Russia Review: Day Ten

If you like goals and late drama, Day 10 is for you. With 13 goals in 3 games, the second Saturday of the 2018 World Cup will go down as one of the most memorable days. It started with a goal fest and ended with the utmost drama – Saturday was an eventful day for the neutral, again.

Welcome to Day 10 of Russia Review.

Hazard the hero as Belgium batter Tunisia

Belgium cruised to victory in a seven-goal thriller against Tunisia to all-but guarantee their progression from Group G.

Their 5-2 win means any result other than three points for Panama against England tomorrow will see them through and the Tunisians out.

Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku were the stars of the show, scoring a brace each.

Despite looking lacklustre in the first half of their opener against Panama on Monday, Roberto Martinez’ Belgians were anything but in Moscow this afternoon as they came racing out of the blocks.

The ever-dangerous Hazard burst into the box and was taken out by defender Syam Ben Youssef inside five minutes, winning his team an early penalty.

Chelsea’s talismanic forward picked himself up and took on the responsibility himself, coolly sending goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha the wrong way with another trademark spot-kick to score his first World Cup goal.

And just over ten minutes later, Belgium made it two.

Tunisia give the ball away in the Belgian half and the Red Devils broke – Mertens played in Lukaku, who pulled away from his man before firing a low shot across Mustapha and into the far corner, and Martinez’ men were cruising.

The two goal lead didn’t last long though – seconds after kick-off, Tunisia won a free-kick wide left which Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri delivered onto the head of full-back Dylan Bronn, who beat Thibaut Courtois. Game on.

They had a couple of opportunities to level – first, the goal scorer against England, Ferjani Sassi, rolled a tame effort wide from the edge of the box, before Khazri then tried his luck from range which caused a few difficulties for Courtois.

But as the half appeared to be petering out, Tunisia gifted Belgium the chance for a third. Ali Maaloul’s misplaced pass went straight to Thomas Meunier and he played a one-two with Kevin De Bruyne before sliding in Lukaku, who dinked it over Mustapha to go joint-top in the golden boot race with Cristiano Ronaldo.

And the Belgians then killed any hope of a Tunisia revival early in the second half.

A long ball from Toby Alderweireld was chested down by Hazard, who then calmly rounded the goalkeeper before slotting home his side’s fourth.

His club teammate Michy Batshuayi was then introduced, and could have had a hat-trick within 15 minutes of coming on.

First, he had an effort cleared off the line after rounding Mustapha, then the 24-year-old hit the bar from six yards out after the keeper spilled a deflected Yannick Carrasco strike, and finally he saw a volley saved after connecting well with a De Bruyne cross.

The striker was left frustrated, but did finally get his goal in the last minute of regular time.

Fellow substitute Youri Tielemans played a wonderful cross to the back post, and Batshuayi slid in with his left-foot to hit it back across goal and into Mustapha’s far corner leaving the keeper with no chance.

There was still time for a late Tunisia consolation however as good movement from Khazri allowed him the space to put home a Hamdi Nagguez pull-back, but all it did was reduce the deficit to three as Belgium claimed an impressive win.
Mexico inch closer to seventh heaven

Mexico comfortably beat South Korea to go within a point of their seventh successive appearance in the last 16 of the World Cup.

The Mexicans picked up where they left off after their impressive surprise victory against holders Germany by keeping another clean sheet, this time against a South Korean side that generally posed very little problems.

Goals from strikers Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez did the business, which leaves the disappointing Koreans World Cup hopes hanging by a thread.

It was a first half of relatively little clear-cut chances, but Mexico found themselves with the best opportunity after 26 minutes.

South Korean defender Hyun-Soo Jang went to ground challenging Mexican captain Andres Guardado, and the midfielder chipped the ball against the outstretched arm of Jang to win the 14th penalty of this summer’s World Cup.

2018’s penalty total has already surpassed that of 2014 and stands only four off the record of 18 set in 2002, and ex-Arsenal striker Vela made no mistake, sending goalkeeper Hyun-Woo Cho the wrong way to fire Mexico into the lead.

The 29-year-old then set up Miguel Layun moments later and it could have been two, but the midfielder’s effort was finger-tipped over by Cho.

Mexico went into half-time ahead, and looked to push on in the second period. Cho made a terrific save to prevent a left-footed Guardado strike from finding the top corner, and then Jae-Sung Lee could have levelled the game up just after the hour but for a brilliant Carlos Salcedo block.

The Mexicans broke from that piece of defending, but Vela curled one inches too high in his search for a second.

His side did get their reward just minutes later though, and it came through their little pea.

West Ham’s Javier Hernandez received the ball on the left side of the box and took a brilliant first touch to take the sliding Jang out of the equation, before calmly finishing past Cho to put Mexico well on their way to the knockout stages.

Despite an improved performance on their showing against Sweden, South Korea struggled to create any clear openings, but they did finally get their first goal of the tournament deep into stoppage time.

Their star man – Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son – found space to shift the ball onto his left and curl a superb shot beyond Guillermo Ochoa, but it was too little too late as Mexico claimed their second victory of Russia 2018.

Kroos rescues victory for defending champions Germany

​Germany’s World Cup hopes were revitalised thanks to Toni Kroos’ goal deep into stoppage time as they claimed a last gasp 2-1 win over Sweden in Group F.

The Germans were beaten by Mexico in their opening game and were far from convincing against the Swedes until Kroos found the winner in the 95th minute from a free kick on the edge of the box.

The pressure was on Germany as Mexico defeated South Korea earlier in the day, making the game pretty much win or bust for Low’s side. Another defeat was unthinkable and, at kick‑off time, the prospect of a draw did not feel much better.

In the opening 12 minutes, Sweden managed a mere six passes, emphasizing the German dominance. Die Mannschaft ran the show and the Swedes could not get the ball.

Despite this, Sweden found themselves with the best chance of the opening stages, as Emil Forsberg went through on goal, to be thwarted by Boateng and Neuer. Questions were asked of a penalty, but the referee declined.

Germany lost Sebastian Rudy when he left the field with a bloody nose after a collision with Toivonen moments before the Sweden forward landed another blow as he burst into the box to control a Claesson cross on his chest and lift his shot over Neuer into the far corner of the net in some style.

Sweden somehow found themselves ahead and headed into half time a goal to the good.

Jogi Low responded by sending on renowed striker Mario Gomez, who has 31 international goals to his name.

Germany came out in the second half with more attacking intent – within minutes they were level. Timo Werner’s cross evaded Gomez but found Reus, who connected with the ball, albeit with his knee, to turn the ball beyond Robin Olsen into the bottom corner.

Low’s men did not stop there, with Muller and Hector both coming close within minutes of the equaliser.

Yet, the clock ticked on. Germany looked less likely to get the illusive winner. Those hopes were dealt a massive blow when Jerome Boateng picked up a second yellow card for a poorly timed tackle on Berg.

Despite having 10 men, Germany are renowned for their ‘never say die’ attitude. Mario Gomez thought he had won it, only to be denied by heroic goalkeeper Robin Olsen.

Yet, Germany always come up with the goods on the international stage. This one was not over until the whistle was blown for the last time – Sweden knew that.

Real Madrid superstar Toni Kroos sweetly curled an effort into the far corner of the net from a tight angle to allow his country to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Unfortunately for Sweden, who gave a sterling effort, now have it all to do in Group F. They lost their first World Cup group stage game since 1990, ending a 10 game unbeaten streak.

Player of the Day – Toni Kroos (Germany)

95th minute. Germany in desperate trouble. Down to 10 men. World Cup hanging by a thread.

Over to you, Toni Kroos.

Four Champions League titles in five years, a World Cup winners medal, Bundesliga titles, La Liga titles, the list goes on – we knew Kroos was a ‘winner’ before tonight.

Yet, not many players can come up with clutch moments like Toni Kroos. The Real Madrid midfielder came up with a performance that not many in world football can.

Every German forward was average at best, the leader Jerome Boateng had been sent off, but Toni Kroos stepped up and led his team to victory.

He made a mistake for the Swedish goal, but responded to this by asserting total dominance on the game from midfield, dictating the play throughout.

The free kick was in a position that not many players in the world would the watcher, with just an ounce of football knowledge, think could pull off a shot. Toni Kroos is on a short list of players that could take on the shot. He obliged, dispatching in style.

Whereas Xavi and Iniesta were the ​midfielders of the past decade, people may start talking about Toni Kroos in the same breathe.

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