibly, Harry Maguire aside – looked committed and lively, even if the tempo did drop off after half-time as tends to happen in such encounters. Delph, certainly, did himself a favour with a hard-working stint in forward midfield, full of the vim and energy that might not have been apparent had populist favourites Jonjo Shelvey or Jack Wilshere been selected.

The game was nine minutes old when a Delph corner was met by a header from Phil Jones tipped over by Navas, and another set-piece almost extended England’s lead after 20 minutes.

Jones and Maguire both won headers and Jamie Vardy tried to pounce on the loose ball from close range, Navas doing well to smother. In the second-half, Henderson had a powerful shot saved, Maguire a header cleared off the line by Bryan Oviedo.

Ultimately, Rashford shared the goals with Danny Welbeck, whose second-half intervention showed why it is unfair to cast aspersions on his place in the squad, as so many do. Rashford worked a sweet little ball through to Alli whose cross was met by a diving header from Welbeck at the far post, his 16th England goal.

The margin of victory was no more than England deserved for an accomplished controlled display, that risked little in the way of physical injury, yet was commanding throughout.

At the other end, Jack Butland made one save from Johan Venegas but, frankly, Costa Rica were not up to much. They won’t be the same team as in 2014; thankfully, the same might be said of England.